I smirked triumphantly, though it didn’t last. “Allison, your brother is right. You cannot go charging into Sarren’s lair blind this time around. He will be expecting you.” Kanin’s voice turned grave. “And he will be ready for us all.”
The van died an hour later.
Kanin had slowed again, driving carefully beneath an overpass that had partially collapsed, leaving huge chunks of concrete leaning against each other at treacherous angles. As we cleared the bridge’s ominous shadow, the van shuddered, gave one final wheeze, and stopped moving. Kanin tried coaxing it to life, but no amount of prodding could revive it this time.
It was well and truly dead.
“Great.” I glared at Jackal as we piled out onto a lonely highway that stretched for miles in either direction. The trek to Eden had just become that much longer, and we didn’t have time to spare. “I know it’s irrational,” I told him, “but I blame you for this.”
“Whatever floats your boat, sister.” Jackal ignored my glare and walked to the front of the van, then lifted up the hood with a creak. Gazing over the complicated jumble of metal and wires, he shook his head. “Could be the fuel hose, could be the alternator. Or the engine might be shot to hell. I won’t know unless I fiddle with it.” He eyed Kanin, who stood calmly at the front of the vehicle. “Unless that screws with your time schedule, oh, impatient one. This might take a couple hours, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get it started again. But by all means—” he waved a hand down the empty, moonlit highway “—feel free to take the runts and start walking, and I’ll meet you down the road. If you hear me coming, just stick out a thumb.” Jackal grinned, his eyes glowing yellow in the shadow of the hood. “I’ll slow down. Probably.”
Kanin gave him a level stare. “No,” the Master vampire said, as if that was the end of it. “We go to Eden together, or not at all. Unless someone truly wants to leave for good, we face Sarren as a unit. There is too much at stake to take chances.” Jackal shrugged and stuck his head beneath the hood again as Kanin went on. “We can make up for a few hours if we have a working vehicle. What do you need to repair it?”
“Besides a bloody miracle?” There was a grunt, and Jackal swore. “Parts. Tools. And a new engine would be f**king fantastic. But since we’re sort of screwed on any of those, peace and quiet, without a certain obnoxious sibling bitching at me every two minutes.”
“Funny, I think that exact same thing every day.”
“There were a few vehicles a couple miles back,” Zeke said, startling me. His voice hadn’t changed; it still was empty as ever, as if none of this interested him. “They looked abandoned. Want me to go see if any of them start? Since this is going to take a while.”
“The puppy speaks,” Jackal mocked, peering up from the hood. “And he actually said something useful. Yeah, why don’t you do that, bloodbag? And while you’re at it, see if any of them have fuel. Fixing this thing won’t matter for shit if we don’t have gas.”
“I’ll go, too,” I said, quickly pushing myself off the van.
Jackal snickered and muttered, “Big surprise,” as he ducked back under the hood, but I ignored him. No way was I letting Zeke out of my sight now. I didn’t think he would head off down the road alone to meet the rising sun, but I honestly wasn’t sure. This cold, emotionally detached Zeke worried me more than if he’d acted angry and bitter.
I wanted to talk to him without Jackal’s snide comments or Kanin’s silent but unmistakable presence. If I could just get him alone, talking freely, maybe I could break through the icy shell he’d built around himself. Or at least get him to tell me what was going on.
“Allison.” Kanin’s voice reached me over the van. I glanced at my sire, saw sympathy and understanding in his dark eyes.
“Be careful,” he warned. “You will likely not meet with rabids or humans, but still, remain on your guard. Return immediately if there is trouble.”
“We will,” I promised, and glanced at the vampire beside me. “Ready, Zeke?”
Zeke returned my gaze and nodded, but his eyes remained distant. Reaching into the van, he emerged with a faded red container and turned down the long stretch of highway behind us. “Let’s go.”
We followed the road for several minutes in silence. Zeke walked next to me, gaze fixed on the distant horizon. Around us, nothing moved. The highway stretched on, empty and still, the only sounds the crunch of our boots on the snowy pavement. I was trying to think of a way to talk to Zeke, to breach the silence, when his voice echoed quietly into the stillness.
“Go ahead and ask.”
Startled, I glanced at him, seeing his empty face, the cold, remote eyes, and swallowed painfully. “Zeke…” I hesitated, not really knowing how to put it, what to ask. I can’t reach you. You’ve pul ed so far back, I don’t even recognize you anymore.
Is this a choice, or is this what you are now? Is there anything left of the old Zeke? The one I…fell in love with?
“This isn’t like you,” I finally said, wishing I knew how to express my true thoughts. He didn’t reply, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with me, and my concern spiked. “Talk to me, Zeke,” I urged. “I know you have to have questions, about everything. I can help. I’m not as good a teacher as Kanin, but I’ll do my best.”
“I don’t want to know,” Zeke said. At my confused frown, he finally looked at me, a flicker of pain finally cracking his icy mask. “I don’t need to understand vampire politics, or rit-uals, or if they have special holidays,” he said. “I only have to understand one thing—I’m a demon. I may not have wanted it, but it’s what I am now.” His jaw tightened, brow furrowing as if he was in pain. “This rage, and bloodlust, and Hunger…I can feel it inside me. And if I let it go, for one second, I’ll lose everything.”
“You can control it—”
“I’m trying, Allison.” He bared his fangs, then his face smoothed out, returning to that blank front of indifference.
“I’m trying. If I don’t think about…what I lost, if nothing matters, I don’t feel it as strongly. If I give in to anger or hate or regret, it’s that much closer to coming out.”
“So, your answer is to feel nothing at all.”