Zane pulled away, shaking his head. "No, Alex." What was in his eyes was easy to read: I don't want to do anything that will make us closer than we have to be. "It's unneeded. Remember what I said about how our blood's healing properties works on each other?"
"Exactly." Natalie was suddenly at his side, a reassuring look in her eyes as she brought her wrist to Zane's lips. I felt Ty pulling me away, but I could only look at the two of them. She crouched over him, studying my face as Zane drank her blood. This couldn't have been the first time they'd done it.
It was strange, watching Natalie care for Zane like I wished I could. And when I looked back at Ty, he refused to meet my eyes. Clamping my jaws shut, I followed him out of the chaotic room and into the woods. Who knew what would happen then.
As I sat down in his car-not far from the mansion-he began to explain. "Your friend, the werewolf. He called in his pack. There are a lot of them out there, and I called for some help from the SCA. Lukas' people are nothing without him; they were already getting beaten bad when we left. Cliffe will be fine, especially considering the fact that he just drank." His voice was bitter.
"I'm sorry, Ty," I whispered, tears starting in my eyes. "I just... There was no choice. Mark Lukas was going to bite me otherwise, drain me of my blood. Zane didn't want to do it. I didn't want to have to do it."
"I wish I could believe that." Ty's voice was cold, and the muscles in his arms flexed. Scratches covered his face, and I wanted to help him out, make him feel better. But judging by his tone, my touch would only make him feel worse.
"How can you not?" I replied, shocked. "Ty, I—I--" But I couldn't think of a good argument. He was right, but I wanted to lie. I didn't want to hurt him. Hurting Ty was like hurting me. He was a part of me, just as much as Zane. "I didn't want to."
"You keep saying that." Ty shook his head. "You didn't want to rely on him, you didn't want to kiss him... I'm not stupid, Alex. I can see through it all. Even if you aren't lying and you do have feelings for me--"
"I do!" I exclaimed, grabbing his arm. "Please believe me, Ty. Please." The tears were falling now, and I heard the engine of the car revving. He wasn't going to look at me, because he'd stop what he was saying then.
"I believe you there," he finally said, voice quiet. "But when you said you loved me... You didn't realize exactly what you were saying, what it meant to me. This whole thing isn't good for either of us. You need to make a decision, and you need to make it soon."
"A... decision?" It hadn't been a decision before, a choice. "I don't know what you're talking about." Fury spread across his face. "All right, I do. But he doesn't have feelings for me, I can't--"
"Bull. We both know he does, and I know that when you're with me, a part of you wants to be with him." Ty's voice was calm, smooth. "I can't take that, Alex. I can't work with it anymore, and I can't fool myself. There is a decision you have to make, and I can't wait forever. Neither can Cliffe. Do you realize how unfair-how manipulative-you've been to both of us? I never thought I'd feel bad for the guy, but come on. He loves you, OK. Cliffe loves you. He's freakin' obsessed with you. Just like me."
I shook my head, denying it. "Zane does not... He doesn't, OK? We're friends, just friends!" I kept on shaking my head. No, no, no!
"You're worrying so much about it, because you know that if he loves you, you'll have to face your own feelings about him." Ty bowed his head for a moment. "I should have staked him when I had the chance. But you know why I didn't? Because I knew it would upset you. You didn't want to see me become a monster. Apparently, you like vampires enough, so maybe I should start killing some more people."
"Ty..." I couldn't find out what to say, and it was a good thing I didn't. Once Ty goes on a rant, he's going through it completely. He's been like that since we were kids."
"I'm sick of standing by and acting like passive... golden boy." A slight smile flickered on his lips, but it disappeared quickly. "I'm going to fight for you. For your life. That's the thing, Alex—I'm life, he's death."
That was all so true. So true, and so wrong at the same time. I sat up straight, then looked at him. "I'm sorry. I just can't choose right now."
"That's understandable," Ty admitted. "But I'm not the only one you need to apologize to."
Two weeks later, I found Zane Cliffe on my doorstep, someone I hadn't seen since the battle. (Wondering what my latest explanations for my injuries were? I apparently was getting nearly mugged by this guy when Ty came to the rescue, which explained his wounds.)
It took all of my willpower not to hug him. He looked tired, but much better than when I left him. Apparently, Natalie's blood did him good. I knew what he'd brought with him. It was what I'd asked for on the phone.
"I'm so sorry I wasn't able to help you back there," I murmured, my voice low out of shame, not because we were hiding. My parents were gone.
"It's no problem," Zane replied easily. "I'd much rather you being out of there than staying behind to pull some crazy stunt. One thing I'm confused about, though, is why you want me here to for us to sign the papers."
"Um... Well... You'll see." The papers. The papers that would annul our marriage. I had no idea how Zane got his hands on them so we could sign them without a judge present, but then again, he knew a lot of judges, I'm sure. The kinda that are bribed easily.
Zane sent me a suspicious glance as I told him to follow me inside the basement. The suspicious look kept on being suspicious as I told him to go ahead, I had to get one more thing. Truth? I was locking the door.
"You were locking the door," Zane stated as I met him at the bottom of the steps.
"Dang, forgot you had vampire hearing." I tried to give my best innocent look. "Sorry, we just need to... Get some things out in the open. I figured this could be a starting over point for us."
"And don't even think about breaking down the door, because my parents notice things like that."
"Fine." He sat down with his back to the wall, sliding the papers across the floor. I sat down next him, flipping through the pages. His signature was everywhere it needed to be. In the blink of an eye, he was shoving a pen towards me. "Hurry up, Alex, I need to be single." There was a sarcastic edge to his voice that was impossible to miss.
"Oh, and you think I don't need to be single?" I shot back, but he looked away. Refused to look me in the eye, just as Ty had the last time I saw him. Sighing, I placed my signature there, there, and there. "We're not married!" My voice was falsely cheerful as I offered him a high five.
He stared at my hand. "I don't do high fives."
"I will, however, permit you a low five just for this happy occasion."
Rolling his eyes, Zane gave me the low five, and then looked through the papers. "Give me the ring, I'm running low on cash." He laughed at my stunned face. "You can keep it if you want to. I'm fine in the monetary area."
"Yeah," I replied slowly, fishing for the ring in my pocket. I coughed as I looked at them, trying not to look as awkward as I felt. "I guess I can keep them. You know, as a memento of my first marriage."
"Right." Zane didn't stand, just look at me, thinking that I wasn't looking at him. I was really trying to not look attracted to him. The basement was just so empty, so gray... There was nothing except Zane and I.
"I guess you'd better start posting the Internet announcement," I said jokingly. "'Zane Cliffe, single again'. But if I were you, I wouldn't say that we split on the grounds of non-consummation. It'll ruin your rep."
"I'll say it turned out that you were my half-sister or something." He gave a quick smile, but it faded just as soon as it appeared. I could feel the waves of his negative mood washing over me. "Are you going to unlock the door now—unless there's still something you want to get out in the open, that is."
"Um, actually, there is." I gulped, looking into his eyes. "What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me?" His expression was impossible to read.
"Yeah. It's like there's a dark cloud over your head. You even sounded this way when you were on the phone yesterday."
Zane stared at me for a moment, stared at me like I was an idiot. Then he stood, dragging me to my feet as well. He began to pace like an animal in a cage, clearly having one of his inner arguments with himself. Anxiety rushed through his eyes, like I'd never seen before. He finally stood, face me, and yelled:
"WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?"
I stared at him, my mouth hanging open at his tone. "What?"
He looked like he wanted to bite me, and not in a good way. Finally, Zane Cliffe said something I thought I'd never hear from him.
"I'm in love with you, that's what's freakin' wrong with me!" With that, he grabbed me by my shoulders and kissed me. It was a very, very harsh kiss. And I have to say that I enjoyed it.
It was over quickly, though, and he went back to pacing. "You... love me?"
"Yes," Zane answered quickly. "Honestly, Alex, everyone knows I've fallen for you. Problem is, it seems that you're so blind." He shook his head. "Alex, I'd do anything for you. I've told you that. If you told me to go off myself, I'd go running around asking someone for the nearest stake. If you asked me to kill a city of people, then I'd go on a rampage in New York." He paused, thinking. "Wait—now that I think about it, there's one thing I can't do, no matter what you say. I can't stop loving you." He rolled his eyes. "And trust me, I've tried. I've tried. Because I know you can't feel the same way about me."
"You... love me?" I repeated, still shocked by the whole thing.
Zane turned his head to look at me, unbearable sadness in his eyes. "Yes. I love you. And I know what you're about to say."
"I'm sorry," I began slowly. "I really do have feelings for you. But I also have feelings for Ty, and I need to—I need to make a decision. I've been trying to deny it all this time, but I need to figure out who I love."
"I didn't figure out who I loved," Zane told me. "It was just... There. I did deny it. For a long time. To myself, even. But under all that, I knew I loved you. As for decision-making... I'm begging you: don't choose me."
"I don't understand." I came to stand next to him, dabbing at my eyes with my sleeve. No crying, no crying... I couldn't let him see me cry. Luckily, he was looking away when I did that, so he didn't catch it.
"You don't," he agreed, touching my face. "I'm so incredibly dangerous. Choose Sanders, Alex. He's been your friend for over a decade. He loves you, and you love him."
"I do love Ty," I admitted, looking at my feet. "But am I in love with him? Or..." I looked up, standing close to Zane so we were pressed up against each other, our faces inches away. "Am I in love with you?"
Never in my life had I seen Zane helpless, but now he was. "I hope you aren't," he breathed, the icy air touching my lips. "But I hope you are. Selfish as it is, I can't not hope you're in love with me. It's two mixed things." He took a step backward. "Alex, do you realize how easily you could hate me if I did something wrong? A vampire's relationships are always a bit troubled. There's always jealousy. How would you feel if I needed blood and you couldn't give it to me? How would you feel to watch me drink from some other girl." His face was calm, almost serene. "Don't tell me it doesn't make you angry. I saw the way you looked at Natalie during the battle."
"I don't know how I'd deal with it," I snapped. "I don't know who I'll choose! I just care for both of you so much..."
"You can't have a good thing without having a bad thing," Zane muttered, avoiding my eyes. "But if you were with Sanders, the bad thing is a little boredom, a few fights over how he controls you. If you were with me, the bad thing could mean death. At my hands. Just like Lilah."
Pausing and feeling the jealousy rising up inside of me, I couldn't stop the words that exploded from my mouth. "How can you be in love with me if you're still stuck on a girl who died over a century ago?"
"I'm not," Zane growled, sending me a glare. "For your information, I love you more than I've ever loved Lilah. Why? Because I'm able to give up, let go, and let you live your life. Go unlock that door."
Instead of listening to his unsentimental order-clearly, he was shifting back into Normal Zane mode-I stood there for a moment. He loved Lilah so much... And he was saying he loved me more? "This is happening so fast."
"Famous last words," Zane said under his breath. "Alex, a healthy person can die in mere seconds. Can't I fall for you in a matter of months?"
Nodding slowly, I walked up the stairs and unlocked the door. Papers in hand, Zane left the house without another word to say to me.
He and Ty were both right. I needed to make a decision, and I needed to make it soon. It should have been easy. There should have been only one option. But reality isn't always want you want, and my reality said that there were two very different options. Two guys who loved me.
"Today's pretty important, huh?" Mom laughed as she watched me painstakingly wrap a gift six days later.
"Uh-huh," I mumbled in reply, stretched out on my stomach to make sure I was at eye level with the gift.
"What's inside the box?" Mom wanted to know, reaching down to open the wooden square. I slapped her hand away, shaking my head furiously.
"You can't see it. It's for Ty's eyes only."
"I can't believe he's turning twenty today..."
I can't believe he made it to his twentieth birthday without some nutso vampire freaking out on him. "I know. Weird, isn't it? I'm eighteen, he's twenty... Twelve years of friendship now." Twelve years of friendship that I was screwing up.
Standing with the finished gift, I said goodbye to my mother and walked out of the house and into my car. Before I could start driving, though, two different voices rang through my head.
Alex, I love you.
I'm in love with you, that's what's freakin' wrong with me!
Figured that Ty would confess his love in a tender way, while Zane would accidentally blurt it out while he was angry. Like he was using it as a weapon against me. Rolling my eyes and trying to brush it off for the day, I began to drive to Ty's apartment. My gift to him was special, and I knew he'd value it.
He was already standing in the parking lot when I reach his place. Ty looked just as tired as Zane had the last time I saw him, in a sweater and jeans. When he saw me bounce out of the car, he raised his eyebrows.
"What?" I asked playfully, hiding the gift behind my back like he couldn't see it. I didn't bother wishing him a happy birthday; he'd always hated making a fuss over it.
"You've got a ribbon in your hair. A blue ribbon." Reaching out, he tugged at my ponytail. "The last time I saw you with your hair up was about two months ago. The last time I saw you with a ribbon was probably twelve years ago."
"It was, wasn't it?" I shrugged. "Well, since we're going out tonight, I thought that I might as well look my best. I know you like it when girls have ribbons in their hair. I'm not blind." A smile spread across my face as I savored his confused expression.
"We're going out tonight?"
"You said you'd fight for me," I replied simply, as if it was no big deal. "Well, I figured the least I could do was make your job easier for you. We are going to Marie Colette's Restaurant. And I'm paying."
"First of all," Ty began, smirking as I took his hand. "I can't believe you're taking me to a snob's place. Second of all, there is no way in Hell that you're paying." Leaning down, he kissed me, long and deep and slow. My arm wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him closer to me. Suddenly, he kissed me fiercer, and both our mouths opened under the pressure.
When he leaned back, his smirk became wider at my surprised expression. "Hey—I said I was going to fight for you. You didn't think I was serious?"
"I know you're dead serious," I replied, tilting my head forward so our foreheads touched. "Come on, serious boy. We have a serious birthday date to go to." I walked towards his car, feeling his eyes on me. "Like the skirt? Happy birthday."
Laughing, he followed me, tried to take the present out of my hands. Luckily, he didn't actually try with his Hunter prowess. "I am not going to give that to you, Ty darling."
"You sure?" He pulled me around and kissed me again, something that surprised me immensely—but it was a good surprise. A surprise that I responded to quite happily.
"You kids get a room!"
We pulled apart-only very slightly-to find a middle-aged woman leaning out of her window and grinning. "Nice catch, girly!"
Ty ducked his head to hide his reddening face, and I grinned at him. She was right. He was a nice catch. Scratch that; he was a great catch. And I knew that. Didn't I?
"Still sure you don't want to give your nice catch his birthday present?" Ty asked me as I slipped into the passenger seat of his car.
"Oh, I'm positive." I slid the box into the pocket of my jacket. It was fairly thick, so I placed it on the inside. Plus, I figured that Ty would steal it when I wasn't looking if I did otherwise.
"Wish you could be that positive about everything," he said lightly, and my smile faded. Reaching out to touch my face, he added, "I was kidding. I was also blowing up at you the other night. I can wait just as long as Cliffe can, even if he is immortal."
I looked at my hands. It was his birthday. We shouldn't be having this conversation. "No, you can't. And I'm not going to make you wait, I promise. Not long. I just have to... make sure."
"He admitted it, didn't he?"
"Yeah." I licked my lips, nervous. "Was he telling the truth when he said that everyone but me knew it."
"Alex, the prime minister of England probably knew that the vampire was crazy about you." Ty rolled his eyes. "If only you had a disfiguring birthmark..."
Laughing, I shoved him in the arm, despite the fact that he was driving; Ty had always been one of the best drivers ever. "If only. That would make life a lot easier, huh—for you."
"For everyone," Ty assured me, and I rolled my eyes. "Alex?"
"I kind of miss the old days. You know, when we were helping each other out with our schoolwork-or rather, I was helping you-before I started becoming a... What did you call it? A male Buffy?"
"A male Buffy."
"On the other hand," Ty added amiably. "When we were kids, you weren't wearing skirts like that." He cast another glance at my legs.
"Tyler Sanders," I said, pretending to be shocked. "Are you flirting with me."
"Why, yes," he replied. "Yes I am."
We then arrived at the restaurant. It really was a place for snobs, which was why I booked it. Marie's needed some life. And boy, did Ty and I make an impression when we walked through the doors. He actually looked pretty nice, but I was wearing a black leather jacket, a miniskirt, and heels, so I'm sure I looked like some kind of street urchin.
"Party of two for Alexandra Blue," I told the host at the front of the restaurant.
"Ah, yes, Miss Blue--"
"Don't call me that. Long story." Ty burst out laughing, and the miffed host led us to a table in the back of the restaurant. A few women in couture stared at me in openmouthed horror. I simply gave them a finger-wave.
As we sat down at the table, Ty tilted his head to one side. "You know, you happen to look quite scandalous amid all these people here, Alex."
"I'm always scandalous," I smirked. "Whether it's in the midst of vampires or around fancy rich people, that's just the way I am."
"Of course." Ty touched my hair. "That's also one of the many things I love about you."
I looked around the restaurant. We were in the shadows, and the rich people had stopped looking at us in disgust. "You know, there's a reason I wanted a table in the back, where there weren't many that could see us."
Leaning forward, I grabbed the collar of his shirt and kissed him. And the whole time, I was just thinking of him. No one else. There was just a long, slow kiss that we could both savor at the same time.
Honestly? Despite the haughty voice of the waiter with the fake French accent, Ty and I kept on kissing. Surprisingly, my golden boy didn't seem to have any problem with that. My golden boy. No matter who I chose, I knew that Ty would always be mine in a way. My best friend, the guy I leaned on all the time...
"Yeah?" we replied at the same time, pulling apart. Then we laughed, and we ordered food that we'd normally never eat in our life. And despite all his begging, I didn't let Ty have his birthday present. Because that would be wrong. Besides, I was almost positive that it could cause controversy.
So, after we ate as much as we could-Ty ate all his and then some of my leftovers, as I couldn't even make it through half-we left the restaurant, heading towards his place again.
"Remember the last time I was on your couch?" I asked, lying down on my back. "And I was going to kiss you, and you said it wasn't the right time?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Ty said as he began to lean over me. "And you know what?"
"I think now's the right time."
He kissed me, again and again and again. On my lips, my face, my neck. Ty Sanders kissed me like there wasn't anyone else. My best friend was kissing me the way I think part of me always wanted him to. But when he pulled away, half-lying on top of me, he touched the side of my face and gave a sad smile.
"You can't fool me, Alex. You haven't made your decision."
"I haven't," I admitted. "But right now... You're the only one for me."
We just lay there for a moment, looking at each other. Then I reached into my jacket and he sat up. I sat up as well, and Ty draped an arm around my shoulders as I handed him his present. He wasn't graceful in tearing the wrapping paper off, but I didn't care. I couldn't help but smile as he stared at the box. I knew it wasn't exactly what he wanted-I couldn't give him that yet-but I had a feeling that it would mean something to him.
"It's a box." He stared at it for a moment, stunned. Then he recovered. "Er, well, it's a very nice box, tha--"
"The gift is inside the box, you idiot."
"I knew that." Quickly, Ty opened the box. He stared at what was inside, just stared and stared for a moment. A smile started on his face, and he gave me a brief kiss, and I laughed into his lips.
"It's great, Alex. Really, really, great."
That was all he had to say. I knew that he knew what it was, and that he knew I hazarded calling Roxanne for it. It was a dagger, pure silver and made by vampires. Intricate designs laced through the handle, of moons and stars and monsters. Oh, and it had actually belonged to one of the vampires Ty staked during the battle. One of a kind, Roxanne had said. As corny as this sounds, it was one of a kind, just like both of my guys.
Yes. Corny, corny, corny.
But one thing was true: they were both mine.
I belonged to one of them as well. I just didn't know which one it was.
Ah, so Branded is over. Now you have to wait for the third story. Alex is in a fine mess, isn't she? As for Zane's declaration of love... Well, I always pictured him saying it when he was really mad and frustrated with Alex for her idiocy, and then being very depressed afterwards. You see, now Zane Cliffe realizes that he is stuck on someone who's not Lilah. Someone who may or may not want him back, and that scares the heck out of him...
Also: I have decided to nix one of the stories I had planned and combine it with the next one, so this will be a series of FIVE instead of six.
THE NEXT WILL BE CALLED "CROSSING THE LINE".
Thanks sooooooo much to:
WishesofImmortality--Ty and Madison...? That's interesting. Well, I'm surprised you saw it as the best, I thought it sucked... But anyway, yes, Alex is not a damsel in distress anymore! Yayness!
NaKedKiWi--Lol, I haven't seen that one. But I'm happy you're happy with the chapter.
ohsocreative--Ty took charge in this one, though. I feel like the poor guy has a lot of pent up rage that he doesn't express because he is expected to be the golden boy all the time...
Twilight Starr--I'm glad Alex is getting off her butt and taking charge as well.
urbanfictionalist--Yay! I love it when the readers can't wait.
holliebollie--Yes, I love it when the bad guy gets beheaded as well. There's only so many ways you can kill a vampire...
BlackShadowWave--Words escaping you? Holy cow! Lol, just kidding. But good.
Victoire--Glad you do. :)
Lady of Confusion--Well, I think this was a fairly quick update.
vtcullen--That's not odd... That's what eighty percent of the reviewers want, I believe. They'll just have to wait and see.
KiraLove--This was the ending of this story, but three more are to be expected. Crossing the Line is next.
jenjen-0--Zane is having bad luck lately...
Euphorialie--He never dies on anyone, lol. Not... yet. Perhaps something will end up choosing for her... Maybe, maybe not.
myownlostcrazystory--She has an interesting confidence level. It rises and falls randomly.
xBlackSoul--Cool, new reviewer! Well, spared you some tears thanks to Natalie. ;) As for the idea... I'm not positive. Like I'll tell you, that would ruin it!