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       Fated, p.14

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  Mrs Lovell bit her lip before answering. 'We didn't come back for you. Some of us never left you.' She sighed. 'I don't think you realise who you are, Evie. How important you are.'

  Evie stared at her blankly. Mrs Lovell reached over and took the photo from her hands. 'You're going to be much stronger than any of us, Evie. Much more powerful. It's why Risper doesn't like you.'

  'Doesn't like me?' Evie laughed bitterly. 'Understatement. She wants to kill me.'

  Mrs Lovell shook her head. 'She doesn't. She can't kill you.'

  'Er, she tried to plant a saw blade in my head.'

  'Believe me, she won't kill you,' Mrs Lovell reiterated.

  'She took half my ear off,' Evie said, flicking her hair over her shoulder to better display the blood-soaked Band-Aid on her ear.

  'Well, Victor's had words. He's told her to back off.'

  'Words?' Evie gaped. 'Why is she even here if she hates me so much?'

  'Because,' Mrs Lovell said, sighing, 'despite her attitude she's good to have onside. She'll train you well. You'll just have to ignore the anger. She's jealous.'

  'But why is she jealous of me?'

  'You're the child of two of the most powerful Hunters there ever were. And you're a direct descendant of the original Hunters.'

  'So? Why would anyone be jealous of the fact I'm an orphan with a family tree heavily branched with murderers?'

  'Because, Evie,' and now there was an urgency, a seriousness in her voice that made Evie sit up, 'you could be the one who ends this. That's what the prophecy says.'

  'Prophecy?' Evie asked. 'I thought we left the clairvoyancy to the Unhumans.'

  'It's an Unhuman prophecy. From a Sybll. Laid down many, many hundreds of years ago. The legend has it that the prophecy was broken into pieces and spread out by the Sybll, who didn't want the realms fighting pointlessly over what would be and could never be changed. The Hunters have tried for centuries to gather those pieces, hoping they would reveal the identity of the child. We have one part.' She stopped, looking frustrated by Evie's blank face. 'Did you not read the book Victor gave you?'

  'Yes,' Evie said, nodding vaguely.

  'Did you read about the prophecy of the White Light?'

  Evie thought back. 'Yes,' she said. 'You mean the bit that went on about a White Light ending a war by severing something? Yada yada. I skipped that bit. I thought it was a metaphor for something.'

  Jocelyn smiled. 'It is. It's a metaphor for you.'

  'The White Light.' Evie was the one smiling now. 'Yeah. You've known me all my life, Mrs Lovell.'

  'Jocelyn.'

  'Jocelyn.' Evie sighed politely. 'Does that sound like me?'

  'Yes.' Jocelyn nodded more emphatically. 'You didn't know your real parents, Evie. But if you had you'd maybe understand better why we all believe it. They were incredibly special. Completely in tune with each other. The most exceptional fighters we've seen before or since, though I think in time you might match them.'

  But they both got killed, Evie thought, but didn't say. How exceptional at fighting were they really?

  'Well, surely there must be other Hunters that spew out children together. I can't be the only child of Hunters. Maybe one of the others is this White Light.'

  'No, the prophecy spoke of a pure-bred hunter. A child of two who remained. You are the only child of two warriors.'

  'What do you mean?'

  Mrs Lovell's voice had dropped. She was stroking the edge of the photograph she was holding. 'You're the only one left, Evie.'

  The only one left? But the family tree was vast, with so many branches they started to look like thorns.

  'How can I be the only one left?' she asked. Was the death rate that appalling?

  Jocelyn looked at her sadly and shrugged. That wasn't the answer Evie had quite been looking for.

  'You don't have a family,' Evie said, after a moment's pause. It was more a statement than a question.

  She'd always thought of Mrs Lovell as an old spinster, but in the photograph she'd just shown her she was young and pretty and, even now, she was still attractive. Not half as old as Evie had thought her to be, once you removed the bun and took away the plaid. And she'd been alone half her life. Maybe all her life. Evie swallowed, a sudden vision assaulting her of sitting in a kitchen surrounded by hundreds of cats, her face all wrinkled, her joints arthritic from too much running around chasing down Unhumans. If she even made it to forty - the odds weren't in her favour. She glanced around the room. It was warm, cosy even, but there were no photographs on the mantelpiece, no children's toys lying about, nothing to indicate love or family.

  She looked around for the cats.

  'It's too dangerous,' Mrs Lovell said quietly, interrupting Evie's stream of thought.

  'But what about you?' Evie burst out. 'What about me? What if I want children one day?' Admittedly, up until this point in her life she'd never given children a second thought. But now she was having to consider not having any she felt as though something had been stolen from her. Plus she was outraged at the enforced celibacy that Victor had happily failed to mention.

  Mrs Lovell stood up. Her face had hardened to fury. She rounded on Evie. 'Would you want to bring a child into the world - knowing what happened to your parents - and knowing what would likely happen to the child - knowing that they'd become a Hunter too? That this would be their life?'

  Evie blinked up at the older woman. No. She wouldn't. Jocelyn was right. She would never bring children into the world if it meant giving them this life. A future like hers. She winced. Why was she even thinking about it? Having a child would require her to start trusting people again, to actually have a relationship. It would require getting close to someone. Very close to someone. And that was definitely off the cards. But even as she thought it she felt her chest constricting. The memory of warm hands on her back, fingers stroking her hair. It felt like that Mixen was there in the room burning her all over again. She closed her eyes, scrunched them tight.

  'This life sucks. I--' She didn't finish before Jocelyn dropped onto the couch next to her and took her hand, the fury seemingly dissipated.

  'Don't get close to anyone, Evie,' she said. 'Look what happened to Tom. And Anna.'

  Evie's eyes flashed open at the mention of their names.

  'Tom could have died too. Think about the future. Do you want to be responsible for any more deaths? Of children or friends or lovers?'

  Evie shook her head vehemently. At the same time feeling the raw edges of the wound tear open - so it wasn't just her who thought she was responsible for Anna's death. Jocelyn did too. And she was right - she was responsible. No matter what Victor tried to tell her about blaming the Brotherhood.

  She was responsible, so there was no way she was going to let anyone else get hurt. She closed her eyes again, trying to imagine what that might mean. What shutting herself off to everyone might actually entail.

  But the only person in her head, filling the space which should have been filled with friends and phantom children, was Lucas.

  19

  Evie walked with dead steps and an even deader heart down the hallway to Lucas's room, unsure what was drawing her there. He wasn't in - neither was her mum. The house was deserted and she felt like an intruder, walking through rooms that no longer belonged to her.

  She opened the door to his room and hesitated, feeling the ghost of his presence. She felt a shiver travel lightly up her body and fade away in the emptiness that surrounded her.

  She found herself trailing her hands over the bedcover, along the seat back, standing in front of the photograph, wondering at the coincidence that they were both orphans. The little boy in the photograph with the shining eyes, unruly hair and wicked grin looked so happy and free standing between his parents. She wondered if Lucas had ever felt that way since or if he would ever feel that way again. Was it even possible? Wasn't that happiness destroyed alongside his innocence? With the knowledge of death and the acceptance of loss?

&nb
sp; She turned in a circle. What was she doing here? What was she looking for? She didn't know. She only knew that the sense of longing ignited in her wouldn't go. It just kept burning. She crossed to the wardrobe and threw open the doors, ran her fingers through the few shirts hanging up, leant in and breathed in the smell of his skin. The sense of familiarity rocked her - how could he be so familiar to her? She went and sat on the bed trying to gather her thoughts.

  She couldn't. She could only grasp at the smoky edges of them. She lay down, drawing her legs up to her chest, and closed her eyes and for an instant imagined Lucas's arms wrapped around her. Imagined herself folding into him, pressing her face to his neck and breathing in deep. And then came a wave of confusion - why him? Why were her thoughts - even her feet - dragging her towards him? She barely knew him. Had never confided in him or touched him apart from one brief moment when he'd been in front of her, bringing her back to earth, and she'd felt a jolt of something but his face had stayed impassive. What was she doing? She hadn't even kissed him. But she was grieving for him as though she had and as if he was now dead or something.

  She saw it then clearly for the first time. She saw that she was right. She was grieving - for the fact that she would never be able to get closer than this to him, curled up in his empty bed, breathing in his fading scent, imagining his arms around her. This was as close as she would ever get ever again to anybody. It wasn't just about him, she didn't think, it was the vision of loneliness stretching out ahead of her - a life like Mrs Lovell's, with no love in it. And although she'd forsaken the idea of love after what happened with Tom, now she couldn't have it, she realised how much she wanted it. The power of the sob that broke her was so strong it was more like a convulsion. But it was noiseless, an empty scream from the depths of her that contorted her body in passing.

  There was nothing she could do but ride it out until her body stopped heaving - and then she lay there quietly, staring at the wall opposite, boxing up all her memories of the past: Anna's raucous laugh; Tom's lips, their first tentative kiss; her mother brushing her hair into pigtails as a kid, her dad raking leaves in the yard and then burying her under them; her real parents smiling at an unknown photographer and, finally, the memory of Lucas, his hands holding hers, his grey eyes holding her tighter. And then the phantoms from her future: the children and ghosts of kisses that would never happen.

  She boxed them up, every last one of them, and put them away, locking them somewhere deep inside where she knew she would struggle to find them again. Where she could leave them to rot and crumble to dust.

  Lucas had said that she needed to stay angry, to keep fighting, but there was no fight left in her. Not even anger. The numbness had returned and even as she lay there with the warmth of the comforter beneath her, she could feel bony fingers gripping her, pulling her down. Once, in the heart of winter, Tom had dared her to jump naked into the swimming pond and she had, because back then she'd been impetuous and free and that had seemed like the craziest thing they could ever imagine doing. She thought of it now, how the icy tentacles of weeds had wrapped around her feet and legs, tugging her down, and though she had kicked and struggled with frozen limbs to haul herself to the surface there had been a tiny part of her that had wondered what it would feel like to give in to them. That was how she felt now, poised between kicking her way to an overcast sky above and sinking into the quiet dark. It was so much better, so much quieter, down there in the dark.

  But she couldn't put her mother through any more pain or suffering. If she only managed to do one more thing it would be to protect the only person she still loved from any more hurt. So, she guessed she'd better start kicking.

  She sat up straight. Smoothed back her hair. Stood. Straightened the cover on the bed and walked down the hallway to her room.

  It seemed like a stranger lived here, as though she was surveying the remnants of a dead girl's room. She hurried to the desk and pulled the book out of the drawer. Then she sat on the bed and opened it.

  The page fell open onto the prophecy about the White Light. She read it.

  Of two who remain a child will be born,

  A pure-bred warrior, the fated White Light

  Standing alone in the eventual fight

  Severing the realms and closing the way

  She read it several times, frowning at the page. She still couldn't see how she was the White Light. It could be talking about anyone. It could be talking about Lobo. Of two who remain? How was that definitely her parents? If it was a real prophecy why hadn't they given a name and made it easier? There wasn't even a date for when this so-called White Light would be born. It was ridiculous. Why did everyone put such stock in it?

  She flicked impatiently to the back of the book, to the family tree, and for a long time stared at the barely-readable names written there. Her own, with that little dash after it.

  Everyone else had a death date filled in. There was just her, still alive. For the moment. She wondered what date would eventually be recorded there, and by whom? Victor?

  She stared at the dates next to the other names. Jocelyn had been right. She was the only direct descendant left. By the 1900s the branches were thinning. A thousand years ago they had been spitting out children. But her parents had just had her. And mortality rates hadn't decreased. She realised that most of her ancestors hadn't made it past thirty-five. Maybe that was another reason for the shrinking birth rates.

  Then she saw the name at the edge of the page with a line through it. She peered closer.

  Margaret Hunter b. 1974 d.

  She realised she was gripping the book tighter. Why was this person scored out? And why was there no death date? Was she still alive?

  She jumped up at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Lobo's howl brought her to the window. It was Tom's car. She let the curtain fall back and stood there with her eyes shut, wondering what to do. She couldn't face a conversation with anyone right now, couldn't stomach even seeing another person, least of all Tom.

  He rang the doorbell and she held her breath. Maybe he would just leave. What was he doing here this late anyway? There was a pause and then she heard footsteps crossing the porch, going down the steps. She waited for the sound of his car engine revving, but instead she heard the squeak of the screen door on the back porch. He'd circled around the house, hoping to find the back door open like it usually was.

  'Ev?' she heard Tom call. 'Mrs Tremain?'

  She headed for the stairs. She would have to face him at some point. Best get it over with. She threw the back door open, startling him.

  Tom took a step back, tripping over Lobo who was busy trying to thrust the ball hanging in his mouth into Tom's hands. 'Hey,' Tom said, 'I wasn't sure if you were in or at the diner.'

  Evie didn't answer. She caught the stupid dog's collar and dragged him inside the house.

  Tom frowned. 'Can I, er, come in?'

  Evie looked up. She didn't want him in the house. She stepped outside, letting the screen door swing shut behind her. Lobo howled. She saw the confusion cross Tom's face at her abruptness.

  'What is it?' she snapped.

  He looked at her carefully. Then he surprised her completely. 'Do you remember Junior Prom?'

  Her mouth fell open. She'd just spent the last hour packing away her memories, and he'd just gone and levered open one of the boxes. With a rush she was back standing in the same spot three years before, dazed by excitement as a fourteen-year-old Tom attached a corsage to her wrist. That had been their first official date. Why'd he have to go and pick that memory out of them all? She suddenly remembered the way he'd looked back then - taller than the other boys his age, with a football scholarship in his future and stitches in his eyebrow from a tackle the week before.

  She looked at him now and her eyes found the faint scar over his right eye, the shallow crease in his cheek which deepened when he smiled, the soft curve of his lips. She remembered with a start the way they tasted. How tentative they had been when
he had leant down for that first kiss, right here on this porch. And how gentle, and how surprised she'd been that that's how a kiss could feel.

  He took a step towards her. 'I love you, Ev. I never stopped loving you.'

  She blinked in astonishment. Hurled straight out of the past and back into the now.

  It took her a second to gather herself. 'And Kaitlin - does she know this?' she fired back.

  He winced. 'That's nothing. She's just--'

  She shook her head. 'It's too late, Tom.'

  'Why?' he demanded, stepping closer, so close that she would only have to hold her hands up and they'd be flat against his chest. 'It doesn't have to be.'

  She couldn't look up at him. There was no way she could meet his eyes. 'Yes. It does,' she mumbled to her feet.

  She heard him take a breath and she broke in, knowing if she didn't then every single word he uttered would tear the lids off the rest of her memories.

  'I don't feel the same way.' There she had said it. She dared to look up at him, made her face as blank and indifferent as possible. She wrapped her arms across her chest and watched her words as they hit home.

  He took a step back as if she'd pushed him. 'What happened to you?' he said finally, shaking his head slowly at her.

  'You have to ask?' she demanded.

  'No,' Tom said. 'It's more than the accident - than me and Anna. It's more recent than that. You were angry, yes, but in the last week you've gone from hating me to wanting to make up with me to hating me again. But now it's worse. Last night you looked at me like you might still feel something, but now it's like you can't bear the sight of me. What's going on with you?'

  She turned her head away. The thing about Tom, the thing about having been so close to him once, was that he knew her inside and out and he knew exactly when she was lying. 'Nothing,' she said. 'I'm just tired.'

  'Is it him?' Tom asked.

  She knew immediately who he was talking about.

 
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