Afterlife Page 12

“Just give me another day or so before we get attacked again. That’s thanks enough.”

Balthazar and Ranulf each took a pint from the sack, each one in a little plastic container, like the kind they use to serve soup to go at a deli.

They both opened them up and started drinking, while Lucas still lay on the floor. At first I thought they were being selfish, but I soon realized what they were doing: regaining their strength. If Lucas awoke as savage as he’d been when Balthazar staked him, they’d need it.

I took a couple of pints and put them in the microwave. Blood always tasted better at human body temperature. When they were ready, I glanced over at my friends. Ranulf was finishing, tipping up his cup to get the last drops; Balthazar’s lips were tinted dark red. Drinking blood had been so delicious. I realized that I missed it, maybe more than anything else about being alive.

The guys were prepared. I knelt at Lucas’s side, putting the pints within reach. Slowly I wrapped my hand around the protruding handle of the stake. Splinters jabbed into my palm, and I imagined the pain Lucas must have felt in the seconds before he passed out.

“On the count of three,” I said. “One .. . two — ”

I tugged the stake out. It made a wet, disgusting sound. Lucas writhed on the floor, and his eyes opened wide. He inhaled, deliberately sniffing the air. I knew he’d caught the scent of blood.

“Drink,” I whispered. “Drink.”

Lucas’s hand shot out to clutch one of the containers. In an instant he was gulping down the blood, thick swallows that made his Adam’s apple bob in his extended throat. Within seconds, he emptied the first container, dropped it on the floor, and lunged for the second one. That one he drained even faster. I watched him, fascinated.

When that one was done, Lucas looked around wildly, and Ranulf threw him another container from the bag. Though I hadn’t warmed that one, he drank it just as quickly. As it fell to clatter on the floor, he didn’t go after one more — but he ran his tongue around his mouth, catching stray drops, then lifted his bloodstained fmgers to his mouth to suck every last bit of it.

“Is that better?” I asked.

“Bianca.” Lucas turned to me, body remaining tense, but his expression no longer looked like that of an animal — it was his own. “That wasn’t some hallucination. You’re really here.”

“Really here. How do you feel?”

Instead of answering. Lucas pulled me roughly into his arms. The embrace was too hard, but it was human emotion, and for that I was grateful. His hands combed through my hair, which must have felt more or less real to him. l was very present in that moment.

I repeated, “How do you feel?”

“Better.” His words came haltingly. “Before, all I could think about was — no, I couldn’t think. I was just this hungry … thing.”

“You’re okay now.”

“As long as you’re with me.” His voice was tight, and I realized that he remained troubled. The blood hunger wasn’t his only problem. He shifted away from me, hanging on tightly to my hand, to look up at Balthazar and Ranulf. “I didn’t dream you two either.”

“Welcome to death,” Ranulf said cheerily. “It is not so bad once you get what is called the ‘hang of it.’ “

“Thanks, buddy.” Lucas simply nodded at Balthazar; apparently he remembered the conversation they’d had. But then he froze, and his face twisted like he was about to be sick. I wondered if he’d drunk the blood too fast until he whispered, “Mom. Vic. I went after — I wanted — ”

“Everybody’s fine. You didn’t hurt anyone.” I closed my fingers around his.

“I could have. I wanted to.” There was something in Lucas’s eyes that made me wonder if, instead of saying wanted, he’d nearly said want.

“Mom’s never going to speak to me again.”

Balthazar folded his arms. “Do you really want to talk to her again, after the way she turned on you?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” I said. As bitterly as my parents and I had parted, I wanted to see them again every single day. When my eyes met Lucas’s, I could see he felt the same way. He understood Kate’s revulsion and distrust of his new nature; he shared them.

Ranulf stepped forward, helpful as ever. “Vic bears you no ill will. He is outside drinking the Dew of the Mountain and will be glad to see you yourself again.”

Lucas shook his head. “He can’t want to hang out with me after I went for his throat.”

“I believe that he is somewhat … overwhelmed by the day’s events, but he will not abandon you,” Ranulf said.

“None of us will.” I wanted to embrace him again, but Lucas remained distant, focused inward. When I glanced at Balthazar, he shook his head slightly, a warning for me not to push. The control Lucas had gained was temporary, and we all knew it.

“Can you guys give us a few minutes?” Lucas said, running one hand through his dark gold hair, which was even more mussed than Balthazar’s.

“I’m glad to see you and everything, but Bianca and I have to talk.”

“Sure.” Balthazar nudged Ranulf. “Come on, we’ll help Vic with the home repair.”

After the door closed behind them, Lucas and I looked at each other, and the sadness of it struck me so hard it almost hurt. I found myself remembering a time a few years ago, when I’d first learned he was Black Cross. Once he’d escaped from Evernight, we had faced one another through a pane of stained glass, unable to believe there was any way we could ever be together again. I could picture it so perfectly, each shade of the glass, as though it still hung between us.

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