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I made a mistake.
The suspicion stole through her body like a virus. Embry flexed her clammy hands on the steering wheel and glanced over at the passenger seat where Gage was sleeping, head tipped against the window. He looked terrible in the dying sun, the shadows under his eyes and the mottled bruising from the fight adding years to his face.
Embry knew he’d been up all night. She’d awakened twice to see him still standing in the dark, meditating. Not that it had done more than exhaust him. He’d been sleeping off and on all the way across Kansas and Colorado.
He couldn’t Walk.
Embry hadn’t expected that it would take this long. She’d gone into this expecting that giving him the antidote would be like lifting a curtain and all his memories would simply be there, as if they’d never been gone. She’d been naïve and foolish and selfish for thinking only of how he could help her. And now she was dragging him into a danger that he might not survive unless he could remember his skills as a Walker. They all might die if his memories didn’t fully return.
And what kind of life had she condemned him to if they did survive? Giving him back memories of the Mirus world eradicated any hope he had of going back to the life he’d built for himself.
It had never occurred to her that he would have built a nice life without her. She found herself unreasonably pissed off that he’d managed it so well.
He would be hunted. And it would be her fault. Again.
What have I done?
Gage jerked in his seat, bolting upright with fists curled at the ready.
“Bad dreams?” she asked quietly.
He relaxed his hands and scrubbed them over his face. “Where are we?”
“Middle of Wyoming somewhere. I forget the last town we passed. Wasn’t much to it other than a gas station and a post office.”
He settled back in his seat and lapsed into the relative silence of the road. It was one of those highways where something in the road made the tires go tha-dunk . . . tha-dunk. There was about 6 seconds from one tha-dunk to another. She figured that meant, what, 600 tha-dunks per hour?
She was at 438. Tha-dunk, 439.
“What did they threaten you with?” asked Gage.
Startled, Embry looked over at him, but she couldn’t read his face behind the mirrored sunglasses he’d fished out of the glove box. “What did who threaten me with?”
“The Council. Or the other Walkers. What did they threaten you and Adan with to keep you from coming after me? I figure it must have been pretty damn bad to keep you away this long.”
Potential lies tumbled through her mind. She was IED. No one but the Council knew the laws better than she did. It would be easy to spin a tale of threatened punishments to ease his mind. But it was the truth that fell from her lips. “They didn’t have to threaten us.”
In her periphery, she saw him glance at her.
“Did you think I’d be better off in my own world?”
Was he trying to give her some kind of out? Some way of proving that they’d had his best interests at heart? That they hadn’t just abandoned him, without family, without memory, in a world that didn’t give a damn about him?
“We thought you were dead.”
Gage tugged the sunglasses down the bridge of his nose and peered over them. “Come again?”
With a sigh, Embry squeezed her eyes shut for a moment before focusing back on the road. “When the Walkers came to the dojo that night, they intended to kill you. The plan was to cut you out of our lives, our world, in the only possible permanent way.”
“Yet here I am. Why? If they wanted me dead, I’d be dead. Walkers are nothing if not good with the follow through.”
They didn’t have to follow through. That’s what I was for. Despite the fact that he sat whole and breathing in the seat beside her, she’d lived too long with the guilt of killing him to stop the immediate flash of his body, bloody, burned, and broken on the floor of the dojo. She blinked the image and the immediate prick of tears away.
She took a bracing breath and decided to leave out her own role in what had happened that night. “Matthias had what you might call an attack of conscience. You know what their missions are like. Always follow the Council’s orders. Over the years he had quite a bit of innocent blood on his hands. You didn’t do anything to justify execution—not really. My father is the one who brought you into our world, raised you to be a Walker. It was he who broke the laws. You only did what you were told. Matthias had a contact—a witch he knew from way back who dealt in old magics. He got the Lethe potion from her and gave it to you. Taking away your memory was the only way he could avoid taking away your life.”
“Well bully for him,” said Gage drily. “So I take it he didn’t share that fact with you or Adan?”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t until the news came about my father’s capture and the Council handed down their decree that they wouldn’t be mounting an extraction mission that he broke his silence. And I think he only did then because he knew I would go no matter what.”
“And he knew it was a suicide mission,” he finished.
Tha-dunk. Tha-dunk. Tha-dunk. Tha-dunk.
“I wish I’d never gotten you involved,” said Embry.
“Now hold on a damn minute. I know I haven’t been successful Walking yet, but I’m not exactly a liability.” The first hint of temper crackled in his voice.
“That’s not what I meant.” She took a breath. “I didn’t think of you when I made this decision. I haven’t done a helluva lot of thinking at all since my father was captured. When Matthias presented you as an option for help, I jumped at it. Apart from the gift of you being alive, I knew no one else would cover my back better. But I didn’t give a single thought to the consequences for you. I took your life away, Gage. And there’s nothing I can do to reverse that. I dragged you back into my world for purely selfish reasons, without any regard to whether you wanted it or not. There’s a really strong possibility that you’ll get hurt or killed. I’ve been through that loss before. So yeah, I wish I’d never gotten you involved.”
“So you’d rather I’d have stayed safe and ignorant?”
“Something like that.”
“Fuck that, Embry. Give me some damned credit. Yeah, I’ve built a life for myself. One I even happen to like a lot about. But it’s hollow. Whatever friends or connections I made, they never erased the sense that I had family somewhere out there. People who loved me, who missed me, who cared if I lived or died. You and Adan are my family. I would do anything for either of you. If you think I’d rather have stayed blank the rest of my life while both of you died, when I could’ve done something to help, you’re sadly mistaken.”
“I’m sorry my worrying offends you, Gage, but it doesn’t change the circumstances. I don’t want to lose you both.”
“Pull into this rest stop,” he snapped.
She took the exit, following the drive to the squat sandstone building that served as the restroom. There were no other cars. Without a word, Gage shoved open the door and climbed out of the car. Embry assumed they would finish the argument when he got back from relieving himself, but he stalked beyond the building.
She got out herself. “Where are you going?”
“I’m taking a fucking walk,” he called back from the dark.
* * *