Chapter Eleven

Ben seems to understand the twists and turns of the cave as he drags me along behind him, leading me further and further away from the other Hunters with every shaky step I take. It doesn't dawn on me, at this particular moment, that it doesn't make sense for him to take me so far away, especially when I'm feeling weak. All I know is that my blood is leaving my body. And it's all Randall's fault.

I'm in a maze. It feels like a maze of mirrors, actually, when I catch my distorted reflection in the crystalline walls. I see my slightly tanned skin, just a few shades darker than Ben's, and my raven black hair, wild and in need of attention. I see my almond colored eyes peering back at me. But the girl that I observe changes constantly, her body shifting and morphing into strange shapes. She seems disproportionate, out of balance.

How fitting, I think. Is that not what I am? Unstable, unbalanced… ugly. And I don't mean in a physical sense, although I have never really stopped to think about myself in that way to really know. I'm internally ugly, with a fresh scar marring the face of my soul. How is it that I've become so disfigured, and will there ever be a chance for me to heal?

I can handle the physical attacks that I receive. Those wounds go away with time. But how much more emotional and mental torment can I take before I finally crack? I know now why Ben was so against me leaving the village to join them on the hunting trip. I wasn't sane enough when I left home.

And now, after all of this, I may never be sane again.

Finally we stop in the middle of one of the smaller tunnels that break off the main one. I lean against the cold wall for support and keep my injured hand balled into a tight fist. The blood trickles through the cracks between my fingers, staining the ground beneath us red. When I look back, I notice too late that I've left a trail of blood in my wake. I don't have to be a genius to know that I've made a very dangerous mistake by allowing it to happen, but right now there's no sense in fretting over what can't be changed.

Ben turns to face me and reaches into his pocket to pull out a wad of gauze that he had taken from his sled prior to leading me here. He removes my soaked glove, which Randall's knife had easily sliced through, before taking off his own. His warm hand closes around my wrist, holding my arm still, while the other unfurls my fingers to better observe the damage done.

"It's ok, really." The words come out of my mouth faster than I can stop them, even though I know they're ridiculous. It's obvious to see that I do need some medical attention, and I'm not fooling Ben, who just shakes his head.

"I'm going to kill Randall with my bare hands." He frowns, cursing under his breath, "At least it won't get infected. Knife wounds rarely tend to have that problem. The cut is clean." He uses some of the gauze to wipe the blood off the surrounding area.

I flinch from the sting. It didn't hurt so much before, but the mind has a funny way of convincing itself to feel more pain when directly looking at something. Now that I am actually taking the time to stare at the wide gash on my palm, I imagine that I can feel my exposed veins pulsing with every beat of my heart.

I have to turn away and look at something else. Gritting my teeth, my eyes focus on the tunnel around us. The fact that we're farther than necessary from the other Hunters draws my attention at this moment, and my gaze flickers back to Ben, who seems rather calm, if not mildly flustered.

"Shouldn't we be with the others?"

Ben releases a dry laugh when I ask this, and he begins to wrap my hand with the gauze, "I can't stand to be around any of them right now. Besides, if one more person tries to kill you, I might lose my mind."

"You and me both." I reply, but I find myself biting my lip in thought. That answer isn't quite satisfactory. I can understand Ben taking me aside. But I don't understand him taking me this far out. It seems a bit extreme. I try to think of something else to say when I suddenly gasp in fresh pain. The movements of my injured hand being wrapped, however small, make me remember how I had injured its corresponding shoulder earlier as well.

"Damn it… you hurt your shoulder too, didn't you?" Ben finishes wrapping my hand and for a moment just holds it in between his, his silvery eyes catching the bluish tint reflected off the ice, "That was my fault. I'm… sorry." It seems hard for him to say this, and he hesitates at first as if that specific word is foreign to him and he doesn't know if he's using it right.

"It's nothing." I lie as convincingly as I can and force the pain to the back of my mind. I don't say this to make Ben feel less guilty, I just don't like advertising my weaknesses. I've already been letting too much slip as of late, especially in front of Ben, "It's a small price to pay for being alive. You…" Now it's my turn to search for words that I never use. Words of gratitude. What are they, and how does one express them? "You risked your life to save me back there. I mean, you could have fallen off the sled hauling me up like that. Thank you." I don't mean to make it sound like I'm spitting the last two words out, but it seems as if my mouth has forgotten which way to move to form the correct sounds.

It's the second time I've said thank you in over a year. And both times it was to Ben. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm broken or something, because not too long ago I never would have imagined that I'd have so much to thank him for, of all people.

"Don't thank me." I don't know if it's my imagination, but Ben's metallic eyes seem to radiate some warmth for a change. As I look into them, I feel like I'm standing beside a fire. It makes an unfamiliar warmth rush through me, and I'm reminded of our sled rides together, when his closeness to me had forced me to feel things that I didn't want to feel. Things that I still don't want to feel, "They told me about how you saved me from the Ice Beast, you know. You could have run away when it charged at you, and it would have gotten me instead. But you didn't."

"Yeah… well…" Come on Lilith, you know how to form sentences. Say something. Why can't I concentrate on a response? I take far too long to come up with an intelligent reply, "My motives were completely selfish, you know. After all, you were the only one that was on my side at the time. Now that I have Chris, Maurice and Dustin to back me up, you're expendable." I flash a smug smirk his way.

"Oh really? I'm expendable to you?" Ben takes a small step closer to me. I'm angry with myself for not stepping back to re-establish the set distance between us. I'm angry with myself for not wanting to.

"As expendable as I am to you." I answer while I focus on remembering how to breathe, "Which puzzles me, actually. I'm not that valuable. Out of everyone here, let's face it, I'm more of a liability than an asset. Why do you bother to protect me?"

Ben narrows his eyes, but the warmth doesn't leave them. He seems to be thinking about what to answer, almost like he doesn't really know the reason himself, "Randall is more of a liability than you. For all of his skill, his attitude is an accident waiting to happen." He looks pointedly down at my hand, which he still holds in his own, "I brought you out here to give you a chance. Maybe I did it because I thought it would be funny. So far, it has been entertaining. I enjoy our little talks whenever I need to get away from it all. You're kind of like a pet. Our mascot, if you will." He winks and tries to keep his voice light, but I can perceive that he's hiding behind humor to mask what he really wants to say, whatever that is.

"I find it hard to believe that you enjoy me for my conversation." I say skeptically, ignoring the part about being a mascot. I'll be offended about that comment later, but right now there's something else I'm searching for. Even I don't know what it is, but instinct compels me to keep pushing until I get something specific, "I'm not exactly the life of the party."

"Oh but that's where you're wrong." One of the corners of Ben's mouth turns up to give me a wolfish grin, eyes gleaming with something reminiscent of the dangerous side of him that I've seen before, "This trip wouldn't be half as fun without you. Do you know how long I've been waiting for a valid excuse to punch Randall in the face? Now I have him as a personal punching bag, ready to provoke on demand. As for your conversation, I don't think you realize how refreshing it is to talk to someone who's neither afraid of you nor wants to kill you."

I ponder over this, and am genuinely surprised by his words. He likes the fact that I'm not afraid of him? That I don't hate him? It's kind of funny that those same qualities, which we seem to share, were what made me dislike him in the beginning.

Again I'm struck by how similar we really are to each other. Similar, and yet, opposite at the same time. It's almost as if Ben has walked in my shoes before, except the path he chose led him to become strong and self-assured. I wonder if I'll ever be as resilient as he is, or if fate will eventually make me evolve into something else entirely.

Was he broken like me at some point as well? He must have been, if he lost his family and his home. Which reminds me, I still don't have the slightest clue as to where he came from.

"I can't help but notice that you aren't like the others." I tell him seriously, "The way you talk to me is different from the way they do it. You act like I'm an equal." I frown, thinking that maybe this is another reason for why I never got along with Ben in the past. He was always different, and I didn't know how to deal with it. So the only response that I could think of in view of the unknown was to push him away. But now that I know this, I realize that I don't want to push him away. Not anymore, "Is this how they treat women where you come from?"

I look down at my bandaged hand now, afraid of his reaction to my curiosity. He still holds it between his, and my skin burns where we make contact. Normally this would be strange, and I would feel uncomfortable. But it's not strange with Ben. It's almost an unspoken rule between us that neither one of us should pull away. Instead, I take both of his hands in mine and hold them lightly, our fingers interlacing. I've never done this before, but I don't really think about it now. Ben seems to accept this gesture without much surprise, although I can feel his body stiffen ever so slightly at my question.

He chuckles at first, like something is funny, but if there's supposed to be a joke in all of this it must be something only he can understand, because I don't get the humor in my inquiry, "Where I come from…" He pauses before biting his lip, and then shakes his head. He does his best to hide a tremor that passes through him, but I can feel it in his hands, "It doesn't matter. I treat you the way I do because you're different too, like me. Don't ask me to explain it, but it's easy for me to be more relaxed around you."

I feel a stab of regret for making him recall memories that are probably painful for him. I know what it's like to not want to relive certain events. I know what it's like to cry myself to sleep over something that I have no control over. Although it's hard for me to picture someone as strong as Ben crying for a family that he'll never be with again, I can see it now in his eyes. Yes, we're very much the same, aren't we?

"But why now?" I remember the indifference between us back home. I remember the eventual hostility as well. None of my past experiences with Ben match any of this, "If I stand out to you as much as you say, why have we never been friends before?"

"I didn't know you then like I know you now." He explains, "You always seemed like you had something to prove. What I perceived to be your arrogance irritated me. Although you're far from perfect, and perhaps lacking a healthy amount of sanity, I now see someone else in the madness. Maybe I even see a little bit of myself."

I know what he means, because I can see some of myself in him too. But Ben is still so many things that I'll never be, and I fear that he overestimates my strength and courage. I have the strange desire to not disappoint him. It comes with the fear of knowing that I will.

"So if it's someone else you see, who is she?" I whisper, because I don't know who I am anymore. I've become so internally mangled that I've lost myself. Maybe Ben knows where I am. Maybe he can help me out of the darkness.

He seems to think carefully, before tilting forward ever so slightly until his forehead leans against mine. The heat that I feel in my veins intensifies and I find myself paralyzed, unable to pull away even if I wanted to. And still, even now, I don't want to, even when I see the danger of what lies ahead if I don't stop this right here.

"She's afraid." Ben says softly, his warm breath mingling with mine in the small space left between us. I can feel it wash over my lips, a surprisingly pleasant sensation, "She's lost, and she's alone. But she's stronger than she thinks, and more valuable than she'll ever know."

My breath catches in my throat. I find myself unable to speak, but even if I could, there would be no right words to say. We've gone beyond the point of talking, and something else needs to fill the space of the silence. My heart races because I know what it is that comes next.

I consider walking away. There's still time to, before it all gets out of hand. That's what broken Lilith says, the one who's too afraid to let herself feel. But then there's the Lilith that Ben sees, the one that got swallowed up in dismay so long ago. And she wants nothing more than to close that space between us.

Ben inches closer, our noses brushing, and I tilt my head to the side ever so slightly. I can almost feel his lips on mine, the space nearly nonexistent. Time seems to slow down, and I close my eyes.

"Wait." Ben pulls away suddenly, making me jerk backward in surprise, "Don't move."

And then he reaches for his knife.

Note: I re-revised this chapter and changed the ending because it didn't flow right into chapter twelve and it was giving me some serious writer's block. Now that I've tweaked the ending a bit, hopefully my words will flow more smoothly and chapter twelve will be up soon.

Since I changed the ending, what do you think of it? Is it too abrupt? Does it interrupt the flow? Does it seem out of place? Or does it catch you by surprise in a good way?

This chapter was revised 12/28/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.