Passion, p.41
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       Passion, p.41

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 41


  Fear not, he whispered. Let me tell you, love, what happens after this life. You come back, you rise again. Your rebirth is beautiful and real. You come back to me, again and again--

  The light from the lamp flickered and made his violet eyes sparkle. His body was so warm against hers.

  But I die again and again.

  What? He tilted his head. Even when his physique looked exotic to her, she knew his expressions so well--that bemused adoration when she expressed something he hadnt expected her to understand. How do you--Never mind. It doesnt matter. What matters is that we will again be together. We will always find each other, always love each other, no matter what. I will never leave you.

  Luce fell to her knees on the stone steps. She hid her face in her hands. I dont know how you can stand it. Over and over again, the same sadness--

  He lifted her up. The same ecstasy--

  The same fire that kills everything--

  The same passion that ignites it all again. You dont know. You cant remember how wonderful--

  Ive seen it. I do know.

  Now she had his attention. He didnt seem sure whether or not to believe her, but at least he was listening.

  What if theres no hope of anything ever changing? she asked.

  There is only hope. One day, you will live through it. That absolute truth is the only thing that keeps me going. I will never give up on you. Even if it takes forever. He wiped away her tears with his thumb. Ill love you with all my heart, in every life, through every death. I will not be bound by anything but my love for you.

  But its so hard. Isnt it hard for you? Havent you ever thought, what if . . .

  One day, our love will conquer this dark cycle. Thats worth everything to me. Luce looked up and saw the love glowing in his eyes. He believed what he was saying. He didnt care if he suffered again and again; hed forge on, losing her over and over, buoyed by the hope that one day this wouldnt be their end. He knew it was doomed, but he tried over and over again anyway, and he always would.

  His commitment to her, to them, touched a part of her that shed thought shed given up on.

  She still wanted to argue: This Daniel didnt know the challenges coming their way, the tears they would shed over the ages. He didnt know that shed seen him in his moments of deepest desperation. What the pain of her deaths would do to him.

  But then. - Luce knew. And that made all the difference in the world.

  Daniels lowest moments had terrified her, but things had changed. All along, shed felt bound to their love, but now she knew how to protect it. Now she had seen their love from so many different angles. She understood it in a way shed never thought she would. If Daniel ever faltered, she could raise him up.

  She had learned how to do it from the best: from Daniel. Here she was, about to kill her soul, about to take away their love permanently, and five minutes alone with him brought her back to life.

  Some people spent their entire lives looking for love like this.

  Luce had had it all along.

  The future held no starshot for her. Only Daniel. Her Daniel, the one shed left in her parents backyard in Thunderbolt. She had to go.

  Kiss me, she whispered.

  He was seated on the steps with his knees parted just enough to let her body slide between them. She sank to her knees and faced him. Their foreheads were touching. The tips of their noses.

  Daniel took her hands. He seemed to want to tell her something, but he could not find the words.

  Please, she begged, her lips edging toward his. Kiss me and set me free.

  Daniel lunged for her, swooping her up and laying her sideways across his lap to cradle her in his arms. His lips found hers. They were as sweet as nectar. She moaned as a deep current of joy flowed through her, every inch of her. Laylas death was near, she knew that, but she never felt safer or more alive than she did when Daniel held her.

  Her hands locked around the back of his neck, feeling the firm sinews of his shoulders, feeling the tiny raised scars protecting his wings. His hands roved up her back, through her long, thick hair. Every touch was rapture, every kiss so wonderful and pure it left her dizzy.

  Stay with me, he pleaded. The muscles in his face had grown tense, and his kisses had become hungrier, more desperate.

  He must have sensed Luces body warming. The heat rising in her core, spreading through her chest and flushing her cheeks. Tears filled her eyes. She kissed him harder. Shed been through this so many times before, but for some reason this felt different.

  With a loud whoosh he stretched his wings out, and then deftly wrapped them tight around her, a cradle of soft white holding the two of them fast.

  You really believe it? she whispered. That someday Ill live through this?

  With all my heart and soul, he said, cupping her face in his hands, pulling his wings tighter around them both. I will wait for you as long as it takes. I will love you every moment across time.

  By then, Luce was broiling hot. She cried out from the pain, thrashing in Daniels arms as the heat overwhelmed her. She was burning his skin, but he never let her go.

  The moment had come. The starshot was tucked inside her dress, and this--right now--was when she would have used it. But she was never going to give up. Not on Daniel. Not when she knew, no matter how hard it got, that he would never give up on her.

  Her skin began to blister. The heat was so brutal, she could do nothing but shiver.

  And then she could only scream.

  Layla combusted, and as the flames engulfed her body, Luce felt her own body and the soul they were sharing untwine, seeking the fastest escape from the unforgiving heat. The column of fire grew taller and wider until it filled the room and the world, until it was everything, and Layla was nothing at all.

  Luce expected darkness and found light.

  Where was the Announcer? Could she still be inside Layla?

  The fire blazed on. It did not extinguish. It spread. The flames consumed more and more of the darkness, reaching into the sky as if the great night itself were flammable, until the hot blaze of red and gold was all that Luce could see.

  Every other time one of her past selves had died Luces release from the flames and into the Announcer had been simultaneous. Something was different; something that was making her see things that couldnt possibly be real.

  Wings on fire.

  Daniel! she cried out. What looked like Daniels wings soared through waves of flames, catching fire but not smoldering, as if they were made of fire. All she could make out were white wings and violet eyes. Daniel?

  The fire rolled across the darkness like a giant wave across an ocean. It crashed onto an invisible shore and washed furiously over Luce, rushing up her body, over her head, and far behind her.

  Then, as if someone had pinched out a candle, there was a quick hiss and everything went black.

  A cold wind crept up behind her. Goose bumps spread across her skin. She hugged her body closer, drawing up her knees and realizing with a jolt of surprise that no ground held up her feet. She wasnt flying exactly, just hovering, directionless. This darkness was not an Announcer. She had not used the starshot, but had she somehow . . . died?

  She was afraid. She didnt know where she was, only that she was alone.

  No. There was someone else. A scraping sound. A dim gray light.

  Bill! Luce shouted at the sight of him, so relieved she began to laugh. Oh, thank God. I thought I was lost--I thought--Oh, never mind. She took a deep breath. I couldnt do it. I couldnt kill my soul. Ill find another way to break the curse. Daniel and I--we wont give up on each other.

  Bill was far away, but floating toward her, making loops in the air. The nearer he got, the larger he appeared, swelling until he was two, then three, then ten times the size of the small stone gargoyle she had traveled with. Then the real metamorphosis began:

  Behind his shoulders, a pair of thicker, fuller, jet-black wings burs
t forth, shattering his familiar small stone wings into a chaos of broken bits. The wrinkles on his forehead deepened and expanded across his entire body until he looked horrifically shriveled and old. The claws on his feet and hands grew longer, sharper, yellower.

  They glinted in the darkness, razor-sharp. His chest swelled, sprouting thick, curly black hairs as he grew infinitely larger than he had been before. Luce strained to suppress the wail climbing in her throat. And she managed--right up until Bills stony gray eyes, their irises dulled beneath layers of cataracts, glowed as red as fire.

  Then she screamed.

  You always did make the wrong choice. Bills voice had turned monstrous, deep and phlegm-filled and grating, not just on Luces ears but on her very soul. His breath punched her, reeking of death.

  Youre-- Luce could not finish her sentence. There was only one word for the evil creature before her, and the idea of saying it aloud was frightening.

  The bad guy? Bill cackled. Surprise! He held out the I sound of the word so long that Luce was sure he would double over and cough, but he didnt.

  But--you taught me so much. You helped me figure out--Why would you--How--The whole time?

  I was deceiving you. Its what I do, Lucinda.

  She had cared for Bill, roguish and disgusting as he was. Shed confided in him, listened to him, had almost killed her soul because hed told her to. The thought cut her. She had almost lost Daniel because of Bill. She might lose Daniel still because of Bill. But he wasnt Bill--

  He was no mere demon, not like Steven, or even Cam at his worst.

  He was Evil incarnate.

  And he had been with Luce, breathing down her neck the whole time.

  She tried to turn away from him, but his darkness was everywhere. It looked as if she were floating in a night sky, but all the stars were impossibly far away; there was no sign of Earth. Close by were patches of darker blackness, swirling abysses. And every now and then a shaft of light appeared, a beacon of hope, illumination. Then the light would vanish.

  Where are we? she asked.

  Satan sneered at the pointlessness of her question. Neverwhere, he said. His voice no longer had the familiar tone of her traveling companion. The dark heart of nothing at the center of everything. Neither Heaven, nor Earth, nor Hell. A place of the darkest transits. Nothing your mind at this stage can fathom, so it probably just looks--his red eyes bulged--scary to you.

  What about those flashes of light? Luce asked, trying not to let on just how frightening the place did look to her. Shed seen at least four flashes of light already, brilliant conflagrations igniting out of nowhere, vanishing fast into darker regions in the sky.

  Oh, those. Bill watched one as it blazed and disappeared over Luces shoulder. Angel travel. Demon travel. Busy night, isnt it? Everyone seems to be going somewhere.

  Yes. Luce had been waiting for another burst of light in the sky. When it came, it cast a shadow across her, and she clawed at it, desperate to shake out an Announcer before the light disappeared. Including me.

  The Announcer expanded rapidly in her hands, so heavy and urgent and lithe that, for a moment, she thought she might make it.

  Instead she felt a scabrous grip around her sides. Bill had her entire body nestled in his grimy claw. Im just not ready to say goodbye yet, he whispered in a voice that made her shiver. See, Ive grown so fond of you. No, wait, thats not it. I have always been . . . fond of you.

  Luce let the shadow in her fingers wisp away into nothing.

  And like all beloveds, I need you in my presence, especially now, so you dont corrupt my designs. Again.

  At least now youve given me a goal, Luce said, straining against his grasp. It was no use. He gripped her tighter, squeezing her bones.

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