A Cloak of Lies Ch. 07bySweetWitch©
A Cloak of Lies By Molly Wens
Camille threw an arm across her eyes to block out the beam of the overhead lamp that penetrated her sleep. She moaned, pulling away from the hand that grasped her shoulder.
"Agapi," an achingly familiar voice said. "Time to get up."
Her heart jumped in her chest. Was that Niko's voice? Her Niko? How could that be?
Then a torrent of memories flooded her sleep-fogged brain, reminding her of the events of the last few days. Niko was alive, and he'd stolen her away from her home and her carefully reconstructed life.
Fresh anger, and an equally deep sadness, drew a pained growl from her throat. Shoving his hand away, she sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her muscles groaned in protest, aching from her new life on the run. Glancing around, she realized that she was still in the stolen motor home with the first gray streaks of predawn light illuminating the horizon outside the window.
Olan was asleep, or unconscious, on the bed next to her. She didn't remember crawling into the sack with him, but judging by the look on Niko's face, it probably wasn't the wisest thing she'd ever done. He looked positively enraged.
"What's the matter, Honey?" she asked with a voice dripping poison. "Seeing your wife in bed with another man too upsetting for you? Deal with it."
"You two at it again?"
Both turned to see Olan's pale face, an amused grin hiding his obvious pain. Camille was instantly contrite for having disturbed his rest. Carefully pulling herself off the bed, she bent over his body to check his bandages.
"Your fever's down a bit," she said while laying a hand on his forehead. "Think you could drink some water?"
Olan nodded slightly, grimacing at the pain that the movement caused. Niko picked up the bottle from the side table to hand to her. Camille snatched it from him without glancing at his face, holding it to Olan's lips. He drank eagerly, sputtering softly when he tried to swallow too fast.
"We gotta get you inside, Buddy," Niko said, pulling the blanket from his friend. "There's a soft bed in there with your name on it."
The new hideout was perfect. Nestled in the densely forested land deep in the Ozark Mountains, it allowed them creature comforts as well as seclusion. The large home was made almost entirely of logs and stood two stories high.
The three bedrooms were situated upstairs, each with its own exit to the balcony that spanned the top floor. Camille had insisted on putting Olan in the middle room, effectively putting a buffer between her bedroom and the one that Niko would occupy.
She had to smile to herself when he growled about it, but she refrained from comment until he announced that he was going to dispose of the motor home, and would likely be gone all day.
"You can't go out there. It'll be light soon."
"It has to be done, Camille. I need to take it as far away as possible and find us some alternate wheels. We also need supplies."
"You can get supplies in Cabool. There're a couple of grocery stores there, you know."
Shaking his head, Niko tried to cool his irritation before speaking again.
"I can't take that chance. We have to stay as quiet as possible and make sure that nobody sees us. It's better I do it this way. I can get what we need in Springfield or some other town."
She frowned at him, casting a glance up the stairway toward the bedrooms.
"At least get a couple hours' rest before you go. You look like hell."
"I'm touched by your concern," he growled, running a hand through his hair. "Just take care of Olan till I get back."
Then he was gone without a backward glance, leaving her alone with an injured man and her growing paranoia. If only Allinson had kept a phone hooked up at the cabin, things would be easier. Camille desperately wanted to speak to Doug, if only to let him know that she was still alive and to hear the reassurance of his voice.
She would have to find a telephone somewhere. The suspicion that Niko had so carefully nurtured in her began to take hold. She could easily sneak out while he was gone, and hike the few miles to town. There she would find a phone and could make the call, but what if she were seen? Besides, there was no way she could leave Olan alone. What if something happened and he needed help?
Camille was reduced to pacing the floor, trapped in her own indecision. Her nerves were frazzled, her mind on edge. The dull throb that had started at the base of her skull the moment she woke in the motor home had developed into a full-blown headache. On top of that was the burning sensation in her stomach that made her want to vomit.
She realized that it had been days since she had eaten a real meal. It had also been too long since Olan had eaten. An hour later, after spooning thin broth into his mouth, she sat staring at her own bowl of canned chowder. She just couldn't bring herself to eat the bland soup, no matter how hard she tried.
Alternating between walking the main floor of the cabin and climbing the stairs to check on Olan, she found herself exhausted. A beautiful day had dawned, but wariness kept her inside. Now, as darkness approached, every sound in and around the cabin had her jumping in fright.
How long would it be before Niko found his way back? What was keeping him? The questions grew louder in her brain until she wanted to scream.
She had no idea when it was that she had dozed off, or what it was that woke her, but she found herself sitting bolt upright on the sofa with a long, slow chill running the length of her spine. She sat for a moment, scarcely daring to breathe in the darkened cabin, listening. Camille was just about to berate herself for being afraid of the boogeyman, when she heard a car door slam.
Clamping her teeth down on her bottom lip to keep from screaming, she scampered to the kitchen in search of the gun Niko had insisted she keep. Just as her fingers closed around the grip, she heard the front door open.
It had to be Niko. Who else could it be? But why didn't he call out to her or turn on the lights? She pressed herself against the wall just inside the kitchen door. The blood drumming in her ears was so loud she could barely hear the person's footsteps as he slowly crossed the parlor floor.
She heard the creak of the swinging kitchen door as it started to open. As if in slow motion, the door was pushed inch by inch until Camille could see the toe of a shoe silhouetted at the bottom.
With all her strength, she threw her body against the door. There was a loud thud and the pained yelp of a man whose face had just collided with solid wood, followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor.
Grabbing the edge of the still-swinging door, Camille threw it open, planting her feet wide to hold it there, pointing the gun at the face of the intruder.
"Thee mou, woman," Niko hissed. "Are you trying to kill me?"
Her stomach did a flip. She gulped at the air around her to keep herself from puking all over him. It was sheer force of will that moved her thumb slowly off the hammer and eased her finger from the trigger.
Niko reached up, took the gun gently from her cold fingers and worked his way out from between her legs and off the floor. Laying the gun on a side table, he reached out to touch her.
Camille jerked away from his hand, jumping back to let the door swing shut again. She walked to the table, her legs barely able to support her as she pulled out a chair and sat down.
Burying her head in her hands, she realized that she would have shot the man. She would have looked him in the eye and killed him as if his life didn't matter. His being Niko only made that reality worse. What was she turning into?
The ceiling lamp flashed on. The glare would have been blinding had she not had her face covered with her hands. She could hear Niko moving about behind her, turning on the water, opening cabinets.
"You okay?" he asked from somewhere to her left.
When she didn't answer him, he moved closer. His hand touched her shoulder while he gently pried her fingers from her face.
"Camille? It's all right. You're safe now."
"No. It's not all right. Nothing is all right," she whispered, staring at his feet. "I almost shot you."
"But you didn't," he said soothingly as he crouched down to look at her face. "I'm just glad you did what I told you. You kept the gun..."
Her arms shot out, shoving him away and knocking him off balance. She was on her feet and across the room, glaring at his sprawling form on the kitchen floor.
"I'm turning into a killer. I'm becoming like you," she accused. "How many people have you murdered, Niko?"
"None," he snapped. "Whenever I killed someone it was out of self-defense."
"I don't know. I didn't keep count."
He pulled himself from the floor, his face like a thundercloud ready to burst. The man was as angry as she had ever seen him, but she didn't care.
"I won't let you do this. I won't be like you," she said, backing away as he advanced. "Let me go. I want to go home."
"Don't be an idiot. They'd get you before you got to the front door. I did all of this for you, Camille. I came back for you."
"No, you didn't."
Her flat statement stopped him in his tracks.
"Just what the hell do you think I did it for?"
"Yourself. You're an arrogant prick, Niko. You always were. I just didn't see it until you decided to come back from the dead. Everything you've done was for your own wants and needs. You never took anyone else's thoughts or feelings into consideration."
"Oh, and you're so selfless," he retorted. "All you've done since I saved your life was talk about getting away from me and back to your beau-hunk. It's all about how your life was interrupted and your future that was ruined. Did you ever stop for one minute to think what I went through to get to you? And what about Olan? He almost got killed trying to help..."
"Trying to help you," she yelled, cutting him off. "You almost got your partner killed, chasing your selfish dreams of a past you can never get back."
She advanced on him then, poking a long finger into his chest.
"Get this through your head, secret agent-man. There is no 'us' anymore. You walked out. You left me to die with a broken heart. Well, I survived you. You hear me? I survived."
Niko surprised her by taking a step back, turning his face away from her.
"I'm sorry, Camille. If I could change it all, I would. You're all I ever wanted... When I woke up in that hospital and they told me I had to stay away..."
He turned to look at her again, his dark eyes nearly tearing a hole in her soul. The pain he revealed to her was real and more forlorn than anything he had shown her so far. It stabbed at her heart, making her hate herself for the words she had hurled so carelessly at him.
"You're bleeding," she said, only now seeing the crimson streak that trailed down the right side of his face.
"Yeah, well, I got hit in the face with a door."
"Serves you right for sneaking around in the dark," she said with little conviction. "Does it hurt?"
"Like you care..."
"I do care, Niko," she sighed, stepping forward. "Let me have a look."
"Ouch. Damn, woman. Take it easy."
"Stop whining, you big baby. I barely touched you. Sit down so I can clean it up."
She found a towel, wetting it at the sink. As she turned back to him, she saw the way he looked at her, the sadness in his eyes. The emotion those soulful eyes stirred in her made her want to kick herself. Why was she feeling sorry for him?
"Don't look at me like that," she murmured as she raised the towel to his face.
"Like a lost puppy."
"Sorry. Just wondering when you'll decide to forgive me."
"When hell freezes," she groused, taking a vicious stab at the cut above his eye.
He grunted in pain, flinching away from her hand. Feeling contrite, she took a deep breath and tried once again to be gentle as she cleaned the wound. As she leaned closer, his scent reached her nostrils. He had always smelled like wind, rain and all things masculine.
She felt the warmth of his hand as it settled over the curve of her hip, felt the way her body responded to his touch. Gritting her teeth, she tried to focus on first aid and not the sudden desire to get lost in his arms.
"You need a couple of stitches in this," she murmured.
"It'll heal," he said, pulling her hand from his face. "Agapi, I love you. You know that, don't you?"
"I know you think you do, Niko."
"What would it take to prove it to you?"
"Let me go."
"No," he growled fiercely, seizing her arms.
He stood, dragging her against him as his chair toppled backwards.
"I won't let you go. I can't. You're mine, damn it."
"Yours? You mean you own me? I'm not a piece of steak, idiot. You can't just order me, carve me up to your liking and consume me. I'm my own person now."
"That's not the way I meant it, and you know it. We belong together, Camille."
"We used to," she whispered, suddenly feeling close to tears. "I used to pray to you at night, used to beg you to come back. But you didn't. I was so alone, Niko. I didn't want to believe them, but I had to let you go or die. So I finally accepted your death. I finally had to face the truth that you were gone forever.
"Now you have to do the same for me. I need you to let me go and let me get on with my life."
His features hardened into a mask of fury. She thought he was going to explode. Then his expression changed to one of sorrow and finally to that of resignation.
"I'll let you go, Camille," he rasped. "I'll let you go after I get you someplace safe. You can wait till then to be rid of me, can't you?"
She closed her eyes, not wanting to see his wounded expression. Nodding, she pulled back slowly, feeling his hands release her arms. She wondered why there was a sudden burning pain in her chest or why she felt like falling apart.
"What did you expect?" Olan said a few days later, his sharp eyes watching Niko and making him uncomfortable. "You can't force a woman to love you."
"I don't need to hear it, Pal."
"Growling at me ain't gonna fix it, you know. You knew going in that she has a new life now. You didn't really expect her to take one look at her long-dead husband and fall back with her legs in the air, did you?"
"Shut up and eat your damned eggs," Niko said, turning to look out the window.
He felt like hell. His head ached from the stress of walking on metaphorical eggshells all the time. He was tired from all the running and the sleepless nights spent tossing, wondering why his wife no longer wanted anything to do with him.
Camille had spoken to him only when forced in the days since he had returned to the cabin to get his skull dented by the kitchen door. They'd had a fight, a bad one and he'd promised to let her go.
He'd been regretting that promise since the moment the words flew from his mouth. There was no way he was going to be able to keep it. He might just as well cut his own jugular as to turn loose of his only reason for living.
She was giving him no cause for hope, either. Camille kept to herself, locked away in her room for hours on end. The only time she came out was when she was sure that he wasn't around. What little he'd seen of her only told him how much she was suffering inside. She was growing thinner, paler with each passing day.
He had brought food to her, even left it outside her door when she'd refused to open up, but she had eaten little. The woman was wasting away and there seemed to be nothing he could do about it. Things had to change or she would be too weak and too sick to keep up when it was time to run again.
"You gotta do something, Niko," Olan said around the bite he'd just taken. "When she came in to check on me last night, she didn't look so good. This whole thing's eating her alive."
"You think I don't know that? I've tried. She won't talk to me. She won't eat."
"From the sound of the traffic in the next room, she doesn't sleep much either."
"I know. I hear her pacing up and down the stairs all night."
Niko turned to face the bed where his friend lay.
"How long do you think she can keep this up?" Niko asked earnestly.
"I don't know. She looked to me like she was ready to keel over any minute. If I were you, I'd get in there and make sure she eats something."
"What am I supposed to do, just shove the food down her throat with a ram rod?"
"She'd tear you a new one," Olan laughed. "That's something I'd pay money to see. No, my friend. You're going to have to go in there and humble yourself. Beg, if you have to. Do whatever it takes to make her come out of it. Whatever you decide, you better do it fast. I'll be ready to go in another day or two."
"You ready to get out of this bed and try your legs?" Niko asked, taking the empty plate from Olan.
"Yeah. Been layin' around too long as it is."
Setting the plate aside, Niko bent to offer a hand, grasping Olan's good arm. Once on his feet, Olan took a minute to get his balance before taking a few tentative steps across the room.
"She's a good woman, Niko. She deserves a hell of a lot better than what she got from life."
"Better than what she got from me, you mean," Niko said, holding out his arms in case he needed to keep the other man from falling.
"Yeah. Listen, Niko. You didn't have a lot of choice in all of this, but you made a mistake going after her. You shoulda left it up to the Company to protect her."
"Oh, right. That turned out so well. The assholes had her staked out as bait. If we hadn't gotten there..."
Niko let his voice trail off, not wanting to say aloud what might have happened if they hadn't gotten there in time.
"Did it occur to you that the only time she was in real danger was the minute you decided to get to her? Jesus, man. Think. They didn't swarm in on her house until you showed yourself. You're the reason she's on the run now."
"You're a real prick, Olan."
"I know it, partner, and so are you."
It galled Niko to no end that his friend and partner of nearly eight years was right. That's why, several hours later, he found himself waiting outside Camille's door, ready to beg if need be.
"I know you're in there, Camille. I just want to talk."
There was silence, the void of sound nearly deafening in the shadowy hallway. He was about to knock again when he heard a shuffle in the room beyond the door. Then the door opened, just enough for him to see her gaunt face through.
"What is it?"
"I want you to come downstairs... I mean, would you please come downstairs? I fixed dinner and thought it would be nice to sit with you to eat."
"I'm not hungry, Niko."
He blocked the door from closing with his hand, resisting the urge to shove it open and yank her out.
"Please, Camille. I'm worried about you. Just come downstairs. You used to think I was a good cook."
"I'm not dressed for dinner," she said, stepping back from the door.
As the door opened a little farther, he got a good look at her. She was dressed in a ratty old robe the like of which he'd only seen on the old woman that lived next door to his family when he was growing up. He had to stifle a grin.
"Where the hell did you get that?" he said, trying not to laugh.
"I found it in the closet. Allinson must've left it on one of her visits," she said, looking at his face. "Oh, go ahead and laugh. At least it's not those filthy jeans I've been wearing all week."
He let a chuckle slip before he sobered.
"You look beautiful to me. I don't care what you wear. Just come eat."
She sighed, stepping back to sink onto the edge of the bed. After a few moments she looked up, shrugging her shoulders.
"Let me wash my face and hands. I'll be down in a minute."