He went to the roof, thinking he needed fresh air. But when he opened the door and the sunlight fell on him he felt his eyes and his skin would catch fire. He slammed the door shut and held down a scream. Whatever. It was cool and dark in the stairwell. It was becoming his hideout.
Were the others looking for him? They had said he wasn’t getting out of the party. But he had. He had to. They were still pretending he wasn’t all that different. But he was. A slight touch on his shoulder had made him want to rip apart a crowd.
What had happened to him blanking out for hours? He would welcome it right now. But his thoughts had been a jumble since…
Since he last talked to the gamma.
Could it still effect him even if he didn’t possess with it?
Two hours later he returned to his office. Four Possesseds were hanging around, but they were all asleep.
Harper was awake though, typing away. She didn’t look up as he entered, but spoke. “The explosives are procured and prepared.”
“Mm,” he let out as he went to the desk.
“You should rest,” Harper said.
“I just sat in a stairwell for two hours.”
“To get away from a party, which was a source of anxiety. That’s not restful.”
“What? I should sleep?”
She looked up at him. “You should take a break.”
He was tired. He wanted to fall asleep, even if it would do no good. He wanted to be ignorant of tonight’s plans, just for an hour or two. He went to the couch and fell into it, though he didn’t lay down. He and Harper sat in silence for a full minute, and when Bryan spoke his voice seemed to boom in the silence.
“We’re really doing this. Sending people to their deaths.”
After a pause Harper stood and approached him, and sat down next to him. “They’re giving their lives to save so many more.”
“You shouldn’t come so close to me,” Bryan murmured.
“I think you need some proximity to a person.”
He chanced a look at her. Her aeon was enticing, but he didn’t need it. Maybe because there was just her and not a roomful of aeons. Maybe because he was just too tired. “Is that how you’re reading me?”
“You’re tired, and you’re sad. You know one of those people more than the others, don’t you?”
He stared down at his hands, realizing for the first time that they had a faint red glow about them, not just green but reddish-green. “Cam’s my best friend. Hell, I found the guy. He followed me into this mess. I should have known he would… I mean, he practically jumped at the prospect of being a Possessed. No doubts. Just wanted to help.” He looked again at Harper. “Did you see him today? At this silly party?”
She shook her head.
“Maybe he changed his mind,” Bryan went on.
“I doubt that.”
“Yeah.” He looked at his hands again. It was an ugly color, that rusted green. Like corroded metal. He wondered whether he was ugly in Harper’s sight. He thought how ugly it was that he was using this kamikaze plan. He wondered whether Hussein would have agreed to it, would have strapped bombs to human beings and sent them to a dead world to die among a billion demons.
He didn’t know. He didn’t know if Hussein would have done it.
He jerked out of his thoughts, looking at her. As he did tears fell from his eyes. He sniffed and wiped at them almost frantically, but Harper took his hands.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“No, you don’t understand.” His voice broke as he blinked tears away. “It’s cause I spoke to the gamma again. I can think and feel a little bit more again, but it’s not really me.”
“You can’t know that. These could be you slowly returning.”
He shook his head. “You really don’t understand. I’m sad, but that’s not why I’m crying. I’m not crying just because I’m sad about Hussein’s death and this plan. I’m also crying because I’m overjoyed. I’m sending people to die and I’m so happy about it. It’s giving me this thrill, like I’m on a rollercoaster that’s cresting a hill, and it’s gonna happen. They’re going to die and it’s because of me. I’m gonna do it.”
Harper had dropped his hands. Had shrunk away from him ever so slightly. He was smiling. He realized it and forced it off his face, looked at Harper, both of them stunned.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You shouldn’t have known any of that. It wasn’t fair.”
She thought about this, then said “No. I’m glad you told me.”
She looked around the room, seemingly for something to rest her eyes on, but there was only a desk and blank windowless walls. “Remember what you told me? That we’re all the same. We’re all just looking for that break. Fighting a hopeless fight so we can find that break.”
Had he said that? That felt like another Bryan, an age ago.
She slid close to him, though he nearly jumped away, and took one of his hands in both of hers.
“I don’t care,” she said “about how you feel about sending those people through that gate. Maybe you have some fucked up feelings about the result of it. But I know your reason for sending them, and it’s not so you can get some sick pleasure out of it. It’s because this is our break, humanity’s break, and you’re making the hard choices and doing what needs to be done. Just like Hussein would have.”
Her words were so harsh, so like her, but she was so right. Like she knew him. Like she had known him for years instead of weeks. Her hands were gripping his tightly, so tight it almost hurt, so warm they almost burned. Her face was so close he could read every inch of it, her eyes so cold but so deep and fathomless. He needed her. He leaned towards her, intending to kiss her.
She drew back, taking her hands with her. “What are you…”
“I’m…” he stammered.
“…you.” He stared at her in shock for a split second, and then buried his face in his hands. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“And even if I wasn’t…” she went on.
“…we’re both Possesseds.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I mean, what was even your intention?”
“I know. I don’t know. I’m sorry.” He flopped down on the couch, bringing his legs behind Harper so she had to duck and slide away to make space for him. “You’re right. I should sleep,” he said before he realized she hadn’t said he should sleep. He dug his face into the back of the couch and screwed his eyes shut as if the sun were in them.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
He felt Harper rise from the couch, and for a moment she stood there, as if looking him over. Reading him.
Then she sat on the couch again. No, not sitting. She laid down behind him and put her arm over his waist.
His eyes flew open, but he couldn’t move to face her. “What are you doing?” he exclaimed.
“I’m going to sleep. Be quiet.”
He wanted to leap up from the couch; she was too warm, too present. But he wasn’t looking at her, couldn’t see her the way he was pinned, except for her hand on his stomach. And it did look tempting but he wanted something else more than food: contact with a human being, someone who knew him and didn’t care that deep down he was a monster. Someone who would hold him regardless, because they knew what he needed.
He closed his eyes, and he slept.
And he dreamed.