They stepped out of the darkness, bleeding and bruised and Renna’s ribs were definitely broken, but alive. They were alive.
“Guys,” Molly said, still breathing hard and leaning on Johnny. “We did it.”
For a few seconds, Renna only stood there. The cliffs in front of her. The cave behind her. The sun, hot on her face. The breeze running through her hair. She didn’t think she’d ever see either again. She hadn’t even realized that until right that second. Then she turned, looking at her friends. Her family, now. All celebrating. Well, with whatever energy they had left. It was then she noticed Luke, leaning against the rocks in the shade. He was watching her with those curious eyes. Eyes like deep pools, pools she had longed to swim to the bottom of. They stayed on her as she crossed, limping on her twisted ankle.
“You did it,” he said.
“We did it.”
“Maybe. But it was mostly you.” He picked up a rock from the ground and tossed it between his hands. “Renna, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ll never stop saying it. I…I feel like it’ll never be enough.”
But Renna waved a hand. “I forgive you.”
The startled look on his face was almost enough to make her giggle. Almost. Mostly, when she looked at him, she just felt tired.
“You helped us. In the end. How could I not?”
Luke dropped the stone and reached for her hand. He let her take it. “I’m so glad to hear that, Renna. Because…oh, shit…Renna, I love you.”
She had known it was coming, on some level. It still didn’t change the way she felt. The ice running down her back. The way her stomach flipped. The barbed needles of hatred pushing their way into her heart.
“I thought I loved you,” Renna said, taking her hand back. “You know, earlier. Before I found out you had been betraying us from the very beginning.”
Luke’s face fell open, and this time Renna had to clench her jaw to keep from laughing. She could hear the others behind her, their celebrations quieting as they heard the words between them.
“Renna, I…it wasn’t my fault. He’s owned my soul for so long before we met. I didn’t have a choice.”
“You could have told us. You could have your little change of heart before leading us right to him. Maybe then my ankle wouldn’t be the size of a melon. Maybe Molly wouldn’t have that head injury.”
“And you know,” Renna continued, shifting her weight. “Even if you had told us before, just the fact that you had sold yourself to him in the first place-”
Luke’s face turned dark, and he turned away from her. Over-dramatically, if you asked her. “You don’t know what it was like. My childhood…if you could even call it that-”
“Oh, come on,” Renna said. “Your childhood sucked so that excuses everything you’ve done? I’ve got news for you, buddy. Everyone has trauma. We’ve all got shit we don’t want to talk about. Not everybody sells themselves to the dark side because of it.”
Luke turned to glare. This was not what he was expecting. In fact, if Renna’s eyes were clear, she was fairly certain he was planning on doing something. Maybe ‘planning’ was too formal a word for whatever lizard-brain processes were happening. His eyes darted to spaces behind her. Molly. Johnny. Andre. All beaten to hell and back but certainly able to put skinny little Luke in his place. His face softened to practically a pout.
“You said you forgive me.”
“I did. I do. You betrayed us. But then you betrayed him, risking your own life and saving us. We never would have gotten out of there without you, and for that I’m grateful. But-” she continued, cutting him off. “That doesn’t mean I can love you anymore. Or even look at you for too long.”
Luke scowled, but there was something new there, hiding in those eyes. Fear. “What does it mean, then?”
“It means I’m letting you go.”
He snorted. “Go where?”
“Wherever you want. You’ve started back on a better path, Luke. Follow it. Become the better person I think…I hope…you can become. Maybe you’ll find yourself a new place. A new woman. One who has the energy to deal with your shit. Because, honestly, I don’t.”
“I can change, Renna. I…you make me want to be a better person.”
“Yeah, and that’s great. But like I said…I can never trust you again, you get that, right? I almost died. Because of you. Ugh. That’s…that’s all I can take. We’re leaving. Maybe you should go down the other side of the cliff.”
Renna turned around and found Andre ready to help her down the beaten path. If Renna had had any doubts about what she was saying to Luke – and she didn’t, not really, but if she did – they were all gone at seeing her friends’ faces. Happiness tinged with relief.
“I love you, Renna!” Luke called after her.
“That’s nice,” she called back.
“You won’t find anyone else like me!”
And still he kept shouting after them, although he very much did not try to follow thanks to the glares Molly and Johnny were giving them. Renna really did hope he would find a way to be a better person. Almost as much as she hoped she’d never see his stupid face again.