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Witchlight (Chapter 10)

The car coming. Iliana screaming. And the feeling of absolute helplessness-

Glass shattered.

Keller didn't understand at first. She thought that Iliana was trying to break the window and get Jaime's attention. But the window was safety glass, and what broke was the beaker in Diana's hand.

Blood spurted, shockingly red and liquid.

And Iliana kept squeezing the broken glass in her hand, making more and more blood run.

Her small face was fixed and rigid, her lips slightly parted, her breath held, her whole expression one of complete concentration.

She was calling the blue fire.

Keller lost her own breath.

She's doing it! I'm going to see a Wild Power. Right here, right beside me, it's happening!

She wrenched her own gaze back to the car. She

was going to see those tons of metal come to a stop just as the BART train on the video had. Or maybe Iliana would just deflect the car in its course, send it into the grassy island in the middle of the driveway. In any case, she can hardly deny that she's the Wild Power now-

It was then that Keller realized the car wasn't stopping.

It wasn't working.

She heard Iliana make a desperate sound beside her. There was no time for anything more. The car was on top of Jaime, swinging up onto the curb.

Keller's heart lurched.

And something streaked out behind Jaime, hitting her from behind.

It knocked her flying toward the grassy island. Out of the path of the car.

Keller knew who it was even before her eyes could focus on the dark golden hair and long legs.

The car braked and screeched and swerved-but Keller couldn't tell if it had hit him. It went skidding, half on and half off the sidewalk. Then it corrected its course and roared along the driveway, speeding away. Nissa came dashing out of the door below and stood for an instant, taking in the scene.

Above, Keller was still frozen. She and Iliana were both as motionless as statues.

Then Iliana made a little noise and whirled around. She was off and running before Keller could catch her.

She shot past Winnie, leaving a trail of flying red droplets.

"Come on!" Keller yelled.

They both went after her. But it was like chasing a sunbeam. Keller had had no idea the little thing could run like that.

They were right behind her all the way down the stairs and out the door. It was where Keller wanted to be, anyway.

There were two figures lying on the pavement. They were both very still.

Keller's heart was beating hard enough to break through her chest.

Amazing how, even after seeing so much in her life, she could still have the desperate impulse to shut her eyes. For the first moment, as her gaze raked over Galen's body, she wasn't sure if she could see blood or not. Everything was pulsing with dark spots, and her brain didn't seem able to put any kind of coherent picture together.

Then he moved. The stiff, wincing motion of somebody injured, but not injured badly. He lifted his head, pushed himself up on one elbow, and looked around.

Keller stared at him wordlessly. Then she made her voice obey her. "Did it hit you?"

"Just glanced off me." He got his legs under him. "I'm fine. But what about-^-"

They both looked at Jaime.

"Goddess!" Galen's voice was filled with horror. He scrambled up and took a limping step before falling to his knees.

Even Keller felt shock sweep over her before she realized what was going on.

At first glance, it looked like a tragedy. Diana was holding Jaime, cradling her in her arms, and there was blood everywhere. All over the front of Diana's sweater, all over Jaime's white shirt. It just showed up better on Jaime.

But it was Diana's blood, still flowing from her cut hand. Jaime was blinking and lifting a hand to her forehead in bewilderment. Her color was good, and her breathing sounded clear if fast.

"That car-those people were crazy. They were going to hit me."

I'm sorry," Diana said. "I'm so sorry; I'm so sorry…"

She was so beautiful that Keller's heart seemed to stop.

Her fine skin seemed almost translucent in the cool afternoon light. That glorious hair was rippling in the wind behind her, every single strand light as air and moving independently. And her expression…

She was bending over Jaime so tenderly, tears Ming like diamonds. Her grief-it was complete, Keller thought. As if Jaime were her own dearest sister. She cared in a way that went beyond sympathy and beyond compassion and into something like perfect love.

It… transformed her. She wasn't a light-minded child anymore. She was almost… angelic.

All at once, Keller understood why everybody at school brought their problems to this girl. It was because of that caring, that love. Diana didn't help

them to make herself popular. She helped because her heart was open, without shields, without the normal barriers that separated people from one another.

And she was as brave as a little lion. She hadn't even hesitated when she saw Jaime in danger. She was afraid of blood, but she'd cut herself instantly, even recklessly, trying to help.

That was courage, Keller thought. Not doing something without being afraid, but doing something even though you were afraid.

In that moment, all of Keller's resentment of Diana melted away. All her anger and exasperation and contempt. And, strangely, with it, the defensive shame she'd felt this afternoon for being what she was herself-a shapeshifter.

It didn't make sense. There was no connection. But there it was.

The flat but strangely pleasant voice of Jaime was going on. "I'm okay-it was just a shock. Stop crying now. Somebody pushed me out of the way."

Diana looked up at Galen.

She was still crying, and her eyes were the color of violet crystal. Galen was kneeling on one knee, looking down worriedly at Jaime.

Their eyes met, and they both went still. Except for the wind ruffling Iliana's hair, they might have been a painting. A scene from one of the Old Masters, Keller thought. The boy with dark golden hair and that perfectly sculptured face, looking down with protective concern. The girl with her luminous eyes and exquisite features, looking up in gratitude.

It was a sweet and lovely picture. It was also the exact moment that Iliana fell in love with Galen. And Keller knew it.

She knew before Iliana knew herself. She saw a sort of plaintive shimmer in Iliana's eyes, like more tears about to fall. And then she saw the change in Iliana's face.

The gratitude became something different, something more like… recognition. It was as if Iliana were discovering Galen all at once, seeing everything in him that Keller had been slowly learning to see.

They're both…

Keller wanted to think idiots, but the word wouldn't come. All she ended up with was the same.

Both of them. Idealists. Open-hearted. Trying to rescue everyone.

They're perfect for each other.

"You saved her life," Iliana whispered. "But you could have been killed yourself."

"It just happened," Galen said. "I moved without thinking. But you-you're really bleeding…"

Iliana looked soberly down at her hand. It was the only thing that marred the picture; it was gory and shocking. But Iliana's gaze wasn't frightened. Instead, she looked wise beyond her years and infinitely sad.

"I… couldn't help," she said.

Keller opened her mouth. But before she could say anything, Nissa appeared beside Iliana.

"Here," she said in her practical way, loosening the carefully knotted scarf at her throat. "Let me tie it up until we can see if you need stitches." She

glanced up at Keller. "I got the license plate of the car."

Keller blinked and refocused. Her brain started ticking again.

"Both of you, go get the car," she said to Nissa and Winnie. "Ill finish that." She took Nissa's place by Iliana. "Are you really all right?" she asked Jaime, careful to face her directly. "I think we need to take all three of you to the hospital."

Part of her expected to see a flinching as the dark blue eyes under the soft brown bangs met hers. But, of course, there wasn't any. Nissa's memory blanking had been too good. Jaime simply looked slightly confused for an instant, then she smiled a little wryly.

"I'm really okay."

"Even so," Keller said.

There was a crowd gathering. Students and teachers were running from various corners of the building, coming to see what the noise was about. Keller realized that it had actually been only a couple of minutes since the car had gone roaring and screeching along the sidewalk.

A few minutes… but the world had changed. In several ways.

"Come on," she said, and helped Jaime up. She let Galen help Iliana.

And she felt strangely calm and peaceful.

Galen turned out to have several pulled muscles and lots of scrapes and bruises. Jaime had bruises and a dizzy headache and double vision, which got her actually admitted to the hospital-hardly surprising, considering how many times she'd been knocked down that day, Keller thought.

Iliana needed stitches. She submitted to them quietly, which only seemed to alarm her mother. Mrs. Dominick had been called from home to the hospital. She sat with the baby in her lap and listened to Keller try to explain how Iliana had gotten cut while standing at the chemistry room window.

"And when she saw the car almost hit Jaime, she was so startled that she just squeezed the beaker, and it broke."

Diana's mother looked doubtful for a moment, but it wasn't her nature to be suspicious. She nodded, accepting the story.

Jaime's parents had been called to the hospital, too, and both Galen and Jaime had to give statements to the police. Nissa flashed Keller a glance when the policewoman asked if anyone had noticed the car's license plate.

Keller nodded. She had already had Nissa call the number in to Circle Daybreak from a pay phone, but there was no reason not to have the police on the case, too. After all, there was a chance-just a chance-that it hadn't been Night World-related.

Not much of a chance, though. Circle Daybreak agents would follow Jaime and her family after this, watching from the shadows and ready to act if the Night World showed up again. It was a standard precaution.

Both Mr. and Ms. Ashton-Hughes, Jaime's parents, came down from Jaime's floor to speak to Galen in the emergency room.

"You saved our daughter," her mother said. "We don't know how to thank you."

Galen shook his head. "Really, it just happened. I mean, anybody would have done it."

Ms. Ashton-Hughes smiled slightly and shook her head in turn. Then she looked at Iliana.

"Jaime says she hopes your hand heals quickly. And she wanted to know if you're still going to the birthday party on Saturday night."

"Oh-" For a moment, Iliana looked bewildered, as if she'd forgotten about the party. Then she brightened. "Yeah, tell her that I am. Is she still going?"

"I think so. The doctor said she can go home tomorrow, as long as she keeps quiet for a few days. And she said she wasn't going to miss it even if her head fell off." Iliana smiled.

It was well into the evening by the time they all got home. Everyone was tired, even the baby-and Iliana was asleep.

Mr. Dominick came hurrying out of the house. He was a medium-sized man with dark hair and glasses, and he looked very anxious. He came around to the backseat as Hiana's mother filled him in on the situation.

But it was Galen who carried Iliana inside. She didn't wake up. Hardly surprising. The doctor had given her something for the pain, and Keller knew that she hadn't had much sleep the night before. She lay in Galen's arms like a trusting child, her face turned against his shoulder.

They looked… very good together, Keller thought. They looked right.

Winnie and Nissa hurried upstairs and turned down Diana's sheets. Galen gently lowered her to the bed. He stood looking down at her. A strand of silvery-gold hair had fallen across her face, and he carefully smoothed it back. That single gesture told Keller more than anything else could have.

He understands, she thought. It's like that moment when she looked at him and discovered all at once that he's brave and gentle and caring. He understands that she cut herself to try and save Jaime, and that people love her because she loves them so much first. And that she couldn't be petty or spiteful if she tried, and that she's probably never wished another person harm in her life.

He sees all that in her now.

Mrs. Dominick came in just then to help get Iliana undressed. Galen, of course, went out. Keller gestured for Winnie and Nissa to stay, and followed him.

This time, she was the one who said, "Can I talk with you?"

They slipped into the library again, and Keller shut the door. With everything that was going on in the house, she didn't think anyone would notice.

Then she faced him.

She hadn't bothered to turn on the lights. There was some illumination from the window but not much. It didn't really matter. Shapeshifter eyes were good in the dark, and Keller was just as glad he couldn't study her face.

She could see enough of his as he stood by the window. The light picked up the edge of his golden head, and she could see that his expression was troubled and a little uncertain.

"Keller-" he began.

Keller held up a hand to cut him off. "Wait. Galen, first I want to tell you that you don't owe me an explanation." She took a breath. "Look, Galen, what happened this morning was a mistake. And I think we both realize that now."

"Keller…"

"I shouldn't have gotten so upset at you about it. But that's not the point. The point is that things have worked out."

He looked bleak suddenly. "Have they?"

"Yes," Keller said firmly. "And you don't need to try and pretend otherwise. You care about her. She cares about you. Are you going to try and deny that?"

Galen turned toward the window. He looked more than bleak now; he looked terribly depressed. "I do care about her," he said slowly. "I won't deny it. But-"

"But nothing! It's good, Galen. It's what was meant to be, and it's what we came here for. Right?"

He shifted miserably. "I guess so. But Keller-"

"And it may just possibly save the world," Keller said flatly.

There was a long silence. Galen's head was down.

"We've got a chance now," Keller said. 'It should be easy to get her to come to the ceremony on Saturday-as long as we can make her forget about

that ridiculous party. I'm not saying use her feelings against her. I'm just saying go with it. She should want to be promised to you."

Galen didn't say anything.

"And that's all. That's what I wanted to tell you. And also that if you're going to act stupid and guilty because of something that was… a few minutes of silliness, a mistake-well, then, I'm not going to talk to you ever again."

His head came up. "You think it was a mistake?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

In one motion, he turned around and took her by the shoulders. His fingers tightened, and he stared at her face as if he were trying to see her eyes.

"And that's what you really think?"

"Galen, will you please stop worrying about my feelings?" She shrugged out of his grip, still facing him squarely. Tm fine. Things have worked out just the way they should. And that's all we ever need to say about it."

He let out a long breath and turned toward the window again. Keller couldn't tell if the sigh was relief or something else.

"Just make sure she comes to the ceremony. Not that it should be difficult," she said.

There was another silence. Keller tried to read his emotions through his stance and failed completely.

"Can you do that?" she prompted at last.

"Yes. I can do it. I can try."

And that was all he said. Keller turned to the door. Then she turned back. "Thank you," she said softly. But what she really meant was Good-bye, and she knew he knew it. For a long moment, she thought he wouldn't answer. At last, he said, "Thank you, Keller."

Keller didn't know what for, and she didn't want to think about it right now. She turned and slipped out of the room.

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