I gasped at the pain, my stomach clenching as I doubled over. It was over as quickly as it had come on; nothing but a memory even as I clutched at my belly. But that didn't matter, none of it mattered, because I knew what it meant, knew what I had to do.
I had to leave; and I had to leave now.
I scrambled to my feet in barely a second, urgency making my hands shake as I pushed myself off the ground. But once I was standing, I paused; even though I knew I should be running, and running fast, because I didn't know how much time I had. I paused because I had promised, promised Jake I would be here; and I wasn't going to be. And I didn't want to part like this; didn't want the last thing I said to be a lie.
If only I had a choice.
'I'm sorry.' I choked out sadly, glancing miserably in the direction had had left. He wouldn't hear it, but I still said it; said it because it was the only thing I could say. And then I really was running, running in the opposite direction to Jake; and feeling the last of my control breaking in the process.
'Well, because I didn't go through all this to get the chance to kill you with my own hands, only to have you do it yourself.'
I gaped at Leon, shock and terror fighting for dominance over my body as I stared. He was grinning now, a horrifying grin that made me quiver slightly, my heart thundering in my chest so fast that I thought it would leap from my chest. I had no words, no words to respond; which seemed to be just the way he liked it.
'You have no idea how long I've waited for this.' He practically purred, stalking closer to me, his manner so predatory it was a wonder I hadn't seen this coming earlier. It took him just three lithe steps to come face to face with me, his shapeshifter build and height allowing him to dwarf my small body as he boxed me against the tree.
'Having to pretend, for all these years. You're father, Ephraim, was too powerful.' He snarled my father's name with such unbelievable hatred, I could only stare at him in disbelief. 'But now… Now he's long gone.' He grinned again at that; an evil grin, so evil that it forced my sluggish brain into gear.
'But why?' I croaked. 'Why do you want to kill me?' The look he levelled me at that was a combination of fury and disgust, somehow managing to make my fear spike even higher. He grabbed my shoulders and slammed me backwards against the tree, and for a moment my vision flickered black with the force. Leon was seething with anger as he stepped back and let me fall to the ground.
'You have to ask?!' He snarled, his eyes flashing dangerously as I looked up at him, slowly rising from my hands and knees. 'You should never have lived! If it had been my choice, I would have killed you from the start.' He said dangerously, his voice deep with hatred. I was on my feet now, trying to move away slowly so that he wouldn't notice; it wasn't working. His gaze narrowed as he moved forward, and I increased the speed of my retreating steps.
'You're not human! You're unnatural! It's a miracle you didn't kill us all in our sleep!' He shouted, his fists clenching and unclenching. I was shaking with fear, the effort of moving without taking my eyes off of him making my breaths come even faster; I couldn't afford to be trapped by him.
'Of course, no one else saw it. You had them all fooled.' He spat, and I had to side step quickly around a tree as his pace quickened. 'But not me! I always saw you for what you were!' He said furiously, and I was forced to dodge as he lunged for me; he missed by just a hairsbreadth, and he growled in annoyance.
'But now; now, finally, they'll see the truth.' I hesitated at that; my first mistake. My pause gave him time to get within reach again, and this time he grabbed me when I tried to slip past him, forcing me into another tree and trapping me there as he had before. My breaths were fast pants now, my eyes wide as he glowered down at me.
'Now, everyone will see you for what you are; a vampire, and a killer.' He snarled. I stared at him in confusion, quivering as his hands gripped my shoulders hard enough to bruise. I pushed back at him, trying to twist his arm to break his hold, but that only made him growl in anger, slamming me backwards again. I groaned as my vision spun, blinking frantically to clear my sight.
'I haven't killed anyone.' I whispered at him, my voice hard. He smiled for a third time at my words; and that was when I knew just how much trouble I was in. His face was just inches from my mine, and his eyes lit up with anticipation like a kid at Christmas; except no child had ever looked so cruel as he did in that moment. I had terrible, terrible feeling now, and I felt like my heart was going to burst with fear as he spoke.
'No. But I have.'
Four words. So simple, so innocent. But that was all it took. My mouth fell open, my breaths stopped, all the colour flooding from my face and leaving me pale as milk as my eyes filled with tears.
'You killed her.' I gasped with horror, my hand clapping over my mouth. He smiled even wider; that was all the response I needed. I let out a choked sob of despair. 'No! Oh god, Cass.' I whispered, and he laughed; he actually laughed. He let go of me then, and I fell to the ground, too weak to keep my feet. The tears wouldn't stop pouring down my cheeks, my whole body trembling with the realisation.
He had killed her. He killed Cass. He had killed my Cass. And even worse, he had killed her because of me.
The guilt; the guilt was tearing me apart. It was bad enough the she was gone, but to be responsible; I couldn't handle that. It couldn't be true; it couldn't.
I knew I needed to stop; needed to push all my emotion back because Leon was right there, and coming closer. I knew I needed to pull it together, because if I fell apart now I wasn't going to be alive much longer. But it was so hard; the pain, oh the pain, it was too much.
But if I didn't, no one would know why she was dead; no one would know what he had done. And it was that terrible, terrible thought – the thought that could get away with this – that helped me shove back all my emotions; just in time to be hauled to my feet my Leon's iron strong fingers locking around my neck.
'I'll tell them you killed her. They'll think it was you, and then they'll be glad you're dead.' I wanted to reply; I wanted to snarl and rage at him. But his hand was blocking my air supply, and it was all I could to shake my head in refusal as I fought the urge to splutter. My fingers were clawing at his hand, but he seemed to not even feel them; he kept talking as if nothing was wrong.
'But before I tell them just evil you are…' He continued, his tone laced with excitement, the gleam in his eyes sickening. 'I have to kill you.' Without warning, he stepped back, and I gasped in a huge breath if air, choking wildly as I hit the ground hard for a third time. My lungs were burning, burning as I breathed, but the air was wonderful, so wonderful–
I screamed as I found myself jerked up by the hair, my moment of relief gone before it had even begun. My feet flailed in the air as held me up at his eye level, my hands latching onto his arm to help hold myself up before he tore my hair out. I glared through my tears at the cruel pleasure on his face, though he just smiled at me mercilessly.
'This is going to be fun.' He said, his anticipation clear; and then he struck me, his fist slamming into my face and making me groan at the pain. Now all I could see was black and red, my mouth filled with blood and my jaw agonisingly sore. He was dragging me across the ground now, and for what felt like the millionth time I found myself forced against solid bark. He was holding me with just one hand now, because the other was pulling something from his pocket; a knife.
No. Oh god, no. No, I didn't want to know what he was going to do with that. But it didn't matter, because somehow I managed to break the grip of the hand that was holding me, and my now my hands were locking around his throat as we hit the ground.
'YOU KILLED HER!' I screamed at him. 'WHY?!' His eyes flashed with rage; my only clue before he overpowered me. Now he was the one forcing me into the ground, his weight suffocating as he pressed down on me, the knife at my throat as he glared angrily.
'Since you won't be alive much longer, I guess you'll never find out!' He growled with malice, and then in a flash of silver, the knife was moving, plunging into my chest as I let out a terrible choked scream. I cried out again as he jerked it out, but I wasn't really paying attention because it hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.
I could the blood seeping out, and my hand scrabbled frantically to find the wound, making me cry again at the pain as my fingers found the torn flesh. He had stabbed me just below the collarbone on my left side; it must have been planned, because he'd missed the myriad of vital muscles and veins. Which should have been a good thing, except I knew what it meant; that he wasn't even close to being finished with me.
I couldn't do it.
I had reached the border half a minute ago, having run here in just minutes, but I hadn't crossed. I couldn't cross. Because now that I was here, all I could think about was why I had to leave, about what had happened to drive me out so many years ago, and it was hitting me hard, so hard because my control was gone.
It was so far gone that I didn't even know what control was anymore.
I was shaking, so badly that I had to cling onto a tree to keep myself upright, because I couldn't do this. I felt guilty, so unbelievably guilty, just because I was standing here; because I was standing here, and not waiting for Jake as I'd promised. He had needed me to wait; and as his imprint, it was instinct to do what he needed. And going against his need, going against him; it was killing me.
It shouldn't be done, it just shouldn't be done, and the bond was screaming at me to go back, go back because there was still time. There was still time to fix this, time to undo it before he found out, and god I wanted to, because imagining his face when he did find out was horrible. It felt like I was betraying him, because not only was I going back on my word, but I was going to disappear entirely.
And I didn't want to, I didn't want to do any of it; I didn't want to leave him. Already he felt so incredibly far away, the imprint stretching thin with the separation, and the lack of him made me feel so terribly, horribly empty. All I wanted to do was run right back in the other direction because I needed to feel him again. Yet I couldn't, I wouldn't; even though he had begged me, begged me to stay. He didn't understand, he didn't realise the corner I was back into; and that was an even worse way to leave him.
But I didn't have a choice; I had never had a choice.
So I forced myself forwards, pushing myself away from the tree with trembling arms and walked slowly, so slowly, to the invisible line that was the cause of so many problems. It took just five steps; five steps that should have been easy, but instead might have been the hardest in my life. And now I really was on the border, just a step away from the outside world. Just one step.
One step that I couldn't take. My legs had locked, because even though I was trying to bring myself to move, deep down I didn't want to, and that part was winning. But I was fighting, fighting as I stood there, because I needed to move, and move now.
Take the step, I told myself; I didn't move.
Take the step.
I felt as if I would fall apart from the stress, my own body now battling against me.
Take the step.
I was shaking my head furiously, tears trailing down my cheeks.
Take. The. Step.
My heart was racing at a million miles an hour, sound nothing but a dull roar in my ears.
TAKE THE STEP!
A moment of nothingness; my breaths stopped, the world stopped.
I took the step.
And then I was falling to my knees.