Chapter 28: Daddy Issues

Keel and I sat on the rooftop in silence, watching the sun crest the horizon and creep up into the cloudless, cerulean-blue sky. His arm had dropped from my shoulder to my waist, but remained wrapped around me. I was hyper aware of it, not just because of the sense of emotional wellbeing Keel's touch brought, but because I was waiting for some twitch, some sudden tightening of muscles, some signal that death was near.

A death I'd sworn I'd do nothing about.

I'm not sure why we didn't talk, but I don't think either of us wanted our final conversation to be about what had transpired earlier; it was bad enough this had to be done because of that, further verbalizing it wasn't going to change anything. But that didn't mean I wasn't thinking about it. My brain urged caution, but the bond was deaf to its pleas, and my heart could only hear the ticking sound of time running out.

Still, I couldn't say goodbye. I didn't want to. Not yet. I would not say that word until I had to. I was barely holding it together as it was. And those seven letters would decimate me.

I'd hit emotional overload hours ago; my feelings were starting to register as physical pain. The thought of watching Keel die in my arms, with no hope of reprieve, clenched my heart in an ever-tightening vice, and knowing I had to go to meet my father – the man who was responsible for all this – soon afterwards, made my temples throb.

This whole thing sucked, in every possible way.

Keel and I stayed like that a long time, determined to face his death together, head-on, bravely, even as my legs and butt grew prickly from the lack of motion. A Zen-like acceptance drifted through the bond to me, a non-verbal communication telling me he was okay with it, so I should be too. But once the sun was well on its way to its noon-time zenith, I was starting to think it wasn't going to happen, at least not the way he thought it would.

I was relieved when Keel spoke, breaking the silence and finally putting words to what I'd been thinking for the last hour. "What the hell?"

"How do you feel?" I asked, even though I knew he was just fine. There hadn't been so much as a hitch in the bond since I'd sat down beside him.

"Guilty and angry at myself, mostly," Keel admitted, "but otherwise no different than yesterday. It doesn't make any sense. If we don't die, what happens to those who don't transition?"

I shrugged. "No idea. You're the one who's read all the books."

Keel stood up unexpectedly, and I had to thrust my arms out behind me just to stop myself from falling over. "I have to go back to compound," he announced. Of all the things he could've said, I wasn't expecting that. He couldn't go back, not without... then I understood what he meant, what he was still determined to do. I felt sick to my stomach.

"But they'll kill you," I said, unable to stop myself from imagining the myriad ways the Nosferatu might prolong his suffering in the process. Torture was, of course, one of their specialties. But he knew that, and yet he was willing to–

"If I stay here, I'll kill you. Maybe others."

"You don't know that for sure." It was hard enough agreeing to let nature run its course, but the idea of allowing him to go back to be murdered was repellent. And it was definitely giving up. And we did not give up. I was about to give him an earful about it, but I didn't get the chance.

"Yes, I do. What do you think that was last night?" Keel said. He was looming over me, casting me into his shadow. "That was too close, that's what that was."

"So what? We've been playing with fire since the day we met and, as I remember it, you used to enjoy it."

Keel wrung his hands, seemingly frustrated that this was where I'd decided to make my stand. "If I kill you now, then all this – all my sacrifice – will have been for nothing."

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