You can fight it. I can show you how.”

“Do you want to know my first memory as a vampire?”

The words were flat, emotionless. He didn’t seem to have heard me. The wind tossed his hair and clothes as he stood unmoving, silhouetted against the horizon. “The first few nights,” he went on, “I didn’t know what was happening.

It was all flashes, blips of emotion and memory, like a fever dream. I didn’t know what Sarren was doing, or even how long it lasted—everything was hazy. Until one night.”

He bowed his head, oblivious or uncaring of the faint pink glow spreading across his skin. I trembled, clamped down on my instinct to run, and stayed where I was.

“I woke up in a barn,” Zeke went on, in that same dead voice. “And when I did, I couldn’t remember anything. I didn’t know where I was, or who I was. I just knew…I was starving.”

Dread twisted my insides. I suddenly had a horrible suspicion of where this story was going, and wanted to rip Sarren apart for his cruelty. I remembered my first awakening as a newly Turned vamp; the confusion, fear, rage and Hunger that followed, and my mentor’s patient care in explaining everything. That hadn’t happened for Zeke.

“I wasn’t alone, of course,” Zeke continued softly. “Sarren had locked me in and barred the door from the outside along with about a half dozen other people. Just simple farmers, women and a couple kids. They weren’t even armed.”

He paused, clenching his fists, as if the next memories were more than he could bear. “And I…I killed them, Allie. Every single one. I slaughtered them all.”

He choked, one hand going to his face, as I fought back tears, as well. “Zeke,” I managed, knowing I couldn’t imagine what he was feeling now, the guilt and utter horror of what he’d done. “I know it sounds horrible, but…that wasn’t you. When we’re Turned, when we first wake up, we don’t know what we’re doing. The Hunger takes over and we attack the first thing we see. Sarren knew that. You can’t blame it on yourself.”

“No.” He whirled on me, his gaze feverish. The desolation on his face made my stomach twist. “You don’t understand. I remember killing those people. I remember tearing them apart and…and I loved it, Allie.” His face screwed up with revulsion and self-loathing. “Don’t you see?” he whispered. “I’m not like you. You’ve fought this thing since the day you were Turned. I’ve…already fallen.” He blinked, and twin tracks of red slipped down his cheeks. “I’m a demon, and the sooner I take myself out of this world, the better.”

It was very bright now, or it seemed that way to my lightsensitive eyes. I didn’t know how much time we had left, but I couldn’t leave him here to die alone. “You’re not a demon,”

I pleaded, as my own tears spilled over to join his. “You’re just as strong as I am, Zeke. You can fight this. It doesn’t have to control you—”

“I’m a vampire now!” Zeke exploded, his face anguished.

More crimson lines coursed down his skin as he gestured violently toward the rising sun. “I died, Allison. I’m dead! What kind of existence can I expect from now on? Feeding on humans, only coming out at night, constantly fighting to stay in control, to not rip people apart for fun. Living for eternity as a cursed thing?” He sobbed. I couldn’t answer, because my own throat was filled with tears. Wiping his eyes, Zeke looked up at me, his expression desolate.

“My father is dead,” he whispered with a hopeless gesture.

“I can’t go back to Eden. My family won’t have anything to do with me now that I’m a vampire, and I can’t ever go near them, because I don’t want to put them in danger. Everyone I love will hate and fear me, and they have every right to.”

He gave another sob, closing his eyes and turning from me.

“I should have died,” he choked out. “Back in that lab with Sarren. I wanted to die. What’s keeping me here, Allison?

Why should I stay?”

“Because I love you, you idiot!”

He blinked, looking stunned. I slumped, feeling the tears still trickle from my eyes as I looked up at him, beseeching.

“That night in the lab,” I began in a soft, resigned voice, “when you…died…I lost myself for a little while. I almost became the monster you always hated.” Shame and guilt rose up once more, mingling with the fear and desperation. Memories of the night I had nearly crossed the line. “I thought it would be easier to let go of everything that made me human, to feel nothing. But I didn’t let it win, Zeke. Because of you.”

Zeke didn’t move or look away from me. I met his gaze head-on, uncaring of the red lines down my cheeks or the sudden, instinctive fear of those three words that left me wide open. “You told me once I wasn’t evil,” I said firmly. “That I wasn’t a demon, and I believed you. I still believe you.” I took a careful step forward, so that I was right at the edge of the girder, just a few feet away if I reached for him. “And I swear to you, Zeke, I’ll help you fight it. Every step of the way. I won’t let you become a monster. But you have to trust me now. Please. ”

The top of the sun broke over the horizon. Faint orange light spilled across the rooftops, and a blinding pain speared me right in the eyes. I hissed, half turning away, feeling the skin on my cheeks, forehead, hands, everywhere that wasn’t covered, erupt with pain.

“Go back,” Zeke choked out, his voice tight with agony. I peeked up and saw him silhouetted against the light, tendrils of smoke beginning to curl from his bare arms. His eyes were anguished as they met mine. “Allie, get inside. Leave me.”

“No.” Straightening, I turned to face the sun, feeling the light sizzle across my face. Putting one foot on the beam, I held out a hand, my fingers already red and raw. My tears felt like acid, searing down my cheeks. “I’m not leaving without you,” I said hoarsely. “So, you either come with me, or we both burn.”

Zeke closed his eyes. For another moment, he stood there, head bowed, fighting with himself. Finally, he let out a sob, a heartbroken, defeated sob…and stepped forward, placing his hand in mine. I pulled him from the edge, hurried to the gaping hole in the roof, and dropped into darkness, as the sun climbed fully over the rooftops and painted everything behind us in orange light.

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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