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The jug goes flying and shatters against the opposite wall. “I am so fucking sick of everyone reminding me how old I am! Newsflash, asshole, age doesn’t mean shit out here. All of you are so quick to point out how young I am when it suits you, but the moment something goes bump in the night? ‘Send Helena, she’ll handle it!’ Well, I’ve been handling it for six years now; I think I earned the right to do whatever or whoever the hell I want.”

“How about you don’t lump me in with the rest of the town, huh? I don’t remember ever sending you to handle anything.”

“Says the man who managed to work my age and my species into one conversation. Don’t kid yourself, human. You would have done whatever it took if it kept you and yours alive.”

David shakes his head. “No. That’s not me.”

I raise an eyebrow. “It isn’t? So it was someone else who used Wolfen blood to get out of a convert-infested city? How many of you left the shelter that day? I’m willing to bet Sinna wasn’t the only casualty of your escape. Or the youngest.”

He blanches and his eyes go bleak. It was a cheap shot, but I’ve been taking my fair share of them myself. Only right to even the score.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So don’t stand there and pretend you’re somehow above basic survival instinct.”

“So that’s it? You have your own kind now, so you’ll give the rest of us a kiss-off and move on with your life?”

“That’s the plan.” I pull my storage box away from the wall and start taking things out: a large backpack, a couple of shirts and pants, socks, underwear—the basics. I have a nice pair of combat boots I found two years ago that I’ve been saving ever since. Seems like the time is right to put them to good use.

“And what’ll happen to the people here without you?”

“Not my problem.”

“Oh, give me a break. I know you care.”  

I drop an armful of balled-up socks into the backpack and round on David. “You know, do you? You know what I care about? That I can’t get a new weapon from the smithy anymore without Mother’s approval. That my mare has been given to one of Sarge’s trainees. That every time I go outside the wall lately, the sentries question me about where I’m going and when I’ll come back. And I sure as fuck care about all the pretty silver rings and pendants Sarge had Jason smelt into a collar, and the fifty feet of steel chains they have coiled up in a storage shed out by the lake.”

I can tell by his frown he’s not connecting the dots.

“You have this fanciful notion of humans as the victims in this whole thing. You like to see the good in people, well, let me be the first to tell you, there ain’t much of that left. Was never much there to begin with. Of all the species in the world, none has ever been as vicious and destructive as humanity. Until they made Grays.”

“What a sad way to look at the world.”

“Want to know something even sadder? I’m the reason you’re even standing there, looking down your nose at me with pity. I’m the one who found you out on the road and brought you here, and nursed you through the heatstroke. Me. A Wolfen. Sarge wanted to leave you there to rot. Paolo took one look at you and decided you weren’t worth the trouble, and Mother only let you live to make sure you weren’t followed here.”

He doesn’t have any witty remarks to counter that.

“Still think I should keep sticking my neck out for these people?”

We’re toe-to-toe. At about the same height, our noses are almost touching, and I’m looking right into David’s kind brown eyes. He hasn’t shaved in a few days and his beard is growing in, making him look tougher than he is. Part of me resents his humanity; I want him to be like me, so I can take him with us and leave Hopetown in the dust.

But another part of me sees him the same way I see Sinna and Desiree: just right, just the way he is. He has his place in the world, and the world needs him to be there. I want to protect him, keep that optimism shining in his eyes. “In another time, another place, you might have been reason enough for me to stay,” I hear myself saying. I kiss him, and he kisses me back, and for a moment, I feel the same thing I did the night I spent with him: belonging, acceptance, and maybe even affection.

The sweetest goodbye I’ll ever give, or get.

“Will I see you again?” he asks.

“In another time, maybe. Another place.”

But for now, I have Desiree to think about, and I can’t let anything distract me from that.

So when David leaves, I put him so far out of my mind it’s as if he never existed at all.

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