"I'm sure you two know each other," I said, moving aside to watch Jackal and Kanin, wondering if I would see a hint of their past, a clue to what had happened between them.
"Yes," Kanin said in a toneless voice, staring at Jackal, his face unreadable. "We do." Jackal stared back, a dangerous smirk on his face, and Kanin smiled faintly. "Hello, James."
Jackal's eyes closed, and mine nearly bulged out of the sockets. "James?" I said in disbelief, an evil grin spreading over my face as I turned on him. "Your real name is James?"
Jackal sighed, giving Kanin a disgusted look. "Nice one, old man. Well played. You would have to bring that up, wouldn't you?"
"I believe I also said I would kill you if I ever saw you again."
"Yeah, well..." Jackal shrugged and nodded to Zeke. "Get in line behind the little bloodsack over there. Although, really, you should be the one at the top of his list. It's kind of amusing, really. That he has no idea who you are, what you've done."
Kanin's eyes flicked to the human, silently watching this exchange a few yards away. "Kanin," I said, stepping in before Jackal could do any more damage, "this is Zeke. He came to help us find you. He's coming with us to look for Sarren, as well."
I thought he would ask questions, but Kanin just nodded acceptance. I was relieved, but it seemed Jackal wasn't done yet.
"Oh, and here's an interesting tidbit for you, Kanin," the raider king added, his voice low and his eyes gleaming dangerously. "Remember those scientists, the ones working on a cure sixty years ago? The ones you hunted for, handed over our kin to? What was the head guy's name again? Oh yeah, Malachi. Malachi Crosse."
Zeke jerked, and Kanin tensed at the name. I turned to Jackal, fangs bared, ready to tell him to shut up, but it was too late.
"Say hello," the vampire continued, jerking his head at Zeke, "to his great-grandson. Ezekiel Crosse."
Kanin went rigid. Slowly, he turned, staring at Zeke as if seeing him for the first time, then started toward him. Zeke stiffened but held his ground as the vampire approached, the dark eyes frighteningly intense.
"Kanin," I began, stepping forward.
My sire ignored me, his entire focus on the human in front of him. "Your father," he rasped in a low, husky voice, "is Jebbadiah Crosse?"
"Was," Zeke answered calmly. Briefly, his gaze flicked to Jackal, who was watching this little scene with a smile on his face. Anger rippled over Zeke's features, making his eyes flash, before they were composed once more. "He died. A few months ago."
"I am sorry," Kanin said, and by his tone, he did not miss that brief look between Jackal and Zeke, and could guess what had happened. "But, the research," he continued, almost desperately, making me blink. I'd never seen him so anxious before. "The vampire experiments. Do you know about them? Do you have the data?"
Zeke shook his head. "Not anymore," he replied, and Kanin's shoulders slumped. In that moment, he looked like he'd lost everything, that the terrible burden he carried had finally broken him, and he didn't have the strength or the will to fight any longer. Zeke shot me a questioning look and I nodded, telling him to go on. "I don't have it," Zeke continued softly. "But, it's safe. It's in Eden now."
"Eden." Kanin's voice was a whisper, and he raised his head. "Then it's real. It exists."
"Don't ask me to tell you where it is," Zeke said firmly. "I won't do that."
"I would not ask." Kanin backed away, almost in a fog. "You have no reason to trust me," he continued, speaking to Zeke though his eyes were distant now, far away. "But, to know that it is safe. That there is still hope..."
He trailed off, but the look on his face made my stomach tighten in sympathy. I was about to say something, but footsteps down the hall announced the approach of Dr. Emerson and a squad of four vampire Elite. The doctor looked bored as he came up, a knapsack in one hand, a small cooler in the other.
"The Prince has decreed that you be resupplied before heading out into the Fringe," he said flatly, as if this was some unnecessary detail he had to take care of before going back to work. "Here. Supplies for pets..." He tossed the knapsack at Zeke, who caught it with a frown and held out the cooler. "Supplies for vampires. Though I'd suggest you use these soon. They will not keep very long."
"Forget it," I growled, eyeing the cooler with suspicion. I remembered the blood bag I had choked down the night before, and my stomach curled. Had it been poisoned, as well? Would I be feeling sick right now if it had? Kanin had known something was wrong, but Kanin was a Master and had been a vampire far longer. Would my body start to rot away in a few hours, the virus consuming it from the inside? I bared my fangs at the thought. "We're not touching any blood you offer us, ever. Especially after..."
I trailed off as Kanin gave me a sharp look, warning me not to say anything. The glare was obvious: he didn't want anyone to know he was sick. Frustrated, I fell silent, but no one disagreed with me, though Jackal gave me a bemused look, as if he thought I was being irrational.
The doctor shrugged. "Suit yourself. You should know by now not to feed from any humans out in the Fringe. If their blood is infected, the virus they carry will destroy you."
"We know that," I said icily. "Your Prince made it very clear."
"Good. Then the guards will escort you out."
And they did, riding the elevator up to the first floor with us, seven vampires and one human packed into one small metal box. I had an odd sense of surrealism as I thought about it-me, my sire, my blood brother and Zeke. Four very different people who, under normal circumstances, would never be together. Who would probably be enemies. But here we were.
There were two vehicles sitting in the street right outside the tower, boxy-looking things with large tires and headlights across the hood. A uniformed human nodded at us as we approached.
"The Prince has ordered that you be taken to the Sector Two gate," he told us, and nodded at Kanin and Jackal. Another soldier, standing beside the humming vehicles, opened the back door as the guard motioned them inside. "Two to a car, if you would. The girl and the human can take the second one."
"Why can't we all go together?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, ma'am." The soldier's voice was polite but firm. "But we must escort you there like this."
I could've argued, but Kanin and Jackal didn't seem to care, beyond Jackal giving Kanin a smug look, which Kanin ignored. I guessed if the Prince wanted us dead, he would've killed us by now. "Fine," I muttered, turning toward the second car. "Let's go, Zeke."
One we were inside, however, I realized why we'd been separated. It wasn't on the Prince's command after all.
Stick and his ever-present bodyguards sat across from us, their crossbows already drawn and angled at my heart. I felt Zeke tense, but the doors closed behind us, the locks clicking into place. Stick smiled, crossing his legs, gesturing to the seats across from him. "Sit down, Allie."
Warily, we sat. The vehicle rumbled and began to move.
The lights of the city cast moving shadows across Stick's face as he stared at me, fingers steepled under his chin. If he was trying to impress or intimidate me, I was so not having it. "What do you want, Stick?" I asked before he could say a word. His eyes narrowed, as if I'd stolen the first line from him, as if this was some kind of stupid game.
"My name," he said, glaring at me, "is Stephen. Mr. Stephen, first aide to Prince Salazar himself. Stick was my worthless Fringer name, the name everyone thought I deserved. The name you and Lucas started calling me, because that's all I was to you. Something that could be broken and easily thrown away." His gaze slid to Zeke, who watched us in confusion, and his eyes glittered. "I used to be her best friend, you know. Did she tell you that? Back when we were both street rats, living in the Fringe? Did she ever mention us?"
"No," said Zeke calmly. He sat with his arms crossed, regarding Stick warily. He had to feel the obvious tension rising between us, but his voice remained neutral. "I never asked."
"Maybe you should someday," Stick went on, ignoring my warning growl. "Maybe you should ask her about Lucas and how he died. Our old gang leader, you know. She cared for him, too, even though she tried to hide it. Poor Lucas." Stick shook his head. "He thought he loved her, and got left to the rabids because of it."
"Stick!" I bared my fangs, and the guards next to him raised their crossbows, stopping me. I seethed, furious and desperate to shut Stick up. My demon, of course, was urging me to silence him by ripping out his throat, and it had never been more tempting than it was at that moment.
But Zeke's cool, soothing voice broke through the rising anger, stilling it for now. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked quietly, and I heard the disapproval in his tone. "I thought you two were friends."
"Friends." Stick gave a bitter smile. "Maybe once. I thought she was my friend. But she was just pretending. They all were. She's good at that, you know." Stick turned a wounded gaze on me, a flash of real hurt crossing his face. "She pretends to care about you, she pretends she wants you around, but it's all an act. Nothing she shows you is real, isn't that right, Allie?" He held my gaze, and to my shock, I saw the glimmer of tears before he blinked and they disappeared, almost too fast to be seen. "I wanted you to trust me, I wanted to show you that I could be more, but you never gave me the chance. You always thought I was worthless. Well, I'm not worthless now, am I?"
"I never thought of you like that," I whispered through clenched teeth. "And if I closed myself off, it was because I couldn't bear to see you die. I couldn't bear to see any of you die."
Stick laughed then. It was an ugly sound. "For all the good it did." He turned to Zeke again, one corner of his mouth twisted and sneering. "Fair warning," he said, glaring contemptuously at the other human. "Don't get too close. She doesn't trust anyone, and she'll never let you in. Besides, everyone who gets close to her tends to disappear."
"Thanks for the warning," Zeke said. And, in full view of Stick, the guards and everyone, he very deliberately reached over and took my hand, lacing our fingers together. "But I think I'll be fine."
I'd never really seen Stick livid before, but the look he turned on Zeke could've peeled paint from the wall. Pure hate, anger and...jealousy?...darkened Stick's expression, but Zeke stared back, unruffled, stroking my hand with his thumb and sending shivers up my arm. I sat rigid, watching Stick, seeing his face turn a dangerous red, his jaw clenching as he glared at the boy across from him.
Abruptly, Stick turned, snatched the gun from his guard's belt and raised it, point-blank, at Zeke.
"Don't move, Allie!" Stick cried as I jerked up, his glare wide and feverish. "If you move, all I have to do is pull the trigger, and his brains will be all over the back window. Keep going!" he yelled to the soldier up front, who cursed but continued to drive. "You see?" Stick went on, panting and grinning savagely. "You see how they listen? Everyone listens to me, except you! But now, you'll listen to me, because I have the power. I can kill him-" He stabbed a glare at Zeke, raising the gun. "I can kill him now, and the Prince won't care. He won't care about one human. So you'll start listening to me now, Allie, or I swear I'll shoot him!"