Staying had become impossible much faster than Kalena had expected. As they’d worked out what she was they’d start doing their best to destroy her, so she ran. There was one place she knew that she would be safe. Unfortunately it just happened to be the place she’d left behind because she couldn’t bear being trapped there any longer. In the middle of the night she left with nothing but the clothes she was wearing, not daring to pack anything, doing everything she could to make certain they wouldn’t know she’d gone until morning. Hopefully that would give her enough time to get to where she needed to go.
The problem was distance. Some days the place Kalena had, long ago, called home was closer than others. Before she left there was no way of knowing exactly how far away it was and there was no going back. Not even when she realised she probably wasn’t going to make it before the sun rose. Pushing her fear aside, because she couldn’t let any emotions affect her, she started running. All she could do was attempt to give herself as much of a head start as possible. She knew they’d come after her as soon as someone realised she’d gone.
It was hard not to think about what she was going to have to give up to get sanctuary. Maybe they were right. Maybe she never should have left, but she wanted to be free and freedom wasn’t something she was ever going to get if she stayed there. Kalena hadn’t got it when she left either. Every time someone worked out what she was she was forced to run again. No one wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, even if they’d got to know her, because of what she was. The tear that trickled down her cheek annoyed her. She’d tried to live her life. That was better than never trying at all, like the majority of the people she had grown up with.
As the sun rose Kalena could just see her destination in the distance. Through the pain she was feeling, having not run so far in longer that she wanted to admit to herself, she forced herself to run a little faster. It would take them minutes to cover the same distance it had taken her hours to cover, because they’d use mechanical transport. Keeping going, knowing they’d be right behind her, was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but she did it. She had no other choice.
Hearing the sound of engines roaring behind her sent a shiver of fear down her spine. Every step Kalena took hurt more than the one before and she didn’t even know if she’d even manage to get into the building, because it all depended on who she came across first. She felt it when she crossed the wards, which would hide her and alert at least one of the inhabitants of the house that she’d arrived, but she still kept going. There were people she didn’t want to know that she’d arrived, so she had to do her best to hide until she saw the right person.
Unfortunately hiding wasn’t going to be easy. A few of the people Kalena really didn’t want to see would be able to feel where she was, in the same way the one person she wanted to see would. One problem was not knowing if he was even close enough to have felt her step through the wards. Pulling shadows around her she did her best to find a hiding place, her eyes roaming around the area the house had stopped, feeling it when someone stepped out of the door. As her eyes met Julian’s, who she knew could see through her shadows, she shook her head and tried to make her legs work, even though all her body really wanted to do was fall apart.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Julian said, amusement filling his voice. “I know who you want me to be, but unfortunately Quentin’s been detained. He won’t be here in time to help you.”
“Leave me alone, Julian.”
“We both know that I have every right to be here. You, on the other hand, don’t. The wards will spit you out if we don’t come to some form of compromise so you can once again be safe here. We both know they’re out there waiting for you and you don’t have the time to wait for Quentin. It’s me or whoever it is you’re running from.”
“What have you done to him?”
“That would be telling.”
Kalena shook her head. “Julian…”
“Who are you running from, sweetheart? I can hear engines out there, which means they have technology, and they don’t smell magical in any way.”
“Don’t call me sweetheart.”
“Can you feel the wards yet?” He laughed. “It shouldn’t be long.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I’ve been waiting a long time for you to come back. So has Quentin, but I got to you first.”
The wards tightened around Kalena, just a little, enough to tell her that Julian was right about her not having time to wait for Quentin. “What do you want?” she asked, trying not to let her discomfort enter her voice.
“A year. Give me a year to convince you that I’m not the bastard you seem to think I am.”
Laughing, Kalena shook her head, attempting to ignore the wards as they tightened again. “Julian, if you wanted to convince me you’re not a bastard this isn’t the way to start.”
“Maybe not, but I felt like I had no other choice. Once you get in there you’ll do everything you can to avoid me and this was the only way I could think of getting you to agree to give me a chance.”
As the wards tightened a third time Kalena winced and knew she had very little time before they tossed her out. “I want there to be boundaries.”
“That’s something we can decide when we get inside, because I’d guess you have maybe another minute.”
“No unwanted touching.”
“I promise I will only touch you when you want me to.”
“Which will be never.” Kalena looked one last time at the door, hoping to see Quentin, but in the end she did the only thing she could. “Okay, I agree to give you a year of my time, as long as there’s no unwanted touching. You touch me, even once, without my permission and that’s the end of it.” With the final word she felt the wards loosen, but she knew that they would tighten again, and then probably toss her out, if she broke her side of the bargain she’d made with Julian. “I’m not going to promise that I’m going to be nice to you.”
“That’s not a surprise.” Julian smiled, but it wasn’t exactly what she would have called a happy smile. “I honestly don’t expect anything from you that you aren’t willing to give.”
“Except my time.” Kalena shook her head, dropping the useless shadows at the same time. “If we’re going to be doing this then let’s get inside the building and decide on the boundaries.”
“Quentin isn’t going to be happy about what you’ve chosen to do.”
“It wasn’t a choice.” She looked over her shoulder at the wards, knowing who was behind them and exactly what would have happened if she had been thrown out. “He’ll understand that.”
“Maybe he will.” Julian held out a hand. “I’m going to offer you my help now to get inside, because I can imagine how much pain you’re in right now, even though I know you’re going to be stubborn and force your legs to work.”
After staring wistfully at his hand for longer than she should have done she did exactly what Julian said she was going to do. “Why bother then?”
He looked at her, his expression one she really had never wanted or expected to see on his face. “I care.” He shrugged. “Not that how I feel matters to you in any way.”
“Jules…” She surprised herself calling him that and from the way Julian looked at her she could tell he hadn’t expected it either, but it reminded them both too much of a past that had long faded away.
“Don’t. I know exactly how you and Quentin see me. It’s been obvious from the moment he appeared in our lives. Having the upper hand for the first time is nice.”
“You have no idea how Quentin and I see you.” Kalena shook her head. “We’ve never agreed on our opinions of you any way. Quentin thinks you’re evil personified. I’m…” Quentin would say she was clinging onto a person who no longer existed, but she didn’t think Julian had changed that much. “I’m not so certain”
“I’d been a part of your life for years before he came along.” Julian said, hurt filling his voice, “I thought there was something between us and then somehow Quentin destroyed it.”
“You destroyed it, Julian. He didn’t have to do anything.”
Together they stepped through the door into a building Kalena hoped she’d never have to see again, unable to stop herself from breathing a sigh of relief. Julian glanced at her, but she didn’t look at him, instead focusing on the room that hadn’t changed at all in the centuries she’d been away. It wasn’t a surprise and it unexpectedly made her feel a hundred times better. After everything she’d been through something predictable was just what she needed. When she felt Julian’s eyes leave the side of her face she let herself look at him for a moment. What he’d done hadn’t been surprising either, just annoying.
“Maybe that’s how you feel, Kalena, but I never thought the mistake I made was something we couldn’t have worked through.”
“On that we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
“If it helps at all I am sorry. I never meant to hurt you and all I want is to try to fix things now that you’re back.”
“You knew I was coming.”
“Divining always was something I was good at. You were always going to have to come back. All I had to do was keep looking until it happened and then be ready.”
“What did you do to Quentin?”
“Nothing bad, I promise. I might be stupid enough to ambush you, but I’m not so stupid that I’d hurt someone who meant so much to you.”
Kalena glanced at him again, her eyes lingering longer than they had before. “Julian…”
When she felt the spell that was aimed at him she did the only thing she could to stop it and wrapped her shield around him. She probably didn’t need to, because it hadn’t been much of a spell, but they hadn’t set any boundaries so she wasn’t going to let anyone hurt him. Not even Quentin. Running a hand through her hair she turned and found her eyes locking with his, and she could see the pain that filled them.
“I didn’t have enough time, Quentin.”
“So you made a deal with him. Of all people.”
“My choices were limited. It was either him or death. At least with him our deal will only last for a year.”
“A year can be a very long time.”
“True, but eternity is always going to be longer.”
“You know he locked me in my room to stop me from leaving when I felt you step through the wards.”
“I don’t regret a thing,” Julian said.
“You wouldn’t.” Quentin lifted his hand and Kalena could feel him beginning to gather the energy he needed to cast another spell. “It would be easy enough to get rid of you.”
“Stop it. All you’re going to do is get me thrown out by the wards and be the only suspect in a murder investigation.”
Quentin looked at her, suspicion replacing the pain. “You don’t seem as bothered by this as I am.”
“Knowing that you might die changes your perspective on what you should be bothered by. I am annoyed with Julian for the way he went about things, but he is a lot better than some of the people I was worried might find me before you did. The deal has been made, so I’d like you to respect that and back off.”