“Be precise. Weeks? A month or two?” When he didn’t answer me, I gaped, incredulous. “Years? Are you kidding me?”
His eyes narrowed and he spat in a savage rush, “Listen to me and carve everything I’m about to say into that giant complicated brain of yours. You’re right about killing with love. Keep the light shining in your heart; death is a hungry darkness. It wants to swallow us. You’re different and will always be misunderstood—never let that touch you. You’re a terribly real thing in a terribly false world. The world is fucked up, not you. Stay close to Shazam; you need each other. Don’t return to Dancer’s grave again; he’s not here and you know it. If he could see you now, standing at his grave, he’d kick your ass right out of this cemetery and ask if you’d lost your bloody mind. You don’t grieve love; you celebrate that you had it. Choose the men you take to your bed by these criteria: they see the finest in you, enhance and defend it. When you fuck a man you are giving him A. Motherfucking. Gift. Be certain he deserves it. And bloody hell, don’t have one-night stands. Commit to the action. Make it matter. Feel it and ride it all the way through.”
I fixated on his final words with aggrieved incredulity. “Says the king of the infamous nod and one-night stands?” I’d had no intention of having sex last night. I hadn’t even vaguely entertained the notion. But my heart hurt so damned much, and the man standing next to me in the pub was good-looking and flirtatious, and I’d needed desperately to dump some of my emotion. I thought it might make me feel better, perhaps even refueled, like hugging. I thought I might pour out some of my pain through my hands, dump it on another man’s body, get up, walk away clearer, more grounded.
“Never dump emotion, Dani. Channel it. Find an equal that can handle it. But don’t waste that precious commodity.”
“Is Lor going, too?” I demanded. “What about the others?”
He made no reply but I didn’t need one. I could see it in his eyes. They were all leaving—or had already gone. I had no idea where or why. But one thing was clear: I wasn’t invited. “Who’s going to run Chester’s?” I said, as if that alone might make him stay. Constructed of chrome and glass and a mysterious alloy Dancer and I had never been able to identify, Chester’s-above was the hottest nightclub in Dublin, offering dozens of subclubs that catered to all types of clientele, while below was the Nine’s kingdom, containing their private residences and clubs. Level after level stretched for miles beneath the ground, powered by a vast geothermal array that, knowing Ryodan, probably tapped the magma itself. Suspended above the club was Ryodan’s see-through glass office, equipped with the latest electronic surveillance devices, serving as the lofty throne from which he surveyed his world. I had no idea how long they’d lived there but I suspected it was a very, very long time.
“It’s been closed. Stay out of it.”
Chester’s was dark? I’d only ever seen it that way a few times, and I’d hated it, like a carnival packed up to quit town, leaving behind only a muddy field of tattered flyers and tarnished dreams. “I’ll bloody well go wherever I want. Once you’re gone, it’s not yours anymore. Maybe I’ll take it over, re-create it as my own club.” But I wouldn’t. I’d have to kill half his patrons; Ryodan was an equal opportunity host, catering to the best and worst of men and monsters. However, I certainly wasn’t averse to poking around after he’d gone to see if he’d left anything interesting lying around.
“I said ‘stay out.’ And don’t worry, you’ll be protected. I’ve taken precautions.”
Protected my ass. I didn’t need protecting. Nor did I want it. I wanted my family. I wanted him to stay in Chester’s where he belonged so he’d be there in case I decided I wanted to see him. I resisted the urge to fist my hands. He’d notice. He’d draw conclusions. The man didn’t miss a thing. “When have I ever needed protecting?”
He snorted. “As if keeping you alive hasn’t been a bloody full-time job.”
Once Ryodan made up his mind, nothing changed it. There was only one thing to do: tell him goodbye and wish him well while making it clear I didn’t need him and wouldn’t miss him. I opened my mouth and said, “I hate you.”
He threw his head back and laughed, stymying me. Who laughs when you tell them you hate them?
Then his hands were in my hair and his lips were against mine. Soft, easy, neither provocation nor invitation but instant, electrifying current arced between us, the same as it had the last time we’d kissed, as well as the first time, when I’d meant it mostly to mess with him. It had messed with us both. I leaned into him. It would have been wiser to go to him to dump emotion last night. Safer. At least in body.
His hands tightened on my scalp and he said with sudden fury, “I wouldn’t have let you. Don’t come to me like that, Dani. Never fucking come to me like that.”
That was the last straw, the final blade-sharp words I would let him cut me with. Our kisses had taken on a grim pattern: we shared one, we insulted each other, we stalked away. “Fuck you, too, Ryodan.”
But he was gone, already halfway across the cemetery, slipping between gravestones and trees.
He was leaving.
For years. And I didn’t even know how many.
It hurt me in places I didn’t know I could hurt. If he’d been trying to get my mind off Dancer, he’d succeeded. There was nothing like a fresh, unexpected wound to make the pain of the older one feel slightly less crippling.
I narrowed my eyes, trying to separate him from the night, determined to watch him until the very last second, until he was finally, fully beyond my vision, beyond my reach. It wasn’t easy. Ryodan in his natural state is a shadow among shadows, a subtlety of darkness, a whisper of power, a ripple of grace. Immortal. So damned strong.
I wanted to be him. I wanted to run with him. I wanted to run away from him and never look back.
Just before I lost sight of him, I thought I heard him murmur, “Until the day you’re willing to stay.”
My blood type’s Krylon, technicolor type A
I WANDERED THE CEMETERY, KEEPING an eye out for Shazam, without calling for him in case he was hunting dinner. We’d agreed that he could eat like any wild creature, taking a single kill a night, as long as it was something he could catch and devour in his current form. No turning into the genocidal version of himself, capable of devouring civilizations. Despite his sentience and ability to talk, he was still a hot-blooded beast that relished the hunt. I understood that.
Besides, I’d reasoned, it was possible the exercise might slim him down. Although I loved every inch of his cuddly girth, being awakened in the morning by a fifty-pound pounce on a full bladder was brutal.
Not, however, as brutal as Ryodan and the rest of the Nine packing up and leaving Dublin. My city was starting to feel like a ghost town despite the hordes of people immigrating from all over the world. There weren’t many cities as fully functional as ours. People came drawn by our technology, supplies, and the relative safety and order we’d managed to achieve.
Years ago, before I got lost Silverside and ended up with no idea how old I am—which is somewhere between nineteen and twenty-one—my world was pretty much perfect for a short spell. Well…before Mac found out I was the assassin who’d killed her sister. Then things got a bit dicey.
Point is, I’d had a small group of people I thought of as mine. Some of them I’d liked better than others, depending on the day of the week, but after our last adventure together saving the world, my group of sharp-edged, brilliant, deeply committed friends had become my family.
Now, most of them were gone, I still had Kat, Enyo, and the sidhe-seers, and I thought I still had Christian MacKeltar, although I hadn’t seen him in a while. But Mac, Barrons, Ryodan, and Lor, they were like me: powerful, strong, invested in doing their best to understand their ever-changing place in an ever-changing world. Though I was reluctant to admit it, each of them was, in their own way, a role model of sorts, a challenge I’d relished to get stronger, smarter, faster, better.
“I can’t believe they even trust me by myself,” I muttered. There was a time they wouldn’t have. “I shouldn’t be left alone and unsupervised. They know that.” But trying to make light of things to conceal my true feelings no longer worked as well as it once had, so I did what I always do if I can’t change anything about what’s bothering me—partition off a quiet place in my mind and tuck it away. Don’t pick at it. Go on with life. Time had a funny way of teasing out the most complicated knots.
While part of me wanted to mull over the things Ryodan had said, particularly what I’d thought I heard him say at the last, I refused to indulge myself. Assuming I drew any conclusions, what good would it do?
He was gone. For years. I refused to allow the bastard to consume my brain in his absence. He’d like that.