At 5:30 he went back to Hussein’s office. Harper was sitting outside, and she leapt up as Bryan approached.
“Don’t tell me you were waiting for me,” he said.
“I was,” she admitted.
“For how long?”
“An hour. Maybe two.”
“Just sitting here?”
“I assumed you wouldn’t want to be searched out.”
Well, she was right. “Are you checking on me under orders or for yourself?”
“Can it be both?”
“I guess so. I hear containment went well without me around to attract any undesirables.”
“It did. They were talking about having the students join us tomorrow.”
He suddenly wanted to be there for that, but he wasn’t sure why. He didn’t bother with the students. Was it because of Sonia? Or just because he couldn’t go? “Why did they send you out there tonight?” he asked. “You’re injured, and shouldn’t you be glued to me now?”
“They wanted someone familiar with what happened last night, in case another Eternal arrived. I think they thought I would know what to do.”
Bryan thought of Skinner and Coates vanishing in a spray of blood. “Would you have?”
“We all know the words you spoke to open that gate.” She averted her eyes and actually shivered, but kept talking to play it off. “So anyone would do as well as me.”
“What did you see beyond the gate?”
He thought she might not answer, but she said “Nothing. Absolutely nothing, stretching on for forever. A vast expanse of nothing. And that thing’s trapped there for eternity.”
“Do you feel sorry for him?”
“I don’t know,” she said quietly. “How could I not? You didn’t see that place.”
“He killed Skinner and Coates.” He spoke with anger, as if Harper had taken a side against them.
“I know.” She was looking down at the floor. “Forget it, it’s Spotter stuff.”
“Right, I know how Spotters are.” He was thinking of Andrade running away from him in the break room. Spotters, weak and malleable.
“Christ, Ivers. I didn’t come here to fight with you.”
“Then why did you come here?” Bryan snarled. “Come to stare at me? At the freak? See how he’s doing today?”
He stepped towards her, wanting to snap her neck.
She could see it in him. She backed up as he stepped forward, her eyes wide.
He stopped and hung his head, closing his eyes to not look at her, both at her life and at the expression of fear and hurt on her face.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I…you should go home.” He turned and opened Hussein’s door before she could respond, and nearly ran into Hussein.
“Woah,” Hussein exclaimed. “I thought I heard shouting.”
“Sorry.” Bryan noticed Hussein had his coat and briefcase in hand. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” Hussein said. “Ruggeri tattled on me. Told everyone I look like hell.” He turned to Harper. “Do I look like hell?”
“You do, sir,” she said.
“You could fudge the truth a little bit, you know? Anyway, the demons in the city are actually in check. No emergencies. They’re throwing me out for the day. Assignment: sleep.” He clapped Bryan on the shoulder, haltingly. “I’m afraid you’re still trapped in here, Bryan.”
“It’s fine.” It wasn’t really fine. Bryan wanted to go home too. But he wasn’t going to bother Hussein with that. “You’re going to actually go to bed when you get home, right?”
“Yes, yes. Don’t hound me. I’ll see you two in the evening.”
He left. Bryan tried to duck through the door as he did, but Harper stopped him from closing the door.
“I’m sorry, Ivers,” she said. “But I have to ask. Are you okay?”
He put on that weak fake smile. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just tired.”
She nodded. “Okay. Get some sleep.”
He closed the door. Had that been a lie? Hadn’t he wanted to rip Hussein’s arm off when he touched his shoulder? He had just hid it better.
He went to the couch, and fell asleep with a blank mind, numb and raw.
He didn’t dream.
He woke at two, still numb but cold and deathly tired. But he couldn’t fall back asleep. He lay there until he couldn’t bear his blank mind anymore. It was like he was meditating, but without a sense of wholeness. Instead he was in pieces.
He went to the break room. No one was around. He had the floor all to himself; everyone awake and working right now was on the lower floors and in the lobby, doing daywork or guarding him. Guarding him on the off chance that he might provide some new piece of information against the demons and the Eternals and the gates. He had no more information. He was emptied.
He turned on the tv and switched it to CNN to find out what the public knew about all this. Wolf Blitzer was reading it off. We were finding the gates and containing them at the source. But where did these gates bring these demons from, and how long would we have to contain them? A woman came on for interview and complained. Are we passing on this problem to our children? To our children’s children? Were we going to just keep containing these gates every night? The Office needs to step up their game.
Your children and children’s children won’t be around to worry about the gates, Bryan thought.
No mention of the Eternals, either here or on the other side of the gates. Bryan’s breath caught when word of a Possessed going crazy and attacking a woman came up, but it was in Hanoi. Nothing about him. No mention of impending doom. They all talked about the gates as an inconvenience, like it was the federal deficit. The Office was keeping a good wrap on things. He watched until he zoned out, staring at the tv like it was a wall. He came out of the state with a start, and found three hours had passed.