AN: Huge thank you to 6dlb5 and Melee03 for pre-reading and helping me through this crazy ride. xoxox I tweaked, so all mistakes are mine.
Thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. Please know that although I'm not as good at responding to reviews as I would like to be, I am reading and very much appreciate them.
Also, thank you to everyone rec'ing. I've had a lot of new readers lately, so welcome.
Here we go.
I felt like shit. No, I felt worse than that. I felt like I'd been ripped apart piece by piece.
Everything was dark. My body was heavy – my arms and legs like lead. I tried to open my eyes, but they refused. My lips stung, my mouth was bone dry and sticky. Nothing worked.
Maybe I was in hell.
I heard voices speaking softly. One of them I recognized, but couldn't place. The other I knew. The other I knew very well – and I wanted her; needed her.
I opened my mouth – at least I thought I did – in an attempt to speak, but nothing came out. I wanted to try again, but I didn't have the energy, especially when I didn't know if it was real or not. Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe it was there just to torment me.
My head felt clouded, and I drifted back into the blackness.
The night we left the Hive was one of the hardest moments of my adult life. I hadn't looked back at Bella before I left. I couldn't. I was afraid my weakness would be put on display for all to see. And if there were ever a moment to hide my weaknesses, that was it. They didn't need to know how much it hurt to walk away, to leave her. That pain was for me and me only.
For ten hours we hiked in silence, headed east towards a city that had once held well over a million people. They'd raided it before, but it was big enough that there were still thousands of places to find supplies. Or at least we hoped there were. It was going to be a long trip.
When the sun came up, we found an abandoned barn to crash in. We took shifts throughout the day, guarding those who slept. I never fell into a deep sleep – always aware of any movement around me and stirring at the slightest noise. Finally, when it was my turn for guard, I was jostled by Zara.
She shook me roughly. "Get up. We've got twenty minutes to eat."
I stood up and stretched, adjusting the satchel I was carrying. We all had them with basic emergency supplies. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
I joined Zara who was sitting next to a low-burning fire. There were two pots sitting in the coals, one containing stew and the other a strong herbal tea.
Zara handed me a bowl and a tin cup.
"Thanks," I muttered. She nodded and dug into her own meal.
She didn't say anything to me that first shift. Nor did she speak at all the next day's shift. It didn't bother me. I had nothing to say either.
On the third day, as we sat watching over our sleeping team members, I felt her staring at me.
"What?" I asked, without looking at her.
"They call you the toy."
I snorted in disgust. "Yeah. I know."
"I don't think you're her toy." Looking up, I saw her stony eyes boring into me. "I think she cares about you more than any other."
I didn't respond. She didn't say anything else.
The next day, however, she spoke again when I was least expecting it. "They're afraid of you. That's why they mock you."
"I figured they mocked all her lovers," I responded flatly, looking out across the landscape towards the city's broken skyline.
"They do – in a way. But out of jealousy, not out of fear. They fear you're going to take her away. You're strong, brave, an outsider. . . and she cares for you. We have no doubt that if you chose to leave, she would follow. You have to understand, she is the reason we thrive. We can't survive without her."
"You've survived for years without her," I bit. "You all are just selfish. It's easy enough to let her sacrifice herself – her life – while you reap the benefit. Maybe if Charlie focused his attention on figuring out what's wrong with you instead of running invasive tests on Bella, you wouldn't be so dependent on her."
Silence followed. I figured she'd either ignored me or was figuring out if she wanted to kill me in my sleep.
"Perhaps," she finally said, her voice low.
We reached the outskirts of the city that evening. We had to be in and out by morning. It wasn't safe to be out in the daytime. You'd think we'd be on the lookout for beggars, thieves, and murderers, but we weren't. It was the government we had to watch for. If any of us were caught, they'd execute us. Most likely it would be a very public and very brutal. The funny thing about a warring world is that they all claim to be fighting for what's right. But in the end, it's just one group of people who want to be in charge fighting another group who want to be in charge. No one really cares about the people caught in the middle.
After I was recruited, they spent hours every day drilling it into us that the government was evil and we had to fight for what was ours. They made us believe that we were there for the right reasons. They made us forget that we hadn't really been given a choice.
What I didn't tell Bella was that the first man I ever killed wasn't a target. He wasn't a government official or a spy. He was a rebel. A leader. One of the many claiming their cause was pure and just.
He didn't recognize me, but I knew him. His face haunted me every night. I was just short of seventeen. I knew how to shoot. I knew how to fight. I knew how to make a man suffer. And when I finally got the opportunity – I did. I took him down and made him feel all the pain he'd inflicted on me when he shot my father, raped my mother in front of me, and took my sister away, screaming and crying.
I didn't get caught. Or maybe I did and they just didn't care. I became the zombie the rebels wanted me to be, killing on demand. I did what I had to in order to survive – to protect my family.
We were provided with a house and luxuries we hadn't had in years. We were well-fed and content. Sofia and her mother moved in with us. That's where it began.
We were young and stupid, finding solace in sex and what we thought was love. Eventually, we moved into our own home. She talked about getting married and having babies like we were in some fucking alternate reality where we were safe and protected from what was happening around us. I pretended that's what I wanted, too.
I should have known better than to share the details of my work with her, but she was the only one I believed in. The only one I trusted. I was naïve. And the rebel powers that be punished me for that naivety by giving me a choice. Kill the "traitor scum" who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of our people, or they'd take out my family.
I never told my family the choice I was forced to make. It didn't matter. I was poison to them. Regardless of what Sofia had done, it was me who was responsible for her death in every way.
Over the years, I traveled from city to city, never looking back. I followed targets and took them out emotionlessly. I fucked rebel women who provided themselves to me as part of the cause. I fucked the daughters of government officials just because I could. None of it helped.
I'd heard rumors about the Hive for years, but they were never a target. They were savages. Lost souls. No one cared about a small community of people not trying to take over the world. They had no power, no influence. They were invisible. They were exactly what I was hoping to be.
We had fourteen 'treasure chests' to locate and explore. That's what they called our raiding destinations. No one knew if we'd find anything or not. They'd been spotted during a previous raid, but there hadn't been time to get to them before they had to leave. It was entirely possible that they'd been stripped already and we'd come out empty handed.
We went in under the cover of night. Zara and I took what used to be a medical clinic. It was trashed. We searched for hours without finding much more than a few pens, some empty saline bags, and a roll of gauze that had slipped under a desk.
I was in a supply room when I took a step to the side and felt the wooden board beneath my foot give a little. Bending down, I tapped on the floor. The hollow sound it made was music to my ears.
I used my knife, prying the board up.
"Jackpot!" I called out, spotting a large metal box. I was pulling up the rest of the boards when Zara joined me.
"Did you find something?"
Glancing up at her I nodded and lifted the safe from the hole. "Please don't let it be empty," I prayed under my breath as I worked to open it.
After a few failed attempts, the lock finally released and the door swung open. "Thank you, God," Zara breathed, staring at the stash.
I pulled the bags out, tossing a few to Zara and looking through the rest. Needles, syringes, tubing. . . and medicine. There had to have been two hundred bottles of both IV and oral medications. Zara looked over at me from the bags she was looking through, which contained brand new wound dressings and bandages.
"This is the first time we've found this kind of stuff in over a year," she said, her voice shaking. "If the others have similar success, we may not have to go out again for a couple of months."
I was so used to Zara's stoic expression that her smile caught me off-guard. I remembered her child and mate in the foyer of the Hive as we left – watching her go. Not knowing if she would return, and if she did, how long it would be before she left again.
"Nice job," she admitted quietly.
We finished with the clinic and moved on, joining some of the other team members in the next building – a department store. Most of the clothes made from quality fabrics had been wiped out, but it didn't matter. We took what we could find, stuffing our bags.
Just before the sun started to rise, we heard the signal whistles from our team and booked it out. We were able to get about an hour outside of the city before it became too dangerous to keep going. We settled down in a grove of trees, out of breath and exhausted.
We ate as a group. I listened as the others boasted of their finds. Canned foods, books, paper, clothing and fabric. I stayed silent.
"Zara! What did you get?" a guy called Alistair asked loudly, a smirk on his face as his eyes darted to me.
I didn't bother to acknowledge him. I tossed the bag I was carrying towards Zara.
"Edward found a safe."
She reached into the bag and pulled out some of the medical supplies.
"Holy shit!" Alistair yelps. "Nice. The docs are gonna be happy."
They congratulated her on the find, ignoring my part in it completely. What-the-fuck-ever. I wasn't looking for glory. I just wanted to get the hell back to my doll.
After everyone had eaten and stroked each other's egos, we settled in for the day and waited for the safety of night to return.
We moved much slower on the way back, being weighed down by the supplies, but no one complained.
About three days from home, we decided to bunk down in a house whose inhabitants had obviously fled quite a while before. It was surrounded by trees and was well picked through, but it was shelter, which we appreciated as the rain pelted us and a freezing wind blew us sideways.
Fortunately, by the time it was my shift to guard, the weather had calmed down and there was a freshness in the air. I found myself wandering around outside, listening to the birds. Had Bella ever heard the birds? Not the ones they kept in cages, but real, live, wild birds. Would that be something she'd like? What would Charlie do if I tried to take his daughter out of the Hive?
A loud shot shattered the silence, and I felt a sharp bite in my right shoulder.
"Fuck!" I yelled, grabbing the spot and ducking behind a tree. I pulled my hand away, ignoring the wetness that stained it red.
My dominant arm was definitely the right side, but the people who trained me knew better. I was almost as good with my left. Almost. I lifted the hand-gun from my waistband, pointing it in front of me. The problem was, I didn't know where to aim. I whistled loudly, alerting the team despite the fact that I was pretty sure the gunshots had already woken them. Within minutes, I could see the other raiders stumbling from the house, looking around with their weapons drawn.
A few more shots rang out from multiple places. First from the direction of a hillside covered in trees, then from the house. Two more shots and I heard a feminine cry.
Another shot pierced my side. Another my leg. They hurt like a bitch, but it wasn't until I felt an explosion in my gut that I knew I was in trouble.
I took a step backwards, clutching at my stomach. Looking down, I watched blood seep through my fingers.
Knowing I was only making myself more of a target in the position I was in, I stumbled towards the house and fell through a side door. No one else was in there. I took a few gasping breaths and fell to my knees. I could hear yelling, but the words were muffled.
I knew I had to act fast or I was going to bleed out. I reached into my satchel and pulled out a strip of fabric. Lifting my shirt, I wrapped it tightly around my waist and knotted it over the wound. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. It would keep from bleeding to death within minutes.
I heard more voices and tugged my shirt back into place. I didn't know who was coming for me.
Looking up, I blinked sweat from my eyes. My gun was still in my hand.
"Don't even think about it," a voice warned. "Drop it."
I gripped the butt tighter, but let go of my weapon when I realized I had a shotgun pointed straight at my head. Trailing my eyes upwards to see who was behind it, I saw a guy with shaggy blond hair. He surrounded by three others. I knew him. I scanned my memory until. . .
"James," I grunted.
"Ahhh. You remember me. That's so sweet."
"It's hard to forget a face as ugly as yours," I spit, trying to sound stronger than I felt.
He laughed loudly and the heel of his boot connected with my chest. I winced in pain, but stayed upright.
"Emery. Strip him."
One of the guys with him picked up the gun I had dropped and then took my shotgun from my back. He reached inside my jacket before patting down my legs and removing a knife from a holster around my ankle. I was defenseless. Then he took my satchel.
"He's good," the guy said, stepping away.
"Good. Now we can get down to business. I've been given a job to do. One I will happily carry out."
I looked at him in confusion. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
He chuckled, his nostrils flaring. "I guess it doesn't really matter if you know or not now. You see, Eddie. If there's one thing we drones know, it's that we can play with the queen, but she'll never, ever belong to us. Not really. I learned that the hard way, but at least I learned." He held up his left hand. Where his pinky was supposed to be was a small nub. "Hurt like a bitch, but Daddy was forgiving. As long as I do this job and remember who she really belongs to, I get to keep the rest of them. And if I make it really painful, he'll make sure she. . .," his eyes darkened and he smirked. ". . .behaves for me."
My body started to vibrate in anger, but I didn't have time to react.
I felt every last, crushing blow. I went down on the third one, which was aimed just above where I'd been shot in the stomach. The rest came fast and furious. My back, my kidneys, my head. I tried not to focus on the pain. In my mind, it was a training – a test to see how strong I was. I thought back to the comic books I used to read as a kid. I needed to be motherfucking superman – the man of steel.
Eventually, they stopped. I coughed on the blood flowing down my throat.
"Did that make you feel tough?" I choked out, my head resting on the hard, wooden floor.
"Yeah, actually," James snorted. "It did. I'm not an idiot, Eddie. One on one, you've got me beat. Add to it that little posse of bodyguards back at the Hive, and I don't stand a chance. But right now you're at my mercy. I could just blow your fucking head off." He aimed his Beretta at my head and cocked the hammer. Then he lowered it again. "But I want you to lie here and slowly bleed to death thinking about me going home to that sweet piece of ass you've convinced yourself actually cares about you. I want you to think about me taking her. Over. And over. And over again. I'm gonna do her so good she won't even remember your name. And I'm gonna find a way to put a baby in her belly. She may never be mine, but at least she won't be yours."
I closed my eyes and ground my teeth together. His words seared into my mind. I saw his hands on my doll. His lips kissing her soft skin. I heard her voice in my head as she relented to him. I wanted to fight, but sometimes it's better not to. I was already too weak. And he was right. He could easily just put a bullet into my brain and it would be over.
This was not over.
"Fuck you," I growled.
He laughed again and with one more kick to the ribs, everything went black.
I don't know how long I laid there, unconscious. When I woke again, it took me a while to open my eyes. They were crusted shut and felt heavy, but I could tell it was dark. I felt like I was covered in a sheet of ice. My body shivered violently. I groaned and lifted my head.
"Shhhh," I heard a soft voice whisper. "Don't try to move too fast."
I heard shuffling. Despite the pain, I forced my eyes open and a figure appeared next to me.
"Who are you?" I asked, my voice sounding like I'd just swallowed sand.
"Brianna. Here." She reached forward and a wet cloth touched my lips. At first I couldn't do much. My face felt numb, my mouth swollen. But eventually I was able to suck a little of the moisture in.
"How long have I been here?"
"I don't know. I found you a few hours ago. You've been shot."
"I know," I snorted lightly. "But thanks."
"I tried to clean them, but I don't have much. You've got a fever, too. I don't know what to do for that."
I carefully slid myself into a sitting position. Brianna shifted, her face becoming clear in the moonlight. She looked young – thirteen maybe.
"Are you by yourself?" I asked, glancing around.
Brianna moved away from me. "Why?"
"You're awfully young to be on your own."
"I'm not on my own. They're coming back for me," she said quickly.
"They?" I asked curiously.
"My father and brother. They went looking for food. They'll be back any time."
"Relax, kid. I'm not gonna hurt you." I took a deep breath and felt an intense pain in my ribs. "Ouch."
"I know you're not," she said, lifting her hand. In it was a sleek, black handgun.
I put my hands up slowly. "Don't shoot me, please. I've got enough holes in me already." I smiled at her. She smiled back cautiously. "I'm Edward."
"Did the same person who shot you beat you up?"
I nodded, my head feeling heavy.
"Why not?" I wasn't about to get into the details of my life with this kid.
"Are you a criminal?"
"No more than you are," I answered flatly. Lifting up my shirt, I noticed that I had a fresh wrap around my gut. "Did you do this?" Brianna nodded. "Thanks."
I examined all of my wounds. The ones in the leg and side didn't look so bad. The one in my shoulder could have been worse. The one in my belly. . . that one was going to be trouble.
"I'm surprised you're still alive," Brianna said as I poked and prodded the hole in an attempt to figure out how deep the bullet was. I ground my teeth together and winced in pain. I would have killed for a shot of hard liquor – just to take the edge off.
"Me, too," I admitted, swallowing my urge to vomit. Unable to see anything clearly, I gave up and re-bandaged my abdomen.
"Are you hungry?"
I shrugged. I was fucking starving, but looking at this little girl, she needed food more than I did.
"Here," she said, shoving a box of crackers at me. "They're stale, but they're better than nothing."
"Nah." I shook my head. "You go ahead."
"Don't be stupid," she scoffed. "You're never gonna heal if you don't eat." She shoved them at me again. After a minute of resistance, I relented and took the box.
She was right, they were extremely stale and tasted like shit, but it was food. I ate enough to make the hunger pangs go away, and set the box back down.
"How long have your dad and brother been gone?"
She shrugged. "Two days. We were hiding out in a house a couple miles north. We made our way down to that house across the way and they told me to stay until they got back."
"And you found me a couple of hours ago?"
"Yeah. I heard the shooting and saw people moving out. When I was sure it was clear, I thought I'd see if anything got left behind. You scared the crap out of me. You were moaning. I thought you were an animal at first." I felt a sudden wave of nausea hit me. My body shivered violently. Brianna handed me a flask. "It's clean. I boiled it."
I sipped some of the water and then handed it back. Resting my head against the wall, I closed my eyes.
"You're not strong enough, Edward."
"I need to get back."
"Why? If they tried to kill you once, what makes you think they won't try it again."
"They probably will," I admitted.
"Then why go back there?"
I took a deep breath, forgetting just how painful it was. After a few hours of turbulent sleep, I had woken to find Brianna still watching over me. We talked a little. She'd probably saved my life, when she asked me questions about where I'd come from, I felt like I owed it to her to tell her a little.
"My life is there. Where else am I gonna go?"
"Stay with me," she whispered, her cheeks flushing red as if she were embarrassed. I smiled at her and lifted her chin with my hand. She was a cute kid.
"You sure you don't want to come with me?"
She shook her head. "I can't. I promised them I'd stay here. If they come back and can't find me. . ."
"I get it. It's okay. You know where it is though, right? You keep heading west and you'll find us."
Her big blue eyes started watering and I almost felt bad, but I couldn't. The rest of the raiders had a good day on me. When I didn't return with them, Bella would think I was dead. They would probably tell her I was dead. Because to them – I was.
Brianna handed me a bag. Looking inside, I found a few scraps of fabric for bandages, and a well-worn water bottle full of clean water.
"I can't take this," I said, shaking my head. I tried to hand it back to her, but she refused.
"You'll need it more than I do. Make sure to clean and re-bandage once a day."
I smiled at her and let out a puff of air. "Take care, kid."
"Good luck, Edward."
The journey back was much slower than I anticipated. I wasn't weighed down with anything, but I only traveled at night and my gimpy leg wouldn't allow me to run. I could feel the hole in my stomach with every step.
The first night, I made it about eight miles, but that was a mistake. I found a grove of trees and leaned against one in the shadows, falling asleep almost immediately. When I woke, there was fresh blood staining my clothes. I patched myself up with a clean bandage from the bag Brianna had given me, but struggled. Every muscle in my body ached.
By the fourth night, I had run out of water. My vision was spotty at best and I was beginning to lose feeling in my fingers and toes.
Lying down for the day, I closed my eyes. I saw her face in my dreams. She wasn't painted. She was innocent. Her hair was soft, her eyes bright. There was no trace of sadness in her expression, just love – or rather what I thought love must look like. I dreamed of holding her in my arms, of touching her cheek. Of being inside of her. I was no longer the killer I'd been trained to be. I was her lover, her mate. I had to get back to her.
And I really needed to fucking kill James. Everyone else I would deal with in time, but James was gonna fucking pay. If he laid one hand on my doll, the whole Goddamn Hive was going to have to hold me back.
I don't remember much of the last day. I dragged myself forward, always thinking about Bella and getting back to her. I don't remember reaching the Hive. I don't remember who found me or who brought me in. I just remember waking up and hearing her voice. And at that moment, that was all I needed.
I cracked open my eyes. They were sore, but I didn't care. The sight before me was too great to close them again.
"Am I dead?"
"No," she whispered. "You're not."
"Are you sure? I feel fucking dead. And you look like an angel."
She smiled down at me. "I'm sure. And I'm no angel, baby."
I tried to laugh, but started coughing instead. I felt her hands on my head, running through my hair. Relief. So much relief. Her touch was like nothing else.
"You came back to me."
"I told you I would," I said, my voice coming out raspy.
"You did. I should have believed you." I shifted, feeling my muscles ache and my joints pop. "Do you want to sit up?" Bella asked.
I groaned and nodded. I didn't want her to have to help me, but after a couple of failed attempts on my own, I finally let her.
The position was much more comfortable. I licked my chapped lips, but it didn't help. My mouth was too dry.
Bella stood up and I watched her retrieve a cup of water. When she came back, she put it to my mouth.
"Here, drink this." I did as she said, keeping my eyes on hers. I was thirstier than I thought, gulping greedily and spilling some down my chin and onto my chest. Looking down, I saw I was dressed in a long sheet of fabric; a medical gown of sorts.
Bella set the cup down on a table to the side. "How do you feel?"
"Fine." It wasn't exactly a lie. I was still in rough shape, but I didn't feel nearly as bad as I had. "How long have I been here?"
"A while," she answered, her fingers stroking my arm. "Too long. I was afraid you wouldn't wake up."
"You writing me off that easily, doll?" I teased, before a coughing fit caused my whole body to tense up. When I was done, she ran her hand over my jaw, cupping my chin in her hand.
She shook her head. "Never."
I gazed at her and a warm sensation enveloped me. It felt amazing, comforting. . . loving. I instantly felt stronger. After a few minutes, my curiosity got the better of me.
"Help me get this off." I meant it as a request, but it sounded like a demand. "Please," I added quietly.
Bella's eyes widened. She looked around. "You want to. . . we can't. Not here. Not now. You're not ready. And . . . I can't."
I stared at her for a second and then chuckled lightly.
"As much as I'd love to. . . Yeah, that's gonna have to wait." I wasn't even sure I could get it up at that point, but I wasn't about to admit that.
She let out a breath and her pale cheeks turned pink. "Then why?"
"I want to see what the hell they did to me."
Her eyes narrowed. "Who?"
I shook my head. "I don't. . . we'll talk about that later. I just. . . help me get this off."
She nodded and untied the back before sliding the gown off my chest. The fabric pooled in my lap. My body only held shadows of the bruises. My ribs, although still sore, didn't feel like daggers every time I inhaled. The holes in my shoulder and side were uncovered and appeared healed. The one in my gut was still bandaged. Pulling off the gauze, I examined the wound. It had been stitched closed, but the area around it was still red.
"I've been putting healing ointment on it every day," Bella whispered. "It's better than it was. And you don't have a fever anymore, so Carlisle says it must be getting better."
I nodded and then lifted up the rest of gown. The shot to the thigh looked like nothing more than a scratch, but I wasn't really looking at that. I was looking at my dick, which had a tube coming out of the tip.
"What the fuck is that?" I asked, a little more than slightly freaked out.
"A catheter," Bella answered. "You were unconscious. Carlisle was putting fluids in you. Your body had to drain it somehow."
"So he stuck a fucking plastic tube in my dick?"
Bella giggled. "Now that you're awake, he can take it out."
I looked up at her. Her eyes were bright and I watched her tongue flick at her viper bites. God, it was sexy. Scanning her body, I noticed she was wearing loose, white clothing.
"How much longer?"
"So by the time I get out of here."
She smiled. "When you're ready, I'll be ready."
My body began to flood with heat. Bella's eyes shifted downwards and she grinned even wider. I had just answered my own question. I was definitely able to get it up, although with that fucking tube in, it was a little awkward.
"You're going to be back to normal in no time," she teased.
I smirked. Reaching for her, I wrapped my hand around her neck and pulled her face down to mine. I pressed my lips against hers, relishing how soft they were against my own dry, cracked ones.
"And then you belong to me," I growled.
She nodded and smiled. "Only to you."
I kissed her again. Our tongues merged together, sliding over one another slowly. I pushed all other thought from my mind. I didn't want to think about anything else but her at that moment. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else ever would.
AN: The End.
No, I'm obviously kidding. We still have a couple of things to deal with.
Yes, we did just get through TWO sex-less Hive chapters. :-O Never thought that would happen, but we needed a little mush. And Edward needed time to heal.
Again, thank you for reading. xoxoxox