It also confirmed something I’d known for a while now, but refused to believe: Zeke Crosse, the boy I knew before, the human I’d fallen in love with, was dead. I had to accept that. Just like Allie the Fringer had died that night in the rain with the rabids, Ezekiel Crosse was no longer human.
He wasn’t the same; he couldn’t be. He was a vampire now, with all the bloodlust, Hunger, savagery and ruthlessness that came with it. He would never be the same sweet, innocent, selfless human I had known and loved. There would always be an edge to him, the knowledge that he was something dangerous, something lethal. That a demon lurked within and could come out at anytime. Was that something I could come to terms with? And, even more important, could he?
Or would I wake up this evening to find him gone, having finally chosen to meet the sun rather than put those in Eden at risk?
Angry, frustrated tears stung my eyes. I growled softly and clenched my fists, trying to drive them back. I was losing him.
Zeke was slipping further and further away, and nothing I said or did could reach him. I’d told him how I felt; I’d laid everything bare, promised I would help him fight the monster, that he wouldn’t be alone, and it didn’t seem to be enough.
I didn’t know what more I could do, what else I could offer.
His voice was a breath, a flutter across my cold skin. I froze, then turned to find him watching me, blue eyes solemn in the shadows of the room. I swallowed, meeting his gaze, not caring about the single track of red crawling down my cheek. Zeke’s expression tightened, a flicker of guilt and regret crossing his face. He looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t speak, just continued to watch him, and there was a moment of tense, awkward silence.
Then Zeke sighed, and the shadow of a wry, painful smile crossed his lips. “You know it’s the end of the world when Jackal starts making sense,” he whispered.
The wall between us shattered. I let out a choked, relieved laugh and fell into him. His arms enveloped me, pressing me close, and I clung to his waist, feeling his cool cheek against my neck.
“I’m sorry, Allie,” he murmured. Raising his head, he pressed his forehead to mine, his voice low but steady. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been so consumed with this whole vampire thing, I didn’t see you standing right there. And if I’d just listened, you were telling me exactly what I needed to hear.”
His brow creased in what might’ve been regret, or disgust.
“It’s…pretty bad when the egotistical murdering vampire has to set you straight. I guess I had that kick in the head coming for a while. At least Jackal is good for something.” A painful chuckle escaped him, and he shook his head. “I was blind, but I see things a little more clearly now. I won’t be a burden anymore.”
“You were never a burden,” I told him. “You were just… lost for a little while. We all were, at one point.”
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and his shoulders trembled. “I’m scared,” he whispered. “I’m terrified that I won’t be able to fight this, that I’ll turn into a demon and lose my soul forever, if it’s not already gone. The only reason I’m here, the one thing that’s keeping me from going out to meet the sun and ending it for good…is you.”
He took my arms, his gaze intense as he stared down at me. “I never wanted this,” he said. “All my life, I was taught that vampires are evil and soulless, and that’s what I believed, until I met you. You showed me that I was wrong, that vampires didn’t have to be monsters, and you even made me believe that they could still have a soul. I know that you still have yours. After everything we’ve been through, you’re still hanging on to it with both hands.”
I bit my lip as tears threatened again, hot and stinging.
There it was, that faith that I was more than a monster, even when he couldn’t believe it about himself. Zeke raised a hand to my cheek, brushing it softly with his thumb, still gazing into my eyes.
“I’m not the same person, Allie,” he said quietly. “I’m… not even a person anymore. I tried to kill you. I’ve murdered dozens of people, and I’m the offspring of an insane vampire who wants to destroy the world. The only thing that hasn’t changed, the one thing I’m sure of, are my feelings for you.
But…I’m different now.” He drew back slightly, as if to let me see him better. “I died, Allison,” he said in a soft, firm voice.
“Part of me was killed on that table with Sarren. I’ll still fight for my humanity, as hard as I can, but I know someday I’m going to slip up and give in to the monster. And when that day comes, I’m going to hate myself for a very long time.”
He clenched his jaw, his eyes going dark before he composed himself once more. “So, I have to know, vampire girl. Can you still be with me, even after all that? Even though I’m a monster, that I’ll never be the same?”
I didn’t hesitate. I already knew my answer. Zeke was a vampire. He would struggle with Hunger, rage and bloodlust in a way human Zeke could never fathom. But even as a human, he’d chosen to love a monster, and now it was my turn to trust him. To look past the demon and the monster, and find the human inside.
Reaching up, I slipped my arms around his neck, pulled him to me, and pressed my lips to his.
He sighed, and it seemed like it was a release, a letting go of fear, and doubt, and disbelief. A total surrender. His arms slid around me, gentle yet strong, and his lips moved with mine, kissing me back. Not fevered or passionate, trying to devour each other while desperately trying get close; this was tender and thoughtful and solemn, a promise without words.
I kept my eyes closed as we parted, my hands on either side of his face. “I thought I lost you,” I whispered, feeling the wet tracks on his own skin. “I thought we had more time, even though I knew better. Life is so fragile, and someone can be taken from you at any time. I’ve always known that.”
I slid my hand down his chest, to the spot where, not long ago, his heart had beat steady and sure against my palm. The stillness there now made me a little sad. “I guess I was trying to protect myself.”
“I love you, Zeke,” I whispered, and he froze. This time, the words didn’t scare me at all. “Vampire or human, it doesn’t matter to me. Sarren could’ve forced you to kill a hundred humans, and it wouldn’t change a thing. I would’ve come back for you regardless. And you’re wrong. You’re stronger then you think. You were the one who taught me that humanity is worth hanging on to, that it’s worth fighting for at all costs. You always told me that I was more than a monster.