Afterlife Page 26

Scooting backward, I put as much distance as I could between me and the wall as Lucas went to the wall, ran his hand against it, and then, with all his vampire strength, punched through. Fine motes of plaster dust puffed out as shards of the wall fell to the floor.

“They’ll know somebody was here,” I said.

“Let ‘em know. We need to figure this out.” Lucas reached into the wall and pulled out a small metal box — curiously shaped, with odd curves and angles: a little like a seashell made of silver and obsidian. The lid was open, revealing an interior of motl1er — of — pearl. At first I thought it was no more than a lovely antique jewelry box, but then — as I focused on the mother — of — pearl, on the living substance within, I felt its pull on me anew. With the bracelet strengthening me and keeping me solid, I was in no danger, but the sensation was still terrifying.

“Lucas, close it! Put it back!” I cried. He did so at once, looking back at me in alarm. But as soon as the box was shut, I felt at ease again.

As Lucas ran to my side, I said, “That’s a trap. A trap for wraiths. Mrs. Bethany put one here. She could — she’s got to have them all over the school. She’s hunting us and trapping us.” Why?I thought. What can she want with us? Is it only hate, or something more?

He frowned as he cuddled me close. “jesus. Don’t ever come back in here.”

“Not without the bracelet,” I said, with a glance down at it. “That was good thinking.”

“Figured whatever was after you, you had a better chance if you could hit back.”

I brushed my hand against his cheek. “You heard me. In your dream.”

“Yeah.” Lucas raked his fingers through my hair, “How did you know about that nightmare? Were you trying to visit me, before?”

“I tried, but I couldn’t break through. I couldn’t make you see me.”

His lips brushed against my forehead as he spoke. “We’ll work on it. We can get better at it.”

“Okay.” I realized that this was the first moment Lucas had truly seemed like himself since he’d risen from the dead. Saving me had given him back a sense of purpose — a reason to be here.

And I realized that he was my reason to be here, too.

Lucas studied me in the dim moonlight, once again focused and sure. “We’re going to fmd all these traps. Figure out a way to keep you clear of them. Nothing’s going to happen to you, Bianca. Not again. There’s no way I’m letting that happen.”

“And I’m going to take care of you.” I remembered how frightened I had been for everyone I loved, even while the trap had been sucking me in. Yes, I was dead now, but my heart remained alive. For Lucas’s sake, and the sake of the people I cared about — for the love that endured after death — I had to find a place in this world. If that meant I was never wholly part of the living or undead worlds, well, I’d always been in — between. In the shadows. I knew how to do it, and maybe I could get better at it.

Maybe it Wasn’t the afterlife preached from pulpits or envisioned by painters who liked harps, wings, and fluffy clouds. But looking out for the people I loved seemed like a pretty good way to spend eternity. As Lucas held me tightly, I knew he felt the same way.

We still have something at stake, I realized. Something to fight for.

Chapter Eight

LUCAS AND I STAYED UP MOST OF THE REST OF that night, curled in each other’s arms out on the lawn. Death had made us immune to autumn’s winds or tfue chill of the soft earth beneath us. So we spooned together beneath one of the large oak trees, half covered by the first fallen leaves as the wind bRew them over us for a blanket. The leaves were the colors of our hair — deep red and dark gold. We were part of the fall. And, for the first time in far too long, we were truly part of each other. “You haven ‘t said we should leave Evernight,” I whispered.

“Don’t think I haven ‘t thought it.” Lucas nuzzled the side of my face. “I hate knowing how dangerous this place is for you. But . . . I have to trust you to make your own call about the risks. That’s the deal we made, and I’ll stick to it.”

With my head still dizzy from the trap in the library, and the scratches on my shoulder sore, I wondered whether I needed to reassess the risks at Evernight Academy. But until Lucas was steadier, I knew, remaining here was our best option. “I’m just fine.” I kissed him, soft and deep. “Nothing worse can happen to me. In fact — it’s like I finally see that so many good things can still happen to me. That there’s a lot I can do here, for you and for everybody else.”

Lucas half smiled. “Not a ghost, but an angel.”

“There’s a lot you can do here as a vampire. Think about how many students my mother and father helped, or how often Balthazar was able to bail us out. Being dead . . . it’s not the worst thing that can happen.”

He was quiet for a while after that. considering. “It’s just — this hunger.”

“I know.”

“If I ever snap, and if I hurt someone … kill! someone — ”

“You won’t.” I wanted badly to believe that, and to help him believe it, too. “You’re strong, Lucas. As a kid, you made it thro111gh Black Cross training that would’ve crushed some adults. You went undercover when you were nineteen years old and you pulled it off. I mean, you fooled Mrs.

Bethany, and you might just be the only person who’s ever done that for long.”

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