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Fated 02 severed, p.10
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       Fated 02: Severed, p.10

           Sarah Alderson
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  In sleep she caught a glimpse of another Lucas. It made her stomach stretch and tie itself into knots to contemplate him this way. A sadness weighed her down – that there was this other Lucas buried beneath the surface who she’d never get to meet. Who he’d never get to be.

  As soon as she rolled away and inched herself out of his arms she felt the loss, not just of him but of whatever peace she felt when she was close to him. In its place came a rush of adrenaline and a storm of worry and fear. She was tempted to lie straight back down again and let the peace enfold her, go back to pretending that they were both something else, that they weren’t lying in the bottom bunk in a stranger’s house, being hunted by demons. But she didn’t. She got up and walked to the door and headed to the kitchen, intending to make some coffee and wait until Cyrus woke up, at which point she was going to demand that he took them straight to see Margaret. She couldn’t wait any longer. Every minute, every second in fact, that they waited to figure this out, was another minute or another second in which someone else might get hurt.

  She walked into the kitchen area and stood transfixed by all the chrome shininess. She could see her own reflection stretched balloon-like across the surface of the toaster and shied quickly away from it, heading instead to the fridge and pulling open the gigantic door.

  ‘Looking for something?’

  Evie spun around, her heart flying into her mouth. Cyrus was standing in the centre of the room by the sofas. He was wearing only a pair of sweatpants and boxing gloves. Her gaze dropped straight away to his chest but only for a fraction of a second before she realised what she was doing and hauled her gaze northwards. It was a long enough glimpse, however, for her to have noticed the corrugated six-pack of muscle running across his torso and long enough also for him to have noticed she’d noticed and to start smirking.

  ‘Just getting something to drink, if that’s OK?’ she answered, turning back to the fridge and cursing herself silently. Encouraging Cyrus’s ego in any way was tantamount to flaying oneself alive. She straightened her face and turned back, throwing him a bored look. ‘When are we going to see your mother?’ she asked.

  He rolled his eyes at her, ‘Later,’ he said. ‘Want to work up a sweat with me first?’

  She threw him one of her dirtiest looks. He grinned in response and pointed with his gloved hand towards a punch bag slung from one of the beams across the ceiling. ‘Training. Boxing. What did you think I meant?’ he asked, raising his eyebrows innocently. ‘You should train – it’ll be different now. You’ll enjoy it. It’ll be pretty intense.’

  ‘I’m not sure there’s much point,’ Evie muttered as she filled a glass to the brim with milk.

  ‘Why not?’

  She slopped some milk onto the counter as she looked up at him in surprise that he’d heard. Damn. She’d forgotten. Supersonic hearing. She would have to watch that. She set the glass down on the counter and started wiping the milk up, not sure how to answer.

  ‘You’re a Hunter,’ he said, using his teeth to loosen the laces of his gloves, ‘and last time I checked you were the most sought-after object in all the realms. If I were you I’d be training. Or is it that you think you’re too important for that and expect us to protect you instead?’ He dropped the gloves to the floor.

  Evie stared at him for one second before slamming her glass down on the side and marching straight over to him. His goading expression transformed into a bemused smile as she headed towards him but she also caught the spark of uncertainty flash across his face as she got nearer. Just before she reached him she sidestepped, bringing her arm back and punching the bag in a fast one-two movement that forced Cyrus to jerk sharply out of its path. He swore loudly, catching the bag as it swung towards him on the rebound.

  She waited until he was looking straight at her again, with a gratifyingly wary expression. ‘I don’t need protection,’ she told him. ‘I’m fine. That’s the one thing I am sure of.’ She gave him a terse smile. ‘I’m going to be fine.’ And with that she walked away, hearing the angry slap of her bare feet against the wooden floorboards.

  ‘Ooh, sure of yourself,’ Cyrus called to her back.

  She paused mid-step, reeled around and then strode back towards him. ‘That would be a little ironic coming from you, wouldn’t it?’ she asked, smacking the punch bag again. God, it was good to hit something. Her body felt amped. She was fairly sure she could punch the bag into orbit without even trying. Cyrus ducked in time and caught the bag, twisting it high and holding it up out of her reach, as though he was dangling a bone above a starving dog.

  ‘I’m not sure of myself,’ she said, glowering at him. ‘I just know because the prophecy is marked.’ She saw his eyebrows draw together in a frown and a question form on his lips. ‘You know what?’ she said quickly, before he could get the question out. ‘I’m so bored of hearing about this damn prophecy. Can we talk about something else instead?’

  He frowned at her some more, his lips pursing, but then he released the punch bag. ‘Sure,’ he answered with a shrug.

  She took another swipe – this time a cobra strike that Victor had taught her. Cyrus grunted and steadied the bag against his shoulder, leaning into it as she punched it another dozen times. She liked hearing the smack as her fist made contact with the leather and she liked the fact that Cyrus had to dig his heels into the ground to keep his balance.

  ‘So, what are you doing here?’ she asked, when she had finally stopped to catch her breath.

  ‘I’m getting my butt kicked,’ he laughed, rubbing his shoulder and trying to hide the wince.

  ‘Yeah, other than that,’ she said, deciding to try a jump kick without warning him. ‘You know what I mean,’ she said, spinning with her leg outstretched so the sole of her foot slammed into the bag sending Cyrus flying backwards, his arms flailing.

  Getting his balance, he stared at her for a few seconds, his eyes narrowing slightly, before he turned and walked to the sofa to pick up a towel he’d flung over the arm. Evie watched him wipe the sweat off the back of his neck, and whipped around quickly before he could catch her looking. If she had to see him smirk just one more time she’d do away with the punch bag and start using his face instead. ‘Why are you hanging out in a loft space slash playboy den?’ she asked between punches.

  ‘I need somewhere to bring the ladies,’ he answered with no trace of irony.

  ‘Ladies, plural?’ Evie asked. Cyrus was running the towel across his chest now, watching her the whole time. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she stopped punching and crossed her hands over her chest, aware of the sweat that had started to run down her collarbone and trickle towards her navel. She was still wearing Flic’s black camisole top and jeans from the night before. Neither left much to the imagination in the cold light of day.

  Cyrus dropped the towel, and leant over the sofa for a glass of water he’d placed on the table. She noted the long scar running across his back – a lash from a Scorpio tail it looked like – and then the ripple of muscle as he set the glass down. Her eyes were back on the punch bag, admiring the stitching, when he looked back.

  ‘My mum,’ he said, ‘she had some money. She has some money I should say. We fixed this place up.’ He wiped his arm across his face and then crossed to two ropes hanging down with hoops dangling from the ends of them. He took hold of one in each hand and pulled himself upright so her face was suddenly level with his crotch.

  ‘Where does your mum live?’ Evie asked, tilting her head back so she was looking at his face. ‘Not here, I take it.’

  ‘No. She lives about half an hour away, depending on traffic.’

  ‘And what does she do now?’

  Cyrus was stretching his arms out wide, pulling his legs up behind him to form a horizontal cross. Evie noted with annoyance that he wasn’t even shaking with the tension of holding the pose. ‘She has a few stores,’ he grunted. ‘They do pretty well.’

  Evie stared at him, blinking slowly. It was possible then, she thought i
n amazement, to get away and create a life outside this, to be something else other than a Hunter – to be normal.

  ‘I have a question,’ she asked.

  ‘Shoot,’ he answered, moving fluidly into a handstand.

  Evie momentarily lost her train of thought watching the way he moved, his arms locked straight, the muscles in his shoulders glistening with sweat. On the inside of his left arm she spied the tattoo again. It looked like some sort of bird, but upside down she couldn’t see enough detail to make out what type of bird it was.

  ‘If she was a Hunter and she ran away from all that, why are you one?’ she asked. ‘Why, when you have all this and could be staying at home impressing the ladies with your mad air-hockey skills or your gymnastic routines, are you out there hunting unhumans?’

  Cyrus landed in a silent crouch in front of her. ‘I was wondering when you’d get around to asking that,’ he said with a grin.

  Chapter 20

  Evie waited but he didn’t give her an answer. Instead Cyrus reached into the back pocket of his sweatpants and drew out what looked like a white bandage. He took hold of her left hand and pulled her towards him. Evie tried to snatch her hand back but he held fast, his fingers gripping her wrist. ‘You’re going to hurt yourself punching like that,’ he said by way of explanation as he started binding her hand and knuckles. ‘You’re healing quickly,’ he said, lifting his eyes to her forehead.

  She felt with the fingertips of her free hand along her hairline.

  ‘Mixen burn?’ he asked, his thumb stroking the uneven patch of skin on her forearm.

  ‘Yes,’ she nodded, looking down at it. It had almost faded to nothing. His thumb stopped tracing and went back to tying a knot in the bandage. ‘So are you going to tell me why you’re a Hunter when there’s no need for you to be?’

  He finished bandaging her right hand then let go of it. It flopped to her side feeling weirdly mummified. He considered her for a moment as though he was bemused that she didn’t know the answer already. Then finally he spoke. ‘Because, Evie, we can’t fight who we are.’

  She frowned at him. Victor had used those exact words just a few weeks ago. She opened her mouth to shout something back at him about screwing who we are, but Cyrus had already grabbed hold of a rope and was starting to shimmy up it like a spider monkey.

  She watched him. ‘Why does everyone keep saying that?’

  Cyrus reached the top and jumped to the ground – again landing silently in a crouch beside her. ‘Maybe because it’s true? Listen, my mum would just love for me to go to Harvard or Yale. Hey, what’s so funny?’

  Evie bit the inside of her cheek to kill the smirk.

  ‘I could have got the grades,’ he went on, ‘if I’d finished school. I could totally have gone there. I just chose not to – wasn’t my thing. Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be this. To do this. It’s in my genes.’ He walked over to her and pressed a finger to her chest. ‘Just as it’s in your genes, Evie. You’re a pureblood. It’s even more in your genes than mine. For you, being a Hunter is as undeniable as having blue eyes and a tight ass.’ He winked and spun on his heel once more.

  ‘But how did you know it was even who you were?’ she asked, trying to twist so that her behind was out of view. ‘I had no idea. If Victor hadn’t come along and told me I wouldn’t have just known. I never had an impulse to go out and kill people. I never even knew unhumans existed for God’s sake. I’d have just kept living in blissful ignorance. I would have finished school, moved to New York, probably studied journalism. My life would have been normal.’ Though normal, she realised as she said it, wouldn’t have included Lucas.

  She started punching the bag again. Cyrus was right; the bandages actually gave her more strength, more power. It would be frightening quite how much she’d grown in strength if it wasn’t so exhilarating. She almost wished that Victor was there in the flesh so she could rip him a new one.

  Cyrus was leaning against the sofa with his ankles crossed, watching her. ‘Well, wave goodbye to the dream of normality,’ he said. ‘Normality is boring. You wouldn’t have been happy.’

  ‘You didn’t answer the question yet,’ she snapped back, angry that he was presuming to know what made her happy. Though maybe he was right. She hadn’t been happy back in Riverview. But was she any happier now living this life? Her hands fell to her sides. Weirdly, and wrong as it felt to admit it, she was happier. But not because she was a Hunter. She was happier because Lucas was in her life. Before he’d arrived she’d been hollow, a remnant of the girl she once had been, her heart carved out by grief. Now it felt whole again. She felt whole again.

  ‘How did you know you were a Hunter?’ she asked, switching the conversation away from her, unwilling to share anything so personal with Cyrus.

  Cyrus shook his head. ‘I can’t remember a time I didn’t know what I was or where I came from. Other kids got told fairy tales before bed. I got told about all the unhumans out there wanting to suck my blood, slice me up and rip my head off.’ He grimaced. ‘My mum believed in honesty. She told me as soon as I was old enough to understand why we were running and what we were running from. I guess she thought if she told me who I was – what my history was – then there was no chance I’d follow in her footsteps.’ He laughed. ‘But she got that wrong. Maybe if she’d never told me I would have grown up, finished school, gone to Harvard, become a doctor or a lawyer – had that normal life you’re so keen on having. But she didn’t. She told me about the alternative. And, frankly, this life sounded way more fun. I mean, killing demons? Can you think of anything better?’

  Evie wondered if he was being sarcastic but then she realised with a sense of unease that he wasn’t joking. His face had transformed, his eyes lighting up, brimming with excitement.

  ‘But what did your mum say?’ Evie asked.

  ‘What did your mum say when you ran off with a demon?’ he shot back.

  She frowned. ‘He’s not … he’s not like that. He’s only half anyway. And even if he wasn’t, he’s ….’ She faltered. What was the point of trying to explain how good Lucas was? Or how she felt about him? How could she explain to a boy who was clearly only interested in notches on his bedpost that being with Lucas made the world stop spinning out of control? That he was the one that made her believe in herself? She raised her head wearily. ‘You need to give him a chance.’

  ‘No, I don’t,’ Cyrus answered, walking over to the ropes.

  ‘You’re wrong about him,’ Evie called after him, hearing the note of defiance in her voice.

  ‘I’m not wrong about anything,’ Cyrus answered, taking hold of the rope in both hands and sliding up it.

  ‘Wow,’ she said. ‘Truly, your modesty astounds me. I bow before your humility.’

  He glanced down at her, grinning, and then he let go of the rope, somersaulting twice and landing like a gold-medal-seeking gymnast right by her. She rocked back on her heels feeling his proximity and the heat from his chest, but not about to cede an inch of floor space to him.

  ‘Why should I be humble? I am good at this.’ He was leaning in towards her now, his eyes on fire, the dark slash in the left one burning like an ember. ‘Really, really good at it. If you gave me a choice now I’d choose this life every time.’ He paused, flashing her a knowing smile. ‘And you’re good at it too. You’re strong. Tell me, what did killing that unhuman feel like? It felt good, right? You feel good now too, I bet.’

  She spun away.

  ‘Tell me you didn’t enjoy it,’ Cyrus called after her.

  She came to a sudden halt, took a deep breath and turned around to face him once more. ‘I was forced to. I didn’t want to.’

  ‘How were you forced?’

  ‘A Sybll. She gave me the knife. She deliberately put herself in danger knowing that I’d have to act.’

  ‘Did she force you or did she just see what you were going to do anyway?’

  ‘She set me up,’ Evie yelled, amazed at the anger that had erupted ou
t of her.

  Cyrus moved quickly again. He was standing right in front of her all of a sudden and this time the smile was gone, the smugness too. His expression was full of concern. ‘You’re afraid,’ he said softly. ‘But what’s done is done, Evie. You need to learn to be accountable, because from here on it’s going to get messy. If you’re scared to think about what you’ve done, if you’re scared to admit what you are, you’ll fail.’

  She stood there as if paralysed, his words playing over and over in her head. Cyrus didn’t move either. He just continued to stare at her, sweat trickling down his chest. Finally, Evie exhaled loudly and started tearing the bandages off her hands, tugging at the knots he’d made. ‘Look, forget it. Forget I asked anything. All I wanted to know was why you chose this life. I mean, if you had a choice. But I guess I got my answer.’

  He took hold of her wrists. She resisted again, annoyed with him. He pulled her nearer, ignoring her token protest, and started unpicking the knot he’d made, his fingers moving deftly. His body was a fraction from hers, his bare feet either side of her own. She focused on a spot on the wall over his shoulder and tried not to fidget.

  ‘Listen,’ he said. ‘I didn’t really choose this life. It kind of chose me. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.’

  She scowled at him. ‘That’s not true. You chose to become a rogue Hunter. You could have gone to Harvard. Apparently.’

  ‘I became a rogue Hunter because I couldn’t join the actual Hunters. Not after my mum had run off. So this was the alternative. And besides, the Hunters are old school; they fight archaically – see, big word. Plus, I’m in charge. No one tells me what to do.’ He dropped her hands.

  ‘You don’t say,’ she answered. ‘Hey, hand me the towel.’

  He flung it to her. She caught it in one hand, biting back the smile.

  ‘I started out on my own,’ Cyrus carried on, rolling the bandages up between his hands, ‘hunting the streets at night, mainly targeting Thirsters who were out prowling for fresh meat. That’s how I met Ash. He was picking fights downtown with Thirsters. He had some issues. One of them ate his best friend.’

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