Chapter Five

The sun was bright, glaring down on me as I stood in front of the Georgetown Castle Gatehouse. The gatehouse was a pumping station for drinking water in Washington, D.C. It looked just like an old castle, complete with sprawling stone turrets and gaping rectangular windows. I watched as a man and woman strolled along the sidewalk several hundred feet away. They looked happy, the way everyone did these days, and they weren’t paying me a bit of attention. This was good, because I had a gun inside my jacket and orders to shoot anyone who might be interfering with what we were trying to do.

Graham was stationed a few feet behind me, watching the opposite direction than I was. Hallam, Azazel, and a few other members of the Resistance were inside. They were dosing the water supply with herbs, hoping to wake up the population of D.C., to free them from Kieran and Eve’s influence. Thus far, things had gone according to plan. We were lucky in the sense that people who were hyped up on Kieran and Eve’s powers weren’t particularly suspicious. Smiling at anyone we came across and mentioning how wonderful Kieran and Eve were tended to keep them from asking any questions. Happy people were easy to fool.

I wandered around on the sidewalk, keeping a lookout, but trying not to appear like a person keeping a lookout. Anyone passing by should think of me as an awed tourist, checking out the spectacle that was a water plant castle.

And they probably would have too, if I hadn’t forgotten the fact that I was public enemy number one. Somehow, with all of the weird tension between Azazel and me, and the fact that Marlena had begged me to get my powers back, I’d forgotten that my face had been plastered across televisions just a few days ago. If anyone was going to be conspicuous, it was me. After all, everyone was looking for me under direct orders from Kieran and Eve.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when someone recognized me, but I was.

A little girl walking with an elderly woman and a dog pointed at me. “Him!” she yelled. She took off running in my direction, her finger outstretched, crying, “Him! Him!”

Hell. This wasn’t good. I turned to Graham. “I guess I forgot that Kieran was looking for me. Go warn Azazel and Hallam. I’ll try to lead them off course.” After all, I figured that Kieran wouldn’t know I was with the Resistance. He’d have no idea what was going on. He’d just think he caught me.

I ran to intercept the girl.

But before I could make it there, at least twenty armed guards came sprinting in my direction. They ran for me, with their guns out, and they spoke together with one voice. Kieran’s voice. “Gotcha Jason,” they chorused.

I didn’t think. I drew my gun, flipped off the safety. I sighted the first one’s head. This should be easy. Twenty guys? I could drop them quick. I had an extra clip in my pocket in case I ran out of rounds. But I didn’t think I’d need to. One shot per guy. Easy.

My finger tensed on the trigger.

Then I remembered. I didn’t do that anymore. I didn’t kill men. I’d made a promise to myself never to take another life. And I’d been about to kill twenty people without even thinking about it.

These people weren’t even thinking for themselves. They were all being controlled by Kieran. If I killed them, it would be something they hadn’t even chosen. My hand shook. I put the safety back on the gun. Holding it up, I raised both of my hands, surrendering. “You found me, Kieran.”

The men surrounded me. They continued to speak at once. “Of course we did. Now take us to Chance.”

Good. They had no idea what the Resistance was doing right now. Kieran thought I was alone. He was still focused on finding Chance. “I told you that I don’t know.”

All the guards crossed their arms over their chests. “It’s kind of annoying, Jason,” they said together. “We really hoped you’d be stupid enough to take him out on a father-son stroll.”

“I don’t know where he is.”

Two of the men grabbed me by the arms and dragged me in the direction of the castle gate. “We’re searching the castle. It’s exactly the kind of thing a little boy would like.”

I refused to move my feet. They couldn’t go in there. They’d find Azazel, Hallam, and the others. “He’s not inside.”

“Sure, he’s not,” chorused the men.

Right. The more I protested, the more they thought I was lying. I didn’t know what to do.

They pulled me along, my feet dragging against the ground. Having my powers sure would be handy right now. I struggled against the men that held me, but there were too many of them, and they were too strong. We continued to approach the castle, no matter what I said or did.

There was a loud crack, as though the air was exploding. One of the men holding me suddenly fell backwards, his grip loosening.

I looked around, confused for a second. He’d been shot. Where had…?

There was a volley of shots, each loud in the bright sunlight. All around me, the men dropped. It was quick. Only a few minutes, and they were all dead. I stared at their lifeless bodies. They’d been standing a second ago. Now, there was nothing left of them.

Hallam and Azazel strode towards me, both holding their guns at the ready.

I gaped at them, stunned.

“You’re welcome,” said Azazel. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.”

“You shot them?” I asked.

“We both did,” said Hallam. “Sorry it took so long. We thought you could handle them.”

“I…” I looked from their unruffled faces to the dead men and back again. “Let’s get out of here.”

* * *

The atmosphere in the dimly lit cavern was celebratory. Everyone was drinking cans of warm beer and laughing together. I sat around a fire with a group of people who kept up a steady stream of congratulations. They were proud of themselves.

“It’s a start,” said Azazel, “nothing more. We shouldn’t get too excited. After all, the influence of the leaves only lasts a day.” But when she took a swig of her beer, she was grinning.

Everyone had cheered earlier when the radio had gone off. Others had come back to report that the television stations were down too. Topside, it was chaos. People were wandering around confused and angry. There were fistfights and theft. Everyone thought this was great. We were breaking the iron fist of tyranny that Kieran and Eve held over the world. But I couldn’t help but think that it was a little weird that we were so glad that everyone was suddenly miserable again. Kieran and Eve had brought peace to the world. They’d made a utopia. We were shattering it. Was it really a good thing?

“It’ll be hard to strike that way again,” said Azazel. “We’ll have to try other places to get into the water supply. But this is how it starts. Timed doses. We screw up Kieran and Eve’s hold on the people, and we gradually destroy their power. We give people back their free will.”

Free will. Right. That was why she wanted to do this. But I wondered if free will wasn’t overrated. We were picking between two evils, it seemed. As usual, there wasn’t a clear right and wrong. Would there ever be? Would things ever be easy?

As the night wore on, I found myself slightly drunk on the cheap beer. It tasted like warm piss, but I kept drinking it. I listened as Azazel went on and on about what we were doing and how it was the right thing to do. She sounded like a zealot on a crusade. I couldn’t help but be reminded of any number of people we’d fought against who’d been so sure of themselves. The Satanists. The Sons. Michaela Weem. Sutherland. Thinking you were right didn’t mean you were. But if Graham was right about me, then doing nothing didn’t make you any better. It simply made you a coward. Should I continue to watch the world go to hell or did I have the right to try to change things? I was only thinking about that stuff because I was drunk. And because I was drunk, I couldn’t think clearly about it.

Marlena came over to me. “Jason, I want you to come meet some people,” she said.

I was trying to steer clear of her. I didn’t want to hear anymore crazy ideas about getting my powers back. But she was talking to me now, and I didn’t know how to get away from her without being rude, so I got up and followed her.

She led me through the maze of makeshift huts to another open fire. Three women sat around it. They had dirty faces and matted hair. They all turned to look at me at once. They had colorless eyes—too light to be considered blue exactly. I stumbled backwards, startled by the sight of them, and not steady on my feet thanks to the beer I’d drunk.

“The sun,” whispered one. “The bright one.”

Great. This was just what I needed. More people thinking crazy stuff about me. “Not anymore,” I said. “I don’t have powers anymore. I’m not the Rising Sun anymore. I’m nothing.”

Another one of the women smiled at me. “Hello, Jason. You probably don’t remember me. My name is Nancy. I knew you in Columbus.”

I didn’t remember her. I shrugged.

She reached out for me, taking my hand and pulling me down to sit next to her. “I’ve been channeling Agnes. She wants to speak to you.”

Agnes again, huh? “She told you where I was, right? So, she’s got some kind of crazy power. Why doesn’t she simply use it to eradicate Kieran and Eve if that’s what you guys want so bad?”

Nancy’s smile got wider. It was kind of creepy. “She can’t. But you can. You and Azazel.” She shivered suddenly. “She’s coming,” she gasped. Nancy’s body went rigid. Her eyes rolled back in her head. She shuddered again, a gurgle escaping from her throat. Then she relaxed, but I could see from the way she held herself that the person who was inhabiting Nancy’s body wasn’t Nancy anymore. She surveyed me with quite different eyes. “Jason.”

I felt weirded out, so I decided to be flip in defense. “That’s me. What do you want?”

“Take back your destiny,” she said. There was a hissing sound when she said the word “destiny.” It gave me chills. “It was stolen from you.” More hissing.

“I don’t want it,” I said. “I never did.”

“Doesn’t matter. It wants you.”

I started to get up. I wasn’t going to listen to this.

“Stop,” rang out the voice of Nancy or Agnes or whoever she was.

I stopped. I looked back at her. Her white-blue eyes seemed to glow, but maybe it was just the reflection of the fire.

“Imagine thinking you could escape it. Imagine thinking you could run away from what you were born for.” She laughed, her laughter hard and bright. “No. You belong to the power, and the power belongs to you. It never belonged to those pitiful husks that hold it now. You must take it back.” She raised a fist. “Take back your power, Jason. Take back your destiny.”

“No,” I said.

She opened her fist and ten or twelve flies flew up out of it, buzzing in the air. They flew at my face.

I slapped at the air, trying to get rid of the flies.

The Nancy/Agnes thing laughed again. “Imagine thinking you could escape. You belong to us. You always have, and you always will.”

I scrambled to my feet, trying to get away from her and her disturbing eyes. But I moved too fast. I stumbled into the fire. The flames licked at my legs. I screeched in pain, hurling myself away from the heat. As I hit the ground, my eyes locked with the Nancy/Agnes thing. “You will choose us. We won’t rest until you do,” she hissed.

I heard the sounds of people rushing over to me, calling out. Azazel was kneeling next to me in a second. “Jason!”

I looked up into her face. She looked worried.

“I’m fine,” I told her. I pushed myself to my feet. I wasn’t burned. The whole incident had scared me more than anything.

“What happened?” Azazel asked, her gaze sweeping the crowd that had gathered.

Nancy was herself again. She wore a confused expression as she looked from me to the smoldering fire. “I don’t know. What did she say?”

“She said I should get my powers back,” I said. “Which is ridiculous. I’d never do that.”

“Of course not,” said Azazel. She chewed on her lip. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” I said again.

The crowd began to disperse. Marlena grasped my hand. “Jason, you have to listen to her.”

I shook my head at her sadly. “No, Marlena. Don’t bring this up to me again.”

After nearly getting burned up in a fire and listening to creepy witch ladies try to tell me I had a destiny, I wasn’t much in the mood for celebrating anymore. I spent the rest of the evening at the edges of the crowd, not speaking to anyone. I tried not to be freaked out by what Agnes had said to me. After all, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been told what my destiny was my entire life. Some of it had been true, but that didn’t mean I’d ever really listened. I’d done what I wanted. Whatever I wanted. So I didn’t have to listen now either. And I wouldn’t.

Eventually, as the night wore on, even the celebrators decided to go to bed. When nearly everyone except a few stragglers had retired to their huts, I set out my quilt and pillow. I stretched out on the ground, staring up at the dirt ceiling. We might have scored a major hit against Kieran today, but it didn’t mean we weren’t trapped down here like rats. Azazel was right. There was a long way to go. I yawned, tired. My eyes felt heavy, so I closed them. I was drifting off when there was a voice at my ear.

“Are you asleep?”

I opened my eyes. It was Azazel. “No,” I said, sitting up. I made space on the quilt and patted it, motioning for her to sit down with me.

She sat down. “You didn’t shoot today.”

“No,” I said. “I was going to, but I remembered that I’d made a vow not to kill anymore. I don’t want to hurt people anymore. I’ve done enough killing for one lifetime.”

“You’d never kill again?” she said.

“No. I can hardly live with myself as it is. I don’t see how I could handle it if I kept doing it.”

“Not for any reason?”

“No,” I said. This was a strange conversation. Had she really come over only to talk to me about that?

“What if someone you cared about was in danger?”

I snorted. “I think that’s how this whole mess got started, isn’t it? I kept telling myself I was protecting you. But I was just being a total asshole.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Well, that’s true, I guess.” She didn’t say anything for a second. “You know, I still kill if I have to.”

“Does it eat you up inside?” I expected her to say no, for her to tell me that she knew why she killed and that she only did it for good reasons.

But she surprised me by nodding. “Always.”

I didn’t know what to say. Impulsively, I grabbed her hand.

She looked down at our entwined fingers. “Is it easier if you stop? Does it make you feel better?”

“Nothing makes it better.”

“No,” she said. “I guess not. And maybe we don’t deserve for things to be better. Not after all the things we’ve done. Maybe we should be miserable.”

“That’s the assumption I’ve been operating under for the past five years,” I said. “I don’t deserve happiness. But you do, Azazel. None of this is your fault. I got you into this mess.”

She shook her head. “No way, Jason. I’m a big girl. I made my own choices.” She sighed. “At least I think I did. Sometimes I’m not sure anymore. There were so many prophecies. So many destinies. And, in some ways, everything turned out like they said. We practically destroyed the world. We were evil, Jason. The things we did…”

I squeezed her hand. “We don’t have to do those things anymore. We don’t have our powers anymore. We’re free of that.”

“Are we?” She bit her lip. “Do you remember coming to see me when you were drunk in Columbus? You stumbled into our camp with a bottle of moonshine?”

It took me a minute, but then I did remember. “Yeah, I think so. You told me you were having Kieran’s baby. It’s not my fondest memory.”

She laughed. “Well, I wasn’t having his baby after all. I just had a false alarm. But I meant before I said that, right when you showed up. You said something about there being a pull between us, something bigger than us, bigger than what either of us wanted. Do you remember that?”

I sifted through my memories of that night. I’d been pretty wasted. I wasn’t sure if I did remember saying anything like that. “I don’t know.”

“Sometimes I wonder if that’s true,” she said. “I think of all the things we’ve been through, all the things we’ve put each other through. I wonder if we would be drawn to each other if there weren’t something else to it besides what we want. Shouldn’t I hate you?”

“You should,” I said.

“But the thing is, Jason, I don’t hate you. I, like, the opposite of hate you. Even now, when you’ve been missing in action for five years, and you ran off and left me without even leaving a note. You’re, you know, Jason. I can’t not…love you.”

I dropped her hand. I looked down at the quilt. “You shouldn’t,” I muttered.

“You don’t feel the same way?”

How could she think that? I looked back at her. “Of course I do. I’ve loved you from the moment I set eyes on you.”

“So why are we fighting it exactly, huh? Even the guy I was fucking practically gave me his blessing. Marlena’s cool with it.”

“Hallam’s not,” I said.

“Jason.” She rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “Why are we down here? Tonight of all nights, when we’ve set the city up there on fire? Tonight is a night we don’t have to hide. Let’s go on a walk.”

We crept out of the sleeping cavern and wandered into the metro tunnels. They were empty. The metro wasn’t running tonight. Apparently having their happiness ripped away from them had made the drivers too upset to continue their jobs. When we emerged into the night air, the atmosphere was crazy. Sirens blared. Store windows had been busted out. Merchandise was strewn across the street. We watched people scrambling away from each other, heard lovers screaming curse words from open windows. Somehow, the badness of everything was comforting. Paradise was creepier than utter misery and chaos.

Azazel was grinning as she looked around. “This is insane. I can’t believe we did this.”

I had to smile too. “You and me, babe,” I said. “There’s not a lot we can’t do when we want it.”

We joined hands again. Looked into each other’s eyes, both of us grinning. I did feel it, what she was talking about earlier, the thing that was bigger than both of us. When we were together, there was something…

“Come on,” said Azazel. “I know where I want to take you.” She led me through the winding streets of Georgetown. “Have you ever seen The Exorcist ?”

“Um, yeah,” I said. “Why?” That was a weird turn of conversation.

We rounded a corner. Azazel pointed up. “Remember the steps that the priest falls down at the end?”

I looked where she pointed. “No way,” I said.

“Yup.” She looked proud of herself. “Those are the steps.”

“They look exactly the same,” I said. “How old is that movie?”

She pulled me along with her, and we climbed a flight of them. We settled on the first landing, sitting down next to each other on the cracking concrete. We didn’t speak for a few minutes. It was so nice having her close to me. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. For a long time, she’d always been there. And then…she wasn’t. Now she was close, and it felt as though everything was okay again. She leaned in closer to me. I put my arm around her shoulders. She fit against me perfectly, as though our bodies had been created to go together. I closed my eyes, just enjoying it.

“We skipped all the steps,” said Azazel.

I looked down at them, confused. “No, we didn’t. I remember walking up them two minutes ago. Don’t you?”

“Not those steps, silly,” she said. “I only meant, when we first got together, we moved so fast. We didn’t do stuff like this. We didn’t walk around holding hands. We didn’t sit on steps cuddling.”

“I guess not,” I said. “Never bothered me.”

She shoved me playfully. “Sometimes you are such a guy.”

“Whatever,” I said. “If I remember correctly, I rescued you from a relationship with a guy with whom you were permanently stuck at like first base or something.”

“Yes,” she said. “You did. But you and me were only at first base for two days. Or maybe three.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who initiated going all the way. You were the one who was all, ‘Take off your pants.'”

She giggled, and when she did, her whole body squirmed next to me. It felt amazing, her warm, small softness against me. It had been a while since I’d even thought about her or women or anything like that, but my body was waking up.

I pulled her closer. “But it wasn’t like that,” I said softly. I searched her eyes. “I mean, was it? It wasn’t about scoring or anything. It was about us. It was about comfort and safety and us…being…” I didn’t know how to put it. How could I possibly explain to her what she’d meant to me then? If I hadn’t had her—her real flesh-and-blood body against mine, forcing me to see that the world was more than darkness and death, that there was sweetness and love and life—then I might have tipped off into the blackness back then. She kept me from sinking. I’d clung to her to keep from drowning in the abyss. Back then, I felt as if she saved me. “You made me real. You made me human.”

She stroked my face. “You were always human, Jason.”

“Was I?” I touched her face too. I ran tentative fingers over her brow, settling on her scar. “What happened?”

She put her fingers on the scar too. “Fistfight with one of Kieran’s guards. Years ago. I hate it.”

I kissed it. “It makes you look strong and invincible.” Now that my lips had made contact with her skin, I felt a wash of warmth running all through me. She was waking me up, making me human all over again. I kissed her again. Her temple. Her cheekbone. Her jaw.

“Jason,” she breathed.

And I covered her lips with mine.

It wasn’t quite like the kiss the day before, frenzied and fervent. Instead, it was softer and slower. But deeper too, somehow. As if I wasn’t kissing her out of pent-up desire and a flood of confusing, conflicting emotions. This time, our kiss was deliberate. It was painfully sweet. It dragged my soul out along with the warmth she’d ignited in me. It was fire, but the heart of it was something deeper and truer. More poignant. More real.

I wrapped both of my arms around her, tugging her against me.

She ran her fingers over my rib cage, sending shivers through me.

I kissed her again. I didn’t think I ever wanted to stop kissing her. Maybe I’d kissed other women after I kissed her, but there was something about kissing Azazel. She was the first woman I’d ever kissed, and she was like the measuring stick for kisses or something. Nothing on earth was like kissing Azazel. It was like the sky shattering. It was like a chorus of angels singing ethereal songs. It was like the world ending and beginning over and over again. But when I tried to convey that to her, all that came out was, “You feel amazing.”

She sucked her breath in hard, as if those little words still affected her. Her hands were cold against the skin of my back. She had them inside my shirt, letting her fingers dance over my bare skin.

My breath quickened too. I slid backwards on the step until my back was against the wall of the house where in cinematic history, Father What’s-His-Face had tumbled out of a window to kill a demon. And I pulled my girl, the girl with the name of a demon, with me. I pulled her over me, so that our bodies were tangled up and so that I could put my lips on her neck, so that I could trace the outline of her collarbone with my tongue, so that I could feel the tickle of her sighs against my skin.

Her hands were in my hair. Her mouth was on my forehead. My mouth was at her earlobe. She loved that, I remembered. I was listening to the way she moaned, and my hands were inside her shirt, exploring her soft skin, brushing the edge of her bra.

I pulled back for one second. “We skipping too many steps again?”

“Screw the steps,” she said, her hand at the button of my jeans.

* * *

The sun was staining the sky bright crimson. We sprawled on the steps, limbs entwined. Azazel’s arms were wrapped around me, and my head lay against her chest. She was stroking my hair absently with one hand. I felt completely relaxed, completely happy. I hadn’t felt this good in years. Everything seemed okay for once, here in the circle of Azazel’s arms, breathing in the scent of her.

“I always forget what it’s like with you,” she murmured into my hair. “That it’s always like melding into you. Like…”

“We become part of each other?” I lifted my head to look at her face.

“Yeah,” she said, smiling at me.

She was so beautiful, my Azazel. “I love you.”

She kissed my forehead. “I love you, too.” She giggled. “Even though you’ve just exhausted the heck out of me. I think I lost count of how many times…”

I felt embarrassed and exalted at the same time. “What can I say? You make me feel sixteen again.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well, I don’t look sixteen anymore.”

I ran my hand over the curve of her hip and up beyond her waist. “I like it. I liked girly you, but I think I like womanly you better.” I burrowed my head into the softness of her breasts again. Could we stay like this? In the dawn, close to each other?

“You mean fatter me.”

I groaned. “Please, do not ruin this with some sort of ridiculous insecurity thing.”

She laughed. “It’s not fair. Seriously. You’re not fatter. Men don’t gain weight the way women do as they get older. It’s messed up.”

I didn’t say anything. There was really nothing to say to things like that. Maybe if I didn’t engage her on the topic, she’d drop it. It was just like a girl to get fixated on her body when the world was falling apart, anyway.

She traced little circles on my shoulders with the tips of her fingers. “Jason? Where did all these scars come from?”

I’d forgotten about the scars I had from cutting myself. So maybe I wasn’t the poster child for self-esteem myself. “It seemed as if it made things easier sometimes.” I didn’t lift my face from her chest. “The physical hurt was easier to take than the inside hurt. I know that doesn’t make sense.”

“You did it to yourself?” There was a tinge of horror in her voice.

“I haven’t done it in years.” Reluctantly, I pulled away from her. I didn’t want to talk about this, and I needed to distract her. “We should get back. Everyone else will be waking up soon.”

She reached for me, but then dropped her arms. She nodded. She started to get up, but then she stopped. “Did this mean anything? I mean, are we…? Has anything changed between us?”

I pulled her close and kissed her again. “I won’t leave again. I want us to be together.”

“Good,” she said. “Me too.”

* * *

When we got back to the Resistance Headquarters arm in arm, Hallam didn’t look particularly pleased to see us. He was making coffee over an open fire. He glanced at us, snorted, and went back to his coffee pot. “Should I even ask where you two have been?”

I felt instantly guilty. All the convictions I’d had before that I was bad for her flooded through my brain again.

But Azazel just laughed. “Come on, Hallam. This little song and dance of yours was tired when we were in high school.” She grinned at me. “You remember how he’d always be like, ‘You’re not conceiving your firstborn under my watch.'”

I had to smile too. That sounded like something Hallam would have said when we were living with him in Bradenton, Florida, trying to be normal kids. That whole being normal idea had never worked out very well for us.

“We’re twenty-eight years old,” Azazel told Hallam. “You’ve got to let go at some point.”

He glared at us. “You know it’s not about that. I don’t like watching the two of you screw each other up.”

I studied my shoes. Was that what I was going to do? Was I going to screw up Azazel?

“We’re already screwed up, if you haven’t noticed,” Azazel said. “Too late, Hallam.” Pointedly, she threw her arms around me and kissed me hard on the mouth. With tongue. In front of everyone.

When we pulled away from each other, the first face I saw belonged to Graham. His jaw was set. His face was grim. He and I locked eyes.

“Good morning,” he said, his voice hard.

I looked back at my shoes. We were screwed up.

“Nice,” Hallam said to Azazel.

She bit her lip. “Maybe I should go talk to him.”

But before I had a chance to decide if I wanted her to go talk to the guy she’d been screwing before I showed up or not, we were interrupted by the rattle of gunfire and the screams of the two guards at the entrance to the cavern.

I whipped around to see what had happened. Armed men, dressed in police uniforms, poured through the earthen door, opening fire as they advanced. The smell of gunfire pricked my nostrils. They were shooting everyone. Within a matter of seconds, everyone in the huts near the entrance was down. Children who’d been playing before breakfast lay in the dirt, their eyes glassy, blood trickling from their noses. Women who’d been cooking breakfast fell backwards into their cook fires, their shrieks rending the air. Men who struggled to get their guns were dead before they could free them from their holsters.

I gaped at the massacre, uncomprehending.

Azazel yanked me to the ground, shoving a gun at me.

The air was smoky from extinguished fires and the discharge of firearms. Through the haze, I watched as Azazel crawled forward, taking aim and picking off the police. Hallam was right behind her, on his belly as well.

But I was frozen. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t shoot the men, even though I could see that they were killing everyone in sight. It was a matter of survival, I knew. I had to shoot or be shot. But I lay on the ground, gripping my gun so hard that my palms started to sweat, and I didn’t do anything.

Instead, I watched. I watched more Resistance men get their guns. Shots were being exchanged now. Police were going down too. But more of us were getting shot than them. I watched Graham squeezing off rounds from behind a hut. He took down three or four of the police. But they shot him too, eventually. One shot between the eyes. Blood ran down the bridge of his nose as his body flopped forward, lifeless.

I wanted to scream. Not this. There had been too much of this in my life. I couldn’t handle seeing anymore slaughter. I wanted to stop this. If I had my powers right now, I’d reach out to all these minds. I’d calm them. I’d rally them, get them to throw down their guns. I’d end it forever.

A familiar yell.

My head snapped in the direction of the sound.

Azazel. She was lying on the ground beneath one of the police. He was standing on the hand that held her gun. He had his own gun to her forehead.

I leveled my gun at the man. I had a perfect shot. I could take him down right now. I couldn’t let him shoot Azazel, could I?

So why was I hesitating? Why wasn’t I blowing him away?

Inside my head, a chorus of voices screamed at me, begging for their lives. Faces swam in my memory, all bloody, all near death. I remembered the way it felt to snuff them out, take life from them without giving it a second thought. The heady power was right within my reach. If I shot this man now, I’d get it back. I’d be the crazed psycho I’d always been, pumping bodies full of bullets and grinning while I did it. I toyed with the trigger.

Do it. Shoot him , I urged myself.

I wanted it back, didn’t I? Didn’t I yearn for that rush?

A black boot slammed down in front of my face. I’d been so caught up in watching Azazel, I’d neglected to see the rest of my surroundings. I looked up at the policeman over me. He sneered down at me. Then he swung the butt of his gun down against my head. I felt a bright blast of pain and then…

Darkness. I’d been knocked out.

This book is being posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning 1/17/2012. To access other chapters, check out the Onset Posts Archive, here.