Chapter Thirty-Six

I HEAR THEM TALKING, but I keep my eyes shut. My hands are bound and strapped to radiator pipes behind me, and my ankles are tied together. There's blood in my mouth, trickling down the inside of my throat. Someone trips over my feet, but I force myself not to react. I half-open one blood-caked eye and see Mark trying to drag a pregnant woman away from me. She sees that I'm awake, then squirms free from him, turns back, and boots me in the gut. Can't defend myself. I take the full force of her foot right in the middle of my stomach, and I'm suddenly doubled up with pain, gasping for air and choking on the semicoagulated blood in my nose and mouth. Christ, that bitch is wild. It takes two of them to pull her away from me and hold her down. If I didn't know better she could almost pass for one of us. Maybe she is. Maybe she's been conditioned to fight like I've learned not to.

Mark and an Asian man keep the pregnant woman away at a distance. Lizzie catches my eye, then strides across the room toward me, grabs my shoulder, and pulls me over until I'm sitting upright opposite her with my back against the radiator. She looks straight into my face, then slaps me so hard I almost fall back down.

"You killed my dad, you fucker," she spits. "I loved you and you killed my dad!"

What am I supposed to say? She's right, and I don't regret any of it. I could kill everyone in this room and not give any of them a second thought. Except Lizzie, perhaps. I can't take my eyes off her. It's suddenly like we've never been apart, and for a single brief and foolish moment the irrevocable difference between us seems trivial and unimportant. She slaps me again. I try to turn away, but she still hits me with full force. The pain's good. It wakes me up. I start trying to get my hands free of the plastic ties they're using to hold me.

"We should kill him," the pregnant woman snarls, holding her swollen belly.

"That'd make us as bad as him," Lizzie answers quickly before turning her attention back to me. She's nervous. Scared. She forces herself to talk to me. "Why are you here?"

"Looking for you," I answer quickly.

"Haven't you hurt me enough?"

"Not about you. Ellis. Need to know what happened to her."

"Why?"

"Why do you think? She's like me. She should be with me."

"What, so you can let her loose outside to kill? So you can let her run wild and...?"

I shake my head and stare into her face again, still trying to get my hands free behind me.

"I want to take her with me. I want to look after her and take care of her. I don't want her out there fighting on her own."

"I don't want her fighting at all. She's just a kid..."

"I just want her with me, Lizzie. I want to keep her safe."

Lizzie slumps back and drops to the floor opposite me, head held in her hands. The Asian guy is still mumbling and cursing at me from the corner of the room. The pregnant woman watches my every move, not daring to look away. Mark tries to appear collected and in control, but I can sense his terror. I feed off their collective fear. It's empowering. Even together they're no match for me.

"He's here to kill us," Mark says. "Katie's right, we should have just got rid of him. This was a bad idea."

I shake my head and spit a lump of bloody phlegm onto the carpet.

"Not interested in any of you. Just Ellis. Let me know what happened to her and I'll go."

"Don't listen to him. Let him go and the fucker will kill us."

I shake my head again.

"I won't. I can control it. I'd never have got this deep into the city if I couldn't. I can hold the Hate. They taught me."

"Who did?" Lizzie asks.

"People like you."

"This is bullshit," the pregnant woman yells. "Why you?"

"Not just me. Others, too..."

"But why...?"

"Haven't you heard what's happening outside? It's a coordinated attack," I explain, suddenly desperate for Lizzie to understand. "I came here with other fighters, but I broke away to try to find you."

"I don't understand..."

"I'm not interested in killing any of you. I just want to know what happened to Ellis. Tell me what happened to her and I'll go and you'll never see me again-"

"Let him take her," the pregnant woman says. "Get the evil little bitch out of here-"

"Shut up, Katie!" Mark yells.

What did she just say? I can't believe what I'm hearing. This must be bullshit. She can't really be here, can she? How could they have kept her hidden and stopped her from attacking for so long? I look from face to face in search of an explanation.

"Ellis is here?"

"In the bathroom," she shouts, trying to get up again, pointing at a door in the wall opposite me as Mark pushes her back down and tries to cover her mouth.

"Here? But how...?"

Still slumped on the floor in front of me, just out of reach, Lizzie starts to sob.

"I couldn't let her go. I knew she was like you, but it didn't matter. Even when she killed the boys I couldn't bear to let her go..."

Her words dry up as tears take over. I keep trying to move my wrists and bend and stretch my legs to break my binds. Got to get up and get to Ellis...

"He can take her," says the pregnant woman. "Let him take her."

"We can't trust him," Mark snaps at her.

"Does it matter? Throw the pair of them out the door and let them take their chances-"

Another thunderous explosion interrupts her. They're getting closer and more frequent now. At this rate the city will have fallen long before 6:00 a.m.

"She's right," I tell Lizzie, begging for her to listen and understand. "I promise I won't hurt you. I'll take Ellis and you'll never see either of us again."

Mark moves forward and picks up the bloodied baseball bat.

"As soon as we let him go he'll turn on us," he says, sneering atme.

"For fuck's sake," I scream at him in frustration, "will you just listen to what I'm saying? I don't want to kill any of you-"

"Come on, Lizzie," the pregnant woman says, calmer now, lowering herself down and kneeling on the floor next to her. "You said yourself you can't help her. This is the best option for all of us."

"She's right," I agree, as if they're going to listen to anything I say. Lizzie glares at me. She's in an impossible situation-whatever choice she makes, she loses. No matter what she is and how I feel about her now, I'm surprised that it still hurts me so much to see her like this. She's shaking her head.

"I can't. I just can't let her go..."

"You don't have long," I tell them. "The city doesn't have long. I can get her to safety. Get her out of here before it's too late."

"You've hardly got any medication left for her, Liz. You can't hold her if she's not sedated. Have you thought about that?"

"Of course I have," she sobs, looking back and staring at the pregnant girl. "I just can't stand the thought of her being out there on her own. She's only five-"

"But she won't be on her own," I interrupt. "She'll be with me."

"Come on, Danny," she sighs, wiping her eyes. "You were hardly the world's greatest dad at the best of times. What chance has she got with you now?"

"More chance than she's got without me. Look, you're not thinking straight. Stay here and you're all dead. This is the best option for her. The only option..."

The hotel room is momentarily silent, the only noise coming from outside. Vibrations shake the floor and walls. Even the Asian man has finally shut up.

Lizzie holds her head in her hands.

"I just can't. You don't understand. She's not like you, remember," she says. "She's-"

Before she's finished speaking, the pregnant woman moves. She lunges toward me, catching me and everyone else completely off guard. She grabs my head and pulls me forward, then leans down behind me. I try to shake her off, but she's too heavy and I'm squashed under the bulk of her unborn child. As quickly as she attacked she's up again. She stands opposite, holding one of my knives in her hand. What has she done? Has she cut me or...?

Wait.

My hands are free.

My legs still tied together, I push myself off the wall and reach out for Lizzie. She manages to scramble back out of the way, but the other woman's not as quick. I grab her right foot and pull her over. She hits the ground right in front of me. Mark tries to react, but the Unchanged are reassuringly slow, and by the time he's made a grab for her I've already got her held tight. I wrap one arm around her throat and hold the knife to her face. Stupid bitch. At least I've temporarily silenced the constant fucking noise coming out of her mouth. I lean forward and cut the ties around my ankles, then slowly stand up. Mark goes to move toward me again, but I prick the woman's cheek with the tip of the blade, and the sight of her blood and the sound of her half-choked screams is enough to stop him.

I kick the bathroom door open, and it takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. Lying bastards, it's empty. She isn't here. There's a thin mattress on the floor, some sheets, empty bottles of water, and the remains of medication, food wrappers... but no Ellis. I can smell her scent, but she's gone.

"Where is she?" I yell, turning back around and holding the blade up to the woman's eye.

"Safe," Lizzie answers. "Let Kate go, Danny."

In desperation Mark tries to run at me again, but, like all of his kind, he thinks too long instead of acting on instinct. I'm far faster than he is, and I see him coming a mile off. Even with the weight of this bitch in my arms he's no match for me. I kick him in the balls and send him reeling.

"Where?" I yell again.

"Let her go and I'll take you," Lizzie says. I stare straight into her face again and tighten the pressure around the other woman's neck. Is she telling the truth? Do I have any choice? I could be in touching distance of Ellis, but without Lizzie I might as well be miles away. Mark rolls around at my feet, groaning.

"Please..." he whimpers pathetically.

I could kill her, but I don't. Suddenly all I can think about is Joseph Mallon. I can see his face and can hear his damn voice echoing around my cell, telling me not to fight fire with fire, to break the cycle. Was he right? As the city crumbles around us, can I risk not following my instinct and letting these fuckers live? Could it really be that the more I fight today, the more I stand to lose?

I let the woman go. She falls to her knees and crawls away on all fours, gasping for air. Lizzie walks over to me, stopping only when we're almost touching.

"I just need to know that you'll look after her and get her to safety."

"Where is she?" I shout, struggling to keep control and not attack. "Just tell me where-"

"I need to hear you say it, Danny."

"I promise you, Liz. I'll get her as far away from the city as I can. I'll look after her. She's all I've got left."

"Then you've got more than I have," she sobs. She looks into my eyes, and I can't look away. "We moved her last night," she finally admits. "We couldn't risk keeping her here any longer."

"What have you done with her?"

"She's safe. Mark and I were going to try to get her out of the city. It was the lesser of two evils..."

Mark gets up. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys, which he throws to Lizzie.

"Take him."

"I can't..." she says, beginning to cry again.

"It's the only option. Listen to what's happening outside, Liz. It's all fucked. He's right, at least she's got a chance this way."

"But what if...?"

"I won't hurt you," I tell her, meaning every word but still not knowing if she believes me. "All I want is Ellis. Take me to her and you'll never see me again."

She nods her head but still doesn't move.

"Just give him the keys," the pregnant woman says. "Let him find her for himself. Stay here with us."

Lizzie shakes her head and wipes her eyes.

"No, I'll go. I just want to see her again. One last time."

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