He looked to Hussein, who looked to Andrade, who gave a thumbs-up. Bryan wondered whether she would really be able to tell anything. Gammas – the gamma – were – was – still invisible to Spotters. Would she be able to detect any change in him if it came from the demon?
Still, Hussein clapped him on the back and dismissed the six Possessed, all of whom told him Good job or Way to go. He put a plaster smile on his face and hoped it looked convincing enough.
Hussein ushered them all out, including Andrade, and then unexpectedly closed the door. He looked out the window across the hall at the room with the other card, three Possessed around it.
“Are you okay?” he asked, not looking at him.
Bryan momentarily considered the question, which had been asked of him several times already that day, but those didn’t matter. Hussein wasn’t being sympathetic or initiating conversation. This was business. This was work.
“I think so. It’s – ”
“Don’t tell me what you think. Tell me what you know.”
Anger flashed through him at the interruption, but it was a quick burn and then it was gone. This was work.
“It’s watching me,” he said. “There’s an intelligence behind it unlike the other demons. It’s like it’s trying to hide from me, while watching me.”
“Like a predator?”
“Yes and no. It seems curious.”
“It is curious.”
“Hm.” Hussein still watched the three Possessed as if they were doing something interesting, something other than watching a prone playing card.
“I think we should keep the beta here,” he said.
“No,” Bryan nearly shouted. “I can deal with it.”
“I’m still not sure how you managed when it took over you before.”
“It didn’t take over me!” he did shout.
Hussein finally looked at him. “It did though. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.” He growled the words, his voice low like the snarl of a wolf.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t have saved everyone’s asses!” He crossed the room to stand eye-to-eye with Hussein, towering over him by half a foot.
“So I should allow you to put everyone’s lives in jeopardy?” Hussein spat. “To keep your image?”
“I don’t want my image!” Bryan spun away from him and circled the room, stomping with each step. Like a toddler having a temper tantrum. “I don’t want other people having to clean up after me. Having to watch my garbage. It’s bad enough I was in the hospital for days.” He stopped, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I need to do right this time.”
He breathed, in out in out. When Hussein didn’t speak, he looked up.
Hussein sighed and hung his head. “I wish you had punched me so I could refuse.”
Bryan reeled. “You…were testing me?”
“Partially. What did you get from the demon?”
“Not very much. There’s anger there, but it only watched me. Felt me.”
“I don’t like this, Bryan.”
Bryan looked across the hallway, to the other card, but he concentrated on the gamma. It slunk back into its hole, as if it had been spotted approaching him. “You think I do? But that demon is mine too. And I know its tricks now.”
Hussein didn’t respond. He watched Bryan, chin in one hand, thinking.
Bryan smiled at him, a little bit sheepishly. “Well after all, I didn’t punch you.”
Hussein watched him a moment longer, until Bryan was very uncomfortable. Then he turned and opened the door as if the conversation hadn’t happened. “Let’s go pick up the beta,” he said.
They did, and it felt like nothing compared to picking up the gamma. It didn’t even snarl this time. Cowed perhaps. Bryan barely felt it at all.
“Time to get to work,” he said to Hussein as they signed out the two cards and the rest of Bryan’s deck. “Let me guess – Andrade is my Spotter again tonight?”
Hussein gave him an unreadable look out of the corner of his eye. “Walk with me, Bryan,” he said.
Bryan did, a bit confused.
“But no,” Hussein said on the way. “You’re not paired with Andrade tonight. I know you’ve had enough of her for now.”
“Obvious, huh?” He slumped against the wall of the elevator. “I don’t mean to be angry at her.”
“It’s the demons. At least you haven’t tried to choke her, like…well you remember.”
“Gavin and Brobst? Well they both should have known better than to date.”
“They should have, but we can’t really forbid it. Anyway, I’m trying to say you’re doing well.”
“It’s hard to tell,” Bryan said, though he really wanted to thank him for saying so. But still he felt he didn’t deserve what Hussein said. He felt sick with hate, hate at Andrade just for being around and being able to see what she naturally saw: his hate for her growing as much as his camaraderie with her. His strengths and weaknesses, flowing around him in a rainbow of colors. It wasn’t her fault. Was it his fault he had this turmoil of emotion? Or was it the demons’? Was he himself or just an amalgamation of other beings?
He didn’t say any of this. Hussein already knew. The discussions had been had, the late-night arguments over cheap beer when that was all any of them could afford, until they had commiserations over cheap beer because that was what they were used to.
Who am I?
You are Possessed.
Hussein led him to his office, and the sight of the woman sitting beside the secretary’s desk shocked him out of his thoughts. She was stunning. She stood and bowed when she saw them.
Hussein held up a hand, smiling awkwardly. “That’s not necessary.”
The woman’s face turned red behind her glasses. “I apologize, sir. It becomes automatic.”
“No worries. Bryan, this is Kiyoko Harper. She’s an outstanding agent from Tokyo. Possessed, Spotter, and keeper of a beta. Kiyoko, this is Bryan Ivers, whom you’re familiar with I’m sure.”
Bryan’s mind reeled. “Wait, did you say…?”
“All three, yes.”
Bryan knew full well of Possessed Spotters, but a beta keeper on top of that was unheard of. He hadn’t known such a combination existed in one person. He looked her over incredulously. Dark hair in a pixie cut, tall, attractive as hell, librarian stern expression as if she were already rejecting him with no words spoken.
“I suppose you won’t mind,” he said, holding out his hand, “if we would just shake hands.”
She gave him a look that could freeze fire, but shook his hand, gripping it so hard he had to cover his grimace with a smile, which only deepened her angry look.
“Let’s go in,” Hussein motioned and led them to his office. He closed the door behind them, and Bryan was starting to wonder what this was all about when he sat behind his desk and announced “You two are going to be partners for a time.”