I glanced at him. "What do you mean?"
"The mole men know where they are. Their defenses are gone. If they attack again, they'll likely succeed in killing everyone." He watched a refugee limp across the room, and shook his head. "We won't be around to protect them much longer."
"They can't stay here then," I muttered. "They have to find another camp. Where, though? Another place in the tunnels?"
"You would risk running into more mole men," Kanin pointed out. "If they are this incensed about topsiders invading their territory, perhaps it is best that they leave it altogether."
"Yeah, but where?" I asked again. "Up top isn't any safer, with the bleeders and the crazies running around. Where could they possibly go that's remotely safe?"
"This was your old sector, was it not?"
"Yes, but..." I stopped, thinking. I did know of one place. It's not far, I mused to myself. And it's fairly isolated. The basement is a good spot to hole up if things go bad. Not ideal, but better than here. "Right," I muttered, pushing myself off the wall. "I know where we can go."
I found Zeke standing among the huge rusted boilers at the back of the room. His back was to me, and his head was bowed as he gazed at something near his feet. Curious, I walked up behind him, peered down and winced.
Roach sat against one of the columns, his young face turned sightlessly to the ceiling, the hilt of a dagger shoved through his chest. The walkie-talkie was still clutched in one hand.
Knowing Zeke, knowing he was blaming himself, I put a hand on his arm. It was so hot, burning under my fingertips. "This isn't your fault," I said softly.
He didn't answer. Stepping forward, he bent down and gently took the walkie-talkie from Roach's limp grasp, a heavy, broken sigh escaping him as he rose.
"Zeke," I ventured as he turned around, his face frozen into a stoic mask. "The other refugees. They can't stay here."
"I know." He replaced the walkie-talkie, sliding it onto his belt, and became businesslike again. "I was trying to come up with a way to tell you and Kanin. I'm taking them topside. You don't...have to stick around. You should go after Sarren. I'll be fine."
He wasn't looking at me. Anger flickered, but I kept my voice calm, reasonable. "You don't know this sector as well as I do. Where will you go?"
"We'll find a place." His eyes strayed back to Roach, and he turned away, walking slowly back toward the group. "Dawn is about two hours from now," he said, passing me without looking up. "It'll take that long to get topside and find a place to hide from the bleeders. You and Kanin can still get a good head start back to Sector Two before morning. Don't worry about me. I'll catch up when I can."
A growl rose to my throat. Reaching out, I grabbed his elbow, spun him around and pushed him back into a pillar. He gave a startled whoof, eyes widening in shock, before I stepped up and kissed him, hard.
He froze for a second, before his arms came up to pull me closer. I leaned into him, feeling the Hunger rise up, feeling his lips on mine, his hands sliding over my back. I let myself feel all these things, including the urge to drop my head to his neck and plunge my fangs into his throat. I could control it, I would control it. Because there was no way I was letting Zeke go now.
"I have a better idea," I whispered when we finally pulled back. My face was inches from his, and I could feel the heat radiating from him, hot and feverish. "Why don't you let us help you?"
His chest heaved beneath my palms. "What about Sarren?"
"We'll find Sarren." I slipped my fingers into his hair, brushing it back, and he closed his eyes. "We can get these people to safety and find Sarren in time. It doesn't have to be one or the other, Zeke." He didn't answer, and I dropped my hands, resting them on his shoulders, the backs of my fingers lightly touching his neck. "I have a place we can go topside-the old school, where I used to live. It's isolated, there's plenty of space and it's fairly secure. They'll be safe there, as safe as they can be anywhere in the Fringe. We just have to get them out of here, now."
"I don't want to slow you down."
I gave him a challenging half smirk. "You were the one who traveled halfway across the country to find me, Zeke Crosse. Now that you have, and now that you insist that something brought us together, I'm afraid you're not getting rid of me that easily. Or, maybe I should say, I'm not letting you go. Vampires are possessive like that."
A tiny snort, and his eyes finally lightened a shade. "So, you're saying I'm a pet now, vampire girl?"
It really wasn't the place, or the time, to be thinking of this. Sarren was out there, Jackal was gone, and we still had the refugees to deal with tonight. Kanin and Zeke were both living on borrowed time, and every second was crucial. But all I could think of now was how much I wanted this. I wanted to take this risk, despite all the years of self-preservation telling me to hide, to pull back, protect myself. Zeke had not protected himself. He'd come to New Covington knowing exactly who I was, what I was, and he was the reason I could take a chance. The reason I could, for once, put my heart on the line, open myself up and let someone in.
My arms slipped around his neck. I looked up at his face, into those clear sapphire eyes and whispered, "Kiss me, Zeke."
He did. His eyes closed, he lowered his head and his lips closed over my own, gentle and soft. This one lasted several long moments, and when Zeke drew back again, his eyes were dark with passion. But they were a little wary now, too.
"Kanin is watching us," he murmured.
My head cleared instantly. I felt a tiny stab of fear, wondering what my mentor would say, if he would scold, or shake his head in disgust. Certainly, he wouldn't be pleased. I couldn't see his face very well, as he was still across the room in his dark corner, but I could feel the weight of his stare, boring into me.
Zeke gently pushed me back, stepping off the pillar. "I'll get the others ready to move," he said. "It shouldn't take long. How far to this school of yours?"
"We'll be there before dawn," I told him, still feeling Kanin's eyes on us. You knew he would find out about you and Zeke sometime, Allison. He probably suspected everything even before this. Question is, do you care what he thinks about a vampire and a human?
"All right." Zeke nodded. "Let me explain what's going on to everyone. We'll be ready to head out in a few minutes."
He turned back, eyes questioning. And before I lost my nerve, in full view of my sire, I stepped up to him, put my hands on the sides of his face and kissed him one more time.
I know you're watching, Kanin. And yes, this is my answer.
Zeke drew back, looking a little dazed. Gazing down at me, he gave a wry smile, licking his lips. "That...didn't have anything to do with him over there, did it?" he asked, sounding suspiciously amused, and a little breathless. I bit my lip.
"Does that bother you?"
"If it involves kissing you? Please, use me to prove a point anytime." With a faint smile, he squeezed my arm and stepped back, and I let him this time. "I'll get everyone together. Give me ten minutes and we'll be ready to go."
I watched him depart, steeled myself and then walked over to Kanin, who hadn't moved from his place in the corner.
"That was interesting." he mused in a toneless voice as I joined him along the wall. "I assume that last display was solely for my benefit?"
"Allison." My sire looked at me, solemn and grave. "I am not in any position to tell you what to do, or how to live your life," he said, surprising me. "You already know my thoughts, and, as I've discovered before, you will either heed my advice, or you won't. I don't need to remind you. You're not the same girl I left outside New Covington, and I am no longer your teacher.
"However," he continued, just as I'd started to relax, "I will issue this one warning. I will not Turn that boy for you, if it comes down to that. He is...too human to make it as a vampire. It would destroy him very quickly."
"I know," I muttered, watching Zeke move among the refugees, keeping his distance in order not to infect them. "He already made me promise the same thing. That if he was dying, to just...let him go."
Kanin's eyes searched the side of my face. "And could you?" he asked softly. "Let him go?"
I didn't answer, and Kanin didn't push the question. We watched the humans in silence, two vampires standing in the darkness on the outskirts of humanity, always looking in.
We took the remaining refugees through the tunnels, very nearly the whole way. This soon after the attack, we weren't worried about a mole man ambush. Now that they knew vampires had invaded their home, they were likely fleeing to scattered corners of the sewers, to hide and wait for the monsters to return to the surface. The bigger danger would come from the bleeders up top. Despite the emptiness of the tunnels, progress was slow. Most of the refugees had been hurt, and a couple were severely wounded, slowing our hike to a near crawl. I bit down my impatience and ignored the demon inside telling me to eat a few, to kill off the weak and sick. Dawn wasn't far, and at this rate, we'd barely have enough time to get off the streets and out of the light.
The sky was an ominous gray as we finally made our painstaking way across the empty lot, ignoring the few frozen corpses lying in the weeds. The snow had stopped, and the old school looked like a sullen beast huddled against the cold. I led everyone through the doors, down the shadowy, rubble-strewn halls, to the basement at the bottom of the stairs. It was pitch-black down there and probably freezing, but the room had cement walls, no windows, and a single thick door that barred from the inside. It was the most secure place I knew, in the Fringe, anyway. If the bleeders could get this far, there was no hope for the uninfected humans.
Zeke watched the refugees set up the new camp, waited until blankets had been passed out, fires had been lit, and people had settled in, before turning to me.
"They'll be all right now," he muttered. He'd been coughing the whole way here, and had wrapped a strip of cloth around his nose and mouth to keep the sickness contained. Sweat glistened on his brow, even through the cold, and the fabric below his lips was spattered with red.
I nodded. "At least they'll be safe from the bleeders here." Food was still going to be a problem, but food was always a problem in the Fringe. Zeke suddenly winced and pressed a palm to his forehead, making my stomach clench in worry. "You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Headache." He dropped his hand, smiling to ease my fear. "Where did Kanin go?"
"He said he was going to find a place to sleep." Kanin had vanished soon after we had showed everyone to the basement, slipping into the darkness without a sound. And in this big, crumbling building with its countless rooms and dark corridors, I'd probably never find him. I would have to follow him soon. The sun was up now, and sluggishness pulled at my eyelids. "I need to get going, too."
"Allie." Zeke sounded uncomfortable, raking a hand through his damp bangs. "Can I...come with you?" he asked, making me blink in surprise. "I don't want to stay down there," he continued, nodding toward the basement door. "Not when I could put the others at risk. I don't want this thing to spread."