The cold air was a small shock to her lungs, pulling her up out of the deep sleep she'd been in. There was a chill covering her, enveloping her, threatening to smother her. Her heart raced, pounding against her chest like a caged animal, and she finally fought her way to consciousness with a gasp.
Her eyes opened and the light struck her, too bright to focus on anything. Everything came in shapes and impressions. The shape sitting around her feet, silhouetted against the light and casting a horned shadow over her, like the devil himself waiting to claim her. She wondered if she was still dreaming and fought hard to remember, grasping at threads of memory with the desperate strength of the lost.
Okay, she thought, picking through the images in her mind. What happened last night? I was attacked and then some guy came along and saved me. Said something about going back to his place to take care of me.
Am I still there now?
Her turquoise eyes squinted, and things came into a little more focus. She was in an apartment, lying on a couch. The air was cool, with the underlying scent of tobacco. The place wasn't at all familiar, nor the sofa, and she couldn't place the brand of tobacco by scent, but she was reasonably sure both belonged to the man before her.
A guy, she thought. About my age.
Hardly a demon at all. What the hell was I thinking?
"Youíre awake," the man said, his voice quiet but with and edge of roughness. "You were deep in shock--you've been asleep for awhile."
"Huh?" She asked, brushing her hair off her shoulder. It was filthy and tangled, soaked through with the grit of the streets, and she suddenly felt self-conscious, especially by contrast with her host, who from the look of his silk slacks and black shirt was refined and elegant.
She sat up on the couch, the sheet that had covered her pooling in her lap, trying to gather her thoughts.
This was the man who'd saved her life? It seemed a bit hard to square with her memory, what little of it she could still make out. He looked too quiet, too gentle for anything like that.
And yet . . .
"It's OK," he said, holding his hand out to reassure her. "You were dead on your feet when we got here. I think the last thing you said was "leave the light on." I went to get you a cloth to clean you up a little, and when I came back you were asleep."
"What time is it?" She asked, adjusting her bra straps, which had gotten turned around in the night. She frowned; looking down at her shoulder at the red welts the twisted fabric had left in her skin.
I must have been tired if even this didnít wake me up, she thought. She looked down at herself, then back at her host, then very quickly back at herself.
"OH MY GOD!" She cried, quickly gathering the sheet up around her chin. "You . . .did you. . .why am I . . .naked?"
"You looked uncomfortable, and very dirty," the man said, brushing his chestnut bangs from his eyes, looking at her curiously. "And your clothes were beyond hope. So I undressed you and cleaned you up."
She glared at him. He smiled and slid off the arm of the couch. He looked at her, and decided her needed to clarify things a bit more.
"All I did was try to clean you up. I promise."
"Right. Sure." She pulled her knees up to her chest, trying to force herself against the opposite end of the couch from him.
"Coffee or tea?"
"I thought you might want something to drink," he said. "I've been watching you all night."
"Ah," she said. "That makes me feel better."
He looked hurt by that and walked into the kitchen, his long braid waving behind him, almost waving goodbye to her. She rose from the couch, the sheet tightly wrapped around her like a toga. He smiled from the kitchen, busying himself with the tea.
"Can I ask you something?" He asked, stirring his tea. He looked down into the liquid, the faint reflection of himself looking back from the vortex in the small china cup.
"I donít think I have many secrets left, considering you've already stripped me naked," she said.
She looked over her shoulder. "What?"
"It's an unusual name. I was curious."
"It's the only one I've ever had," she said defensively. She looked at him, catching his eye as she folded her arms over her chest.
He walked back into the living room, setting a tray with his own cup of tea and one for her on the coffee table in the center of the living room. He gestured to the other cup.
He looked up at her, silhouetted against the window, the sheet gathered around her body making her seem like a dark wraith.
He took his cup from the tray. "My name is Kienan Ademetria," he said, taking a sip.
What's your excuse? Silhouette thought. She watched him, totally at ease, drinking his cup of tea like he was a normal person.
She sighed. It was so strange to see him so charming and domesticated, when only hours before he'd cut a swath through the two men without getting a drop of blood on his pretty white suit.
I thought sure I was going to be next after he killed them, she thought, the feeling a bit ashamed at the memory. But now, looking at him . . .it's hard to imagine him being that ruthless.
"Creepy" I get from him, but ruthless . . .?
She caught a glance at his eyes. They were deep emeralds. Cold, intense, but with occasional flickers of something else she couldn't place.
She grimaced. "Well . . .it's nice to meet you . . .Kienan," she said slowly. "And thanks for saving me, but if you'll just give me my clothes back I'll get dressed and be out of your hair, OK?"
"I threw them out," Kienan said.
"You did WHAT?"
"They were rags," Kienan said. "You need new ones. I'll buy you some."
Silhouette's feeble smile dropped in an instant, replaced with a very severe glare. "I donít know what you're thinking," she said, her voice rising to just below a yell. "But if you think I owe you . . .that, then you can forget it."
"Owe me what?" Kienan said, putting the empty china cup on the tray.
"You know exactly what I mean."
"I really don't."
"Kienan, look, I'm grateful to you for what you did, but I donít like where this is going and you playing dumb like this isnít helping."
"What's wrong with you?" Kienan said. "I'm just offering you a place to sleep, to get a shower and to buy you some new clothes."
"And what do you expect out of it? I can't pay you back . . .with money."
"What are you talking about?"
Silhouette scratched her head, staring at him curiously. "You really don't know, do you?"
Kienan frowned and rose from his chair. He looked offended. "I just thought Iíd offer," he said, walking back to the kitchen. "I wanted to help--I wasn't really looking for anything in return."
Silhouette's expression softened a little. In the kitchen, she could hear him washing out his cup.
"Anyways, get a shower if you like--I'll find you something to wear," Kienan said. "Then you can go. I'm not holding you prisoner or anything."
"Just forget it, okay? Shower's in the guest room."
Silhouette sat on the sofa and sighed, hearing a door close on the other side of the kitchen.
Well, he canít be too angry, she thought. He didnít slam it.
She leaned against the back of the sofa, cursing herself for being so cynical. She'd assumed the worst of him, and why? Out of fear? And fear of whom--him or herself?
She weighed that in her head. The notion that he expected sex as payment for what he'd done for her annoyed him, probably even angered him. But equally, along with the anger in his voice, he sounded hurt. It seemed ludicrous to her that the force of nature she'd seen last night could be hurt so easily, or that someone that brutal could be that innocent. So fragile.
I'm not sure I like that I hurt his feelings, she thought, stepping up out of the sheet and walking toward the guestroom. From there she padded into the shower and looked at herself in the mirror.
She was the picture of beauty--smooth golden skin, a voluptuous figure, lush dark hair that cascaded halfway down her back, and eyes that seemed to be both dark and seductive or bright and open, depending on her mood.
And it meant nothing to her. Because she didn't recognize or have any connection with the face in looking back at her.
It was her reflection, but who was she?
Something's wrong with me, she thought, leaning over and turning the water on. Other people donít have this much trouble keeping their memories straight, do they?
She knew some things--she knew enough to function out in the world, but when it came to actual memories, what she knew of herself, where she came from, even her name--the images were like a broken mirror reflecting another broken mirror, on into splintered, jagged, infinity.
Bits and pieces. Things she could feel, but never get a tight enough hold on with her mind to connect to herself and form some picture of who she was.
Someone had done this to her--there was no other explanation that made sense to her. How else could she explain it? If she were completely amnesiac, she'd hardly know how to walk or talk, or . . .anything.
It was just gone. Selectively erased. Two months on the streets of Kuran, and she'd never found one clue to how she found herself on the colony.
One day she was just . . .there.
I'm sure this doesn't happen to normal people, she thought with a sigh.
Of course, she though, slipping her bra straps down and turning her bra around to unfasten it, other people probably donít find themselves naked in strange men's showers, either.
She slid her underwear off, turned on the tap, and stepped inside the shower, the water blisteringly hot. It felt wonderful, as if it were washing the dirt and doubt off, the cleansing going deeper than her skin.
Who is this Kienan Ademetria person? Silhouette mused as she lathered herself up. If he's interested in me the way I accused him of, he does a better job of being cool about it than I gave him credit for.
Either that or girls just arenít his thing.
She vigorously soaped her body up, feeling the contrast between the slickness of the soapy film on her legs and arms against the steamy air in the shower stall. She turned around; reaching for the shampoo as the water washed the soap off. She grimaced, smoothing the tangles in her hair out as best she could. She closed her eyes and lathered her hair up. Something was working around the corners of her mind, and it almost seemed as though if she washed her hair hard enough it would come out with the tangles.
Better question is, she thought pondering the question as she turned her back to the shower head, is why does it bother me so much that he's not as interested in me as . . .
God, Silhouette. Listen to yourself. You're a grown woman, even if you have no idea who you are and you don't . . .You don't even have a name. Of all the things you should be doing, throwing yourself at him is not one of them. Youíre not a damsel in distress, and he's not the beautiful Prince Charming here to sweep you off your feet.
She leaned forward and shut off the water; the only sound was the water dripping off her body.
He might have been, she thought, sliding the shower door away. Maybe if I hadn't accused him of wanting sex for rescuing me . . .
She flipped her wet hair back, shivering as it lashed against the small of her back. The steam of the shower had left her, and she felt cold all of a sudden. She reached out around the side of the shower stall, sighing as she did.
At the very least, I should have waited until he offered the shower to accuse him. At least then I might have gotten a--
He hands closed on a towel, almost miraculously soft, certainly not there when she'd gotten in the shower.
Had he--? Silhouette wondered, patting her hair dry as she stepped out onto the tile floor. She patted herself dry and wrapped the towel around herself, looking around for any sign that he'd been in there with her.
* * *
Silhouette padded back into the living room, keeping the towel wrapped around her tightly and frowning. There was no sign that Kienan had been in the living room, much less in the guest room or the shower, but somehow he must have, because the towel was there all of a sudden, and there was a change of clothes neatly folded on the bed waiting for her.
She brushed a hand through her drying hair, frowning. She'd just about talked herself into giving Kienan the benefit of the doubt, but the idea of him moving almost invisibly around her, never mind possibly watching her in the shower, creeped her out all over again.
It's like how he was looking at me when I woke up: like a spider in a web.
She sighed again and reached for the clothes on the bed. They were obviously Kienan's, which meant they were a few sizes too big. That suited her fine--she didn't have a change of underwear, so something a bit baggier would help to hide that.
And I donít even want to ask if Kienan has any women's underwear in my size lying around, thank you very much.
Things are weird enough--I'm about to get dressed in his clothes, for God's sake.
His shirt nearly engulfed her, and hung down about midway down her bare thighs. She quickly reached for the pair of jeans folded under the shirt and stepped into them, pulling them up to her waist. They promptly slid back down to her hips, and she nervously tried walking back and forth a few times in case they slid all the way down. They felt pretty loose, but so long as she didn't flounce around, maybe she'd be spared more embarrassment.
She peered around the alcove leading to the kitchen. The door to his room was wide open, but there was no sound coming from inside.
"Kienan?" She called quietly. She glanced down at the coffee table. Her cup of tea was still there. It was probably ice-cold by now, but she was so thirsty she didnít care. She sat primly on the edge of the sofa, nervously reaching for the cup. Timidly she took a sip, and finding it good, she took a larger swallow.
"You wear those clothes better than I ever did," Kienan's voice called from behind her. Silhouette jumped, coughing as she hurriedly put the cup of tea down.
"Dammit Kienan, you scared the hell out of me," she said. She turned to look at him. He was leaning on the doorframe leading to the guestroom, watching her calmly. She blushed a little and smiled, her heart still racing.
Whether it was due to the earlier embarrassment or not, she still felt completely naked in front of him, especially the way he was looking at her, his eyes taking in every detail of her.
Or sizing me up, she thought cynically.
"I was . . .uh, just looking for you," she said. "I wanted to thank you . . .and, uh . . .say how sorry I am for assuming the worst about you before."
"It's all right," Kienan said. "I guess you've seen the worst fairly often. I didnít take it personally."
Something about the way he cut his eyes away from her as he spoke made her wonder about that. "Yes," she said. "More than often . . .I think. It's sort of hard for me to remember things you know? But I've been on the streets long enough to know . . .well, looking like I do--"
"I think you look very beautiful."
Silhouette blushed even more, and this time, so did Kienan. Apparently he'd said more than he'd meant to.
Silhouette smiled and lifted the cup of tea to her lips again. "Thank you," she said quietly. She set it down, staring ahead thoughtfully.
Kienan crossed behind her and sat down on the other side of the table, directly in her line of sight. Silhouette looked into his eyes, smiling slowly and shyly and suddenly wishing her hair was dry enough to hide behind.
"I'm sorry if I said too much," Kienan said.
"It's OK," Silhouette said. "It's just . . .well, like I said--I've heard all this before from people who wanted something from me, and it makes me suspicious. Makes me think that it's time to go."
Kienan looked at her as he slid an ashtray closer to him and produced a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Without taking his eyes off her, he produced one and lit it, taking a long, slow drag.
"I donít want you to feel that way around me," Kienan said. Seeing his eyes through the smoke made her shiver.
"I don't," Silhouette said. "Maybe I should but . . .no. After what you did to those guys last night I should be scared as hell of you. Never mind how you managed to undress me while I slept and sneak into the guestroom while I was showering. You are the weirdest guy I think I've ever met, but I donít think you're . . .you know . . .trying to rape me or anything like that."
Kienan smiled. "I'm glad to hear you say that, because I wasn't."
Silhouette nodded, rolling the china cup between her palms, a smirk crossed her lips.
"Of course, I could just be a terrible judge of character."
* * *
They walked down the sidewalks of the neighborhood in silence. If Silhouette knew the neighborhood, or remembered any landmarks, she gave no sign. Kienan walked close enough to her to be protective, and occasionally brushed a little closer to her in a way that made her shiver.
She'd tried to ignore her attraction to him--writing it off as shock or an after-effect of her scattershot memories or even misplaced gratitude, and while all three had some element of truth to them, when it came right down to it, the more he moved closer to her, the less she minded.
Objectively she knew this was a terrible idea and kept telling herself so--You donít even know who you are and he's . . .scary, she mentally repeated in a continuous loop. But no matter how many times the thoughts echoed in her mind, the voice of reason was growing fainter and fainter.
This is crazy, she thought. I barely know anything about him. I know even less about myself, and here I am thinking--
"Any of this look familiar?" Kienan asked.
"Hm?" Silhouette said with a start, jarred out of listening to the noise in her head.
"This is about where I found you."
Silhouette looked around, studying the area. The alley looked vaguely familiar, but then it had been dark at the time and on some level, given where they were, really all alleys looked alike.
"I recognize the alley," Silhouette said. "But . . .the neighborhood, no. I donít remember any of it."
"How did you make it this long not remembering anything?"
"I donít know," Silhouette replied, sharp and defensive. "I just . . .things are there, but they're not clear. Nothing is, until last night in that alley."
"Hm," Kienan replied, smirking. "How romantic--a woman without a past."
"Not by choice," Silhouette said. "I bet if you couldn't remember what had happened to you, you wouldnít make jokes."
Kienan seemed to pause at that, and Silhouette noticed a strange change flickering over his face for a split-second. The intensity slipped for a moment and a flash of genuine pain crossed in front of his eyes, melting his cold emerald glare.
Then he seemed to catch himself, and the mask slipped back into place, as he reached into his jacket pocket for a cigarette.
"C'mon," he said, raising one to his lips and lighting up. He started walking briskly ahead. "Let's get you some clothes."
Silhouette started walking faster to match his pace.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"Just forget it."
"Kienan, I'm sorry."
"Never mind--It's all right."
"Well, obviously it isnít--if we walk any faster, we're going to be sprinting down the street."
Kienan sighed, exhaling a stream of smoke. She could have sworn she saw that look again, only now it seemed more pained. They both slowed down a little.
"Let's just say I might be willing to trade places with you," Kienan said quietly. "There's plenty I wouldn't mind forgetting."
Silhouette looked puzzled, then nodded. It certainly would explain a few things, she thought. Her natural curiosity made her want to follow up on that, to try to draw him out a little more. But then she remembered how hurt he'd seemed just then and how responsible she felt for opening old wounds and she decided to let it go.
They walked along a few more blocks, neither saying anything. Kienan glanced over his shoulder as he threw the now-spent cigarette into a nearby trashcan, then turned back to face Silhouette.
"Do you remember anything about the guys who attacked you?"
Silhouette blinked. "Not much. They were young. Scruffy. Didnít dress all that better than I did, they looked like . . .I guess you'd imagine street people would look."
Kienan nodded. If any of what she said meant anything to him, he gave no sign.
"So why were you there?" Silhouette asked. "Why did you help me?"
"Seemed like a good idea at the time."
The corners of Silhouette's mouth thinned into the beginnings of a frown.
"I'm serious. If they'd had friends . . .you could have been hurt trying to save me."
"Would have been worth it," he said with a smile.
"Not funny," she said, all the warmth gone out of her voice. "I was scared, Kienan. Look . . . when your memory's so screwed up--like mine is--and . . .and you're sure someone did something to you before to cause it, and even the possibility it might happen again . . .it's terrifying. I felt like I was drowning."
Kienan looked inward for a moment. "I shouldnít tease. I'm sorry."
"It's all right," she replied. "I just . . .It's just that, look, I like you, and--"
"You like me?"
Silhouette hadnít realized she'd let that slip, and was unprepared for the question.
"I--yeah, I do," Silhouette said. "Though I can't even guess at what kind of couple we'd make."
"I donít know," Kienan said. "I'll test you--how do you feel about yourself?"
"Are you a psychiatrist?"
Kienan laughed and shook his head. Silhouette blushed and suddenly wished she could hide in Kienan's huge clothes.
"Donít dodge the question," Kienan said, a thin smile across his lips. "How do you see yourself?"
Silhouette looked at him, saw he was enjoying this far too much and wanted for the entire world to punch him as hard as she could.
"I'm a woman with almost complete amnesia, and I'm wearing another man's clothes," she said, gesturing to her shirt. "I don't know who I am or how I got here. My whole life--what I can recall of it--is utterly crazy. I see myself as being very screwed-up."
"Oh well, that's good then."
"Birds of a feather," Kienan said, as if that was supposed to explain everything.
* * *
To Kienan's credit, if he grew bored of watching Silhouette go from store to store and try on outfit after outfit, he showed little sign of it. Occasionally she would glance over to him and see him staring towards the doorway of the store looking a bit bored, but Silhouette just chalked it up to the NO SMOKING signs she saw posted everywhere.
She stood in the dressing room, sliding a silky blue dress over herself, and pulled it down, smoothing the wrinkles out as she stared into the mirror. She looked fantastic in the dress, but the woman wearing it in the mirror still felt like a stranger to her.
What was there to know? She had no past, no present, no future. And if something happened to her . . .who would care?
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling something crack inside her.
The feeling of complete isolation hit her at once and she felt completely, utterly alone, and she felt her eyes sting and start to well up. The pain having no memory and nothing to hold onto made her feel completely isolated, like the gulf between her and everyone else was the width of the whole universe and it hurt so bad, it felt like an iron fist squeezing her heart.
The first few tears blinked down her cheeks, and her face suddenly grew hot with embarrassment.
Oh no, she pleaded silently. Please. I donít want to lose it right now. Not with him right outside the door. Not when . . .
She sighed, a regretful smile crossing her lips as she finished the thought.
Not when I want him to see how good I look in this.
She audibly sniffed, tilting her head back to hold the tears in. She leaned back against the wall until she felt a bit more in control, wiping the tears from her eyes and the shuddering in her chest that had threatened to become sobs finally subsided.
She looked back at herself in the mirror and quickly looked away. The image of that woman who wasn't there was what set her off in the first place, so she decided to look away, and hope she left her alone.
She slid the dressing room door aside and saw Kienan in front of her. His eyes drank her in completely, and this time, she let his hungry eyes take her in completely, even though it made her cheeks flush and her heart skip a beat.
"H-how do I . . ."
"Oh," Silhouette said, smiling shyly. They stayed that way for what felt like forever.
Silhouette nodded. As far as she knew, it was her first lie, and she hoped her inexperience didn't show.
"You look nervous."
"That's because you're staring."
"You're worth a longer look."
"Ah. Heh," Silhouette said.
Kienan's head tilted back as if he were entertaining a thought. Whatever it was, it must have been a good one, because he was smiling broadly as he moved closer to her, walking around her and admiring her in a way that made Silhouette exceedingly nervous. Uncommunicative Kienan was one thing, Occasionally Creepy Kienan she might be willing to deal with, but something about Happy Kienan made her want to move across the galaxy immediately.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Kienan said. "I was just thinking you needed a belt."
Silhouette looked confused. "What?"
* * *
They walked back to his apartment, laden down with shopping. Kienan carried most of it, which meant that Silhouette couldn't be as close to him as they had been when they'd been walking up.
He'd been generous--more than generous. She had four outfits now--all of them very expensive. And yet, Kienan had calmly let her have whatever she wanted. She couldnít help wondering what he could possibly do for a living that meant money was no object for him, but she didnít want to ask him, not yet.
Not when things were going so well.
She had more immediate things on her mind. Chief among them, why they were taking a different route back to his apartment, and why it seemed so dark and secluded.
It scared the hell out of her--amnesia or no, on some preternatural level, things felt a little too familiar, and it was that fear that made her fists tighten around her bags of shopping.
If Kienan knew or cared what this was doing to her, he didn't say anything. In fact, he hadnít said anything since the time they left the store. He just stared straight ahead, looking intense and focused, almost as if he were waiting for something.
They walked a few more minutes together in silence; Silhouette feeling more and more anxious with every step they took. She was just about to say something when Kienan grabbed her wrist and dragged her down an alleyway.
"Kienan, NO." The whisper was as much a hiss as a quiet command.
Kienan's eyes narrowed as he dropped all but one bag on the ground. Behind the two of them, the flat sounds of footsteps echoed. Silhouette tried to run away, but Kienan cinched up his grip on her wrist so hard it began to hurt and throb.
"Kienan, youíre hurting me!"
"Be quiet," he said, calmly. "When I let go, stay behind me. Don't run."
Kienan let her go, and turned around calmly. Between them and the alleyway's opening were four men, and while Silhouette couldn't place them exactly, they looked very much like the people who'd assaulted her last night.
The only difference is that these four were armed. One had a length of chain; another cradled a crowbar between his palms. All of them looked very eager to use their weapons on the pair of them.
The four men charged Kienan, who waited until they got close, reached into the bag and pulled out the belt he'd insisted Silhouette needed. He unrolled it between his hands and snapped it like a whip in the face of the one thug with the crowbar, causing his head to snap backwards. Kienan spun on his heels and caught him with an elbow to the throat. The thug made a gurgling noise as his trachea collapsed and Kienan trapped his arm under his own, ducking another thug's thrust with a knife as he flipped the one he'd been holding to the ground, snapping the belt out at the thug with the chain. The belt wrapped around the chain and Kienan yanked him closer, driving his forehead against the bridge of his attacker's nose. The thug staggered backward, his face a crimson mask of blood. Kienan grabbed him again, grabbing the thug by the hair and chin and snapping his neck with a quick, cruel twist.
The thug with the knife stared at him, his bravado gone with the lives of his two companions. He looked at Kienan, then back at the knife and dropped it on the street, breaking into the fastest, most desperate run of his life.
Kienan leapt forward, rolled on the ground and grabbed the knife, hurling it at the fleeing man as he rolled to his feet. It hit him in the center of his back with an audible thunk, sending him tumbling to the ground.
Kienan spun around to face the final attacker, who grabbed at Silhouette, trying to wrap his arm around her and use her as a shield against Kienan. But she was having none of it, and kept shoving him away before he could get in a tight hold on her.
He seemed to finally tire of it and reached into the waistband of his pants, pulling out a pistol. Kienan tried to reach for it before he could get it trained on her, but he was a few steps away, and by the time he closed the gap, Silhouette could be dead, and that fear caused him to hesitate for a split-second.
The split-second that Silhouette needed to grab him by the shirt and fling him into the wall. Her attacker hit the wall with such force that Kienan expected to see cracks in the wall when he slid down it. But there were no cracks--just a red splotch where his skull had fractured against the concrete. The blank, idiotic stare he wore as his head lolled to the side told the tale.
Kienan stared at Silhouette, and time seemed to slow down. His lips moved, like he wanted to say something to her, to explain what had happened, but he couldnít find the words.
Silhouette wanted to say something too, but the words were choked off by rage.
So she hit him.
* * *
"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" Silhouette said, battering his chest with punches as hot tears of rage spilled from her eyes. "YOU SET ME UP!"
"SHUT UP!" She screamed, pummeling him. "I trusted you, Kienan! You KNEW how afraid I was and you . . .you . . ."
"I didnít . . .Silhouette, stop it," Kienan said, grabbing her wrists. She thrashed about in her grip, and Kienan had to hold her tight so she wouldn't start hitting him again. "Listen to me. I didn't set you up--"
"They've been following us since we left the apartment," Kienan said, twisting her arms so they were down at her sides. He wasn't all that eager to have her start hitting him again--the blows had already felt like his chest was going to cave in.
"I donít believe you."
"I saw them," Kienan said. "I was--Silhouette, damn it, listen to me and stop trying to get away--I know them. Theyíre a street gang who operates close to where I live. They're friends of the two I killed last night. I wanted to draw them out so I could deal with them."
Silhouette stopped thrashing so much. "Deal with them?"
"They were after us in revenge. It's not a big gang--these were the last."
Silhouette blinked. "The last--?"
"They're small-timers," Kienan said, feeling her relax.
"You were going to give me to them?" Silhouette demanded.
"No," Kienan said. "I killed them all. To protect you."
Silhouette went very still. "What are you talking--"
The realization hit her suddenly and she screwed her face up in an angry scowl again and tried to pull away from him. Kienan held her wrists tightly.
"Let me go."
"Kienan, let me GO."
Kienan acquiesced, and Silhouette took two steps back from him, rubbing her wrists as she eyed him warily.
This wasn't like before, where he'd appeared almost magically and saved her life. This was different, and a lot less idealized. Kienan had swiftly, efficiently murdered all of them, and now he was telling her that was his plan all along.
She didnít know what to think. Had this whole thing--his taking her home, taking care of her, spoiling her . . .had it all been just to bait this trap?
"Silhouette . . ." Kienan said, reaching for her.
"Donít touch me," she said. "Just . . .just leave me alone."
"I was trying to save you."
"By parading me in front of them," Silhouette said, staring at the wall at the end of the alleyway. She couldnít even look at him.
"They would have tried to take you again."
"You donít know that."
"Yes I do."
Silhouette's eyes narrowed on him. "How can you be so sure."
Kienan looked down suddenly. A few seconds pass.
"Because I know how people like that think."
Silhouette looked at him, aghast.
"I didnít think you'd understand," he said, still looking at the ground.
"I donít," Silhouette said. "God, I hate you."
"I did this for you, Silhouette."
"I didnít ask you to murder people for me!"
"But you trusted me."
"Yes. And that was a mistake," she hissed. The words of a joke from earlier in the day sharpened into a weapon on her lips.
"I guess I really am a terrible judge of character."
"You aren't," he said.
"Kienan, go away," she said. "Take all of this and . . .just leave. Forget me. I never want to see you again."
"You donít have anywhere to go."
"That's my problem."
"Silhouette, listen. Please."
"No. I'm not speaking to you anymore. Leave me alone."
Kienan took a deep breath. There was a deep stabbing pain within him, deeper than the injuries Silhouette had inflicted on him. There was nothing left to say to her--nothing that would change her mind, but all the same he couldn't move.
Finally, after what felt like ten minutes of staring at her back, he said something.
"I donít want to."
"I donít want to leave you alone," Kienan said. "I've been alone and . . .I'm either tired of it or starting to like it too much. It's been that way for as long as I can remember and . . .
"And when I look at you, I felt like maybe you knew what that was like. Whether you can't remember or I can't forget. We're alike. And I guess I thought . . .or I hoped . . .maybe we could help each other."
"Anyway . . .I'll go."
Kienan turned to leave, gathering the shopping bags up from where they'd been dropped on the floor of the alley.
"Why did you kill them?"
"There had to be another way," Silhouette said. "Couldnít you have just scared them off?"
"No," Kienan said. "They don't know any other way. I donít, either."
"I can't accept that. I'm not a killer."
"Are you sure?"
Silhouette turned around, annoyed. A harsh insult was on her lips, but in the process of turning around to face him, she saw the face of the man she'd killed. The shock made her momentarily forget the rage she felt for Kienan, and caused her to consider something she really didn't want to think about, that maybe he was right and there was something that bound the two of them together, after all.
But I didn't think that would be it, she thought.
I killed him, and I didn't hesitate. I was afraid, but looking at him now . . .I should be sorry, but I'm not.
If Kienan's right, they wanted the same thing as their friends. They deserved the same thing, and I guess they got it.
"Come with me," Kienan asked her.
"Kienan . . .I . . ."
"Silhouette, we have to get out of here," he said. "This isnít a highly patrolled street, but eventually someone's going to call this in."
"Where would I go?"
"I wonít keep you there," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "You just need somewhere safe to figure out your next move, and here isn't it."
"'Safe' isn't a word I associate with you anymore."
"Silhouette, you have to trust me."
"Neither is 'trust.'"
"Do you have a choice?"
* * *
Back at Kienan's apartment, Silhouette stared out the window at the brilliant constellation of city lights. Kienan stood behind her, and after awhile, Silhouette stopped looking at their reflections in the window, how he seemed to fall into the shadows and only a few details could be made out.
Her thoughts went back to that brief glimpse she'd got of him when they'd been here earlier--how his confident, almost arrogant demeanor seemed to melt and reveal something softer underneath, at the slightest word from her.
It was the same look he'd had in the alley, when he pleaded with her to come away with him.
And now, here in the glass, she saw a third face. A darker face, and one all too close to her. Almost like a devil on her shoulder.
She'd lost track of time turning things over and over in her head. Despite herself, her thoughts kept returning to the dead man in the alley, the one she'd killed. She couldn't remember consciously doing it; she just . . .did it.
And I've been waiting and waiting to feel bad about it, she thought. And I don't. I don't even feel bad about the men Kienan killed. I just hate that he lied to me about it.
She glanced back at his reflection.
He's definitely not the beautiful Prince Charming here to sweep you off your feet, she thought.
And what about you, Silhouette?
What are you?
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the weight of the realization settling on her like a quiet avalanche.
Not that innocent, she thought. Not any more.
And what, ultimately, are you, Kienan Ademetria?
She could keep quiet no longer, and said what was on her mind.
"You said you knew how people like that think," she said, the words coming slowly.
"It's what I do."
Silhouette closed her eyes.
"But you did what you did to protect me?"
He nodded again.
"That doesnít sound like a killer to me."
"It's different with you."
"Because I like you. Because . . ."
Silhouette turned to face him. "Because why?"
"You remember what I said today?" Kienan asked. "About how I might like to trade places with you and not remember some things?"
She nodded. His words fought with themselves on the way out, halted by fear and indecision. "Being with you, it's like . . .I can . . ."
"More like I'm in a place where it doesn't matter as much.
"I've never had that."
Silhouette let that hang in the air for a bit. It was a bit much to take in, the words as much as the man saying them to her. Reconciling the two of them wasn't easy.
He's a killer, she reminded herself. You've seen him do it twice now, and both times he never hesitated. He just . . .struck. Mercilessly. No doubt . . .no fear.
There was a dark corner of herself that envied that certainty, that ability to shove everything aside and act. Poles apart from the indecision that gripped her.
She'd had a taste of what that was like when she killed the man in the alley. Acting on instinct--swiftly, definitively, and mercilessly. It was, she was ashamed to admit, the most in control of her life that she could remember being. There was no panic, no angst over her memories, she was just certain, in everything she did and thought.
He looks in the mirror every day and never needs to question who he is, she thought. He knows, and he's not afraid of it.
And what am I?
What do I want?
"You're awfully quiet," Kienan said.
"I have a lot to think about, don't I?" Silhouette replied, her eyes meeting hers. "I've made a decision about you: I've decided you're really screwed up. I don't know if I like you, I donít even know where I would fit in with your life, or where I want to."
Kienan looked at the floor.
"And I'm really screwed up too. I must be, because . . .that doesnít matter," she said. "Because youíre my first memory. Nothing else stuck, but . . .you did. You do. I think that means something."
"God, I donít know," Silhouette said, moving closer to him, her hand touching his. "Kienan, do you think too people as messed up as we are can make a go of it?"
"Are we? Is that what this is?"
She wrapped her arms around him, looking up into his eyes. The coldness was gone completely, and she could finally see what was behind them.
They were mysteries to themselves and one another. There was no way possible it could work. They both knew it, and they both knew better.
But, as if in defiance of the facts, they held each other close all the same.
"Shh. Don't put a name on it," she said. "Let's just be together. We'll see what happens."