Hussein insisted he be given local anesthetic only, which probably seemed like a good idea, but Bryan was certain it wouldn’t make a difference whether he was knocked out or not. And either way he didn’t care, even if the surgery on his arm did take several hours. He stared at the ceiling as the doctors worked trying to save the severed nerves and torn muscle. Not bored. Not anything.
And then he was put back in a hospital room. Full circle. But the morning sunlight through the window was too bright, the walls shining. He screwed his eyes shut against it all until he heard the door open. It was Hussein.
“Close the blinds,” Bryan said. They were his first words since he spoke to Harper in the synagogue, and Hussein was relieved to hear them. He visibly relaxed and went to the window and drew the blinds closed. Even then the room was still too bright.
“The doctor says it’s looking great,” Hussein said, pulling a chair alongside the bed.
“I already know you have a nasty habit of lying,” Bryan said.
Hussein looked at the bandaged arm as if avoiding Bryan’s eyes. “Well of course there’s damage, but you should retain some mobility.”
Bryan looked at the arm too. It was still numb, as if not really there. But then all of him felt that way. “How is Harper?”
“Some deep wounds, but nothing vital hit. Stitched up much quicker than you were. I set Connors over her to keep her down and rest, but she’ll probably be storming in here any moment.” He looked at Bryan’s face, but Bryan’s gaze was still fixed on his arm. “She says…that your aura is vastly diminished.”
“Well, at least it’s not gone entirely.” Bryan said the words as if commenting on the weather.
“But it…took you.”
“It overtook me, and then left with a portion of me, yes.”
“But you’re still here.” Hussein’s voice was desperate. He was probably in denial.
Bryan wasn’t in denial. This was just how things were now.
“I’m not like, say, Gennick.” Bryan looked back at Hussein. He was still radiant with life, dimmer than when Bryan had been possessed, but glowing. It hurt to look at. He was a starving man with a meal before him. “I can speak and I know what’s going on around me. But I was overtaken just as Gennick was.”
Hussein averted his eyes, leaned back and covered his mouth with a hand. “I shouldn’t have agreed to the containment.”
“Don’t blame yourself. None of us could have expected an ambush.”
“We knew the Eternals were out there and that they’re after the gamma. I should have anticipated this.”
He waited until Hussein looked back at him.
“I chose to do what I did. Everyone was busy capturing. Their backs were open, and that thing could have killed everyone there.” He remembered the splotches of blood and guts that had been Skinner and Coates. “I only regret I didn’t possess sooner.”
Hussein swallowed hard. “That gate we threw it into, that you opened. Was it to that other Earth?”
Bryan shook his head. “One Possessed can’t open a gate between Earths. It takes many Possesseds to do that, and hundreds of free demons. That gate didn’t go anywhere.”
“How could it not go anywhere? It must have gone somewhere.”
“Well then, it went to the space between Earths. Which is nowhere.”
“But it’s gone? It couldn’t find its way back?”
“That would be impossible on its own. No, it’s gone for good.”
“So we have a way to get rid of them.” Hussein looked to the blinded windows. “If we had enough Possesseds and enough free demons, could we open a gate to the other Earth?”
“Yes, all that’s needed is large enough numbers and the words I spoke. But what would be the point?”
Hussein’s face fell. “There would be too many Eternals waiting on the other side.”
“If we even made it through. As I said before, it’s risky before the gate is stable. Few make it through. And what would we even do there?”
“I don’t know. Drop a nuke or something.”
Bryan tried a weak smile. At least he could still do that. “Now you’re sounding like me.”
“Just wishful thinking.”
Hussein’s phone rang, and he jumped up as if it had stung him. He answered it as he left the room.
Bryan wondered if maybe Hussein had wanted a reason to leave the room. It must be pretty disconcerting to be speaking to him right now. It felt disconcerting enough to be him.
There was a commotion outside the door, Hussein shouting. Bryan thought he must be shouting at his phone until someone shouted back. Then the door opened and Harper was entering the room.
“I’m already in,” she yelled at Hussein. “You want to stop me?” She slammed the door and spun around. She saw Bryan and stopped.
“You don’t have to fight over me,” he said.
Her cheeks flushed. Without her glasses it was more obvious. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have slammed the door.”
She stepped towards him, slowly as if approaching a spider or snake, unsure of whether it was venomous or not.
And she did radiate life at him.
He looked down at his arm again. “I would ask what I look like, but I think I already know.”
She stopped a few feet from his bed. “There’s still a portion of the demon in you, isn’t there?”
“Yes, part of it stayed with me. Part of me went with it. Maybe that’s why I’m not comatose.” He looked up at her. Someone had clearly gone to her apartment and brought her change of clothes – her clothes from the synagogue had been ripped to shreds and drenched in her blood – so it was hard to tell but Bryan knew she was covered in bandages underneath. There was one on her left cheek, over a gash so deep it was sure to leave a scar. “Are you okay?” he asked her.
“Oh who the fuck cares about me?” She came the rest of the way to the bed, rounding it to sit in the chair and grasp his good hand. “I thought you were gone back there. I was positive. Your aura was so weak. And then you looked at me and spoke. How are you here?”
“I’m not. Not really.”
“I know. You are and you’re not.”
He smiled. That was it exactly.