Range (4 page)

He shakes his head. "I'm not staying."

"Why? I mean, are you mad at me?"

He laughs. "Is that a real question?" He storms over to me, pushes his body up against me and stares me down, emphasizing the height difference between us. I have to tip my head up severely to meet his gaze.

A challenge. He's challenging me.

I squint up at him, annoyed. "What the hell are you doing?"

His hair is cropped short, much shorter than when I saw him last and he's wearing a black uniform but it's not Aves like we used to wear. It's got a lot of little things dangling off it. Like a service uniform. Or an officer's uniform. An officer of excessive rank. He is definitely running something, and it's not just some elite warrior team, that's for sure. From the ribbons and medals I'd say it was an army.

"I'm doing my best not to smack ya down to the ground, Junco. That's what I'm doing." His growl comes out with such venom I step back and look away. "I came here to deliver a message and believe me, if there was anyone else to deliver it, I wouldn't have come."

I keep my head turned. "Why? Why are you acting like this? Why haven't you come to visit?" I look back and wait to see if he will answer. "I've only been here a few weeks, Tier. I have no way to leave. I'm stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. How could I have found a way to see you on my own?"

"Fuck, yer so stupid."

The shock leaves my body as a gasp. "What?"

"Ya think I want ta see ya after what ya did? Really, Junco? Ya think I'd just forgive something like that?"

"Something like what? Like what, Tier?"

His face dips down to mine and he bares his teeth at me. They are not the same teeth I remember. Fangs, almost. "You had a choice back there in the Runout valley, Junco. Us or them." His head motions behind me and I turn to find Gideon and Selia standing at the top of the stairs.

I swallow. "That's not fair."

"Not fair, eh?" He pushes me this time and I stumble backward. "Not fair? What's not fair is the baby ya killed when you let that bitch take ya."

Now it's my turn to growl. "Fuck you.
Fuck you!
I didn't let her do anything!"

He storms towards me again and Gideon covers the distance between us at a run. "Don't touch her again, Tier. Or I fucking swear—"

Tier's bright green eyes look up and find Gideon. "Ya swear what? What? You'll do what, exactly, Gideon? Because I'd like nothing better than fight ya to the death right now." He clenches his fists and turns away from me, still talking. "You had a choice, Junco. I told ya." He turns his rage back to me. "I told ya I wanted ta quit. So we could have a normal life. And what did you do? You chose chaos and death, just like ya always do. This incessant fascination you have with death, it makes me
sick
."

I'm silent.

"That was my child too."

The tears slip out.

"And ya killed it." He breaks our stare and looks over to Gideon. "For him."

My chest starts to heave as breathing becomes difficult.

"Gideon told me what ya said."

I look over to Gid and he turns away.

"That you killed yerself because you just wanted to die. You never cared about saving me."

I shake my head, but he continues.

"Ya never trusted me."

I'm breathing funny now, the air coming and going in gasps.

"You only care about yerself, Junco. And I can't live like that. You don't need me because ya don't need anyone. You only want what you can't have and ya know why? Because then you can blame yer failure to get these impossible things on yer horrible fucking life. On all the things those people did ta ya. Ya never look at yerself and ask how you contribute to yer own unhappiness."

Lucan appears behind him in his ancient armor and black wings, looking like Satan straight out of Dante's Inferno.

"Tier, that's enough now." His voice is soft and gentle, like when he talks to me.

Tier looks to the side but doesn't turn. He takes a deep breath.

"Come with me, we'll go home."

I'm shocked at both of them now. "He cannot go home, Lucan. He doesn't get to say that shit and just leave! I didn't choose Gideon over him, I just didn't want to leave him there! What was I supposed to do? He's my partner!"

Tier flies at me in a rage before anyone can stop him. He slams me down on the ground and the air bursts out of my lungs like a wind storm. He sits on my chest, restricting my breathing, and then leans down just like Isten did back on the rifle range.

My words come out in a sputter. "I didn't choose Gideon, Tier. I didn't!"

His eyes abruptly stop glowing and become calm as he whispers down at me. "Ya absolutely did, Junco. I wanted what you had ta give. So bad. And you chose death over me. Ya gave that bitch her chance to ruin us and unlike you, Junco? When she gets a chance to win she takes it. She doesn't throw it away. Ashur already had Gideon. I would never have left him there. Never. I know he's yer partner and I was gonna take care of him for you."

I swallow and stare into the hurt he's got penned up behind those eyes.

"I always trusted you and you never trusted me. You gave it away to Ashur, to Isten, to Lucan, to Moju, to that piece of shit clone of Aren and even that fucking nobody Kush. Ya slept with him the minute ya left my cell that night. And I never told ya nothing about that or the way ya broke down on stage after ya killed him. You killed yerself over Kush, Junco. Not me."

I turn my head again but Tier reaches down and grabs my chin, forcing me to look at him as he hurts me in ways I never imagined possible. With a simple look of disappointment.

"So here we are."

I nod up at him. "Here we are." My lips fall into a deep frown as I forget everything I promised myself about giving up crying. The tears stream down my cheeks and I start to sniffle wildly to stop the snot from running down on my lips. "I love you, Tier."

He's not swayed. His face grows more and more hateful as the seconds pass and I can't get myself under control. "No, Junco. You don't. You love Lucan now." He gets up and reaches down to pull me up as well, spinning me around by my shoulders so we are both facing Lucan. "And I'd just like to tell ya congratulations. He's a hell of a guy."

And then he pushes me out of his way and covers the distance to the flyer in a determined walk. Lucan meets him halfway and the two of them get in the vehicle together. Lucan reaches out and grabs the door and swings it closed and they take off.

My face stares up at the night sky as the shrinking flyer disappears. Leaving only stars that are practically begging for me to pay attention to them.

I walk back down the stairs and Gideon and Selia follow me in silence as we enter the apartment. There's a cake and some balloons on the dining room table that I missed rushing past to catch up with Tier.

They didn't forget.

And ten minutes ago my life would've been complete with this simple expression of friendship.

But now I am lost. Utterly lost.

I stop at the table and read the card.

"Happy birthday, Juncs."

I break down in sobs and Gid turns me around and hugs me close. "He's just angry, Junco. He'll come back around. He was so hurt after Inanna took you, I can't even explain it. And we fought over how it ended back there. A lot. I'm partly to blame because after I came out of the medical tank I turned it all around and made it his fault that you were taken. And he was stupid enough to believe it, so I rubbed it in, used it. It's my fault he's angry and now that he knows you're OK and safe, all that shit that scared him is coming out, that's all. He still loves you. He'll come back around."

I wipe my nose on my arm as I pull myself back together and take a deep breath. "I need my dad, Gideon. Does he have a comm? Can I call him? I need to—"

"Sure, Junco." He pulls his comm out of his pocket and makes the connection, then hands the little tech over to me. I walk out on the terrace and listen as it buzzes over and over again.

A woman finally answers. "How can I help you, Gideon?"

"It's Junco. May I speak to my dad, please?"

She draws in a breath. "He's not here, Junco. But I can take a—"

I end the connection and hand the comm back to Gideon. "He's not there."

Selia is suddenly in my space, her head dipping under my hair to look me in the eye. "Junco, let's go out tonight. You want to come with me over to the main atoll?"

I keep silent.

"It's better than sitting here crying, Junco. It's your birthday, so let's just go check out the island. You've been cooped up on this little private beach long enough. You need to get out."

I hear the crack of a suborbital entering the Sargassum air space and nod my head as I shed the hurt like skin. "Yeah, OK. You're right. I need to get the fuck out of here."

 

Chapter Five

 

The door to my dorm room is ajar when I finally make it back to school after picking up the weapons. James was right, there were no issues. They did the code test in front of me for both the SEAR knives. I had a hair sample from Gideon to check his knife. I was worried for nothing. They were nice guys and even gave me the name of a professional who needed some extra help down in Low Dallas.

I walk in silence towards my door and take out my gun.

Listen.

Snoring?

I kick the door open and Aren jumps up from my bed, looking around wildly as he tries to wake himself up.

"What're you doing here?"

He smiles as reality comes back. "Waiting for you, beautiful."

I cock my head at him. "Beautiful? You drunk or something? Does my dad know you're here?"

He walks towards me and flashes me one of those winning smiles that make his eyes brighten, even in this dim light of pre-dawn, but keeps silent.

"What?" I ask.

"He knows I'm here, Junco. I told him I wanted to come back and teach tactical strategy for a year."

"Why?"

He takes my hand. "To spend this last year with you, Junco. Shit, you're so dumb sometimes. Ya know that?"

I pull my hand back, confused. "What're you talking about? Since when?"

He shrugs. "Since now. That's not good enough for you?"

I throw my pack down on the bed. "You want to
date
me?"

He laughs and pulls me close to him. I think about resisting, but I don't. I like Aren. I've thought about kissing him more than once and I'm coming up short on people who care about me these days, so I let him keep hold.

"Just go with it, Junco. Don't fight for once." His face loses the smile and I tip my head up to look at his expression. It's serious. "I wanna love you, OK? We have a whole year together, your dad even said so."

This draws me out of my trance for a second. "Did you talk to him today?"

He nods. "He's real busy, said to tell you hi."

I pull away and turn around to let my smile out. The relief washes over me so completely I have a moment of dizziness, but I hide it by rubbing my eyes and sitting on the bed.

"I've been waiting for you all night, where the hell were you?"

I huff out some air and my hair blows up over my face. "Doing a whole lot of illegal bad shit, Aren. That's where I was." I let out a deep breath. "God, I'm so glad you're here. I was even thinking about you on the drive home, ya know?" He sits down next to me. "I was thinking how it fucking sucks to have no one this year, right? I swear, you're like a gift from God." I look up at him and smile and his face is so serious it takes me back for a moment. "What?"

He blows out a breath. "What did you do, Junco?"

I crack a smile. "You promise not to get mad at me?"

He nods, but he looks worried. "Yeah, OK. I promise."

"And you promise not to tell my dad? I mean, he probably wouldn't care as long as I never get caught, but still. Don't tell him, OK?"

Another nod.

"I killed the Peaks mayor."

He stands up and pulls his fingers through his hair and turns away. "Why?"

I shrug. "I needed his biometrics to get an extra SEAR knife for Gid and me. They take them away to control us, and we're sick of it."

He just stares at me like I'm some kind of monster.

"What? It's not fair, my dad even said so. Matthew should not be allowed to take away a part of my body. It's a violation. And I know Gid feels it too. It hurts us to be without them, Aren."

"Did Gideon put you up to this, Junco?" His face is so serious I almost panic at telling him.

"No. He doesn't even know. I haven't seen him in more than six months, he went missing over the summer and no one knows where he went, not even my dad."

"Who else knows?"

"Just James. Why?"

"Junco," he takes my face in his hands, "you don't say another word about this, you understand? Ever. You hear me?"

I swallow and nod. "Yeah, sure. I wasn't gonna tell anyone but you're here, so…"

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