“You made it this long without being able to siphon gas for cars?” Kia demands, staring at me in awe.
I sigh. The questions keep coming, again and again. I don’t really mind them- and Kia doesn’t seem to mind my irritation. She has enough enthusiasm for the both of us.
“Yes,” I say simply.
She grins, full of happiness. “Wow! So, new question.”
“Another one? What are we doing, playing twenty questions?”
Her grin grows to impossibly wide standards. “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”
I study her, and smile slightly. “Go on and ask your question, Kia.”
“Who is she?” she asks, catching me off guard.
“You mentioned a ‘her’ before. Who is she?”
I freeze, stopping in my tracks. I stare straight ahead, not trusting myself to look at Kia. Because if I do, I might be tempted to tell her. I can’t do that. I can’t. It is too private. Too personal.
“She was someone important to you, wasn’t she?” Kia guesses. “Someone you loved. They took her, didn’t they?”
I look back at her. She puts a hand on my arm, her expression all tenderness and concern. “I know what that’s like,” she whispers. “I’m sorry.”
I brush her hand off with a flick of my hand. “No you don’t.”
She says nothing more. I begin to apologize, when there is a soft click.
“Don’t move, boy,” a voice hisses in my ear. I hear Kia breathe in sharply, and the voice speaks again. “You don’t move either, honey, or I’ll put a bullet through your head.”
A skip tracer.
This particular one- a woman who I call The Bloodhound- has been hunting me for weeks now. I had forgotten about her- probably a terrible mistake. It was most likely her that had been on the roof of that building, waiting for me to reveal myself so that she could shoot and capture me.
I can feel her breath on my ear. She is close behind me. How had she managed to sneak up on me?
“Now, you’re going to put your hands behind your back, slowly,” she hisses, her voice gleeful, “or your little girl here gets a bullet through her head. Don’t try anything.”
“Kia,” I whisper.
“I said don’t!” the woman snarls. “Be quiet!”
“Kia, duck,” I say, my voice still soft and quiet.
And that’s when all hell breaks loose.
I spin, my blow taking the skip tracer on the side of the head. She stumbles backwards, and I turn and shoot fire, not at her, but at the car.
It takes only seconds. The fire finds the gas tank. Everything happens at once. I lunge for Kia, tackling her to the ground. The skip tracer turns, eyes wide with shock. And the tank explodes.
Chunks of metal rain down around us, but Kia has enough sense to deflect them away from us using her ability. Eventually, the flame clears.
If the skip tracer is still here, they’re dead. If not, they aren’t coming back any time soon. They’ll need a new car.
I stand up, and help Kia to her feet. Then I freeze at the shocked expression on her face.
“What was that?” she asks.
I have no answer for that. I can’t tell her what I am- she’ll think I am a monster. She’ll hate me. I’ll lose her. So I lie.
“A malfunction with the gas tank, probably. Lucky timing.”
She doesn’t press the matter. “Okay.”
I sigh with relief. “Are you okay?”
She nods. “Yeah… I am now. That skip tracer… she was going to shoot you.”
“And you,” I point out. “She would have taken us both to camps.” There is a dark coldness to my voice when I say those words.
I can feel Kia’s eyes on me, but she doesn’t speak. She doesn’t ask. And in that silence, I can hear the agreement. I won’t ask. Not if you’re not comfortable. Again, I feel a quiet gratitude for this amazing girl. And even stronger, the protective instinct grows. There is no question about it. She is mine. And I will protect her.