Chapter 9

 H.M. Ward

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Kahli clung tightly to Will as they moved over the frozen ground on the back of the battered bike. Snowflakes made it nearly impossible to see, but they also covered their tracks. A storm had passed through while they were in the cave. Will steered them toward the nearest safe house. He asked Kahli for directions, but she couldn't always tell exactly where they were. Will kept going, urging the bike forward. Somehow he knew where the safe house was located, which meant he was either a hell of a guesser or he'd been there before.
When they dismounted and dragged the bike inside, Kahli unwrapped a scarf from her frozen face. "So," she asked, as she cranked on the generator in the darkness, "How long were you following me?"
Will stood behind her motionless. Her hair fell across her shoulders in soft, flame-red waves. Thinking about it, he said, "Is there an answer I can give you that won't piss you off?"
The lights made a buzzing sound before they finally turned on. The darkness flickered like an old movie, until the bulbs blazed bright. Kahli turned toward Will with her hands on her hips, lips pursed. She didn't like the idea that someone had been following her and she didn't realize it. How long had Will been there? How many times did he save her? His appearance at the Empire Safe House wasn't a coincidence. She knew that now, but why was he following her? Why did he help her? It wasn't until she saw him, talked to him, and fought next to him that he trapped her. And sold her, she thought. What the hell was he doing? Why let her go every other time and capture her then?
They were hidden in a safe house that was only a hundred miles, possibly less, from the palace. It was a crazy location that no one ever used. It was too close to vamp central. That meant there were still supplies left.
"Probably not," she gave a weak lopsided grin and took a deep breath. Her hands slid off her hips, "I just don't know what to make of you. Sometimes you seem like a good guy, but other times you seem like them. I just wish I knew." Maybe she shouldn't have said that out loud. It sounded more like a confession than a wish. Her voice sounded flat, like he'd disappointed her.
Will watched her intently, he was always watching her. "What difference does it make?" he finally asked.
"I can't tell which side you're on," she confessed. Turning toward him, her emerald eyes met his and then glanced away. She pushed her long hair out of her face as she spoke, "That makes me insane for taking you here, but it appears you've already been here." Kahli fell silent, her thoughts swirling in her mind until she latched onto the one that was bothering her the most. "You're playing both sides, aren't you? From day one, I didn't know what to make of you. You saved me from one wolf and threw me to another. Then, the stuff at the palace and with the King," her hand drifted to her throat, pressing on the thin white scar that was still on her neck. Calling it "stuff" and not naming what the King had wanted to do to her made it more bearable. Kahli sucked in a deep breath and glanced at him.
"There are things I can't say," Will's voice was soft, apologetic. His blue eyes held hers for a moment and he breathed, "I wish I could."
"I don't understand."
"I can't explain it to you," he said, stepping nearer to her. Will looked down at her beautiful face, wishing he could say more, but it wasn't possible.
"Can't or won't?" She held his gaze, searching for the lie. Kahli had to know the truth, she had to know who he was fighting for, but the blood runes hid that from her.
"Can't." Will brushed his hand along her cheek. Kahli's heartbeat increased at his touch, the breath she was about to take remained locked behind her lips. "I wish I could, but there are measures that prevent certain things."
Kahli wanted to close her eyes and lean into his hand, but her mind fought her body. His replies were always masked and this one was very convenient. Will didn't seem like he was lying, but she'd seen him with the vamps. He was one of them. The vampires were as certain of Will as she was, and yet here he was with her. There was a small voice in the back of her mind suggesting that his true name might not even be real. There was no way to know unless she gave it to someone who could use it against him. Kahli sighed and pulled away.
Will's gaze followed her across the room, but he didn't move. He didn't offer explanation or apology, even though Kahli wanted both.
Finally, Will asked, "What was this place?" His blue eyes lifted upward, taking in the tall metal ceiling above him. They'd entered through the side of a hill covered in snow and ice. There was a crack, like the ice had snapped centuries ago. It was large enough to walk through. They followed the crack inside the hill, which took them to a door. The metal building was inside, buried beneath the snow.
Kahli glanced at him as she crossed the room. "I think it was a tornado shelter. Most of the safe houses were fallout shelters of some sort. You know, most have typical concrete walls and metal furniture - very homey."
Nothing was warm in this room. No place felt like home. It would be nice to stop running and stay somewhere, but that was a life Kahli couldn't even fathom. It was also a life that Will offered, if they managed to assassinate the King and Queen. Kahli fished out a few silver packets from the pantry. "Would you like freeze-dried packet A or this delicious looking packet with a C?"
"Is C for cookie?" Will asked.
"Or cat," Kahli replied, glancing between him and the packets of food.
Walking toward her, Will took the A packet and flipped it over in his hands. There were no other markings. "Seriously, what's the difference?"
Kahli shrugged, "Well, that one is way more disgusting than this one. Good luck with that." She turned and grabbed a bottle of water and swallowed the food without chewing. Will watched her, still holding his packet in his palms. Kahli glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, "What?"
He shook his head, "Nothing. It's just - " What was he supposed to say? Sorry I left you alone for so long that you no longer chew your food? Part of her was wild and always would be. Kahli was part wolf and would destroy anything that threatened her. From the look in her eye, he knew that she wasn't sure of him. Will wondered if he'd go to sleep one night and awake with a knife in his neck. She had no reason to trust him. Offering what he did was too little, too late. She'd been through too much and when Kahli eventually found out the rest of his deplorable past... his heart sank. That day would suck. She'd blame him. He knew she would.
Kahli arched an eyebrow at him and chugged another gulp of water. "You're having a conversation in your head again, aren't you?"
Will smiled, "Not really. The other voices aren't chiming in this time. Just the shrilly old man that keeps telling me to kiss you." Will laughed and pulled out a metal chair from the table. Kahli was sitting on the tabletop, her legs dangling off the side. "He seems to think getting punched in the head would be very exciting."
She choked, laugher bubbling up from her belly. Kahli leaned over and punched him on the arm lightly. "How was it for you?" she laughed.
Will looked at her. For once, she seemed happy. It wouldn't last long, and for that he was sorry, but it was the way things were. There wasn't much that could be changed, until Kahli realized what she had to do. The question was, would she do it? Will leaned forward and ran his fingers through his hair, breathing deeply. He placed his foil packet on the table, untouched.
Kahli poked the freeze-dried food. "Coward," she goaded.
Will glanced up at her, "No, Bane. And, since I don't have to eat as much as you, I'm not going to."
"Well, then, stuff it in your pocket or something. It's already been a day since we left the palace. And you haven't eaten anything. Plus you nearly died. I would have thought you'd be hungry by now."
He shook his head, "Nope. I had enough blood, rather recently, to overcome my freeze-dried food needs." Kahli looked down at him.
The way that white suit clung to her drove him crazy. Will tried not to look at her, but it wasn't working. Kahli was impossible to ignore. When he mentioned blood, the smile slipped from her face. Will took the moment to press her. "We need to discuss the Queen."
Kahli glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, her fingers drifting to her throat. She nodded and slipped off the tabletop and onto a chair, across from Will. "But the King - "
"The King is secondary at this point. He should be removed from the equation before we even step foot in the palace. The Queen won't let him get away with all the things he's done. The Purging was his only gift. The other things, the other girls, were stolen. Each and every human belongs to the Queen. Although she plays the part well, she is stronger than the King. Stronger than the Regent. That's why she's maintained her throne for so long."
"How is it that you're able to speak of this, but not other things?" She sounded curious, not angry.
"It's information that wasn't sworn to secrecy. Most of the servants in the palace know what I'm going to tell you, they just wouldn't have found a crazy wild girl, and armed her, to kill off the royal family."
"And you are?"
"That's the plan," he grinned.
"And people say I'm the crazy one. What makes you think I can do anything? I couldn't even hold you off." Kahli looked discouraged, her shoulders slumping as she looked away.
Will's stomach twisted with guilt. "There was a reason for that." Kahli straightened in her chair and looked at him. He didn't want to say it, but she had to know the reason why she lost those fights when she first arrived at the palace. "I used your name. If I hadn't, you would have beaten me. I cheated."
Kahli didn't move. Her green gaze locked with his, her jaw tightening as she clenched it shut. "You cheated?" Her voice was too calm. It made his heart race faster. Stepping toward him, her emerald eyes locked with his. Kahli's open hand connected with the side of his face in a satisfying slap. The sound bounced off the walls. Will didn't flinch when her hand connected. There was something in his eyes that made her hold back before ripping his head off. Arms tense at her sides, Kahli was so mad she could barely form a sentence, "That's not cheating. That's being a vampire, Will." She searched his face wanting to find something that wasn't there. Breathing hard, she glared at him, "This is what bothers me about you. You said you wouldn't use my real name and then you did. You must have made me forget, because I sure don't remember. And then - " the pitch of her voice continually rose until it entered squeaky territory, "you tell me! How could you do that and tell me!"
"You needed to know," Will said flatly, opening his hands like he was being reasonable.
Kahli laughed like a crazy person. "I needed to know, so you told me. Of course. That makes sense. Why else would you tell me?"
"Kahli - " Will tried to speak over her, his voice reassuring, but she didn't feel reassured.
"So, how many times did you use my name? How many times did you compel me to do something I didn't want to do?" Kahli pushed back from the table and stood. She turned her back to him and closed her eyes.
"Kahli, I did it when I had no other choice. The first night you were there, when you stabbed me, you were going to get yourself killed. I couldn't allow it. I'm sorry. One promise superseded another, and I had to. And as for the other time, compelling you not to die was different."
Kahli looked over her shoulder at him. There was a softness to his features that was usually hidden, an insecurity in his eyes that swallowed her whole. Kahli wanted to believe him. His actions kept her alive. She was in over her head that night and she knew if he hadn't subdued her, that the Queen would have destroyed her. That night she didn't care if she died. The idea of living amongst vampires was deplorable. Kahli couldn't fathom it. But her time with Cassie and Will had turned into something else. That existence wasn't what she thought it would be. She had friends now.
Kahli was no longer alone.
Will expected her to do something drastic, like bite off his head, verbally or literally - it was hard to tell with her - but Kahli seemed to deflate. The longer she stood there thinking, the more the tension flowed out of her body. Eventually her eyes met his again, the anger gone.
When she didn't speak, he said, "I'm sorry I did that to you. I shouldn't have used your name."
"Compelling me not to die seemed like it was a good plan, especially since I wouldn't listen." Kahli's arms folded over her chest, her anger fading. "It made sense then, but it doesn't anymore. Tell me what I need to know. Don't expect me to blindly follow you, because I can't. And, now, if you say my name again for any reason, whatever relationship we have is over."
Instead of asking the obvious, Will caught on the thread Kahli never wanted to acknowledge. "What is our relationship, exactly?"
A chill sprang from her stomach. Kahli stepped back, as Will tilted his head and looked up at her. "I'm seriously asking you. Based on everything you said, and everything that's happened, I have no clue where we stand. You have no reason to believe anything I say, and yet - you're still here."
He was right. Her actions made no sense. "Our relationship doesn't matter," Kahli finally said. Kahli watched him, his blue eyes locked with hers.
His voice brushed against her mind, whispering to her. It matters to me. Kahli wondered if he knew that she heard him. She pressed her lips together and looked away.
"I mean," she offered, correcting herself, "what we call it doesn't matter."
"How many rules are you willing to break?" The pitch of his voice, the intensity of his gaze made her heart lurch. Kahli could feel her body being pulled to his like a magnet. She took a step back, but Will took a step closer.
"As many as it takes to win." She stepped back again. The room was large and sparsely furnished. Will advanced every time he spoke and Kahli retreated in response.
"You're all about winning," he grinned, stepping toward her.
"I'm all about surviving," she corrected, stepping away.
"What about living?" he asked, advancing again. "When does that matter?"
"Surviving is living," she said, and stepped back.
Will stepped toward her, "No, it's not. It means running, hiding. It means no friends, no home, no hope. Tomorrow's a promise you don't have."
"Oh, and you do?"
Will nodded. When Kahli's back hit the wall, Will reached for her. "As long as you're here, I do."
Kahli's heart felt like it was going explode. She knew Will could feel her panic mingling with the lust swimming through her veins. There was something about him, something that called to her and she couldn't ignore it - the way his eyes drank her in, the way his lips curved into a perfect grin when he saw her. If he was human, she would have wanted him. The again, if Will was human they wouldn't be in this mess. If Will was human, they'd both be dead.
Kahli took a steadying breath. "What do you want from me?" He was so close, Will's body nearly brushing against hers. They were a breath apart.
"There's a rule you need to be willing to break for our plan to work."
She couldn't breathe, "Which rule?" Will couldn't mean what she thought. Her mind protested his proximity, but as Kahli breathed him in, her arms refused to push him away. She pressed her palms to the wall at her sides to keep from touching him. Everything she'd ever learned was eradicated and blasted away. Every lesson her mother drilled into her head, every prejudice she held against the vampires, against their kind vanished. For a moment, he was just Will and she was just Kahli.
His dark gaze pinned her in place. "You know which rule."