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       Fated, p.15

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  'Who?' she asked, as if she didn't.

  'Him. The guy you brought the other night. Lucas - is that his name?'

  At the sound of his name Evie felt her heart trip up. She swallowed. 'What are you talking about?'

  'Is it him?'

  The jealousy in his voice was enough to rile her. As if Tom had any right to be acting hurt or jealous after what he'd done to her. She laughed under her breath.

  'Do you love him?' he asked.

  Evie stared at him, speechless. She'd been about to bawl him out about his right to act like the victim but his question stopped her in her tracks.

  'Don't be ridiculous,' she snapped, pulling herself together. 'I barely know him. He's renting a room from my mum.'

  Tom shook his head. 'I saw the way he looked at you, Evie. I'm not blind?'

  'What way? When?' She felt panicked all of a sudden, as though the porch were suddenly too small, as if the sky was falling and crushing her beneath it - her breathing was too fast.

  'When we walked off together he looked like he couldn't bear to let you out of his sight.'

  He had? She hadn't even noticed. 'Don't be ridiculous,' she said in a whisper.

  'Well, why was he right there then, when you fell? He was so fast. Like he'd been watching you the whole time you were with me. And you should have seen his face. It was like he thought you were dying or something.'

  Evie frowned, remembering how he'd appeared from nowhere. One minute she'd felt the world crowding in on her and the next Lucas was crouched in front of her, holding it back. And yes, he had looked concerned, but what was Tom saying? She didn't get it. Lucas hadn't shown any interest in her at all like that - had he? He wouldn't even smile at her. And she'd certainly not shown any outward interest in him. She'd been as rude as possible to him, in fact. She'd practically staved his head in with a baseball bat. It was impossible that he should like her. And he hardly knew her. And anyway, what did it matter? She wanted to scream. She felt herself losing her slender grip on togetherness.

  'Look, it's fine,' Tom said now, 'if you want to be with him rather than me.'

  Evie lost her grip. 'I don't want to be with either of you. I can't be,' she yelled.

  He looked at her, confused. 'Why not, Evie? It's not a crime for you to be happy.'

  She laughed under her breath - wasn't it?

  Tom walked right up to her, his voice so soft that it felt like a caress. He was so close and so familiar. It would be the easiest thing in the world to just lean into him and forget everything. For just five minutes. To just feel warm and safe again.

  'I want you to be the way you used to be and I'm sorry that I was the one that did this to you.' His lips brushed the top of her head as he spoke and a spark travelled down her spine.

  'No, no it wasn't you,' she said, so tired suddenly of having to push him away. She didn't have the strength for this. 'Please. It wasn't you.'

  He stepped back so he could look her in the eye. 'Then who was it?' he said. 'What made you this unhappy? Besides what happened between us?'

  Her thoughts flew back to Jocelyn. To her warning. And then she was looking at Tom, into his brown eyes - the first boy she'd ever loved, the first boy she'd ever kissed. And she knew that she could never drag him into the world she now inhabited.

  'Nothing,' she said. 'I can't tell you.'

  'You used to be able to tell me anything,' he said. His fingers found her face, tipped her chin up so she was looking straight at him. He stroked her cheek softly. 'What happened to you? Where's that Evie gone? You used to smile. You used to laugh.'

  Her stomach clenched. 'Tom, don't,' she said, pulling away from his hand.

  He paused, letting his hand drop to his side. Then he nodded. 'At least let me do one thing.'

  'What?' she sighed up at him.

  His lips were suddenly there, against hers, as warm and gentle as they had always been, and it momentarily took her breath away. And then he pulled away and walked off down the porch steps and she realised, as she watched him go, that she had just kissed her past goodbye.

  20

  It took a while for it to sink in and when it did Lucas had to turn away and lean against a tree and wait for the feeling that was choking him to pass.

  But when he turned back to look, Tom was stroking a finger down her cheek and it took every ounce of control in his body to stop from sliding out of the shadows, crossing the short distance between them and pulling him away from her and - he frowned to himself - and doing what exactly?

  He had stood there frozen, unable to name it at first - this feeling of hate and anger that reared up blackly inside him. And then when he saw Tom lean down and kiss her, saw her head tilt back and her lips part slightly, it felt like a knife had been slipped between his shoulder blades. Then, only then, did he understand that what he was feeling wasn't hatred. It was jealousy and it was so unexpected and so unfamiliar that it hit him like an iron hammer smashing into his chest.

  At the same time he recognised the feeling for what it was, he also understood, without a shadow of a doubt, that Grace's prophecy would come true.

  What Caleb had said to him back at the Mission had only made him so angry because it was true. And the whole way back in the car he'd been trying to convince himself - no, lie to himself - about why he was coming back here. He'd played out all sorts of reasons and excuses, imagined himself hauled before Tristan having to explain and telling him he felt nothing for Evie except sheer hatred, that he was driven purely by revenge and his loyalty for the Brotherhood - and for a few miles on that darkened road he'd even tried to convince himself that it was hatred that he felt for her - it was so intense and all consuming - but even he had seen through that one in seconds. Had started laughing at himself, in fact. If he hated her why hadn't he let Risper finish her in the corn? Why was he so angry at Caleb for stalking her through the woods? Why was he racing back here with his foot flat on the gas to check she was OK?

  And why was it that the only thing he was ever thinking about was her? And her eyes, and the look in them from the photograph - pissed off, defensive, defiant - a look he knew well enough from his own reflection. Why was she the image burnt on his retina? When there were a million other ones to choose from if he wanted to stay focused on revenge?

  It had taken seeing her on the back porch with Tom to fully realise the depths of what he'd fallen into. Because as soon as he rounded the corner of the house and saw her standing there, pale and bruised and looking as though she'd just faced down an army of Unhumans, he'd had to stop himself from running towards her and pulling her into his arms. When really, his first reaction on seeing a Hunter should have been to take his blade and slit her throat.

  When Tom had thrown his name into the conversation - suggested she loved him - Lucas had been as thrown as Evie seemed to be.

  And it didn't matter that she felt nothing for him. He didn't want her to. His only priority now - he saw that it had always been his priority, from the moment he'd pushed Shula out of her way - was to protect her from the Brotherhood. Because the thought of Evie being hurt, being wounded, dying, was suddenly inconceivable. From the second he'd seen her in the photograph it had been so, and he didn't fully understand where the feeling had sprung from. It didn't make sense, he hardly knew her. And she was a Hunter. It was absurd, he knew that. And he also knew that if he stopped to reason with himself he'd realise exactly what he was betraying. It was far bigger than him, far more dangerous than him, so he didn't. He couldn't.

  In the car he'd decided that the only solution was to keep Evie safe and kill Victor. Evie had nothing to do with his parents' death. Victor would pay and whichever other Hunters stood in his way. But he made a vow to himself that Evie would not be harmed, by him or the others. His only priority now was keeping Evie safe.

  And keeping her safe meant keeping her strong. He had to make her fight. Right now she didn't look like she had enough fight in her to handle a ten-year-old human. She looked more unhappy than he'd
ever seen her and the defiance in her, the anger he'd seen in her from the off, had vanished. The girl who was standing on the porch slump-shouldered, staring into space, was not the girl who'd bashed open his door and come charging in waving a baseball bat. She was no longer the girl who'd fought Caleb and Shula and somehow won. No, for some reason which he couldn't yet fathom, she'd let the numbness back in, and he couldn't keep her alive that way. He needed her to be angry.

  He took a deep breath, felt a quiet calm descend, pushed away the memory of his parents that clattered to the fore and turned his attention to the girl on the porch in front of him. Maybe Grace was right - maybe this was fate after all, it was the only way he could explain it, the feeling he had, the actions he was taking, all felt outside of his control. And if fate couldn't be changed then he had no choice but to step up to meet it.

  He was on the porch in front of her before she even registered it. A look of confusion passed over her then she seemed to reel, her eyes widening in shock. He was right. With the numbness she'd lost her grip on her instincts. She hadn't felt or heard him. And what if he'd been Caleb? She'd already be dead.

  'Where did you come from?' she half-whispered, her gaze stumbling over the back yard and orchard.

  'I was out for a walk,' he answered.

  She shifted her glance to the trees and back to him and nodded absently. Was she wondering if he had heard the conversation with Tom?

  'Are you OK? You look upset,' he asked.

  She shook her head, ran a hand through her hair. 'No. I'm fine,' she said.

  Neither of them spoke. He studied her in the moth-blown light. She was so pale, her lips a bright point of contrast, her eyes luminous. Her hair was hanging down covering her ear. It reminded him it wasn't just Caleb he needed to keep her safe from.

  'Tom was just here,' she said, frowning up at him. Was she remembering what Tom had said about the way he'd appeared in the wood, the way he'd looked at her?

  'You and he?' he asked tentatively, not sure what he wanted to hear exactly.

  Evie kept talking, absently, as if to herself. 'We've known each other since we were babies. We grew up together. He was the first person I ever loved.' She paused. 'And I just had to say goodbye to him.'

  'Why?' he asked, swallowing hard.

  She didn't answer for such a long time that he thought she hadn't heard his question, but then he heard her take a breath. 'Things change,' she said with a shrug.

  He nodded silently.

  'And you. Have you ever been in love?' she suddenly asked.

  He looked up at her. Her blue eyes were scrutinising him closely.

  He held her gaze. 'Once,' he answered, almost without thinking.

  'What happened?'

  He hesitated before answering. 'I had to leave her.'

  'Why?' A small frown line had appeared between her eyes.

  'Because she needed me to,' he said.

  Evie continued to frown at him. But now it looked like she was about to cry and he had to stop himself from reaching out a hand to her, from resting it against her cheek.

  But she didn't cry. She just sighed loudly and leant back against the wall post. He heard Lobo howling gently from just the other side of the screen door but he couldn't take his eyes off her.

  'Have you ever had to make a choice?' she asked quietly. 'Only, it's not really a choice, it's a death sentence?'

  He stared at her, completely thrown, his heart skipping a beat, and then he saw her close her eyes and lean her head back with a sigh, and a solitary tear rolled down her cheek and he understood that she wasn't talking about the choice he had just made, she was talking about a choice she had to make.

  He lifted his hand and brushed away the tear.

  21

  The tip of the arrow whizzed past her damaged ear and she barely flinched. It thunked into the board behind her.

  'OK, enough,' Victor yelled.

  Risper lowered her bow, deliberately slowly, it seemed to Evie.

  'Evie, I don't know what's got into you,' Victor said, 'but if you move that lazily you're going to get hurt.'

  Evie raised an eyebrow at him. What did he care? If he was putting her up against a heavily armed Risper again then surely that was what he was hoping for.

  'This is for your benefit, Evie. The Brotherhood will be back for you. And if you can't defend yourself, well, then . . .' He shrugged.

  If he was trying to scare her into co-operating more fully with his weapons training course then he was failing. Right now she didn't care if the Brotherhood breezed into this room, picked up the crossbows leaning against the wall and pinned all three of them to the far wall.

  'Evie? Are you even listening?' Victor yelled. 'You need to know this stuff.'

  Evie sighed and finally lifted her eyes to meet Victor's. The frustration was all over his face. She caught sight of Risper behind him, smirking at her. She wished even harder for the Brotherhood to arrive.

  Victor was standing in front of her smacking an arrow point into his palm for emphasis. 'We fight with arrows because they can pierce skin better than blades,' he was saying. 'They go deeper.'

  He held the pointed steel up to her face to show her. She kept her eyes on his face instead.

  'And we tip the arrow point with Mixen acid,' Risper said. 'Burns through Unhuman flesh. And human too, of course. Poisons them from the inside.'

  Evie glanced over at Risper who had pulled the arrows out of the board and who was now leaning against the wall, one knee bent, the carved hilt of a large hunting knife poking out the top of one boot.

  'Blades and arrows will only slow Thirsters, they won't kill them,' Victor continued, heading over to the war chest.

  'I haven't tried a stone cutter yet, though,' Risper added.

  'UV lamps bring them down,' Victor said over his shoulder, holding up a lamp similar to the one he'd had in the car park. 'Then you have to set them alight.'

  'And make sure they burn.' Risper crossed over to the war chest too and got down on both knees, rifling through it like a kid in front of a Christmas stocking. She grabbed hold of something and heaved it out of the box - her mouth falling open in delight. 'Sweet!' she announced, standing up with it.

  Evie had no clue what the metal tube was.

  'When did you get a flame-thrower?' Risper asked Victor.

  'After I saw that Thirster in the car park. If I'd had one on me then maybe we could have taken out half the Brotherhood in one go.'

  'We need to get them now, while they're still young,' Risper said, twirling the flame-thrower like a baton over one shoulder. Evie was tempted to show her a trick or two - baton-twirling she knew.

  'The Shadow Warrior's the one we need to go after,' Risper said, laying the flame-thrower down and grabbing hold of another weapon - this time a semi-automatic - which she locked against her shoulder and pointed at Evie.

  Victor slammed the lid of the chest down and rounded on her, his face livid. 'Enough!' he shouted, grabbing the gun out of Risper's hands. Evie jumped. 'I told you to drop it.'

  Evie looked between the two of them. Risper was scowling through narrowed eyes at Victor. After a few seconds of leaden silence she tossed her hair over her shoulder and with one last glance in Evie's direction - a glance that seemed both pitying and disgusted at the same time - she stormed out of the room.

  They were in the back of the store, where the stock should have been kept. Victor had cleared the space of everything except for a table, which now held a selection of blades, knives and swords. The wall was covered in targets like something from a shooting range and a huge trunk - dubbed the war chest - blocked the emergency exit. She guessed it wasn't really the time to talk health and safety.

  'Do you want to try with the crossbow now? Or hand-to-hand?' Victor asked, shrugging off his suit jacket and turning to face her.

  Evie glanced at the bow. She didn't want to touch anything Risper had touched.

  'Hand-to-hand,' she said.

  Victor went over to the
table and picked up two knives. Since when did hand to hand involve sharpened metal? He handed her the slightly less medieval-looking knife. It was long and light-handled. It reminded her of the knife her mother used to carve the Sunday joint.

  She hesitated before taking it. Was this who she was going to be? A knife-wielding attacker? She tried to recall her father teaching her self-defence, back when she was a kid. If he knew the danger she was facing right now, wouldn't he be urging her to pick the biggest knife, the sharpest one, and do whatever it was she needed to do to in order to fight back and survive? Hadn't he taught her that if she fell seven times she needed to get up eight? She bit the inside of her cheek and then held out her hand and took the knife.

  No sooner had she taken it than Victor started pacing around her in a circle. She felt her heart finally find its footing and start to gallop, the adrenaline flooding her system. She edged around the opposite way, keeping Victor at a distance. What was he expecting from her? Was he actually going to strike? Was she expected to try and stab him? Was that really what was going on here? Would he hurt her or was this for demonstration only? From his expression - challenging, wary, concentrated - she guessed this was for real. Or as real as the cornfield. She knew he wasn't about to kill her but she knew too that if she got cut he wouldn't care that much. And he wouldn't expect her to, either.

  He darted forward, she skipped out of his way feeling the energy flowing through her arms. He was predictable. She kept her eyes on his, that was all she needed to do, she saw. His moves were easy to anticipate if she kept watching his face. She hardly broke a sweat, though with a slight smile she saw Victor already had beads forming on his forehead. She kept backtracking, feinting and dodging his every lunge.

  'You can't keep defending, Evie. You have to attack too,' he said with a note of irritation, after she'd successfully avoided his twelfth strike.

  She felt herself tense and her hand, the one holding the knife, shook slightly. She tried to steady herself. He would parry anything she threw at him, she was sure of it, but she still couldn't lift her arm, couldn't bring herself to attack.

 
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