Author's Note: We're nearing the end, lovelies. Just 4 more chapters left. The next two chapters will be relatively short, to work up to the climax. As always, minute-by-minute updating information can be found on my website (link in profile). And any questions can be directed to venaism . tumblr . com (I only use this to answer your questions, not to post/reblog things).
Please send Jules a lot of love—editing this chapter was not fun. I appreciate each and every one of your comments, whether you contact me via email, review, Tumblr, or PM. Really hope you guys like this chapter! It contains one of my favorite scenes to date.
Love and hugs,
"There it was, hidden in alphabetical order." – Rita Holt
"No." Teddy blocked the door. "Absolutely not."
Stefan moved to stand beside Teddy, equally resolute.
Adam looked at Jesse, who was leaning casually against the fireplace. "What? You're not going to join them?"
Jesse pushed himself away from the hearth and strode toward them as if he had all the time in the world.
"Just so I've understood correctly," he said, "tomorrow night, you're going to attempt to erase from Eve's memories all points of physical contact she's ever had with Honey, during which time I am supposed to smuggle Honey out of the city, across the barrier. And if you can't accomplish this incredible feat before Eve becomes aware of your scheme, then she's going to—" Jesse waved a hand in the air. "Oh, how to put this nicely—she's going become the manifestation of Hell itself and our dearest Honey will—" He made a slicing motion across his neck. "Yes, excellent plan."
"I didn't say it was foolproof."
Teddy shook his head. "It's too risky."
"Understatement," Stefan said. "You know exactly what's going to happen when Eve realizes what you're doing."
Adam had tried to hide the truth from Honey, because if he'd told her, she would have been hysterical. Eve had the power to put him—or any of them—in a mental prison of sorts. His body would be frozen, his mind chained. He'd only be able to feel the basest human emotions. Pain. Fear. But be powerless to do anything about it.
"She won't hurt me," he said. "Not permanently anyway."
"But what about when you're a temporary human vegetable?" Stefan asked.
"That's why I can't do this alone."
Stefan exhaled with obvious frustration. "I think desperation has clouded your judgment and logic. Let's assume for minute that Eve does nothing to you. How positive are you that you can even alter her tactile memories through physical contact?"
"One hundred percent," he answered. He'd done it before, one night many centuries ago. His heart still grieved for Eve at the memory. He hadn't told Honey this yesterday, because despite everything Eve had done, he still felt like he'd be betraying the deepest part of her if he shared the experience with anyone else. That secret would remain his and his alone.
"But within what kind of timeframe?" Stefan asked. "Eve will be more alert than usual, and your window may only be a thousand milliseconds, fifteen hundred if you're lucky. Unless you plan to catch her when she's asleep, which isn't something you should rely on."
They all knew that Eve rarely slept, and it would be wishful to think that she would do so at their convenience.
"That's why I want to get Honey out as soon as possible. Eve can't touch her until the offer expires."
"And then what?" Stefan pushed. "You're going to spend the next eight, nine decades of your life making sure that Eve doesn't find her?"
If you have to protect me until the day I die, then you can't ask to be released from your contract.
But he couldn't absolve himself without first making things right. Though he hadn't taken the lives with his own hands, the sins were still his to atone for.
He tried to think about how to respond to Stefan's question, but found himself unable to articulate his thoughts or feelings. Finally, he said, "It's something I have to do."
In that split second, before he could register what had happened, Adam felt the barrier go up. Incredulous, he looked at Teddy. "You can't be serious."
Jesse surveyed the room, then whistled between his teeth. "Impressive, brother."
The physical barrier Teddy had erected around the room felt like a four-wall enclosure around Adam's mind, cutting off the reach of his mental powers.
"Teddy." Adam took a careful step forward. "You don't want to do this."
They both knew that Adam could enter Teddy's mind and tear down the blockade himself, but if Teddy resisted, Adam's powers would cause him a great deal of pain.
Silence and tension charged the room, and for a moment, the four of them didn't move. Then slowly, Jesse approached Teddy until they were standing almost toe-to-toe, mirror images of one another.
"Brother," Jesse warned in a low voice.
"Step back, Jesse," Teddy said, while not breaking eye contact with Adam.
But Jesse stood his ground. "Don't make him do it."
"I can't let Gabe's vision come true."
"You don't have a choice," Jesse said. Then, making sure to enunciate each syllable, he said, "Remove the shield."
Adam could see Teddy steel his arms, as if preparing to fend off a physical attack.
"I'm not going to help Adam bring about his own death," Teddy said.
"And I'm not going to let Lou's death be in vain."
Jesse's quiet words broke the spell, and all of their attentions snapped to him.
Surprise and guilt reflected in Teddy's eyes. "Jesse—"
Jesse held up a hand. "Surely you didn't think you could keep it from me forever."
Gone was the characteristic flighty playboy attitude. Jesse stepped back from his brother, and took in the shock on each of their faces with a sheepish shrug.
"I hadn't wanted to use that card."
"How did you—" Stefan started.
"Is it important?" Jesse cut him off, looking at Adam this time.
The blues of Jesse's eyes were as clear as Adam had ever seen them. It reminded him of the night Lou passed away. The image of Jesse's very still body beside Lou's deathbed was one memory he'd never forget. He didn't know how one recovered from that kind of grief, but he suppressed the urge apologize. Somehow, he knew that the words would hurt Jesse more, because they served to cushion his own conscience.
Jesse studied him in silence before a knowing grin passed over his face. "I'm okay."
Adam shook his head, feeling defenseless and humbled in the face of Jesse's unspoken forgiveness. The world might know Jesse Voltaire as a devil-may-care hedonist who left flaming trails of broken hearts his wake, but perhaps it was better this way. The Jesse Voltaire Adam had come to know over the years would be too devastating for the world to handle.
Adam didn't deserve to be comforted by the people he hurt. He would spend the rest of his life making Louisa's death up to Jesse and Teddy if he could.
"Don't," Teddy said quietly, guessing his thoughts. "Stop punishing yourself. It's time we put this behind us. Let it end with Honey."
Exasperation crept beneath Adam's skin. "Do you honestly believe that she can hurt me? She can barely lift a baseball bat."
Sympathy softened Teddy's voice. "You know we're behind you. We always have been. But you're asking us to do something that isn't in your best interest."
"You're wrong." Adam clenched and unclenched his hands, feeling months of built-up frustration rising to the surface. Two months ago, he wouldn't have believed it, but today, he felt like the only thing that would salvage what was left of his soul was to keep Honey alive. It was his unfinished business in this world, his atonement for existing for too long. "I understand your conflict of interest, I do. But this is in my best interest. I can't have more blood on my hands."
"None of the deaths were your fault," Stefan said.
"It doesn't matter. I was the underlying cause. Do you really want to witness what happens to me when Honey's added that list?"
Adam could see Teddy and Stefan wavering. He felt the minute fluctuations in the force field as Teddy waged a battle against his better judgment.
"If I'm meant to die, then nothing any of you can do will be able to change the future." He paused and let the weight of that statement sink in with them. Even though he'd come to terms with it a long time ago, he understood that it would be much more difficult for them to do the same.
After a stretch of silence, he said, "This is the only way." It was at once a plea and a surrender. "I need you guys with me. I can't do this alone."
There it was. That was all he had to offer. For a long moment, the four of them stood in silence, letting his last words ring in the air. Adam watched the tension trail through Teddy's body. And then, just when he thought he'd lost, the barrier fell away.
The effect was noticeable on all of them. Adam inhaled deeply, feeling like he could breathe again.
Jesse gave Teddy's shoulder a reassuring squeeze while Adam struggled to find the words to express his gratitude.
Jesse waved a hand in his face. "We know. You love us. Would die for us. Save the soulful smolder for Honey. You know I can't resist you when you bat those green eyes at me."
Stefan expelled a sound that was half laugh, half exasperated sigh. "I give up."
Adam shook his head, feeling a thousand times lighter, even in the face of their grim prospects.
"What do you want us to do?" Stefan asked. "We don't have much time, do we?"
"Not much. We have to get Honey away before Eve's offer expires. We're already a day and a half in." Adam pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the beginnings of another headache. "I don't want to push the grace period. I'd like to have Honey out of South Merritt tomorrow night.
Jesse straightened. "November 30?"
"I'm afraid the mark will disappear by December 1," Adam said. He was about to say something else, but the thought evaporated when the proverbial hairs on his body began to rise. A familiar tingling sensation crept up his neck at the same time his vision zeroed in on the bright rings outlining Jesse's dilated pupils. He felt the spike in Jesse's energy at the center of his mind like a violent kick.
"Does the date offend you in some way?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Jesse tilted his head to one side. "I just hadn't expected it to be so soon."
Adam paused before accepting the fabricated answer. There was no need to alarm Teddy or Stefan. He'd pull Jesse aside later.
"You're going to have to put her to sleep," Teddy said.
Adam nodded. "I'll do that before she and Jesse set out." As soon as she crossed the city barrier, her memories of them would vanish, and the process of memory replacement would leave her disoriented if Jesse was still with her. He needed Jesse to get her home safely before she woke up.
He paused. "I want you guys to promise me something."
Teddy nodded reluctantly for him to continue.
"If something happens, and both Honey and I are in danger, I want—I need you to promise me that you will do everything you can to save her. Even if it's at my expense."
Teddy and Stefan regarded him warily.
"Is this love?" Jesse asked, eyeing him curiously.
Adam looked down, recalling his encounter with Honey yesterday. Their connection had worn off sometime in the night, but the depth of her feelings lingered within him. It was warm and sweet emotion, a small but persistent fire, kindled by the tomorrows he couldn't give her. But he couldn't love her. She would try to find a way to stay, and it would destroy her. He could never live with himself if that happened. It just wasn't meant to be. At least not in this lifetime.
Jesse stepped back with a particular gleam in his eyes. "How fascinating."
"It's not what you think."
"You mean she's free for the taking? Do I have your blessing to debauch her before I send her off then? Quite honestly, I've been waiting months to—"
Adam silenced Jesse's train of thought with a sharp flick of his mind.
"Damn." Jesse touched the side of his head with a grin. "You usually do that with so much more finesse."
Stefan rolled his eyes at Jesse's antics. "You asked for it."
"Well, if he doesn't want her, he shouldn't hog her."
Adam caught Jesse's half-lidded glance and knew that he was being provoked, and yet, unwittingly, a surge of something distasteful and possessive rose within him. He didn't know when it started—when the restlessness started. His fingers itched to touch her, his body to be near her. It was a difficult balance to strike—needing to keep an eye on her and needing to keep himself away from her. But for both their sakes, he would die trying.
"You have the self-control of a monk," Jesse said with what seemed like disgusted awe.
"I'm surprised Honey is letting you do this," Stefan said, changing the subject. "She doesn't strike me as the type to agree to this sort of scheme."
"She isn't," Jesse said. "He probably took off his shirt and seduced her."
Stefan gave Jesse a pointed look. "He's not you."
No, what Adam had done was ten times worse. He knew how opposed she was to the idea. He'd felt it through their connection like a physical force pushing against him. But he'd used her feelings for him against her, bled her sympathy and capitalized on her weakness for wounded animals and tragic heroes.
"It doesn't matter," Adam said. "What's important is that she said yes."
"Congratulations." Jesse clapped. "When's the wedding?"
Adam shot Teddy a look. "Does he have an off switch?"
Teddy shrugged helplessly, and Adam felt a grin form at the corners of his mouth. He would miss the twins' antics.
He would miss all of them. Gabe's absence from the room never felt so glaringly obvious as it did now. His vacancy weighed heavily in Adam's chest. For many nights, Adam wondered whether he had been the one to inflict all this turmoil and violence. Had he brought this upon them? Was the strife a product of his own making?
Teddy, ever perceptive, caught his train of thought. "It'll be okay."
"I know," Adam said. "I know."
"What are you going to do when all of this is over?" Teddy asked quietly.
Even though he'd never said anything, he knew Teddy knew. Though they'd never talked about it, he knew they all were aware of his deal with Eve. And he didn't want to lie anymore, not to the people closest to him. He'd buried himself for so long that he'd forgotten who he was before he came into this life. Somehow, meeting Honey had reminded him of how complacent he'd become, and of how things were before—how he was before. How ironic it was that despite having the world at his fingertips, he coveted the one thing she had that he didn't. The truth of what had happened these last few centuries only confirmed that he didn't belong here anymore.
For once, he wanted to do the selfish thing. Sometimes the feeling filled each crevice of his mind and body, and it overwhelmed him so much he couldn't speak. So even though he wanted to express all of this, he could only say, "I'm going to ask Eve to release me from the contract."
Adam watched his friends exchange glances with one another. They debated mentally what to say, and who to say it, until Stefan cleared his throat. "We thought that might have been the case."
Expecting resistance, Adam opened his mouth to explain.
"Hear us out first," Teddy said. "The five of us have been together longer than any other group of people in this world. You are as much my brother as Jesse is. So learning you want to leave isn't easy for us."
Teddy held up his hand before Adam could speak. "But because you are family, we'll support you. Even if it means allowing you to leave us forever."
Adam looked at Stefan and Jesse, whose faces echoed Teddy's sentiment.
"Oh, God, Teddy," Jesse said, horrified. "You're going to make him cry."
Adam choked up a laugh instead, deeply touched by their friendship and loyalty. Being selfish meant hurting the only real family he had come to know, and that would always be his greatest regret. How did one say thank you and sorry at the same time?
Jesse grinned. "No need to get all mushy, old man. You're still stuck with us for a while."
"Although we hope," Stefan added, "that when the time comes, Eve will lock you in a closet instead."
"But first—" Jesse wiggled his eyebrows. "We've got a prophecy to destroy."
Honey shifted fitfully between the sheets, unable to fall asleep. When the first light of dawn touched the curtains of her room, she knew that she'd lost the battle and rest would continue to elude her. Her mind refused to shut down and let go.
The more she thought about Adam's new plan, the more anxious she became. With each passing hour, the logistics seemed riskier, and the possibility of a mishap became greater. Even if all the pieces fell into place at the precise and correct time, there was still room for error, for fluke, for plain old bad luck. What if Adam couldn't erase Evelyn's memories within the short window? What if the mark on her chest closed? What if, some time down the road, Evelyn remembered? What if Evelyn found her? And what would happen when Evelyn found out that Adam had deceived her? The situation would be too tempting for Murphy's Law.
The danger alone couldn't explain why she felt nauseous though, why her stomach and lungs and gut churned and contracted so painfully, why her heart rate had escalated to that of a newborn, why she could only breathe in staccato.
Honey flipped onto her stomach and pressed her face into the warm pillow.
I'll watch over you.
She swallowed the lump of guilt in her throat. She knew how badly he wanted to be free of his deal with Evelyn. His yearning was so powerful it hurt to have their minds melded together.
Their connection had dwindled as the day passed, and now, she could only feel wisps of his conscience where it was once such a dominant presence. She was alone again in her own mind, which both relieved her and left her oddly bereft.
Adam would be sacrificing the next seven, eight decades of his life to ensure her safety. Thinking about him keeping tabs on her as she went to college, got married, had children, went about her day-to-day life . . . completely oblivious to the damage she'd caused, left a bad aftertaste in her mouth. He was going to give up the one thing he wanted most so that she could have her life back.
She couldn't do that to him—she couldn't. Not after all that he'd done for her. No doubt Evelyn would turn over continents in search of her, and what then? She didn't want to think about what desperation would push Evelyn to do and what Adam's sense of responsibility would force him to do in return.
She made a frustrated noise at the back of her throat, possibly from the self-induced asphyxiation, and pushed herself off the mattress. The cool November air felt good against her skin. She ambled over to the window and opened the curtains, revealing the overwhelming view of the estate's lush scenery.
Gabe's vision loomed like a storm cloud over her mind. If she lived, what would happen to Adam? If the prophecy were doomed to come true, she would be signing Adam's death sentence.
She pressed her forehead against the glass and squeezed her eyes shut. Something . . . something was very wrong about this picture. It was more than a Catch-22. She felt as though she had all the pieces but was building the wrong puzzle.
Every time she remembered her encounter with Gabe, a sliver of unease and confusion wedged itself at the back of her mind. He could have killed her easily. He could have put his hands around her neck and snapped it in half. He could have ended it right then and there. But instead, he'd placed her in the Block. She recalled Adam's words from the day he rescued her . . .
The walls of the Block are designed to deflect all wavelengths. None of our powers can penetrate this room. That's why it can only be opened and locked from inside.
Eve had just returned, and Honey could have sworn that Gabe had been waiting for her because she'd discovered their secret. She'd seen it in his eyes, and had known, beyond any doubt, that he knew that she knew. Only in hindsight did she realize that Gabe had placed her the safest place in the entire manor, perhaps the entire world.
And that could only mean one thing.
"Up! Up!" Chubby hands made grabbing motions in his direction.
He crouched down into the grass and waited as she clambered onto his back with the limbs of a child not yet possessing fine motor skills. When he felt her arms securely around his neck, he rose, gave her a slight bounce, and began the walk along the cobblestone path. She dug her unusually sharp chin into his shoulder and settled in for the ride.
The two of them ambled through the garden in comfortable silence. He proceeded at a leisurely pace, seeing and yet not really seeing the greenery and assortment of exotic flowers that surrounded them. But he felt her pudgy arms around him, the soft brush of her golden curls against his neck, the short, warm puffs of her breath on his skin.
"Tummy hurts," she said after a while, resting the side of her face against his back. "Lou's tummy hurts."
He turned down the west path to Sunshine Row—the greenhouse the twins had built for her, a shrine of yellow flowers from all walks of the earth.
"Gabe knows," he replied quietly. "Gabe knows."
The air was damp and musty from October rain. It had been a particularly wet month—because the heavens knew, and it mourned.
He usually felt far removed from the present, as if he were watching his own life in the third person. Except when his visions came true. Then he felt the world around him so acutely that it was often difficult to function. The bite of dank soil pierced his nostrils, stung his nasal cavity. His pores filled with cool mist and morning dew. The chafing and rustling of fall leaves grated against his eardrums. The hypersensitivity to his surroundings magnified each sensation tenfold.
"Is Gabe sad?" She lifted her head and peeked at his face.
He shook his head slowly.
A small sigh. "Jesse is sad. Teddy is sad, too." She burrowed her chin back into the crook of his neck. "Lou doesn't want everybody to be sad." A moment later, "Is Heaven sunny?"
He paused for only a second.
"Does Heaven have daff-dils?"
"I hear they grow on the clouds."
She pumped her legs in excitement. "Auntie Eve says she would come with Lou, but God is mad at Auntie Eve, because Auntie Eve was naughty . . ." She trailed off, losing steam, and laid her head against his back. Another sigh. "Will Gabe visit Lou in Heaven?"
He could feel the frailty of her breath, the weakness of her limbs, the fragility of her mind, the disease slowly eating away at her body. Death would be upon her by nightfall. It hovered over her expectantly, watching her with greedy, ravenous eyes. It touched her when no one was looking and lingered on her skin. Soon, it whispered.
But not yet, he thought, holding her just a little tighter.
"Gabe will try."
The door of the study banged open. Gabe looked up from his journal, pen poised above the half-written page.
Honey stood beneath the doorframe, eyes alight with purpose. There was just enough light from the rising sun and the lamp on his desk to make out her features. He took in the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the slight tremor in her hands, and the sleep-wrinkled look of her clothes.
"Are you lost?"
She strode over to his desk and continued to draw in air laboriously. "You—you—"
Gathering herself, she placed both palms firmly on the cherry wood and leaned forward so they were eye-to-eye.
He put down his pen and took his time studying her. Her cheeks were flushed from physical exertion, but there were dark circles cradling her eyes. Heat from her skin wafted over him, and the fine hairs on his body tingled at the sensation. She smelled of insomnia and rumpled sheets. He tasted the anxiety in her breath and felt her beating heart like a drum reverberating in his ear canal.
As the seconds ticked by, doubt began to creep into her expression. It dawned on her that barging into his territory may have been an unwise decision. She stood her ground, but the accusatory lean of her body softened to uncertainty and rings of panic appeared around her irises.
Finally, he settled back in his seat.
"I know a lot of things."
Her fingers twitched and her jaw clenched at his response. "You knew about all the deaths."
He waited for her to enlighten him.
"Elizabeth. Louisa. Each one. You—" She swallowed. "You knew they weren't me, but you let Evelyn believe that they were."
He watched in perverse fascination as her courage crumbled, as she forced herself to continue.
"That day when you attacked me, I thought you were going to kill me. But you were protecting me from Evelyn. Which means that you're trying to keep me alive—that . . ." She struggled with her next words. "That you want your vision to happen."
He knew his silence unnerved her, but there was something oddly engrossing about watching the turmoil wreak havoc on her body. Her perspiration reeked of overwrought emotions and his nostrils flared at the stench.
She placed an unsteady hand against her head, shaken by her own revelations. "That's why you let Evelyn kill all those people—because, even though you knew that they weren't the one, you knew that if you tried to stop her, it would change the course of events and your vision wouldn't happen."
Her words echoed in the still air, the vibrations humming along his skin.
After a moment, he said, "That's a very bold accusation."
"But it's true, isn't it?"
"You've already made up your mind that it is."
"Is that a yes or a no?"
At her snappish tone, his eyes glinted and she recoiled slightly, as if remembering who she was dealing with and the danger he posed. She was terrified of him—he could taste her fear.
"You're a good person. I know you are," she said.
"I just don't understand why you would want Adam dead."
She moved then and her shirt shifted to reveal the still red and tender mark on her chest. His eyes fell to the neshama, and his own chest stung in recollection.
"The future," he said slowly, eyes still transfixed on the mark, "is not for me to change."
"And yet you've taken so many active steps to make sure that it happens exactly as you've seen it."
She noticed where his gaze was and immediately placed a hand over her chest. She looked at him, held him with her wide-eyed, conflicted gaze, but he gave her no answers.
"You're a prisoner," she whispered. "You're a prisoner, and you're determined to see your sentence through."
He leaned forward then, bringing his face close to hers. "What are you going to do about it?"
The intensity of her emotions flooded through his veins like poison. She stepped back, jaw set, and held his gaze with renewed conviction.
"Meet you on death row."