An angel fair, with shining wings

A voice of splendor when she sings

Is trapped, alone beneath the earth

Imprisoned for her heavenly worth

Her captors, to torment her soul

Whisper lies and mock her goal

Her light, which should shine bright as day

In darkness starts to fade away

Her strength dies with each passing hour

And so, much like a wilting flower

She crumples in her darkened cell

Succumbing to the demon’s spell

But one dark fiend harbored inside

Pity for the tears she cried

He watched her, as she lay in chains

And wished that he could ease her pain

And so he plotted day and night

And hatched a plan to end her plight

His life he risked to free the girl

And shining wings at last unfurled

She beat them once, then twice, but found

Her feet stayed planted on the ground

Deprived of light, she could not fly

“Alas,” she thought, “My time is nigh.”

For troops from hell were swarming in

To drag her to her cell again

But they laid not even a hand

Upon the maid from heaven-land

For taking her into his arms

The fiend bore her away from harm

Demons pursued, and so they fled

The fiend’s great wings above them spread

The damsel’s trust was not yet earned

And for that honor the fiend yearned

He told her he was on her side

“I don’t believe you,” she replied

But, through reason she was shown

She would not make it far alone

And so the fiend she chose to trust

Until her plan she could adjust

And as they fought, side by side

Defending her became his pride

While they warred in freedom’s name

Her view of him began to change

So by the time they reached the sun

A strange friendship had begun

They reached the gates of heaven’s light

Which will admit no child of night

Unwilling to desert her friend

The angel chose not to go in

On earth the pair now choose to stay

Monsters they’ve been known to slay

The friendship forged beneath the earth

Now indeed has proved its worth

Not demons or the hounds of hell

Can force these friends to bid farewell

This friendship built with iron strength

Will last through all eternity’s length

 

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora

I sucked air into my lungs, breathing in the smell of sweat. My fists stung from the repeated impact against the punching bag. I could feel the skin beginning to peal off my knuckles from the force of the punches I was throwing, but I didn’t care. I focused on each movement of my muscles, keeping my heart rate and breathing controlled as I focused on the punching bag in front of me.

Speed. My father was drilling Shiva for speed again. He’d been focusing on speed for the last few days, and I’d been excelling at it. Speed was built into every fiber of my body. I was good at this. But of course, no one noticed.

I glanced over at Shiva, who was struggling to maintain the grueling pace our father had set for him. Shiva was fast, but he wasn’t fast enough. Not fast enough to make our father happy. He wasn’t as fast as me.

“I’ll bet even your sister could do better than that!” Father exclaimed.

I turned to face him, wondering if he’d seen how flawlessly I’d kept up with his commands, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was glaring at Shiva, and Shiva was looking dejectedly at his toes.

There was a long silence. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. Maybe this was my chance.

“You’re right,” I said. Father and Shiva both looked up at the sound of my voice. They turned to face me, as if seeing me for the first time.

“What?” Father asked, frowning. “Did you say something?”

“I said you’re right,” I repeated. “I can do better than him.”

Father laughed. “Go bake a pie, Rajani,” he said.

“No, I mean it. I’ll prove it,” I said, feeling anger churning in my stomach. If he would just give me a chance, he would see.

“Alright, we’re watching,” Father said, crossing his arms and looking at me with a strange expression on his face, like amusement mixed with boredom.

I turned to face the punching bag. I narrowed my eyes and focused on it, breathing deeply to calm myself. I was strong. I was fast. I could do this, and I would show them all.

I glanced at my father, waiting for his commands. He began to bark out orders, slowly at first, then increasing his pace until I was punching, kicking, and slashing at the bag so fast I almost forgot to breathe. There was no time to think about each action, it was just instinct, just reacting to the sound of my fathers voice urging me to move faster.

Then he stopped, and the room fell silent. I threw all my strength into the last punch, slamming my fist into the bag. I felt the shock of the impact travel up my arm. I would be sore tomorrow. Something wet was on my hands, and looking down I saw that my knuckles were bleeding. I looked at the punching bag and saw several red streaks where my blood had been smeared across its surface.

Finally I turned to face my father. He was still looking at me with that bored yet mildly amused expression. My chest rose and fell rapidly as I tried to catch my breath. Sweat was dripping into my eyes, stinging them. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, measuring time. Ten heartbeats. Twenty heartbeats. Thirty heartbeats, and still my father hadn’t moved or spoken.

Finally his lips parted and my cat ears perked up as I waited to hear his words. He would be proud of me now. He would see my potential, he had to! He would praise me for doing such a good job and apologize for not recognizing my skill sooner. I straightened my shoulders, ready to bask in his approval.

“Not bad,” he said, “for a girl.” Then he turned and walked out of the training room without a backward glance. My shoulders sagged and I stared at the door where he had gone. That was all? Hadn’t I done well enough? I had done better than Shiva! I let out a hiss and slammed my fist into the punching bag again. It hurt, but not as much as my father’s empty words.

Turning away from the bloodied bag I stalked out of the room, my tail thrashing angrily behind me. I found a bandage and wrapped up my knuckles, then began prowling around the hallways of the huge mansion.

Why did my father pay so much more attention to Shiva than he did to me? In my mind Shiva was a freak – more animal than human. When I looked at those red eyes I saw a beast, not a person, and I knew my father felt the same. I’d heard him say so.

So why couldn’t he see that he didn’t have to put up with his defective son? Why couldn’t he see that the child he wanted was right here? I may be a girl, but I would show him that I could be as good as any son. Maybe better.

I rounded a corner and came across Shiva, who was nursing a scrape on his knee that he must have received during the training session.

“Why do you even try?” I asked him bitterly. He looked up at me, confused. “You know you’ll never be good enough. You’re just a freak, and father will never love you. No one will ever love you.”

Shiva glared at me with his red eyes. “At least I’m not a girl. I’m the son he wants,” he said.

“You’re not the son he wants, you’re a cheep substitute that he puts up with because he doesn’t have a better one,” I said. “He’ll never be happy with you because you’re not strong like Chand.” Chand was our older half brother. He was the perfect son in almost every way, except that he was a half-breed. His father had been a bird-different from Japan. Our family had worked hard to keep the panther line pure, so the existence of a half-panther was a shame to us. Father would never accept Chand, but Shiva still had to live up to his strength, courage, and intelligence if he wanted father to accept him. He couldn’t let himself be outdone by a half-breed.

Shiva’s lip quivered a bit. “Oh, did I hurt your feelings? Why don’t you go run to mama?” I taunted.

He snarled and tried to punch me, but I ducked under his arm and brought the heel of my hand up to connect with his chin. The impact felt very satisfying.

Shiva yelped and staggered back, spitting blood. “Look at that! You just lost to a girl!” I laughed. “Too bad father wasn’t here to see it.” With that I turned and marched away, anger still churning inside me.

To Be Continued…

< Chapter One

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

 

I was eight years old, standing in the training room where my father worked on his combat skills. My twin brother Shiva was standing in front of a punching bag, his forehead creased in concentration as he tried to obey our father’s orders. I copied his position, my muscles twitching in anticipation as I faced my imaginary opponent.

“Left, left, right, kick, slash,” father barked out a sequence of commands, increasing the pace as he continued. Every day before dinner Pardus would take Shiva to the training room and drill him. Because I had nothing better to do, I was allowed to tag along. I wanted to learn to fight too, but father never took the time to teach me, so I had to learn from observing Shiva’s lessons. I’d once asked my father if he would instruct me, but he said he didn’t have the time to waste. He’d always underestimated me because I was female, but I was determined to show him I was just as good as my brothers.

The smell of sweat began to fill the room as the drill continued. Shiva’s bare chest glistened, and my long hair clung to my sweaty face. Sunlight streamed through the windows, heating the room until it felt like we were in a sauna.

“Faster!” Father barked, and I quickened my pace, trying to keep up with his rapid-fire commands. My foot slipped and I stumbled, grabbing hold of the punching bag to keep from losing my balance.

“No, no, no,” Father scolded. I looked up and saw that he was glaring down at Shiva, his hands on his hips. My brother must have missed one of the commands, unable to keep up with the pace.

“Try it again, and pay more attention this time,” he ordered, and began barking out commands once more. I gave my full attention to the punching bag in front of me, feeling the satisfying jolt of each impact. My breath grew ragged and I was sure I was going to miss a step; I couldn’t keep up with this pace much longer. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, stinging painfully. Finally the orders stopped and I stood panting and staring in wonder at the punching bag. I’d kept up! I wasn’t sure how I’d done it, but I’d kept up! I was about to let out a shout of joy and run to my father in excitement, but then his harsh voice sobered me.

“That still isn’t good enough. Keep practicing, the next time we train you’d better be able to keep up.” Shiva nodded and looked dejectedly at the punching bag that had managed to conquer him again. His muscles were trembling from exhaustion and he swung another halfhearted punch at the bag as father turned away.

“Father!” I exclaimed, wanting to attract his attention. I wanted to tell him that I’d kept up with his demanded speed. I wanted him to be proud of me. But he didn’t even glance my way as he passed, heading to dinner.

“Shiva!” I cried, turning to my brother. I was excited and wanted to tell someone about my success, and he was the only one still here. “I kept up!” I boasted.

“Don’t tell tales,” he scolded, smacking the punching back and watching it swing lazily.

“I’m not telling tales! I really did keep up!” I exclaimed, my voice rising in frustration.

“If I couldn’t keep up than you sure couldn’t either,” he informed me.

“That’s not so! I’m as good as you, maybe better!” I declared.

“Prove it then,” he challenged.

“I will, just you watch! You and father both, I’ll show you I’m as good as any boy!” I yelled at him, then turned and ran from the room, upset that everyone seemed to think I was useless. I’d show them, I’d show them all, and I’d make father proud. I’d make him love me.

< Prologue ~ Chapter Two >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

It was a bitter December night. Frost crept up the glass on the windows of the old Minnesota mansion and snow swirled outside, while the wind rattled the windowpanes like it was determined to find a way into this ancient refuge. Every light in the house was on, and people rushed around frantically. Somewhere upstairs a woman was screaming in agony. A boy ran through the door into the parlor where a man was seated before the dying fire, reading a newspaper.

“Mother’s calling for you. She’s in a lot of pain,” the youth said, his brow creased with worry.

“I’m busy,” the man said gruffly, not bothering to look up from his paper.

“But…” the boy began, but was cut off by a sharp rebuke.

“Shoo!” the man snapped, releasing the paper long enough to wave a hand dismissively at the boy, who turned and exited the room reluctantly.

A few minutes later the man folded his newspaper and made his way to the bedroom where the exhausted woman was lying. The smell of blood hung in the air and he wrinkled his nose in disgust as he approached her bedside. Her dark eyes looked nervously up at him as she pulled aside the blankets to show the face of the tiny child at her side.

“Boy or girl?” he asked harshly.

“She’s a girl. Her name is Rajani,” the woman said.

“A girl?” he bellowed. “You gave me a girl? You gave a son to the last man, but you curse me with a daughter?”

She winced at his words, then let out a cry of pain as her body contorted. “There’s another,” the nurse said, hurrying to the laboring woman’s side.

“If it’s a girl, drown it,” he ordered, turning for the door. “One is bad enough.”

It was hours later when the second child was finally delivered. The exhausted mother clutched her two children close, barely able to keep herself awake as she waited for her husband to return. He kept her waiting for a long time, then finally he appeared.

“Well?” he asked, crossing his arms.

“You have a son,” she said tiredly. “His name is Shiva.”

The man looked down at the baby, still pink and wet from its birth. The tiny eyes opened and peered up at the father, who recoiled at the sight. “What is THAT?”

“His eyes. Aren’t they gorgeous?” the mother said with a tender smile at her son. The baby’s crimson eyes closed again and he nestled closer to her side.

“They’re hideous. You’ve given me a defective child,” he complained. He looked down at the boy with a resigned sigh. “He’ll have to do,” he decided, then turned on his heal and left the room, closing the door loudly behind him.

Chapter One >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

 

Twitter: @Arthwaya

DeviantArt: http://arthwaya.deviantart.com/

http://rhettandlinkommunity.com/profile/Arthwaya

Dr. Wesley A. Canton was rummaging through the papers on his desk when the phone rang, startling him and making him drop several paper clips on the floor. He glanced at the caller I.D. and then picked up the phone.

“Harrison, you’re finally returning my calls. What took so long?” he said into the mouthpiece of the phone.

“I’ve been out of town,” Dr. Harrison replied.

“I’ve been talking to Hugo and according to him you’re both giving up on getting Kalinda. Is that true?”

“Yes, it is. We bit off more than we could chew last time. That assassin, Axiss, was there to protect her,” Harrison said.

“But you’re not planning to just give up are you?” Canton prompted. “You’ve got to try again!”

“Hugo and I have decided not to go back. She could make us a fortune, I know, but it isn’t worth risking our lives for.”

“Risking your lives? I hardly think you would be in any danger,” Canton scoffed. “She’s just a girl, after all.”

“As I recall, you were the one who was too cowardly to come with us the first time,” Harrison said defensively. “She’s not ‘just a girl,’ she has some rather frightening friends.”

“Yes, I know. Axiss the assassin. So you met him, did you? Now you can see why I decided not to come along. But if you’ve been watching the news you’ll know that Axiss is dead,” Canton informed his friend. “He was arrested and dealt capital punishment for his crimes. With him out of the way I thought I might come help you, and now you’re telling me that you’re too scared to go back?”

“Axiss may be gone, but he wasn’t our only problem. She has her brother watching out for her, and even she herself can be dangerous when she’s threatened,” Harrison argued.

“Kalinda? Dangerous? She’s a healer, she wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Canton scoffed.

“I thought the same, until she stabbed me in the arm with a knife,” Harrison stated. “I don’t think we should underestimate her.”

“She really stabbed you?” Canton asked. “Wouldn’t have thought she had it in her. But obviously you lived to tell about it, so it couldn’t have been too serious,” he reasoned.

“Maybe not, but my point still stands,” Harrison said. “The money isn’t worth the risk. I think we should let it go.”

“Are you kidding me? The police even took your side, from what Hugo told me. How can you pass up such a golden opportunity?”

“Well I don’t see you rushing in after her,” Harrison snapped.

“Maybe I will, now that the creepy guy is dead!” Canton shot back.

“Trust me Canton, going after that girl on your own is just plain foolish, and don’t expect Hugo and I to help you. If you want her, you’re on your own, but if you know what’s good for you you’ll take my advice and leave her be.”

“Fine, I’ll leave her be,” Canton grumbled. He slammed the phone down without waiting for a reply from Harrison. Deep down he knew he wouldn’t have had the guts to go after her anyway, even if Harrison had asked him too. He sighed and returned to rummaging around on his desk. Maybe someday I’ll get up enough courage to go get her, he thought. But not today. 

< Chapter Forty-Five

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

It was a few weeks since Axiss had left, and I was sitting in the living room watching the news while May and Marie played with their stuffed animals on the floor. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the television; I was just staring at it while my mind wandered. I was thinking about Axiss, wondering where he was now and if he was ok. I didn’t have to wonder long.

Something on the TV caught my eye and I focused on it, than sat up straight when I realized it was a picture of Axiss. “An escaped serial killer known as Axiss was arrested this morning in New Hampshire and taken to the state prison in Concord,” the news reporter was saying. “Police informed us that the convict has already been dosed with the new Dissimilis drug in order to prevent any future escapes. Citizens can rest easy knowing that this time, Axiss will remain behind bars.”

I grabbed the remote and hit the power button, silencing the reporter as the television screen went dark. “No…” I moaned, resting my head in my hands. “Please, no.”

I was still sitting there when Ylva got home from work. She took one look at me and knew that something was wrong. “Kalinda?” she said, walking over and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Axiss is in jail,” I informed her. “They’re using that new drug to keep him from escaping again.”

I felt the couch cushion shift beneath me as Ylva sat down. “I’m going to go see him again,” I decided.

“Kalinda…” she started.

“I’m going,” I said firmly, cutting her off. My mind was made up.

“Alright,” she said reluctantly. I could tell she thought it was a bad idea, but she knew she couldn’t talk me out of it. I stood up and pulled out my cell phone, did a few Google searches and then sat down and started making phone calls.

It took a long time before I was finally given an appointment to see Axiss. There were all kinds of hoops to jump through. In the meantime the news reports kept on updating me as Axiss was tried and found guilty for crime after crime. He didn’t even try to defend himself, he simply pleaded guilty. After a few days I stopped watching. The stories were too painful for me, and I already knew what the result would be anyway. Axiss would be in prison for the rest of his life. He wouldn’t be able to escape again while they were using Rakta’s drug on him.

After weeks of phone calls and paperwork my background checks were completed and everything was finally in order for me to visit Axiss. Shiva offered to come with me, but this time I wanted to go alone. I took a bus from Boston to Concord, and spent the whole drive trying to figure out what I wanted to say to him, since this was probably the last time I’d ever get to talk to him, but when I sat down on my side of the bullet proof glass I still didn’t know what I was going to say.

I had a feeling of déjà vu as I looked at Axiss through the glass. He seemed to be moving a bit sluggishly and I guessed it was a side effect of the drug they were giving him. He kept his head lowered, staring at the ground, and for several seconds we were both silent.

“I’d hoped this wouldn’t happen,” I said finally. He didn’t respond, and I swallowed dryly and tried again. “I probably won’t get to see you again, so…” I stopped as Axiss looked up at me, his red eyes meeting mine.

“Capital,” he said. One word. One horrible word. It took a moment for my brain to accept the meaning behind the word. They weren’t just going to imprison him; they were going to kill him.

“NOOO!” I screamed, flying to my feet and sending my chair skidding backwards across the floor. My hands were clenched in fists at my sides. This couldn’t be happening!

“Yes, Kalinda,” Axiss said quietly. My fists opened and I pressed my palms against the glass to steady myself. Tears began to spill from my eyes, blurring my vision.

“They can’t… they can’t do this,” I choked out.

“They can,” Axiss said, “And I deserve it.”

I wanted to deny it, to say that this was wrong and unjust, but I knew it wasn’t true. Axiss did deserve this, but I still didn’t want to see it happen to him.

I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how much I cared, how much I would miss him, how glad I was that I’d known him, but I couldn’t speak. My throat had sealed itself shut, but there was one gesture that I knew he would understand. I touched my hand to my heart and then extended it toward his, pressing it against the glass that was in my way. It was the gesture I had used to say thank you all those years ago, before I had healed my voice. Now I used it to communicate how grateful I was for those days we had spent together on the roof. For the time when he had been my friend.

Axiss looked at me for a long moment, then he slowly touched his hand to his heart and pressed it against the glass opposite to mine. I looked at our hands, his dark and mine pale, and my mind went back to the day on the roof when he had called me his friend. “Ami, friend,” he had said, and then he had pressed his hand against mine.

Ami, friend. The words echoed in my mind as I looked at our hands, separated by the glass. The two gestures merged in my mind into one message. Thank you, friend. I raised my eyes to his face. His red eyes met my golden ones and held them for a long moment.

I raised my other hand and kissed it, then pressed it against the glass as well. His expression softened and he gently touched the glass, taking my kiss, then stood staring down at his hand for several seconds before gently touching his cheek.

My vision began to swim and I watched blearily as he pressed both his hands back against the glass, opposite mine. I suddenly hated that glass more than anything, as if it was somehow responsible for keeping us apart. I wanted to feel his hands against mine.

The edges of my vision began to go dark and I felt myself falling. The last thing I saw was my hands slipping away from Axiss’ as I fell backwards. I was unconscious before I hit the ground.

The rest of the day was a blur for me. I remember waking up with a police officer standing over me, asking me if I was all right. I assured him that I would be fine. I don’t remember the trip home, but I must have taken a bus. When I reached the apartment I went straight to my room and curled up on my bed to cry.

It wasn’t long after that when an evening news story informed us that Axiss had been executed by lethal injection. There had been no question of Axiss’ guilt, and the families of countless victims had been lobbying for justice, resulting in one of the fastest convictions and executions our country had seen in decades. The television played security camera footage of Axiss being led into a small room and strapped onto the gurney, just moments before his death. I turned off the television, unable to watch any more.

I didn’t go back to the roof until months later. The snow had all melted away and the weather was warm and sunny when I stepped out onto the concrete surface. Everything seemed to remind me of Axiss, from the shed where he had lived to the bench where I’d fallen asleep. I circled the roof, gently touching places of significance as the memories came, one after the other. Some of them made me smile; others brought tears to my eyes.

Finally I made my way to the little shed and pushed the door open. Axiss’ coat was still lying on the floor where I’d put it the day that he left. Slowly I knelt down and picked it up. It still smelled like him, and I buried my face in the leather, closing my eyes to hold back my tears.

The sun was going down when I picked up the jacket and exited the shed. I climbed down the fire escape and crawled through my bedroom window. Kneeling down on the floor I pulled a box out from under my bed and removed the useless junk that was stored there. Neatly folding the leather trench coat I placed it in the box, then reached under my mattress and pulled out my diary, letting it fall open in my hands. It opened to the entry from the night of the masquerade ball.

He was so close tonight, I read. For a moment I thought he would do it, I thought he would try to change. That thought was the most wonderful thing ever. That moment of hope when I saw beyond his past and saw what he could become…

I turned the page, flipping through the diary. In some places my writing was large and sloppy, showing the emotional state I’d written them in. The last several pages were wrinkled and smudged from tears falling as I wrote. I slowly closed the diary and laid it on top of Axiss’ coat in the box. I carefully slid the box back under my bed and stood up. This chapter of my life, the part about Axiss, was over, but the memories couldn’t be tucked away as easily as the diary. I would always remember those crimson eyes, the leathery wings, and the rare sound of Axiss’ laughter. I would never forget the feeling of his arms around me, or the wind blowing through my hair as we flew. I would always remember the days when Axiss was my friend.

 THE END

< Chapter Forty-Four ~ Epilogue >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

The smell of good food wafted through the house as Ylva worked away in the kitchen. It was Saturday, so she was home from work, and she wanted to make a nice breakfast to help cheer everyone up after everything that had happened the previous day.

She carried the pans of food to the table and then walked down the short hallway to my room and knocked on the door.

“Kalinda, breakfast is ready,” she called. She waited a moment, listening, but there was no answer and no sound of movement from inside the room. “Kalinda, please come out and eat with us,” she begged. Still there was no answer. She gripped the door handle and tried to turn it, but it was locked.

“She’s not there,” Shiva said, coming up behind Ylva.

“What?” she asked, turning to look up at him. “Then where is she?”

“On the roof,” he replied.

“But if she’d left her room this morning I would have seen her! Besides, her door is locked from the inside. She must be in there,” Ylva reasoned, but Shiva shook his head. Taking Ylva’s hand he held it over the crack around the bedroom door.

“Feel the draft?” he asked. “She’s gone out the window and climbed up the fire escape.”

“Then go after her!” Ylva exclaimed, but Shiva shook his head.

“I want to protect her as much as you do, but she’s a grown woman now, we need to let her make her own decisions,” he pointed out.

Ylva sighed. “I suppose you’re right. I just don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Me neither,” Shiva agreed. “But she knows the risks, and she’s willing to face them to help Axiss. We need to let her go.”

Ylva nodded resignedly and leaned against Shiva, who wrapped his arms around her for comfort. After a moment she pulled away and smiled tiredly. “Come on, let’s go eat breakfast before it gets cold.”

 

I had woken up early that morning, planning to get up and help Ylva with breakfast, but while I was brushing my hair something on the fire escape caught my eye. I walked over to the window and looked out to see that Axiss had forgotten his coat outside my window. I hesitated, then slid the window open and climbed out. Bending down I picked up the heavy leather coat and shook the snow off of it, then began climbing the metal stairs towards the roof.

“Axiss?” I called as I climbed over the railing and dropped lightly down into the snow. There wasn’t any answer. I crossed the roof to the shed and knocked on the door. Nothing. Holding my breath I turned the knob and pulled the door open. Empty. A thousand emotions rushed through me, and one thought surfaced. He was gone. Calm down, I told myself. Maybe he’s just exercising. He can’t stay up here all the time.

I turned in a circle, looking around the little shed. It felt very empty without Axiss. The sleeping bag I’d given him on the first day was still spread across the floor, but it was cold to the touch. He hadn’t slept in it last night. I sighed and laid the coat down on the floor for him to find if he came back. As I bent down my eye was caught by a small object half buried under the sleeping bag. It was the baby monitor. So that’s what happened to it, I thought, picking it up and sticking it in my pocket. I must have left it up here. It wasn’t until later that I began to wonder how much of Axiss’ time had been spent listening in on me in the apartment below.

I stayed on the roof for at least an hour, pacing around and staring down at the street below, but Axiss didn’t show up. Finally my ears began to hurt from the cold wind and I decided to go back down to the warm apartment.

All day my mind was on the empty shed. I couldn’t stop wondering if he would come back. By mid-afternoon I couldn’t stand it anymore, I had to go check and see if he’d come back yet.

When I stepped onto the snowy roof the first thing I saw was Axiss, standing with his back to me. I opened my mouth to greet him, but then I stopped as my eyes fell on the red splatters of blood staining his white hair. Somehow I knew that it wasn’t animal blood. I closed my eyes for a moment, composing myself. Pretend you don’t see it, I told myself.

“You’re back,” I said softly.

“Yes, I am,” he replied stiffly.

“I was afraid you’d left.”

“I did, for a while. Now I’m here again.”

“Which you?” I asked before I could stop myself. He finally turned to face me, and I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw. His face and hands were covered in blood. I looked at him sadly for a few minutes before dropping my eyes to the snowy ground.

“Nothing happened,” he said sternly.

“How stupid do you think I am?” I asked, suddenly angry.

“I said nothing happened!” he shouted. I just shook my head and turned away from him, walking over to the railing and leaning against it. A thousand things were running through my mind, and I didn’t want to think about any of them.

I heard him stoop and pick up a handful of snow, using it to scrub the blood off his face. “Why did you have to come up here?” he muttered. I could tell he was talking to himself more than to me.

For several minutes I was silent. Finally one thought rose to the surface of my mind, and I spoke it aloud. “What makes me different?”

His feet crunched on the snow as he walked over and stood beside me. “Different from what?” he asked.

“From everyone else. I practically had to make you take my blood, but with others you don’t think twice,” I explained without looking at him.

“For one thing I can’t take your blood,” he said bluntly. “Your healing power prevents me.”

“So, if it wasn’t for that, would you take it?” I asked. Then added softly, “Would you kill me for it?”

He didn’t answer me. We stood silently for several minutes, staring out at the distant horizon.

Finally I turned and looked up at his face. “What is it you wanted?” I demanded. “Blood? Thrill? Money?”

He turned his back to me, refusing to answer. I watched him for a moment. I was disappointed, and I was angry, but I knew that I shouldn’t be surprised. I should have seen this coming.

I felt sick to my stomach, which was a strange feeling for me. Turning my back on him I began to walk towards the door, not wanting him to see how strongly this was affecting me. I hoped I would be able to handle this better once I’d had some time to calm down and think things through.

“Goodbye Kalinda,” he said as I walked away. “You probably won’t see me again.”

That stopped me. I spun to face him. “You’re leaving?” I exclaimed, eyes wide.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” he replied, still keeping his back to me.

“Will you come back?” I asked. I had nearly forgotten everything else in my fear of losing him.

“I just said you probably won’t see me again,” he reminded me.

I stared at him for a moment, feeling paralyzed. My heart was beating so loud I was sure he could hear it. I tried to move, but I was frozen in place. I willed myself to say something, anything, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t imagined just how hard news like this would hit me. I hadn’t realized just how much I really cared for this man.

I struggled, trying to speak, to beg him to stay. Finally I managed to force one word from my lips. “Please.”

He coughed and turned to face me. “Please? I’ve heard that word so many times it makes me sick,” he spat. “That has been the last word of so many people. You could fill a book with that word.”

His words barely registered in my brain. I shook my head a bit, trying to clear my foggy thoughts. “Don’t go,” I begged.

“I have to. You,” he paused and pointed at me. “You are suffocating, and it’s my fault.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“You need to open your eyes and stop focusing on me.” He started to back toward the edge of the roof, preparing to jump off and fly away. I could feel him slipping away from me, and it was agonizing.

“No! Axiss, don’t leave me!” I exclaimed, reaching towards him. I wanted to run to him, but I couldn’t make my legs move.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I can’t stay.”

“Why? What did I do wrong?” I asked. My eyes were filling with tears, blurring my vision.

“Absolutely nothing. You’re perfect,” he answered.

“Then don’t leave me,” I whispered.

“I’m corrupting you. And misleading you,” he said. “Even if you somehow changed me, how would I live? Everyone knows who and what I am. I would have to hide away in a dark hole until I die. Is that what you want for me?”

My hands were shaking. I clenched them into fists and shook my head. “No… Oh, I don’t know! I just want you to stay!” I exclaimed.

“Look at you! Is this really so hard for you? You’re too attached to me; it’s clouding your judgment. Snap out of it, Kalinda!” he ordered.

“I love you,” I whispered, finally voicing what I hadn’t been able to admit before now. Axiss’ eyes widened and he stumbled as if he’d been struck.

“You what?” He leaned against the rail for support, staring at me. “What?!”

“I love you,” I repeated as the tears spilled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks.

“You- you can’t!” he exclaimed. “Why, why, why… why, how?”

I finally managed to move my legs. I took one shaky step towards him, my eyes pleading as I blinked back my tears. “Axiss, you said we were friends. If you ever meant a word you said to me than please, I’m begging you, don’t leave,” I said, my voice cracking as I spoke the words.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Without warning he appeared in front of me and gently tipped my chin up so I was looking into his crimson eyes. His expression softened as he gently brushed his fingers over my cheeks, wiping away the tears. Slipping his arm around me he pulled me close and slowly pressed his lips against mine. The kiss was soft and tender, and he held it for a few seconds before pulling away. I felt his warm breath tickling my cat ear as he whispered something to me in French, and then he was gone.

I stood frozen for several heartbeats before realizing what had just happened. “Axiss?” I whispered to the air where he had been, but of course there was no reply, just the empty whispering of the wind.

“Axiss!” I screamed. My legs gave out from under me and I collapsed in the snow, sobbing uncontrollably. I had been shot. I had been kidnapped. I had been forced to marry a stranger. But I’d never felt this much pain before.

I curled into a ball, hugging my knees and shaking violently. I had never cried so hard before in my life. My world was a blur of tears. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t think.

I don’t know how long I lay there, but eventually I ran out of tears. My eyes stung and my lungs hurt. I was trembling from the cold, but I didn’t care about that. Slowly I got to my feet, wobbling on my stiff legs. I stumbled to the door and down the stairs, probably looking like a drunk. I entered the apartment and was greeted by the sound of Marie crying. Baby, I thought. What’s she got to cry about?

“Kalinda?” Ylva stood and walked over to me, concern in her eyes. “Kalinda, are you okay?”

It took several moments for my mind to register her voice. I turned slowly to face her, my eyes red from crying. I opened my mouth to answer her, but I couldn’t find the words.

“What happened to you?” she asked. “You look half frozen!”

“Axiss,” I said. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth.

“Axiss?” she exclaimed. “What did he do to you?”

I stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending. Then I realized what she must be thinking and I shook my head. “He’s gone. He’s gone and he’s not coming back.” My voice shook as I said it.

“He left? Did he harm you?” she asked, looking me over as if she expected to find a wound, which was silly since I was a healer.

I shook my head again. “I asked him, no, begged him to stay. But he left. He’s gone…” I raised a hand to my head. It was throbbing from all the crying I’d done. I probably could have healed it, but it was the least of my problems at that moment.

I saw understanding dawn on Ylva as she realized that my pain wasn’t physical. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed.”

I nodded and turned towards my bedroom. I was thirsty. Dehydrated probably. But I didn’t care. I walked into my room and crawled gratefully into bed while Ylva pulled the covers up around me and brought me a glass of water.

“Ylva,” I whispered as she fussed with my blanket, “please, don’t blame him.”

She stopped and looked at me, confusion in her eyes. “But… he did this to you,” she said angrily. “How can I not blame him?”

“He left, Ylva. Yesterday you would have been glad. Now you’re angry with him? He did what you wanted.”

“But look at you! He may as well have tried to kill you,” she said.

“He left to protect me,” I said, still choosing to think the best of him, even now. “You should understand,” I pointed out. “You thought I was too close too him. I guess he thought the same.”

“I’ll admit I’m glad that he left, but… when he left he stole your heart.”

I shook my head. “He stole the kiss, but I gave him my heart.”

Ylva’s eyes saddened. “Kalinda, Kalinda, Kalinda…” she shook her head dolefully.

“This is my fault Ylva, so don’t blame him. I was digging my own grave and I knew it,” I told her.

“I’ll try my best for your sake,” she promised. “Now get some rest. You need it.”

I closed my eyes obediently. The extremes of emotions had left me feeling exhausted, and it wasn’t long before I slipped into a weary sleep.

< Chapter Forty-Three ~ Chapter Forty-Five >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

The next morning was uneventful. Ylva and Shiva left for work, leaving me with the twins like always. Marie, while still not as good as May, behaved much better than normal. I could get used to this, it was nice. I wondered how long it would take her to forget about Axiss and return to her normal obnoxious self.

I was in May’s bedroom when I heard a deafening crash and a scream from Marie. I took off running for the living room, my heart in my throat. When I got there I found Axiss standing in the doorway. The door was splintered and hanging awkwardly on one hinge, and Marie was backed against the wall, staring at Axiss with wide, terrified eyes.

“He’s gonna eat me!” she cried.

“Calm down, he’s not going to eat you,” I said, a little relieved to see that it was only Axiss. But my relief didn’t last long.

“Kalinda, you have to get out of here!” Axiss exclaimed. “Those doctors are after you again.”

My eyes widened. “They found me?” I asked, but didn’t wait for him to answer. I heard the urgency in his voice and knew I had to move, now. “May!” I called, spinning to face her bedroom. “Come here!”

May came obediently and slipped her hand into mine for comfort. I squeezed it reassuringly while picking up Marie with my other arm and resting her on my hip. She was too terrified to go anywhere on her own legs.

“Where should we go? Out the back?” I asked Axiss.

“Can’t, they’ve got it blocked,” he said. “I would fly you, but with them…” he gestured at the twins.

“Ok, scratch that. Any other ideas?” I asked. I wasn’t going to leave the twins behind.

“Roof?” he suggested doubtfully.

“Ok, roof,” I said. I headed through the broken door and out into the hallway, glancing around quickly. The hallway was empty; they hadn’t reached us yet. For once I was glad that our apartment was on the top floor.

“Go, go,” Axiss said, placing a hand on my shoulder as he urged me onward. I half-ran down the hall, pulling May along with me. Marie had grabbed two fist-fulls of my hair, but for once I didn’t mind. We ran for the stairs and started climbing up them. I thought I heard movement on the other end of the hall, but I didn’t stop to look. We burst out onto the roof, my feet sinking ankle deep in the fresh snow.

“Get to the shed,” Axiss ordered. It was the only hiding place on the roof. I obeyed, running for the shed while Axiss hung back and swept his wings over the freshly fallen snow to erase our tracks.

Reaching the shed I released May’s hand long enough to pull the door open and usher her inside. I led her to the far corner and set Marie down beside her, then positioned myself in front of them, facing the door. Marie was crying softly, and I was momentarily distracted by the thought that the tougher child was the one to break down the fastest in a crisis. I put one arm around her and pulled her close.

“Shh, you don’t need to be afraid,” I whispered. Even as I said it I was trying to get my own pounding heart under control. May came and slipped her hand into mine again, but she seemed amazingly calm.

Axiss jumped up on top of the little structure built to shelter the staircase. When Dr. Hugo stepped out into the snow Axiss jumped down behind him and slammed the door shut, momentarily separating him from Dr. Harrison, who was still on the stairs. Hugo heard the door slam and spun around, but Axiss had already vanished and reappeared between him and the shed. He turned back around just in time to see Axiss’ fist as it smashed into his head. Then he dropped into the snow, unconscious.

The door creaked as Harrison cautiously stepped out, holding a gun. “Hey freak! You stop getting in our way!” he shouted. Axiss just glared at him and began to walk deliberately across the roof towards the intruder. “Don’t come any closer! I’ll shoot!” Harrison warned, leveling his gun.

“I’m sure you will,” Axiss said calmly. Using his ‘superpower’ he vanished and reappeared right in front of Harrison. He kicked the gun out the man’s hand before he had time to react. Grabbing hold of his shirt he jerked him off balance and threw him through the air. He landed on his back next to the shed, gasping as the air was knocked from his lungs, but he quickly recovered and scrambled to his feet. Grabbing the doorknob he flung open the door to the shed and his eyes fell on the twins and I. Stepping forward he grabbed hold of Marie’s arm and pulled her roughly away from me before I had time to react. Turning his back to me he grabbed the door to the shed and pulled it shut, then wrapped his arms around Marie.

“If you open that door, I will snap the redhead’s neck,” he yelled.

Axiss couldn’t actually teleport, he just ran so fast that the human eye couldn’t keep up. That meant he couldn’t go through walls. He would have to slow down to open the door, which would give Harrison enough time to carry out his threat. Marie’s life was in jeopardy, and Axiss couldn’t help.

I acted without thinking. Pulling out my pocketknife I stepped close to Harrison and pressed the cold blade against this neck. “Let her go, or I’ll slit your throat,” I threatened.

“No you won’t,” he scoffed. “You’re a healer, you wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“I’m a healer,” I agreed, “But first I need something to heal.” In one swift motion I flipped the knife around and stabbed it deep into his arm. He screamed and stumbled backwards, releasing Marie. I grabbed her and pushed her back into the corner, standing in front of her and brandishing my bloody knife.

Axiss jerked the door open and stepped inside. Harrison tried to run, but Axiss was faster. He grabbed Harrison by the shirtfront and knocked him unconscious with one blow to the head, then released him and let him slump down against the wall. There was a moment of perfect stillness where no one made a sound and time seemed to have stopped, but then the spell was broken by the sound of my knife slipping from my trembling fingers and hitting the floor with a loud thump.

Axiss walked over and took my shaking hands in his steady ones. “Thank you,” he said.

“Me?” I shook my head. “Thank you. Again.”

“It felt good to beat someone up,” he admitted. “I haven’t done that in a while.”

“I’m just glad you’re on my side,” I told him.

“There’s sides now?”

“Well there was today.”

“Kind of.”

I wasn’t thinking straight. My mind was a blur of thoughts that I couldn’t sort through. I wanted to be strong for the girls, but I couldn’t keep it up. I let my head rest against Axiss’ chest as my tears began to well up behind my eyelids. He placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed reassuringly.

That was when I remembered the stab wound I’d given the doctor. Pulling away from Axiss I walked over to the unconscious man, kneeling down and running my fingers over the bloody hole in his arm. “Things like this have happened to me before, but this is the first time I’ve hurt someone,” I whispered.

“It’s fine. You’ll get over it,” Axiss said.

“Yeah. I probably will,” I said, finishing the healing process and stepping away from the man. I glanced down at my bloody hand and then shrugged and wiped it on my pants. “What are we going to do with them?” I asked.

“I’m guessing you won’t let me kill them,” Axiss stated.

“You guessed right,” I replied. “I guess I should probably call the cops,” I said reluctantly. “After all, they broke into my house to kidnap me and they threatened to kill Marie… so legally they should probably go to jail or something.”

“They’re human and you’re a different. The cops will probably side with them,” Axiss pointed out.

“Well we can’t kill them and we can’t just let them go, so what other choice do we have? Maybe I’ll get lucky and get some cops who like differents,” I said, but I wasn’t very hopeful. Even though recent laws on differents rights supposedly protected us from discrimination, a lot of cops still allowed their biases to sway their decisions.

“They’re gonna wonder how you managed to beat them unharmed,” Axiss said. “They’ll also wonder where the blood came from.” He gestured to my pants. “You should have left his arm.”

“I couldn’t leave his wound like that, especially since I put it there. We’ll just have to move him out of the shed and hope they don’t come in here – then maybe they won’t see the blood. And I’ll have to change before I call them.” I knelt down beside the man and tore the bloodied sleeve off of his shirt, using it to wipe the blood off his arm. Axiss picked up Harrison’s unconscious body and carried it out to lie in the snow beside Dr. Hugo.

The twins were still standing in the corner. May looked frightened, but she was still relatively calm. Marie, on the other hand, seemed about to have some sort of break down. I picked her up and took May’s hand, bringing them back down to the apartment. I quickly washed up and changed, then called the police.

When the cops arrived I showed them the broken-in doorway and told them that the two men had broken into my house. I described how I’d managed to get past them and run up onto the roof, where they’d cornered me and I’d had to knock them unconscious. The officers asked how I’d managed to knock out two grown men, and I explained that I was a different with a powerful animal form. They had already seen that the twins and I had animal traits, so there was no use hiding it. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask to see my animal form, since I was actually very small and weak for a panther.

The police called an ambulance and rushed the two doctors to a hospital to check for any unseen injuries. Then they sat me down in my living room and began to scold me.

“Those men could have been seriously injured or killed because of your actions,” one officer said. “We’ll let you off with a warning this time because their injuries appear to be minor, but continued occurrences of violent action like this will result in your arrest and imprisonment.”

All I could do was sit there in shock, unable to believe my own ears. The doctors had broken into my house, attempted to kidnap me, and threatened to kill my niece, and now these police officers were acting as if I was in the wrong. They left before I recovered from the shock of it, and I was left sitting on the couch, my fists clenched in my lap as I pictured myself punching those police officers in the face. Now I could understand why Shiva and Ylva never went to the police for help when one of us was attacked or kidnapped.

Marie had exploded into hysterics just before the cops arrived, and eventually she had screamed and cried herself to exhaustion and fallen asleep. May was lying on the couch with her eyes closed, and I couldn’t tell if she was sleeping or not. I hated to leave them, but I felt like I should try to clean up the blood on the roof before it stained the floor in the shed. I tried to find the baby monitor so that I’d know if anything went wrong in the apartment, but I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere.

“I won’t be gone long,” I promised myself. I filled a bucket with hot bleach water and carried it up to the roof, only to find Axiss waiting for me.

“You don’t need to deal with it,” he said, seeing the bucket and guessing why I’d come.

“What? Why?” I asked, confused.

“I cleaned it up already,” he explained.

“Oh… thanks. You didn’t need to do that.”

“It’s fine.”

I let it drop, figuring he was probably used to cleaning up blood. “What would I do without you?” I asked.

“You’d be better off if I left you alone,” he replied.

“How can you say that?” I scolded.

“I’m a bad influence on you.”

“How so?”

“You drew blood.”

I shook my head. “That wasn’t because of you.”

“I think I had something to do with it, in some small way.”

“Maybe, but it’s not the first time I’ve tried to hurt someone. It’s just the first time I’ve succeeded. I was always overpowered before and lost my knife before I could use it.”

“Hmm,” Axiss said. After a moment he said, “You had a choice. You had it at his throat, you could’ve killed him.”

“You know I wouldn’t do that,” I replied.

“Never know. You’re full of surprises.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“On the situation.”

“Axiss, do you think I’m a coward?” I asked. It was an unexpected subject change, but I was famous for those. He didn’t reply right away, he took his time to think about it.

“No,” he said finally. “A coward wouldn’t have protected Marie.”

“Then before today did you think I was a coward?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I just can’t think of anything else at the moment.”

“You’re too good to me Axiss,” I said, looking back at the street far below.

“Am I?” he said absently.

“Yes, you are. I always feel better after talking to you.”

“Do you now?” he turned to look down at me.

“Yes, thank you,” I said, wrapping my arms around him. I couldn’t help it. I was lonely, tired, and a little bit afraid, and I needed the comfort. He placed his hand on my back and held me gently. I thought about telling him how angry I was at the police for siding against me, but I was afraid he would just say ‘I told you so.’

After a while I pulled away. “I should go back down before the twins wake up. They’ve been traumatized; they need someone with them.”

“Go on then,” Axiss said, making a little shooing motion with his hand.

When I reached the apartment I stopped to examine the door that had been broken in. It was bent and splintered and the hinges were horribly twisted. We would need a new door. For now it would just have to stand open, since there was no way to close it.

I sat down on the couch and lifted May into my arms, cradling her and stroking her hair while I tried to decide what to tell Shiva and Ylva. I wasn’t sure how I would explain things to them, but I knew I had to tell the truth. Or at least, most of the truth.

When Ylva got home the first thing she saw was the broken door. “Gracious! Kalinda!” Ylva exclaimed. I rose to meet her as she came running into the house. “Marie is in the bedroom sleeping. We’re all fine,” I quickly assured her. May opened her eyes and sat up when she heard us talking. Either we’d woken her or she’d never really been sleeping, it was hard to tell.

Ylva’s face flooded with relief. “What on earth happened to the door?” she asked.

“Uh… that’s kind of a long story. Let’s just say it was kicked down,” I said.

“Were you hurt?” she asked, looking concerned.

“No, I’m fine, but you should’ve seen the other guy,” I replied.

“Kalinda, tell me what happened!” she begged.

“I will, but can’t we at least wait until Shiva gets -”

I was cut off by Shiva’s panicked exclamation of “What happened?” as he came running into the room.

“There,” Ylva said. “Now please tell us.”

I sat down in one of the living room chairs and began to tell my story. “Two of the doctors that I used to work for came after me. The same ones that tried to kidnap me before, I guess they somehow found out where I live. I got out with the twins and made it to the roof, but then I had to fight them off. I knocked them unconscious and called the police. The cops made it sound like the whole thing was my fault somehow, they scolded me for my violent actions towards them.”

“How on earth did you manage to knock them out?” Ylva asked. I paused and swallowed nervously, unsure how to answer.

“I’m assuming you had help,” Shiva said softly. I swallowed again and nodded.

“What? Help? Who?” Ylva asked, looking back and forth from Shiva to me.

“Axiss,” I told her, my mouth feeling dry.

“Axiss?!” she exclaimed, shocked and horrified.

“Yeah, Axiss. He always seems to turn up when I’m in trouble,” I said. Ylva sank down onto the couch, her hands trembling a bit. Shiva sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“Calm down Ylva,” Shiva said. “You seem more afraid now that she’s mentioned Axiss than when she told you about the doctors!”

Ylva sighed, “I should be used to these things by now.”

“I don’t think you need to be afraid of him,” Shiva told her. “He saved Marie before, remember? And he probably saved Kalinda today. I don’t think he’s a threat to us.”

“Not probably,” I corrected him, “Axiss definitely saved me and the twins today.”

“I know… but he scares me to death,” Ylva said.

“He’s nice when he wants to be. Really, you don’t need to worry,” I told her.

“I just don’t know,” Ylva said. “I don’t know him and so I’m suspicious.”

“You accepted me quickly enough, even when you didn’t know me,” Shiva reminded her.

“Yes, but back then I had nothing to lose,” she replied. “And so much has happened since back then. Why is everyone so intent on killing us or capturing us?”

“Because we’re… different,” Shiva said. “No pun intended.”

I heard movement in the twin’s room, and then Marie came running out. “Mommy!” she cried, running to Ylva and wrapping her arms around her mother.

“Hey sweetie,” Ylva said softly. “It’s okay.”

“The bad men were chasing us and the scary man was gonna eat me!” Marie whimpered. Ylva frowned and looked at me for an explanation.

“Marie, he wasn’t going to eat you,” I said gently.

“Was too! He said so!” she protested.

I groaned and rested my forehead in my hands. “He did not say that! He just… implied it.”

Ylva was glaring at me now. She’d guessed who I was referring to. “Marie doesn’t need any more people trying eat her,” she said, an icy tone in her voice.

“No, I can explain. It’s not like it sounds,” I exclaimed.

“Go ahead. I’m listening,” she said.

“It started yesterday. You would not believe how difficult Marie was being! She was pulling my hair and throwing a tantrum because I wouldn’t let her watch a forbidden TV show. I tried to put her in time out but she took off running and I chased her all the way up to the roof, and when I caught her she actually slapped me! I was at the end of my rope! Axiss was up there, and, well, he just scared her a little bit. Really, it was a good thing. She was an angel the rest of the day.” The story came out in a rush as I tried to make Ylva understand. “I guess when Axiss came bursting through the door Marie thought he’d come to get her and she got scared again.”

“You mean Axiss was the one who broke the door?” Ylva asked.

“Yes, he was up on the roof and he saw the doctors coming, so he broke in here to warn me,” I explained.

“You keep saying he was on the roof. Is that why you go up there so much?” she accused.

“Um… well… sometimes. He turns up there every so often.”

“Every so often? More than that, I think,” Shiva said. I glared at him, feeling like he was siding against me.

“Ok, so he’s up there a lot. You were supposed to back me up,” I said angrily.

“You said daddy knew!” Marie chimed. I shot her a look.

“You knew Shiva?” Ylva asked. Now it was her turn to feel like he’d sided against her.

“Yes, I knew he’d been around a lot. I didn’t want you to worry,” he said.

“You should have told me,” Ylva insisted.

“In Shiva’s defense, he only found out about this recently,” I told her.

“I need you both to trust me,” Ylva said.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just… I was afraid you’d make him leave,” I explained.

“Well I don’t think you should be hanging around him.” Ylva said gravely.

“You don’t understand!” I exclaimed. “He’s my only friend outside of the family now that Wati is gone.”

“You’re his friend?” Ylva asked. “Kalinda, you shouldn’t be so close to him.”

“Yes, I’m his friend! He needs a friend! He’s saved my life multiple times – and Marie’s life too, don’t forget that,” I said.

“I haven’t forgotten, but you need to remember that he’s a killer. He’s dangerous, and I don’t want you up there with him,” she decided.

I leapt to my feet, hot tears spilling down my cheeks. “How can you say that? You of all people? You married him!” I cried, gesturing wildly at Shiva.

“Do you have any intentions of marrying Axiss?” she asked.

“No!” I replied quickly. “But I know there’s good in him. He can change, just like Shiva did.”

“Someone had to die before Shiva changed,” Ylva reminded me. “I don’t want you dying.”

“Chand said the same thing, a long time ago. He asked me how far I would go to save Axiss. I’ve made my choice,” I said. Without another word I turned and walked stiffly to my room, closing the door behind me.

I walked over to my bed and sat down, staring into the darkness as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I needed fresh air, but I wasn’t sure I wanted Axiss to see me like this.

Standing up I walked over to my window and pushed it open, letting the cold air into my room. I sat down on the sill, letting one leg dangle out the window. I began to choke on my suppressed sobs and so I buried my face in my hands and gave up at holding them back. The tears began to flow freely down my cheeks and pool in my cupped hands, while my whole body trembled from emotion.

“Kalinda?” Axiss asked. I jumped a bit at his voice and looked up at him as he landed on the fire escape outside my window. I quickly turned my face away, trying to hide my tears. Why did he have to find me?

“Here,” he said, tossing his coat over me. I shook my head and pushed it back towards him. “Come on, just take it for once,” he ordered. I decided not to argue, mostly because I didn’t trust myself to speak. I pulled the coat closer around me to block out the cold wind.

“Better?” he asked, sitting down on the steps. I didn’t answer him. Part of me wished he would just go away, but the other part of me knew I would feel very lonely if he left now. I sniffled a bit and tried to wipe away my tears, but new ones were falling faster than I could wipe them away.

Axiss seemed restless. He fidgeted for while and then stood up again and leaned against the windowsill. I gave up trying to stop my tears, since it wasn’t working anyway.

“Please,” I whispered shakily, “Don’t ask what’s wrong.”

“I won’t,” he promised.

The events of the day had all added up until I couldn’t handle the conflicting emotions any more. I was frightened, stressed, and hurt. I was angry at the police, I was angry at Ylva, and I was angry at myself. I was upset by Ylva’s scolding, and angry at Shiva for not backing me up the way I’d expected him to. I felt misunderstood by both of them. Why couldn’t they understand how I felt? Why couldn’t they see what I was trying to do?

The silence between Axiss and I stretched until it became awkward. This wasn’t helping any. “I’m sorry, this is stupid,” I said. I pulled his coat off of me and held it out to him, intending to retreat inside where I could be alone with my misery. He reached out and I thought he was going to take the jacket, but instead he grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the window.

A surprised “What?” escaped my mouth as he pulled me off the windowsill. My feet hit the fire escape and I stumbled, off balance and trying not to fall over into the snow. I staggered into him and tried to regain my balance and pull away, but he quickly wrapped his coat back around my shoulders and then swept me up into his arms.

“What are you doing?” I choked out through my tight throat.

“You need some fresh air,” he replied as he spread his wings and lifted off into the winter sky.

“Your wings – it’s too cold…” I stammered, trying to form a coherent sentence.

“Just a quick flight. I’ll be fine,” he assured me. I surrendered and laid my head against his chest, letting my emotions fall away below us. Flying always seemed to calm me down. It was just so peaceful up in the sky, all the chaos below seemed distant and unimportant.

We circled lazily above the city for a while, and I felt myself beginning to relax. Once again, Axiss had rescued me. This time he’d rescued me from myself.

“Why?” I wondered aloud.

“What?” he looked down at me questioningly.

“Why do you even care about me?” I asked.

“You kind of grew on me,” he told me.

I smiled and wrapped one arm around his neck, closing my eyes and enjoying the feeling of the air playing with my hair and his strong arms holding me. Now that I had calmed down my exhaustion started to hit me. The long day had taken its toll, and soon I began to doze off, feeling safe and content in his arms.

Axiss circled back toward the apartment building and slowly descended, landing on the fire escape. Trying to crawl through my open window was sure to wake me up, so he sat down cross-legged on the snowy stairs and cradled me close, wrapping his wings around us to create a warm cocoon.

I don’t know how long I slept, but it was thirst that woke me. I opened my eyes and found myself in a leathery tent. “Oh, gosh!” I exclaimed as I realized what I was seeing.

Axiss opened his eyes and smiled down at me. “Sleep well?” he asked quietly.

“You should have woken me!” I scolded. “You must be freezing!”

“Well one side of me is, the other is rather warm,” he said.

I wiggled a bit, trying to get up, but found that between his arms around me, his wings sheltering me, and the coat that he had pulled over me like a blanket, I was securely pinned in place. I lifted my head and looked at him, and for a moment his eyes met and held mine. We stayed frozen for several heartbeats before he blinked and looked away, breaking the spell.

He shifted his weight and carefully stood up, then gently set me down on my feet. I wanted to thank him for finding me. For staying even when I’d wanted him to leave. For taking me flying to calm me down, and for sheltering me from the cold while I slept, but the words wouldn’t come. Without stopping to think I stepped forward, rose up on my tiptoes, and gently touched my lips to his cheek. Blushing I quickly turned away, moving towards my open bedroom window, but he grabbed my wrist to stop me.

“W-what?” he stammered.

“I’m sorry,” I said, mentally kicking myself for being so impulsive. Turning back to face him I tried to read his face, hoping he wouldn’t be angry, but I just saw confusion.

“What was that for?” he asked quietly.

“It… It was for you,” I said hesitantly.

“Which me?” he asked.

“The you that knew exactly what I needed to make me feel better tonight,” I replied.

“Good night, Kalinda,” he said, turning quickly away from me.

“Good night,” I replied softly. I turned back to the window and climbed through it into my room, closing the window behind me.

< Chapter Forty-Two ~ Chapter Forty-Four >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101

OW! I exclaimed as Marie grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked on it. Ylva and Shiva had gone out together and left me with the twins for the evening, and Marie wanted me to let her watch a forbidden TV show.

“Alright that’s it. Go to your room,” I ordered as I pried her fingers off my hair.

“No,” the little girl said, crossing her arms and shaking her head stubbornly. I glared at her. It wasn’t often that I got angry, but she had crossed the line.

“I mean it,” I told her, but she just glared right back at me. Rolling my eyes I grabbed her and picked her up.

“No! Let me go!” She screamed, squirming and kicking. She had been pretty well behaved ever since Wati bribed her with the Christmas candy, but apparently it couldn’t last. She yelled and flailed her arms, hitting me in the nose.

“Stop it Marie, or you won’t get any candy tonight,” I threatened. She had been like this all day, and I was at the end of my rope.

“No! No!” she continued screaming. We reached her room and I placed her on the bed.

“Now stay there until you calm down,” I told her, heading for the door. She jumped off the bed and darted past me out the door and into the living room, forcing me to chase after her. “Get back here!” I exclaimed, but the little devil was out the front door and running down the hallway before I could stop her. To my extreme mortification she took the stairs leading to the roof, and I followed her out into the snowy day.

I finally managed to catch up to her. I grabbed her dress, and she spun around and slapped my face. Angrily, I grabbed her wrist. “Stop. It.” I said firmly. She immediately began crying and I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

“Having some difficulties?” Axiss’ voice said from his perch on top of the little shelter built over the stairs. Marie stopped crying and stared up at him with wide eyes, startled by the appearance of the strange man.

“Thank you,” I said, turning to face him.

“It was nothing,” he said.

I smiled, a strained, tired smile. “You know, I half expected you’d be gone next time I came up here.”

“I was gone,” he replied, “but now I’m not.”

“Well, welcome back then,” I told him.

Marie’s shock had turned to confusion, and she stood looking from me to Axiss. The wheels were turning in her mind, and before long she turned to me and said, “I’ll tell daddy.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that,” Axiss said, a teasing smile on his face. “Daddy already knows.”

Marie stared up at me, disbelieving. “He’s right,” I told her. “So stop trying to threaten me. I won’t let you watch that show.” Marie glared at me and then pouted.

Axiss looked down at Marie, his expression seeming almost curious. “Is that the same one?” he asked. “The one Arack tried to… the one he stole?”

“Yeah,” I said. “There are times I wish you had let him,” I muttered under my breath.

“Want me to take her off your hands?” he asked with a grin.

“For how long?” I asked, “And what’ll you give me?”

“I’m kidding. Unless you want me to eat her.” He rolled his eyes.

Marie’s eyes widened and she rubbed at her arm, where she still carried the scar from the last time someone tried to eat her. I’d been too preoccupied to notice the little wound the night of the incident, and now it was healed and no longer caused her pain, so I hadn’t ever bothered erasing the scar. Now I smiled, actually glad to see her a little bit uncomfortable. She deserved it.

“No, not today, but I’ll keep it in mind,” I said.

He jumped down from his perch and walked over to us. Bending down he came face to face with Marie, his red eyes looking into her big, frightened brown ones. “Be a good little girl,” he said, and then vanished in front of her eyes.

Marie whimpered and pressed herself against me, clutching at my pant leg for security. I hid a smile and then picked up the little girl, heading for the stairs. I glanced back once, but I didn’t see Axiss. Oh well, he was around somewhere.

After the girls were safely in bed I headed back to the roof. “Axiss?” I called, looking all around and wondering where he would be this time.

“Ah, I was wondering if you would come back up,” he said from behind me. I turned to face him.

“Of course I’d come back up, the question is just when.”

“Oh, and about earlier. Special effects cost extra,” he said. I grinned.

“You drive a hard bargain.”

“Hey, I should go into acting!” he said, smiling, then shook his head. “No. Never. Blaa. I always hated plays. They made me feel like I was assassinating ol’ Abe.”

I looked up at him and didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to respond to that, but I did know that I loved it when he smiled like that. I couldn’t help smiling back.

“Well anyway, thanks for your help. I’ve never seen Marie act like such a perfect angel before,” I said with a chuckle. She had been extremely sweet and obedient for the rest of the day.

“Scaring people is my job,” Axiss pointed out.

“Not quite,” I said, “but you’re good at it.”

“What can I say? I’ve been scaring people since I was born.”

“Well you don’t scare me,” I told him.

“Not anymore,” he said, “but I bet I did when you first saw me.”

I had to admit that was true. “But I was young then, and I was afraid of just about everyone. Except Shiva.”

“So?” he said. “If this was your first time meeting me I think you would be afraid.”

I shrugged. “I guess so, but that’s true of a lot of people. I don’t trust strangers.”

“It’s instinct,” Axiss suggested. “A good one to have too.”

I nodded. “Yeah, especially when you’ve lived on the run.”

“Hmm.” He sighed and gazed off in the distance. I shoved my hands in my pockets and gazed up at the sky. The sun was setting in the distance, silhouetting the tall city buildings against its red glow. Above us the stars were beginning to come out of hiding.

“The stars are so bright tonight,” I commented.

“I guess they are,” he agreed distantly.

“I guess that happens in the winter. Something to do with the atmosphere, it makes the stars look clearer.”

“They look kind of like un-fallen snow,” he commented. I glanced at him.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way before.”

“The mind is a strange thing,” he replied.

“Especially when it’s yours,” I said, unable to resist the opening. He looked down at me with a confused expression on his face. “That was a joke,” I informed him.

“It’s hard to tell sometimes,” he said.

“Well I’ve never been good at telling jokes.”

“You’re just not that type of person.” He shrugged. “Everyone has their own specialties.”

“Yeah…” I muttered. Looking down at the street below I saw Shiva and Ylva walking arm in arm down the sidewalk. “The happy couple is coming, I should probably go back down before they get home.”

“G’night,” he said.

“Goodnight,” I replied.

< Chapter Forty-One ~ Chapter Forty-Three >

Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101