Here’s where I admit that I’ve never been drunk, and I’ve never had a hangover. So I have no clue how these things work.
Bryan fell asleep on the couch as soon as he laid down on it, his mind finally quiet, his fears laid to rest. He woke when the sun was low in the sky, to the sound of Hussein throwing up. He was mixing pancake batter when Hussein came out of the bathroom, hand to his head.
“Good morning,” Bryan said.
Hussein grumbled under his breath and fumbled into a chair at the breakfast bar as Bryan poured him a mug of coffee.
“I’m afraid all I have to mix that with is cheap beer,” Bryan told him.
“If I were in anyone else’s apartment,” Hussein said, “I would be deathly mortified.” He took a gulp of the black coffee and winced at how hot it was. “Instead I’m only hideously embarrassed.”
“You act like no one’s ever been drunk before.”
“I showed up at your place in the middle of day and woke you up. I acted inappropriately as your supervisor.”
“You’re not just my supervisor,” Bryan said quietly, his back to the bar, pouring batter onto the griddle. “We can talk to each other.”
“Fuck, I don’t even know what I said.” There was a pause, and then he continued “Fuck, the time. I need to get to work.”
Bryan turned just in time to watch Hussein fall while trying to get up, disappearing behind the bar.
“Fuck,” he said from the floor.
“You need to eat,” Bryan said. “You’re still half-drunk.”
“I’ll throw up if I eat.” Hussein pulled himself up, gripping the edge of the bar.
“You might, but you might throw up even if you don’t eat. You still not eat bacon?”
“No pig.” He sat back in the chair as if the act of walking away from it was impossible.
“I still think that’s silly, not being religious.”
“Well I’m not gonna start right now.”
“Fair enough.” Bryan flipped the pancakes.
“I am so sorry for this, Bryan. You shouldn’t have to be cooking me breakfast first thing in the evening.”
Bryan shook his head. “It’s nothing. I actually kind of needed this. I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but I know now that I am.”
Hussein sighed behind him. “Well at least I was coherent, apparently.”
“For just a moment. Then you passed out.”
Hussein grumbled and drank his coffee.
Bryan cracked eggs onto the griddle, smiling to himself. Hussein had taught him everything, and Hussein had never failed him. He would be fine.
Bryan entered the room and his breath stopped. The center of the break room had been cleared, all tables and chairs pushed and stacked to the walls, replaced by a circle of twenty Possesseds. He stopped at the scene, and Hussein clapped him on the shoulder.
“It’ll be okay,” he told Bryan.
But it wasn’t the possession that made Bryan stop to rethink his decision; it was the fact that he would be doing it in front of a crowd. But there was no going back now. The building had been cleared of all Office workers save for security downstairs. The Possesseds that weren’t in this room were gathered in the street and courtyard. Spotters had been told to stay away along with normal agents and office workers in case the whole thing was a disaster. The entire Office had been put on hold for Bryan and his demon.
He swallowed hard and stepped forward, towards the group. Cam was there, smiling to reassure him, but it looked forced. After all, if Bryan screwed up, everyone in this room was already dead. There was Harper too, who didn’t smile, and Connors, fidgeting with his book. Along with the Possessseds were three members of Council, regular Office workers with no skills save administrative powers, only here to watch and interrogate, as if to say a round of Possesseds couldn’t be trusted.
Bryan knelt in the center of them all, his blood rushing in his ears, trying not to crush the card box in his hands. Everyone around him sat on the floor as well, save for the Council members, who stood upright in their suits and studied him. And Hussein watched him, worry set in his face. He had told Bryan even on the way to the room that he still had a chance to back out of this, that they couldn’t make him do it, not with him there to help. He had still held out hope that Bryan would turn around and refuse to possess.
Connors nervously flicked the pages of his book. “Remember what we discussed,” he announced. “All of you stay vigilant. Don’t get distracted It could be looking for just such a moment.”
He’s right, Bryan thought. It was a damned smart thing. It had kept quiet these past two days, watching silently as if knowing if it was a good boy it would get this possession, and if it acted up Bryan could call the whole thing off. Meantime the beta – he could tell it was the beta, he had been learning about the two demons as much as they had been learning about him – had been absolutely hounding him. Whispering to him, disturbing his sleep, disturbing his emotions. The past two days had been hell thanks to that thing, and more than once he had seriously considered taking it back to quarantine.
Bryan looked down at the box, the gamma hiding inside. What did it really want? What did either of them really want?
“Possess,” Connors ordered.
Totems tore, snapped, cracked. Everyone around Bryan – save for the suits – doubled over, moaned, cried out. Then they pushed themselves back up and stared at Bryan, who felt like he was sweating a river.
“Whenever you’re ready, Bryan,” Hussein said. His brows were furrowed, one hand propped him up. In pain.
Bryan nodded at him, unable to speak. He looked down at the little box, pried the top flap open. He saw inside the gamma and three blanks, two more than he needed, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He reached for the gamma’s card, remembering standing in front of half the office and spilling a pack of cards around his feet. But he had had to touch this card to move it to this pack, so he was somewhat prepared. As his fingers brushed it, it looked at him, slinked back. Hiding something. No time to worry about that now.
He slipped it out, noting the crumpled toothmarks on the corner. He held it in both hands, watching it watch him. He looked up at Hussein, and they locked eyes for a moment before Hussein nodded.
He let out a breath.
He tore the card.