"Kate?" Derek's alarmed voice demanded my attention. If only I could speak, I'd be okay.
I wished I could cry or something; I needed, desperately wanted, a release, but my eyes were dry and that pressure remained locked in me, battering me with pain.
Derek pushed from the pillow toward me. He'd gone pale, his new face rigid like a mask.
He put his forehead against my hair, his arms around my shoulders. I hung suspended in my own painful world, like a speck in a storm.
"You can't do this to me again." My voice sounded rusty, as though it hadn't been used in years. "You can't show me you're in trouble but not let me help. Not let me do anything."
"I won't," he promised.
"I can't deal with the guilt."
"I promise, I won't."
Everyone I dared to care about died, violently and in pain. My mother died putting a knife into Roland's eye, because he wanted to kill me. She was stolen from me before I had a chance to remember her. My dad died in his bed. I didn't even know how or why. He had sent me on a training run, three days in the wilderness, just me and a knife. The smell had hit me ten yards from the front door. I found him in his bed. He was bloated. His skin had blistered and fluids had leaked from his body. He'd disemboweled himself - the sword was still clamped in his hand. I was fifteen.
Greg died on assignment. We'd had a fight a few weeks before his death and we didn't part on good terms. He was ripped to pieces, his body shredded as if it had gone through a cheese grater.
Bran was stabbed through the back. He was almost immortal, and still he died, in my arms. I so desperately tried to keep him alive, I nearly brought him into undeath.
It was as if Death stalked me, like a cruel and cowardly enemy, taunting me, eating away at the edges of my world by stealing those I cared about. It didn't just kill; it obliterated. Every time I got distracted, it would snatch another friend from me and destroy him.
Derek had fit that pattern to a T. A part of me had known with absolute certainty that he would die just like the others. I had imagined it so vividly, I could picture myself standing over his corpse.
Explaining all this would be tedious and painful. "I thought you would die," I said simply.
"I did, too. I'm sorry."
We sat for a long time. Finally when the storm inside me calmed, I stirred, and Derek let go and turned away, hiding his face. When he looked back at me, he'd put his Pack wolf composure back on.
"Some hard-asses we are."
"Yeah. We're tough," he said with a grimace.
"Tell me about the girl."
"Her name's Olivia," he said. "Livie. I met her at the Games. She'd slip away once the bouts started and we'd talk. She's young. Her parents have money. They love her, but she was unhappy."
"Poor little rich girl?"
He nodded. "Livie never knew her real dad. Her mom married her stepdad when she was two.
She said her mom dressed her up like a little doll. They both treated her like she was a golden child. Like she was special. And then she grew up and realized she was pretty but not that special: not that bright, not that talented, not gifted with magic. She told me she'd make up stories about her dad being some magic prince."
"She wanted very much to be more than what she was?" I guessed.
It was hard to grow up believing yourself to be a star and smash headfirst into the realization that only your parents thought you were one.
"She got herself a 'special' rich boyfriend. She didn't even like him that much, but he treated her like she was walking on clouds, just like her mom. He brought her to the Games and they ran into the Reapers. The Reapers recognized her. Jim said you know about rakshasas. Well, they told her she was half. If she joined them, they'd let her go through this rite to unlock her powers. She would be able to change shapes like them and to fly. There was one catch: once she started the rites, she couldn't stop."
A sick feeling claimed my stomach. "Did she agree?"
"She did." Derek grimaced. "She said she wanted to go back to the clubs where all her friends hung out and show off her new powers."
"That's shallow and stupid."
He nodded. "I know."
"Did she complete the rite?"
"Not yet. It's long, takes several weeks. They started her on small stuff. Killing some animals.
At first she liked it a little. I could tell by the way she told me - she was excited, proud of herself. She thought she was hard-core. But it got real bad in a hurry."
"They made her do some really sick shit." Derek shrugged. "Some of it might have been for a purpose, but some . . . They made her torture other rakshasas who needed punishment. I don't know if the rites were actually meant to unlock anything. I think they just got off on watching her pervert herself. She decided she couldn't take it anymore."
"Only there's no way out," I said.
"Yeah. She asked me for help. I told her I'd help her, but alone I wouldn't be enough. It would have to be a trade for the Pack to be involved. She agreed to tell us everything about the rakshasas and the Diamond. She said some mysterious guy made a deal with them.
They're supposed to get the Wolf Diamond and use it against the Pack. She'd tell us all about it if we got her out." He sighed. "Most of the rest you already know. I went to Jim with it, and he said no and cut me off. I went to Saiman to steal the tickets, gave you the note, arranged for the transport, and headed to the spot to pick her up. When I got there, they were waiting for me. At least I put up a good fight."
"Was she there?"
"What did she do?"
"She watched," he said.
"Didn't try to help? Didn't protest?"
He shook his head.
"Tell me about the beating."
"They jumped me, four on one. I had two shards in me with the first punch. Then there was more of them. Cesare, the big one with tattoos, supervised it. His ink slides off his body and twists into snakes with several heads. When they bite, it burns like ice. Not much to tell. I fought. I lost. It hurt."
Cesare was going to die.
"You're going after the girl?" I asked, even though I knew the answer.
"As soon as I'm strong enough. Shouldn't be long now. Doc says that the virus in my body was suppressed but it still multiplied while the shards were embedded. Now I'm healing at a record rate. I'll be on my feet in a few hours."
"You understand that she doesn't love you?" I kept my voice calm.