Vengeful, p.5

Vengeful, page 5

 

Vengeful
 



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  She was halfway there when she knocked into a man, thin, blond, and dressed in all black. Not unusual, in a place like this, where businessmen leered alongside bachelors, but June reeled at the contact—when she’d brushed his arm, she’d seen . . . nothing. No details, no memories.

  The man had barely registered her, was already moving away. He disappeared through a red door at the back of the club, and June forced herself to keep walking too, despite feeling like her world had shuddered to a stop.

  What were the odds?

  Slim, she knew—but not none. There’d been another, a few years ago, a young guy she’d passed on the street one summer night; knocked into, really—she’d had her head tipped back, he’d had his down. When they touched, she’d felt that same flush of cold, the same stretch of black where the memories should be. After months of taking on looks and forms with every touch, the absence of information had been startling, disconcerting. June hadn’t known, then, what it meant—if the other person was broken, or if she was, if it was a feature or a glitch—not until she followed the guy and saw him run his hand along the hood of a car. Heard the sudden rumble of an engine starting under his touch, and realized he was different.

  Not in the way she was different, but still, miles from ordinary.

  She’d started looking for them, after that.

  June, who’d never before been a fan of casual contact, unwanted touches, now found every excuse to brush fingers, kiss cheeks, searching for those elusive patches of darkness. She hadn’t found another.

  Until now.

  June slipped behind a column, shedding the blond girl in favor of a man with a forgettable face. Up at the bar, she ordered herself a drink and waited for the stranger to resurface.

  Ten minutes later, he did, carrying a black briefcase. He slipped out into the dark.

  And June followed behind.

  * * *

  THE streets weren’t empty, but they also weren’t crowded enough to hide a tail. Every time she dipped out of streetlight, she shifted form.

  What would June do if the man in black noticed her?

  What would she do if he didn’t?

  June didn’t know why she was following the man, or what she planned to do when he stopped walking. Was it a gut feeling pulling her along, or just curiosity? She hadn’t always been able to tell them apart. Before . . .

  But June didn’t like to think about before. Didn’t want to, didn’t need to. Dying might not have stuck, but her death itself had been real enough. No point in prying open that coffin.

  June—that wasn’t her real name either, of course. She’d buried that with the rest.

  The only thing she’d kept was the accent. Kept was a strong word—the stubborn thing didn’t want to go. A wisp of home in a foreign world. A memory, of green, and gray, of cliffs and ocean . . . She probably could have shed it, scrubbed it out along with everything else that made her her. But it was all she had left. The last thread.

  Sentimental, she chided, quickening her step.

  Eventually June stopped shifting, and simply followed in the stranger’s wake.

  It was strange, the subtle way other people veered around him, leaned out of his path.

  They saw him, she could tell by the way they shifted, sidestepped. But they didn’t really notice.

  Like magnets, thought June. Everyone thought of magnets as having pull, attraction, but turn them around and they repelled. You could spend ages trying to force them together, and you’d get there, almost, but in the end they’d slide off.

  She wondered if the man had that effect on the world around him, if it was part of his power.

  Whatever it was, she didn’t feel it.

  But then again, she didn’t feel anything.

  Who are you? she wondered, annoyed by the man’s opacity. She had been spoiled rotten by her power, by the easy knowing that came with it. Not that she saw everything—that would be a short road to long madness—but she saw enough. Names. Ages. Memories, too, but only the ones that really left a mark.

  A person, distilled into so many bites.

  It was disconcerting, now, to be deprived.

  Ahead, the man stopped outside an apartment building. He stepped through the revolving door into the lobby, and June stood in the shadow of the building’s eaves and watched him get into the elevator, watched the dial ascend to the ninth floor and then stop.

  She chewed her lip, thinking.

  It was late.

  But it wasn’t that late.

  June turned through the wardrobe in her mind. Too late for a delivery, perhaps, but not a courier. She selected a young woman—more disarming, especially at night—in navy cycling gear, scooped up an undelivered envelope from the lobby, and pushed the call button on the elevator.

  There were four doors on the ninth floor.

  Four chances.

  She put her ear to the first door and heard the dead silence of an empty apartment.

  The same with the second.

  At the third, she heard footsteps, and knocked, but when the door swung open she was greeted not by the man in black, but by a girl, a large dog at her side.

  The girl was on the small side, with white-blond hair and ice blue eyes. The sight of her caught June off guard. She was twelve, maybe thirteen. Madeline’s age. Madeline belonged to the Before—before, when June had had a family, parents, siblings, one older, three younger, the youngest, with those same strawberry curls—

  “Can I help you?” asked the girl.

  June realized she must have the wrong place. She shook her head and started to back away.

  “Who is it?” asked a warm voice, a big guy with tattooed sleeves and a friendly smile.

  “Delivery,” said the girl. She was reaching for the package, her fingers nearly brushing June’s, when he appeared.

  “Sydney,” said the man in black. “I told you not to answer the door.”

  The girl retreated into the room, the large dog trailing behind her, and the man stepped forward, his eyes, a colder, darker blue, flicking down to the package in June’s hands.

  “Wrong address,” he said, closing the door in her face.

  June stood in the hall, mind spinning.

  She’d expected him to be alone.

  People like them, they were supposed to be alone.

  Were the others human, the big guy and the young girl? Or did they have powers too?

  June came back the next day. Pressed her ear against the door and heard—nothing. She knelt before the lock, and a few seconds later the door swung open. The apartment was empty. No signs of the girl, or the dog, the big guy, or the stranger.

  They were just—gone.

  VIII

  THREE YEARS AGO

  CAPITAL CITY

  IT was happening again. Again. Again.

  Victor braced himself against the dresser, the pills from Malcolm Jones’s supply arrayed before him, that ever-present hum turning to a high whine in his skull. He searched the labels again for something he hadn’t tried—oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl—but he’d tried all of them. Every permutation, every combination, and they weren’t working. None of them were working.

  He stifled a frustrated growl and swept the open bottles from the counter. Pills rained down onto the floor as Victor surged out into the apartment. He had to get away before the charge reached its peak.

  “Where are you going?” asked Sydney as Victor crossed the room.

  “Out,” he said tightly.

  “But you just got back. And it’s movie night. You said you’d watch with us.”

  Mitch put a hand on her arm. “I’m sure he won’t be long.”

  Sydney looked between them, as if she could see the omissions, the lies, the space where truth had been carved out. “What’s going on?”

  Victor pulled his coat from the hook. “I just need some air.” The charge was spilling out now, into the air around him, energy crackling through his limbs. Dol whimpered. Mitch winced. But Sydney didn’t bac
k down.

  “It’s raining,” she protested.

  “I won’t melt.”

  But Sydney was already reaching for her own coat. “Fine,” she said, “then I’ll go with you.”

  “Sydney—”

  But she made it to the door before him.

  “Get out of my way,” he said through clenched teeth.

  “No,” she shot back, stretching her small body across the wooden frame.

  “Move,” said Victor, a strange desperation creeping into his voice.

  But Sydney held her ground. “Not until you tell me what’s going on. I know you’re hiding something. I know you’re lying, and it’s not fair, I deserve to—”

  “Move,” ordered Victor. And then, without thinking—there was no room for anything beyond the rising charge, the slipping seconds, the need to escape—Victor took hold of Sydney, and pushed, not against her nerves, but against her whole body. She stumbled sideways, as if hit, and Victor surged past her for the door.

  He was almost there when the spasm hit.

  Victor staggered, braced himself against the wall, a low groan escaping between clenched teeth.

  Sydney was on her hands and knees nearby, but when he stumbled, all the anger drained out of her face, replaced by fear. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  Victor bowed his head, struggling for breath. “Get her—out—”

  Mitch was finally there, dragging Sydney back, away from Victor.

  “What’s happening to him?” she sobbed, fighting Mitch’s grip.

  Victor got the door open, and managed a single step before pain closed over him like a tide, and he fell.

  The last thing he saw was Sydney, tearing free of Mitch’s arms, Sydney, rushing toward him.

  And then death erased it all.

  * * *

  “SYDNEY?”

  Victor dragged in a shallow breath.

  “Sydney, can you hear me?”

  It was Mitch’s voice, the words low and pleading.

  Victor sat up and saw the man kneeling on the floor, crouched over a small shape. Sydney. She was stretched on her back, her pale hair pooling around her head, her skin porcelain and her body still. Mitch shook her by the shoulder, put his ear to her chest.

  And then Victor was up, the room tilting under his feet. His head felt heavy, his thoughts slow, the way they always did in the wake of an episode, and he turned his own dials up, sharpened his nerves to the point of pain. He needed it, to clear his mind.

  “Move,” he said, dropping to a knee beside her.

  “Do something,” demanded Mitch.

  Sydney’s skin was cold—but then, it was always cold. He searched for a pulse, and after several agonizing seconds of nothing, felt the faint flutter of her heart. Barely a beat. Her breath, when he checked, was just as slow.

  Victor pressed a hand flat against her chest. He reached for her nerves and tried, as gently as possible, to turn the dial. Not far, just enough to stimulate a reaction.

  “Wake up,” he said.

  Nothing happened.

  He turned the dial up a fraction more.

  Wake up.

  Nothing. She was so cold, so still.

  Victor gripped her shoulder.

  “Sydney, wake up,” he ordered, sending a current through her small form.

  She gasped, eyes flying open, then rolled onto her side, coughing. Mitch rushed forward to soothe her, and Victor sagged backward, slumping against the door, his heart pounding in his chest.

  But when Sydney managed to sit up, she looked past Mitch to Victor, her eyes wide, not with anger but sadness. He could read the question in her face. It was the same one crashing through his own head.

  What have I done?

  * * *

  VICTOR sat on the balcony and watched the snow fall, flecks of white against the dark.

  He was freezing. He could have put on a coat, could have turned his nerves down, muted the cold, could have erased all sensation. Instead, he savored the frost, watched his breath plume against the night, clung to the brief period of silence.

  The lights had come back on, but Victor couldn’t bring himself to go inside, couldn’t bear the look on Sydney’s face. Or Mitch’s.

  He could leave.

  Should leave.

  Distance wouldn’t save him, but it might protect them.

  The door slid open at his back, and he heard Sydney’s light steps as she padded out onto the balcony. She sank into the chair beside him, drawing her knees up to her chest. For a few minutes, neither spoke.

  Once upon a time, Victor had promised Sydney that he wouldn’t let anyone hurt her—that he would always hurt them first.

  He’d broken that promise.

  He studied his hands, recalling the moment before—when he’d forced Syd out of his way. He hadn’t touched her nerves then, or at least he hadn’t turned the dials. But he’d still moved her. Victor rose from his seat, thinking through the implications. He was halfway to the door when Sydney finally broke the silence.

  “Does it hurt?” she asked.

  “Not right now,” he said, sidestepping the question.

  “But when it happens,” she persisted. “Does it hurt then?”

  Victor exhaled, clouding the air. “Yes.”

  “How long does it hurt?” she asked. “How bad does it get? What does it feel like when you—”

  “Sydney.”

  “I want to know,” she said, voice catching. “I need to know.”

  “Why?”

  “Because it’s my fault. Because I did this to you.” Victor started to shake his head, but she cut him off. “Tell me. Tell me the truth. You’ve been lying for all this time, the least you can do is tell me how it feels.”

  “It feels like dying.”

  Sydney’s breath caught, as if hit. Victor sighed and stepped to the balcony’s edge, the railing slick with ice. He ran his hand over the surface, cold pricking his fingers. “Did I ever tell you how I got my power?”

  Syd shook her head, the blond bob swaying side to side. He knew he hadn’t. He’d told her his last thoughts once, but nothing more. It wasn’t a matter of trust or distrust so much as the simple fact that they’d both left their pasts behind, ones filled with a few things they wanted to remember, and many more things they didn’t.

  “Most EOs are the result of accidents,” he said, studying the snow. “But Eli and I were different. We set out to find a way to effect the change. Incidentally, it’s remarkably difficult to do. Dying with intent, reviving with control. Finding a way to end a life but keep it in arm’s reach, and all without rendering the body unusable. On top of that, you need a method that strips enough control from the subject to make them afraid, because you need the chemical properties induced by fear and adrenaline to trigger a somatic change.”

  Victor craned his head and considered the sky.

  “It wasn’t my first try,” he said quietly. “The night I died. I’d already tried once, and failed. An overdose, which, it turned out, provided too much control, and not enough fear. So I set out to try again. Eli had already succeeded, and I was determined to match him. I created a situation in which I couldn’t take back control. One in which there was nothing but fear. And pain.”

  “How?” whispered Sydney.

  Victor closed his eyes and saw Angie, one hand resting on the control panel.

  “I convinced someone to torture me.”

  Syd drew a short breath behind him. Victor kept talking.

  “I was strapped to a steel table, and hooked up to an electrical current. There was a dial, and someone to turn it, and the pain went up when the dial was turned, and I told them not to stop until my heart did.” Victor pressed his palms against the icy rail. “People have an idea of pain,” he said. “They think they know what it is, how it feels, but that’s just an idea. It’s a very different thing when it becomes concrete.” He turned back toward her. “So when you ask me what the episodes feel like—they feel like dying all over agai
n. Like someone turning up the dial inside me until I break.”

  Sydney’s face was white. “I did this,” she said under her breath, fingers gripping her knees. “I did this to you.”

  Victor went to Sydney’s chair and knelt before it.

  “Sydney, I am alive because of you,” he said firmly. Tears spilled down Syd’s cheeks. Victor reached out and touched her shoulder. “You saved me.”

  She met his eyes then, ice blue laced with red. “But I broke you.”

  “No,” he started, then stopped. An idea flickered through his mind. The first spark of a thought, bright but brittle. He shielded its fragile heat, trying to coax it into something stronger, and as it kindled, he realized—

  He’d been looking in the wrong place. Searching for ordinary solutions.

  But Victor wasn’t ordinary. What had happened to him wasn’t ordinary.

  An EO had broken his power.

  He needed an EO to fix it.

  IX

  TWO YEARS AGO

  SOUTH BROUGHTON

  IT was amazing what passed for music.

  Victor leaned against the bar as sound blared out from the stage, where a group of men slammed their hands against their instruments. The upside, he supposed, was the way they drowned out the rising sound in his own head. The downside was the ache forming in its place.

  “Hey!” shouted the bartender. “Get you a drink?”

  Victor twisted back toward the bar. Toward the man behind the counter.

  Will Connelly was six-foot-three, with a square jaw, a shock of black hair, and all the markers of a potential EO.

  Victor had done his homework, had instructed Mitch to rebuild a search matrix, the same one Eli, and then the police, had used to find EOs, the same one that had led Victor to Dominic.

  It had taken two months to track down the first lead—a woman down south who could reverse age, but not injury—another three to find the second—a man who could take things apart and put them back together, sadly a skill which didn’t really apply to living things.

 

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