DISILLUSION OF REALITY

Chapter 1: Shadows Belong To Darkness

"Hello?"

Damon climbs out of his black BMW, his phone squeezed in between his shoulder and ear, his hands already occupied with brown paper bags filled with Chinese food.

"Hey brother, this makes a change. You calling me for once…Yeah, I'm good, work's good. How are you? How's college going? Made any little friends yet...I'm proud of you. You've finally stopped being the little loner in the corner." He laughs. "You know I'm kidding. So when you break for summer?...Yeah...Damn, that soon? So when will you be home...Oh I get it. Don't wanna waste your summer hanging with your big bro...No, no, I get it, I get it...Oh, okay, no that's cool, you go and have fun...Yeah, call you tomorrow. Oh and Stef? Don't get too wasted, yeah?" He laughs again. "See ya later."

Damon grunts as he clumsily dumps the bags on the bonnet of the car so as to end the call. One of the bags topples over and boxes of food tumble out. He hastily shoves them back into the bag, then reaches inside his car, pulls his gun out from the glove box and slides it into the holster attached to his hip.

Damon's a natural with firearms – it's a requirement of being a detective – and his 9mm pistol is like a fifth limb to him, ranking in importance even above his cell phone, which is evident by the fact that he leaves it lying on the bonnet of the car and has to return to collect it.

After a quick scan of his surroundings, Damon starts off across the car park, enters the code to the apartment building and steps inside. He struts straight past the elevator and proceeds to climb the stairs two at a time until he reaches the third floor. Cradling the bags in his left arm, he reaches for the keys from his pocket and opens the door.

The apartment is in complete darkness apart from one lamp sat on the table beside the couch and he's instantly greeted with a flustered Katherine who marches out of the bedroom, her arms over spilling with clothes.

She lets out a gasp when she sees Damon's dark shadow.

"Oh, it's just you," she says with relief, before proceeding to the bag sat on the kitchen table and stuffing the clothes inside.

"Yeah, it's me. What the hell are you doing?" Damon inquires, setting the bags down on the kitchen counter.

"What does it look like? I'm leaving," she states matter-of-factly before charging back towards the bedroom.

Damon chases after her, his questions coming one after another.

"What do you mean, you're leaving? Where are you going? Why are you leaving? What's happened?"

Katherine gives no response and continues to frantically grab the contents of her wardrobe, littering the floor with hangers and stray garments as she does.

With her arms full she proceeds to barge past Damon stood in the doorway. He spins to watch her and asks again more firmly, "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

It's only moments before she's marching towards the bedroom once more but this time Damon blocks her way, until she's forced to stop.

"Katherine, what's going on?" he asks her urgently, his intense eyes locked on her.

She's breathless, her head hung low and when she finally meets his eyes, Damon feels his heart rate spike.

"I have to leave," she states, her voice quiet. "I let you persuade me to stay here because you said you could keep me safe, but I…I was being stupid. I've managed to stay safe by keeping moving, it's the only way."

"So, what? You were just going to leave in the middle of the night without telling me?"

She hangs her head, guilt and shame instantly taking her over.

"I left you a note."

"A note? A note?" he scoffs in disbelief, throwing his hand to his head. "After everything I've done for you this is how you were going to repay me?"

"I don't owe you anything! I never asked you to help me, I didn't ask for any of this," she shouts, her temper immediately getting the best of her. "And anyway, I'm doing you a favour. It's only a matter of time before this falls back on you."

"So you're just going to go back out on the streets, alone? Because that's such a great idea, right?" he snipes.

"I've done perfectly fine on my own for the last 8 years," she bites back, slamming her shoulder into him to get to the bedroom.

"No, no, no, no," he calls out, running in front of her and grabbing her shoulders to stop her in her tracks. "You do not get to do this. You don't get to just leave like this."

"It's done, Damon. You can't stop me," she replies, her eyes hard and determined.

This time she exerts more force as she pushes Damon aside and after a few moments she emerges from the bedroom armed with the gun Damon gave her a few months back for her protection. She holds it out in front of her, the barrel aimed at Damon.

"What are you doing?" Damon asks through wide eyes.

"I told you, I'm leaving and you're not gonna stop me."

"Katherine, just put the gun down."

"No."

"Please, let's just talk about this," he pleads, his demeanour and tone having changed instantly.

"There's nothing to talk about. I'm doing this, so get out of my way."

Damon remains rooted on the spot, his eyes on her as though he's challenging her. She leaps forward a few steps, pointing the gun directly at Damon's chest, causing him to gasp lightly and hold his hands up in surrender.

"Whoa!"

"Don't test me, Damon," she threatens. "You have no idea what I'm capable of."

At that his hands fall to his side and the fear on his face fades, his expression softening.

"You won't shoot me," he states confidently.

His words strike her heart and her hands begin to tremble, but she keeps her grip firm on the gun and keeps it directed at Damon.

"Are you sure about that?"

"You won't shoot me," he insists again.

Damon's unflinching faith in her evokes emotion within Katherine that she can't suppress and tears brim in her dark eyes.

"Don't go," Damon says softly, reaching his hand out to her. "Stay with me. We'll find out the truth, together and I promise, I'll keep you safe. I won't let anyone hurt you."

He speaks with so much sincerity and conviction and Katherine knows with certainty that he will keep to his promise – he already has. In the three months since she's met Damon she's never felt so safe, so protected. Her entire life she's been alone, drifting from place to place, surrounded by nameless faces empty and afraid, just like her. Knowing Damon has somewhat filled the gaping emptiness at her center and a selfish part of her wants to stay so she can cling to that feeling, but he matters too much now. All she's wanted for so long is the liberation that comes with discovering the truth - a truth that Damon has vowed to help her find - and she didn't believe she would ever give that up for anything, but for Damon she will, because she can't risk him getting hurt and if she stays, it's only a matter of time before he does.

A deep exhalation escapes her and she lowers the gun, causing Damon to inwardly sigh with relief.

"I-I-I'm sorry," she stammers.

"It's-it's okay," Damon reassures her instantly stepping towards her.

"I just…I got scared. I'm sorry."

He gets closer to her and reaches out for her hand, the gun still clasped in her fingers. He doesn't attempt to pry it from her, because despite the fleeting moment of terror he felt when she first pulled the gun out on him, he's completely secure in knowing she would never hurt him. Instead his fingers gently trace the surface of her hand.

His touch makes Katherine ache and she can feel her resolve leaving with her. She knows she has to do it now, whilst she still has the strength to and with one final deep breath, she lifts her hand up in one swift motion and clobbers Damon on the head with the base of the gun, hard and fast, instantly sending him down to the ground with a dull thud.

A panicked, trembling gasp escapes Katherine, along with the tears that she's been fighting against and she drops the gun to the floor, before collapsing onto her knees next to Damon's unconscious body.

She rolls him from his side onto his back, blood already oozing down the side of his temple from the wound she's inflicted on him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she chokes, her body leaning over his.

She's not sure how long he will be down for and she knows she should take the opportunity to leave now whilst she has the chance, but she can't leave him like this, so she dashes over to the kitchen to grab the first aid kit from the cupboard under the sink.

After cleaning the sticky mess of blood from his face and hair, she patches him up and reaches for the cushions off the couch, sliding them under his floppy head.

She grabs the note from the kitchen table that she scribbled to Damon earlier, flips it over and simply writes:

"Please, don't come looking for me. I'm sorry."

She settles on her knees beside him, rests her palms on his chest and looks down upon him.

"You have to know, I didn't want it to happen like this, but I didn't have a choice. Everything you've done …No one's ever done what you've done for me…"

There's so much more she wants to say, but words have never been Katherine's strong suit, so instead she simply stoops over him and plants a tender kiss at the center of his head. Her tears fall onto his flesh and she hastily wipes them from her face, determined to remain strong.

She gets to her feet and grabs her duffel bag from the table. She unzips it to find a baseball cap and hoodie sat on top. Seeing the two items of clothing evokes a sense of emotion that Katherine can only imagine is similar to how people feel when they look at photos from their childhood, except unlike the photos, these garments hold few fond memories and are merely a reminder of Katherine's tragic life.

The blue baseball cap looks just as Katherine remembers it - discoloured and worn, with a red 'C' etched at the center. Katherine stumbled across it over 4 years ago outside Wrigley Field, when she was routing through the vast amount of leftovers following a Chicago Bulls home game. Boy, she had a feast that night. As she combed through the streets, she couldn't fathom that there were people out there so lavish with money that leaving behind an entire tray of chips smothered in ketchup or an almost full bottle of soda didn't matter. In her world every dime, every crumb and every drop of water was paramount.

It took her a long time to get accustomed to the hearty plates of food Damon would whip up or the rich or the greasy take out he would bring her on his late night visits. The guilt still nags at her sometimes when she's standing under the flow of the shower or sipping on a cold soda, because she knows better than anyone just how many people are out there in this cruel and unforgiving world, completely alone, with growling bellies and only the clothes on their back to call their own.

She places the baseball cap on her head, then pulls out the hoodie. Unlike the cap, this holds more meaning for Katherine, because it wasn't something she simply stumbled upon, it was given to her by someone she cared for - the only person she's ever cared for besides Damon, in fact. She used to wear it every second of every day, until that fateful day when Damon found her and she knows the moment she pulls it over he shoulders that she will be admitting defeat, that she'll return to the desolate, dark shadow she was, always running and never living.

These last three months with Damon convinced her for a moment that it could be different, that she could take control of her own destiny, but it was nothing more than wishful thinking; a fantasy.

She's accustomed to running, since she's been running from him her entire life, but lately she's been running from herself more than anything. Bundling the baseball cap and hoodie at the bottom of a rucksack and hiding it away was her pathetic attempt at pretending she could change and forget the past, but she realises now that she can't.

The fantasy she created with Damon has been a small slice of heaven and the first time she's ever experienced some semblance of joy, and she'd give anything for it to never end, but as she stares down at the hoodie in her arms she realises there's no point in denying it any longer.

This is who she is and this is her life. There's no choice involved, it's simply the way it is.

She slips into the hoodie, pulls the hood up over her head, picks up her bag and squares her shoulders before heading to the door. Her breathing is erratic and she attempts to ignore her heart that feels as though it has turned grey and shriveled up in her chest. The deepest part of her longs to stay with Damon for reasons so expansive it would be impossible for her to name them all, but she knows it's too late for that.

Turning back to steal one final glance at Damon, she calls softly, "Goodbye, Damon."

The second the door is closed behind her, she slithers off into the night returning to the shadows.