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Darkness falls (darkness.., p.31
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       Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), p.31

           Jessica Sorensen
 

  Chapter 30

  I become painfully aware of what I am. Ever since I’ve left The Colony, my heart has been as soundless as the vampires.

  “You’re not one of them, at least not the ones I’m talking about.” He turns in his chair so he’s facing me. “All Bellators are kind of like them when they’re first thrown out. We’re technically dead when we wake up from The Gathering, just like the vampires. But eventually your heart starts beating again, after time.”

  I think of Maci and how her heart was fully alive again, right before we left. “How long does it take for, you know, the heart to start beating again?”

  “Yours will,” he assures me, like he knows it hasn’t. “Just give it some time—some are just a little bit slower than others.”

  That’s ironic, considering how fast I am. But I nod. “Why didn’t you just say this in the first place? I’ve been worried about it.”

  He takes a deep breath, struggling for words. “There’s more to it than just the heart restarting. Once you start returning to your normal self, you lose things like your strength and speed, your fighting skills.”

  Every part of my body feels like it’s sinking. “So I’ll become weak, and eventually I won’t be able to fight anymore.”

  “You’ll be able to fight,” he mutters quietly. “You just won’t be as strong.”

  “So I’ll lose my strength.” I stare at the ground, eyes wide. “I’ll lose everything.”

  “It’s not as bad as it seems,” he says, taking my hands. “Eventually, you’ll get used to it. In fact, you might even prefer it.” He lets go of my hands and stands. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But I know you enough to know you’d take it hard. I mean, you were always so into the fighting thing, you know. More than any other Bellator.”

  “Is that why the vampires are afraid me?” I ask. “Will that change when my heart starts again?”

  “No. That I was honest about. No one, at least as far as I know, has ever walked with them like you do.” He pauses. “Kayla, I think we should keep that a secret. I mean, you saw how Dominic reacted to it—he tried to kill you over it.”

  No he didn’t. He tried to kill me because, for some reason, he thinks I’m a Higher. That’s what I should have said at the moment; I should have put it out there and gotten the worry off my chest. But all I do is nod, locking the secret deeper away.

  “We need to get out of here.” Aiden changes the subject as he peers over the table through a crack, staring out into the street. “I think whoever’s tracking us is gone, for now anyway.”

  “You never said who’s tracking us.” I move to the side of him and peer out. “Or do you even know?”

  He pauses, like he was hoping I’d forget. “The ones who decided not to let their hearts start beating again.

  My mind frazzles. “That just goes against everything you just told me.”

  “No it doesn’t.” He backs away from the window. “Your heart will start beating again. These guys, they just chose not to.”

  “How? How do they keep it from starting?”

  “I have no idea,” he says, but I’m sure he’s lying because the inside of him is a nervous wreck. “What I do know though, is you wouldn’t want to be like them.”

  My eyes narrow. “Like who?”

  “Hopefully, you won’t have to find out.”

  He doesn’t say anything else and I consider throwing him down and threatening him until he spills whatever it is he’s withholding, but the winking of darkness warns us that it’s time.

  “Where are we going to hide for the night?” I ask. “In here?”

  He darts off for the back of the store, which is a torn up kitchen with shelves that hang crookedly across the faded walls and pots rusting away on the chipped tile floor. He rummages through the cupboards and drawers, tossing out whatever he comes across.

  I lean against the doorway, watching him. “So we’re just staying here for the night,” I assume.

  He pulls out a can of food and shakes it. “It’s as good a place as any.”

  I glance around the deserted store, which is similar to every other vacant store in the city. “I guess so … but I think it might be better if we go up higher. Like maybe the roof.”

  “No.” He bangs around in the bottom cupboards, knocking around pots and pans. “The vampires might not go looking for us up there, but they will.”

  “They as in the ones without the heart beat,” I say. “The ones like me.”

  “They’re not like you.” He snaps a cupboard shut. “Your heart will beat again. I know it will.”

  I squat down beside him. “What are they like? These half-vampire, half-human’s? Do they have a name? Do they drink blood? What makes them so frightening?”

  “They’re killers, Kayla. That’s all that’s important.” He stares at a can, his eyes burning intensely. “They’ve killed some of The Gathering members before.” His heart knocks against his chest and his hands shake, upset.

  “Did they kill someone you know?” I soften my voice.

  He blinks the pain away and stands, moving to a row of drawers.

  I stand, setting my knife on the counter. “What are you looking for?”

  His eyes light up as his hand reaches inside an open drawer. “For these.” He holds up a box of matches and shakes them.

  “Are you planning on starting a fire? Because the streets have plenty of them I’m sure you could borrow.”

  He shakes his head and puts the matches into his pocket. “No, I’m going to cook us dinner,” he says, already heading into the other room.

  Picking up my knife, I follow him, taking my time, deciding how long I’m going to let this secret keep going on. Aiden is setting up a few chairs, like we’re formally dining. Then he heats up two cans of food over a small flame in the middle of the floor where he builds a small fire. When he’s done, he hands me a can and starts eating out of the other, scooping the food out with his hands.

  “So how long until you forgive me?” he asks and scoops out a bite of food.

  I take a small bite of my food, which tastes more awful than anything I’ve ever tasted. “Forgive you for what?”

  He chews on his food. “For lying to you.”

  “I already have.” I smile, a big plastic smile, just like I used to do all the time.

  He sets his can on the floor. “No, you haven’t.” He scoots closer and looks me in the eye. “I really am sorry, Juniper.”

  God, I wish he’d stop calling me that. Something about the way he says it sparkles in my mind and makes it hard to stay angry. I gently rub my finger across where his scar used to be. “I’m sorry I made it go away. I know it meant a lot to you.”

  He leans his head against my hand, fearing that I’ll move it, fearing that I won’t forgive him, fearing that I’ll find out whatever it is he’s still keeping locked away.

  I take a deep breath, knowing how wrong it is, but needing to know. My lips move for his. He freezes as I catch him off guard. Then he meets me the rest of the way, pressing his lips to mine.

  He lets out a moan as our lips melt together, soft and sweet, wanting me so bad he can’t stand it. And I gasp. But not because of the kiss. I gasp because I got exactly what I was seeking.

  The truth—what he’s hiding.

  I pull away, leaving his lips bare in the air. I jump to my feet and unzip my bag. I pull out the last vial.

  I hold it up. “So this can stop it? This can stop me from losing all my strength, my speed, all of who I am?”

  He jumps to his feet, knocking over the cans of food. “Why would you want to stop it, Kayla? It isn’t right.”

  “Why do you keep lying to me?” I snap. “It’s getting ridiculous.” But really, I’m not any better.

  “Because I want you to be human,” he says, his voice begging me to understand—to not be angry with him. “You take that medicine and you’ll turn into one of them—a killer.”

  “You mean those half-vampires, h
alf-humans you were talking about.” I eye the bubbling liquid in the vial. “That’s what this will make me?”

  “Yeah, that’s the price you have to pay to keep it all,” he spats with anger. “Trade in your life, for something in between.”

  “You should have told me,” I say. “Whether you liked it or not, it’s my choice.”

  “I couldn’t take away your freedom like that.”

  “That’s exactly what you’re doing.” My voice is calm, my senses connected to the vial. “By lying and not letting me choose what I want to do. You know, you sit here and preach about freedom, yet you’ve taken away mine.”

  “Because you don’t want to be like them.” He’s yelling in my face and I worry that the vampires might hear him. “I know you don’t. You’re too good for that.”

  “Keep your voice down,” I hiss. “And you don’t know what I want.”

  “Yes I do.” His voice is as light as a feather, his eyes pleading to be right. “You and I were in love once. Before I was chosen for The Gathering.”

  We breathe heavily, so close our bodies almost touch. He wants me to say something, but I can’t. Because this memory he speaks of, I can’t recollect.

  “We should probably keep it down,” I say, clutching my hand around the vial. “They might hear us.”

  His gaze is so intense I want to hide under a table. “That’s all you have to say?”

  The expression on his face reminds me of what Tristan looked like when he asked me to be his forever. “That’s all I can say.” My voice is barely heard over the cries of the vampire’s right outside.

  He nods and turns away, walking to the kitchen. I hesitate, and then follow him, taking his arm as he reaches for the back door.

  “Stop,” I say. “You can’t go out. Listen to the cries—darkness has already fallen.”

  His muscles tense under my touch and his heart skips. “You want to know why you shouldn’t take the medicine. Why I think it’s so horrible?”

  I eye the back door, scratched with the remains of a vampire passing through. “Yeah, but I—”

  “Then I’ll show you.” He unlocks the door and cautiously cracks it open. He takes a deep breath and sticks his head out. Then he opens the door and steps out into the night.

  “Are you insane?” I grab the bottom of his shirt and pull him back inside. “You can’t go out there.”

  “You sound afraid, Juniper,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “I thought you said you were never afraid.”

  I let go of his shirt. “I’m not afraid for me. I’m afraid for you.”

  “I’ll be fine,” he insists. “We’re not going that far.”

  I shake my head as he tiptoes down the alley, blending in with night. Keeping my footsteps light, I tail after him. I hold out my knife as we near the end of the building. Aiden closes his eyes, his back to the wall, as he counts under his breath.

  “Go ahead,” he whispers, nodding his head. “See what you have to sacrifice to keep your amazing fighting skills.”

  Something inside my chest squeezes as I lean forward and peek into the street. The fires lighting up the night burn fiercely. Vampires roam the sidewalks, scrounging through dumpsters, cars, buildings, hunting for blood.

  I turn back. “All I see are vampires.”

  “Then look closer,” he whispers nervously glancing down the alley.

  I take a deep breath and look back out. Vampires. Everywhere. Shrieking and biting at each other. Their eyes bleed, lifeless corpses of flesh, so desperate for hunger that they’ll sometimes feed off themselves. I think I’m starting to get his point.

  “We can go back,” I say and he nods, darting for the back door.

  “So I’d be like the vampires?” I ask. “That’s the price I have to pay.”

  “You wouldn’t look like one.” He locks the back door, checking it twice. “But you’d be like them, always looking for the next kill. And you don’t have to pay the price,” he says. “You can choose to just be you.”

  “It’s time for you to just be Kayla.” One of Monarch’s last words before he died.

  “So Bernard’s one of them now?” I ask. “Or were you lying about that too.”

  “No, he took the medicine.” His voice is venomous. “He made the choice.”

  “But he didn’t know what he was doing,” I say. “We should have tried to help him.”

  “We did,” he says. “Where do you think those scratch marks came form on the hillside.”

  “He’s there,” I say, relieved.

  “Was there.” Aiden leans against the door. “We had to turn him loose.”

  I shake my head. “So he’s dead.”

  “It depends,” he replies, standing up straight. “If the others found him,” he pauses, “It had to be done—he would have hurt someone, Kayla.” He takes my arm, but I shrug it off.

  “Does The Colony know about all this?” I ask. “About these half breeds?”

  He shakes his head. “I think that everyone just assumes we’re all dead.”

  “Even the Highers?”

  “Especially the Highers.” He motions for me to follow him back to our pathetic little fire where we sit down on the rotted floorboards. “I think the Highers want us all dead for some reason—that’s why we end up in body bags,” he says. “I think that that’s what’s really supposed to happen at The Gathering. Were supposed to be killed, thrown into body bags, and tossed into the infirmary.”

  “Then why doesn’t it happen?” I ask, thinking of how Maci spoke of Angels. “Do you think someone’s intervening?”

  He nods, the fire glowing against his honey eyes. “I think someone makes it look like we’ve died, so they can toss us in the desert and we can be on our way to go on living how we want.”

  “Maci said something about seeing an Angel,” I say. “She said it was what gave her the vials.” A pause. “Do you know what or who it is?”

  “I already told you I didn’t.”

  I eye him over. “I was just double-checking.”

  He sighs, reaching for his bag. “Well, I really don’t know.”

  “She also said the Angel helped Taggart,” I say. “Do you think he has something to doing with it? My last day he was freaking out because I didn’t stay locked up in the hospital.”

  “Taggart?” Aiden questions “You think Taggart could be the one making us all look like we’re dead?”

  “He could be the one taking us out into the desert, though,” I say. “But I’m not sure he knows enough about death to make us look like we’re dead.” There’s only one person in The Colony who I know who could do something like that. “I’d say it was Monarch, but he was... He died right before The Gathering.”

  He props his back pack against the wall and leans back. “Are you sure about that? Because if he is the one who was making us look dead, then maybe he did it to himself.”

  I don’t answer, remember all the feelings I felt when I found out he was dead. But it was never really said if he was. Yes, Gabrielle implied it, but I never actually saw any proof. Why hadn’t I gotten proof, instead of just accepting?

  “What would you do,” I say. “If I did turn into one of those half-breeds? If I chose to die? Would you hate me?”

  “You won’t,” he says with confidence. “I know you and I know you wouldn’t choose to be like them.”

  “But what if I didn’t have a choice?” I’m not really talking about the half-breeds anymore, but about a Higher. “What if I turned into something horrible and I couldn’t help it? Would you hate me then?”

  “As long as you don’t put the medicine into you, you’ll be fine.” He puts his arms behind his head and rests back against his bag. “We should try to get some rest. Do you want me to take first watch?”

  “No, I got it,” I say, stirring the fire with the tip of my knife.

  He yawns. “Are you sure? Because I can—”

  “I’m fine,” I assure him. “I’m not even tired.”


  It doesn’t take him long to doze off and I relax against the wall, letting the vampire screams drown out my thoughts.