“Here, drink this.”
Hussein handed him a cup of coffee. Bryan grabbed it, his shaking hands spilling half of it onto his fingers and the blanket that lay over him once again. It burned and he didn’t notice. He gulped it and Hussein had to take it from his lips.
“Careful,” he said. “It’s hot.”
Bryan didn’t care. The scalding of it running down his throat was nothing. But he had to wash that taste from his mouth.
Hussein added more whiskey to it to cool it down, and handed it back.
Bryan had burst in downstairs drenched in blood, absolutely raving, and though the guards knew him they weren’t sure whether to let him in. They were half-convinced he was possessed. They called Hussein, who tried to bring Bryan upstairs, but he wouldn’t go.
“She’ll kill these guards,” Bryan shouted. “They can’t do anything. She’ll kill them. If she comes here everyone in this room is dead.”
He wouldn’t leave the lobby until four Possesseds were posted at the doors. And even then Hussein had to drag him away.
Now he was back in Hussein’s office, back on the couch. The blood was gone from his face and clothes as if it had evaporated. As if it had never happened. As if he were crazy. But he could still taste it on his tongue.
“Okay,” Hussein said, sitting on the coffee table. “Now tell me again, and slowly this time.”
Bryan told him, in between gulps of whiskeyed coffee. When he got to the end Hussein had to remind him to slow down and breathe. When he finished Hussein put his chin in his hands, deep in thought.
“You’re saying this woman regenerates?” he finally asked.
“I’m not crazy. I saw it…I saw pieces of it…the pieces…” Bryan shook his head and his hands shook so hard Hussein had to take the cup from him again.
“I didn’t call you crazy. I just need your opinion on what you saw. Was she dead?”
“I snapped her fucking neck!” Bryan leapt up from the couch, towering over Hussein. “I ripped her carotid out! You think she might have been dead?”
A knock sounded at the door, followed by “It’s Harper, sir.”
Hussein’s eyes didn’t leave Bryan. “Come in.”
She came in dripping wet and slightly out of breath. She eyed Bryan. She must have heard him shouting. He sat back down, withering under the scrutiny. “We found the scene easily enough,” she said. “There’s clear evidence of a fight, but no body. No blood even.”
Bryan felt himself pale. He had been right. It was still out there.
Hussein leaned back, hand over his mouth, thinking some more.
“What the fuck do I tell everyone?” he said.
“What…” Harper stepped forward, then wavered before continuing. “What did happen?”
“Bryan happened upon a new sort of Possessed and a fight happened. The Possessed is still at large. Tell everyone to be alert.”
Harper’s mouth opened, then shut. She didn’t leave. Hussein turned to look at her and sighed. “That’s my job, isn’t it?”
“I wasn’t – ” she began.
“No, I need to say several things to several people.” He stood and put a hand on Bryan’s shoulder, though Bryan noticed a nearly imperceptible pause in the motion as he did so. “I think you should sleep.”
He went to the door, speaking quietly to Harper so that Bryan couldn’t hear, and then left. Bryan imagined it was a warning he gave her. Watch your neck.
She turned around a chair from the desk and sat. She didn’t fold her hands primly this time; they gripped the armrests. She stared at the wall.
They didn’t speak for a full two minutes. When Bryan spoke it seemed to boom in the little space.
“What do I look like?”
Harper seemed to realize the number she was doing on the armrest, and set her hands haphazardly in her lap. She looked at him, studied him, then said “Your color is concerning. It’s like what I saw earlier today when I stopped the interrogation, but fainter. If it were any darker I’d swear you were possessed.”
“Am I?” he husked.
She started. “You’re agitated. That’s all.”
“Agitated. That’s me.”
She leaned forward. “They said you were covered in blood from head to toe. But there’s nothing on you.”
He looked down. She was right. Besides the rainwater and a bit of mud he was clean. “That ‘new kind of Possessed’ Hussein mentioned – I think it can pull parts of itself back together. Mend itself. Even from a distance.” He looked up at Harper. “Regenerate.”
“How did you get drenched in its blood?”
His eyes went wide and he turned away without answering.
“Something happened,” she said in that steady voice of hers. “Tell me what.”
Again, like he had at the pier, he wondered whether he should trust her. He wasn’t certain what Hussein was going to report, but he may very well leave out Bryan’s episode. But Harper had to work with him. She deserved to know.
“I had possessed to try and fight it off. That thing had gotten the better of me, had tried to contain me. The demon in me took over. Just for a minute. Just long enough for me to rip out that thing’s neck with my teeth.” He passed a hand over his face as his stomach turned, remembering the blood in his mouth. “I came back to myself and threw it all up in the street. And it crawled back to the body.”
There was silence as Harper processed this. When she spoke her even tone was gone. Her voice shook. “You came back.”
“Yeah.” He knew what the next question was, and he didn’t want to answer it.
“I don’t know,” he said. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he remembered that she could clearly see that he was lying.
But she didn’t say anything. Instead she said “You should sleep.”
He gave a short laugh, looking at her. She was unreadable. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“Then I’ll stay here. Hussein told me to anyway.”
“Is that what he said?”
The word seared his mind like a firebrand, so that he jerked.
“What?” Harper asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
And again she didn’t press.
He laid down, wrapped in the blanket. But he didn’t close his eyes. He felt like he could never close them again.
“Why did you take this assignment?”
She gave a long sigh and turned her head to the window. It was still dark out, at least another hour until sunrise. Not that anyone could tell with the blinds closed. “It’s stupid really.”
He lifted his head to look at her. “Tell me anyway. Just to give me something else to think about.”
She thought it over, still looking at the blinded window. Then she spoke, her voice as level and even as if she were reading from someone else’s story. “I didn’t know I was different from other people. I thought everyone saw auras and stuff like I did. Then I got possessed and joined the Tokyo division and it became apparent really quick that I was a Spotter too. And everyone was so proud to have me on the force, like I was some prodigy. Like I was going to make a difference. And I believed it. But the demons kept coming and I didn’t make a dent in them. Then I caught the beta. Well, it attacked me and I happened to capture it. And everyone was so proud again, I had done something really special now. I thought I could use this, this was just the kick I needed right now. But the demons kept coming more and more, and people kept dying more and more. Then I got news of this guy in the U.S. That caught something even crazier than a beta, and that they could use me there, so I thought maybe now. Maybe this is our break. Maybe I can still help. Maybe I can still…be worth something.”
She was still facing the window. Bryan laid his head back down on the couch.
“I told you it was stupid.”
“It’s not,” he told her.
“You don’t have to say that.”
“It’s not. It’s why we’re all doing this. Fighting on in a hopeless fight, waiting or looking for a break.”
She turned her face to him, and it was level, serene. Unreadable. “Go to sleep,” she said.