I also wanted to tell them both what I had discovered in that cold hospital room, the horrible truth about what Sarren had really unleashed. I remembered the dying vampire, the flesh slowly rotting away as it stared at me, pleading and hopeless, and felt ill. The Prince was right. Bargain or no, we had to find Sarren, force a cure from him. Before this new virus wiped out both our races.
First things first, though, and that was Kanin's recovery.
"Last I saw him," Zeke said, "he went upstairs with a few other vampires. They were having some sort of gathering, I think. I'm not really sure, I didn't want to stick around. A couple were starting to stare at me like I was the main course."
I bristled at the thought of Zeke in a crowded room of vampires, all eyeing him hungrily. He didn't have any weapons on him now and would make an easy target. Just another human to be fed upon and discarded.
"Come on," I told him, starting down the hall. "Let's go see if we can find the lazy bastard. We're here to do something, not sit around sipping blood from wineglasses and cozying up to the vamps of the Inner Court."
We wandered the many hallways and rooms for a while, searching for the raider king. The tower was like a maze of sterile tile floors and glass windows and, after a while, all the rooms began to look the same. We avoided the elevator and took the stairs between floors, passing well-dressed humans and even better dressed vampires on their way to whatever vampirey business took place around here. Many of the vamps, seeing me in my long black coat and scruffy boots, regarded me with disdain, like I was a mongrel dog come in off the streets. I ignored them, unless their attention shifted to Zeke. Then I would give them a hard stare and the hint of a curled lip, and they would either smirk or stare coldly back before continuing on.
"I wish I had my knife," Zeke muttered as we ducked into another stairwell, continuing toward the top. His voice echoed hollowly in the dark passageway. "Or a stake. Or something to defend myself with. Now I know what a rabbit feels every time a wolf passes by." He rubbed his arm, frowning. "I wonder how the humans working here can stand it."
"I'll make sure Salazar gives you back your weapons when we head out," I told him, stepping into yet another identical hallway. "Until then, you probably don't want to draw a lot of attention to yourself."
"Yeah." He stabbed his fingers through his hair, looking up and down the empty corridor. "It's just frustrating. I know I'm deadweight right now. If anything happens, I won't be much use."
"You are not deadweight." Anyone who could face down Sarren with nothing but a crossbow and still come out of it alive was anything but useless.
He just smiled grimly.
I was about to protest again when a strange noise began to filter down the hall, making me blink and c*ck my head. It was faint, melodic and unlike anything I'd ever heard. I couldn't even describe it. The closest thing I could think of was someone using a pipe to bang a tune on another pipe, but that was just noise. This was haunting and eerie and full of emotion and sound, like sadness or longing given voice.
Unable to resist, I followed the strange tune down the corridor, past a pair of open doors, and into some kind of gathering place. This room was carpeted in red, with plush black couches and chairs surrounding low tables, and a glass wall showing the ruined cityscape beyond.
Vampires lounged in corners or on couches, looking elegant and bored, their pale skin a stark contrast to the redand-black furniture. Uniformed humans slipped among them, carrying trays of wineglasses-blood, of course-and whisking away the empty cups. On the right, a black marble counter dominated the wall, with a couple vampires seated at the bar, a weary-faced human behind it. I frowned when I saw none other than Jackal seated at one of the stools, glass in hand, talking to a lithe vampire woman with long blond hair. But I wasn't focused on him at this point; my attention was on the large object sitting in the far corner.
The one making the strange, haunting noise. A human sat in front of it, his hands moving over a black-and-white shelf set into the dark, polished wood. I stared, entranced. The sounds it was making, the eerie cacophony of emotion, pulled at my insides and made my throat feel tight. I closed my eyes, letting the sound flow through me, forgetting everything for the moment.
I heard Zeke's footsteps behind me, felt him gazing over my shoulder at the device making the strange, terrible, beautiful sounds.
"A piano," he said, his voice full of awe. "I haven't seen one since I was a kid. The old church used to have one, very out of tune, I remember. Of course, me banging on it every week probably didn't help."
"A piano?" I opened my eyes as I scoured my memory for the word, finding vague, half-forgotten stories. "This... is music?"
Zeke turned to me, blinking. "You've never heard music before?" He sounded stunned.
I shook my head, unable to tear my gaze from the strange instrument. The Fringe was full of ugly noises: screams, shouting, cries of terror and anger and pain. My mother used to hum to me when I was very little, and I used to think her voice was the most beautiful sound in the world. I had never heard anything...like this.
"Oh, Allie," Zeke whispered, and stepped up beside me. "Come here a second."
Taking my hand, he drew me aside, to the back of the room where the shadows were the thickest, away from the vampires near the bar. I gave a puzzled frown, tensing, as he put my hands on his shoulders and drew me close, wrapping an arm around my waist.
"What are we doing?"
He smiled sadly and put a hand over mine, his eyes asking me to trust him. "Just follow my lead," he murmured, and began swaying back and forth, a slow, easy rhythm.
I resisted a moment, unsure of what to do. Gradually, though, I began to feel what he was doing, moving in time to the...music, and started to follow. It was strange, this slow, unhurried motion, our bodies mirroring each other as we swayed and circled, but somehow it felt right. We didn't stray from that corner, remaining in the shadows, but Zeke pulled me against him and I closed my eyes, and for just a few heartbeats, with the music and darkness swirling around us, we were lost in our own world.
"I missed you, you know," Zeke murmured, bending his head to mine. I clenched my fingers in his shirt and listened to his pounding heart. "The whole time I was in Eden, I couldn't stop thinking of you. When I woke up and they told me you had gone..." He shook his head, and his heartbeat sped up. "I wanted to come after you right then, but I knew I had to take care of the others, that they were my first, my most important, responsibility. And I did. They're safe, every single one of them, even though I had to let them go."
"Let them go?"
He swallowed hard, and his grip on me tightened. "Caleb, Matthew and Bethany were adopted by a great couple who always wanted kids. They have chickens and cats and goats, and everything they could ever want. Jake actually married one of the nurses at the checkpoint clinic, and Silas and Teresa moved into a little cottage by the lake's edge. They're happy. They're finally home." His eyes glimmered, even as he gave a faint smile. "They don't need me anymore."
He gazed at me, his expression so tender I felt my heart constrict. "There was just one person missing," Zeke whispered, his hand framing my face. "One person I couldn't bring home."
I gave him a sad smile. "Eden isn't my home."
"It could be."
I shook my head. "How?" I whispered. "That is the one place in the whole world where there are no vampires or rabids, the one place where humans are free, and you're saying they'd let a vampire just walk in? With no consequences whatsoever?" I gave a rueful, not-quite smile. "They already kicked me out once, Zeke. I told you before, Eden isn't for me."
Zeke ran his fingers through my hair. "You're not like the others," he murmured. "I know you. I've seen you." He drew me closer. "You're the one vampire in the world they might let in. When this is all over, you could come back with me. We could go to Eden together-"
"Stop," I whispered, putting my hands on his chest. This was getting dangerous. Again. The Hunger emerged once more, making want to step close, pull him to me and sink my fangs into his neck. Zeke gazed down at me, pleading, and I kept my voice firm. "I can't, Zeke. I'm still a vampire. That won't ever change. You don't know me as well as you think."
Kanin's face swam across my mind, vicious and snarling, a demon fueled only by Hunger and rage. If the Hunger could overtake even one like Kanin, what hope did I have to keep it contained? The bite marks at my neck suddenly throbbed, making me wince. If I reverted to that while in Eden, if Zeke or Bethany were nearby...
No, that would never happen, because I would not get that close. The others were safe in Eden, far from the madness surrounding the rest of the world. They were safe from vampires and rabids and monsters and demons. Safe from me.
Except for this one stubborn human who kept playing with my heart.
Zeke looked like he was about to say something, but I pushed harder on his chest and stepped back, freeing myself from his arms. "Why didn't you stay in Eden?" I asked roughly, glaring at him. "You were home, Zeke. It was what you were looking for, what you always wanted. Why did you leave?"
He met my gaze, unwavering. "It wasn't home without you."
I swallowed hard, and suddenly noticed that the piano music had stopped and most of the vampires in the room were gone. Glancing out the window, I gave a start. The sky over the crumbling buildings had faded from black to midnightblue, and many of the stars had disappeared.
Dawn was coming. I'd been so distracted with Zeke, Kanin, Salazar and everything else, I hadn't even noticed. It had been a long night.
Zeke glanced at the window, too, and sighed. "You have to go, don't you?"
Too late, I remembered the reason I'd wanted to come here was to find Jackal and tell him what had happened with Kanin. He was gone now, as was his female companion. Guilt flickered, along with a little anger.
He didn't even bother to ask about Kanin when I came in. I guess I'm the only one who really cares if he lives or dies.
Maybe that was the reason I was such a lousy vampire, why I would never fit in with Salazar or his city vamps. Not that I wanted to in the first place, but beyond being stabbed in the back or destroying a rival, they didn't seem to worry about their kin. Their Prince had nearly been assassinated tonight, and I could just imagine many of them flocked together like vultures, planning, scheming, calculating. I couldn't be like that. No matter how much my demon insisted it was right. That this was what we were.
"Allie," Zeke said quietly, stepping forward. And suddenly, the price of holding on to my humanity, my determination not to be like all the other monsters, was almost too much. In that moment, I'd never wanted to be human more, just so I could be with Ezekiel Crosse. Zeke, who was brave and loyal and selfless, who hated vampires but was still here, surrounded by them, because of me. Who had left Eden and traveled across the country, to New Covington, because he wanted to bring me home.
And I could never go with him.
I backed away, increasing the distance between us. He watched sadly, making no move to follow, but the yearning in his eyes made my throat ache. I had to get away from him now, or I'd be tempted to do something we'd both regret.