He was in a daze as he walked the halls. So he didn’t notice a girl with a halo of dark curls dart out a doorway until she had run into him.
“Omph, I’m sorry!” she cried, looking up at him. Then she exclaimed “Bryan!”
He was so out of it, it took him a moment to realize it was Sonia, the Possessed he had discovered.
“Or, I guess I should call you Agent Ivers,” she said.
“So you accepted,” he sighed.
“Yeah. I mean, yes. Though it’s just been lectures and meditation so far. So much meditation. Do you really still meditate that much?”
“Not much time for it, no.”
She looked hideously innocent hugging her notebooks to her chest, a thick binder sitting on top of them. Bryan knew what was in there: demon theory, meditative theory, processes your body undergoes under possession. He had been one of the test subjects for the last. Seemed things were coming back around full circle.
“I don’t think I actually ever thanked you,” she said, tucking a strand of curl behind her ear. “For helping me back in the Jewel. They said some Possessed have to wait for hours or even days before their first demon is extracted.”
Bryan felt his face tick, and hoped Sonia hadn’t noticed. “Well that’s far less common these days. The Office is known well enough.”
“Still, thank you.” She peered up at him with sudden concern. “Are you alright? They say you had to catch some new kind of demon.”
“Fine,” he grumbled. He scratched at the back of his head, thinking of a topic change. “So I guess you found a better reason than money, huh?”
“Oh the money’s still up there on the list of reasons.” She grinned up at him, brown eyes dazzling.
He glared down at her. “Have you already forgotten what I told you?”
The smile left her face, and she took a step back from him. She shook her head. “It is a list of reasons.”
He tried to stop glaring as best he could. He hadn’t meant to scare her, had he? “I guess you can have more than one.”
A more cautious smile crept onto her face. “Anyway, I should get going. Long ride home, and I’m not used to staying up all night.”
“It grows on you,” he said, and waved as she ran off. When she turned away his hand fell slowly to his side.
He realized then just how badly he hadn’t wanted her to join.
He didn’t know why he did it, but he rode the elevated for a few stops and walked into Stoddard Mental Hospital. It wasn’t his first visit there; it didn’t take a beta or gamma to empty a Possessed. But he was there tonight to see Gennick.
It was well outside visiting hours he was told, but he spoke with his badge and was shown to a gray room empty of all but bed, table, chair, and man.
Gennick lay on the bed, eyes open despite the time, staring at the ceiling. Bryan set his bag on the floor and set the chair beside the prone man and sat, his eyes never leaving Gennick’s, willing them to move. But they only blinked occasionally.
“Hey, Gennick,” he said. “Hope they’re treating you well. Especially since I might end up here myself eventually.”
He hadn’t known Gennick particularly well. Just a working relationship, and Possesseds didn’t really work together. Still he had wanted to see Gennick, see this other person who had tangled with a gamma and come out scathed. As if to say to himself See, this is how bad things could be.
It wasn’t his first time seeing it, wasn’t his first time in this hospital. There was practically a whole wing dedicated to comatose ruined Possessed, either ones that had been struck down in the line of work or that had never survived their first possession intact. But Gennick had fallen to a gamma, had experienced what Bryan could barely remember, what his mind had locked away to protect him.
“What is it like, Gennick?” He whispered, because the little room was so silent, so dark, so gray and lifeless, like Gennick. “What’s it like when it eats away at you?”
Gennick didn’t respond.
Bryan sighed, lowered his head. “I don’t now what to do, Gennick. They want me to put that thing back in my body. And I don’t know if I can handle it. You couldn’t handle it, and you were always capable enough. Now look at you.”
Gennick stared at the ceiling, blinked once as if to say Yes, look at me now.
“I guess I just had to talk to somebody about it. Even if they were just a body. I can’t just turn my back on the Office. They need me, and they need this thing I have, but I’m scared. I’m a fucking coward. After everything that’s happened I’m still a frightened child.”
Full circle. He leaned back and looked at the empty gray wall. Why wasn’t he in here? What made him so damned resilient? Why hadn’t those three days at age thirteen destroyed him?
He stretched his mind out to the gamma across the room. It was watching, regarding the scene, two of its holders here. Just for a moment his vision doubled, as if he were sitting where he was but was also sitting across the room, looking at himself.
He blinked and it was just his eyes he was looking through. He looked back to Gennick, lying in his bed. He wasn’t going to find any answers here.
“Thanks for listening,” he said, and reached out to pat Gennick’s hand. “Sorry to interrupt your sle–”
Gennick’s hand jerked away.
Bryan had been half turned away to leave. He looked back to see Gennick looking directly at him, his eyes wide and cognizant. His mouth opened.
And he screamed.
Bryan was on the elevated before he felt his breathing and heart rate return to normal. He put his head in his hands and sucked in deep breaths. Meditative breaths. But his head was reeling and he couldn’t get where he needed to be. He wanted to get drunk and pass out, pretend none of these problems would be here when he woke the next night with a hangover.
Gennick’s moment had passed. Bryan heard the screams die away from his place in the hall, and the nurses told him he had returned to his usual state, and asked what had Bryan done.
Nothing, Bryan had said.
He had done nothing.
He had just been there.
He rubbed at his face and peered through his fingers at the windows of the train. Everything outside was a shade of blue – morning twilight. Soon the sun would rise. It was usually his favorite time of the day – or night – but right now it looked sickly to him, uncanny. Like a drowned corpse. Like someone whose face he knew, but that hid a stranger’s soul behind it.
He had done nothing.