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Will was nervous when Kahli's eyes slipped over his runes. He wondered how much she knew? If she would notice? His throat constricted as her fingers trailed over his chest and down his side, her green eyes trailing across his bare skin. There was so much he wanted to say, so many things to explain, but he couldn't. Blood runes were more binding than she realized. They burned under his flesh, searing into his soul, commanding him in a way that Kahli's betrothal runes did not. The way she looked at him, like she was caught between trust and turning on him, made Will do it. Revealing his runes was a calculated risk, one that he would regret later if she ever found out the truth about him. The power of his true name was enough to sate her insecurities. Although Kahli didn't realize what she could do with it, or that she had any power over him at all.
Even after his shirt was buttoned and his coat pulled back on, Will still felt her caress on his skin. He wanted more. He longed for things he couldn't have. Glancing at her, Will wondered if it mattered anymore. There were rules against vampires and humans being together. A relationship with Kahli was forbidden, but what did it matter now? If they were caught, their fates would be dismal anyway, probably worse than the instant destruction pairing with a human would have demanded. Will's stomach twisted as he thought about Kahli. The way his lips tingled reminded him how much he wanted to kiss her and hold her in his arms. Will subdued the thoughts before Kahli could feel them, shoving them to the back of his mind.
He'd learned to hide his thoughts long ago. Being bound by three people required it or he would have been long dead. It was the last rune that caused all the problems. It was the one he couldn't deny. If Will had the chance to do it over again, to take the oath that involved the wild girl standing in front of him - he wondered what he would say. Will glanced at the fire and ran his fingers through his hair. There was still blood crusted to his scalp. He needed to melt some snow so they could wash. The wolves and the vamps would catch Kahli's scent faster if they didn't.
Watching her, Will thought, If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing. That final rune would damn him. It cost him his life in more ways than he could count, but he'd do it again.
Kahli faced the fire. A smear of dirt and blood lined her cheek. Will looked at her when she asked about his assassination plans. Hope floated into his chest, lodging somewhere between his bottom two ribs.
He grinned at her, "I have all of it planned. I was waiting for the most opportune moment," he smirked, adding, "and for a crazy red-head to show up and carry out my evil plan."
Kahli folded her arms across her chest. She watched him as he fished out a small piece of metal from the back of the cave. It looked like part of the crashed bike. Will held it up and walked toward the mouth of the cave. Kahli watched him for a moment, her eyes narrowing. He read the question on her face before it sprang forth in her mind. Answering, he said, "We need water. I'm afraid you have to clean that blood off or we'll be found too soon. If it isn't me that brings you back to the palace, the plan fails. I'll be executed and you'll be on your own."
Kahli followed him, her feet adjusting to the slick rock as they neared the mouth of the cave. She pulled her coat tighter. "I understand. I've done this before, Will." He glanced over his shoulder at her as he scooped up some snow. She explained, "Running, I mean. I killed every Tracker who came within a mile, and maybe a few extra for good measure." She grinned. It made his stomach twist and Kahli flinched, surprised to feel his reaction.
Will turned and filled the metal make-shift bowl. "You killed every Tracker, except me."
"Yes, except you and the deviant who took my mother," she pressed her lips together hard, like there was a secret burning her tongue.
"How'd you adapt so quickly? You were so young when she was taken." Will was careful, wording it so she couldn't tell that he'd been closer than she knew for longer than she thought. He turned and went back into the cave with Kahli in tow. Her voice soothed him in a way that nothing else could.
"We were close to the safe house when that happened. I should have gone onto the next, but I turned and went back. At first I thought that Mother would come and get me, but when I realized that she wasn't coming back, I tried to make do on my own. I was careless in the beginning. I stayed too long. I was too small to fight the wolves. I could barely shoot a gun. Besides, the shots attracted the Trackers." She shrugged, watching Will put the pot of snow over the fire, setting it on top of the logs. "Where'd you find wood?" He had the feeling that she was going to ask something else, and the fact that there were logs distracted her. Trees that weren't covered in ice were scarce.
"It's not wood," he replied. "It's a firelog. They burn forever. Each bike is outfitted with a pack in case a storm sets in and the guard can't return to the palace. They were in the frame of the bike, along with other things we need - well, the basic stuff anyway."
She nodded and watched the logs. They weren't wood. Kahli could see it when she looked closer. Although it had the appearance of bark along the surface, it was too perfect to have grown that way. The fire did not consume the log. Instead it glowed an orange-red and danced with flames, but the log was still the same size as it was when she awoke.
"So," Will said, steering her back to the conversation, "How long did you stay in that safe house?"
Kahli watched him, her pink lips parted. He felt her emerald eyes on the side of his face, burning a hole with her contemptuous gaze. "Why are you asking?"
Will sat in front of the fire and shrugged. "Seemed like a good question. Everyone wonders how you survived so long, alone." His voice trailed off. He didn't want to push her and he wasn't ready to admit what he knew.
Kahli stared into the flames, breathing softly, until she admitted, "I wasn't completely alone." She glanced at Will.
Will didn't pretend to be surprised. Misleading her was bad enough, he didn't want to compound it by lying, too. He cursed to himself when he realized it was the same thing - an omission was a lie. They were two parts of the same deception.
"But you knew that," she added after watching him for a moment. He didn't look at her. Instead Will removed the steaming liquid from the fire and set it down. "It was you, wasn't it? The food and water? The one who chased off the wolves that first time I left the safe house?" Her jaw hung open like she couldn't believe it. "Why?" she breathed, and inched toward him. When he didn't answer she touched his arm. The sensations she caused, the river of heat that flooded up his arm, made him jump. She was right there, those endless green eyes right in front of him. "You never lost track of me, did you?" Her eyes darted back and forth between his, wanting an answer that he couldn't give.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he lied, but he was sure she felt it. He was certain she knew.
Kahli didn't press him. Instead she sat back and lifted off her coat, revealing the torn dress beneath. Blood soaked through the once violet front panel of her bodice. Kahli reached around to unlace the corset strings. They were looser than they had been. Will must have done it when he saved her. She pulled the strings and felt the bodice loosen.
"What about the clothes? They're covered in blood."
Will nodded. He handed her something white. A microfiber body suit. "It's kind of ugly, but it's warm."
"It looks like underwear," Kahli said, looking at it in her hands. It felt light like one of the frivolous dresses they put her in at the palace.
Will laughed, "It's not. It's a synthetic bodysuit that the Trackers wear under their outer coats. It protects from frostbite without hindering movement."
"Meaning I can still fight in this thing..." she said looking at it.
Will nodded, "Exactly."
Kahli hesitated before looking up. This was the second time she was undressing in front of Will. As soon as she realized it, her heart pounded harder. She knew he felt her pulse racing, even though he didn't smile this time. Instead he turned, offering her privacy.
"Thank you," she said softly, and he nodded.
"There's a cloth in there," Will said. He pointed over his shoulder toward the pot. "Use it to wash off the blood. It might take a few tries. Do your hair last so your head isn't wet very long. We can bundle you in one of the microfoil blankets so you don't freeze."
"I've done this before, Will." After a moment, she shivered. Will could hear her teeth chattering, but it was more jarring to feel the frigid air on her damp skin burst through the blood bond.
"I know," he replied. "I just don't want anything else to go wrong. We need to get out of here as fast as possible."
The water splashed onto the cave floor as she rinsed off the dried blood. Kahli's teeth chattered as she asked, "Where are we going?"
"To the nearest safe house." His back was to her, but he could feel her still and stare at him.
"They need to be desperate before we bring you back. If they think they can find you on their own, my plan won't work."
Kahli's voice hitched, "Bring me back? I thought you were kidding before. We can't go back. The King will finish ripping my throat out - "
"After he does the same to me. Yes, I'm aware of that." The sound of water splashing in the bowl nearly made him turn. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." She sounded agitated.
"Don't bother lying to me. I can tell. What's wrong?" He stared at the wall as he said it. A moment later he felt Kahli's hand on his shoulder. He turned slowly, not knowing what to anticipate. He still expected a fist in his stomach when she touched him.
Kahli stood in front of him naked, clutching the microfoil blanket to her chest. It was wrapped around her waist, but didn't cover much of her legs. Kahli shivered and pointed to her neck, her fingers trailing the pale white line until it turned red and ran down her back. "This was a lot worse than I thought." He nodded slowly, his eyes locked on hers. Will wanted to wrap his arms around her, but he didn't move. "It feels like my back didn't heal right and I can't see it. What's wrong with it?"
Her fingers traced the King's wound. It circled her neck and trailed over her shoulder and down her back, stopping right above her shoulder blade. Will looked at it closer when she turned. He examined the wound when she was injured and was surprised by how deep it was. She was lucky to be alive.
Will pushed her hair away and looked closer. "Nothing. It's just more grime and dried blood. Hand me the cloth and I'll wipe it off." Kahli gave it to him. Will dabbed the hot water on the wound. Kahli flinched when he did it. "Does that hurt?" he asked, surprised.
"No," she gritted her teeth, her voice suddenly sarcastic, "it tickles."
"Really?" Will asked glancing at her.
She laughed and looked over her shoulder at him, smiling. "No, not really. It felt like you were ripping my skin off. Do you believe everything I say, Will Tatum? Or does my bare skin make your brain not work as well?" The look she gave him made his cheeks burn.
"Both, actually, bare skin and a general lack of brains pretty much sums me up. Now, stop fooling around. Something's not right. This shouldn't hurt at all anymore." He smiled at her softly as a shiver raked across her body again. He moved her closer to the fire so she'd stop shivering. "Try to hold still."
"Easy for you to say," she laughed. Before she knew what happened, Will opened his shirt and wrapped his arms around her. The bare skin on her back was pressed flush against his naked chest. The runes flamed to life, warming her chilled skin. The laughter died on her lips and Kahli stiffened in his arms.
Will's breath caught in his throat, as his heart pounded harder. Khali's scent filled his head. "My runes are forged from fire and blood. They burn under your touch. I can warm you whenever you need it." Kahli seemed paralyzed for a moment but she managed to nod her head. "I'm going to let go and look at your back now." Will did as he said, running the pads of his fingers over the wound. It didn't heal properly, but he didn't know why. As his fingers pressed it, Kahli winced. "I'm sorry," he breathed, lifting his hand from her tender wound.
"What's wrong?" she asked after a moment.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "It doesn't look like a vampire wound. There's something strange about it."
"Can you try to fix it?" she asked, looking back at him. Will nodded once and lowered his gaze to her back.
He pressed the hot water on the spot and washed away the remains of the blood. Kahli's pale flesh was marred by an angry red gash. It was almost as if... Will went still when he realized what it was. He stared in disbelief. How did he miss it before? Cursing, he reached into his pocket and grabbed a knife. Moving swiftly, Will thrust the blade over the flames. The metal heated in his hand, burning him, but Will didn't let go.
This screwed them. Completely.
"What is it?" Kahli asked. She sensed his desperation. She watched the knife being heated by the flames and knew it was for her, to remove whatever was under her skin.
"It looks like a Tracking chip, but I can't be sure until it's out. If it's a chip, we're in trouble. We need to get it out and get out of here. Now. I sterilized the blade. I'll remove it and mend you. Let me." He wasn't asking, Will was telling her that he'd need to heal her. Kahli's stomach felt like she was in a free fall. She nodded and turned away from him.
"Do it." She gritted her teeth, as her body tensed, waiting for the burning knife to touch her back.
Will's knife bit into her skin. Kahli's body remained rigid, her hands balled into fists, as she clenched her teeth. Kahli swallowed the scream building in her throat, but tears sprang from her eyes. She felt the tiny shard come free and before Will tossed it in the fire, she said, "No. Save it."
"Kahli, we don't have time," Will said, but the look she gave him instantly silenced him. Will pocketed the chip, knowing it was leading the palace guard, and possibly the King, directly toward them. Without asking, he cut the palm of his hand on his knife. Cupping his hand, he allowed the blood to pool in the center. He held it out to Kahli, "Drink it."
Fear flashed in her eyes, but she did as he said. Her pink lips were stained crimson as she swallowed a mouthful of his blood. Then Will turned her quickly and examined her back. The skin was pink and tender, but was no longer bleeding. Relieved, Will kissed her on the forehead before realizing what he'd done.
Kahli blinked up at him. Looking down at her, he wished they had more time. There were things to say and he might not get another chance, but if they didn't leave now, they'd die.
"The chip?" he asked, wondering what she wanted to do with it. That chip tracked pulse and location, linking back to an archaic GPS system from before the flood. It was an effective way to keep tabs on humans who were a flight risk.
Kahli's lips pulled into a grin. "The chip will be taking a ride on the wolf express, away from us."
Will couldn't help but smile. Kahli was soft and tough, kind and brutal, cunning and crazy - but those qualities, as conflicted as they seemed, only made him like her more.