Still holding my sword by the sheath, I wandered into the bathroom. A mirror ran the length of the counter, and my reflection gazed back at me over the sink. I snorted. No wonder the city vamps looked down their noses at me-I was filthy and dirt streaked, dried blood still clinging to my collar and skin. I pulled the collar of my shirt aside, peering at the place Kanin had bitten me. Two raised white bumps, no larger than pinpricks, grazed my skin right above the collarbone. Mementos from Kanin that I'd probably have forever.
Kanin. I'd have to go down and check on him soon, but for now, at least, he seemed to be fine. Maybe I should make myself a bit more presentable, not that I cared what the city vamps thought of me, but there was no reason not to take advantage of Salazar's hospitality when I had the chance.
Experimentally, I twisted the faucet above the sink, only half expecting it to work. To my surprise, it did, shooting a stream of warm water into the basin. I started to splash my face and neck, wiping away the dried blood, then stopped.
Pushing aside the shower curtain, I reached down and spun the handle. A burst of hot water erupted from the showerhead, sending up tendrils of steam and fogging the mirror behind me, and I grinned with delight.
Stripping out of my clothes, I stepped beneath a gadget I'd only heard about in the Fringe and doubted its existence. Hot, clean water hit my cold skin, soaking my hair, the heat seeping into my bones, and I closed my eyes. Bliss. I stayed under the pounding stream for a long time, letting it sluice the dirt from my skin, letting the lather of real soap slide down my body. So this was what life was like in the Inner City, at least for vampires. And probably even their humans. A huge bed and electricity and hot water, and food whenever you wanted it. I could see how tempting it was. How some people would betray and kill for it. If I was a city vampire, this could be my life.
All I had to do was give up my humanity.
Frowning, I turned off the water and dried myself with the thick red towels that hung beside the shower. And though it was mildly repulsive, I dressed in my old clothes, having no clean ones and no time to wash them. Swirling the coat around my shoulders, I left the bathroom just as loud banging came from the door.
Warily, I buckled the katana to my back before heading toward it. If it was the Prince come to tell me about Kanin, I wanted to hear what he had to say. If it was Jackal, I would tolerate him long enough to explain what had happened the night before with our sire. And if it was Stick, come to taunt me again, I was going to slam the door in his face and hope I broke his nose in the process.
However, when I opened the door, it wasn't Stick or Jackal or the Prince facing me across the threshold.
It was Zeke.
"Hey," he said quietly, hesitantly, as if afraid I would slam the door in his face. He looked tired, as if he hadn't gotten any sleep, and his blond hair was tousled. "Can I come in?"
Wordlessly, I stepped back, letting him cross the threshold into my room before locking the door behind us. I noticed the large blade across his back, strapped over the combat vest, the gun at his hip, and blinked. "You found your weapons."
"Yeah." He took in the room with a practiced sweep then turned to me with a shrug. "Well, I didn't find them, exactly. Someone gave them to me early this evening, said Jackal ordered them returned to me."
"Jackal?" I gaped in shock. "Are you sure it was him?"
One corner of his lip quirked. "Positive. In fact, this came with them." He fished in his jeans pocket and handed me a note. I opened the crumpled paper, seeing the messy black slashes of Jackal's handwriting.
"Try not to lose these again, minion."
I snorted. "He's such a bastard, even when he's being helpful." Crumpling the note, I looked back at Zeke, expecting him to smile and agree with me.
His small grin had faded, and he was watching me with solemn blue eyes, his face tormented with unspoken words. My mind stirred uneasily. Was he angry at my rejection the night before? Maybe he had come to say goodbye, that he'd made a mistake coming here, and he was going back to Eden without me.
"Are you leaving?" I tried to keep the bitterness from my voice, the sudden desperation. "The Prince isn't keeping us here. Are you headed back to Eden tonight?"
His brow furrowed. "Of course not," he said in a quiet voice. "I wouldn't just leave like that."
"Then why are you here?"
Zeke gave a short, frustrated huff. "I don't know. Talk with me a second?" Looking faintly embarrassed, he went to the balcony doors, slid them open and stepped out onto the ledge. I followed, leaving the door partially open behind us. The wind whipped at our hair and clothes, tiny flurries dancing on the breeze.
Resting his elbows on the ice-covered railing, Zeke peered out over the city, his face dark. I followed his example, seeing the lights of the Inner City wink up at me and, beyond them, the looming darkness of the Fringe.
"It looks different from up here," I ventured. I didn't know why I was telling him, but the words flowed out of my mouth and swept away with the flurries. "When I lived in the Fringe, I used to stare up at these towers and think, what are they doing up there, right now? What kind of twisted life do they live? And now, here I am, staring down at the city, and there's probably some kid, some Fringer down there, thinking the exact same thing."
"Dreaming of a life in a vampire tower." Zeke's voice was low but not accusing, though he still didn't look at me. "Did you ever think about it? What it could be like?"
"Sometimes," I admitted. "Not very often." I remembered one frigid night, staring up at the vampire towers, hating the humans who were warm and fed and spoiled for betraying their own kind. But jealousy and hatred didn't keep you warm, and expending energy on wishing was useless. You might wish your mom was still alive, that she could still hold you and read to you every night, but it wouldn't bring her back. You could wish your friends wouldn't die in front of you, starving or bleeding or frozen, or that, just once, you didn't have to worry about finding food to keep yourself alive for one more day, but people still died, and you still went hungry many, many times.
Or you could wish that there was a way for a human and a vampire to be together without fear.
I swallowed and flicked a sideways glance at Zeke, still silent as he leaned against the railing, gazing into the darkness. Snowflakes perched in his pale hair and dusted his shoulders, making me want to brush them away. It was suddenly painful not to touch him, to feel his hands on mine, his lips, warm and strong. But, of course, with the desire came the savage ache of the Hunger. I remembered the sweetness of his blood, the hot strength flowing through me, the intoxicating power. I wanted him, badly, but I didn't know which was stronger. And I was afraid to find out.
I took a gulp of frosty air to clear my thoughts. My breath, I noted, did not billow out in front of me. "Why are you here, Zeke?" I asked, trying not to look at him again. "You came to tell me something. What is it?"
Zeke hesitated, idly brushing bits of ice off the railing, then took a deep breath himself. A small white cloud writhed into the wind as he exhaled. "Okay," he murmured, more to himself. "I can do this." Another pause, where he seemed fascinated by the lights of the city below, then, without looking at me, he asked, "Remember...remember what I said about wanting to start over?"
His voice was soft, nearly carried away on the wind, on the breath that twisted into the air and disappeared. I nodded warily.
He swallowed, turned to face me. "I lied. I don't want us to start over."
If he'd shoved a stake through my heart, I doubt it would've hurt more than what I felt right then. My throat closed up, but I kept my voice and expression neutral. "Oh?"
"No." He moved closer, and now we were almost touching. "I want things to be like they were...before," he whispered. "Before Jeb died, before Eden...before all of this. Do you remember those days? What it was like...between the two of us?"
I'd never forgotten. I recalled everything, from our first meeting in the abandoned town, to the hardness in his eyes when he'd discovered I was a vampire, to our first kiss in absolute darkness. He was a preacher's son, and I was the monster he'd been taught to hate, to destroy, but very gradually, we'd come to see each other as something more. And by the time we'd reached Eden and I'd said goodbye for the last time, something had grown between us that terrified us both.
"I remember," I whispered. "I wish things were the same, too."
Zeke reached out, and suddenly his warm hands were on my arms, drawing me close. "So stop running away from me," he whispered, sounding pained. "Please. I care for you, Allie. I..." He broke off, pausing, then continued in a soft, clear voice. "I want us to be together. I don't care what it takes." One hand rose to gently brush my cheek. "Let me prove it to you. Give me another chance."
"Zeke..." I closed my eyes against the softness of his touch, the sweet ache stifling the Hunger for just a moment. "You know what I am," I said, not able to look at him. "You know it could never...that a vampire and a human..."
"I'm not afraid." His breath fluttered across my skin. I heard his heart, pounding in his chest, and the Hunger stirred restlessly, never still. "I know what I'm getting into," Zeke continued softly. "I have both eyes open this time. You're a vampire and I'm human, and I don't care anymore. Unless... you don't feel the same."
He paused, waiting for me, but I couldn't answer, couldn't even look at him. Then, his forehead touched mine, and his thumbs were brushing my cheeks, palms gently cupping the back of my head. "Allie," he murmured, very softly, "if you don't feel anything, if this is all one-sided, tell me now and I won't ever bring it up again. But I'm betting one last time that I...mean something to you, and despite everything that's happened between us, we can make this work. I want to try. Allison..." He stroked my skin, his eyes boring into me. "I trust you."
No. I put my hands between us, not pushing him off, but stopping him from coming any closer. His words burned into my heart. He trusted me, a vampire, a monster. It was maybe the most precious thing he could offer, and something that I would never deserve.
He waited. His heartbeat pulsed against my fingers, rapid. Anxious. I felt its thrum vibrating all the way to the silent place in my own chest. Zeke's heart, in the palm of my hand. He was offering it to a monster who could so easily crush it, both literally and figuratively. I should. I should crush it figuratively now, so there'd be no chance I would literally rip the heart from his chest in the future.
But the thought made me ill. I didn't want to hurt him. And this thing we shared, these feelings swirling inside whenever he was close, they belonged to my other half. The part that was still human, however small it was, the one struggling with the demon and the Hunger every second of every day. That side wanted this, needed this. Zeke was a brilliant light that cut through the evil and darkness and bloodlust, down to that tiny part struggling to stay alive. I'd been clinging to his memory, that small piece of hope, ever since I left Eden, and I couldn't let it go. I just prayed I wouldn't drag him into the darkness with me.