After a week of gathering supplies, getting plenty of rest, and trying not to provoke Killian in anyway before our departure, I was finally ready to leave. He had been oddly patient with me in that time, watching me closely as I packed. I didn’t mind so much now that he was coming with me. The thought of something happening on the way frightened me more than anything. It couldn’t hurt to have a super human with me to fight off any threats. Although, deep down, I knew I would enjoy the company. Priar never had major problems with wild animals or raiders in the first place. I can only imagine it will stay that way on our trek across the division.
We left early on a Sunday morning to get a head start in our day. Killian offered to carry some of my bags for me, but I declined reluctantly. I didn’t want to seem like a needy person. However, after leaving the city, I started to regret it. I pushed on, though. Occasionally, we had to stop so I could stretch, eat, or take a breather. Other than that, we carried on without speaking to each other. It was a good silence, though—one that was almost better than having a deep, heart-felt conversation. Usually when we spoke to each other, it ended up turning into a fight, or it resulted in me being pinned underneath him. It was in my best interest to avoid both at all costs, especially since I made the mistake of going with him to an uncivilized area (again). That hardly mattered, though, at this point. I felt like I could trust him now. He had proved on so many occasions that he could control himself, and I think it was safe to say he wouldn’t try anything. Not if I didn’t want it, anyway.
That was the scary thing. It was now up to me to decide whether or not I really wanted that kind of dalliance with him. My thoughts ebbed away to uncharted territories as I thought about how it would feel to indulge my desires with him. I shook myself mentally. It was hardly appropriate for me to be thinking about him now—or ever! I sighed audibly as I scaled a steep hill. Killian was already at the top, waiting ever so patiently for me. I grunted when I neared the edge and he took my hand, pulling me up with ease. Mumbling my thanks, I moved on, readjusting the pack on my shoulder as he followed after me. The point we stood on now was high enough to see over the last patch of trees. Twixton stood proudly by the coast of Wara, a duplicate image of three years ago when I looked back on the life I once lived.
“It was this exact spot,” I said to him, recalling that day. “I stood here for so long just staring at it, wishing I could go back.”
Killian appeared by my side, looking out over the grand display.
“You’re wanted here,” he said. “Aren’t you afraid I might use your name against you?”
I looked at him and studied his face.
“No,” I said softly. “I’m not.”
He looked at me then, and said, “Why is that?”
“Because I know you won’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
I smirked as I started walking again. “I just know.”
By the time we crossed the last wooded area, the sun was just below the horizon. Once we reached the outskirts, I pulled up my hood to keep my face partially covered. The light was so dim in the sky that no one would recognize me. I stole a glance at Killian. He looked inconspicuous at first sight, but if one was close enough, you could see his eyes scouring the streets. Not many people were out at this time of day, but the few that I did see, I recognized almost immediately. They, however, never gave me a second glance. I led the way down the main road, switching in favor of the back alleys when we delved further into the urban areas. There weren’t many places to go, but one particular place was undeniably reliable.
“This way,” I told him as I turned down Hyler’s road, ignoring the pain in my chest.
After walking down the small path for a few, short moments, the sight of his parents’ house caused me to stop dead in my tracks.
All was quiet.
All was still.
The world turned upside down as time seemed to stop. A rush of memories that I had locked away for so long suddenly came tumbling out. They overwhelmed me to the point of discomfort and I wrapped my arms around my stomach to keep myself from hurling. The lights were on inside, which meant they were still there. Hyler’s bedroom on the top floor, though, was dark. I would’ve liked to think he was out on a smuggling job, but I knew better. It almost felt like I had stepped into a reality that I thought had been a bad dream all this time. This was a nightmare revisited, only now it seemed worse. The last time I was here, I had been in hysteria, frantically trying to gather as many things as I could to leave the city. I didn’t think I would be able to face his parents after that, yet here I was, about to come into their lives again—hopefully for the last time.
Killian was silent as he looked at me, then followed my gaze to the house.
“There is another place,” I said weakly. “Hyler’s hideout is not far from—”
“Confronting the past will only make you stronger,” he said to me quietly. “Face it now so that you can move on.”
My eyes stung as I bit the inside of my lip. I hated that he was right. Thunder rumbled off in the distance as I closed my eyes to steady myself. White flashes flickered in the sky when I opened them again. The air was humid and weighed down on my lungs the moment I took the first literal step to facing my biggest fear. I didn’t want to be rejected by them. If they sent me away, I don’t know what I would do with myself. Hyler’s parents were the only people who even came close to a family for me. They had raised me, fed me, sheltered me, and kept me out of harm’s way for so long. What did I do to repay them? I left their beloved son to rot on an ugly, pitiless island filled with such hideous—
I quickly turned around and stalked back from where we came from. Before I could get any further than ten feet, Killian pulled me back. I broke down, sinking to the ground as I struggled to keep from sobbing.
“Don’t,” I gasped, pushing him away when he tried to make me stand again. “Just stop.”
“Get up,” he said harshly.
I couldn’t say anything. I was already starting to cry from all the emotion eating me up from the inside out. He grabbed my upper arm, but I smacked him away.
“Jianna,” he warned.
I ignored him and put my face in my hands. He didn’t bother me after that. The rain started coming down and I took several deep breaths before I looked up at him. He was gone. My heart nearly sprang out of my chest as I turned my head to see him striding toward the house.
“No, don’t!” I called after him as a roll of thunder rumbled over me.
He was already walking up to the door by the time I stood to run after him. I was too late when he knocked on the door, and I stopped out of fear and shock. It only took mere seconds before the door opened, allowing a sliver of golden candlelight to slip past the crack into the night. I felt my chest rip in two when a familiar woman emerged from behind the door.
“Na-Na,” I whispered as a single tear slid down my cheek.
They exchanged a few words before he stepped aside. It only took her a moment before she brought a hand to her mouth. We stood still for a split second before running to meet me halfway. She embraced me tightly, and I cried into her shoulder, squeezing my eyes shut as relief consumed me. She shook against me as she sobbed, smoothing back my hair and put me out at arm’s length.
“Let me see you,” she said, holding my face in her hands. “Oh, gods, I thought they had killed you, too.”
I shook my head, blinking away the tears that blurred her image. Na-Na had changed so much in the three years I was gone. Her face was starting to wrinkle, she held a little more weight than usual, and her black hair was now streaking with silver. Her shimmering orange eyes were weary and aged, but to me, she was still an angel. We laughed together in the rain, hugged each other, and cried some more. Then, Poppy came out, briefly glancing at Killian before spotting us in the street. He beamed when he recognized me, running out to join us. It was like a family reunion, only sadder because there was no Hyler to join us. Instead, there was Killian, who stood by the open door, looking on with a blank expression on his face. I cleared my throat and wiped away my tears before suggesting we go inside. Na-Na and Poppy agreed with wide smiles on their faces. With the blessing of their open arms, I could handle the rush of remembrance as I walked through the door. Everything was still in their place, hardly nudged since I left.. I sniffled, wiping my face again as I turned to smile at Killian. Then I remembered I had forgotten something.
“Na-Na, Poppy, this is my friend, Killian,” I said, touching his arm.
To my utter surprise, he smiled.
“Hello,” he said in a normal accent, “it is a pleasure to meet you both.”
The drastic change in his voice was almost like a slap in the face, but I quickly composed myself. I figured he must have been playing it safe by not sounding so…alien. I had been living with him for so long that I had almost forgotten how strange he was. They eyed him first before smiling and bowing their heads in the formal greeting. He returned it properly, as any normal Skelt would. It shocked me to see how convincing he was. If I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve thought he was from Acadia.
“I know this is sudden, but…” I trailed off, looking down at the floor.
“Jianna,” Poppy said, and I looked up at him. “All that matters now is that you’re here. If there’s anything you need, we will be more than happy to oblige.”
“Actually,” I said, glancing at Killian. “We do need a place to stay. Are the beds still upstairs?”
Na-Na smiled sadly and nodded. “We haven’t gone up there since you left.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. It seemed like they never really moved on.
It was a unique smell that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. It was Hyler’s scent, and his scent alone. My old room was just on the other side of the wall. Killian had followed me upstairs and was now standing behind me in the doorway.
“I’ll sleep here,” I said with a constricted voice.
When he didn’t answer right away, I glanced back only to see that he wasn’t there anymore. I furrowed my brows and peeked around the doorframe. There was a light in my bedroom. With a smirk, I went to investigate. He was standing in the middle of the room, looking at everything.
“Um, yeah, I had a thing for pink,” I said apologetically. “Don’t worry. We won’t be staying long.”
He turned to face me. “Why not?”
I blinked at him.
“You know why,” I said, frowning. “I need to find my—”
“You are a selfish fool if you plan on leaving so soon.”
My eyes narrowed at him. “What?”
“They love you,” he said, taking steps towards me. “You have been away for three years. You left their son alone in Grim and then you ran. You ran away and never once thought to look back. They were your family all along, not the so-called mother of yours who clearly abandoned you without a second thought. And yet, after all this time, these people still welcome you. They adore you and care for you and this is how you repay them, by running away again. Doesn’t that sound selfish to you?”
I was livid, but turned to shut the door behind me before I spoke, in case I felt like brutally murdering him.
“I know they love me, Killian,” I spat. “But I didn’t have much of a choice. I wasn’t about to ruin their lives because of my mistake. The smuggling business went after me when I told them what happened. I had no choice but to run. If I had stayed, Na-Na and Poppy would have died trying to save me. Don’t just assume things, especially when it comes to the previous life I led. What would you do to save your family?”
He gave me a hard look and said, “You know what I have done.”
I ground my teeth together. That’s right, I thought to myself. He had already murdered many people to get to this point.
“I’m not that kind of person,” I said quietly.
He smirked. “No, you’re not. Quite frankly, I’m not, either. However, I am not afraid to kill if it means my family’s safety. I would give anything to be in your position now, in the comfort of loved ones. You should be thankful for what you have.”
“My mother’s still out there,” I said quietly. “She’s my family, too.”
His head whipped to the side as my hand contacted his cheek. His skin reddened in the shape of my palm and fingers after a few short seconds. To my utter frustration, he laughed. I slapped him again, tossing his head to the other side and causing him to stumble back in the process. That made him shut up.
“Don’t,” I said, my voice quaking with anger. “She is my mother. She is my family, no matter what.”
“It does not matter if she is your biological mother,” he said calmly, standing up straight. “The true meaning of family is being one together, with or without blood to bond them. My family are my people. We are not related by blood, but by spirit, we are. That is what family is. Your mother abandoned you—”
“She did not abandon me,” I growled, clenching my hands into fists. “This is my final warning. Drop the subject, or—”
“What? Are you going to hit me over and over again until I bleed and beg for mercy? How exciting.”
I blinked furiously to get rid of the tears that were starting to blur my vision again. Before I knew it, he had me thrown against the wall harshly with our noses nearly touching.
“How dare you,” he said fiercely. “How dare you run away from them. It’s just like what you did with Hyler.”
“Stop,” I said, trying to look away.
He grabbed my jaw and forced me to look into his eyes.
“Look at you,” he said. “So despicable. That’s why you won’t stay. It’s because of Hyler, isn’t it? You can’t handle the pain and regret simmering in your soul, so you choose to ignore it. You’re trying to run away from your past like the little coward you are.”
“Stop it,” I sobbed, covering my face with my hands.
He grabbed my wrists tightly, tearing my hands away as he shook me. I looked down at my feet, allowing my tears to fall onto the floorboards. My heart was throbbing in utter anguish. This pain cut too deep for me to handle. I kicked at him, but I was too weak to do any real damage. He shook me again, pressing his forehead against mine. I could feel his breath on my lips when he spoke again.
“I don’t understand why I…” he trailed off and took a second before he continued. “If I clear your name, will you stay here?”
I was shocked by his words. So shocked, in fact, that I immediately stopped crying.
“What?” I said in disbelief.
“Did I stutter?”
Ignoring his harsh reply, I hiccupped and said, “Why would you do that for me?”
He fell silent and went still. The air around us grew heated in the silence that consumed us. In that full minute, I grew nervous as to what he was thinking. I could only hope he wasn’t having one of those moments. It certainly wasn’t the time for that. Eventually, he thawed out like ice beside a fire, slowly, but steadily, coming back to the present.
“Will you stay here or not?” he said finally.
The truth is that I would consider staying here if my name were cleared. However, that didn’t change the fact that I still wanted to find my mother. I knew what he meant, though. He wanted me to stay here and forget about her. Why he cared in the first place was beyond me. I settled for the fact that he was tired of being with me all the time. He didn’t want me to go with him to Nou Vil because I was a burden and he despised me. That’s what I wanted to think, anyway. My gut had a different theory, but it was oh so wrong.
So, what was it, then? Would I stay? Probably not. Even if I didn’t have a mother to look for, I still wanted to go with him to Nou Vil. Sure, I still had Na-Na and Poppy, but I knew nothing could ever be the same. It was true that I didn’t want to be so weak and run from my past and my mistakes, but at the same time, they were too painful to face. I needed a different life. I needed to start over and forget everything bad that ever happened to me. I wanted to find the life I know I once had with my mother. Pictures are the one thing that cannot lie, and I was happy in that still frame with her. I couldn’t really expect Killian to understand any of this, but I answered truthfully anyway.
“No, I won’t,” I said, sniffling. “I won’t stay here. I want to go with you. If I can’t find my mother, I promise I’ll go back, but please just let me come with you. I can’t stay here, Killian. It will be the death of me.”
He stared at me for a while before releasing me. His eyes turned dark, and I could almost see his mind spinning. Then, he had a slight look of amusement on his face.
“Promise?” he said, cocking an eyebrow.
I laughed, sniffling again as I wiped my eyes.
“Yes,” I said with a quivering voice. “I promise.”