Fic: In Wonderland, (Kuzgun/Dila) Chapter 1-8 updated 02/21

Fandom: Kuzgun

Pairing: Kuzgun/Dila

Summary: After Dila catches Kuzgun and Gunesh kissing, she realises it’s time to make a permanent change in her life.

Note: Started writing this before I heard about the cancellation.

Was there a limit to how many times a heart could break? After each one, the jagged pieces would find a way to fit together and work again but there was only so many times that rebonding was possible. There would eventually come a time when the pieces were too bent, the bruises too thick and it was simply impossible for the heart to continue.

She never thought she could continue living after Kuzgun disappeared, but she found a way. Her mother died; she found a way. Then Kuzgun returned, hellbent on vengeance, and he shattered her all over again. Her father dead by her own hands, her soul broken. This time, it wasn’t even a figurative heart break. She literally shot herself to end her life. Yet Ferman put her back together again, even if she fought against it.

But right now, watching Gunesh and Kuzgun kiss, Dila knew this was it. This was the moment where her heart would give out finally. And nothing could put it back together. She turned around and found Ferman standing a few feet away. Anger was stamped across his features, his gaze accusatory. She’d never seen him this angry before but knew he was always capable of it. Suddenly he erupted, storming towards her. Or maybe he was aiming for Gunesh and Kuzgun. She didn’t know, and she didn’t want to find out. She started walking up the hill, not looking at Ferman as he passed by her. She thought learning to walk again had been difficult, but it seemed to pale in comparison at how weak she felt now. Sounds of loud yelling drifted behind her, she could hear Gunesh and Kuzgun and Ferman fighting, but it didn’t matter. None of it did. The closer she got to her car, the more distant the sounds grew.

Somehow she got in her car and drove away, the world a blur.

*****

“You didn’t come home for three days.”

Dila looked across at Ferman, his gentle eyes watching her with concern. “I know. I’ve been busy getting things ready.”

“Ready for what? Why are we meeting at the airport?”

She looked down at her intertwined hands, nervously picking at her fingers. What she had to say left her feeling wracked with guilt but it was something she needed to do.

“Gunesh refuses to come home as well,” Ferman continued. “She’s been staying with Kuzgun.”

The words were a punch to the gut, rendering her breathless. She gave herself a mental shake and told herself to snap out of it. “You helped me when I was at my lowest and I have no idea how to thank you for that.”

He stared at her with a somber expression. “You don’t need to.”

“Yes, I do.” Announcements about not leaving any baggage unattended echoed throughout as she turned back to grab her carry-on bag and retrieve the manila envelope that was inside. “I’m signing over my shares to you.”

“I don’t understand what’s going on.”

She peered at him. “I’m leaving for good, Ferman. I can’t marry you.”

“Because of Kuzgun.”

“Because I want out of that world. Completely. And I can’t do that if I’m with you.”

“I’ll make sure he never bothers you again.”

She gave a bitter laugh. “You’re the one who said it. He’ll always be there, no matter what. I deluded myself into thinking I could be happy with you and not have to deal with Kuzgun but that’s not possible.” She pushed the folder towards him. “You’ve done a lot for me. You saved me when I was at my lowest. When I didn’t believe in myself, you believed in me. But if I stay here with you, I…” She drew a painful breath. “I’ll rely on you forever. I’ll always be a mess and I don’t want that anymore.” Her eyes fell on the crowd of teenagers that were walking by, their faces bright with joy. “I want to build a life I can be proud of, away from everything here.”

“I’m not going to lose you because of him.”

She looked at him squarely in the eye. “Is that how you really feel?”

“Yes.”

“Then come with me. Leave this, leave everything behind. We can start over in London. Just you and me, and no one else.”

Ferman stilled. Even without uttering a word he confirmed her suspicions. Ferman wasn’t just with her because he had genuine feelings for her, it was also because of her history with Kuzgun. She was a pawn for Ferman to use, like Kuzgun had used her in the past, and there was nothing in it for Ferman to gain if he couldn’t throw her in Kuzgun’s face.

“Once the project is up and running we can go to London for our honeymoon. I promise,” he stated.

She shook her head ‘no’. “Then you and Kuzgun will find another reason to war. Because that’s what this is about, all of it.” She pulled out the papers from the envelope and turned to the page where his signatures were needed. “I owe you a lot, and I can’t think of any other way to make it up to you other than this.”

“This doesn’t make up for what you owe me.”

Her stomach tightened; she recognised the threat lacing his voice. “I know, but there’s nothing else I can give you.” She took off her engagement ring and his mother’s necklace and placed them on the table.

“Dila-”

She covered his hand with her own. “When I think of you, I want it to be as someone good, someone kind, someone who helped me during my darkest moments. Don’t ruin it, please. I couldn’t bear it.”

After a long pause he finally nodded his head, taking the papers and the ring. “Keep the necklace. It’s yours.”

“I couldn’t. It belonged to your mom and I-”

“It wasn’t a request,” Ferman said, his voice cold.

His guard was up, like it had never been before. “Goodbye, Ferman.” She cupped his face with one hand, giving him a sad smile. “I hope you find someone who will love you the way you deserve.”

Grabbing her carry-on, she left the bar and headed for airport security.

***

Kuzgun stormed into Ferman’s office, his lawyer following behind him. His heart pounded in anticipation at the thought of seeing Dila, but apparently she hadn’t arrived yet. It would be his first time seeing her after she caught Gunesh kissing him, a part of him still feeling guilty over the unexpected gesture. He had no idea what the hell the girl had been thinking but he had been very firm with her later that evening. His heart belonged to Dila, and it would be that way forever. Gunesh hadn’t taken it well and his mother had swept up the redhead and been consoling her ever since. If it hadn’t been for Ferman attacking him and Gunesh on the street after catching them in a kiss, Kuzgun would have followed Dila right away and confronted her about her jealousy but he’d had his hands full at that moment.

Over the past week he’d made numerous trips to their private, treasured spot, hoping he’d run into her but she hadn’t shown up there. This morning, however, he’d woken up with a sense of excitement, knowing he’d see her at the meeting. Already prepared for her indifferent act, this time he was determined to get through to her and have her confront her feelings. As much as he hadn’t wanted to see her in that much pain, maybe the kiss was a good thing. At least now she’d finally admit how much she loved him.  Unfortunately, she still wasn’t here and the room was full of lawyers, her punk ass brother and the bastard Ferman.

He sat down across from Ferman, leaning back in his chair. Eyebrow cocked, he greeted his enemy. “Good morning.”

Ferman cast a steely glance in his direction. His index finger quivered ever so slightly, indicating his current agitation – a tell Kuzgun had picked up not too long ago. A wide smirk crossed Kuzgun’s face, knowing how much he was already irritating his opponent.

“So seducing young impressionable girls is how you do business,” Ferman said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“Your cousin started the seduction,” Kuzgun snarked back, rocking languidly in his chair. “I simply enjoyed the benefits she provided.”

Score. Ferman scowled, shooting darts at him with his eyes. Kuzgun smirked. Just because it was a lie didn’t mean he couldn’t use it to torture Ferman.

The secretary closed the door, leaving them alone in the room. “Alright, let’s get started,” declared Ferman.

“I see dementia has already hit you in your old age,” Kuzgun retorted. “You seem to have forgotten we’re missing a key board member.”

“Dila Bilgin is no longer a part of this project,” Ferman’s lawyer spoke. “Her shares were transferred over to Ferman Koroglu effective this morning.”

Kuzgun sat up straight. “What the hell does that mean?”

“It means we have the majority votes,” Ferman said quietly.

“Where is Dila?” Kuzgun demanded, focusing his attention on Ali.

“Somewhere you can’t get to,” Ali replied smugly.

Kuzgun stormed towards Dila’s brother. “Tell me where she is,” he demanded, grabbing Ali by the collar.

As soon as Ali took a swing at him, Kuzgun retaliated and the boardroom erupted into a scene of chaos.

*****

Later that evening Kuzgun was on the roof, staring into the darkness. His jaw was swollen but the pain was nothing compared to how sick he felt on the inside, his stomach twisted into knots. He took a swig from the bottle, the alcohol burning his throat. Footsteps approached from behind; Kuzgun turned around to find a dejected Cihan standing a few feet away.

“Where is she?” Kuzgun asked.

“She closed all her accounts in Istanbul. Brother, she’s gone,” Cihan said softly.

“I bet Ferman is behind this. Why else would she sign over her shares? She knew he was planning to evacuate those poor people, she wouldn’t let him do that. He’s got her somewhere, I know it, he’s hiding her and forced her to sign over her shares.”

Cihan pulled out his phone to find something and handed the device to Kuzgun. Reluctantly, he stared down at the security images. The pictures were clear, there was no doubt that it was Dila and Ferman, whose back was to the camera, sitting at an airport bar. There were several images. One with her holding an envelope, one with her hand on Ferman’s. Pictures of the fucking ring he hated so much and the new necklace that Dila wore sitting between them on the table. Another one with her cradling Ferman’s face, smiling. Kuzgun felt nauseous. He dropped the phone and reached for the bottle again.

“She left for London,” Cihan said quietly. “Maybe Ferman told her something about you and Gunesh-”

“Good riddance,” Kuzgun interjected, facing the pitch blackness of the night.

Once again, she had left him without a word.  Well, fuck her.

Chapter 2 (added 10/08/19)

Two years later

Dila glanced up from the computer on her desk and smiled. Through her office window she spotted the crowd of teenagers laughing and razzing each other while they set up the decorations for the senior social later tonight. For a while she simply watched them, enjoying their antics. The were defiant and hostile most of the time, like teenagers were wont to be, but considering most of them had grown up in impoverished neighbourhoods with high crime rates they could’ve turned out a lot worse. She’d been working here for eight months now, helping kids who were in trouble with the law perform community service, and it was simultaneously the most rewarding and frustrating job she had. Most of them were broken in some way, and as much as she tried to help them they still saw her as someone who didn’t give a damn and therefore not to be trusted. The success cases were few and far in between but it was incredibly rewarding when she finally managed to gain their trust.  

Her phone rang with a text notification. She unplugged it from the charger and saw there was a text from her sister, Naz. Immediately she smiled. Naz was in her first year of college and usually too busy to keep in touch so any contact from her left Dila in a good mood.

Hi, sis. I’m going to be in London for a week in December. Can I stay with you?

Dila texted back. Of course. Can’t wait. Love you.

Love you too!

Dila sat back in her chair. Not seeing Defne grow up, not speaking to Naz on a daily basis, dinners with Ali and Seda – she missed all of it, but as she had already been living apart for them before moving to London the pain wasn’t as intense as it had been previously. Her year of seclusion from everyone except Ferman had hardened her, and actually made her permanent move to London easier. Not that she would ever admit that to him.

She scrolled through her text messages to find the ones from Ferman.

Every once in a while he reached out to her. They exchanged basic pleasantries, he inquired about her life, she inquired about his. Their communications were nothing of substance, but she knew why he did it – to remind her of everything she owed him. She wished she could cut him out of her life completely but knew it was impossible. He’d never let her go without repercussions. Guilt surged through her instinctively. She reminded herself that in her darkest moments he was the one who believed in her, loved her, supported her throughout her recovery and made her believe life was worth living again. Except, at times, she used to wish Ferman hadn’t. If he hadn’t saved her from the rooftop, hadn’t pushed her to cling to life, she’d be free of all pain. Kuzgun wouldn’t have the opportunity to hurt her again. But he had, he’d shown her over and over again how little she’d mattered to him, and it had finally forced her to leave so she’d never have to see him again.

For the first time in her life she was free of Kuzgun, his memories, his influence, the ‘what ifs’ that used to plague her most of her life, and she was at peace. Everything that had happened had led her here, to this place where she could help these kids and feel like she was finally making a positive impact in life.

Putting her phone away, she returned to work.

**

It was Saturday night and Dila was enjoying her dinner date. Omer was a pilot wo worked out of New York but whenever he came to London, which was once every few months – they always met up. He was handsome, funny and could talk for hours about the smallest of subjects. She liked spending time with him because he didn’t demand anything from her, and their relationship –  if it could even be called that – required no effort on her part. They were not exclusive, which was fine with her.

“I’ll be going to Istanbul for a few days next month. Want to join me and show me around the city?” Omer asked, sipping from his wine.

Dila gave him an apologetic smile. “I can’t. Next month is really hectic at work.”

“Have you reconsidered taking the law exam here? You could be doing so much more with your law degree than working at some community center.”

Omer didn’t know about her license being revoked in Turkey and she preferred it that way. “I like the work that I do.”

“But the money sucks.”

“I don’t do it for the money.”

“See, now, only someone who grew up with money would ever say that.”

“Omer, you know where I live. It’s not exactly posh.”

“True, but I suspect you’re rebelling against your family’s wishes. Something tells me all you’d have to do it call your parents and they’d rescue you in a second.”

Irritated, Dila finished her wine. Omer was supposed to distract her, not interrogate her. Luckily her phone rang just then. It was a number she didn’t recognize. “Hello?”

“Dila, it’s me. I’m in jail. Some undercover cop arrested me. Can you come get me?”

Hearing Robert’s voice on the phone, Dila grew worried. He was a 20-year-old kid she had met last year, too charming and handsome for his own good, and despite all her efforts to help him he seemed hellbent on destroying his life. “Which station?” she asked, grabbing a piece of paper and pen from her purse.

After jotting down the address, she hung up and flashed an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Omer. I need to cut our dinner short. Need to go post bail.”

“One of your cases?”

She ignored his condescending tone. “Something like that.”

“What’s he been arrested for? Dealing drugs?”

“No, nothing like that.” She stood up, getting ready to go. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

“Sure. Let’s try for dinner again.”

“Okay.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before rushing out of the restaurant.

***

Two hours later they were climbing up the stairs of her building, headed for her apartment on the third floor. Despite his troubles Robert seemed unaffected, which only concerned Dila more. “You can’t keep turning tricks on the street. What if the next guy you hook up with turns out to be some dangerous psycho? You have to stop putting yourself at risk!” she lectured, hoping something – anything – would get through to him. Robert was blessed with movie star good looks which made prostitution a convenient way to make money.

“It’s fine. I stay away from the psycho guys,” Robert said.

“You won’t know who they are until it’s too late.”

Robert shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever. It’s not a big deal.”

Slightly out of breath, Dila cast Robert a worried glance. He was a good kid, with a good heart, but he seemed to think he was invincible and she didn’t know how to convince him otherwise.

“Who’s that?” Robert asked, looking straight ahead.

Dila followed his gaze, and immediately stopped in her tracks.

Standing in front of her apartment was Kuzgun.

***

Kuzgun sensed her presence almost immediately. He turned around, and found her at the other end of the hallway. Their eyes locked. Every nerve in his body was suddenly alive, blood rushing through him, his heart pounding. Two years. He hadn’t seen her in two years. When she left, she took a part of him with her. That emptiness in his soul was absolutely crushing, her loss so profound he’d even accept her being with Ferman as long as it meant Kuzgun could be a peripheral part of her life. When she’d disappeared the first time around he told himself he would do whatever it took to make things up to her, that she was angry and punishing him with the divorce but he’d find a way to get through to her. This was Dila. She loved him, and he loved her and they could get through anything – but they hadn’t.

As she drew closer towards him, Kuzgun inhaled her in. She’d always been beautiful but now she looked ethereal, a goddess come to life. Her hair was longer, and she was wearing a pale blue silk dress that looked like a slip and all he could think about was ripping it off of her and tasting every inch of her naked skin. It was only when she broke eye contact, looking at the dipshit beside her did Kuzgun realise she wasn’t alone.

He was young, too young for her, and immediately Kuzgun felt anger course through him. Who the fuck was this kid? And why was she dressed like that with him?

“What are you doing here, Kuzgun?”

Kuzgun gave the kid a once-over, hating how physically close he was to Dila. His Dila. “Who is this?”

“Who the fuck are you?” the kid snarked back, pissing Kuzgun off further.

“I’m her husband,” Kuzgun barked.

“Ex-husband,” Dila pointed out. She handed her keys to the idiot, pressing her hand on the fucker’s chest. “Robert, go inside.”

Kuzgun saw red.

***

Dila couldn’t wrap her mind around what was going on in front of her. Kuzgun was here. Kuzgun. After two years of no contact, he was now here. In front of her. Her knees felt weak, her hands clammy. Why was he here? What did he want?

The hold he had over her was still potent, his gaze drawing her in as she moved towards him. He was casting a spell over her, like he always did.

“You alright?” Robert asked.

It took everything she had to tear her eyes away from Kuzgun, but she managed to do it, and as her gaze wandered over Robert’s face, her mind reeling, she struggled to get herself under control. “I’m fine. He’s my ex.”

Before Robert could respond Kuzgun was closing the distance between them, his demeanor hostile and aggressive. It’s how he always reacted whenever she was around men, even though he refused to admit it. “What are you doing here, Kuzgun?” she asked.

“Who is this?” Kuzgun demanded, getting in Robert’s face.

Rage washed away her shock, filling her up with absolute fury. How dare he walk back into her life and demand answers?

“Who the fuck are you?” Robert  snapped.

“I’m her husband.”

“Ex-husband,” Dila pointed out. She placed her keys in Robert’s hand. The last thing she needed was for Robert to get hurt. “Robert, go inside.”

“I’m not leaving you alone with this psycho.”

She gripped his arm, urging him to look at her. “Please. Do as I say.”

Her heart was beating fast in her chest, with anger, hurt, all those emotions she had desperately tried to work through but it seemed whatever peace she’d achieved in the last two years had been an illusion. Because with Kuzgun here, she felt just as small as she did every time he hurt her. She kept her eyes fixed on Robert as he unlocked her door and went inside the apartment.

“He’s a little too young for you, isn’t he?”

She forced herself to stay calm, meeting Kuzgun’s piercing stare. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d stop by,” he said sarcastically. “Why do you think I’m here?” he asked, taking a step towards her.

Instantly she retreated, refusing to let him anywhere close to her. “I don’t know, but I don’t want you here.” His jaw twitched, he linked his arms together behind his back. The action immediately drew her attention to his arms, the fabric moulding to his muscles. His hair was longer than when she last saw him, his beard the same length. Seeing how good he looked, she felt the same, deep familiar ache in her belly. Then the image of him kissing Gunesh flashed through her mind. “Please leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he declared smugly. “You’ve been running long enough. It’s time we finally settle this.”

“Because everything works around your schedule, right?” A bitter laugh escaped her lips. “You’re unbelieveable.” She shook her head in exasperation. “I’m done playing games with you, Kuzgun. I’ve been done for years. For the first time, I’m at peace. I’m content. I have a life that I love here and I’m not going to let you ruin that for me. So stop wasting both of our times and go back home.”

Before he could say anything else she went inside her apartment and slammed the door behind her. She felt sick to her stomach, she wanted to throw up. The scar on her chest felt alive, clawing at her.

“You okay?” Robert asked from the kitchen. “You look pale.”

She composed herself as much as she could. “I’m fine. Just do me a favour, stay away from him.”

“Did he knock you around or something?” Robert looked at her, concerned.

“No, nothing like that.” Her throat felt dry. “He’s dangerous in a different way.”

“Give me a few minutes alone with the asshole and I’ll get him to leave you alone.”

Dila went to the linen closet and started pulling out fresh sheets for Robert. “If you get into a confrontation with him, it’s you who’ll end up hurt. That’s the last thing I need.” She placed the linens on the sofa where he’d be sleeping. “Forget about him. He doesn’t matter.”

“Then why do you look so fucking terrified?”

She didn’t have an answer for him. “Good night, Robert.” Before he could interrogate her any further Dila went to her bedroom and shut the door. For a long time she simply sat on one corner of the bed, staring down at the ground. It was as if all the work she did to get herself in a mentally healthy place these past two years had suddenly dissipated and she was back to being unsettled, insecure, vulnerable – all because of Kuzgun. But she refused to simply roll over and let him implode her life. Not this time. Not again. Her life and everything she’d worked so hard to build meant too much to let Kuzgun ruin it.

She had no idea why he was back, but she wasn’t going down without a fight.

To be continued…

Chapter 3 (added 10-12)

“You were quiet the whole evening,” Omer said.

They were seated in his rental, in the parking lot of her building. Dila surreptitiously glanced around the lot, worried at any moment Kuzgun was going to pop out. But that was ridiculous, she reminded herself. After their confrontation last night, he had no reason to remain here. “Sorry. I’m a little tired.”

“Can I come up for a nightcap?”

“I have Robert in my apartment,” she reminded him.

“I can’t believe you let him stay in your place.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “He needed help.”

“There is a limit to how much you can help people. Please tell me you understand that.”

She sighed. “You sound like my shrink.”

“Alright, fine. I’ll stop lecturing you.”

“Thank you!”

“We can go back to my hotel room,” he offered, sliding closer to her.

“I’m sorry, I’m just really tired.” Her mind was too distracted, and she simply wasn’t in the mood to be with Omer. “Next time you come into town, I’ll make it up to you.”

“Okay, fine,” he murmured. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your door.”

It was chilly outside as they made their way towards the entrance to the building.

“This place needs an elevator,” Omer grumbled as they climbed up the stairs.

“I don’t mind. It’s my cardio for the day,”

As they steered down the hallway, he inclined his head to the apartment beside her. The door was open, large cardboard boxes sitting by the door. “Looks like you have a new neighbour.”

“Hopefully not someone too annoying,” she remarked as they came to a stop in front of her place. She could hear loud music coming from inside, which meant Robert was there. “Sorry I wasn’t more fun tonight.”

He held her hand, smiling. “It’s fine. Next time.”

“You can come in and meet Robert if you want.”

“No, thanks.”

She was reminded of how much his dismissive attitude bothered her. Dropping his hand, she started searching for her keys.

“No goodnight kiss?” he teased.

“Doesn’t seem like she’s in the mood,” came a familiar mocking voice from behind Omer. Her stomach dropped. She looked past Omer to find Kuzgun leaning against the neighbouring door, casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, eyes glinting with irritation.

Her head swarmed with confusion. Why was he back? Why did it look like he was moving into the apartment next to her? She needed to breathe, to compose her thoughts. No, she needed Kuzgun out of her life. But first, she had to get Omer out of here. “I’ll call you later,” she said, reaching up to kiss his cheek.

Omer gave her a puzzled look. “Okay, see you.”

As Omer headed towards the staircase, Dila turned to Kuzgun. “What do you think you’re doing?”

He quirked his eyebrow. “New boyfriend every night?”

“None of your business, is it?”

“Come on, Dila. This isn’t like you.”

She laughed, astounded by his arrogance. “You think you know me?”

“I know you better than anyone else.”

Dila approached him, even as the narrowing proximity between them made her nervous. Coming to a stop in front of him, she looked him squarely in the eyes. He was close, too close, but she needed to prove to herself that he couldn’t turn her into a withering mess any more. “I’m not the same person who used to be madly in love with you. If that’s why you’re here, you’re wasting your time.”

His hand reached for her hair and she retreated immediately, desperate to avoid any physical contact with him.

A slow, languid smile curved along his lips. “Some things haven’t changed. You still want me.”

She scoffed, shaking her head. “Is that why you’re here?” She crossed her arms, staring up at him defiantly. “I get it. You miss the old me. The one who used to believe in you, love you, who used to think she could heal all your hurts and make you whole again.” She bit her lip, laughing. “You miss that attention, don’t you?”  

“That’s why you think I’m here? Because I miss attention?”

“Yes.” She nodded her head emphatically. “Just get a dog, Kuzgun. It’ll give you the unconditional love that you miss so badly.” She started to walk back when he suddenly gripped her arm, pulling her towards him until she was crushed against his chest.

“I miss you.”

Two years ago, she would have melted at his confession. A year before that she would have been overjoyed. Now, she simply felt angry. “Why? Why now? I’ve been here for two years but I never heard a peep from you.”

“I was pissed off.” A muscle in his jaw twitched as his piercing gaze shot through her. “You left without saying anything to me but not Ferman. He used your shares to destroy the neighbourhood.”

Her heart reeled with disappointment. Even now, after all this time, a part of her couldn’t help but hope he loved her sincerely. Not because she was a pawn to get closer to her father, not because she stroked his ego, not because she was a convenient excuse to start a war with Ferman. Obviously she’d been a fool, and he’d managed to make her feel worthless once again. “So you’re here to wage war with Ferman.”

“If that’s what I wanted I could have just stayed at home. It would’ve been much easier with his sister chasing me around.”

“And you did nothing to encourage that, right?” Guilt flashed over his face. She swallowed audibly. That kiss had haunted her, made her feel so sick with jealousy that she couldn’t imagine ever looking at either of their faces again. It was what finally drove her to end things with Ferman and rush back to London, so maybe it had been some kind of blessing in disguise – except the thought still nauseated her. Why was she doing this to herself? How could she allow herself to fall back into the same old patterns? Because she was an idiot, that’s why. She pulled away from him, disgusted by herself. “I’m never going to let you use me ever again.”  

“Look at all the crazy excuses you’re coming up with to convince yourself I’m lying,” he said, agitated. “First you say I want attention. Now, it’s because of Ferman. What’s next, Dila? Wouldn’t it just be easier to believe me?”

“I learned a long time ago never to trust your words.” He looked hurt but she knew it was simply an illusion, something she created in her own mind to give him more gravitas than he deserved. “You’re here because you want something from me. What is it?”

“I want you back.”

“That’s never going to happen,” she replied calmly.

“You’re trying to deny your feelings for me because you’re angry, but there’s no point in fighting yourself. The heart always wins.” He exhaled a long breath. “I’ve been exactly where you are right now.”

She gave him a sad smile. “No, you never have. You have no idea what it’s like to lose yourself in someone else completely. To love someone so much that even when they keep hurting you over and over again you still can’t walk away. You turn yourself inside out, you convince yourself that the person you love wouldn’t push you over the edge on purpose but then one day you’re falling into darkness and realise that’s exactly what happened. At that point you’re in so much pain that death becomes the only escape.” Even as her eyes glistened with unshed tears, she laughed at the wary expression on his face. “Don’t worry, Kuzgun. No one expects that kind of love from you.”

She turned to walk back to her apartment, feeling a strange sense of relief. The tightness in her chest had loosened, as if finally venting those emotions were what was needed to set her free.

“I love you.”

She stopped in her tracks, processing what he just said. His tone of voice was grudging, angry even. Like he was resentful she had forced him to say the words. Whatever relief she felt a minute ago disappeared instantly. Her heart was beating so fast se worried it would explode out of her chest. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. For so long she’d wanted to hear him say those words, but the only time he’d uttered them was when she was about to kill herself. Something any decent human being would say, even to a stranger, under such extreme circumstances. And now, because of whatever reason he was hiding.  Feeling her resolve return, she faced him and started speaking to him with the same patient voice she used at work. “You’re a proud man, I know you find love to be beneath you. So that probably was an extremely difficult thing for you to say. Thank you.”

He appeared bewildered, his gaze holding hers. “I don’t want your fucking gratitude. What I want is for you to tell me you feel the same.”

Of course he did. Because Kuzgun would never put himself out there if he didn’t think the outcome was guaranteed. It’s how he had successfully maneuvered through life. “The problem, Kuzgun, is that I don’t believe you.”

The tick on his face returned, his jaw clenched. “You think I’m lying?”

“No, you’ve probably convinced yourself it’s real, but it’s not. You’re not capable of that kind of emotion.” Despite everything that happened between them, she still loved him even if he couldn’t. “I’ve made a life for myself here, one that I’m proud of. You can do the same, you know, back home.” Her voice softened. “There is goodness in you, Kuzgun. I saw it when you were fighting for your neighbourhood, when you interacted with children. Maybe one day you’ll have your own.” She swallowed the lump in her throat, remembering all the unfulfilled dreams she had with Kuzgun. A small home of their own, three children, days filled with laughter, nights filled with passion. “Whatever the reason you’re here, let it go. Forget this war with Ferman, forget everything that happened. Don’t let the world steal anything else from you. You’ve fought so hard to get revenge your entire life, now fight for your own happiness. You deserve that after everything that happened to you.”

He pored over her face, watching her intently.

Maybe this was the closure they both needed to move on. “Goodbye, Kuzgun.”

She returned to her apartment, unlocked the door and slipped inside. Robert was playing hardcore rap, not one of her favourite genres. “Can you turn that down?”

He popped out of the kitchen, clad in a pair of jeans. “I’m making dinner.”

She lowered the volume herself before heading to the kitchen. “Why?”

“Why not? I owe you for letting me crash here.”

“Temporarily.” Whatever he was cooking smelled good, but she was already full from her dinner with Omer. “Save me some for tomorrow. I ate already.”

“Just eat a bit with me.”

“I can’t.”

“Fine, whatever,” he grumbled. “Sweet and sour chicken from scratch. Learned it from a real Thai chef when I was in high school.” He winked at her mischievously. “He taught me a few other tricks in the bedroom too.”

“Of course he did. Grown man dating a high school kid. What could be wrong in that scenario?”

“Your ex moved in next door. Did you know that?”

“Don’t worry. He won’t be bothering us anymore.”

“Did you kill him?”

She pulled out a beer from the fridge and opened it. “I told him he’s wasting his time here. He should move on.”

“And that’s it? He’ll vanish now?”

She drank from the bottle. “Proud men like him don’t stick around after they’re rejected. He’ll be gone tomorrow. I guarantee it.”

“So I won’t have to kick his ass?”

“Guess not.”

Later that night she lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. A conflicting mix of relief and sorrow swept over her. Kuzgun would be out of her life again soon. As much as that hurt, she reassured herself it was for the best. They were poison for each other, their relationship one of complete toxicity. It was different when they were children, they’d been innocent and untouched from all the harshness of life, but then her father had changed all that. Both she and Kuzgun were forever affected, and they could never heal as long as they were together. 

And she needed to recover, she wanted to, she didn’t want to feel that hopeless despair ever again. And that meant being far, far away from Kuzgun.

***

It was cold outside, the air nippy, yet Kuzgun didn’t feel the chill on his skin as he drank his bottle of whiskey. His mind kept rerunning the conversation from earlier, remembering what Dila had said. Twice he’d told her he loved her and both times she’d cut him deep because she didn’t believe him. He couldn’t wrap his brain around that. Dila wasn’t a stupid woman, she was brilliant in fact. Yet she couldn’t see the truth that his heart belonged to her completely, that he loved her with everything he had. How could she not think him capable of love?  

Anger surged through him. He gave up his entire life in Turkey to be here with her. Wasn’t that enough to convince her?

He took another swig.

It was time to go home. Tomorrow he’d book his return flight and get out of here. Suddenly Cihan’s words flashed through his brain, reminding him of the promise he made to his best friend before Cihan passed away. Cihan, who called Dila his sister-in-law till the very end.

Kuzgun closed his eyes, leaned his head back on the chair. What was he doing? He couldn’t leave. Because his heart belonged here with Dila, and Cihan knew it and that’s why he’d insisted Kuzgun come for her.

Anyway, it was exactly what she expected him to do and he’d hate to be predictable. So no matter what she said, how much she pushed him away, as long as she still loved him he’d fight for her. He owed Cihan that. He owed himself that.

Dila told him to fight for his happiness. That’s exactly what he intended to do.

Chapter 4

Kuzgun knocked on Dila’s door, lightly at first and then more vigorously. He wasn’t expecting Dila to answer; she had left for work an hour ago but the kid should have been home. After a few minutes he finally answered, yawning. He was also dressed in a skimpy pair of shorts and nothing else. With his muscular frame it was clear the kid worked out, and Kuzgun grew irritated the idea of him running around naked in front of Dila.

“What do you want?” the kid asked, casting him a suspicious glint.

Kuzgun used the opportunity to scan what he could see of the living area, and breathed an inner sigh of relief when he spotted the rumpled sheets on the sofa-bed. Obviously, the kid and Dila weren’t sleeping in the same bed. “I have a job for you.”

“I’m not fucking you.”

Kuzgun glowered at him. “That’s not the job I had in mind.”

“What do you want then?”

“I have a ton of things I need to unpack next door. I’ll pay you £50 to help me out.”

“You expect me to believe that shit? You just want dirt on Dila.”

The jackass was too smart for his own good. “I’ll give you £75.”

“150.”

Kuzgun scoffed. “100. No more.”

“Fine. But you’re paying for lunch and dinner.”

“Come to my place in an hour.” Kuzgun started walking back to his apartment. “And put some goddamn clothes on.”

The kid slammed the door in response.

***

Rob, as the obnoxious kid liked to call himself, wasn’t as big of a pain in the ass as Kuzgun had first presumed. For the most part he worked quickly and efficiently, and, unfortunately for Kuzgun, he kept his mouth shut about everything related to Dila. At the moment they were quietly eating takeaway lunch when Kuzgun decided to prod again. “Want a beer?”

“Yeah.”

After a trip to the fridge, Kuzgun handed him a bottle and took a seat on the floor. “How long are you planning to stay with Dila?”

“None of your business, innit?”

“Stop being a fucking brat and answer the question.”

“What’s it to you? She doesn’t want to have anything to do with you anyway.”

That stung, especially after Dila’s words from yesterday.

“Dila can be a bloody nag but at least she gives a shit. Not many people do,” Rob said. “She’s one of the good ones.”

Kuzgun took a sip of his beer. “She’s the best person I know.”

“So why’d she dump you? You fuck around on her?”

Kuzgun glared back. “No.”

“I know she didn’t mess up. So it must have been you. What’d you do?”

The last thing Kuzgun wanted was to spill his soul to some teenage punk. “Alright, that’s enough. Let’s get back to work.”

“You’ve got no chance, mate. You know that, yeah? She’s quite fit. She’s prob got a boyfriend already.”

Kuzgun scowled at Rob. “If you don’t get your ass up right now, I’m not paying you anything.”

Rob chugged the rest of his beer in a hurry.

***

By the time Dila returned home from work, it was already past six in the evening. She was tired, physically and mentally, and longing for a glass of wine and sleep. Dinner would probably be pizza but she didn’t think Rob would mind. That boy ate anything, which was a relief.

As she walked past the apartment which Kuzgun had rented, she cast a wistful glance at the door. Loneliness had marked her existence ever since he’d disappeared as a child. When he returned as an adult, she had clung to him tightly hoping their connection would heal them both – but it hadn’t. Their relationship had been so toxic that loneliness stopped being her biggest fear. Instead, she dreaded the deep anguish resulting from the choices he made, the decisions that were forced upon her.

In the past it was revenge that drove Kuzgun’s every move but his pride was a close second. He used it as an armour against the world, a way to protect himself from any genuine emotions that may inadvertently hurt him. A part of her used to wish she was as proud as him, maybe then she could have defended her heart against all the pain, but it had taken many therapy sessions to realise that that was no way to live. Neither was hiding from the world, like she’d done with Ferman.

While Dila would never let herself become so desolate again that death seemed the only escape, that didn’t mean she had to reject emotions that made her vulnerable. After all it was those same feelings that allowed her to help troubled teenagers now. They recognized themselves in her, someone who knew true isolation, someone who had also suffered in life, and they connected with her because of it. That mattered a lot more than her own self-preservation. Ironically enough, helping these kids was what finally drove away the loneliness she’d feared so much when she was younger.

She glanced at Kuzgun’s door again. Most likely, he’d already left. Even though a part of her ached for him, she reminded herself this was for the best. For both of them.

Using her keys, she unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside. The apartment was empty as Rob wasn’t around, which meant she had a few minutes of complete privacy to indulge in a warm bath. Smiling, she headed to the bathroom to fill up the tub.

An hour later she was dressed in her favourite silk robe and enjoying a glass of wine when she heard keys clattering from the other side of the door. Rob walked in with a box of pizza, a breezy smile on his face.

“Hey.” She turned off the TV to greet him. “You look happy.”

“Made 100 quids today.” He beamed with a proud grin. “And scored this box of pizza for free.”

Her forehead furrowed with concern. “What did you do? Don’t tell me you went-“

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I didn’t have to blow or fuck anyone.” Placing the box of pizza in front of her, he opened the lid and grabbed himself a slice. “Just had to help someone move some boxes.”

“That’s a lot of money. Was it a friend of yours?”

He nodded, quickly looking way. Something troubled her about his reaction, especially since he was avoiding her gaze. “Rob. What are you not telling me? What did you do to get the money?”

Rob’s chin jutted stubbornly forward. “It wasn’t anything illegal.”

“Then why aren’t you telling me?” She drew in a calming breath, trying not to reveal her disappointment to him. “I was serious when I said you can’t be turning tricks or getting high when you’re staying with me.”

“I didn’t!” Rob said defensively.

“Then how did you get that money?”

The way he sat down on the sofa, pouting, made her think of a child about to have a temper tantrum. “You’re going to be pissed when I tell you.”

“As long as you didn’t do anything illegal, I promise I won’t.”

“Fine. It was your ex. He came to the flat this morning and asked if I’d help him unpack and move his stuff around.”

Her anger was potent, filling her with so much rage that she practically started trembling. How dare he? How dare Kuzgun use Rob to get info on her? Because that’s exactly why he’d asked Rob for help.

“See?” Rob looked up at her from the sofa, concerned. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. You’re pissed at me.”

Her lips pressed into a thin line, she headed for the door. “No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m pissed at him.” She slammed it behind her, and stormed towards Kuzgun’s flat. His door bore the brunt of her temper as she pounded on the surface. When Kuzgun finally answered, she pushed past him and charged inside. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, facing him.

He shut the door gently. “Want something to drink?”

“Answer my question.”

“I’ll pour you a glass of red,” he said, sauntering past her casually.

She followed him into the kitchen, incensed by his nonchalance. “I don’t want a bloody drink!”

“Okay, then I’ll pour myself one.”

It was as if he was deliberately trying to goad her, and she’d had enough. Grabbing his arm, she forced him to turn around. The moment their eyes met, she realised her mistake because now his beautiful, brown eyes were languidly roving over her face, lingering down her body, inhaling her in. She sensed every nerve come alive under the intensity of his piercing gaze. Her throat felt parched, she swallowed. Under her silk robe she was only wearing a pair of lace panties and the twinkle in his eyes seemed to reveal he already knew that. She crossed her arms, took a step back.

“Leave Rob alone,” she said in her sternest voice, glaring at him.

“Why? Seems like he needs a job and I need help.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No, I think you’re beautiful.”

She blinked for a few seconds, dumbfounded. Kuzgun wasn’t one to flatter easily; she couldn’t even remember the last time he’d called her beautiful.

Her breath caught in her throat when he reached out to touch her hair, curling the strands around his finger. “Why are you doing this?” she asked, staring up at him.

The corners of his eyes crinkled; a half-smile lit up his face. “What am I doing?”

“Moving in next door. Barging into my life. Making friends with my roommate. Why? Why do all that?”

“Why do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

His eyes gleamed with sincerity as he leaned forward, inching closer to her. “My life has no meaning if you’re not with me.”

Once upon a time she would have been ecstatic to hear those words and reveal her excitement. Now, she forced herself not to give away even the littlest bit of emotion. “But mine does. Does that not matter to you?”

A resigned sigh escaped him as he pulled away, linking his arms behind him. “You can’t be happy without me.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Come on, Dila. Do you really believe I’d hurt you?”

“You have. Many times.”

He looked startled by her words, like she’d slapped him. Pain flashed across his face. In turn, her stomach turned and she felt like vomiting – the last thing she wanted was to cause him more suffering. “Kuzgun, we can’t be in each other’s lives. Don’t you see that? It’s better for the both of us when we’re apart.”

His jaw twitched, a dark storm brewing in his eyes. “Maybe before, but it would be different now.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m different!” he snapped. Agitated, he rubbed the back of his neck. “What do I have to do to prove it? Tell me and I’ll do it.”

“Nothing.” Saddened, she shook her head. “There’s nothing you can do, nothing you say that’ll make me change my mind.”

His lips pursed into a thin line, a stubborn glint replacing the sorrow in his eyes. “Then what difference does it make if I live here or not?”

“It doesn’t.”

“Exactly. So I’ll just make a life for myself here.”

Irritation surged through her, but she tried not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her react. “Do whatever you want, but stay the hell away from me and Rob.” She started to walk away but stopped when Kuzgun spoke from behind.

“That kid will get himself into trouble if he’s left alone.”

Hearing Kuzgun’s words, she turned back reluctantly. “What do you mean?”

He raised an eyebrow, leaning back against the counter. “He’s lived on the streets for a long time, right?”

“What else did he tell you?”

“Not much, but I can tell he’s gone through a lot.”

Dila nibbled on her bottom lip, and immediately Kuzgun’s eyes narrowed, following her every move. “Stop staring at me like that.”

An unexpected smile formed across his mouth. “Make me.”

Her heart fluttered, she found it hard to breathe all of a sudden.

“If you want that kid to stay out of trouble, keep him busy. Trust me on this. Don’t let him get restless.”

Dila forced herself to pay attention to what Kuzgun was saying instead of fixating on his smile. “Fine. I’ll find him a job.”

“Let him work for me.”

His suggestion troubled her. Kuzgun was attracted to the life of darkness and chaos that came with illegal activities, and that was the last thing Rob needed. “I don’t want Rob involved in your kind of work. He’s already been arrested a few times.”

His brows knit together with frustration. “I’m not going to be joining the fucking mafia, Dila. I want to start an actual business here. All legal, I promise.”

Surprised, she stared at him. “What kind of business?”

“I have a few ideas. But I need help researching, looking into things, and the kid can help me with all that.”

“I don’t want him to get hurt. He may come across like he’s all tough but he’s not.”

“I know the type.” Kuzgun said with a self-deprecating smile. “I’ll keep him safe.”

She wanted to believe him, desperately. “I’m trusting you with him. Don’t let me down. Please.”

“I won’t break your trust. I promise.”

Eyes locked, several feet apart, they stared at each other. She wanted to drown in him, she ached to breathe him in, to touch him. As he slowly approached her, the rational part of her brain screamed at her to turn around, to leave, but she was spellbound by him. When he stopped directly in front of her, she worried her knees would buckle.

“Dila?”

Captivated, she held his gaze.

“Next time you show up at my place in this robe…” His finger traced over the silk fabric over her right breast, the sensation so arousing she felt her nipple harden under his touch. “Be prepared for me to rip it off you.”

Dila scurried away immediately, using every ounce of will power she had.

The last thing she heard as she closed the door behind her was his soft laughter echoing from behind.

Chapter 5

Dila stared up at the ceiling, her eyes leaden with unshed tears. Her morning alarm went off, indicating it was time to get ready for work but she turned it off. Her heart felt heavy, her soul weighed down.

Today was the third anniversary of her father’s death.

She reminded herself that there were people who needed her, that she simply couldn’t stay in bed and hide under the blankets for the third day in a row. Except every attempt to move felt impossible, like her body simply refused to yield. Depression was a part of her life for as long as she could remember but it had significantly worsened after her father’s death, finally culminating with her attempted suicide. While she’d managed to physically recover with Ferman’s help, it hadn’t been until she moved to London and immersed herself in intensive therapy that she finally started feeling mentally healthy. For the most part her medication allowed her to live a normal, productive life, keeping the bad days at bay, but not now. Now, everything felt hopeless.

On the first anniversary of her father’s death, she visited his grave with Ferman by her side. Because of safety concerns, Ferman had made special arrangements for them to visit at night, after the cemetery had already closed. For two hours she sat by his gravestone, at first crying and then reminiscing about childhood memories. The second anniversary, she was already in London and chose not to go back to Istanbul, a joint decision made with her therapist as she’d just started to work through her issues. Ali and Naz had been supportive of her decision and, up until this a few days ago, she would’ve easily defended that decision. But not today. Today she felt ashamed. She felt guilty. She killed her father with her own hands and she couldn’t even bother to visit his grave. What kind of a daughter was she? How could she be this person?

The insistent knock on the door brought her back to reality, and she reluctantly answered from bed. “What?”

“You’re not going to work again?” Rob asked from the other side of the closed door.

“No.”

“Do you need anything?”

She just wanted to be left alone. “No.”

Silence ensued, and she heard the front door slam after a few seconds. Pulling the blanket up to her chin, she closed her eyes.

***

Kuzgun prepared breakfast and tea, but couldn’t bring himself to eat anything. Instead he did some push-ups, pull-ups, exhausting himself as much as he could. Yet he sill felt restless, unsettled, as if something was crawling under his skin and poisoning him from the inside out. Desperate for relief, he decided to take a shower.

The first few seconds under the hot shower felt comforting but then the uneasiness returned, manifesting itself physically. His skin felt like it was on fire, and he began to scratch the spot above his heart where Dila’s name resided.

Every year it was the same. What should have been the happiest day of his life when he finally destroyed the man who had betrayed his father so mercilessly, he felt a deep sense of despair, sometimes even anxiety. Because Rifat’s death had triggered the beginning of the end of his relationship with Dila, and his heart mourned the loss of her tremendously.

Shortly after he was pacing back and forth, trying to distract himself, when the kid arrived. Like always, Rob headed for the kitchen and grabbed himself some breakfast. He was eating at the dining table when Kuzgun handed him a cup of coffee.

“Is Dila okay?” Kuzgun asked.

“She’s still sick.” He scooped a pile of eggs into his mouth. “She’s not going to work today either.”

Kuzgun pursed his lips, rubbing the back of his neck. “Give me your keys.”

“No.” Rob scowled. “Why should I?”

Agitated, Kuzgun glared at him. “I want to go check on her. Hand them over.”

“Fuck, no! She’ll have my head if I give ’em to you.”

“I’m worried about her.”

“Why? It’s probably just a cold or something.”

“Her father died today.” Kuzgun scratched the scar on his chest again. “I mean, three years ago. She’s… I just want to make sure she’s alright.”

Rob stared at him for a few seconds. “You’re not going to do anything creepy like crawl into bed with her when she’s sleeping, right?”

Kuzgun scowled in response. “Really? You think I’m going to try and get some on a day like this?”

Rob shrugged his shoulders, retrieving keys from his pocket. “So what am I supposed to do? Hang out here or something?”

He knew damn well the kid would find trouble of some kind if he was left with nothing to do. “I’m not paying you to goof around.” He pointed to the fridge. “I made a list. Go pick up those things. And start researching locations in that neighbourhood we talked about.”

“Whatever.”

Nervousness fluttered in his stomach as Kuzgun exited his apartment and walked down the hallway to Dila’s flat. He told himself he would stay out of sight, he would just check on her to make sure she was alright and leave. She’d be angry if she saw him and he didn’t want to make today harder for her than it needed to be, but he also couldn’t just abandon her.

After Kuzgun shot Behram and Dila had disappeared, he’d searched for her like a madman – to no avail. She was nowhere to be found. He’d constantly lived in agony of not knowing whether she was alive or dead, until the day he received the summons for divorce proceedings. Then the clouds had opened up and he’d been filled with hope. Dila was alive.

On the anniversary of Rifat’s death, Kuzgun had staked out the cemetery all day long. He’d known, without a doubt, that if Dila was in Istanbul then she would show up at her father’s grave to pay her respects. But as the day passed, Kuzgun grudgingly came to the realisation she wasn’t coming. With a heavy heart, he’d finally left when the cemetery closed.

Kuzgun entered the apartment, trying to be as quiet as possible. He surveyed the surroundings. Rob’s clothes were scattered all over the living room and Kuzgun made a mental note to lecture the kid; it was enough Dila was letting him stay there, she shouldn’t have had to clean up after him either.

The layout was similar to Kuzgun’s own apartment, except smaller. That surprised him. She’d spent most of her life in luxury, and even Ferman had lavished her with money – but her apartment didn’t reflect any of that. As tiny as it was, however, it was cozy, filled with things that filled it with a homely ambience. In a way it reminded her of the home she used to live in when they were children. Pictures of her family members lay atop the console table, along with one of Dila and Rifat in happier times. Instantly rage flooded over him, a pavlovian response to the sight of the man who had ruined his life. The hate he felt for Rifat was bone-deep. It had fueled him for so long, given him a reason to live even through the worst of circumstances, but then he’d found something better, more powerful, to live for. Dila. Her love was the ray of light that dissolved all the darkness within him, and now that he’d had a taste of what hope felt like he couldn’t let go. Placing the picture back on the table, he headed towards the bedroom.

The door was shut. Kuzgun contemplated simply opening it but then decided against the option. Hesitantly, he knocked on the door. There was no response. He opened the door quietly and found her lying in bed, facing away from him. With tentative steps he circled the bed to check up on her. Her eyes were closed, she was sound asleep. He peered at her, inhaling her in. Eventually he decided to let her rest while he waited in the other room.

In between cleaning up the apartment and doing the dishes, Kuzgun checked up on Dila throughout the day. She slept for hours, causing him to worry. This wasn’t normal. At one point he touched his hand to her forehead to see if she had a temperature but she didn’t. After waiting for hours, Kuzgun finally decided to wake her up so she could at least eat something.

“Dila,” he murmured, taking a seat next to her on the bed. “Dila, wake up,” he said softly, nudging her arm.

For a brief moment her eyes opened. “Go away.”

“Just eat something. You’ve been sleeping for hours.”

“Go away,” she repeated, more forceful this time, before closing her eyes again.

Realizing he was fighting a losing battle, Kuzgun let her go back to sleep.

For a long time he simply sat beside her, watching her sleep. Once in a while his fingers laced through her hair, removing the strands from her face, or he’d stroke her skin just to remind himself she was really there, that this wasn’t a dream or a hallucination. After an hour he took a seat on the floor, and leaned his head back against the wall to get some rest.

***

They were on the rooftop. Dila was covered in blood, holding a gun to her head, as he begged her to stop. Every time he ran towards her to pull the gun away she disappeared into thin air, only to appear a few feet away from him again. It was a vicious cycle, and Kuzgun was on his knees, hysterical, crying for her to stop. Suddenly Rifat was standing beside her, smiling.

“Come to me, daughter.”

Behram was on the other side of Dila, smiling with glee. “Shoot, Dila. Shoot.”

“No!” Kuzgun screamed. “Dila, don’t! Don’t, Dila! Stay with me please.”

But she wasn’t looking at him, she was staring at her father, smiling, like she’d finally found peace. This time she pulled the trigger, and her skull splattered on the floor, on to Kuzgun’s face, his mouth, his Dila torn into pieces.

Kuzgun awoke with a start, his heart pounding. It took him a few seconds to calm down, for his heart to return to normal speed and then he remembered he wasn’t in his room. He was in Dila’s. It was dark, he could barely see anything. Pulling his phone out to use as a flashlight, he found the lamp switch on the night stand table and turned it on.

When he turned to look at Dila, he was startled to find her awake in bed. She was staring back at him, her eyes dull and vacant, a direct contrast to how she usually looked. Her gorgeous blue eyes always brimmed with emotion, no matter if she was angry, sad or happy, but now they appeared blank and it terrified him. “Dila?” he urged, moving closer to her. On his knees next to her bed, he cradled her face. “Are you okay? Are you hungry? Should I call a doctor?”

“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice flat.

“I was worried about you. Rob said you didn’t go into work for three days-“

“Why aren’t you celebrating?”

He paused, confused. “What?”

There was no emotion in her voice. She seemed completely detached from the conversation they were having. “My father died today. This must be the happiest day of your life.”

Jaw clenched, he sat down next to her on the bed. “Come on, get up. You haven’t eaten anything for hours.”

“How did it feel to get everything you wanted?” she asked, unruffled, like they were discussing the weather.

Kuzgun didn’t know what to do, how to get through this impervious mask she was wearing. He wished she’d get angry, scream at him, even hit him, anything that would make her snap out of this.

And then you had him watch while I killed him. The icing on the cake. How good did that make you feel?”

His heart squeezed in his chest, he felt sick. The last thing he’d wanted was to hurt Dila in such a horrible way but Behram had ensured Dila paid for her mistakes. Kuzgun knew he was responsible for her suffering, including Behram’s actions. If he hadn’t been blinded by revenge and actually opened his eyes, seen the truth and ended Behram earlier, then Dila wouldn’t have suffered as much as she did. He couldn’t change the past but he was determined to spend the rest of his life making it up to her. “Dila,” he urged, cupping her face. He half-expected her to recoil from his touch but she didn’t, instead holding his gaze. “I’m going to get you something to eat, and then we’ll talk about everything. I promise.”

“I wish Ferman hadn’t saved me that day on the rooftop. I would be with my parents right now, I’d be happy. I’d be far away from you.”

Her words simultaneously frightened and angered him, but he reminded himself to stay calm. “The only thing Ferman ever did right in this life was save you from Behram’s enemies. That’s why he’s still alive.”

“That’s your solution to everything.” Her eyes were on him, but it felt more like she was staring through him. Like he wasn’t there. “How long before you kill me?”

Kuzgun stood up. “I’m getting you soup.” He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He was furious, furious. He wanted to shake her awake, demand that she act like herself, because he had no idea how to talk to her when she was acting so… lifeless. Angrily he poured her a bowl of hot soup that he’d prepared earlier, filled a glass with warm water, another one with orange juice, and placed them all on a tray.

When he returned to the bedroom, she was lying in the exact same position he’d left her in. Sighing, he approached her with the tray.

“Sit up,” he growled.

“I’m not hungry.”

“I don’t care.” He placed the tray on the nightstand table before forcing her to sit up. The fire in her returned as she struggled against him but he was stronger, more determined. Eventually, she did as he ordered and leaned back against the headboard. Kuzgun placed the tray on her lap, taking her hand and wrapping it around the spoon. “Eat, Dila. Or I’ll feed you myself.”

Her fiery blue eyes glared back at him with irritation, and he resisted the urge to smile. His Dila was still in there, slowly resurfacing.

“After you’re done, you’re going to take a shower.”

“Go to hell!” she muttered, in between spoonful of soup.

He ignored her. “And you’ll go to the office tomorrow. I’m sure you’ve got tons of work waiting for you.”

“Why are you here?”

He stood up. “Do you want a bath or a shower?”

“I want you gone.”

“Bath it is. It’ll make you feel better.” Kuzgun headed for the bathroom. After drawing her a bubble bath, he returned to the bedroom and was pleased to find she’d finished the soup. “Ready?”

“Are you going to watch me strip naked?”

He smiled at her. “If you want me to.”

“Leave me alone!”

“I’m giving you five minutes. If you’re not in the tub by then, I’m throwing you in there myself.” Eyebrow cocked, he dipped his head to the side. “And I’m joining you.”

Before she could argue he picked up the tray of empty dishes and steered towards the door. “Five minutes, Dila.”

“Fuck you!”

Kuzgun smiled, glad to have his passionate Dila back.

***

An hour later she was freshly bathed, wearing a terry-cloth robe and still angry at him albeit in the living room this time, both seated beside each other on the couch. Although the TV was on, he wasn’t paying any attention with Dila sitting only a few inches away. Her beautiful hair was piled atop her head leaving her beautiful, elegant neck exposed, and her perfume – a combination of sandalwood and rose – was wreaking havoc with his senses.

“How long are you planning to stay here? Why don’t you go home?” she asked.

He started channel surfing. “The kid’s on his way back. I’ll leave when he gets here.”

“I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Good to know.”

“I want to be alone.”

“Too bad.”

“I hate you!” she spat out defiantly.

Her cheeks were flushed red, blue eyes shimmering with emotion, and she looked so adorable in that robe that he couldn’t help smiling at her outburst. Then she crossed her knees, and his attention shifted instantly to her beautiful, smooth legs. All he could think about were her shapely legs wrapped around him while he was inside her.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

Her words dragged him back to reality and he gave her a pointed glance, leaning against the sofa. “Why do you think?”

“Who knows what goes on in your mind?”

His arm was stretched along the top of the sofa, his fingers a hair breadth away from the nape of her neck. “If you really want to know, just ask.”

She turned to look at him, her gaze piercing into his soul. “You took care of me tonight, and you’ve been looking after Rob these past few days. So, obviously, I owe you. What do you want?”

It stung his heart that she viewed his actions as transactional, anything he did for her needed to be repaid. “Nothing, Dila.”

“Do you want to have sex?’

“What?” He sat up straight, shocked by her words.

“You heard me. I don’t want to have to owe you anything. So if having sex makes us even then I’d rather just do it and get it over with.”

“Stop.” Considering how deep their connection was, he was disgusted by her callous offer. “Don’t piss me off more.”

“I see the way you look at me. Or are you going to tell me I’m imagining it?”

He scooted closer, his face twisted with emotion. “I don’t want to just fuck you. I want more.”

“You don’t need love to be with me,” she said, levelling him with a cold expression. “Or is it because I’m coming across as too easy? I know you don’t like that.”

Realisation sunk in. “So that’s what this is. You’re getting back at me.”

“I’m simply reminding you of your own words.”

Just then the kid walked in, and Kuzgun recognized now was not the time to hold this conversation. He stood up. “We’ll talk about this later, when you’re feeling better.”

She didn’t acknowledge him, staring straight ahead at the TV.

After a quick conversation with the kid, Kuzgun headed back to his apartment and into his bedroom. Sitting on his nightstand table were the wedding bands Dila had bought for them. Her ring was engraved with his name, but she’d never had his engraved. Not that he blamed her, considering how he’d treated her. Before coming to London, however, he’d had his own ring marked with her name because he’d believed, without a doubt, they’d work through their issues and reconcile.

He squeezed the rings in his palm, desperate for something that gave him tangible reassurance of the strength of their bond. Now, more than ever, he needed to believe they still had a chance because he couldn’t imagine a life without Dila in it – even if she was determined to push him away.

CHAPTER 6

Dila was at their neighbourhood pub, observing quietly as the rest of the group she was with chatted and enjoyed themselves. It was a good feeling to see some of the previous teenagers she’d helped mingling with her current set, especially the more difficult ones. She was under no illusion that any of them were here for her sake, but she had lured them out tonight with the promise of free food and drinks with the hope that the relaxed atmosphere would help encourage new friendships – and it seemed to be working. It was important for her troubled clients to see people who had gone through similar difficult experiences and come out in a better place.

The door opened, setting off the bell, and she turned to find Robert looking around. She smiled, gesturing for him to come over. “You hungry?” she asked, when he joined her at the table.

“Nah. Just thirsty.” He poured himself a glass of beer from the pitcher on the table. “I brought a mate with me. That’s alright, yeah?”

“Who is it?”

Almost on cue, Kuzgun entered the pub. Like always, her heart fluttered at the sight of him – especially when he looked this good. Dressed in jeans, a casual blue t-shirt and a leather jacket, he was devastatingly handsome. As he sauntered towards her, she noted the glances of admiration he elicited from the other female patrons and her temper flared.

“Hi.” He smiled, taking the seat next to her.

She forced herself to look away, distracting herself with a drink. “Hi,” she said noncommittally.

“You don’t mind I’m here, do you?”

“Would it matter if I did?”

“No,” he said with a cheeky smile, surprising her.

She set down her half-empty glass, which he promptly picked up and took a sip from. “That’s mine.”

“This beer tastes like shit.”

“Get your own then.”

“I will.” He stood up and walked to the bar, and she tried her best not to check out his ass.

“He’s quite fit,” Rob piped in, smirking.

“Shut up.”

***

An hour later it was just Dila and Kuzgun at the table, everyone else was playing pool. She started pouring herself a drink from the pitcher when Kuzgun covered her hand with his own. Immediately she retracted her arm, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was already sitting too close for comfort, the last thing she needed was actual physical contact from him to mess with her thoughts. He lifted the pitcher and filled up her glass before doing the same for himself, the liquid sloshing around.

“I can do that on my own, you know,” she pointed out.

“I didn’t want you to spill any. I know how clumsy you get when you’re a little drunk.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not a lightweight. I can handle my liquor.”

He picked up some peanuts, chewing on them. “I also know you like to manhandle me when you’re wasted. Really looking forward to that.”

Remembering their first encounter together as adults, she laughed.

“I love that sound,” he remarked, his soulful eyes wandering over every inch of her face. He dipped his head, peeking at her from beneath his long, beautiful eyelashes. “I was worried after last week.”

Her smile stiffened. Depression episodes were a part of her life; however, it was not something she wanted to talk about with him. “What did you and Rob do today?” she asked, hoping the change of subject would detract him from the conversation.

“It scared me, seeing you like that,” Kuzgun confessed, staring at her intently. “I didn’t know how to get through to you.”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Why not?”

She scoffed. “Why should I? So you can use it against me?”

“Do you think I’d do that?”

Her gaze met his, incredulous that he seemed so oblivious to the many times he’d thrown her weaknesses back in her face. “You have before.”

“I can’t change the past, Dila.”

Her heart pounded in her chest as he reached for her hand, holding her palm between his own. The heat of his touch was somehow both comforting yet also set every nerve in her body tingling.

“All I can do is promise I won’t hurt you again. You can trust me,” he urged, stroking her hand gently.

The low murmur of his voice played havoc with her senses. The rest of the world had dimmed, it was just the two of them.

“Okay, let’s do this. Why don’t you ask me something, anything, and I’ll answer it. And then I’ll ask you questions. We’ll take turns.”

The spell was broken. Disappointed, she shook her head. “No. You can talk to me about anything, but do it because you want to. Because you’re choosing to open up to me, like I’ve done with you many times. But don’t pretend like you’re doing me some kind of favour. I’m not going to play quid pro quo with you.” She pulled her hand away, concentrating on the glass in front of her.

“You make it sound so easy.”

A bitter smile formed along her lips. “It’s not. Not at all. Letting someone in is terrifying, especially when they use your feelings against you.”

Silence fell over them, which wasn’t surprising. Kuzgun wasn’t one to risk being vulnerable.

“These things you’re doing for the kids, it’s incredible.”

She turned to him. He was observing the group, a pensive look on his face. “I’m not doing anything extraordinary. It’s my job.” Her eyes swept over the laughing teenagers. “They need a fair chance, a shot at a life where they can make something of themselves. I want to help them recognize their own worth, they need to believe their dreams have value.”

“Sometimes I wonder how different we would be if I’d come back sooner.”

“I wish I knew.” She’d contemplated the same thing many times before. “Maybe nothing would be different, we’d be exactly who we are now.”

“Maybe not. Maybe things would be better between us.”

It was strange to hear him sound hopeful when he’d always been the cynical one. “I doubt it,” she replied honestly. It had taken a long time for her to realise there was nothing she could have done to temper his anger. His need for revenge was what fuelled him and not something she could change – as hard as it was to admit. “You’d still be obsessed with revenge.”

“You’d find a way to get through to me.”

“But I didn’t before,” she pointed out, resigned. “I don’t think I ever could.”

His gaze met hers. “You found your way inside my heart, no matter how much I tried to push you away.”

“It didn’t make any difference though. You still destroyed everyone.”

His piercing stare was hypnotic; she couldn’t look away even if she wanted to.

“It was hard for me to trust anyone, Dila. After everything, I just couldn’t.”

She nodded her head, her heart breaking for him. “I know. I’m sorry for everything that happened to you.”

His eyes trailed downward, seemingly focused on her sweater but she didn’t think he was really looking at anything. Various emotions flitted over his face, as if he was reliving the past. “Anytime someone was kind to me, it’s because they wanted something. I always had to have my guard up or I’d die.”

She thought about his kidney being taken, and it took everything she had not to hold him tight in her arms. All she wanted was to protect him from the world but she’d failed at it. Terribly. Instead, she reached out to cover his hand with her own.

Kuzgun didn’t look up.

“There was this one kid. He was the same age as me, I think. We weren’t friends or anything, but we both lived on the streets. At night, when it was cold, we’d huddle around the same firepit. I remember this man being nice to him, too nice, and I knew there was something wrong. I warned him too, but he didn’t listen. I thought, okay, fine, he’ll learn like I did when someone stole his kidney. I still remember when we found him a few nights later. They’d dumped his body on the street. He was naked. Bloody. Bruised. He’d been raped.”

Anguished, she enveloped Kuzgun in her arms and hugged him as hard as she could. If only she could erase all his pain. If only she could heal him. But she knew that was impossible so she simply comforted him the best way she knew how.

He sank into her, his arms curved around her back.

Dila knew it was a rarity when Kuzgun allowed himself emotional comfort of any kind. It was only a matter of time before he would pull away, probably offer some kind of vitriolic comment as a way to put his walls up again. She prepared herself for the eventual onslaught, even as he drew closer and tightened his embrace.

She breathed him in, his subtle cologne filling her senses. He felt so good in her arms, so solid, heat emanating from his body and right into her.

“I spent most of my life terrified of being betrayed again,” he confessed.

She pulled back to look at him. The genuine emotion on his face, all the years of anguish and torment were revealed in his eyes. Her hand instinctively reached up to cradle his cheek, and he caressed his face against her skin. He closed his eyes for a moment. Still. Silent.

“But that day on the rooftop, seeing you with the gun, watching what you did and not being able to stop you…” He exhaled a sharp breath, sounding agonized. “That’s the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life, Dila.”

“You two should get a room.”

Hearing Rob’s teasing voice brought her crashing back to reality. Immediately she withdrew from Kuzgun, desperate to regain her composure. Her cheeks flushed red when she noticed the group of teenagers watching her and giggling. The only person who seemed not to care was Kuzgun as he casually reached for his glass of beer.

“Be respectful,” he ordered, talking to Rob.

“Says the bloke snogging my flatmate in front of everyone,” Rob retorted.

“Hey!” Kuzgun’s voice was deadly serious now. “What did I tell you about not being a jackass?”

Dila stood up and walked away. Joining the group by the pool table, she kept herself busy talking with them. Although she felt Kuzgun’s gaze boring into her, she ignored him. Her heart was pounding in her chest. What the hell was she doing? It took every bit of resolve she’d had to straighten out her life and find some semblance of peace again. Was she really ready to give up all the work she’d done on herself after one tender moment with Kuzgun? No way.

No way in hell. 

Chapter 7

Kuzgun sat back and watched Dila as she rounded up the remaining group of teenagers still in the pub. Most had left already but there were still a few lingerers, and Dila was trying to send them home as politely as possible. She was tired and hoping to end the night soon. Or maybe she was trying to simply escape him.

An hour earlier he’d opened up to her and shared the horrors of his past, confessing his biggest fear. For a moment her walls came down, the softness and compassion within her which he loved so much glistened in her eyes – but then she suddenly walked away, putting not only physical but also emotional distance between them. Her rejection stung. A part of him was hurt, severely pissed off. It’s not like it was easy for him to let anyone in, it had taken a lot for him to get to this place and she didn’t even seem to care. He’d even stormed out of the pub, determined to go home, but standing in the cold air had provided a brief respite and a different perspective. She was doing to him what he’d done to her time and time again, and he simply had to be patient. It wasn’t a new epiphany, it was something he had drilled in his head many a times by Cihan – but it was hard to remember that when he was feeling rejected. So he’d stayed outside for several minutes to calm himself down before returning to the pub. And now he was simply observing her, enjoying her in her element.

After the last of her group finally left the pub, Dila headed to the bartender to take care of the bill. Unsurprisingly, she turned over to glare at him when the bartender informed her the bill was already paid. Kuzgun smiled. She wasn’t avoiding him now. As she stormed towards him, he casually leaned back in the booth, resting his arm along the cushion. Her cheeks were red with anger, her blue eyes sparkling more than usual. Goddamn, she was beautiful.

“Why did you pay my bill?” she demanded standing in front of him.

“Because I wanted to.”

“You had no right to do that.”

He took a sip of his beer. “Why don’t you pay me back by taking me out to dinner?”

“Why don’t you go to hell?”

He laughed as she strutted away to the bathroom, leaving him to admire her from a distance. The pub was in their neighbourhood, and he recognized few of the people in there, even nodding hello to some when they smiled at him. More and more this new place, this new country was beginning to feel like home but without the ghosts from the past haunting him. While it was true he missed his family occasionally, he also felt more at peace with the distance between them. He’d lived alone for so long, had changed so much but it was as if his family couldn’t understand why he was so different than the little boy that had been taken. His mother didn’t see him for who he was and instead viewed him as some kind of perfect child, his sister didn’t approve of his ways, and Kartal had moved away to make a new life for himself. Cihan was the only one who hadn’t weighed him down with expectations and Kuzgun felt the ache of his best friend’s loss daily.

Kuzgun was pulled out of his reverie the moment he saw Dila talking to some guy near the pool table. Immediately his temper flared. Her back was to him but it was clear she was flirting with the guy, her soft laughter drifting over to his corner of the room. Kuzgun’s jaw clenched, he glared at them. It was obvious she was doing this to piss him off. Fine. If she wanted his attention, she got it.

He stood up and sauntered over to the pool table, sneering at the sight of Dila teaching the guy how to take the perfect shot. “Having fun, sweetheart?” he taunted, leaning against the pool table directly next to Dila.

The guy looked visibly uncomfortable as his gaze shifted between Kuzgun and Dila. “Sorry, didn’t realise you were here with someone.”

“I’m not,” Dila replied.

“Whatever. I’m not getting involved in this.” The guy walked away, leaving Kuzgun and Dila alone together.

Her blue eyes glared up at him with hostility as she turned to confront him. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Giving you what you want.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You were flirting with him to get my attention.”

“Unbelievable. You really believe everything I do is for your benefit, don’t you? You arrogant asshole-“

“That guy’s not your type,” Kuzgun interjected, smirking.

“Polite, handsome and the complete opposite of you. Seems exactly like my type.”

“He’s a coward. See how fast he ran when he saw me?”

“He knows better than to deal with jealous jackasses.”

Kuzgun scoffed, smirking. “I’m not jealous.”

Silence ensued, which surprised him considering her temper. Eventually she shook her head, returning the cue stick to its location. “No, of course not. You were never jealous, not of Selchuk or Bora or even Ferman. Because admitting jealousy means revealing your insecurities and you’re too proud for that, right?”

Irritation swept over him. “You’re lecturing me about jealousy? How many times did I catch you sneaking around Gunesh and me? Let’s not forget why you left the country!”

It was the wrong thing to say and he regretted it instantly, especially as her eyes brimmed with anguish.

“Yeah, I did,” she admitted quietly. “Because I was jealous. I was hurt. And I realised you’d do anything to spite Ferman, probably even marry Gunesh.” She drew her lower lip between her teeth, rubbing her forehead. It looked like she was trying not to cry. “She fit in perfectly with your family. Seeing her having dinner with you, your mom, seeing you guys laugh together… you actually put in effort with her which you never did with me. It was painful to see.”

“You can’t honestly think I had feelings for her. I’ve only ever wanted you.” He reached for her hand but she waved him away, avoiding any physical contact with him.

“I loved you so much, with everything I had. But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough for you.” She met his gaze, her face solemn. “But just because you found me lacking doesn’t mean someone else will.” Her chin jutted out ever so slightly, her eyes filled with defiance. “I’ll fall in love again one day. Maybe even have children.”

“I want that with you.”

She shook her head vigorously. “No, not with you. You and I aren’t good for each other.”

Her words sounded resolute, final, and it terrified him.

“I’m not saying this to hurt you.” Blue eyes glazed with softness, she stared up at him with so much love his heart ached. “You deserve to be happy too. You should go back home, get married. Start a family. And give me the chance to do the same.”

Dila walked away, leaving him watching after her – but he wasn’t done talking. Not even close.

He followed her outside the pub. Once they were a few feet away from the pub, he spun her around to face him. “You keep telling me you want me to be open! I told you things I’d never told anyone else and you ran away from me-“

“So what do you want? A medal for being vulnerable?” Dila pushed him away. “The only reason you told me those things is because you expect something in return. Everything is a transaction to you. Should I give you a blow job as a thank you?”

“Tell me what you want from me!”

“Nothing!” she screamed. “I want nothing from you! Just leave me the hell alone.”

She started walking away again, leaving him, and he felt completely alone. It was the same devastating feeling as when his mom had uttered his name to the kidnappers… discovering Kesik was dead… holding Dila’s wounded body in his arms after she shot herself – except it felt even worse now because all those emotions wouldn’t stay buried in him. Instead, they rushed up to the surface and it was like he couldn’t breathe. Panic surged through him. “Dila…” he cried, desperate, his heart threatening to explode in his chest. “Please…” His chest felt constricted, too tight, and he was sweating. Profusely. The world was spinning, his legs crumbling, and then, suddenly, she was next to him, looking at him with concern.

“Kuzgun… look at me.” She was cradling his face. “Just breathe. Breathe, please.”

“I can’t… I can’t… I’m dying…”

“No! I won’t let you,” Dila insisted. Her voice was the only sound of calm in the storm that he was caught up in. “Just stay with me. Look at me. Breathe with me.”

He hadn’t realised he was on the ground, that Dila was bent over him. He felt helpless as a child, unable to do anything to drown out the anxiety that overtook him, so he simply obeyed Dila’s commands, taking deep breaths like she was doing, counting to five, taking deep breaths again, her hand massaging his heart. Slowly, after what felt like an eternity, the panic began to subside.

*****

They were at an all-night coffee shop, the place empty except for another couple who were sitting in the opposite corner of the room. Kuzgun sipped the coffee in front of him while waiting for Dila to come out of the restroom, longing for a strong cup of Turkish coffee. Of course all thoughts of caffeine flew out of his head when Dila returned to her seat. God, she was beautiful. Especially when the compassion and love in her eyes shone through like it did right now. Yet even as he admired her, a part of him felt embarrassed about what transpired earlier. He wasn’t the type to fall apart but that’s exactly what happened. Worse, he was worried Dila was only being kind to him out of pity. As much as he wanted her back, he didn’t want her to feel sorry for him.

“Want something to eat?” Dila asked.

“You don’t need to worry about me. I’m okay,” Kuzgun said, feeling defensive.

A resigned sigh escaped her lips. As if needing a distraction, she gestured to the waitress for another cup of coffee. “I used to have panic attacks like yours growing up.”

Her words took him by surprise. He couldn’t imagine having to go through those anxiety attacks over and over again, let alone as a child. This was only the second time he’d experienced something so physically severe and he hated the toll it took on him. “I didn’t know,” he confessed.

“They stopped for a while, until…”

He prodded further. “Until?”

“That day in the rooftop, when I shot myself.” She looked away. “When I was recovering, there were a few.”

Pain and guilt flooded over him, remembering that horrible day. He had failed her, so terribly that she’d chosen to end her life. The hopelessness on her face was carved into his brain, the feel of her fragile, lifeless body still haunting him.

“But I haven’t experienced any since I moved here.” Dila said.

Instinctively he placed his hand over hers, relieved. “Good. I’m glad.”

Her fingers trembled under his; it stung when she withdrew from him. “When did you start getting the panic attacks?”

“Today was the second time. The last one was after Cihan’s funeral.”

“What?” Shock swept over Dila’s delicate features, anguish swirling in the deep blues of her eyes. “Cihan died? When? What happened?” She started shaking her head. “Please don’t tell me he was killed-“

“He was sick. Cancer. By the time the doctors realized it it was already too late.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. I know he was a really good friend to you.”

“He was family.” The scar on Dila’s chest was peaking out from underneath her shirt. “And my closest friend next to you.” Cihan had urged him to seek Dila out, to make it work with her, to be patient and let go of his pride. “Till the end he still referred to you as his sister-in-law.”

A sad smile crossed her lips. “He was really sweet.” As she held his stare, a strange expression flitted across her face.

“What?” he pried.

“Nothing.”

“Dila, tell me what you’re thinking.”

Her fingers traced along the rim of her coffee cup. “It finally makes sense why you’re in London.”

“I’m here for you,” Kuzgun reminded her.

“You lost your best friend, you’re grieving. Your life is in a state of flux. I’m a convenient excuse to leave everything behind.”

There was kindness and empathy gleaming in her eyes yet his heart felt heavy. It was easier for Dila to believe he was running away from grief rather than he’d come to her out of love – and that was entirely his fault.

“You’ll be fine, Kuzgun. I promise.” She gripped his hand. “But I think you should talk to some kind of professional. They could really help you.”

“Can’t I talk to you?”

She paused. “I don’t know how much I can help.”

“Just being around you helps,” he confessed. It was true. Being in close proximity to her made him feel lighter, more carefree. Hopeful, even. “I was jealous.”

“What?” she asked, confused by the sudden change of topic.

“Of Selchuk. Bora. Ferman. Any guy who wants you.”

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because I don’t want to hide anything else from you.”

“I think you’ve convinced yourself you’re in love with me because it gives you an excuse to seek comfort from me. But you don’t need to do that. I’ll always be your friend, Kuzgun. I care about you. Nothing will change that.”

She reached out to cradle his face and he closed his eyes momentarily, breathing her in.

He loved her, with every fibre of his being.

“I’m here for you, but only as a friend. Friendship is all I can offer,” she said softly. “Can you accept that?”

He didn’t have a choice. If he wanted to be a part of her life, he had to accept her boundaries. Otherwise he risked losing her and that was not an option. Holding her hand to his lips, he placed a kiss on her palm. “Is that what you really want?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, then. Friends it is.”

Hands intertwined, they stared at each other silently.

To be continued…

Chapter 8

Kuzgun walked around the empty warehouse, inspecting the floors, the walls, every nook and cranny of the area. With Robert’s help he’d scouted a few locations but none of them had felt right – except for this one. For a few weeks now he’d been contemplating opening a boxing gym, a place similar to where he worked as a teenager. As a kid living on the street, working at the boxing club had provided much needed consistency and a respite from having to constantly look out for himself. The owner had paid him next to nothing but for Kuzgun simply having a safe place to go to had been enough. He’d also picked up a lot of skills by observing, and on rare occasions even doing practice rounds from the owner himself. At the time it had given him the boost he needed to feel empowered and safe, and now he wanted to help other at-risk youths feel the same encouragement. He couldn’t do what Dila did for the kids, but he wanted to find other ways to help them.

“What do you think?” Kate, his agent, asked.

Kuzgun rubbed his beard, contemplating his next move. While it was a yes from him, he wanted to get Dila’s opinion before signing on the dotted line. What if she didn’t like it? Or maybe she had a better idea in mind. “I need to run this by someone.”

“Your wife?”

He contemplated correcting her but referring to Dila as his ex-wife felt too cavalier and calling her a friend sounded ridiculous. And as much as he wanted to call her his girlfriend, that simply wasn’t the case. And while he may not have been in the market for years, he still recognised when a woman was romantically interested in him which Kate was if the flirtatious glint in her eyes was any indication. Her eyes skimmed over him languidly, and he wandered over to the window to put some distance between them. “Something like that.”

The neighbourhood was grimy, populated with low-income families. There was no chance the gym would turn into a profitable business, Kuzgun already knew that, but at least the cursed Adivar money would be put to some good use after all the violence his grandfather wreaked in this world. Question was, would Dila support him or admonish him like his mother and sister did for using the Adivar fortune? “I’ll need to get back to you.”

“There’s another offer on this place.”

Kuzgun sneered, turning back to look at the brunette. “This place has been on the market for a year and now there’s competing offers? I doubt that.”

She flushed red with embarrassment. “Anyway, I’ll need an answer by tomorrow morning.”

“You’ll hear from me when you hear from me.” Kuzgun reached for his phone to contact Dila.

***

Kuzgun knocked on Dila’s door, waiting anxiously for her to answer. Impatience surged through him but he reminded himself to remain calm. When he’d contacted her earlier she’d been too busy to talk, and they’d been playing phone tag since then. Kuzgun massaged the ache in the back of his neck as he contemplated their current relationship. They were supposed to be friends now but it seemed as if Dila had a different interpretation of that word than him. Two weeks had passed since their first civil conversation but nothing had really changed between them other than exchanging greetings when they ran into each other in the hallway or elevator. She was friendly and polite, like she was with everyone else. Like they didn’t share a connection that marked each other’s souls permanently. Like they were nothing to each other. Her politeness irritated him. Actually, no. It pissed him off. He almost preferred her anger because at least it felt personal.

The door swung open, and he found himself suddenly speechless at the sight of Dila. While she was always beautiful, she looked absolutely stunning tonight. Her golden blonde hair was curled into soft waves, her eyes even bluer than usual because of the teal-colour jumpsuit she was wearing. A locket lay nestled against her skin but his attention immediately drifted to her soft breasts revealed in the plunging neckline of her outfit. He had a sudden urge to kiss the spot between her breasts, to run his tongue-

“Hi,” Dila replied. “I know you called several times but it’s been a busy day.”

“Can I come in?” he asked, clearing his throat.

“I’m just about to leave. I’m meeting a friend for dinner. Can we talk tomorrow? We can have lunch.”

His gaze trailed down her body, taking in her appearance from head to toe. So she looked like a goddamn goddess for somebody else? “A friend or a date?”

“How is that any of your business?” she snapped back.

Jaw clenched, he glared at her. “So that whole friendship thing was just bullshit?”

“Wow.” She shook her head, exasperation evident in her eyes. “Do you expect me to drop everything and be at your beck and call? That’s what friendship is to you?”

“I did, for you, I left my whole world behind.”

Instantly he regretted his words, especially considering he didn’t even believe what he blurted out. His world was Dila. Without her, he had no life.

“I never asked you to do that,” she said, shaking her head. “If your idea of friendship means I don’t get to set any boundaries with you, then I’m really not interested in being your friend.”

“Dila, I didn’t mean-“

She closed the door in his face. Fuck. He exhaled a heavy breath and turned around, dragging his feet back to his apartment.

***

“Are you okay?” Selim asked, looking at her with concern.

She gave him a halfhearted smile in response. After dinner they were on their way to the pub close to her home, but instead of catching up with Selim her brain was too focused on analysing the earlier fight with Kuzgun. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.”

“We can call it a night if you want,” Selim offered.

“No, absolutely not.” She linked her arm through his, squeezing his arm tight. “It’s not everyday I get to see you. And I still want to hear more about the twins.”

Selim laughed, sounding very much like a proud father. “Ava looks exactly like her mom but has my temperament, and Caleb is my mini-me.”

“I can’t imagine you disciplining anyone.” Dila chuckled. “The thought of you being a strict dad cracks me up.”

“Oh, but I am!”

“Unbelievable.”

Selim was shorter than her, round and pudgy, and still had the same ruddy cheeks that he did in high school. They first became friends in Year Nine and then later roomed together in college. After graduation he moved overseas and they lost touch – until last week when he contacted her over Facebook. Seeing as he was in London for a work trip, they had decided to meet up on his last night in town.

Dila stepped inside the pub, still giggling at the thought of Selim lecturing his kids, but the laughter died in her throat when she noticed Kuzgun sitting at a booth with Rob and a woman. An attractive brunette, who looked too old to be Rob’s friend. Was she there with Kuzgun? The three of them were sitting around the table, drinking and laughing. The image unsettled her immediately, she felt angry at their close camaraderie even though she had no right to.

“Why don’t we go someplace else?” she said, turning her back to them.

“Dila, hey!”

Rob’s voice beckoned from behind. She closed her eyes, telling herself to breathe.

“Looks like some of your friends are here,” Selim said, oblivious to her troubles. As he walked past her and towards Rob, Dila turned around to look at them. Her eyes met Kuzgun’s and everything stood at a standstill, like it always did when they connected. Then, Selim was extending his hand out to Kuzgun and Kuzgun gave him a mocking smile in response. If a handshake could be sarcastic, Kuzgun had perfected the art.

“Dila, I’m going to grab us a pint,” Selim said, pulling out a chair for her before heading to the bar.

She took the empty seat next to Rob, nestled between him and where Selim would be sitting, and right across from Kuzgun. She noted the close proximity between the brunette and Kuzgun who were seated beside each other, and her heart stung. “Hi, I’m Dila,” she introduced herself to the brunette, relieved her voice sounded calm even though her insides were quivering.

“Kate.” The brunette smiled.

“Nice to meet you,” Dila offered politely.

“Guy’s a little too short for you, innit?” Rob said,

She leveled him with an unamused glance. “He’s a nice guy. You need to stop being rude.”

Selim returned to the table with a pitcher of beer and glasses and took the seat next to her. “So how do you guys know Dila?” he asked, an enthusiastic smile on his already flushed cheeks.

“She’s my roommate,” Rob said.

“He’s staying with me. Temporarily,” Dila corrected him, sipping her beer.

“We were roomies in University!” Selim said, giving a big smile to Dila. “Crazy Dila and her parties. Is she still like that?”

Dila shot a warning glance at Selim but he was too busy talking to notice her gaze.

“Crazy Dila, huh?” Kuzgun asked, suddenly interested. He leaned forward, his arms on the table. “Tell us more.”

“Dila was always mad crazy. There was nothing she wouldn’t do!”

“Selim, don’t exaggerate,” Dila warned.

“I can’t imagine Dila like that. She’s so straight!” Rob said, almost in awe.

“Not even close. All the trouble we got into was always because of her. So many times we were arrested but either she’d flirt with the coppers or her Dad would make a call and then boom! We were free.” Selim took another drink. “One time we were all high, Dila gave us these gummies at the party, and we all got on the roof. It was a three-storey building, and she actually jumped off! She was the only one. I still remember how she was still laughing and crying with pain when the ambulance came.”

Kuzgun looked at her. “You jumped off a roof?” Their eyes met and she instinctively knew he was thinking about the time she threatened to do the same with him.

“Dila was always up for anything. No one could mess with her!”

“Okay, that’s enough.” Dila said through clenched teeth.

“Uh oh, she’s getting angry,” Selim chuckled. “Okay, okay. No more crazy Dila stories.” He put his hands in the air, as if surrendering. “By the way, I’m Selim.” He looked at Rob.

He introduced himself with a fist pump, “Rob.” Then he stood up and swaggered away to the nearby pool table, leaving the four of them behind.

When Selim turned towards Kuzgun, he offered a friendly smile. Kuzgun stared back at him blankly. “And you are?” Selim prodded.

“Kuzgun.”

A pensive expression flitted over Selim’s face. Dila wondered if he recalled their numerous conversations about Kuzgun from when they were younger but then he smiled jovially and she realised he hadn’t made the connection.

“And how do you know Dila?” Selim probed.

“I’m her neighbour. We’re friends.” Kuzgun’s words dripped with sarcasm while the depth of his eyes burned bright with anger. Even as he sat there with a date, he had the gall to be jealous because he felt entitled to her, to who she was, like he always had. Dila breathed through the sheer rage that unfurled in her. She wasn’t going to play his games, no matte how much he tried to provoke her.

“And you’re Kuzgun’s wife?” Selim asked Kate.

Dila curbed the urge to hurl her drink at the other woman.

The brunette laughed amicably, shaking her head. “No, I’m Kate. His agent. He put down an offer on a listing tonight and asked me to celebrate with him.”

So that’s why Kuzgun had been demanding her time, because he wanted to share the good news. Obviously he found a replacement date when she wasn’t able to give him her time, and he was so impatient he couldn’t even wait a day. One day. She swallowed the rest of her drink, irritated with herself. Every time she thought he’d changed, that he valued her, he proved her wrong.

“Oh, how wonderful,” Selim said. “Congratulations, Kuzgun.”

Dila plastered on a smile, despite how pathetic felt on the inside. She chastised herself for worrying about Kuzgun, again, when she should have been focusing on Selim and enjoying their time together. Resolving to do just that, she picked up her beer mug and clinked it against Selim’s. “We need to congratulate you too, Selim, on being a dad again soon.”

“Yes, congratulations!” Kate grinned. “Oh, I think I see someone I know. I’ll be right back.”

As Kate left the table, Selim nodded enthusiastically. “My wife is pregnant with our third child!”

“You’re married?” Kuzgun asked, evidently surprised.

“Happily..” Selim’s face beamed with joy. “So Ms. Dila, when am I coming to your wedding?”

Dila groaned internally. “Let’s not do this.”

“Hey, maybe things will work out between you and your ex. You guys are still in touch, right?”

Kuzgun’s eyes bore into her as she gave a non-committal answer. “Once in a while.”

“Which ex would that be?” Kuzgun asked.

Dila picked at her nails.

Selim cast her a quizzical look. “Ferim? Farooq?”

“Ferman?” Kuzgun’s tone was so hostile she felt the hate seeping out of him.

“Yeah, I think that’s it. Do you know him, Kuzgun?” Selim inquired.

Kuzgun replied with a bitter smile. “Not at all. But it’s great that Dila still talks to him.”

Although the contempt in his voice was clear, she chose to ignore it. “We don’t talk much,” she explained softly to Selim. “But he still checks up on me here and there.”

Selim nodded his head. “Sounds like a nice guy.”

“He is. He helped me during a time when I was…” Dila shrugged her shoulders. “Not well.”

“A real Prince Charming,” Kuzgun snapped.

Sick of his attitude, she leveled Kuzgun with a cold stare. “Ferman was the only man in my life who never asked anything of me. He didn’t make demands. He didn’t feel entitled to me or my time. When my life was a complete mess, when I was in trouble, he helped me when he had no reason to, he protected me when I needed it.” Dila paused, watching Kuzgun. His expression was blank, no emotion conveyed on his face. Only indifference. Because her truth didn’t fit into his perception of things, and so it didn’t matter to him. Of course.

Kate returned to the table at that moment. “I’m going to grab another drink. Anyone want anything?”

“I’ll come with you,” Kuzgun finally spoke, walking away.

Dila watched after him, noting how Kate’s hand brushed against his. Reminding herself she had no right to be jealous, she turned back to Selim.

“I think this Kuzgun guy has a thing for you.”

Dila shook her head vigorously. “No, there’s nothing like that.”

“Are you sure?”

“It doesn’t matter anyways.”

“Because things may still work out with Ferman?”

“No.”

“Why not? He sounds like a really great guy.”

“Because I don’t love Ferman.” Dila said matter-of-factly.

Rob, Kuzgun and Kate returned to the table, taking their seats, and Dila felt herself tense up again.

“So tell us more about Crazy Dila,” Rob prompted. “What other kinds of trouble did she get into, Selim?”

“Hey, hey, hey, don’t get the wrong idea. Dila may have been wild but she always had your back, no matter what. That’s how we became friends. I was new in school, it was my first day, and there were these tossers who ganged up on me. All of a sudden there’s this punk chick there, black hair, short skirt, nose piercing, lip piercing, and she just comes around all cool and stuff, and tells the wankers to fuck off. And they did! They were scared shitless she’d stop inviting them to her parties!”

“That was Dila?” Rob asked.

“Always a fighter,” Kuzgun said, staring at her again.

She ignored his gaze, running her fingers along the rim of the mug.

Rob glanced at her quizzically. “Dila used to have black hair?”

“Black. Pink. Purple. Even blue at one point,” Selim said.

Dila thought back to her teenage years, how restless and anxious she felt in her own skin, how much her guilt used to eat her up. And no matter how much she tried to hide from her feelings, from the world, that dark cloud was always there, hanging over her, the loneliness and loss of Kuzgun always there to swallow her up. She tried everything to numb the pain, to drown it out with sex and drugs but nothing ever worked.

“The best party Dila ever threw was on grad night. It was legendary. Remember, Dila?”

Dila stiffened.

“Wait, you weren’t even there!” Selim started laughing. “Now I remember. We showed up and there were all these people in your apartment, but we couldn’t find you the whole night. You disappeared for, like, a whole week!”

“Where were you? Hooking up with a hottie?” Rob teased.

Selim shook his head. “That’s what we all thought at first but then she came back and it was obvious something bad had happened. You wouldn’t talk to anyone for a week.”

“What happened?” Kuzgun asked.

Dila inhaled a slow breath. “I received news about somebody I was looking for.” Forcing her eyes away from Kuzgun, she gave Selim a self-deprecating smile and shrugged her shoulders. “Turned out to be a false lead.”

“Your childhood friend, right? The one who went missing?” Selim offered.

Even though the room was abuzz with noise, the atmosphere seemed to suddenly tense between her and Kuzgun. The vulnerability on his face was so stark, so visible, she wondered how no one else noticed it. He wasn’t one to reveal his emotions yet his feelings were so palpable, the yearning so obvious in his eyes that it caused her heart to skip a beat.

“I guess he was never found?”

Dila forced herself to look at Selim, gave him a small smile. “He was.” She picked up her glass and downed the rest of her beer, keenly aware of Kuzgun’s gaze on her. “We should get going, Selim.”

Selim glanced down at his watch. “Oh, shit. Yeah.” He flashed a big smile to the rest of the group. “It was good to meet all of you.”

Rob nodded his head. “See you around, man.”

Dila didn’t expect Kuzgun to acknowledge Selim with a goodbye but he surprised her when he extended his hand.

“Hope to see you around,” Kuzgun said in a friendly tone.

She didn’t look at him, instead turning towards the door. After what felt like an eternity, Selim finally joined her outside.

“You didn’t say bye to anyone,” Selim remarked, chuckling.

“Oh.” She didn’t even realise, she’d been too much in a rush to escape Kuzgun’s scrutinizing presence.

“I still think that Kuzgun has a crush on you.”

“Can we stop talking about me? I want to hear more about your kids!” Dila whined.

It was exactly the prompt Selim needed to share numerous stories about the twins and provide the distraction Dila craved from her thoughts.

***

Later that night she was reading in bed when she was interrupted by a knock on the door. Irritated, she threw the blanket over and climbed out of bed. It was probably Rob, having forgotten his keys again. When she found Kuzgun on the other side of the door, waiting for her with a concerned expression on his face, her heart squeezed in her chest. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Can we talk?” he asked, sounding very somber.

“Is everything okay?” she tried again.

“Yeah, everything is fine. I just wanted to talk to you.”

Although relieved, she hesitated. Inadvertently their talk would end in an argument and she was too tired to deal with that tonight. Except trouble brewed in Kuzgun’s dark eyes and she couldn’t turn him away when he looked so worried. “Come in,” she said, stepping aside to let him in.

As he brushed past her, she inhaled the faint scent of his cologne, the smell evoking memories of being in his arms, the feel of him on top of her. She closed the door, and took a few seconds to compose herself before turning to face him.

His authoritative presence seemed to take over her entire living room, and she remained in place, desperate to put some distance between them. “What did you want to talk about?” she asked.

Hands tucked into his pocket, Kuzgun stared at her intently. “You and Ferman.”

A/N – If you enjoy my writing, I hope you give my first novel a shot. Follow You Down can be found on Amazon.

25 thoughts on “Fic: In Wonderland, (Kuzgun/Dila) Chapter 1-8 updated 02/21

  1. Please keep writing for as long as you have inspiration! This cancellation is breaking me too, and I want to live in the Kuzgun world of your stories for as long as I can :). You’re an incredible writer!

    1. If people are reading, I’ll keep writing. I can’t bear to part from this universe 🙁 Thank you so much for the wonderful comment. We’re all feeling the sadness right now.

  2. Please keep writing this and your other Kuzgun/Dila stories. They’re so amazing and no one else is really writing for them.

    Sidenote: I only found your blog because I was searching for Kuzgun fic but I ended up binge reading The Ring, even though I’ve never watched Kiralik Ask. You are really good. Thanks for writing.

    1. I will keep writing as long as my KuzDil muse sticks around. I’m really sad about the cancellation though 🙂 oh well.

      And I’m so flattered you read The Ring even though you never watched KA. And considering how long that fic is, I’m really humbled. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me your thoughts. It really means a lot to me!

  3. Lazeema I m sad n disappointed wid the news of cancellation bt ur posts n the way u write is only source of consolation for me.I hope we have happy ending like the one u provided in another post n eagerly waiting for next Chapters of Alive

  4. Please do write. It would be nice if you could write the entire novel from the scratch. I think the characters deserve it and you are very talented.

  5. I love the second chapter. I could see Dila doing work like that. It suits her. And of course Kuzgun flipping out when he sees any man in her immediate vicinity is just typical. Lol.

    1. Yes, I think Dila would definitely do something along the lines of helping teens since she can’t practice law anymore. I wish we got to see that in the season second instead of what we got now. OH well. Thank you for reading, as always 🙂

  6. Plz keep on writing beautifully, even though it can b cancelled bt atleast u can gv us beautiful happy ending. Only u can gv us the glimpse of their happy life

  7. We are all devastated with the cancellation of Kuzgun. We will continue reading through your stories and hope for a happy ending. Thank you, Lazeema❤️

    1. Thank you for reading! I blame the writers, to be honest. It went from a tight-knit fastpaced story with a few characters to all about Ferman and neighbourhood, with the main characters in the sidelines. We barely get to see Dila anymore, and we never see her interact with Seda or Naz or Defne like we used to. It’s always with the KOrogulu family, and minimal scenes with Kuzgun. It’s just frustrating.

  8. Thanks Lazeema for this wonderful writing.It breaks my heart reading how Kuzgun is suffering in order to get Dila back bt this one is the only respite I got after cancellation. Waiting for next post again. Thank u dear so much.

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