“What is it?” His voice was heavy like a rain storm, reminding her off raindrops pouring off the edge of the eaves. As the moon high in the sky, it’s light cast shadows on his face, making his eyes glow an ominous green as he awaited her answer.
She looked around the empty street, unsure of how to say what she needed to. Tiny pellets of rain dropped around them, landing in the already-existing puddles that dotted the cobblestone sidewalk.
“You’re still upset,” she stated, voice ringing through the empty darkness.
The corners of his mouth pulled down into a frown. “So what?”
“You’ve never stayed mad for this long,” she explained. “And I’m starting to think that it’s something bigger than me messing up.”
“You’ve never fought for me.” The words were like thunder amidst the storm clouds and as lightning flashed across the blackened sky, she felt the guilt stab through her heart. “Not once. In the past 904 years, I’ve fought for you and for myself and you didn’t even care. But Hayden—you willingly put your position and possibly your life on the line for him. Should I not be upset?”
She couldn’t speak. She didn’t want to. The words that sprung to the tip of her tongue burned and she knew they would come out sharper than she intended. Instead, she hung her head, momentarily mesmerized by the pattern of falling rain.
“I’m sorry.” The words escaped her mouth before she realized she was saying. “I—I really am.”
“Sorry?” He sneered. “Sorry? That doesn’t make it go away.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” she yelled, voice cracking. She hated when that happened and as the whole in her chest grew, she realized how weak she actually was. So weak in fact, that she couldn’t fight for what she wanted to keep safe. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t fight for you.”
“Why? Was it really that hard to do?”
“Yes, yes it is!” Her hands clenched into fists by her side. “Because I didn’t have the right to fight for you!”
Once again, silence took over and they stood there, amidst the falling rain, eye to eye—soul to soul.
“I’m a murderer—a mistake—a rebel,” she muttered. “I’ve been labeled a million things and some of them I’m not afraid to claim but I’ve never once been called your Protector. Ever. That’s not my right—I’m not strong enough to be there for you and I didn’t think you wanted someone like me fighting for you.”
“Someone like you?” he echoed. “I stayed here, by your side, at this stupid house for nine hundred years because I wanted to be by your side. All I wanted was for you to stand up for me.”
It was just two words and it seemed so simple to say but as they hung in the air like mist, Seneca realized how painful it was for her to say them.
He didn’t speak but instead he turned and headed for the front stairs, a few stray raindrops pelting into his skin. He stopped, hand on the doorknob and looked back at her.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he muttered before disappearing into the house.
The rain trickled down Artemis’s cheeks, like the tears she wished she could cry. Like the blood that had drained from Seneca’s throat. Like the heavens above were pouring down upon her, weeping their sorrows.
Her fingers trembled as she slicked back the wet hair that had fallen in her eyes. She had failed him. Seneca had stayed by her side for 904 years. 10,848 months. 47,137 weeks. 329,960 days. And every single one of those days, she had failed him.
She couldn’t breathe.
As she clawed at the collar of her shirt, she gasped for air. Her chest was constricted and her throat was shut and no matter how hard she tried, it was to no avail.
A strangling sound escaped her throat as she managed to bring in a little air but it burned as it filled her lungs. Tears cascaded down her face, stinging her face and leaving a gaping hole in her chest. Pain launched out from her chest, across her shoulders and down her arms, making her curl up.
Each attempt to scream for help came out as a soundless choke, barely audible over the sound of the creaking floorboards beneath her bed. She couldn’t breathe and her vision was starting to blur from lack of air. The tears weren’t helping any either but no matter how many times she wiped them away, they came back.
Her hands shook as she gripped the headboard and squeezed her eyes shut.
Breathe. She begged herself silently. Please.
Despite the words that were now echoing through her head like gunshots, the shaking got worse as did the itching sensation that ran up and down her arms. Her nails dug into her skin, piercing and ripping as she tried to get rid of the pins and needles that resided there.
Screams echoed through the air and the feeling of the cold metal in her hand made her skin crawl. Although the fire was far behind them, she could still see the smoke rising in the darkened sky, hiding the full moon from view.
Panic washed over her like a wave, making her freeze. She stared ahead, trying to focus on one thing, to calm her mind down but her gaze landed on the painting by the window, its flames reaching up to the dark sky as it crackled brightly.
She looked up from the sword in her hand to meet Seneca’s eyes which were livid with fear. As he reached out to hold her bleeding hand, she pulled back, his fingers barely brushing against her tingling skin. Blood dripped from her palm from where her grip had shifted on the handle of the sword and the blade had sliced through her skin. It burned but she welcomed the pain.
Dread hit next and it felt like she had been slammed against a cement wall. The little bit of air that had made its way into her lungs was now gone, disintegrating faster than her breathe on a cold evening. A choked cough escaped her lips and as she made herself focus even harder on the picture, her lungs slowly opened and expanded with oxygen.
Maddox dropped to his knees before her and his black eyes found hers. She could see the reflection of the stars in his pupils and although it was chillingly beautiful, it sent a shiver up her spine.
“He’ll die just like this. I swear—.” He choked on the blood that bubbled up the back of his throat as he went limp.
The pins and needles slowly resided and her muscles relaxed. Her skin burned from where she had scratched at it and although the cold air made it sting, it felt better than it had before.
The shaking was the last thing to go and as she sat there, numb, she could only stare at the one thing that had calmed her down. She was afraid that the moment she looked away, it would all start again and this time, Seneca wouldn’t come to her side.
Why should he in the first place? It wasn’t his job to take care of her and be there to comfort her every time she had a panic attack yet he always did—even like the first night when she had doubled over, unable to breathe after what she had done.
But as she grasped the sweat and tear soaked sheets in her hands, she wished that he was there, comforting her like he always had.
A knock sounded from the other side of her bedroom door, causing her to sit up slowly and take a deep breath before carefully sliding off the bed. She grabbed her robe from the back of the chair by the vanity and swung it over her shoulders, hiding the holes she had torn moments earlier.
As she opened the door, she could sense the grey cloud that hung over the house and the panic that radiated from the person on the other side. She opened it the whole way and came face to face with Seneca.
A single tear slid down his face and she instinctively reached up to wipe it away but as she touched his face, she pulled back. His skin burned as if it was on fire and as she let her hand drop, he grabbed her wrist and held on.
“Artemis.” His voice cracked with pain. “Maddox—.”
He didn’t need to finish. She knew what he was trying to say and as she saw the blood that seeped through his shirt at an ever-quickening pace, her heart lurched.
“I’m dying.” His eyes met hers only this time they lacked the normal shimmer of green that had always made her smile. Instead, they were matte—dim and withering.