Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 17: Middle of the Night

Chapter Seventeen Middle of the Night

The room was quiet and still dark when I opened my eyes. I immediately felt the pounding in my head, the throbbing that could have only been a result of that damned alcohol. Luka was right; I was becoming a lightweight. Normally, I could have had twice, perhaps three times that amount without feeling the effects that badly. Times were obviously changing, and so was I.

I groaned and lifted my hands to my head to massage my scalp, realizing I was lying in my bed. I looked around, trying to open my eyes enough to see Hayden walking over to me with a glass of water.

“Hey,” he whispered with a small smile.

“Hey,” I said as I tried to sit up.

He sat down on the bed next to me. “I take it you have a headache, huh?” He handed me the glass of water and held out his hand to me with two aspirin.

I winced at the instant throb of pain above my right eye. “I deserve it.”

He laughed lightly. “Aw, quit being so hard-bitten. I know you want it to go away,” he teased.

“Of course I do.” I took the aspirin and a gulp of water. “Doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it.”

“Come here,” he nodded to the pillows. “Lie down with me.” He moved behind me on the bed and pulled me down to lie with him, cradling my head in his arm and brushing the hair from my face. Just his stroking my hair put me into a peaceful trance. He laced his fingers carefully through my hair and pressed on my scalp, and I soon felt the painful pounding go away.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply as the relief set in. “I forgot you could do that.”

“It comes in handy,” he said smugly. Even though the pain was gone, he continued lacing his fingers through my hair.

“What time is it?” I asked, not bothering to open my eyes to look at the clock on the nightstand.

“Two in the morning.”

“Ugh. What happened? I didn’t even know I fell asleep.”

“Well, you sort of passed out on me pretty quickly after getting home. Rough night?” he taunted.

“Ha. Ha,” I said sardonically. He chuckled.

I was happy to be back in his arms again, and I knew my body needed to get back to the slumber for which it ached, but the moment was too priceless for me to waste. My eyes were still closed as I blew a “raspberry” with my lips, making Hayden laugh and vibrate the bed.

“What was that for?” he asked, still laughing.

“I’m trying to stay awake, but you’re making it impossible with your whole touching and caressing thing,” I teased.

“Oh,” he said. “Sorry, it’s kind of a habit now, playing with your hair. Does it bother you?” He stopped fiddling. As soon as he stopped, I became more alert, so I took the opportunity to turn around and face him. I flipped in the bed, nestling in his arm.

“No,” I said while grabbing his free hand and placing it in my hair again. “I never said that.”

He grinned at me. “I didn’t think so.” His fingers gently pushed my hair back behind my shoulder, then traced the skin of my neck where my cut was. I focused on those beautiful eyes as he studied the scar. “You are one, tough cookie, you know that?”

I giggled. “Well, we sure can’t say the same for your jacket.” We both laughed.

“Yeah, about that,” he cocked his brow, “I think you owe me a new leather.”

“Hmm.” I narrowed my eyes playfully. “We’ll put a pin in that subject.”

“No pin, Pony-girl,” he declared. “You’re buyin’ me a new one.”

I laughed at the hilarity of the subject; my Guardian angel and I were arguing over whether or not he would get a new leather jacket after a demonic creature tried slicing him in half. Then realization really kicked in; my angel had been out there in the night fighting off this evil thing that was twice his size, and he could have been completely destroyed because of me, and we were lying there laughing?

“Hayden,” a seriousness filled my blood and I looked at him with concern, “it didn’t hurt you, did it?”

“Please,” he guffawed. “Hurt me? Come on.” He winked at me.

I felt a little better when he regarded his face-off with the Drone as nothing, but our use of the word “hurt” was getting to me as I thought of what did hurt him that night. Another pain ran through me as I remembered what I’d said to Hayden earlier. He looked at me curiously, as I’m sure the guilt was plastered all over my face.

“Hayden, about what I said to you...I’m really sor---”

“Evika,” he shook his head, “don’t.”

“But I am sorry,” I confessed.

He smiled solemnly. “I know you are.” He shrugged. “Just let it go.”

I sighed and searched his eyes for the right words to say to him. I wanted to know his story, the past about which he hadn’t told me yet. The reason why what I said really got to him so much.

The corner of his mouth started curving up as he studied me. “There’s that face again,” he said.

“What face?” I was oblivious.

“The I-need-to-ask-you-something face,” he answered.

I sighed, reluctant for a moment. “Luka told me that you were forced to take a trial before I was born.”

His expression was unchanged. “He did, did he?”

I nodded. “But that was all he told me. He said I should ask you and that maybe it would help me understand why you got so upset by what I said.”

He turned to lie on his back. I maneuvered to lay my head onto his chest, facing him, and waited for a response. “Evika, I don’t really think I should talk about it.” His words shocked me.

“So, you don’t trust me?” I immediately became defensive. “Is that it?”

“No,” his face showed worry as he put his arm around me, “that’s not it at all. I just...” he paused and gave me a sad look. “It doesn’t show me in the best light.”

I was taken aback by his reasoning. I wondered what he could have possibly meant by what he said, that it “didn’t show him in the best light.” I offered one simple phrase to him that I’d hoped would set him at ease, whether he decided to tell me his story or not.

“Hayden, whatever happened in the past doesn’t determine who you are to me.” I leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Just so you know.”

He looked at me, and I could see admiration in his eyes. I smiled as I turned and placed my back against him, pulling his arm around me to get him to roll to his side. I loved when his body contoured with mine, and by turning away and dropping the subject, I’d hoped he knew that I wasn’t going to push him any further. It was obviously a subject about which he was sensitive and I already felt bad enough about the events I’d put him through just in that one night.

I stared at the shadows on the wall from the light of the window, feeling my eyes getting heavier and wondering if I should make good on the bet I made with Luka, but Hayden broke the silence before I had the chance.

“She was only four years old when he took her,” he said quietly.

My eyes flipped open. “Huh?”

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, as if still determining whether he wanted to continue the subject. “Her name was Lily. She was riding her new tricycle when he kidnapped her off the sidewalk. He shoved her into the back of his van and drove off---” he paused abruptly, as if to recall something. Whatever it was disgusted him to no end. The corners of his mouth lowered, and his eyes closed tightly. I realized the pivotal moment when he started to cry and braced myself for what he would say next. “He drove back to his farm about forty-five minutes away and when he went into the back to get her out, she was covered in her own puke and urine.” My hand went to my mouth. “She was so scared,” he whispered, his voice broken up. “He yanked her out by her tiny arm, pulling it so hard he dislocated it.” He spoke through his teeth now. “He dragged her to his shed while she cried and cried and he beat the piss out of her for ruining the back of his van.” Both hands were now to my mouth, but I’d wished I could have held them over my ears. I started to feel sick as Hayden continued the story. “He bound her little wrists up with blue nylon rope and tied her to one of the beams inside the shed....and then he...” Hayden hesitated, taking in a deep breath. I knew what he was going to say and the thought of it made me sick. Even though I wanted him to stop, I couldn’t find my voice. I watched him bring his hands to his face as he took two more controlled breaths before speaking again. “He took her innocence right there,” he muttered. “And he just....kept....going. She kept crying, and he just kept going.” My eyes closed, squeezing the tears out. I had to remember to breathe and found it almost impossible. I wanted the story to end. I didn’t want to hear the rest. “His vigor didn’t stop, and when he was finally done, she’d already lost so much blood there was hardly any life left in her. He finished her off by strangling her with the rest of the rope. Then he dug a deep hole behind the shed to put her body.”

Hayden sat up quickly in the bed, holding his hands to his face. I sat up with him, laid my head against his back, and held him. For the first time, I’d witnessed my angel crying, which was, in itself, an agony I could hardly bare. I wished I had the ability to make his pain vanish. All I could do was cry with him.

“You were unable to guard her from her death.” I choked it out so he would know that I understood.

He shook his head and looked over at me with those sparkling emeralds. An unimaginable sadness filled them along with a shame that I didn’t see before. “Hers wasn’t the life I was guarding.”

My bottom jaw dropped. “Oh, my God,” I breathed out in shock. A powerful wave of sickness rushed through me. “You had his.”

He looked at me with such an intensity. “Calvin Whitley,” he said with disgust in his voice. His expression contained so much hurt and anger, a fine balance of both, as he flexed his jaw.

“Hayden,” I whispered, “wh-what happened to you?” I tried to quiet my crying.

Hayden stood and slowly walked over to the window. He stared out, as if he was watching everything all over again. “I took on my flesh form, and I beat the living shit out of him.” My breath hitched after hearing his words as I instantly thought of the rule that had been broken. “I dragged him to the place he buried her and tied him up to the tree. I just sat on his back porch and watched him until he regained consciousness. When he woke up, I untied him and slammed his face into the loose dirt that covered her grave.” He clenched his fists and leaned against the wall as his tears started falling again. “I knew he had handguns in the house. I knew everything about him. I forced the nine-millimeter into his hand and made him hold it to his head.” My hands went to my mouth again. “He was scared out of his mind,” he looked at me, “I didn’t want his life in my hands anymore, Evika. I wanted him to die. I told him that I saw everything he did and told him to pull the trigger.” He hung his head, reluctant to tell me the rest, turning to the window again. I waited patiently, giving him time to finish. “Something snapped in me that day. It was like the filter was gone, and I could see and feel everything in this whole, new way and it was just ominous and full of despair. I’d guarded lives of some horrible people in all my years, rapists, even serial killers, but this one act...this heinous, vile and insufferable undertaking of that young, innocent life was what stripped me of any faith I had in mankind. He deserved the hell that was coming to him, and I wanted to be the one who sent him there quicker.” He turned to me with the intensity in his eyes once again. I could see that he’d tried to force the tears to keep at bay. “He kept shaking when I screamed at him to do it, begging for me to let him go, begging for his life. I got so angry with him that I grabbed the gun, steadying the barrel between his eyes.” Hayden looked away.

Although my head was spinning, it became clear to me that, between what Hayden witnessed and what I’d seen from only one Seeker’s past, humanity had been lost by so many beings and it was only the tip of the iceberg. Hayden had been a Guardian for hundreds of lives and had been in the thick of every, waking moment with those lives. He even had to guard the lives of those who never even deserved life at all. I gulped, afraid to ask. “Hayden, did you kill him?” I whispered. My heart pounded as I waited for his answer.

His sad eyes met mine again. “No,” he said softly. “As close as I was, I didn’t.” His head went down again, burning a hole through the floor with his eyes. “I’m not a killer, Evika. As much as I wanted to pull that trigger, something stopped me from doing it.” Relief took over me, knowing that he hadn’t committed murder. Part of me wanted to hear that the bastard was dead, but the better part of me wanted my angel to remain innocent and without someone’s blood on his hands, despite the vengeful justice he would have provided for Lily.

I slid off the bed and hugged him tightly. I felt his arms wrap around me as he lowered his head into the crook of my neck. I felt the wet from his tears and the heat of his breath on my skin as I caressed his hair lightly. “Hayden, I’m so sorry.”

For the first time since meeting him, I’d felt like the strong one. Though only for just those few seconds, holding him and comforting him felt good to me. I was able to give him something back to show him that I could be there for him too, just as he had always been for me.

I wiped my tears and lifted Hayden’s head to look at him. A tiny stream came from each of his eyes, and I was drawn to clearing the drops from his cheeks with my thumbs. I then pulled him to the bed to sit down next to me. He looked at me solemnly to finish his story.

“Even though I was heading to turn myself in, the Council already knew about the incident through Lily’s Guardian, Sarah. I never blamed her, of course. I knew she was doing the right thing and for my sake. She was afraid that if I’d snapped under the guarding mission and went too far, I’d be exiled.”

“Exiled?” I inquired.

“If the charge is great enough, the Council forcibly breaks an angel’s wings and makes him live as a human for the remainder of his life. Instead, the Council charged me with ‘meddling with free will’, and I was to remain in a limited trial for a year in order to recondition. It’s a process through which we brainwash ourselves with all of the rules again, an extremely tedious, mind-numbing process. It wasn’t part of the reconditioning, but I stayed at the House of Council for that entire year, never interacting with any human. It wasn’t until I met your father through Lavinia that I finally stepped out of my self-containment. Jack and I were well acquainted by the time you were born,” he sighed, “and the rest is history that you already know.”

I sat there next to him, thinking of how many lives he’d guarded throughout his existence, of the many things he’d seen and had no control over, of the horrid acts of inhumanity that I could never fathom.

To hear Hayden tell that story and to see the hurt it still caused him sent an unbearable pain firing through me, worse than I’d ever felt before in my entire life. My heart swelled, and I felt like nothing I could do would save him from reliving that moment as he told it to me. I only had my words to comfort him, and I was quiet until I thought of the very words I wanted him to hear from me.

I reached over to hold his hands in mine. “You may not have a heart that beats, Hayden, but you sure have enough passion to fill one. Your strength and courage are way more than I’ll ever have.”

He looked at me and smiled solemnly, squeezing my hands. “Evika, I’m so sorry that you have to see what you see. I wish I knew why it was even possible, and if I could relieve you of any of it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

I laid my head in his lap. “I know you would, Angel-man.”

“You know,” he started, “it’s funny how I could have gone all those hundreds of years as a sentient being, following the rules of the Council in regard to detaching myself from all of the sinister things I’ve seen humans do, yet it only took one man to break me down.” Hayden narrowed his eyes. “I always assumed that it makes me spineless, weaker.”

I looked up at him. “Hayden, I think you’ve got it all wrong.”

“How so?”

“You had his fate in your hands and could have pulled that trigger if you wanted to, but you stopped yourself because you are stronger than that.” He smiled at me. “And,” I continued, “if I may preach to the choir, just this once...” I smirked. “I think it’s safe to say that everything happens for a reason, right?”

“I suppose,” he agreed.

“Think about it,” I kept going. “If you were exiled, who knows who they would have stuck with me by the time I was born.” My attempt at cheering him up prevailed as he laughed. “I mean, I just don’t even want to think about it!” I gasped dramatically.

“Probably would have been Luka. You’d have been happy either way.” He continued laughing.

“Yeah, but you make shredded leather look really hot. Not sure Luka could pull that one off.”

He chuckled again as he tucked the hair behind my ears. “You know, Ev,” he said, “I think we are having a real Kodak moment here.”

“Undoubtedly.” I giggled in agreement. I realized the opportune moment had come that I make good on my promise to Luka. I did want Hayden to know how I felt. My expression grew serious. “Hayden?” I said softly.

“Yeah?”

I thought for a split second. Did I really want to just tell him that I was crazy about him? Were those the words I really wanted to use? I had to find something else inside me that could convey even just a small piece of what I wanted to say without it sounding so plain or performed. I felt my heart telling me something when I looked at him as he waited patiently for the words I’d promised I’d say. And then they hit me like a billboard with flashing lights: I couldn’t not say them.

“With you around, I feel like I know who I’m supposed to be. I don’t feel so lost anymore.”

Hayden held admiration in his eyes for a second and then grinned widely, taking that opportunity to hoist me up on the bed and tackle me down next to him, holding me close. It happened so quickly I didn’t know which way to look until I saw his eyes only inches from mine as our heads lay on one pillow together. All I could hear was breathing and the pounding of my heart. Dear God, he is beautiful. Nervous. Nervous. Nervous. Evika, stop shaking! We were so close, I could see his pupils dilate. I’d assumed mine did the same. I looked at his angel lips, just for a moment. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted it more than anything, but I didn’t know what he expected from me, and I was afraid to make any wrong move. I didn’t want to ruin whatever it was that we were doing, even if that was just staring into each other’s eyes.

He took one finger to my forehead and gingerly traced a trail along the side of my face, down my cheek and down to my chin. His touch sent gentle tingles along my skin. Then, he traced the contour of my lips, which were slightly parted as I reveled in the moment.

“Evika,” he whispered with a smirk.

“Yeah?” I answered, heart pounding.

“I’m crazy about you, too.”

I looked at him curiously. How could he have possibly known about that bet between me and Luka? And as I lay there determining all the ways it was conceivable, I came to one conclusion: he didn’t need hints from Luka or confessions from me because he knew me like the back of his hand. In fact, it was quite plausible to think that Hayden knew me better than I knew myself. I was willing to accept that.

I lay still, paralyzed as I ached for his lips to press against mine. He placed his hand on my cheek and started moving toward me. I closed my eyes and parted my lips, letting the thoughts pound through my head wildly. Omigod! This is it! He’s going to kiss me! Then I felt his warm lips press against my forehead for an extended period of time. My eyes flipped open as I exhaled into his neck.

“I think it would be a good idea for you to get some sleep now,” he said softly.

I was immediately struck with disappointment, but I thought I heard regret in his voice. However, I couldn’t decide if it was regret due to the fact that he’d let us get that close or because he’d stopped what may have happened between us, something good. I hoped for the latter and, in my mind, the matter of that kiss was a subject under “let’s put a pin in it.” Letting it go was not an option. I would get those lips soon.

“I suppose,” I relented with a half smile.

“Sweet dreams, Evika,” he said as he rolled off of the bed. As I watched him, thoughts of my tomorrow started brewing, but questions of my past’s mystery came to the forefront as I recalled the new danger I’d learned about that night.

“Hey, Hayden?”

He stopped and turned. “Yeah?”

“This Phantom that I’m not supposed to worry about, you said that Jack recognized the Seeker and that’s why he didn’t save it. Did he ever tell you why?”

Hayden narrowed his eyes slightly. “That’s the thing about your dad, Evika.” he said. “Whoever it was and whatever they did to make him angry, he went to his grave without saying a word.”

I looked down, wondering what could have possibly made Jack do such a thing. I was the one with the ability to see what the Seekers had done. I was the one who was going to have the more challenging and grueling future with this call of destiny. And even with this new baneful gift I’d possessed, I wondered if I could ever be strong enough to handle it.

Hayden kissed my hair again and tucked me under the covers. “But you don’t need to worry about that entity, Ev. I’ve already assured you of that.”

I watched him walk to the doorway. “Hayden?”

He turned again. “Yeah?”

“This existence as a Soldier of Light, will it ever get any better?”

He sighed as he thought for a moment. “Evika, I can’t guarantee that for you, but, if it’s any consolation...,” he smiled as he paused, “my existence got way better.”

I looked at him pleadingly. “How?”

“It was simple for me.” He shrugged with that five-hundred watter starting to grow. “God created you. That’s all it took.” Then he was out in the hallway, walking to his room and leaving me with those last words.

I stared after him in silence. I listened to my heart, and I knew then that what it felt for Hayden was infallible. I was completely and undeniably in love with him, and no one could have convinced me otherwise.

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