The water bottle I just launched across the yard in anger slams into the shed, leaving a large dent in the metal.
“It isn’t about having the right or most dangerous moves,” Axel sighs, clearly done with the hissy fits I have been throwing this evening. “It is about anticipating your opponent’s moves and avoiding or blocking them. All that Reaper or any Reaper would have to do is get a good grip on you and they could drain you in minutes. That Reaper that came for you is stronger, faster, and more used to dealing with enemies than you are. However, you have the upper hand now.”
“You’ve always had it, you’ve just been too distracted to see it.”
I prop my hand on my hip and arch a brow. “Explain.”
“He’s used to dealing with other Reapers and Nexxus, both of which have been trained to fight back. You are the enemy he doesn’t know, one he hasn’t been able to study. Not even you know what you can do or how strong you actually are, how would he? He will be expecting you to make the very human mistake of attacking him but what he won’t expect is for you to be able to defend yourself long enough for him to make a mistake, which he will. The downside of being fueled by emotions is that you are ruled by them.”
He’s right on that one. The closer I get to turning eighteen, the more my emotions seem to tighten their grip on me.
“So what you’re saying is that I have to become a mind reader before the next time he shows up?”
He shakes his head and resumes his offensive stance in front of me. “No, you need to be able to recognize the subtle hints someone makes before they attack you. You need to notice the way their eyes zero in on where they intend to strike, the way they shift their way on their feet, and the way they tense up. You need to learn to read body language.”
“Mind reader,” I repeat.
Following through with the deal we made in the dress shop, Axel has been helping me practice my fighting skills, or lack thereof, for the past three nights. However, all I have really managed to learn is that I have a pretty strong right hook, two left feet, and am possibly far more clumsy than other people.
After the first night, the one where he kicked my ass up and down the back yard for a few hours, we shifted the focus from attacks to blocking.
Despite my best efforts to persuade him otherwise, Axel has insisted on being there when the Reaper comes back for me. This worries me to no end because, along with not being able to defend myself at all, Axel being there means spending a good bit of that time worrying about his being killed.
Hopefully, the Reaper will come back closer to my eighteenth birthday when I am stronger and more prepared to face him but, from the strange and frequent twinges I have been getting, I don’t think he is going to wait that long. Lillian did say that Reapers celebrate ones coming of age with a party of sorts and I feel like the one his coven has planned for me doesn’t invite cake and streamers.
In a moment of desperation, I tried to enlist Lillian to help me talk Axel out of wanting to join me but, as it turns out, she is in favor of the idea. She agreed that he is more capable of handling a Reaper than I am and, if he is there, there is less of a chance that I will end up dead.
I tried to counter by listing off the various ways he could end up dead, the main one being that the Reaper doesn’t crave my energy like a junkie does drugs, but she made me promise to call if he ever showed when I am alone.
She must not have believed me when I said I would because, with the exception of a few occasions, I am never alone.
I don’t blame her because I continuously think about breaking that promise, but only because I feel like he is toying with me. He knows I can feel his leftover energy and it seems like, as of recently, he has begun to leave hints just to see if I can find them. I do, of course, but he is never in sight when I arrive.
It’s a game of cat and mouse, only the mouse knows what happens in the end but keeps showing up.
I let out another frustrated growl and take a defensive positive in front of Axel, my hands up in front of me. He taught me that, by standing this way, I am harder to knock down and that, should my attacker manage to do so, it gives me a chance to grab onto them and take them with me.
Shaking out my stiff muscles and releasing a breath, I try and focus on reading his body language.
Boy, do I fail because, instead of focusing on anything of the things he mentioned in his examples, I find myself hypnotized by the bead of sweat that is rolling from his chest to his stomach. It soaks into the band of his sweats and my stomach twists nervously, a needful heat spreading through me.
This time I am not fighting against my Reaper side, unless all Reapers secretly want their victims before they eat them, but rather against my human side. It talks over my Reaper side, demanding that I stop messing around, close the distance between us, and break the tension we both feel building.
Axel snaps his fingers in front of my face and I jump, glancing up at him and the dangerous smirk playing on his lips. “Eveline, did you hear me? Are you going to be able to focus or am I going to have to put my shirt back on?”
“Huh?” I shake off the Axel-induced haze. “No, I mean yes. What? Yes, I can focus. I was just thinking about, um, things. Yes, things. Things that aren’t you shirtless and sweaty.”
He raises a brow, crowding my space and running a finger across my collarbone. “Are you sure? Because you were staring at me like you were ten seconds away from tearing the rest of my clothes off, not that I am complaining. In fact, look at me that way all you want, you won’t ever hear a negative word about it from me. You have all that pent up energy in you, maybe there is something I can do to help you. Just say the words, Eveline, and I will take you inside and finish what we have started so many times.”
My stomach hits the damn ground. “We, we can’t.”
Even though I want to so damn badly.
“Why? Because you’re afraid that you will kill me? Is that why you won’t let me kiss you, because you’re worried? I can think of far worse ways to leave this earth.”
“You’re taking away time we could be using to practice.” I take a few steps back, knowing this will escalate if I don’t. “Just hit me already.”
He shrugs. “Don’t say I never offered.”
He charges me and I rush at him, moving at the last second so that, instead of striking out at him, I am ducking under his arm. I spin back to face him and he turns, moving quickly to kick at me. I jump back, ducking down to take his legs out from underneath him.
I crouch down next time him, smiling victoriously. “So, something has been nagging at me about our interaction with that Reaper ever since that day in the woods and I think I finally figured out what it was.”
“And it is?” He pulls himself up so that he is resting on his elbows.
“The day Lillian explained to me what I was and what would happen when I turned eighteen, she told me that my urges to kill the Nexxus would be so uncontrollable that I wouldn’t be able to help myself, but that Reaper couldn’t have been much older than twenty and he was way more focused on me than you. I mean, he knew about you and Alyssa, meaning that he could have gone after her, then you, and then told me about how he came here for me, but he didn’t. He didn’t even try to attack you after you went all plant crazy on him. He should have been chopping at the bit to get at you but, instead, he left without trying to drain you at all.”
“Yeah, that is a little odd. This whole human to Reaper transition thing is still new to us and we only really have the information of others to go off of. Ever Reaper we have ever come across has gone in for the kill, never able to hold onto the facade of being human for more than an hour at most, but he didn’t seem affected by me at all. He should have been unable to focus on anything but me, driven by nothing but the thought o the kill.”
Even though I shouldn’t, I feel a spark of hope. “First off, we will talk about how you purposely used yourself as bait another time. Second, maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Maybe instead of trying to find a Nexxus to tell me how to control my urges, we should be looking for a Reaper that can.”
“But if we could find one that knows how to stop me from wanting to k-”
“No.” He reaches forward, grabbing onto my shoulders. “We are using your weird Reaper skills to hunt down another one in hopes that they don’t want to kill your or any Nexxus. Oh, and I know what you are going to say and that is also a ‘no.’ No, let me phrase that. I know what you are about to suggest we do and it is a very hard ‘hell no’ from me.”
“Why not? He didn’t go all crazy when you showed up! In fact, other than telling you that he wasn’t in the mood to kill you but you, he legit ignored you. If we are strong enough to trap him then maybe he will make a deal in exchange for his freedom. He might be willing to tell me how he does it.”
Axel shakes his head. “Do you hear yourself when you talk sometimes? Or do you hear the crazy things you say and think to yourself ‘they aren’t really that crazy’? He tried to kill your mom. In fact, he thinks he did and he bragged about it. He could have and probably would have killed you had it not been for some weird promise he made to his father. Who knows how things would have gone down if it had just been you in those woods. What you are talking about is trying to have a sit down with a self-admitted killer. This is by far the most ridiculous idea you have suggested. Reapers are killers, Eveline!”
“Trust me, I know.”
His hardened features soften and I can tell that he recognizes the mistake he just made. “Eveline, shit. I wasn’t talking about you. You know that, right? You are different. You didn’t know what you were until we told you. You aren’t like the others. You know I don’t think of you like that, right?”
“Does it really matter?” I close my eyes, counting backward from ten as I talk down my easily agitated Reaper side. “With the way things are going, in a few months, you might have no choice but to think of me that way. You realize that, don’t you? If things go as they are supposed to, you can’t think of me the same way or else you’ll end up dead. Lillian’s friend hasn’t called her back yet and this is the closest we have been to something that can help. It’s worth the risk.
“No.” He cups my face in his hands. “Nothing is worth putting your life at risk like that, do you understand me? Nothing.”
“We have to try.”
“No, we don’t. We don’t have to try this. We have a plan and we are going to stick with it. I know this seems unfair and I know it seems like I am being an asshole, but it’s only to keep you safe. I have to keep you safe. I have thought of every scenario that could happen and, anytime I encounter one that ends with you not being alive, every bit of me shatters. I stopped fighting you and now I’m screwed because I can’t do it without you anymore. So no, it’s not worth the risk. When that Reaper comes back for you, we will kill it.”
“And then what? We go back to hoping that Lillian’s friend finally calls? We hope that someone comes along who knows as much that this guy seems to? That hasn’t been working for us and, honestly, I am done waiting.” I stand up, storming away from him and back towards the house. “You have your plan and I have mine. You can help me if you want to, but don’t get in my way or else I w-”
“You’ll what?” Axel trails behind me, following me through the front door and up the stairs. “What will you do if I get in your way? Fight me? Drain me? Tell me, Eveline, what will you do? Will you kill me?”
“Maybe I will!” It’s an idle threat but I make it anyway.
“Well, I guess it is time you go ahead and get it over with then.” He grabs my hand, placing it over his heart. It beats wildly in his chest and I can feel it immediately, his Nexxus energy, but it does nothing; my Reaper side is silent for once. “Go ahead and do it. Come on, kill me. You might as well because there is no way in hell that I am just going to stand by and watch as you put yourself in that much danger. Not now, not after everything.”
“You mean not after you’ve decided that I am not the enemy? Now that you have decided not to spend all of your time insulting me? Have you ever thought that maybe this is just some weird Nexxus phase you’re going through? You know, like when well-behaved girls started going after the ‘bad boy’ just to get back at their parents.”
“Stop doing that,” he argues. “You do that every time I tell you how I feel. You brush it off like it’s just something I decided out of nowhere and you know that’s not the case. Yeah, I was an asshole to you in the beginning, but you know why. Stop acting like I am doing this on a whim. Stop acting like you don’t know exactly how much I care about you. Stop acting like I haven’t spent tons of time showing and telling you how much you mean to me. Have I still not been clear? Eveline, I have feelings for you; strong ones. I need you to stop fighting that and acknowledge them because, in a few months, things could be completely different between us and I won’t be able to handle that if I didn’t know that you know how I feel about you.”
“It won’t matter then because I won’t be me anymore.”
“And? You think that is going to stop me? If you change then you change and I will not stop until I find a way to bring you back.”
“Well, shit.” I pull him to me, kissing him with no regard for who might wander into the hallway and find us. I kiss him because it is all I can think of most days. Because, like him, I am tired of denying what is going on between us. Because I know we are on a time limit.
But mostly I kiss him because I know there is a very good chance I will lose him before I ever fully get to have him.