Up until now, I’d know my life was leading to something. I’d thought it was a lesser thing. Saving a kitten or choosing not to make a turn that might have led to a car accident.
I was wrong.
Standing here, staring into Julian’s eyes, I realize just how wrong I had been. Joseph’s prone form lies between us, the slight rise and fall of his chest the only indication he’s alive. I’m grateful for that, whatever happens after.
Julian smiles, and I shiver.
“Finally, you begin to understand.” He whispers. “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
The pain gnawing at my breastbone will not allow me to deny him. I nod once.
“It will hurt more before this is over.”
“I know,” I tell him.
His eyebrows rise. “Not going to accuse me of lying?”
I shake my head. He seems disappointed somehow. With a sigh, he shrugs. “Are you ready to admit defeat?”
I raise one hand, offer it to Julian, open.
He hesitates for one second, then grasps my hand tight. My grip closes around his cool, slender fingers like a vice. This time, a smirk twists my lips, and I can’t stop it.
“Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts now, my dear.” His eyes are trained on the wooden door across from us, not on my face.
“No, but you should be.” I say, my words firm and clear. There’s no fear left in me.
He faces me then, startled. His eyes widen slightly, and he makes a tiny attempt to release my hand. I put my other one on top of ours and smile wider. “You’ve lost focus, Julian. You may have started this, but we’ll end it on my terms.”
“Your terms? There are no terms here. You will die, and the door will open.” The words aren’t as confident as they were before.
“Your sacrifice required a Wanderer, but you failed to remember that Wanderers are like everyone else. We can be good, we can be bad. We can be anything else we need to be.”
“Nonsense. I needed a willing sacrifice, and you’re going to give your life to save his. You’ve said so.”
“Are you certain?” I ask, then lean forward, my lips a hair away from his ears. “Are you willing to bet your life on it?”