chapter nine: the predator beneath
persephone; by rhetoric
word count: 1,116
His hand was hot against her palm. Too hot. She pulled her hand away and tried not to notice the flicker of a frown on his lips beneath the dark glossy reflection in his aviators. He understood. She fanned herself with her fingers and huffed, her bangs billowing up over her head.
"I can't believe how hot it is," she groaned absently, trudging along beside him. She didn't want to stay at the beach on such a sweltering day.
"It's not that bad, Seph," Gabriel replied, the faintest hint of concern in his voice. The same concern that had been lining his words for weeks. "You're not just having one of your hot flashes?"
"What are you talking about? It's practically a hundred degrees out here!" She stopped walking, tired of moving. Tired of being out in this fucking heat, she thought, squinting her eyes in the glaring sunlight.
"Actually, it's a little on the cool side." He stood beside her, his hands stuffed deep into his jacket pockets. A jacket, she wondered, in this heat? Why hadn't she noticed that before? A breeze kicked up and his auburn hair flew about his face wildly; he shivered.
Holy shit, she thought. He wasn't screwing with her.
"I think I need to go to the hospital," she blurted, suddenly overwhelmed with the danger of the situation. She was running a fever, and roughly estimating, it didn't seem to be in a safe range. Especially for a vampire; considering vampires never got fevers.
"You're going to, that much is certain."
She whirled around to face the new voice. A chill snaked down her spine, but it was marrow-deep and never left her bones. Her heartbeat hammered in her chest. Why was she so panicked?
A young woman stood a few meters away, levelling a pistol at Persephone's head. Short, brick-red hair contrasted against rather pale features; she had large brown, almond shaped eyes and a small nose. She was petite, probably no taller than five-four or five-five. The pistol, however, easily made up for her stature. Persephone froze, a small animal locked in place by the gaze of it's predator, and held her breath.
Movement came from all directions and without warning, there were nearly half a dozen others surrounding them. Glancing around, her breathing starting up again in short, desperate breaths, she counted four men and two more women. Unlike the first woman, all of her friends had automatic rifles. She seemed to be the only one with a preference for pistols. Persephone returned her gaze to the woman, attempting to calm the riots in her nerves enough to speak.
From behind Persephone, Gabriel said, "Who are you?"
"I am death," said the woman, and Persephone believed her.
The circle of friends began closing in. Persephone wished she had a weapon; anything she could use to defend herself. All she had was sand and Gabriel.
A whisper from behind her barely reached her ears, "Spin toward me and kick the sand up."
Doing as he suggested, she swung herself around, stirring up as much sand as she could in the process, and felt his hand grip her belt buckle forcefully. Almost instantly, she was behind him, and her belt was loose in his hand. She hadn't even felt it leave her jeans. Sand stuck to the layers of sweat all over her exposed flesh; her arms, her calves, her face.
The edges of a wave tickled her ankles. In front of her, Gabriel moved with a speed and grace she'd never seen. Her heart lept into her throat and she choked on it, barely able to pull in a breath as her pulse thundered out of control. She wiped gritty sweat from her forehead with her sand-covered arm.
He moved methodically and she couldn't help but wonder how he had kept this fierce, predatory side to himself. How had she not noticed that lithe lethality, that hardened grace? Her breathing was shallow, labored.
She looked up to see her belt pulled tight against a man's throat, clearly cutting off airflow and circulation, Gabriel's strong hands on either end. Seconds began to feel like minutes, each beat of her heart long and drawn out. The strangers surrounding them moved in slow-motion; Gabriel didn't.
The man's face turned a dark shade of crimson; his eyes fluttered, and he went limp. Gabriel let him fall to the floor, keeping the belt in one hand as he spun around to get closer to another of the group. The circle was dispersing, attempting to scatter.
Gabriel's left fist collided with an aggressor's jaw and he felt it crunch beneath his knuckles. He followed it up with a punch to the center of the ribs, satisfied by the cracking sound as the sternum buckled. He shoved the man to the side and turned in time to hit the sand as a spray of bullets blew over him. He flung himself back up onto his feet and lunged at the nearest man.
Persephone wasn't quite sure how he had managed to launch himself up and over the man, but when Gabriel stopped moving he was facing her, an automatic rifle in one hand; the man previously standing in front of him a crumpled heap on the ground. His head lolled forward unnaturally.
Gabriel's eyes never met hers. From only a few meters away, he pulled the trigger and her knees crashed into the sand, her arms coming up to protect her head as she hunched down as low as she could get. She could hear bodies falling to the sand all around her.
She wondered how much more torrid her body could possibly get. Another wave washed over her feet, rinsing the sand from her lower legs and soaking her shorts. It prickled against her heated skin, and she almost convinced herself she had heard sizzling. Imaginary flames being put out.
"We have to go, Seph," he said, suddenly above her; she felt the rush as time picked up again. "I can't find the last one." His hands grabbed her arms and he helped her up; his touch felt like embers on her skin and she hollered at him to let go.
On her feet, she felt the world spin around her. Over his shoulder, Death crept into the outskirts of Persephone's vision. Her skin tingled with the imaginary flames licking over her body.
Her eyes focused in and out. A flash of red hair.
Saturated blues and tans, broken up by pale white skin and dark clothes.
In and out. In. The glint of sunlight on a pistol. Out.
The blaze seemed to rupture her skin just before everything went black.