Escaping the Devil: Chapter Twenty-Seven

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CONTENT WARNING

This story is rated Mature for adult language, sexual content, references to graphic violence, drug, and substance abuse. This means that this is intended for audiences 18 and up.


It was pitch black. Everyone was cold. Everyone was miserable. They had been forced to stand outside while Archangel found another car, shivering. And when he finally returned, near an hour later, they had already sobered up. Their heads had begun to pound, and they became acutely aware of how the seasons were changing. 

They climbed into the car and remained mute during the remainder of the trip. Gunner’s knuckles were white against the steering wheel, making it abundantly clear that it would likely not be for the best that they say anything to him. Eli was fine with the silence, but she knew it must have been tearing Yui to pieces.

It was hard to say how long they were in the car. They went on an aimless drive — left, right, turn around, right again, left again, stay on this long stretch.

Eli recognized it for what it was. He was trying to shake a tail. If Omnus was coming for them, they had to be incredibly careful. 

It wasn’t for another few hours, close to sunrise, that they stopped. They found themselves in the middle of a heavily wooded area. The dense forestry easily hid the car, which meant they would likely see their stalkers before they were seen. 

Gunner refused to allow them to build a fire, despite how they both shivered. Yui whined at him, but he had enough. Eli hadn’t heard the full extent of his snapping, but she heard enough to know that the tears that formed in Yui’s eyes were justified. 

The Siren excused herself, insisting that she would sleep in the car. 

Eli was on him instantly, her eyes burning bright with outrage as she cornered him. “Whatever foul moods you got? You take ’em out on me. Don’t you dare take them out on her. Got it?”

Gunner’s smile grew wolfish. There was something sinister in the glint of his eye as he looked at her. For a moment, it felt like Landyn was standing there with her. 

“I wouldn’t dream of taking it out on either of you,” he drawled, his attention drifting back to his makeshift bed. 

“What the Hell do you call that?” Eli gestured, open-palmed to the car. 

“I call that shutting down being nagged,” he growled. “She wouldn’t stop begging for a fire.”

“Then why don’t you give her one?”

Gunner’s face twisted in surprise as he stretched out his arms toward their landscape. “We’re in the middle of the woods at the end of a dry season, and we’re also being followed. So the less we do to draw attention to us, the better.” 

Eli’s jaw worked as she weighed his words. He was right, of course. Though, it was hardly surprising. They had hired him because of his knowledge. His reputation. His skill. 

“She’s cold and miserable.”

“Then she should have packed warmer clothes.” 

Eli snarled, her teeth bared to him. “You’ve got all the answers, don’t you?”

“Not all,” he chuckled darkly, “just most. But, enough to know that if you both keep playing fast and loose, you’ll never make it to Sanctuary Hills.”

“Because we wanted to go to a bar?”

Gunner snarled. His blankets dropped to the ground as he straightened. “Because you want to pretend that you’re on vacation. You’re not. You’re running away from one of the most expansive, cut-throat criminal organizations. You’re both in danger. It’s my job to try and keep you safe.”

“And yet, you’re just as guilty for letting us drink,” she commented, her arms folding haughtily across her chest. “I guess you’re more amenable when Yui’s got her hand on your dick.”

His cheeks flushed. “It was an oversight on my part.”

“Are you going to be that easily distracted? Is that all it takes to make you forget about our well-being?”

Gunner reeled back, his jaw tightening as he watched her. After a few slow heartbeats, his scowl broke into a too-wide grin. There was nothing happy about the flash of his teeth. There was no twinkle in his eye. “Landyn taught you well then, hm?”

She hissed, taking a lurching step toward him. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“What? Point out that you took a page out of his book? Look at you, turning things around with the best of them. I don’t know why I’m surprised. You were Queen for a reason.”

She gnashed her teeth together. Even she knew the brink of her temper. If she let loose the words that boiled up the back of her throat, their relationship would be over in a blink of an eye. As much as she despised him, he was still their only route to Sanctuary Hills. 

“The point still stands that you should have told us ‘no.’ If it was that bad of an idea, you shouldn’t have been so easily swayed from it.” 

Gunner scowled. “I need you two to work with me here. If it’s always going to be two-against-one, this isn’t going to work. We need to work together to make sure we all get to where we need to go.”

“And if we don’t?”

His expression darkened. “I guess we trim the fat and leave someone on the side of the road.” 

Eli’s expression darkened, her nails biting into her arms as she watched him.

“The point still stands. If you’ve got a mood, you take it out on me. Not on her.”

“I wasn’t taking anything out on anyone, but,” — he resumed making his bed, no longer interested in continuing their conversation — “good to know.” 

“You snapped at her.”

“Like you never do?” He straightened again, the full scale of his temper apparent for the first time. “You don’t get to parade around like you’re some kind of protector when you treat her like the vibrator you packed.”

Eli’s head snapped back, her eyes blown wide. “Excuse me?”

“I’m not repeating myself,” he hissed. “You want to pretend you’re the pinnacle of ‘best friend,’ but all I’ve seen is you ditch her, fuck her, shut her out, and then repeat the fucking cycle. Oh, and defend her when someone else treats her like shit. But it’s okay for you to do that, right? Only you?”

“And I suppose you’d know this from the past thirty-six hours?”

“Please, Eli,” he scoffed. “Your business became mine the moment you came to me, begging for my help. I’ve seen so much more than you realize.”

The wind was taken out of her sails. Her gaze tracked over the underbrush, tracing all the signs that led to Yui. She hugged herself tightly, trying to see things like he did.

No. In the way Yui did.

Her expression fell. Her insides twisted. 

“Shit, Eli,” Gunner took a half-step toward her. “Look, I know nothing about your relationship before we met, all right? I get it. Things are crazy. They’re stressful. None of us are ourselves.”

Eli shook her head, hating the compassion in his voice. “You said what you said,” she whispered. “You meant it. Don’t go changing your opinion just because it hurt my feelings.”

She wiped her nose, her hand digging into her pocket to pursue her pack of cigarettes. She pulled two loose and offered one to Gunner as a peace offering. He took it with his murmured gratitude. 

For a long moment, they sat in silence, thoughtful as they smoked. 

“So, we’ve both been pieces of shit.”

“Yeah,” Gunner agreed without hesitation.

“She deserves better than that.” 

“Yeah.”

They both nodded. In an infuriating display of sameness, they flicked the butts of their cigarettes with their thumbs, losing a slim column of ash. 

“So, we’ll play nice.” 

Gunner looked at her, his eyes locked on her profile. It was hard to say what he was thinking, but she felt safe in the assumption that he agreed with her. 

“Yeah.”

They lingered in uneasy quiet, finishing off the last of their cigarettes. Finally, they ground the butts into the forest floor, and Eli slunk through the shadows back to the car. It took a bit of finagling, but eventually, Yui was upright, leaning against her chest. 

“I’m sorry,” Eli murmured, pressing a kiss to her temple. 

“For what? You’re not the one who yelled at me.”

“No.” She paused, her expression crumbling. “Not today.”

Yui remained quiet, but Eli could feel her brow furrowing beneath her chin.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been the friend you deserve. I think… I just don’t know how to treat people well.”

“It’s okay,” Yui said quietly, her arms tangling around her waist. “You treat me as well as you can, and that’s all I want.”

“That’s not fair on you.” 

“Eli,” she chided, pulling back to search her face. “I’m the only one who gets to decide what is fair for me. Or what I deserve. Or… anything like that. And I’ve decided that you’re my best friend in the whole world.”

Eli swallowed hard, her eyes glued hot to Yui’s face.

“I understand,” she continued, raking her fingers through her hair. “I understand that you love me in the way that you can. I understand that you’re not as gentle as you feel I deserve because someone made you that way. But you don’t understand how much your effort matters. I see it,” she leaned up, her mouth brushing against hers in a sweet kiss. “I see that you try. And a lot of the time, you succeed. This isn’t so black and white as you did something wrong. You do so much more right by me.”

Eli closed her eyes, allowing her forehead to rest against Yui’s. She traced the line of the Siren’s jaw with her thumb, reveling in the pulse fluttering beneath her touch. She didn’t have the words to explain what she felt — the immense relief of being understood. Of being seen. So she kissed her. A slow, heartfelt kiss.

Yui opened to her, her lips parting in invitation as her body melded to hers the best it could in the backseat of their stolen car. 

Before she knew it, their clothes had been shed. Lips and fingers carved longing paths over each other’s flesh until they were satisfied and spent. They fell asleep together — a tangle of limbs beneath a makeshift blanket of their discarded clothes.



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