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"Okay." A raw knot of pain took hold of Luce's in-sides, and she could feel her knees start to shake. She was glad when Daniel made her sit down. He paced back and forth, then took a deep breath. "In the Bible

..."

Luce groaned. She couldn't help it; she had a knee-jerk reaction to Sunday school talk. Besides, she wanted to discuss the two of them, not some moralistic parable. The Bible wasn't going to hold the answers to any of the questions she had about Daniel.

"Just listen," he said, shooting her a look. "In the Bible, you know how God makes a big deal about how everyone should love him with all their soul? How it has to be unconditional, and unrivaled?"

Luce shrugged. "I guess so."

"Well - " Daniel seemed to be searching for the right words. "That request doesn't only apply to people."

"What do you mean? Who else? Animals?"

"Sometimes, sure," Daniel said. "Like the serpent. He was damned after he tempted Eve. Cursed to slither on the ground forever."

Luce shivered, thinking back to Cam. The snake. Their picnic. That necklace. She rubbed at her clean, bare neck, glad to be rid of it.

He ran his fingers down her hair, along her jawline, and into the hollow of her neck. She sighed, in a state of bliss.

"I'm trying to say ... I guess you could say I'm damned, too, Luce. I've been damned for a long, long time." He spoke as if the words tasted bitter. "I made a choice once, a choice that I believed in - that I still believe in, even though - "

"I don't understand," she said, shaking her head.

"Of course you don't," he said, dropping down onto the ground next to her. "And I don't have the best track record at explaining it to you." He scratched his head and lowered his voice, like he was speaking to himself. "But all I can do is try. Here goes nothing."

"Okay," she said. He was confusing her, and he'd barely even said anything yet. But she tried to act less lost than she felt.

"I fall in love," he explained, taking her hands and holding them tightly. "Over and over again. And each time, it ends catastrophically."

"Over and over again." The words made her ill. Luce closed her eyes and withdrew her hands. He'd already told her this. That day at the lake. He'd had breakups. He'd been burned. Why bring up those other girls now? It had hurt then and it hurt even more now, like a sharp pain in her ribs. He squeezed her fingers.

"Look at me," he pleaded. "Here's where it gets hard."

She opened her eyes.

"The person I fall in love with each time is you."

She'd been holding her breath, and meant to exhale, but it came out as a sharp, cutting laugh.

"Right, Daniel," she said, starting to stand up. "Wow, you really are damned. That sounds horrible."

"Listen." He pulled her back down with a force that made her shoulder throb. His eyes flashed violet and she could tell he was getting angry. Well, so was she. Daniel looked up into the peach tree canopy, as if for help. "I'm begging you, let me explain." His voice quaked. "The problem isn't loving you."

She took a deep breath. "What is it?" She willed herself to listen, to be stronger and not to feel hurt.

Daniel looked like he was broken up enough for both of them. "I get to live forever," he said.

The trees rustled around them, and Luce noticed the faintest trickle of a shadow out of the corner of her eye. Not the sick, all-consuming swirl of blackness from the bar last night, but a warning. The shadow was keeping its distance, seething coldly around the corner, but it was waiting. For her. Luce felt a deep chill, down in her bones. She couldn't shake the sensation that something colossal, black as night, something final was on its way.

"I'm sorry," she said, dragging her eyes back to Daniel. "Could you, um, say that again?"

"I get to live forever," he repeated. Luce was still lost, but he kept talking, a stream of words pouring out of his mouth. "I get to live, and to watch babies being born, and grow up, and fall in love. I watch them have babies of their own and grow old. I watch them die. I am condemned, Luce, to watch it all over again and again. Everyone but you." His eyes were glassy. His voice dropped to a whisper. "You don't get to fall in love - "

"But ...," she whispered back. "I've ... fallen in love."

"You don't get to have babies and grow old, Luce."

"Why not?"

"You come along every seventeen years."

"Please - "

"We meet. We always meet, somehow we're always thrown together, no matter where I go, no matter how I try to distance myself from you. It never matters. You always find me."

He was staring down at his clenched fists now, looking like he wanted to hit something, unable to raise his eyes.

"And every time we meet, you fall for me - "

"Daniel - "

"I can resist you or flee from you or try my hardest not to respond to you, but it makes no difference. You fall in love with me, and I with you."

"Is that so terrible?"

"And it kills you."

"Stop it!" she cried. "What are you trying to do? Scare me away?"

"No." He snorted. "It wouldn't work, anyway."

"If you don't want to be with me ...," she said, hoping that it was all an elaborate joke, a breakup speech to end all breakup speeches, and not the truth. It could not be the truth, "... there's probably a more believable story to tell."

"I know you can't believe me. This is why I couldn't tell you until now, when I have to tell you. Because I thought I understood the rules and ... we kissed, and now I don't understand anything."

His words from the night before came back to her: I don't know how to stop it. I don't know what to do.

"Because you kissed me."

He nodded.

"You kissed me and when we were done, you were surprised."

He nodded again, having the grace to look a little sheepish.

"You kissed me," Luce continued, searching for a way to put it all together, "and you thought I wasn't going to survive it?"

"Based on previous experience," he said hoarsely. "Yes."

"That's just crazy," she said.

"It's not about the kiss this time, it's about what it means. In some lives we can kiss, but in most we can't." He stroked her cheek, and she wrestled with how good it felt. "I must say, I prefer the lives where we can kiss." He looked down. "Though it does make losing you that much harder."

She wanted to be mad at him. For making up such a bizarre story when they should have been locked in an embrace. But something was there, like an itch at the back of her mind, telling her not to run from Daniel now, but to stick around and listen as long as she could.

"When you lose me," she said, feeling out the shape of the word in her mouth. "How does it happen?

Why?"

"It depends on you, on how much you can see about our past, on how well you've come to know me, who I am." He tossed his hands up in a shrug. "I know this sounds incredibly - "

"Crazy?"

He smiled. "I was going to say vague. But I'm trying not to hide anything from you. It's just a very, very delicate subject. Sometimes, in the past, just talking like this has ..." She watched for the shape of the words on his lips, but he wouldn't say anything.

"Killed me?"

"I was going to say 'broken my heart.'"

He was in obvious pain, and Luce wanted to comfort him. She could feel herself drawn, something in her breast tugging her forward. But she couldn't. That was when she felt certain that Daniel knew about the glowing violet light. That he had everything to do with it.

"What are you?" she asked. "Some kind of - "

"I wander the earth always knowing at the back of my mind that you're coming. I used to look for you.

But then, when I started hiding from you - from the heartbreak I knew was inevitable - you started seeking me out. It didn't take long to realize that you came around every seventeen years."

Luce's seventeenth birthday had been in late August, two weeks before she enrolled at Sword & Cross. It had been a sad celebration, just Luce, her parents, and a store- bought cake. There were no candles, just in case. And what about her family? Did they come back every seventeen years, too?

"It's not long enough for me to ever have gotten over the last time," he said. "Just long enough that I would let my guard down again."

"So you knew I was coming?" she asked dubiously. He looked serious, but she still couldn't believe him.

She didn't want to.

Daniel shook his head. "Not the day you showed up. It's not like that. Don't you remember my reaction when I saw you?" He looked up, like he was thinking back on it himself. "For the first few seconds every time, I'm always so elated. I forget myself. Then I remember."

"Yes," she said slowly. "You smiled, and then ... is that why you flipped me off?"

He frowned.

"But if this happens every seventeen years like you say," she said, "you still knew I was coming. In some sense, you knew."

"It's complicated, Luce."

"I saw you that day, before you saw me. You were laughing with Roland outside Augustine. You were laughing so hard I was jealous. If you know all this, Daniel, if you're so smart that you can predict when I'm going to come, and when I'm going to die, and how hard all of that is going to be for you, how could you laugh like that? I don't believe you," she said, feeling her voice tremble. "I don't believe any of this."

Daniel gently pressed his thumb to her eye to wipe away a tear, "It's such a beautiful question, Luce. I adore you for asking it, and I wish I could explain it better. All I can tell you is this: The only way to survive eternity is to be able to appreciate each moment. That's all I was doing."

"Eternity," Luce repeated. "Yet another thing I wouldn't understand."

"It doesn't matter. I can't laugh like that anymore. As soon as you show up, I'm overtaken."

"You're not making any sense," she said, wanting to leave before it got too dark. But Daniel's story was so much more than nonsensical. The whole time she'd been at Sword & Cross, she'd half believed she was crazy. Her madness paled in comparison to Daniel's.

"There's no manual for how to explain this ... thing to the girl you love," he pleaded, brushing her hair with his fingers. "I'm doing the best I can. I want you to believe me, Luce. What do I need to do?"

"Tell a different story," she said bitterly. "Make up a saner excuse."

"You said yourself you felt as if you knew me. I tried to deny it as long as I could because I knew this would happen."

"I felt I knew you from somewhere, sure," she said. Now her voice was clotted with fear. "Like the mall or summer camp or something. Not some former life." She shook her head. "No ... I can't."

She covered her ears. Daniel uncovered them.

"And yet you know in your heart it's true." He clasped her knees and looked her deeply in the eye. "You knew it when I followed you to the top of Corcovado in Rio, when you wanted to see the statue up close.

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