*Two weeks later*
He was skulking in the shadows.
He'd been doing a lot of that lately, hiding where the sun refused to fall, disappearing into the whispery night. And maybe he'd become a shadow of himself. His golden eyes were bruised, as if he had trouble sleeping. Not the truth, but he let everyone who knew that Tierney had been his soulmate think otherwise.
The undisguised hatred had even disappeared from Adrien's eyes on the rare occasion he met his gaze. He simply looked through him now, as if he didn't even exist. Raquel's face hardened every time she saw him, but sorrow left the emotion curiously shallow. As if her bravado was merely that -- a show.
The only one who eyed him with more than passing acknowledgement was Jihn. Byron's cousin watched him with unconcealed malice anytime they were within sight of each other, her green eyes narrowed suspiciously. Something in the way she watched him made him think she knew what really happened instead of the fabricated story he'd given the police and Tierney's parents.
And what a good liar he was. The anguish coating the spinning gold helped validate his story, along with the haphazardly disheveled golden spikes. Strands stood on edge like he'd run his fingers through it nervously, where the warmth of that strangely magical air had plastered it into its own icy sculpture and then melted it away.
I couldn't save her... Even now, the words tasted sour on his lips. The niggling voice at the back of his head whispered coldly in his ear, a nagging reminder that he hadn't tried. An even colder voice rasped that it wouldn't have mattered anyway.
But that he wanted to save her... Now that was the most startling thought of all. He'd realized the truth of it in the midst of all his other lies, the adults around him calculating and analyzing his every word. She'd brought him nothing but trouble, from the first minute he'd set eyes on her until now, when he would never look at her again, except maybe in his memories.
He hadn't realized how much he'd come to count on her presence at the back of his brain, her smoky aura teasing at his consciousness like a slithering snake. Even now the memory flickered hazily. Without her, all he felt was an awning absence, a cavern growing ever larger each time he realized she was gone. He prodded at the space uncomfortably, but it refused to diminish, only swelled and ripened like days old fruit. And even though he'd like to pass his feelings off with that simple thought, he knew there was something more to it.
Of course, whatever it was didn't bear examining. He ignored it in his shadowed corner, shadowed world, shadowed life. Shadows dipped in ice, like the palest strands of her hair, murmuring across his skin. Even in death, he swore that he could hear her. She sang like a mermaid sunning herself on a faraway rock. A flicker of light and water, and she was gone.
Ironic that even in death she would not leave him alone.
If he were honest, he'd admit that he missed her. Before, the thought would have made him cringe, but now... Now he had no one to lie to, no reason to hide the fact that she'd stolen a part of him no matter how much he'd tried to prevent it. After all, they'd been connected in some unfathomable way.
Missed her, yes. Loved her, no. His full mouth twisting under its shadow of deformity, he stared blankly into the darkness of the chalkboard in front of him. That distinction seemed stupid now, but it was a necessity. Maybe he missed the part of him she'd taken with her, maybe he missed the part she changed when she touched his life. Still, in some small way, it was her absence that affected him.
He shook himself out of those thoughts slowly, only to realize that the entire class was staring at him. Blinking them into focus, he scowled ferociously at the nearest student. It had started working so much better since Tierney changed him.
"Mr. Drache?" the teacher prompted coolly. Obviously his lack of attention wasn't winning him any points. And maybe sometime in the next millennium, he might care.
Instead of responding, he stared emotionlessly at the woman, letting just a shard of his lion roar at the edges of his aura. He could see how she shrank back slightly, the corners of her eyes widening in fear. He smiled sharply and ran his tongue over the razor-like teeth.
Mrs. Byrd -- was that the substitute's name? -- cleared her throat twice before she managed to get the rest of her sentence out. He didn't miss the unease wafting from her, the scent of it as heady as fresh blood pouring at his feet. "Report to the office."
Blankly, he didn't move from his slouched position in the uncomfortable wooden chair. "Why would I do that?"
Her face tightened, recovered from that brief moment where she'd somehow sensed the untamed beast lurking inside. "Because they called your name over the loudspeaker twice now. *Go.*"
He almost considered ignoring her, but he didn't want to sit here anyway. At least reporting to the office would give him something to do. Really, authority wasn't all that bad when it coincided with your own desires. He smiled acidly at her and gathered his books, relishing the alarm that made her shrink back, though she tried to hide it. Around him, students avoided his gaze, dropping their eyes to the books in front of them or finding something -- anything -- to keep their attention away from that piercing golden stare.
The anxiety drifting from the room was almost palatable and he fed from it. The animal inside was clawing, tearing to get out, demanding to unleash the fury he'd been so careful to dampen in these last days of lies and resentment. Some of his frustration leaked into his eyes, shining like iron ore baking in the sun, the golden hunger warning, always warning. If they knew what was good for them, they'd stay away.
Striding out of the room lazily, he reveled in the sudden flurry of movement, the way the humans shivered away from him. For a few weeks, Byron had almost had him convinced that they could be tolerated as something other than a food source. Whatever lies he told himself, Dare knew he could easily have found a way around subjecting himself to their whining company.
Humans were food, and half-breeds little better, if not worse. The thought sent his lips sliding into a sneer, baring his teeth at some unsuspecting female in the middle of the hallway. She fell back against her locker, but he was already gone, sliding down the hall like a shadow in the darkness. Stealthy, silent, and deadly, he slipped away like a hunter stalking its prey.
Mrs. Shumaker sat behind the office's glass protection and peered imperiously at him. As he neared the enclosure, her expression grew steadily more disapproving. He didn't let it bother him, just let it sink into his skin like every other emotion he encountered at this off-limits buffet they called a school.
"Can I help you?" Her voice oozed displeasure.
Something inside him snapped. Dropping the books onto the desk, ignoring the picture that crashed to the floor and her gasp of outrage, he slammed his hands down against the wooden surface. He leaned down until his eyes were level with hers, the raw craving in his eyes as silencing as a gun set to the forehead, safety off. "You called me to the office."
She leaned back as far as the chair would allow, which in truth, wasn't very far at all. "I didn't call you to the office," she snapped. Though her voice was as waspish as ever, her skin was white and bloodless.
Good, he thought, she should be afraid. "Someone did," he responded silkily. He eased away from the desk, his cheeks hollow in his misshapen face, and glanced at the intercom. No one else was in the office. Mrs. Shumaker was the only one who used the intercom, so it had to have been her. She had no reason to lie about it.
"Go back to class," she said. Her voice was huffy and disgruntled. He could hear her heart racing beneath the papery sheet of skin, blood pounding in her thin veins. She probably tasted as sour as she sounded.
With barely leashed violence lining his movements, he snatched his books off her desk and stalked out of the office. Her sigh of relief -- subtle though it was -- followed him out the door. He got halfway down the hall to see two figures blocking his path. One he didn't recognize, while the other was far too familiar. Her green gaze cut as sharp as knives across his skin.
He slowed, walking toward them leisurely. For some reason, he thought of the prey ambushing the hunter, but that was ridiculous. Prey was not that smart, and neither of these two smelled like prey anyway. He let disinterest show clearly on his face. "What do you want?" he snarled.
The taller of the two figures stepped forward. "Charming as ever, Dare," Jihn said smoothly, her body sliding like a snake about to strike. As always, her face was utterly unreadable. "We'd just like a minute of your time."
Superiority wound its way through his muscles, relaxing them against the onslaught of animosity emanating from her. "I don't have a minute," he said flatly. The last thing he would do was spare time for this vampire who had so staunchly supported his soulmate. She could wait until the last human on earth dropped dead before that would happen.
Jihn's face betrayed no emotion at his words. "Next time I won't be so polite. I said, 'we'd like a minute of your time.'"
He started to respond negatively, but then he changed his mind. It wasn't like he was really going back to class... and maybe he could find out exactly what she knew. Know thy enemy. And he didn't doubt Jihn was anything but an enemy. He nodded succinctly at her, gesturing with mock chivalry to the empty classroom at his right.
With only a flicker of wariness shimmering on her face, she motioned the other girl inside, careful to keep herself between their two bodies. A good idea, he admitted to himself. If he were going to attack, the stranger would be the one he went for. Something told him she was a lot more harmless than Jihn.
When they were all ensconced inside the shadows at the back of the classroom, Jihn turned to him, as cool and as apathetic as ever. "I know what you told the police," she stated, sweeping a somehow critical gaze over him even though nothing changed in her expression. "And I know that you were lying."
"What did you want me to tell them?" he asked lazily. "My soulmate screwed up a spell and accidentally killed herself?" He laughed, the rough purr of his voice sliding through the air. "It was easier to tell them that she slipped and broke her neck."
Now her face tightened. "Odd, isn't it, how her neck really was broken."
His answering response was cool. "There's nothing like authenticity to make a story ring true."
"Somehow I didn't expect even you to be that callous."
Her dainty features wore the shadows like a veil, melding and twisting into her pale hair. In that dimness, her eyes burned. The green seared into his skin, branding him, and raked forth secrets he didn't know he had. Still, she knew nothing about him. "Just a body," he shrugged. "She wasn't around to feel it anymore."
Those green orbs leapt like flames, but the smaller girl placed her hand on Jihn's arm and stopped her from doing anything drastic. Tension radiated from Dare as he waited to see if she would follow through. He was spoiling for a good fight. But to his disappointment, she smiled and relaxed.
"This is Miranda," she said, amusement creeping into the child-like curl of her mouth. She seemed to know exactly what he was feeling. "She has a few questions for you."
"What if I don't want to answer them?"
He expected her to lose the smile, but instead it tightened. She shifted closer to him, until he could smell the sweet scent of revenge clinging to her shoulders. He almost choked on its acid texture. "You don't want to find out."
For some reason, he believed her. While she didn't scare him, he was just raw enough that dealing with her wouldn't be a good idea. Not until he filled the gaping hole pulsing in his core. "What questions?"
Miranda sat uneasily on the top of a desk, the dusky atmosphere melting around her with a subtle sort of glow. Though Jihn disappeared into the shadows, her silky blond hair should have contrasted sharply. Miranda, whose long, auburn hair trailed at her waist, should have been swallowed in their depths. Strange how neither fit the mold.
"What *happened* when Tierney did the spell?" she asked hesitantly, her eyes an odd color between blue and violet. The color of the sea, but some of the waters splashing under the noonday sun and others lost in sunset. "Did she cast a circle?"
His lashes fell like a sweep of cinders against his cheeks. Had she cast the circle? Oh, yes. Tierney had been far from incompetent. But when he looked at Miranda, he only shrugged, as if he were unsure. "I think so," he replied. The hesitancy in his voice was textbook perfect. "She used incense and water... then she carved a circle in the rock."
Those searing blue eyes snapped to his face. "Did she use any candles? A torch? Fire?"
His expression went blank while his mind raced for an appropriate answer. Then he thought, Why not tell the truth? Omission wasn't exactly a lie. "Yeah," he said finally. "She put a ring of candles in the sand. But one fell."
"During the spell?"
"During the spell," he repeated, confirming her question in a voice that was both patronizing and spiteful. "So what?"
Jihn edged closer like a raptor about to strike, but Miranda simply sighed. She spoke before Jihn had a chance to pounce, her eyes regretful. "The circle centered the magic. It was kind of like..." she paused, chewing on her bottom lip while she searched for an appropriate simile. Shrugging, she tried again. "Let's say you have a mirror. That was you and Tierney. The spell creates a sort of magical pressure on the mirror, but the circle keeps it distributed evenly. If that pressure concentrates in one place, the mirror shatters. When the circle broke, it caused all the power to gather in the center and explode."
"I repeat," he said, "'So what?'"
This time Jihn came so close he could see the clear amber veins in her eyes, and they weren't pulsing happily. She smelled like peaches and vanilla and childhood memories gone painfully wrong. When she opened her mouth, her canines gleamed wickedly. "How did the candle fall?" she asked softly, the easy menace in her voice not so subtly threatening.
Her intimidation tactics amused him. He tilted his head and met her eyes directly, silently letting her know that it wasn't going to work. "I don't know. I was across the circle when it happened."
One slim golden brow rose in question. "Somehow I find that hard to believe."
"I don't remember it being my responsibility to convince you," he responded flatly. He didn't move when her lips peeled back from her teeth and her pupils sucked the color from her eyes, leaving only two awning black orbs. Her blood pounded in her veins as loudly as thunder rumbling through the sky. "Tierney's dead. Harassing me isn't going to bring her back."
Jihn rested a moment in her intimidating position, then the flame in her eyes dimmed and she stepped back. "No, it won't," she concurred. The smile that crept across her face was stunning and cold. "But it might make me feel better, and killing you would only be an added bonus."
"Save the threats for someone who will be intimidated by them," he suggested. He swept a critical gaze over her slight frame, towering at least seven inches over her silky blond head. Then, rolling his eyes, he pushed past her toward the door. "And don't mention her name to me again."
He didn't wait for either of them to respond. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Miranda's wide-eyed stare as she huddled protectively against the desk. Not surprising. He and Jihn weren't exactly harmless, and the tension singing through the room felt ready to burst. Ignoring the outrage swelling from the vampire, he exited the room.
Two weeks later, and still she haunted him.
He missed her.
Every day at lunch, Julien would stare at her empty seat, wondering what had really happened. No matter what Dare said or what story he told, Tierney's words the day after prom weighed on his mind. /He isn't a good person./ And something told him that whatever lies Dare spun, they were far from the truth of what really happened.
Walking down the shadowed corridor with the hall pass clutched loosely in his hand, he tried not to linger as he passed by her locker. The outside was decorated with flowers and pictures people had taped to the flat metal surface, and he hated the memories they invoked. All they managed to do was remind him that she was gone.
He kept his eyes fixed firmly ahead as he walked. It was easier than pretending he didn't care.
For the last two weeks, everyone had treated him with more deference than usual, murmuring condolences as they moved by. No one, himself included, knew what had really happened. Only that she had been with Dare, and that she was dead.
Descending the stairs at a leisurely pace, he headed for the guys' locker room. With any luck, he could hide there until the end of the period. He wasn't in the mood to sit through any more classes today. Tierney filled his thoughts, not chemical equations or Spanish verbs.
But when he entered the locker room, he found he wasn't alone. Sneering back at him was Dare, who apparently had the same idea he did. The other boy glared coolly at him, as if challenging him to say something. Julien was just angry enough to oblige him.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he snapped, staring at Dare from an equal height. His shoulders tensed, wary, and adrenaline rushed through his senses. His body was clamoring for a fight.
Dare took the opportunity to obstinately lean against the wall and make himself comfortable. "Avoiding class. If you have a problem with it, you can go away." He smiled, showing dangerously sharp teeth. "I *was* here first."
Julien's gray eyes narrowed into slivers of silver. "I'm not going anywhere."
Shrugging, Dare leaned his head against the wall and let his eyes slide shut, completely relaxed. He apparently didn't find Julien to be a threat at all. The latter kept a watchful gaze on him, but walked across the locker room and sprawled across one of the wooden benches.
His mouth twisted angrily as he stared across the room at the chipped green lockers. Just Dare's presence was chafing on his nerves. Maybe he wouldn't let himself be ignored. He turned his head to look at Dare, who hadn't moved even a millimeter.
"Why was Tierney with you when she died?" It was hard to keep the accusatory edge out of his voice, especially since he already knew the answer. She had to have been doing the spell. Still, he was interested to know how Dare would answer.
Dare lazily opened one golden eye, like a cat that had been nudged out of the sun. "We were taking a walk."
And, exactly as he expected, Dare was evading the truth. "She hated you," Julien answered flatly, his features hardening. He leaned back against the wall calmly, but his body was still tense.
Both eyes opened this time, and the expression coating their amber depths wasn't pleasant. "The feeling was mutual."
Something about the way Dare said those words told him Dare was lying. They lacked conviction, even while emotion was absent from each drawn-out syllable. And something about them made Julien angry. He stood, walking over to where Dare slouched carelessly across the wooden bench. "I don't believe you," he said.
"I really don't care."
Those words sounded almost amused. Anger spiraled through Julien as he reached out and wound his fingers into the material of Dare's shirt, lifting him off the bench and thrusting him against the wall. Shock wiped the laziness from that cold and apathetic face.
"I know something happened when she went to do the spell," Julien stated, and Dare paused in the process of reaching for Julien's neck. His hands fell to his sides, but Julien ignored him, lifting him higher against the wall. "And I know whatever happened it was your fault."
Lashing out, he caught Julien off guard, causing him to release Dare's shirt. As Julien stumbled back, he purred, "Prove it."
"I don't have to," Julien responded. He eyed Dare coldly, dislike hovering between them like a thick barrier. He took a step forward and pushed Dare roughly back, knocking him back into his seat. "I loved her," he said bitterly and flexed his fingers as though he was preparing to do damage. "She died because something went wrong, which makes you indirectly responsible. So I'm going to say this once. Stay away from anyone Tierney cared about, or I'll make sure you don't have a choice."
He didn't wait for the shock to disappear from Dare's face before he turned and walked away. If he stayed, he might kill the bastard, or die trying.
God, he missed her so much.
When he saw her trudging down the hall, Dare merely groaned. Everyone else had accosted him today; why would Raquel be any different? His mouth tightened, Julien's empty -- though he was sure Julien didn't know this -- threat echoing through his mind.
And sure enough, as soon as Raquel noticed him, she stopped. He continued leisurely down the hall. The hatred shining through her bruised violet eyes stabbed at him even halfway down the hall, but even now he could smell the sorrow she felt.
He kept moving, slowly and purposefully, expecting her to say something with every step he took in her direction. But she said nothing. Her eyes held his, the hatred as glaring as the midday sun, while she stood silently in place. He moved past her and still she didn't say anything to him. Her hatred prickled over his skin like fire ants swarming ever upward.
When the doors to the staircase were in front of him, he glanced back down the hall, already knowing that Raquel was still standing there, not moving, and that heated anger filled her gaze. Shrugging, he pushed through the double doors and bounded up the stairs.
Odd. He would have expected her to throw empty threats like the rest of them, not simply let him walk by. Strangely, her pain hurt him enough, raking across his body and taunting him with what he'd done.
He'd once told Tierney that if it were necessary, she would pay in blood. Instead she'd paid with her life. Somehow he'd gotten caught up in the difference between the two. Fate was making him pay. And as much as he hated to admit it...
He deserved every little bit of what he'd gotten.