He was thirteen again, and his parents and sister lay green and shrunken on the floor of the cabin they had rented. He lay curled up in a fetal position, sobbing and screaming at the thing in him.
He was thirteen again, and he couldn’t cry anymore, couldn’t fight anymore. But he had separated it from him, he could ooze the thing out of him and into the straps binding his wrists.
He was thirteen again, and he sat in a courtroom, the lawyers making speeches, but he wasn’t listening, was lost in his head, empty, alone.
He was thirteen again, and Hussein had found him.
He woke, blinking at the bright sunshine that spilled in through the blinds in the windows. Everything was white. It didn’t make sense, all that white. He turned his head and saw color in a sea of flowers and balloons. Flowers on a table. White. He was in a hospital room.
He turned his head to the other side and saw Hussein, head resting on an arm, using the bed as a pillow. He was asleep.
Bryan tried to think, but his mind was numb and his thoughts cloudy. He had gone into the science building with the others. And then…
He looked to his bedside table, but it only held a lamp and a glass of water. Where were his cards? What had happened to him? Had Connors caught it? He remembered the beta getting hold of him, and then pain.
He looked down at Hussein, sleeping peacefully by his left arm. Surely Hussein had better things to do than sit here with him.
He wanted to get up, but he felt numb, exhausted, unstable, like a stranger in his body. It wasn’t a common descriptor for normal people, but among Possessed it was well-known. It happened a lot when they first started training, when they first allowed demons in.
The door from the hallway opened, and Andrade walked in. Her eyes widened on seeing him looking at her, and he held a finger to his lips to hush her before pointing to Hussein. She covered her mouth with her hands and literally bounced over to him like he was a puppy left to her as a birthday present.
“You’re looking so good,” she whispered. He knew what she meant – his aura. “You were touch and go for a bit there. You got very pale.”
“What? From the beta?”
She peered at him quizzically. “Do you not remember?”
“I remember I let the beta go, and then…”
He remembered. He shot upright, gasping for breath as if drowning. It woke Hussein.
“Bryan!” he mumbled hoarsely, half-asleep and confused. “Bryan, what…”
“It’s okay.” Andrade put her hands on Bryan’s shoulders and eased him back down onto the bed.
“But it…it…” he argued, not sure what he was trying to say.
“It’s caught. You captured it.”
He stared at her, stunned into silence.
Hussein rubbed at his face. “Did he just wake up?”
“Before you,” she said.
He grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Bryan. I’m not a very good bedside guard.”
“I can’t believe I was here when you woke up,” Andrade said. “Us Spotters have been switching out to keep an eye on you. But Hussein’s been here 24/7.”
“For how long?” Bryan asked.
The grin fell from Hussein’s lips. “Five days. Two of them stable. The Spotters said your lifeforce had nearly depleted.”
Bryan looked down at his hands as if he could see the aura there. “But I caught it.”
They both nodded, Hussein gravely and Andrade energetically. Bryan looked to the flowers and balloons. There was an enormous pile of them, the arrangement spilling over onto the floor. It was a strange sight. Before today, he would never have imagined getting anything more than a card signed by the office should he end up in the hospital. “Was anyone hurt? Other than the civilians before we moved in?”
“There was an energy wave sent out from you,” Hussein said. “But it caused little more than bumps and bruises.”
Bryan let out a sigh of relief. “It’s because I let the beta take over me. I didn’t even realize it was happening. It was like I was hypnotized.”
Hussein took his hand. “It doesn’t matter. All that matters if you got it and you’re safe.”
Bryan felt his cheeks grow red at the caring words and the sight of the flowers. “Where is it now?”
“In quarantine at the Office.”
Bryan shot up again, though with less energy. “But that’s…what if it got loose? In the Office?”
“It would have destroyed you had we kept it near you. It very nearly had already. It’s a risk we had to take.” Hussein leaned back in his chair, easing a crick out of his back. “We have several people keeping containment on it.”
“They won’t be able to do a thing if it can break out,” Bryan accused. “It needs to be with me. And the beta…the beta too? Both in quarantine? This is – ”
He had thrown the sheets back, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, meaning to stand and somehow dress and march out of the hospital and to the office. But the movement and anger made his head spin, and he would have fallen back to the pillow had Hussein and Andrade not caught him and laid him back down.
“You’re barely yourself,” Hussein said, hand on Bryan’s chest as if to hold him there on the bed. “You haven’t had the latent energy to keep them contained on your own, not without it – or both of them – overtaking you.”
“Bullshit,” Bryan mumbled, staring at the ceiling. “I could do it.”
“That’s your position talking. I want you to close your eyes and breathe.”
Bryan scoffed but did as Hussein said. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths, and focused on the place where he could always find himself. He was on the lakeshore, waves rippling in the sunlight and lapping at the graveled sand. The tiny bits of pebble biting into his feet.
He covered his eyes with an arm, feeling tears welling up in them and not wanting Andrade to see them. “I didn’t mean to capture it. It was a mistake. It was only because of that beta. Because I couldn’t control it. How can I control this thing if I couldn’t control a beta?”
“Andrade,” Hussein said quietly. “Can you…?”
“Oh,” she spouted. “Yes.”
Bryan heard her heels tap away and the door open and close, and he felt Hussein’s hand on his arm. He lowered it. The tears hadn’t fallen. He blinked them away fiercely.
“You’ve learned,” Hussein said, his eyes boring into Bryan’s. “An alpha can stick with you, but a beta can overtake you. But now you know. You can see the signs.”
“But what does a gamma do?”
Hussein leaned back and crossed his arms. “We don’t know yet. This is new territory for everyone. We considered putting you in quarantine along with it.”
“Oh come on.”
“I know. No one would like it. And I think isolation would only have a negative impact on you It went poorly when they tried it in Germany. The demons just talk to you all the more.” He sighed. “But I think it’s not necessary anyway. I think you can handle this. You need to know you can handle this.”
Bryan turned his head on the pillow, looking to the window. The sunlight hurt his eyes but he held them open. “Can I?”
“Bryan.” Hussein’s voice was sharp, authoritative.
Bryan looked at him with some surprise.
“Do you remember what I told you when you first started?”
“Yeah, don’t piss off anyone.”
A corner of Hussein’s mouth twitched up, but the rest of him remained serious. “Before that.”
“That I can do this.” Of course he remembered. “That if I ever think I can’t, I’m wrong. I can do it. Because…”
“Because I’m alive. As long as I’m alive I can act. And because… Well you said I would have to find the second reason for myself.”
Hussein nodded. “And you did.”
“Yeah. But…” Bryan swallowed the lump in his throat. “But Gennick thought he could too. And Rogge, and Keeler.”
Hussein didn’t answer right away. But he looked deep into Bryan’s eyes as he thought. Then, “I know. But they did all they could. That’s all we can do. That’s all any of us can do. You can be scared. But you have to be strong. You walk through fire every day without flinching. You just have to walk a little further now. Just remember why.”
Bryan nodded. He was very tired. The conversation had taken all of his energy.
“I know this has been lonely work,” Hussein added. “And you might need hep on this one. Don’t think you can’t ask for it.”
Bryan frowned as he shut his eyes. What a strange thing to say. How would he even ask for help, or receive it? These were his demons now.