Home > Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(5)

Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(5)
Author: T.A. White

That had been all Shandry's doing. Good to know.

Kira lifted her head and faced her oldest friend, reading the emotional turbulence in him as clearly as if he'd been human.

"Before," Kira admitted softly.

There was a choked sound from Jace as he sat hard. Raider's expression closed down, a stoic mask descending.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Jace asked. "We could have helped."

"How?" Her voice sounded dead. She'd never wanted anyone to know this. It had been her burden to bear.

"I don't know. Someone else could have taken your place."

Kira scoffed. "It was war, Jace. Every one of us faced death each time we suited up. Mine was simply a little more inescapable."

"You didn't always have to be on the front lines," he argued. "There would have been options if you'd simply told somebody."

"Who would you have had me send in my place?" she challenged. "Who should I have chosen? Elise? Raider? You? I knew the risks. Everyone did. That didn't change because there was something inside tearing me apart."

He shook his head. He folded his arms across his chest, his jaw clenching as if he were biting back more words.

"No doubt whatever you were doing to help the humans made things worse," Shandry said crisply.

Kira fixed a look on her, that monstrous creature inside that took over when times were dark fixated on Shandry. It longed to break the healer's neck. It would be so easy.

The healer looked soft. Zero combat ability.

Two seconds and Kira could be across the table. A second after that and crack, no more annoying healer.

Finn shifted, correctly interpreting Kira’s precarious mood. Her control right now was gossamer thin.

"The Tuann pay a price for our power," Silas said into the silence. "Left unchecked the effects of unbalanced ki kill."

Jace's gaze sharpened. "What are you saying?"

"We can heal you," Silas promised, his eyes never leaving Kira's.

"And all you want in exchange is everything I am," she said bitterly.

"You would be alive."

Her smile was brief and didn't reach her eyes. "There are things worse than death."

Shandry slapped the table. "You're making this more difficult than it has to be. We're offering you a way to survive. Don't you want to live?"

Of course, she did. Almost more than anything else in the world.

But that was the sticking point—almost. There were important things she needed to do. Things that no one else could.

Kira touched a spot on the inside of her elbow. One such thing suddenly felt unbearably heavy.

She was at a crossroads. Go with Roake and let them fix her. But then, who knew how long it would take her to get the data she'd downloaded from the Nexus to Odin.

Or don't go with them and seal her fate.

What a choice to make.

"How long does she have?" Jace asked.

Shandry shrugged. "It's difficult to say. Five to ten years maybe. Less if she keeps abusing her ki the way she is."

Raider made a derisive sound. "Your notion of immediacy needs work."

He wasn't wrong. The Tuann life span hadn't been definitively confirmed but she knew they lived for hundreds of years, perhaps longer. To them, ten years would feel like a blink of an eye.

Kira lifted her chin. "I've been beating impossible odds my whole life. Nothing says I can't do it again."

Shandry made a scornful sound. "Your ignorance is going to see you dead."

Kira bared her teeth at the healer and leaned forward. Satisfaction filled her as the other woman flinched. "It's my life to risk."

"You're going to do this," Jin said calmly.

Kira sent a hard glance at him. "You don't speak for me. I don't care what our history is."

No one had that right.

"You're going to give them a chance," he continued as if she hadn't spoken.

"You overstep." There was a threat in Kira's voice.

Jin swung around to face her, pointing his eye at her. "They're giving you a chance the rest of the forty-three didn't have."

Graydon shifted, interest in his expression.

"And you're going to throw it away because you're afraid they'll make you care again," Jin accused.

"This isn't the time for this conversation." Never would be Kira's preference.

"You lied. You said there wasn't anything to worry about." Grief and rage boiled in his voice, enough so the Tuann across from them looked at him with interest.

Most saw Jin as a machine; he wasn't. He had been a person once. A boy like her who, after being mortally wounded, had somehow attached his soul to a military-grade combat drone.

Kira's mouth clicked shut as she stared at her friend, guilt a boulder in her chest. Her gaze dropped, and she rubbed her forehead. Her reasons had been sound, but that didn't change the fact she'd lied. Something she'd said she'd never do with him.

"You're going to do this for me. You're going to give them a chance," he said in a calm voice that belied the upheaval she could sense through their bond.

Kira started to protest. She'd do a lot for him, die if necessary, but this was asking a bit much.

"Elise isn't the only one you made promises to," he hissed.

Kira flinched. Her mouth snapped closed on what she'd been about to say. The resulting silence had a weight, awkward and horrible, as she forced herself to keep her eyes up and her attention on her friend.

Next to her, Raider had stilled as he watched the two of them with barely veiled interest.

"You promised me things too," Jin told her, his voice grave. "You don't get to leave because you're afraid. I know you better than you know yourself. You're going with them, and you're going to let them help you."

"And if I don't?" she forced herself to ask. She had to know.

"We're done, and I never want to see you again."

Kira inhaled deeply, not letting herself outwardly react. Of any threat he could have made, he knew this one would hit home. Worse, she could tell he meant it. This wasn't one of those times where he'd get angry and then forgive her a few hours later. If she walked away now, she was doing it alone.

She folded her arms across her chest, resisting the urge to hunch in on herself. She'd never been separated from Jin for any length of time. The prospect of losing him—it was too terrible to contemplate.

Sometimes you didn't know what you had until you lost it. Sometimes you knew, but you managed to fuck it up anyway.

He had a point. She had made him promises. Herself too.

Like it or not, they were both defined by what had happened to them as children. It was a weight they dragged behind them no matter where they went or what they did to escape it. They had forced themselves to rise above it but still carried the scars.

Kira's were too many to enumerate; Jin's fewer but more complicated.

He feared abandonment, of facing this world alone, a monster no one could ever truly understand.

Those first few years had been difficult, and Kira thought she'd lose him again. She'd vowed to find him a way back to a body—barring that, she would never leave his side.

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