Author's Note: A couple of you have contacted me asking how to review HL. Which I very much appreciate. The short answer is basically anything that gives an indication that you've read the chapter. What parts you liked and/or disliked. Thoughts, feelings, comments, reactions to things that happened or didn't happen, characters, dialogue, anything really. :) I actually wrote an essay with a longer answer that I just posted on FP this afternoon, if you're interested in reading more. Please just know that not every review has to look like this. I love each and every one of you for taking the time to review, regardless of what you say. I'm just providing some thoughts/guidance for those who asked!

Also, just a reminder that all HL updating information can be found on my website. (Link in my profile.) I get a lot of PMs and reviews still about when I'm going to update, and why I can't update, and threats on my life if I don't update ASAP. :P You get the idea. All the info is there, I promise! :)

I heart all of you. (And Jules, of course.) Now go read.

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"Necessity never made a good bargain." – Benjamin Franklin


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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

The force of the blow snapped Gabe's head back, splitting the silent room with an awful jaw-cracking noise. Eve's gasp hung in the air, and for a moment, no one moved. Then as Gabe's head turned back around, Stefan saw him wince, a bead of blood welling at the corner of his mouth.

Teddy took a measured breath and unclenched his hand.

"That was for Louisa."

To any outsider, Teddy might have looked like a herculean angel, sent by the gods of vengeance. One might mistake the slight tremble in his arm as a mark of barely repressed rage, or the tension in his jaw as loathing. But Stefan knew better. Teddy's normally clear blue eyes were clouded over, like a brewing storm, and they were filled only with pain. Nothing was hurting Teddy more than seeing Gabe hurt.

So when the second hit came, even Stefan gasped.

The air seemed to distort as Teddy's fist cut through the air, the superhuman impact sending Gabe reeling onto his hands and knees. Eve made a sound at the back of her throat and tried to go to him, but Stefan held her back. You can't.

He had never, in his lifetime, seen one of them on the receiving end of Teddy's power. But he knew what kind of strength lay in those hands, so much that his own ears rung in the aftermath.

Gabe's bloody lip had split entirely, and the left side of his face was beginning to redden and swell. With his hair falling over his forehead, and the rigid arch of his back heaving with each broken breath that he took, Gabe was the perfect portrait of his namesake. A fallen saint.

Teddy took two steps forward until he towered over Gabe. All Gabe had to do was look up to see the grief and anguish on Teddy's face, see that he took no joy in doing this, but Gabe's dark head remained bowed.

At Teddy's next words, Stefan's heart ached.

"That was for Jesse."

Gabe gave a self-deprecating smirk and swiped a thumb across his mouth to assess the damage.

Teddy stared down at Gabe for a few quiet seconds.

"Get up."

"Teddy, no!" Eve cried. "Please, no more. Punish me. You should be punishing me."

But Eve's pleas were lost on Gabe and Teddy.

Gabe tested his jaw, once, twice, then finally raised his head. The look in his eyes and the masochistic curl of his lips made Stefan's chest tighten. It was an expression that said, "You should have hit harder."

Stefan dug his fingers into Eve's shoulder without mercy. He could barely stand to watch anymore. Teddy on the other hand didn't flinch as he gazed down at Gabe.

"Get up."

Stefan could only imagine what kind of willpower Teddy was exerting to keep himself from cracking. And he knew Gabe had too much respect for Teddy to stay on the ground. So with one breath, Gabe pushed himself up and staggered to his feet. He teetered once, then slowly drew himself up to his full height.

When Teddy's fingers began to curl again, Eve turned her face into Stefan's shoulder and Stefan clenched his jaw in anticipation.

Gabe and Teddy regarded each other like night and day. The prophet and the protector.

"This one," Teddy said. "Is for Adam."

Gabe's body didn't put up a fight this time as the blow struck with a ruthless force that knocked him off of his feet. He landed hard on the ground, not bothering to use his hands to break his fall. And in the aftermath, he lay there, as though the pain were a relief.

The strength Teddy used would have been enough to kill a regular man, but Stefan knew that Teddy also had too much respect for Gabe to hold back. And they all knew Gabe's external wounds would heal.

Stefan heard himself murmur to Eve. It's over.

A deep shudder ran through Teddy's body as everything that had held him up before drained away. He approached Gabe until he stood before him. Then without another word, he held out his hand.

Gabe stared at the hand, knowing that it was more than a gesture of aid. It was a sign that Teddy forgave him, but most importantly, it was Teddy's way of telling Gabe that he should forgive himself.

For a moment, Stefan thought he would reject it and scoff in the face of redemption, but he reached out and let Teddy pull him up.

Stefan exhaled a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and let go of Eve. He felt more drained now than he had after an entire night of exhausting his powers on Honey. After months of Gabe's secrecy, of Honey's illness, of Adam's guilt, he should be relieved that the truth was out in the open. But instead, he felt emotionally depleted.

The four of them stood in the quiet study, not quite sure how to proceed. Things would never be the same again, and they all knew it.

Finally, Teddy handed Gabe something to blot the blood.

"Teddy—" Eve started forward, but stopped when Teddy pinned her with a stare that Stefan had never seen him use before. It was so ruthless in its intensity that it chilled Stefan's blood.

"No," Teddy said, the sound hoarse, as though it had clawed its way up his throat. "Don't come near me."

Eve looked like he'd struck her.

"You may have saved Adam's life. But you killed my sister. And if you take another step, I don't know what I'll do to you."

Stefan knew that this was an act of self-preservation on Teddy's part.

Swallowing hard, Teddy continued, "I'm not ready to forgive you, and I need you to respect that."

Eve fell back a step, like a mother who had just heard her own child say that he hated her, and Stefan was torn between comforting her and letting her be. From the moment Adam had confided in him, his loyalties had been torn.

"I think," Stefan said, "We need to hear to rest of the story."

Gabe pressed the handkerchief to his still-bleeding lip. "What's left to say?"

All Stefan could see was Adam at Honey's bedside. For hours, Adam had clutched Honey's hand in his own, fervently pleading against them, apologizing again and again, praying for her safety. The act had been so desperate and helpless that Stefan closed his eyes at the memory. "You may need to end Honey's life to save Adam's, but if you do it, it will break him."

"Is there no way to spare her?" Teddy asked. "Do we know for sure that it's Honey? If it wasn't any of the others, then maybe—"

"It's her," Gabe said.

Stefan sighed. Even he understood that Adam's survival was the lesser of two evils.

"When did you start having these visions, Gabe?" Stefan asked.

"Since—" Eve spoke up. Her eyes darted to Teddy before continuing. "Since he was born."

Both Stefan and Teddy turned to Eve.

"As a baby, he would fuss at specific times of the month, and I would always know because Gabe never cried," she said. "You remember. Even when he was hungry, or tired, or when he soiled his clothes, he never made a peep."

It had been a while, and sometimes Stefan forgot that Gabe was the youngest of the five of them, but Eve's words triggered the memory of when Gabe had been born. He had been a peculiar baby. He never shrieked or giggled or burped like other infants his age. He would very quietly stare at you with his large black eyes and make funny inhaling noises. Sniff-sniff-exhale. Sniff-sniff-exhale.

Gabe had never been like them. Their powers were awakened when Eve initiated them. Gabe had been born with his visions. They were simply strengthened when Eve made him immortal.

"When did you find out that Gabe's visions had to do with Adam?" Stefan asked.

"He was five," she said quietly. "I found him crying in Adam's room one night."

Gabe just shrugged as though he'd long forgotten the incident.

"And when it kept happening," Eve said. "I knew something was wrong."

Stefan and Teddy looked up then, the realization hitting them at the same time.

"That's why you turned him," Stefan said. "You made him one of us because of what he had seen. You needed to keep him around for Adam's safety."

Eve said nothing.

Stefan felt stones churning in his gut. He'd always known that Gabe had been made immortal because of his gift, and because they had grown so close to him. He hadn't known that it had all been motivated by another purpose.

"What exactly did you see, Gabe?" Teddy asked.

When it didn't seem like Gabe was going to respond, Eve answered for him. "He didn't know himself. The visions had been too muddled and incomplete for him to decipher at the time. They've become clearer since."

"Which is why," Stefan said, finally connecting the dots, "You had seven misfires."

To call them misfires seemed inappropriate and gauche, but Stefan didn't know how else to characterize them. He studied Eve, the tension in her body so present that it felt like a physical object in the room. He hadn't understood her anxiety until this moment.

"Gabe never told you what he saw, did he?"

Teddy eyed him curiously, but Stefan pressed on. "Gabe didn't say that Elizabeth was in the vision. He didn't say any of the previous seven had been in the vision. Did he?"

Eve took a step back as though he were attacking her. "What are you saying?"

"You assumed, based on whatever clues or hints that you thought he'd been giving. You made inferences. And you acted."

He felt her stare down in each of his nerve endings, but the emotion that he saw in the depths wasn't wrath. It was fear.

"I thought I knew," she blurted. "The signs had been there. Gabe's visions would peak. And I—I stole his journal, and it was all written in. You don't understand. I had to save Adam."

"Eve, I—" Stefan started, but it was too late to take the attack back.

"No! You don't understand. I had to." She took another step backwards and looked to Gabe, a plea for him to come to her rescue. But Gabe stood immobile as he watched her with a look akin to pity. Eve licked her lips, retreating to the door like prey cornered by its predator. "I had to."

It felt surreal to see Eve crack. Stefan didn't think he'd witnessed her in anything other than a state of perfect composure.

She shook her head like a child trying to forget a bad nightmare. "I had to." Then, a cry erupted from her and before any of them could react, she turned and fled.

The three of them watched the empty doorway. It occurred to Stefan that the situation was probably just as overwhelming for Eve as it was for them. She had thought she would take this to her grave. It was an inappropriate expression to use, but if the truth hadn't come out now, none of them would have ever known. After Honey, the secret would have been buried forever. Adam would have never had to know. And Jesse . . .

If there was perhaps one thing in this world that Jesse loved more than himself, it was Louisa. Her death had sent him into years of self-destructive behavior. That year alone, the world saw five natural disasters. The stronger the storm, the more it hurt Jesse, both mentally and physically. Earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, no one could control Jesse's powers. Stefan didn't want to know what would happen if those old wounds were re-opened.

"I can't tell him," Teddy said, reading his mind.

"Someone has to," Stefan said.

"Maybe not."

"You want to keep it from him?"

Teddy ran a hand over his face. "It won't change the past. Only hurt him again. And I can't do that to him."

None of them could.

"Maybe—" Stefan paused when he heard Adam's voice echo down the hall. He was approaching, calling for Honey. The three of them turned to the door just as Adam entered the study, Honey's name dying on his lips. He stopped mid-step, eyes trailing over Stefan, Teddy, and then finally stopped on Gabe. Stefan could tell he was assessing the damage done to Gabe's face, but he didn't ask.

An awkward hesitance hung in the air, as none of them were sure what to say. For the first time, the truth was out in the open.

Seeing no way out, Stefan finally said, "We were just giving Saint Gabriel some hell to chew on."

"Were you?" Adam looked over at Gabe. "Yes, Saint Gabriel looks very remorseful."

Gabe returned Adam's stare impassively, but the corner of his lips tilted up in what could only be a smirk. It made Stefan want to punch the lights out of the other side of Gabe's face, because for whatever reason, Gabe was deliberately trying to provoke Adam.

"Adam." Teddy moved forward, but Adam stopped him with a hand.

"No," was all he said then. But they all understood what it meant. He didn't want their pity. In many ways, Gabe's impertinence was ten times more palatable than mercy or kindness. "I should be the one apologizing. None of this would have happened if not for me."

Teddy shook his head. "It's not your fault."

Adam didn't seem to buy it, but he didn't put up a fight either. It was obvious that no one was going to be able to convince him that he wasn't to blame.

"Look," Stefan said. "I think we all wish none of this had happened, but I would have done the same had I been in Eve or Gabe's position."

The side of Adam's cheek twitched with suppressed agitation. "You don't know what's going to happen. Has Gabe told you? Because he sure as hell hasn't told me."

"Adam—"

"What's the worst thing that could happen to me? So what if I die? Does that really warrant the death of all those people? You of all people, Teddy."

"The Louisa card," Gabe mocked. "Well played."

Furious, Adam turned on Gabe with a look that once put kings in their place. "You don't get a say anymore. Not with that much blood on your hands."

Gabe eyed Adam evenly, unfazed by his friend's fury. Then he spoke slowly and precisely so Adam would not miss a single syllable. "I'd do it again."

Adam lunged forward at such an incredible speed that Teddy almost didn't block him in time. "Adam!"

At the same time, Stefan moved in front of Gabe and shoved him hard by the shoulders. "Gabe, you son of a bitch. Stop provoking him."

Teddy held Adam back while speaking to the entire room, "Stop this! Both of you!"

Adam shook Teddy off and conceded, but the fire didn't die from his eyes. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe one life isn't worth it? That we shouldn't be trading one life for so many?"

"You don't exactly count as one, Adam," Stefan said.

"No, that's all I am."

"But there's no other way," Teddy insisted.

"How do you know?"

"Know what?"

"How do you know what I want?"

"You mean Honey?" Stefan "We know you care about her, and I don't want to see her hurt either, but we haven't come this far without making a few sacrifices."

"No." Adam shook his head. "Not Honey."

"Then what?" Confused, Stefan looked to Teddy, who was gazing at Adam as though he just realized that there was something more.

Adam sighed. "Maybe my time is up," he said.

At this, Gabe's mouth turned up in a sneer and he started for the exit.

"Where are you going?"

Without turning his head, he said, "I can't take anymore of this. Call me when you're over this mortality fetish."

Adam regarded his friend as though he didn't recognize the person in front of him.

"Whose side are you on?"

After a long moment, Gabe said, "I don't know anymore."

But as he was about to turn away, an odd look crossed his face and he stopped mid-step. His pupils snapped open. Stefan could see Adam's senses responding as his whole body became alert at the change in Gabe.

They'd all seen this before. Gabe was having a vision.

Teddy and Stefan shared a look of concern before they turned back to Gabe, whose stillness was almost eerie.

A couple of seconds passed before Gabe's shoulders settled and his body relaxed. His expression was more thoughtful than troubled as he said his next words.

"She has Honey."

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Honey didn't know where she was going, but every time she heard Adam's voice in her head, or felt him beneath her skin, she would squeeze her eyes shut and run faster. His voice slithered along the surface of her mind. His every thought caressed her mentally, as intimately as if they were her own. The way the his clothes touched his body, the way the air moved around him, his every tactile sensation–she felt it, and she had to get away. And the further she was from the mansion, the less a part of her he became.

The wind slapped her cheeks, waking her up from the stupor that Adam's energy had left her in. She felt alive, euphoric, but also drugged. Her bare feet made squeaking noises as they trampled over the grassy field.

If she concentrated really hard, she could block out Adam's presence, keep him from accessing her mind. But those moments were fleeting and erratic. She didn't know how to control their connection.

It wasn't until she collapsed in front of the steps of the gazebo that she realized where her subconscious had led her. The sun shone through the trees and reflected off the glass panels of the gazebo. It made her feel like she was in the presence of a divine temple.

She didn't know if it was the natural power of the garden, or if Adam was being distracted, but their connection no longer suffocated her. She could breathe again.

The gazebo had haunted her dreams for so long, had caused her so much pain, and yet she felt an affinity with it. They had shared secrets and history together. It was silly because she'd only ever been inside twice, but she felt oddly possessive of it. It was her place.

Although now that she knew the cause of her dreams, she wondered how much of what she felt was actually Eve's emotions, and not her own.

A rustling behind her caused her to whirl around. Instinctively, she reached up to protect herself, panic lurching up in her throat.

Evelyn's features shifted ever so slightly at the gesture. Honey let her hands fall.

"I'm sorry. You startled me." But as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized how crazy her statement sounded. One didn't apologize to one's reaper.

Standing in the sunlight, Evelyn looked every bit a goddess of the earth. Her aura was so vibrant and alive, Honey felt a physical pull toward her. There was something alien and raw about her beauty, like she didn't belong to this world. This was Evelyn—the real Evelyn.

Honey licked the fear from her chapped lips and rose from the steps so that the two of them were eye-to-eye. Her heart hammered furiously in her chest.

"Are you here to finish me off?"

"Is that an invitation?"

Honey's survival instincts were beating and screaming, "Run!" But some small and yet persistent part of her stood its ground.

"You befriended me," she accused. "You made me like you, and trust you."

"Do you hate me?"

"No," Honey answered, surprised by her own response.

Evelyn shrugged. "They never do."

Honey didn't have to ask who "they" were.

"I just don't understand why you would do that to yourself," Honey said. She wanted to ask if the murders had been in cold blood, but for some odd reason, she knew they had not been. "Rip the band-aid off so slowly. I'm obviously no match for you. You could have killed me on the spot, but you didn't. Why put everyone through that?"

Evelyn approached her, and once again, Honey felt the urge to cower. Even though there was nothing in Evelyn's demeanor that gave her away, Honey could tell that her impulses hurt Evelyn. But it was stupid and ridiculous to feel bad. A mouse wouldn't feel bad for hiding from a snake. And yet, that was the only way to describe how she felt—this strange sort of compassion that she couldn't reconcile with facts or logic.

A frustrated cry escaped Honey. "You see? I don't understand this! Why are you doing this to me! I don't want to sympathize, and I don't want to like you. For the past few months, you have dragged me through hell and back, and then you stand there and have the gall to look hurt because I'm afraid of you. How do you expect me to feel? How do you expect me to act when I know that you want me dead?"

Evelyn watched her rant with little emotion. She waited for Honey to calm down before speaking.

"Would you rather have died in September?"

"What?"

"Would you rather have died in September."

Frazzled by the change in topic, Honey said, "I don't know—what does that have to do with anything? I'd rather not die at all."

"But if you had to die," Evelyn persisted. "Would you have wanted it to be now or right when you came to South Merritt? Before you met Adam? Before you developed feelings for Adam? And before Adam developed feelings for you?"

"I still don't under—"

"Would you die for him?"

Honey quieted.

I-die-you-live.

It clicked.

"You wanted me to fall in love with him." She finally understood. "You waited until I would have willingly given my life for his. So that I wouldn't feel like I died for nothing. So that your conscience would have something to hold onto."

The discovery reeled through Honey. She felt manipulated and torn and yet oddly liberated. "They all knew, didn't they?"

"And even then," Evelyn said, more to herself than to Honey, "I couldn't pull the trigger."

Slow death. That was why there had been so much pain.

Honey gazed into Evelyn's eyes and, for the first time since they'd met, saw something human in them.

Evelyn walked toward the steps of the gazebo, past Honey, and toward the arched entrance.

"Come," she said.

Honey followed, but at the back of her mind, it occurred to her that she could be walking to her death. She ascended the three-tiered steps and entered the warm interior of the gazebo.

Just as she came to a stop, Evelyn's hair became blurry. Her vision separated. She suddenly saw double, then quadruple, and then she was spinning out of control, in a kaleidoscope of greens and yellows and blues.

She tried to call out to Evelyn but she was caught up in a whirlpool of her own senses. She heard only buzzing. And then she was stepping on air, her balance stripped from beneath her.

She felt herself falling rapidly into the unconscious with nothing to grasp onto. Before she blacked out, two words rung out clearly in her mind.

Stay still.

.

When Honey came to, she had a distinct sensation that her mind was a detached entity, unable to exert any force or influence over her body. She willed her eyes open, but they disobeyed.

Was she standing? She couldn't tell.

Her breath came out slowly. She felt the air passing, whispering out of the hollow cavity of her mouth, brushing over her wet lips like the breeze against a field of tall grass. But as soon as the breath left her mouth, it was sucked into the air around her.

She could feel the blackness. The air lay dead around her, as if she were in a vacuum, in a different dimension where up and down didn't exist. She made jerky movements with her eyeballs, but her eyelids stayed shut.

A hand on her shoulder gave her a mental jolt.

Don't panic.

Evelyn's voice.

"Where am I?" she wanted to say. Instead, it came out a wordless pant.

Was she dead? Was this the afterlife?

Hush. You're safe.

She couldn't feel Evelyn's presence at all, except for the hands on her shoulders and the voice in her head.

Don't struggle, or you might get hurt.

Honey tried to obey, but her body was not hers to command. It was an odd sensation, mental panic with no physical reaction. Her mind was shouting, but her body was deaf.

Do you want to be with him?

What?

No—focus your thoughts. Do you want to be with Adam?

Y—yes.

Forever?

Forever?

She felt so drawn to and yet threatened by the sweet enticement in Evelyn's voice.

Isn't that what you want?

Suddenly, the vacuum fell away and a cool tunnel of air whooshed over her body. Muteness gave way to hollow silence, giving her the sensation that they were in a large cave. She was standing, but on what, she didn't know.

Evelyn's hair brushed against Honey's back and fell over her shoulder. The skin of her neck and cheek tingled as she felt Evelyn leaning in.

Listen.

I don't—

A gentle shh sounded in her ear.

Listen.

At first she strained, but then, from a distance, she detected a faint . . . something. Her breath slowed and quieted.

And then she heard it. At first weak, it sounded like a horse galloping in slow motion. But unmistakably, as it became louder and clearer, she recognized it. It was rhythmic, but abnormal, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. An extra pause here. An extra kick there. It surrounded her, engulfed her until she was at its core. Each th-thump was like a bass, resounding and echoing deep within her chest.

It's . . . it's beautiful.

Isn't it?

Honey felt her own heart change and sync to the thudding, until the two were beating in unison.

There was something naturally soothing about listening to a human heartbeat. Was this how babies felt in the womb? One with their mother's heartbeat?

She could stay like this forever.

Forever?

Honey's next breath never made it out. Her heart staggered and suddenly began to thump twice as rigorously.

Adam.

Evelyn's pleasure radiated at Honey's revelation.

Isn't it magnificent? It's so strong and filled with vitality. It's the kind of beating you feel deep down in every cavity of your body. Such a pure soul.

Honey flashed back to the first time she put her hand over Adam's chest and felt nothing. But now . . . but now . . . here it was. All this time. Still beating, still alive.

I can give you this, Honey. All of this. Everything you've ever wanted. You could see the world, have financial security to pursue whatever career or life your heart desires, find happiness. You'd have time, love, safety. . . Adam.

She didn't understand what Evelyn was trying to say. She felt alarmed but safe, falling into the comforting waves of Evelyn's voice.

Join us.

The cocoon of safety fell away and Honey understood what Evelyn meant. The reality of the suggestion doused her like a splash of cold water.

No—I

You can be with Adam. Today. Tomorrow. For as long as you both shall live. Forever. Isn't that what you want?

She tried to shut her mind from Evelyn's voice, to push it out, but she was helpless from its domination.

Why are you doing this? You know Adam and I can't both live.

Ah, dearest, you've been misinformed. Gabe's vision hinges on you being mortal.

Honey stilled.

How . . . how do you know this?

The mortal brings down the immortal. A classic irony, Gabe always called it.

How do you know the vision won't come true regardless of my mortality?

I don't. That's the only condition of my offer.

The catch.

Honey could feel Evelyn's powers circling her like a playful breeze. But there was nothing playful about Evelyn's proposition.

A stinging pain struck her chest then, causing her mind to cry out, because her mouth could not. It felt as though a sharp blade were carving into her flesh.

You pledge your soul to me, and you are free to live for an eternity.

Upon those words, a hot, slow, and scorching liquid dripped onto her left breast, flowing into the open wound like molten lava through the cracks of volcano. Her eardrums burst from the sheer intensity of the pain, her skull feeling like it was cracking under the immense pressure as her mind screamed.

But if there ever arises a situation in which Adam's life is in danger, you swear, by blood, that your life is at my disposal.

Honey's whole body pulsed with residual pain as the burning slowly subsided.

What . . . what did you do to me?

The mark you bear on your chest is a sign of my open offer. You have until it disappears to accept.

The terms were clear. She would be signing her death.

I can offer you the world, Honey.

She tried to shake her head, but everything began to spin again. Dizziness claimed her mind, coerced it into submission. The last thing she heard before blacking out again was the faraway echo of Evelyn's voice.

Think about it.

.

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