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Witchlight (Chapter 7)

Keller faced him squarely.

"Yes, sir? Or should I say 'my lord?"

He flinched but tried to hide it. "I should have told you in the beginning."

Keller wasn't about to get into a discussion of it. "What do you want?"

"Can we go in there?" He nodded toward what looked like a small library-office combination.

Keller didn't want to, but she couldn't think of any acceptable reason to refuse. She followed him and crossed her arms when he closed the door.

"You saved my life." He wasn't quite facing her; he was looking out the window at a cold silver sky. Against it, he had a profile like a young prince on an ancient coin.

Keller shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. The bricks didn't kill me; maybe they wouldn't have killed you."

"But you were trying to save my life. I did something that was probably stupid-again-and you had to cover for me."

"I did it because it's my job, Galen. That's what I do."

"You got hurt because of me. When I dug myself out of that rubble, I thought you were dead." He said it flatly, without any particular intonation. But the hairs on Keller's arms rose.

"I've got to get back to Diana."

"Keller."

There was something wrong with her. She was facing the door, heading out, but his voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Keller. Please."

She was aware that he was coming up behind her.

Her entire skin was up in gooseflesh. She was too aware of him, that was the problem. She could feel the air that he displaced. She could feel his heat.

He just stood there.

"Keller. Ever since I first saw you…" He stopped and tried again. "You were-gleaming. All that long black hair swirling around you and those silvery eyes. And then you changed. I don't think I ever really understood what it meant to be a shape-shifter until I saw that. You were a girl and then you were a cat, but you were always both." He let out his breath. Tm putting this badly."

Keller needed to think of something to say-now. But she couldn't, and she couldn't seem to move.

"When I saw that, for the first time, I wanted to shapeshift. Before that, I didn't really care, and everyone was always telling me to be careful, because whatever shape I choose the first time is the one I'm stuck with. But that's not what I'm trying to say. I'm trying…"

He reached out. Keller felt the warmth of his hand between her shoulder blades, through her hair, through the fabric of her spare jumpsuit. Keller shivered.

She couldn't help it. She felt so strange. Dizzy and supernaturally clear at the same time. Weak. She didn't know what was happening to her, only that it was powerful and terrible.

His hand remained on her back, warmth from it soaking into her skin.

"I realize how much you dislike me," Galen said quietly. There was no self-pity in his voice, but he seemed to be getting the words out painfully. "And I'm not going to try to change that. But I just wanted you to know, I also realize what you've done for me. I needed to say thank you." There was something swelling in Keller's chest like a balloon. Bigger and bigger. She clamped her lips together, frightened as she had never been when fighting monsters.

"And… I won't forget it," Galen was going on, still quiet. "Someday, I'll find a way to repay you."

Keller felt desperate. What was he doing to her?

She wasn't in control of herself; she was trembling and terrified that the thing in her chest was going to escape.

All she could imagine doing was turning around and hitting him, like a trapped animal lashing out at someone trying to rescue it.

"It's so strange," he said, and Keller had the feeling that he had almost forgotten her and was talking to himself. "When I was growing up, I rejected the Power of my family. All my ancestors, they were supposed to turn into demons when they unleashed it. I thought that it was better not to fight- if that was possible. It seems unrealistic now."

Keller could feel more than warmth now. There were little electrical zings spreading out from his hand, running down the insides of her arms. Not real ones, of course. Not the Power he was talking about, like the Power used by the dragon or Winnie. But it felt awfully close. Her whole body was filled with buzzing.

Some people shouldn't have to fight, she thought giddily. But, no, that was insane. Everybody had to fight; that was what life was about. If you didn't fight, you were weak. You were prey.

He was still talking in that abstracted tone. "I know you think-"

Keller's panic hit flashpoint. She whirled around. "You don't know anything about what I think. You don't know anything about me. I don't know whatever gave you the idea that you did."

He looked startled but not defensive. The silver light behind him lit the edges of his fine hair. "I'm sorry," he said gently. "Stop being sorry!"

"Are you saying I'm wrong? You don't think I'm a spoiled and pampered prince who doesn't know anything about real life and has to be baby-sat?"

Keller was disconcerted. That was exactly what she thought-but if it were true, then why did she have this strange feeling of falling?

"I think you're like her," she said, keeping her words short and brutal to keep them under control. She didn't need to specify the her. "You're like this whole ridiculous family. Happy mommy, happy baby, happy Christmas. They're ready to love everybody who comes along. And they're living in a happy happy idealistic world that has nothing to do with reality."

The corner of his mouth turned up wryly, although his eyes were still serious. "I think that's what I said."

"And it sounds harmless, doesn't it? But it isn't. It's blind and destructive. What do you want to bet that Hiana's mother really thinks my name is Kelly now? She can't deal with it being 'demon,' so she just happily changes the world to fit."

"You could be right." He wasn't smiling at all now, and there was something in his eyes, something lost and hopeless that made Keller feel more panicked than ever.

She spoke savagely to hold off the fear. "You want to know what real life is like? My mother left me in a cardboard box in a parking lot. It was fixed up with newspapers inside, like something you'd use for a puppy. That was because I couldn't wear diapers, I was stuck in my halfway form-a baby with a tail and ears like a cat. Maybe that was why she couldn't deal with me, but I'll never know. The only thing I have of hers is a note that was in the box. I kept it"

Keller fumbled in the jumpsuit's pocket. She had never meant to show this to anyone, certainly not somebody she'd known for less than twenty-four hours. But she had to convince Galen; she had to make him go away for good.

Her wallet was slim-no photos, just money and ID. She pulled out a folded slip of paper, with creases worn smooth by time and writing that had faded from blue ink to pale purple. Its right edge was a ragged tear, but the words were on the left and clear enough.

"It was her legacy to me," Keller said. "She was trying to pass on the truth, what she'd learned about life."

Galen took the paper as if it were a hurt bird.

Keller watched his eyes move over it. She knew the words by heart, of course, and right now she heard them ringing in her mind. There were only twelve of them-her mother had been a master of succinctness. People die…

Beauty fades…

Love changes…

And you will always be alone.

Keller could tell where Galen was by the way his eyes widened in horror.

She smiled at him, not nicely, and took the paper back.

He looked at her. And despite everything she knew about him, she was surprised at the sheer depth of his shock. He stared at her with those

gold-green eyes that went on for miles-and then he stepped forward.

'You don't believe that," he said fiercely, and grabbed her by the shoulders.

Keller was startled. He'd seen her in action. How could he be so stupid as to grab her?

He seemed to be completely unaware of his danger. There was nothing calm or hesitant about him now. He was staring at her with a kind of stricken tenderness, as if she'd just told him she had a terminal disease. It was as if he were trying to pour love and warmth and light into her by a direct connection.

"I won't let you think that," he said. "I won't let you."

'It's just the truth. If you can accept that, you won't drown in life. Whatever happens, you'll be able to cope."

"It's not all the truth. If you believe it is, why do you work for Circle Daybreak?"

"They raised me," Keller said shortly. "They snatched me out of the hospital nursery when they read the reports about me in the paper. They realized what I was and that humans couldn't take care of me. That's why I work for them-to pay them back. It's my job."

"That's not the only reason. I've seen you work, Keller."

She could feel warmth spreading from his hands on her shoulders. She knocked them aside and stood tall. There was a core of iciness inside her, and she hung on to that.

"Don't get me wrong," she said. "I don't save people out of idealism. I don't risk my neck for just anybody-only the ones I get paid for."

"You mean if Diana's little brother was in danger, you wouldn't save him. You'd stand there and watch him burn to death in a fire or drown in a riptide."

Keller had a sinking feeling. She held her chin up and said, "Exactly. If it meant putting myself in danger to save him, I wouldn't do it." He shook his head, flatly positive. "No." The sinking feeling got worse. "That's a lie," he said, holding her eyes. "I've seen you in action. I talked to Nissa and Winnie last night. And I've seen your mind. You're not just doing a job. You're doing what you do because you think it's right. And you are…" He paused as if to find the words, then spoke deliberately. "You are the soul of honor."

And you're insane, Keller thought. She realty needed to get away now. The sinking was becoming a terrible weakness spreading through her. And although she knew that what he was saying was complete garbage, she couldn't seem to stop listening. "You put on a good show," Galen said, "but the truth is that you're brave and gallant and decent. You have your own code, and you would never break it. And anybody who knows you sees that Don't you know what your team thinks of you? You should have seen their faces-and Diana's-when they thought you were dead in that rubble. Your soul is straight as a sword, and you have more honor than anyone I've ever known." His eyes were the color of the first new leaves in spring, the kind you look up to see sunlight pouring through. Keller was a meat-eater and had never cared much about flowers or other vegetation, but now she remembered a line from a poem, and it froze in her mind like lightning: Nature's first green is gold. This was the color the poet meant.

You could drown in eyes like that.

He was holding her arms again. He couldn't seem to stop reaching for her, as if she were some soul in danger of being lost forever.

"Your life's been so hard. You deserve to have good things happen to you now-only good things. I wish…" He broke off, and a sort of tremor went through his face.

No, Keller thought. I won't let you make me weak. I won't listen to your lies.

But the problem was that Galen didn't lie. He was one of those idiot idealist types who said what they believed. And she shouldn't care what he believed, but she found that she did. She cared terribly.

Galen just stood there looking at her with tears in his gem-bright eyes.

Something ripped inside Keller. And then everything changed.

Keller couldn't understand what was happening at first. In panic, all she could think was that she was losing herself. Losing her armor, her hardness, everything she needed to keep alive. Some part of her deep inside was melting, flowing toward Galen.

She tried to snatch it back, but it was no good. She couldn't stop it With a distant shock, she realized that she had shut her eyes. She was falling, falling-and she didn't care.

Something caught her.

She felt the warmth of arms around her, supporting her. And she felt herself lean into it, relaxing, letting him take some of her weight, as if someone else were controlling her body. So warm…

That was when Keller discovered something strange. That warmth could give you shivers.

Being close like this, feeling Galen warm and solid and there to hang on to-it made a shiver of pleasure go through her. And then she felt the true connection. It wasn't a physical thing. The spark that passed between them connected them mind to mind. It was a riveting flash of complete understanding. Her heart all but exploded. It's you. The voice was in her mind, the same voice she'd heard yesterday when he had tried to save her from the dragon. It was filled with wonder and discovery. It's you… the one I've been looking for. You're the one…

And Keller would have told him how insane that was, except that it was just what she was feeling herself. It was as if she had just turned around and unexpectedly found herself facing a figure from one of her dreams. A person she knew instinctively, just as she knew her own mind.

I know you, too, Galen's voice in her head said. We're so much alike…

We're not, Keller thought. But the protest sounded feeble even to her. And trying to hang on to her anger and cynicism right now seemed silly- pointless. Like a kid insisting that nobody loved her and she was going to go play on the freeway.

We belong together, Galen said simply. Like this.

Warm tingles. Keller could feel the force of his love like a bright light shining at her. And she couldn't…resist… any longer…

Her arms came up to hold Galen back. Her face turned up slightly, but not much, because she was tall, and their lips were already only an inch apart.

The kiss was shivery, delightful, and very sweet.

After an endless time of floating in a golden haze, Keller shivered again.

There's something… something I have to remember…

I love you, Galen said back.

Yes, but there's something I've forgotten…

We're together, he said. I don't want to remember anything else.

And that was probably true. She couldn't really blame him. Who would want to disturb this warmth and closeness and quiet joy?

Still, they had been talking about something-a long time ago, when she had been alone. Something that had made her terribly unhappy.

I won't let you be unhappy. I won't let you be alone, either, he said.

He stroked her hair with his fingertips. That was all, but it almost short-circuited Keller's thought processes.

But not completely.

Alone… I remember.

Her mother's note.

You will always be alone.

Galen's arms tightened around her. Don't. Don't think about that. We're together. I love you… No. With a wrench, Keller pulled herself away. She found herself standing in the library on her own two feet, staring at Galen. He looked shocked and stricken, as if he'd just been slapped out of a dream. "Keller-"

"No!" she spat. "Don't touch me!" "I won't touch you. But I can't let you run away. And I can't pretend I don't love you."

"Love," Keller snarled, "is weakness." She saw her mother's note lying on the floor where he'd dropped it and snatched it up. "And nobody is making me sentimental and weak! Nobody!"

It wasn't until she was out the door that she remembered she had left out the strongest argument of all. He couldn't love her. It was impossible. He was destined to marry the Witch Child. The fate of the world depended on it.

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