Alexia got within ten feet of me before she realized that I was still holding the knives. She skidded to a stop, but she was still glaring at me.
“You,” She hissed again.
I raised an eyebrow at her, “Me, what?”
Alexia kept blinking as though there was something in her eye. “Stop looking like her,” She said, starting to sound less than sane. “Stop acting like her. Stop making me think that my best friend could come back and things could stop being so messed up!”
Tears started trailing down her cheeks and she stumbled backwards, hitting the desk on her way back.
“I can’t do this,” She muttered, sounding amazed. “Cole, I can’t do this. It hurts.”
Cole settled his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. His eye twitched as he met her eyes for an extended period of time, but he didn’t stop.
“I know, Lex,” He said softly. “It hurts me, too, but it’s either save ourselves, or save everyone else. Calypso is our only chance at saving everyone.”
“We wouldn’t be saving ourselves,” Alexia said slowly, like she was slowly becoming numb.
I shifted on my feet, trying to creep around them as they talked.
I wasn’t going to become an icon. I wasn’t going to rule. I wasn’t going to let myself care about anyone else. I couldn’t. I would break. I couldn’t afford to break again.
This time, if I broke, no one would be there to put me back together. That would be the end of it all.
“No, we can’t save ourselves,” Cole said, his voice wavering. “We have to save our families.”
“Your family is evil,” Alexia said emotionlessly, still looking into his eyes.
I shivered at the completely blank look on her face. It was inhuman to be able to shut yourself off like that. I was jealous, but I was also horrified.
Was this what I looked like when I stopped trying to cope?
“I know my family is evil,” Cole said, his hands sliding off Alexia’s shoulders as he backed up. Before my eyes, I could see him emotionally closing off. “I’m trying to save them from themselves.”
“I don’t have a family anymore. The royals killed them,” Alexia said, still sounding lifeless.
“They did,” Cole said flatly, “But they also killed so many other peoples’ families and they need to pay for that.”
For a moment, neither of them moved; neither of them spoke. They stood there, staring at each other in a silent argument over who was worth more: a group of people, or the bodies they were trapped inside of.
“Okay,” Alexia said quietly, looking away. “But I can’t be civil to her. If I am, I don’t know what would happen. I might break.”
“I’m sure Calypso can handle that,” Cole said.
Alexia looked right at me, making me freeze in my position, only steps away from the door. “We have to start calling her Ellie.”
Cole let out a long shaky breath. “We’ll call her Ell when we can. Even I can’t take that much pain.”
I looked at him curiously, finally chiming in on the conversation. “Are you saying that you’re some sort of masochist?”
Cole looked at me, his eyes still flat. “No, I’m saying that I’ve had to build up a tolerance of pain over the years, but calling you ‘Ellie’ would just about kill me if I had to do it more than once a day.”
I laughed humorlessly, creeping forward, knowing that there was a dangerous look in my eyes. “If you use me as an icon, you’ll have to call me ‘Ellie’ more than once. Let’s hope that you’re exaggerating.”
Cole swallowed, looking away. “Or that I build up my tolerance further,” He rasped.
I glanced between them both. “I highly doubt you can tell me that information now, since you’re both so terribly distraught—”
There was a creak behind me. “You’re not going anywhere,” Someone growled.
I spun, my knives raising. They lowered fractionally when I say who was in the doorway.
I hissed in frustration before glancing over my shoulder, trying to keep one eye on both Mitch and Cole. “Why are you so determined to keep me?” I asked in frustration.
Mitch crept forward, his hand creeping towards his own hip, where I was sure there was a knife ready to be pulled. “Because you’re useful,” He replied.
I narrowed my eyes on his hand, half hoping it was a bluff but also knowing that it most likely wasn’t. “I’m useful unharmed, but the odds of you being able to beat me into submission is a big fat zero.”
“Who says that’s my goal?” Mitch grinned lazily.
I wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t know, maybe the fact that you aren’t letting me go even though these guys,” I jabbed my thumb at the people behind me, “Obviously aren’t fully functional right now, and you aren’t giving me a reason why. It’s almost like you think I’m going to do something.”
Mitch studied me carefully. “It’s almost like I think that, if you leave, you’ll never come back.”
I blinked, then growled. “How dare you insinuate that I’d desert your mission.”
Mitch raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, did you have a reason to stay committed to this the whole time? No? Well, that’s why I don’t trust you.”
I sneered at him, “Why don’t you give me a reason, then, tough guy?”
Mitch scowled. “Since you’re not Ellie, I can’t, but I can tell you this,” He crept closer, his arm sliding away from his hip and his shoulders pulling back confidently as he grinned. “You could rule over us all, don’t you want that?”
I didn’t let my eyes flit over to the opening he’d left, but I saw it.
“Why would you think that I’d want to rule over you all?” I asked him, unable to tamp down my curiosity.
Mitch grinned, his teeth gleaming. “Because you’re selfish, cunning, and anyone who stands in your way is going down?”
Sometimes, this guy was disgusting.
Especially when he’s pretty close to spot on.
I kept watching him, disinterestedly. “And it’s never occurred to you that I’m selfish because I want to keep whatever I still have with me, that I’m cunning because I can’t afford to be anything else, and anyone who stands in my way is a danger to me?”
Mitch’s expression of confidence faltered.
I smirked, “Thought so.”
In one fluid motion, I ducked down and slid under his arm, dashing towards the door. As I ran down the hallway, I realized that this attempt was just as foolish as letting Mitch get close to me because the way down was blocked.
Loud footsteps chased after me and I picked up speed, dashing behind the coil of rope and beginning to loosen it.
“You’re trapped now, Calypso,” Mitch snarled, slowing down and creeping towards me with a near evil smile on his face.
My lip curled in disgust. “You’re a royal? This is disgusting. What do you even see when you look at August? You probably see an easy target, don’t you? And to think, all this time, I thought you liked her.”
I didn’t, actually, but now that it was coming out of my mouth, it made a little sense.
Mitch’s expression faltered. “I don’t think that,” He said, his voice considerably less certain than it had been moments before.
I shook my head at him, disgust filling me. “Sure, you don’t. Who are you?”
Mitch scowled. “You know who I am,” He growled.
I smirked at him. “No, I don’t. Tell me.” I leaned against the spool the rope was wrapped around, discreetly unwinding it.
Mitch started walking towards me. “Why do I need to tell you who I am when you’re just going to sit up here? It’s not like you’ll have anyone to tell.”
I waited for him to hold his foot over the hole and just as he was about to put his foot down, I let go of the rope. It hissed as it let the ladder down and Mitch fell off balance, yelling as he fell down the hole.
I didn’t look, half waiting for a crunch of bones snapping at the bottom.
It never came.
I peeked over the edge to see Mitch’s outraged face as he climbed back up, wincing whenever he used his right arm.
Served him right to get injured.
When he reached the top, he snarled, grinning like an absolute madman. “I’m coming for you,” He said, “And you have nowhere to go.”
I didn’t have to look behind me to know that he was right. The hall rounded off and ended only feet behind me. Still, I crept back as far as I possibly could.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Cole said, approaching and waving his arms. “We’re friends here, remember?”
I gaped at him, laughing humorlessly. “I think you forget what the word ‘friend’ means, Cole.” I glared at Mitch as his head poked up above the floor. “Friends don’t try to lock each other in rooms and chase after them like madmen until they’re trapped in a corner.”
For the first time I could remember, I’d trapped myself with absolutely no escape whatsoever. I’d let Mitch fall down the only exit and now that he’d climbed back up, I doubted he’d let me go down.
Mitch laughed, “Cole forgets a lot of things when someone reminds him of Ellie. He gets all love-stupid and stuff.”
I glanced around Mitch at Cole, interested despite being absolutely terrified about what Mitch was going to do to me.
Don’t cage me. Don’t cage me. Don’t cage me.
“I’m not ‘love-stupid,’” Cole growled, grabbing Mitch’s shoulder and yanking him back.
Mitch laughed at him, looking more than slightly insane. “What do you call this, then? You’re protecting her! You’re still protecting her. Even after all she’s done, you’re still protecting her!”
Cole didn’t budge. “Why don’t you tell me what she did,” He said in a low voice.
Mitch grinned. “Well, first of all, she talked the guards into letting her in multiple times. Have you ever thought of how she hasn’t gotten caught?”
Cole didn’t move a muscle.
“Cole, it’s not my fault your guards are idiots,” I tried, despite it probably not being advisable. “Plus, I was going to tell you earlier, but you guys had a little breakdown and I figured I probably shouldn’t.”
Cole glanced at me, then back at Mitch. “I told the guards to let her through,” He said.
Mitch believed it, judging by the shock and outrage on his face, but I knew better. I’d seen Cole’s face tic as he said it.
“Why would you do that?” Mitch demanded, pushing towards Cole, totally forgetting about me.
Cole smirked, glancing at me and nodding the tiniest nod.
I glanced at Mitch’s back and crouched, creeping towards the ladder. I stepped onto the first rung and began quickly making my descent as quietly as possible.
“Because,” Cole said, masking the creaking of the ladder. “She dropped you down the ladder like an absolute beast,” He said, smirking.
Mitch whirled around, remembering me and the ladder. He looked to where I was and roared. “She’s gone!”
I jumped the rest of the way down and dashed off, but not before I heard Mitch’s roar turn into a low growl.
“You’ll regret this, Cole,” He said, “I’ll make sure of it.”