High Voltage

Page 46

He left a note: I didn’t ask to be born.

I wish I had more time. I have a theory about depression. I think it comes from a shift in the chemicals in our brains because stress, trauma, and grief deplete our happy juice, disrupt the delicate, necessary balance and make the world go flat around us, get scary and monochrome, too heavy to bear. And once you’re there, with depleted brain chemicals and flat colors, you’re too depressed to fight your way out. I think exercise is a way to increase endorphins, rebalance the brain, and I wonder if my extreme velocity and constant motion feed my brain undiluted happy juice, constantly perking me up. I wonder if I figured out, say—the right blend of cortisol, 5HTP, and Bacopa, maybe a few other nootropics, plus lots of fun, physical activity, and loads of kindness and sunshine—then gave those people one happy, stress-free year without any responsibility, maybe I could turn their world around.

I cut him down and held him. He was still warm; I may have missed him by an hour, he must have died shortly after dawn. Lingered to watch one more sunrise. If so, that slayed me because it meant he still had joy somewhere inside, if only someone had been able to reach and nurture it. I wrapped him in a blanket and took him to a cemetery I use for the lost ones. I don’t have a lot of time but I always bury them, and I always do something for them.

Dublin goes dispassionately on. This beautiful, terrifying, packed with limitless possibility and peril chronic-town chug-a-chugs on, a locomotive barreling down the tracks, with neither deviation in schedule nor pause for fallen.

They vanish, unnoticed, unsung.

I blow the horn for them. Yank that cable down and let her rip.

I graffitied his name on an underpass in three vibrant shades of neon ten feet tall telling the world that Charles James Aubry was here. It may have been brief but, by God, he was here and will be remembered. If only by me.

He couldn’t stand the pain.

And I couldn’t save him from it.

* * *


I went straight to Chester’s after painting the underpass, and dashed up the stairs to Ryodan’s office when I didn’t find him below with the workers. I’d texted earlier, telling him I was fine and I’d be by around ten. He’s not a man you don’t text when he tells you to. He’ll come looking for you. And he’ll be pissed. I wasn’t in the mood to repair my door again. I still had to fix the elevator. And I hadn’t vacuumed in weeks. Shazam-hair was everywhere.

When the darkened glass panel whisked silently aside, I stalked across the glass floor that always makes me feel suspended in space, flung myself into the chair in front of his desk, kicked my feet over the side, and told him what I’d decided late last night—or rather near dawn this morning—with neither preface nor preamble.

“I think I’m becoming a Hunter.” I leaned back and waited for him to deny it. I didn’t actually think it myself. It was absurdly far-fetched. I was, however, quite certain I would turn completely black at some point. Still…the vision I’d had at the club last night seemed like…I don’t know, an invitation of sorts, and I wanted to bounce my worst-case scenario off someone who would laugh and tell me that was ridiculous. I wasn’t turning into one of those icy black demons with eyes like gates to Hell, no matter how benign it had appeared in my vision, sailing along next to me. To hear him say he knew a spell, a ward, or a charm that would make my deadly skin go away, because, by God, Ryodan knew everything.

Criminy, he was beautiful this morning. Tall and dark, freshly showered and shaved, smelling good. Looking powerful and ridiculous behind that stuffy desk. He belongs on a battlefield. Like me.

He said flatly, “You think?”

I stiffened. That wasn’t the right answer, Ryodan’s version of duh. “What do you mean, duh? You didn’t even know I’d stabbed a Hunter.”

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to his elbows, his forearms strong, scarred, silver cuff glinting. I know Ryodan well, the fine muscles in his face were too tight. He was pissed about something. Extremely. “I knew you stabbed a Hunter. I read every paper you wrote. And your book. All editions. Your footnotes needed work. I didn’t, however,” he growled, “know your bloody hand turned black afterward. You neglected to mention that.”

“It was no one’s business but mine. And how do you know it now?” And why was he taking this so seriously? I’d just told him I thought I was turning into one of those enormous dragons Jayne used to shoot at all the time, and I used to try to kill, species unknown, and he’d said only, You think? It was an absurd theory. I was small. Hunters were enormous. If nothing else, I lacked sufficient mass.

“Kat told me that part.”

“Kat,” I said disbelievingly. “When? What do you guys do, sit around and talk about me, or something?”

“This morning when I texted her,” he said tightly. “I told her you were turning black and she knew all about it. Lor wasn’t watching you every moment. He did the best he could. Christian was supposed to relieve him sometimes and he’s still not fucking returning my calls. Do you know how infuriating it is to have to find out the details of your life from someone else?”

“Do you know how infuriating it is to not even be able to find out the details of your life?” I countered just as irritably. “At least you can butt in and text my friends. I don’t have Lor’s number. Or Kasteo’s. Or Fade’s,” I said, working myself into a snit. “And if I did,” I continued, eyes flashing, “you’d have told them not to tell me a bloody thing just to keep me wandering around, forever stymied by the great big mystery of R.K. bloodythefuck S. And just what the hell do the K and S stand for anyway?”

“Killian. St. James.”

“Huh?” Ryodan just told me his name? I rolled it silently over my tongue: Ryodan Killian St. James. I liked it. It was polished, urbane as the man he pretended to be. Killian was like killing, sharp-edged, and intriguing. St. James was lofty, old money, blue-blood and power. “Oh, now that’s just a pile of bull,” I said crossly. “That’s so bloody Irish and you’re not. How could you possibly have an Irish name?” It wasn’t even close to anything I’d ever come up with. And that made me even madder. I did something then so incredibly bizarre and plebian and…and…juvenile that I couldn’t even wrap my brain around it. I thought: Dani Killian St. James. It had a nice ring to it. Wait, what?

“It wasn’t my first,” he said. “Though the initials are the same. It’s the one I took when I made my home here. We change our names to fit the clime, the time. I’ve kept that one awhile.”

“So, you talked to Kat, she told you my hand turned black, and from that mere fact alone you deduced I was turning into a Hunter?” At least I’d had the vision to go on, the Ready? You fly, too. Although I couldn’t decide if it implied I would actually physically transform into a Hunter or just turn completely black, become lethal to the touch, yet receive the small consolation prize of being able to astral-project into the stars on occasion. Superhero rules are pretty obscure.

He inclined his head in one of those imperious nods.

“Some people might have thought it had infected me, and I was dying,” I told him. I’d briefly entertained the notion myself. It hadn’t resonated in my gut and, although I prize my brain, I value my gut just as highly. A lot of times more.

“I’m not some people.”

“You’re not even people.”

“There is that. Are you so sure you are?”

I shot him a sharp look. “You don’t think I am. And why didn’t I know you met me before I thought we met?”

His gaze shuttered.

“You wanted rules? Fine, I’m making one. One of ‘ours,’ which means we both obey it. Full disclosure or don’t bloody well interfere in my life. Don’t even try to be a part of it. Don’t you think,” I threw his own words back at him, “it’s time we cut everything loose? I might be gone soon. Soaring around in space. A Hunter. You might never see me again. I bet then you’ll be sorry you didn’t talk to me.” I didn’t say, I bet then you’ll be sorry you went away for two years and wasted them. But I wanted to. Except people have to want to stay with you and he clearly hadn’t.

He jerked and snarled, “I’ll bloody well be sorry I didn’t do more than that with you, Dani. I wanted to make love to you. I wanted to fuck you, I wanted to cut loose with you like I’ve never been able to cut loose with a woman in my entire existence. I wanted to explore every ounce of that brilliant mind and every inch of that powerful body of yours, learn your deepest desires, be the one to rock your goddamn world, watch the great Dani O’Malley abandon herself to passion, see her in the one place she’s never conflicted, and revel in being alive.”

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