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EqualParts

ByEmmaWinters

Copyright2012,E.Winters

Allrightsreserved.ExceptaspermittedundertheU.S.CopyrightActof1976,nopartofthis

publicationmaybereprinted,distributed,ortransmittedinanyformorbyanymeans,or

storedinadatabaseorretrievalsystem,withoutwrittenpermissionoftheauthor.

Thecharactersandeventsinthisbookarefictitious.Anysimilaritytorealpersons,livingordead,is

purelycoincidentalandnotintendedbytheauthor.

ForTiri,myownpersonalsuperhero.

Although,youmustbeatleastalittlevillainous,becauseAchilleswouldn’texistwithoutyou

ChapterOne

DayoftheDead

“Comeon,sweetheart.Youknowthemfingersmakeyouasuperheroinmybooks.”

Ha.Woulditbehighlyunprofessionaltolaughinthefaceofaninjured,sedatedman?

Probably.

“Nooffense,Roland,butifIreallywasasuperhero,Iwouldn’tbestickingaroundtowashyourdirty

sheets.”

Anditwasthetruth.Iwasn’tasuperhero.Iwasn’tasupervillain,either.Iwassuperneutral.Nobias,

notakingsides.Inthesuperhumanworld,IwasSwitzerland.Nooneprovokedme,andIprovokedno

oneinreturn.JustthewayIlikedit.

Notthatanyoneknew,ofcourse.

“You’rehonestlytellin’methosefingersaren’tsomekindamiracle-workers?”Rolandaskedme.He

couldn’tbemucholderthanme,butsomehowhemanagedtosoundlikeamiddle-agedcriminal

fromagangstermovie.

IglanceddownatthehandI’djustbrushedacrosshisforeheadinanactofcheckinghistemperature.I

hadnocredentialstobemakingsuchacheck,buthedidn’thavetoknowthat.Thethingwas,thatjab

aboutthesuperheroissuewasclosertothemarkthanhecould’veguessed.

“Whatmakesyouthinkthey’remagic,hmm?”Ibusiedmyselfwithcollectingtheemptycupsofwater

frombesidehisbed,thensprayingdownthetablewithdisinfectant.

Hetriedforashrug,buthisbrokenarmmadeitpainful.“Dunno.Ijustfeelbetterwhenyou’re

around.”Agap-toothedsmilebrokeacrosshisface.“Butthatcouldalsobetheragingchemistry

betweenus.”

“Oh,giveitup,son,”snappedanotherofmypatients,Mrs.Corbet,fromthenextbedinthewing.

Ilaughedhumorlesslyandresistedtheurgetowipethefingersinquestiononmyscrubs.Thiswasn’t

thefirsttimesomeonehadpickeduponthewaymytouchmadethemfeelbetter,butifsomeoneas

drugged-addledanddumbasRolandcouldseeit,maybeIwasbeginningtoslip.

“You’rethebestpartofmyday,dear,”Mrs.Corbettoldmeinthatsoft-as-cottonvoicewhenIreached

herbedside,givingmeagenuinesmile.Mrs.CorbethadbeeninandoutofthehospitalsinceImoved

toCarova,receivingtreatmentfortwotypesofcancer.Herhusbandhaddiedyearsago,andshehad

nootherfamilytovisither.

Tohidethelackofgladness–oranything,really–fromhercompliment,Iplasteredonasmile.For

themillionthtimeinalmostthreeyears,IwishedIcouldfeelthesunshinewelledinmychest.“Well,

hopefullyyouwon’thavetoseealotmoreofme.You’regoinghomenextweek,right?That’llbe

nice.”

Shesaidnothing,justnoddedsadlyandturnedhereyestotheclockonthewall.Iwouldmakethe

worstnurseintheworld–mybedsidemannerwasterrible.ButIwasn’tbeingpaidtobenice–hell,I

wasn’tgettingpaid,period.Thiswholejobwaspurelyvolunteer-based.

IstartedworkingattheCarovaCityHospitalaboutayearago,whenitbecameobviousmypowerof

makingpeoplehappywasgoingtowaste.I’dbeengiventhisgodawfulpowerforareason,andI

guessIhadtouseitsomehow.

Withoutanotherthought,IwrappedmyfingersaroundMrs.Corbet’sslenderwrist,andwilleda

trickleofsunshinetoslidedownmyarm,intomyhand,throughherskin,intoherblood.Theeffect

wasinstantaneous.Herskinbrightened,hereyesregainedatwinkle,hermusclesvisiblyrelaxed.It

wasn’tmuch–Ididn’thavemuchlefttogive,afterthenightI’dhad–butitwouldlastheranother

week,atleast.

“You’reagoodgirl,Felicity,”shetoldme,beforeshuttinghereyesforadoze.

There,Iwasdone.Allmyregularpatients–andsomenewones,liketheguywho’dbeenguttedlikea

fishinabackalleyjustthisevening–hadbeendealtwith.Myfingerstingledwiththeamountof

sunshineI’ddishedoutinonenight,andmychestfeltemptierthanusual,butseeingtheglowofMrs.

CorbetandRolandwasenoughtokeepmyspiritshigh.

Islippedoutintothegloomyhospitalhallway,itsuglymustardwallshalf-illuminatedbyflickering

fluorescentlights.Iknewthishospitallikethebackofmyhand–everycreakystep,everybroken

windowlatch,everydisabledfireexit.

Technicallyspeaking,Iwasn’tallowedtotouchpatients.NooneknewIwasasuperhuman,butif

someonefoundout,I’dbefiredforsure.Superhumansweren’tpermittedtointerferewiththenatural

order,bylaw.Inotherwords,weweren’tallowedtotakeawayorsavealife,orcreate‘unnatural’

disasters,ordisruptsocietywithmentalpowers,oranythingalongthoselines.Weweresupposedto

justexist–or,rather,coexist.Ithinkthegovernmentthoughtthatiftheyjustignoredus,we’dgo

away.

However,inCarova–mynewhome–superhumanlawsdidn’tapply.Notmanynormallawsdid,

either.BymovingtoCarova,yougaveupasenseofrightandwrong.Thejobspaidwellbecause

nobodywantedtolivethere,andnobodywantedtolivetherebecausethecitywasatwarwithitself.It

hadnoculture,asidefrombloodlustandsuperhumans.Ithadnohistory,asidefromamajorcigarette

companyboominghereinthefifties.Ithadnosenseofcommunity,asidefromthecitizenshidingin

fearofbeingcaughtoutbythefifty-percentcrimerate.

Butwhileitwas,inmanyways,theepitomeofHell,itneededsomeonelikemetotryandbringthe

peace.Ihadn’tbeenwelcomebackinFlorida.Superhumanswereidentifiedatbirthbyabloodtest,

andthelabeltendedtostickwithyouwhereveryouwent,includingschoolandwork.Blendingin

backhomehadbeenimpossible.Notidealforagirlwho’dratherjustbeignoredherwholelife.

TherewasnowhereelseintheworldI’dratherbe,mostlybecausetherewasnowhereelseIwouldfit

in.InCarova,Iwasanonymous.Nooneknewme,noonewantedtoknowme,andnoonegavea

damnifIwassuperhumanornot.

Ihadn’tfeltanythinginalmostthreeyears.Like,anything.Sure,sometimesIfeltlonely,oralittle

scared,orangryatthecardI’dbeendealt.Buttheywerejusttwinges,justtinynigglesatthebackof

mymindthatdisappearedwhenItriedtobringthemtolight.

So,whenIleftthehospitalforthenight,underthefullmoon,andspottedthecemeteryacrossthe

roadonthewaybacktomycar,IwasshockedtofindthatIfelt…something.

Notscared,butdefinitelynotsafe.Somethingweirdlylikeexcitement.

Droppingmycarkeysbackintomybag,Igrabbedontothefeelingwithbothhandsandfollowedthe

urgerightintothegraveyard.

I’dalwaysthoughtitincrediblydepressingthatthehospitalfacedCarovaCemetery.Asiftheinterior

ofthehospitalwasn’tawfulenough,thepatientshadtolookoutontotheirinevitablefateforaview.

Tonight,however,itwasn’tdepressing.

Itwasthrilling.

Iclimbedoverthepicketfencesurroundingtheblockoflandandfollowedthegravelpathuptothe

gazeboatitscenter.Therewereafewlightsacrossthegrounds,butotherwiseIwasgreetedby

shadowsandstripsofmoonlight–allthebetterforacreepysetting.Eventhepolicesirensinthe

backgroundmadeforacheapthrill.

Allkindsofhorrormovieflashbackscametomeinthatgazebo,fromhalf-rottedzombiesbursting

outoftheirgraves,toaxe-murderers,tolittlegirlsresidinginwells.Myheartwasactuallystartingto

race–themostit’ddoneformeinalmostthreeyears.

Thewindwhippedupafrenzyaroundme,carryingwithitthesoundoffeetpoundingongravel.Was

Ireallyimaginingthings?WasIthatscared?

God,thiswassoeasy!Ishould’vedonethisyearsago!

Myheartbeatfasterandfasterasthenoiseoffootstepscamecloserandcloser,untilIcouldhear

pantingalongwiththecrunching…andsuddenlyIrealizedIwasn’timaginingthings.

Eyeswide,Iturnedtoseesomeone–something–stumblingtowardsmethroughthedarkness,its

silhouetteslightlyhunched.

Usually,whenfacedwithsomethinglikethis,the‘fightorflight’modesetsin.Iwasafighterby

definition,butaflyerbychoice.Ineverknewtherewasathirdoption,though:‘freeze’.Becausethat’s

exactlywhatIdid–Isatthere,rootedtothebenchbeneathme,staringasapossiblemadman

approachedmeinacemetery.

Thenthefigurecameintofullviewundertheflickeringlightofthegazebo,andIscreamed.

InCarova,therewereafewdistinctheroesandvillainsthatseemtomakeheadlinesmorethanothers.

Thebiggestandbaddestvillainofthemall,aguycalledAchilles,wasnotoriousforafewreasons:he

killedCarova’smayor,hemurderedpeopleonadailybasis,hewasweirdlycharismatic,andheknew

everythingabouteveryone–orsoitseemed.

Andnow,hewasstandingrightinfrontofme,clutchinghisshoulderwithonehandandabloodied

nail-gunintheother.

“Christ,girl,yougavemeaheartattack!”Hejumpedbackatthesoundofmyshriek.

Hewasawholelotscarierup-closethanI’dimagined.Inmytwoyearsinthiscity,I’dlearnedto

judgepeopleprettywell.Somepeoplehidbehindmasks,othersflourishedbehindthem.Withmost

people,itwasallintheeyes.

ButAchilleswasdifferent.Hepaintedhisfaceintosomekindofterrifyingskeleton,hiseyes blackenedcompletely,withnowhiteswhatsoever.EventhoughIknewtheyhadtobesomekindof contactlenses,theystillheldapermanentplaceinmynightmares.Andyet,intheflesh,heseemeda lotmore human.Thatcouldhavebeenbecausehewasbleedingprofusely,though.

Me?I’mnottheonerunningaroundlookinglikethegoddamnHunchbackofNotreDame!”Okay,

soIshouldhavementioned–I’mterribleinacrisis.Mymouthhasamindofitsownintimesof

panicorstress,andtendstoforgetwhoit’stalkingto.

Inthiscase,itwasamanagoodheadtallerthanme,withtwicemymuscularstrengthandatotallack

ofcompassionforhumanlife.

Notagreatoutletforsuchsarcasm.

“Whatdoyouknowaboutdislocatedshoulders?”heasked,surprisingme.ThenIrealizedIwasstill

inmyscrubs–hemust’vethoughtIwasanurse.

“Um,enoughtoknowthey’rearealpainintheass.”God,whatwaswrongwithme?Iwasconversing

withapsychopath!Iblameditsolelyonthepanic.

Hegruntedwhenheshovedhisshoulderagainstthepoleinthemiddleofthegazebo.“You’vegotthat

right,darling.Helpmeout,wouldyou?”

“I…I…”Crappitycrap!Icouldn’thelphim–thatwouldbeenablingacriminal,right?ButifIdidn’t

helphim,hewouldkillme.Ofthat,Iwasabsolutelycertain.

“Ifyoudon’thelpme,there’sagoodchanceI’llbedeadinamatterofminutes.Youreallywantthat

onyourconscience?”Evenwiththecontactlensesin,Icouldtellhewasinaconsiderableamountof

painfromthecrackleofhisvoice.Bloodwassmearedacrossthewhitepaintofhischeek–his,or

someoneelse’s,Icouldn’ttell.

Istood–whethertorunorhelphim,Istilldon’tknow–butasuddenpuffofsmokealertedmeto

anotherpresenceinthegazebo.

“Finnian,”growledAchillesatthenewcomer.

FinnColewasthiscity’sgoldenboy.Hell,withsurfer-blondehairandblueeyes,heevenlookedthe

part.HeandagroupofguyshelivedwithhadtakenituponthemselvestoridCarovaofpeoplelike

Achilles,thoughsofar,theyhadn’tdonetoomuch,asidefromthrowalotofpartiesandbeatupafew

muggers.Theydidn’tbotherwithalter-egosorsuperheronames–tothem,thewholebusinessof

defeatingcrimeinthiscitywasjustapast-time,somethingtomakethemlookimpressive.

“Notlookingsohot,bud,”commentedFinn,eyeingAchilles’sinjuredshoulder.

“Yeah,someskinny-asswhiteboythrewmeoutasecond-floorwindow.”Thepainwastrulyseeping

intohisvoicenow,tighteningthedrywords.Hisheadcockedtome.“Butluckyforme,youhavea

certainweaknessforhostages,right,Finnian?”

Finnfinallynoticedme,stillrootedtothecementbeneathmyfeet,andthosebaby-blueswidened.

Withaspeedthathadtobesuperhuman,AchillestookadvantageofFinn’sdistractionandsentafist

straightupintohisjaw.Iheardasickeningcrack,rightbeforeFinndisappearedinapuffofsmoke–

hissuperpower:teleportationthroughsmoke.

Achilleslaughed,rightasFinnreappearedbehindhim,andwenttotwisthisinjuredarmbackwards.

Achillesknewitwascoming,anddodgedtheattack,insteadtakingthenail-gunandtwistingtoaimit

straightatFinn’schest.Anotherpuffofsmoke,andFinnwasbehindAchillesagain,butthevillain

wasfaster.HecaughtFinninthejawwithanelbowandshotanailintohisarm,rightthroughtothe

gazebowallbehindhim.Theproceedingroarofpainsentoffalarmsinallpartsofmybody.Do

something!,criedmyheart.Stophim!

“Help!”Finncriedtome,hisarmphysicallypinnedtothewall.Hecouldn’tteleportwithoutripping

thenailthroughthemuscle,anditmademyownarmtwitchinempathy.

“Yes,darling!”saidAchillesinamock-desperatetone.“Byallmeans,stepuptotheplate!”

Myhesitationwasobvious,judgingbythesmirkonhispaintedface.IfIgotinvolved,ifIattacked

Achilles,Iwouldeffectivelybesidingwiththesuperheroes,andputtingatargetonmyback.IfI

walkedaway,ImightaswellbeleavingFinntodiebynail-gun,damningmyconsciencefortherest

ofmylife.

ThiswaswhyIwassuperneutral.ThiswaswhyInevergotinvolved.

Seeingmymoraldilemma,Achillesbroughtthenail-gundownonFinn’shead,knockinghim

completelyunconscious,beforestalkingtowardme.Well,atleasthe’dmadethedecisionforme.

“AreyouMexican?”Ifoundmymouthasking,thoughithadnoapprovalfrommybrain.

Hestopped,afootfromme,andblinked.IthinkI’dsurprisedbothofus.“Whydoyouask?Ismy

complexionshowing?”heaskeddryly,pattingathiswhitenedface,nail-gunstillinhand.

“DayoftheDead.That’syourmask,right?”Ihadabsolutelynoideawherethisinformationwas

comingfrom.I’dstudiedSpanishinhighschool,butI’dneverbotheredtomemorizeanyofit,

includingculture.Iblameditonstark,outrightfear.

Ofcourse,hisblackeyesgaveawaynothing,butIhadthedistinctfeelinghewasslightlyimpressed.

Thenagain,hecouldsimplyhavebeenimpressedthatIwasn’tonmykneesbeggingformercy

already.

Henarrowedhiseyesatmeandtookastepforward.Stillfrozen,Icouldn’tevenmanagetoback

away.Inthatsmallmoment,Icaughtaglimpseofwhyheworethemaskofthedead–hewasDeath.

Hecouldeasilykillme,andactasthefinalstrokebetweenthislifeandthenext.

“Notscaredofme,darling?”hepurred,andIletoutastrangledlaugh.

“Strangelyconcernedforyourwelfare,actually.”Itwasthetruth.Hewaslosingbloodfromthe

woundonhisneckrapidly,andhisshoulderwasstillstickingoutatanawkwardangle.WhywouldI

care?IthadtobeacombinationoftheshockIfeltatexperiencingradicalemotionssosuddenly,and

theurgetohealpeoplethatcamewithworkinginahospital.“ButI’msmartenoughtoknowIshould

bepetrified.”

Heactuallylaughed,butIthinkittookeffort.“IthinkI’mflattered.Now,areyougoingtohelpme

withthisthing,orwhat?”Hegesturedtohisshoulder.

IglancedatFinn,lyingbloodiedandunconsciousacrossthegazebo.Superneutral!yelledmybrain.

Youcan’thelpeitherside!

Buttherewasmoreatstakeherethanmymoralcode;chanceswere,Achilleswouldkillmeinthe

blinkofaneyeifIrefusedhim.HehadnoproblemnailingCarova’sgoldenboytoapost–what

wouldhedotosomeoneasinsignificantasme?

“Turnaround,”Iheardmyselfcroak.

Givingasmilethatmademyspinehitchinbothfearandadrenaline,heturned.Interesting,how

quicklyhetrustedme.

“Foryoursake,darling,pleasedon’ttryanythingstupid,”hetoldme,asthoughhe’dreadmymind.

Crap.

Takingadeepbreath,Iplacedonehandonhisshoulderandheldhisbadarmbackwithmyother,

prayingthiswasn’tsomekindofsicktest…ortrap.

“Freeze!Police!”roaredavoiceinthedarkness,beyondthelightofthegazebo.Clicksechoed

aroundthegrounds–guns,mostdefinitely.

“Ohbrother,”mutteredAchilles.

Ididn’tletgoofhishand.Myheartwasbeatingsofast,IcouldscarcelyrememberwhereIwas.

“Getonyourknees!”camethegrufforder.Neitherofusmoved.“You,girl–moveorwe’llopen

fire!”

God,couldtheybeanyvaguerwiththeircommands?Don’tmove,movealittle,movealittlemore.

“Shootherintheleg,”camethecommand,justloudenoughformetohear.

Myreactionwasinstantaneousand…well,extreme.Inonesmoothmovement,IpulledAchillestohis

knees,followinghimdown,andshovedhisshoulderbackintoitssocketwitharesoundingpop

elicitingaroughgroanfromhim–rightasabulletwhizzedpastwhereI’djuststood.

“Onthree,Idistractthem,andyourun.”IthinkAchillesspokethewords,butIwastoodazedbyall

thatwasgoingonaroundustobesure.

“W-what?”

“One…”

“Isaidbackthehellup,girl,orwe’llshoot!”cameanother,coldervoice.Crap,crap,crap!

“Two…”

IletgoofAchilles’sarmandsteppedback,towardstherearexitofthegazebo.God,Ihopeditwasn’t

surrounded.

“Three.”

Achillesjumpedtohisfeetasifhe’dneverbeeninjured,andprocuredaredcylinderfromhispocket.

Itcrackedinhishandbeforehetosseditstraightoutofthegazebo,rightintothefaceofoneofthe

policemen.Theensuingscreamsmademyheadhurt.

“Go!”Achillespushedmeoutintothegraveyardbeforeturningtoconfronttheotherofficersinthe

grounds.Hisnail-gunandsomethingelse–wasthatahammer?–wereinhand,andhetookfull

advantageofthelighttheflareprovided,slashingoutathistargetslikeacatswipingatwool.

Isprinteddownthehill,allthewaybacktotheparkinglot.Whyhadhesavedmylife?Orhadhe

simplymeanttokillmeandbeeninterrupted?

Eitherway,Iwasn’tstickingaroundtofindout.Onething,though,Iwassureof:mythrillcravings

weremostdefinitelyfilledforanentireyear.

ChapterTwo

RabbittoaTrap

Threenightslater,Istoodinthelivingroomofastranger’shouse,surroundedbydrunkenpeersand

musicloudenoughtogivemepermanenthearingloss.Ididn’tstartgoingtopartiesuntilmypower

developed,ataroundsixteen.Beforethen,Iwasmorethancontenttostayathomeandgetanearly

night.

Butmypowerfedonhappinessandgoodfeelings–Icouldwellitupandtransferittoothersthrough

touch.Whichwaswhy,inaroundaboutway,partieswerethebestwaytostoreenoughsunshineto

treatthewholehospital.

Icallit‘sunshine’because,aboutsixmonthsago,whenIusedmypowertocheerupalittlegirl,she

saiditfeltlikesunshineonherinsides.Iwouldn’tknowwhatitfeltlike–I’donlyevergivenmyself

tricklesofthestuff,becausemyownhappinesswaslockedawayinthesamebottle.I’donlyusedup

mywholesupplyononepersononce,andIwouldnever,everdoitagain.

“Youhaveanadmirer,”saidmyonlyfriendinCarova,Lucia.Shewasoneofthreepeopleinthiscity

whoknewaboutmypowerandhadkeptthesecretlockedsotightly,Idoubtedsheevenknewwhatit

wasanymore.

Ifollowedhergazetotheothersideoftheroom,whereFinnCole,ofallpeople,wasopenlystaring

atme.He’drecoveredsincethegazeboincident,butrumorwashisegohadtakenaprettybigbeating.

Istilldidn’tknowwhathadhappenedtoAchilles.

“OhGod,”Igroaned,crunchingtheplasticcupinmyhand.“Anyonebuthim!”

LuciagiggledandwaggledherfingersatFinn.Iinstantlysnatchedherhandandhissed,“Areyou

insane?He’sFinnCole!”

Iwasn’tbeingcoy.FinnColetrulywasn’tappealingtome.Igotit–blondehair,smokyblueeyes,

sun-kissedskin–itallmadeforatraditionallygoodlookingpackage.ButIknewthatunderneaththat

god-likeexterior,hewasjustasarrogantandthickastherestofhisgender,withtheaddedbonusof

beingsuperhuman.

“He’scomingover!Lookcasual,”whisperedLucia,floatingoffintothebackgroundwithfartoo

muchease.Iwenttofollowher–anythingtoescapeFinnCole’snotice–butaheavyhandonmy

shoulderstoppedme.

Crap,crap,crap.Whatifhesomehowrecognizedme?Ithadbeendarkinthegazebo,andIhada

heapofmake-upontonight,buthemightbemoreperceptivethanIgavehimcreditfor.

Iclearedmythroatandturned,hopingIcouldpulloffahuskiervoiceforthesakeofadisguise.

“Hello,”cameFinn’svoice,asdryasthesmokehedisappearedinto.

“Hi,”Irepliedflippantly,avoidingeye-contactatallcosts.Thehappinessandexcitementfromthe

partywasmakingmybrainalittlesluggish,especiallywithFinnhere–hetendedtoinspiregood

feelingswhereverhewent.

“I’mFinn,”hesaid.LikeIdidn’tknowwhohewas.Ishookhishand.

“Felicity.”Pleasebeputoffbymycoldshoulder.Pleasejustleavemealone.

ButonceFinnColegothisclawsintoagirl,hedidn’tletgowithoutafight.Againjudgingbyrumor

alone,hewasapparentlycrushingbigtimeonhispseudo-sidekick,Skye–anothersuperhuman,with

theabilitytoblendinwithherenvironment,clothesandall–butshe’ddisappearedoffthefaceofthe

earthaboutamonthago.Whennoransomforhercame,andthepolicegaveuptheirsearch,Iguess

everyonejustassumedshe’dskippedtown.

Finnmusthave,too.Atanyrate,hewasfasttoforgetpoorSkyeandjumpbackintothebachelor

lifestyle.

Whichwaswhy,anhourandahalflater,Ifoundmyselfsittingonasofawithhimupstairs,listening

tohimrecountthegazeboincident.Itwouldhavebeenamusingtohearhimtwistthestoryinhis

favor,Isuppose,hadhenotbeensolackinginpersonalitywhatsoever.

“Sohepullsoutanail-gun,andI’mlike,‘Listendude,Ijustwanttoreasonwithyou’,buthe’snotso

intoreasoning…”Onandonandonthestorywent,likeitwasafreakingepicinitsownright.

Funnilyenough,Iwasonlymentionedsparingly–usuallycryingoutinhelplessnessandsobbing

hysterically.

Duringhisretelling,Istaredouttheupstairswindow,half-wishingAchilles–oranysupervillain,for

thatmatter–wouldappear,justtoputmeoutofmymisery.

TheskinatmynapekeptpricklingwiththesenseIwasbeingwatched,butIshruggeditoffasFinn’s

nearness.Ifanyonewaswatchingme,itwasprobablytospreadtherumorthatFinnColehadbeen

trappedinthewebofaplain-lookinggeek.

Atleasthedidn’tseemtodetectpresenceofasuperpoweronme.Ioncereadinamagazinethat

peoplewithspecialabilitiescouldsenseothersoftheirkind,thankstoourdifferentgeneticmake-up

orsomething.IcanusuallyspotasuperhumanifI’mcloseenoughtothem,likesittingnexttothem

onatrain.Theyhaveacertainglowaboutthem,undertheirskin.

Butnoonehaseversuspectedmeofhavingasuperpower–probablybecauseI’msonormal-looking.

Ilackthestandoutbeautymostsuperhumanspossess,helpingmetoblendinwithmypeers.

“Andthepoliceshothim,youknow,soit’snotlikehe’scomingbackanytimesoon…”

“Wait,what?”Iasked,snappingoutofmyrathermorbiddaydreams.

Heblinkedthosehugeeyesatme.“Theyshothim.Achilles,Imean.Iwould’vedoneitmyself,but

don’tusuallypackheat–”

“Ishedead?”Somethingweirdlylikepanicbloomedinmychest,andIhadnoideawhy.Whatdidit

matterifAchilleswasdead?Whocared?Definitelynotme.

“Nah,justinacriticalconditionorsomething.Iwouldn’tbetooworriedabouthim,ifIwereyou,”

hesaid,clearlyreadingtheemotioninmyeyes.“Theguyisapsychopath,Felicia.Hefeedsoffthe

miseryandmisfortuneofothers.”

Felicity,Iwantedtosnap,butinsteadIgottomyfeet.“Well,I’vehadagreatnight,butIreallyshould

begoing.Mycurfewismidnight.”

“It’sonlyten,”hetoldme,lookingathiswatchwithafrown.

IlaughedinthemostcharmingwayIknew.“ThenImightfindyouintwohours,andmaybeyoucan

givemealifthome.”Ievenaddedinawink.

Thefull-blownwattageofhissmilehitmewithanotherroundofgoodfeelings.Iquicklylatchedon

toitandmentallystuffeditintothebottlewiththerest.

Beforehecouldtrapmewithanother‘quick’storyofhisgrandeur,Ireturnedthesmileandfled

downstairs,elbowingmywaythroughthecrowdsuntilImadeitoutside.

Ididn’tallowmyselftothinkasIdrovewithurgentspeedtothehospital.ItoldmyselfIwassimply

escapingFinn’sadvancesinthemostradicalwaypossible,butIknew,deepdown,therewasanother

reason.Ijustdidn’twanttoacknowledgewhatitwas.

Grabbingthebagholdingmyscrubsfromthetrunkofthecar,Imarchedthroughthehospital,trying

mybesttolookasthoughIwasthereonanormalshift.

Ichangedintomyscrubsinthebathroom,anditwasthenInoticedthenavytopstucktomyskininan

unusualway,anditwasthenthatIrealizedIwassweating.Sweating.LikeIhadsomethingtobe

nervousabout.LikeIwasdoingsomethingwrong.

Again,Ipushedmymotivesforbeingheretothebackofmymind.Iwassimplycheckingupon

Achilles.Thatwasit.Notalking,noeyecontact,nointeraction.JustseeingifFinnwastellingthe

truth.

Shoulderingthebagnowcontainingmyregularclothes,IsentLuciaatexttellingherI’dgonehome

earlyandslippedintotheshadowsofthehospitalhallways.Itdidn’ttakeageniustoknowwhere

Achilleswasbeingheld–therewasamaximum-securitywingforthatverypurpose.CarovaCity

Hospitalwasn’tgrandorbigenoughtowarrantapsychward–nutbagsweresentstraighttothe

CarovaInstitutefortheMentallyUnstable.

Thenurses’stationwasempty,bysomemiracle.Attheveryendofthewing,guardedbytwocops,

wasthemaximum-securityward.Signslitteredthehallway,advisingpatronstostayaway.Iducked

behindalaundrybin,andwaiteduntilthetwomenwerelookingelsewhere,beforeslidingintoan

openclosetinanalcoveofthehallway.Iwasnearenoughtoheartheirfeetshufflingonthetiles.

Afullfifteenminutestickedbybeforeoneofthemspoke.

“He’snotgoinganywhere.Idon’tseewhytwoofusneedtostandguard.”

“It’sincaseheoverpowersoneofus.Standardprocedure,”repliedtheotherone,thenadded,

hesitantly,“Although,Iwouldliketobeathomewatchingthegamerightnow.”

“Overpowersus,”snickeredthefirst.“Igivehimanotherfewnights,tops.Ifthebulletdidn’tkillhim,

I’msureoneofthedoctorswouldn’tbeopposedtoaccidentallypumpingtoomuchmorphineinto

him.Fortherightprice,Imean.”

Theotherchuckled.“Youareoneevilson-of-a-bitch.Wouldmakeourjobaloteasier,that’sfor

sure.”

ThatwasthethingaboutCarovapolice–theywererelativelythick,buttheywerealsoverydedicated

tothejobathand.Ifitwerethemeanstoanend,theywoulddoit.Itwassomethingtheysharedwith

thevillainsofCarova,notthatanyonewouldeverspeakthattheoryaloud.Mytimeatthegazebowith

Achilleshadonlyprovedtheidea.

“I’mgoingtothevendingmachine.Youwantanything?”

“Yeah,getmeasoda.”ThetopicchangedfromAchilles,andIknewIhadtotakethischancetoget

outofthere.Whenfootstepsfadedintothehallway,Ipeekedaroundthecornertoseethesingleguard

left,hisattentiononAchilles’sform,bedriddenbehindtheheavyglassdoor.

Stickingtotheshadows,Imovedbackoutofthewing,pastthenurses’station,downthefireexit,and

usedthefaultyfireescapeonthesecondfloortogetdowntomycar.

Iwasn’tnotagreatbelieverinfate,butIdidbelieveincoincidence–andsometimes,theycanmean

thesamething.Thefactthatthecopsdidn’tstartdiscussingAchilles’shealthuntilIwasthere?

Definitelynotacoincidence.

Whichmeant…what?ThatIwassupposedtodosomethingabouthiscondition?OrwasIsimply

tryingtojustifysomeactofgratitude?

Threedays,Itoldmyselffirmly,zoomingbackhomeinmytinycar.Ifhe’sstillaliveinthreedays,

I’llvisithim.Ifhediesbeforethen,Iwasn’tmeanttointerfere.

Cursingmyconscienceforallitwasworth,Itriedtoforgetthewordsofthepoliceman,aboutthe

doctoroverdosingAchilleswithmorphine.

But,tomydismay,theidealingeredinmymind,untilittookupaspotonmypriorities,andstayed

there.

“Areyousureyou’reokay?Youhaven’tbeentoworkinthreedays.It’sjustnotlikeyou.”

Lucia’svoicecrackledthroughmyancientcellphone,disruptingmytrainofthought.Justintime,too

–Ihadbeenconsideringattemptingtostraightenmyhairwithaflatiron.I’ddoneitafewtimes

before,andtheapartmentalwayssmelledofburnthairafterwards.

“Justacold,”Itoldher,blockingmynoseslightly.“Ihatebeingsick.”

Shesnortedthroughtheconnection.“You’llsurvive.I’msureyou’vehadtheworsttime,lyingon

yoursofaandwatchingeveryre-runofTheNanny.”

“Foryourinformation,Iwassitting.AndtheywereMadAboutYoure-runs.”Ihatedlying.Iwasa

terribleliar.ButthegoodthingaboutLuciawasthatshewasusuallytoocaughtupinherownworld

toevenrecognizethehitchinmytone.

“Well,youhaven’tmissedanythingatwork.ThatdumbassBridgetgirlspilthotcoffeeallover

herselfandhadtobetakentotheE.R.Itwasn’tevenanaccident–shedidittoseeifhershirtwas,I

kidyounot,‘hot-proof’.”

Thathadmelaughinghardenoughtohurt.Thecaféwhereweworked–andwhereIfirstmetLucia–

wasaminefieldofidiotsandbimbos.PartofthereasonIhadn’tquityetwasbecausethestaff

membersweretooentertaining.

AfterI’dconvincedLuciaIwouldmeetwithherforlunchtomorrow,Ihungupandstaredattheclock

onthewall.Teno’clock.IthadbeenexactlythreedayssinceI’doverheardtheguards’conversation

aboutAchilles,andnonewshadbeenheardofhisconditionsincethen.Ihadtoassumehewasstill

alive,somehow–thecitywouldbecelebratinganddeclaringanationalholidayifhewasdead.

Forthethousandthtimethatday,Iraneverypossibleoutcomeofmehelpinghiminmymind.IfI

savedAchilles’slife–oraidedhim,anyway–therecouldonlybefourimmediaterepercussionsthat

Icouldsee:hecouldturngood(unlikely);hecouldlielowuntilhewasrecovered(lesslikely);he

couldescapeandneverbeseenagain(morelikely);orhecouldescape,goonamurderousrampage,

andhuntmedowntousemeforhisownpurposes(mostlikely).

Thenwhy,fortheloveofallthatwasholy,wasIalreadyinmyscrubs,inthecar,drivingtowardsthe

hospital?

Ithadtobegratitude.Iwasthankfulforhimnotkillingmeand,insomeways,savingmylife.Ifhe

hadn’tpushedmeoutofthegazeboanddistractedthecops,theymighthaveshotmeonsight.I

assuredmyselfitwasperfectlynormaltofeelsuchcompassion,evenifasmallvoiceinthebackof

mymindwastellingmeIwasactingcrazy.

Forthesecondtimethatweek,IactedasthoughIwasabsolutelysupposedtobethere.Noneofthe

nursesordoctorsreallypaidmeanyattention–Iwasavolunteerorderly,afterall.Youcouldn’tget

muchloweronthefoodchainthanthat.

Istrodethroughthecorridorswithafeignedsenseofpurpose,prayingitwasenoughtowardoffany

curiousglancesorqueries.WhenIreachedthemaximum-securityward,mypalmsgotsweatyonce

more,andIsteeredacleaningtrolleyoutfrombehindthenurses’stationtostopmyarmsfrom

shaking.

Thesametwocopsfromtheothernightwerepostedoutsidethedoor,lookingboredasever.They

didn’tevenbotherlookingupasIpulledupinfrontofthem.

“Sorry,”Istammered,hopingIlookedastimidandinnocentasIfelt,“I’msupposedtocleanoutthe

trash.”

Thetubbierofthetwostraightened,asthoughitwasagreatpaintoevenlookatme.“I.D.?”

Igavehimmyvolunteersecuritybadgeandhenodded.“Goonin.Wantoneofusintherewithyou?”

Ipeeredthroughtheglasswindowattheunconsciousfigureinthebed.“Isheawake?”

“Nah,he’sbeenoutforafewdaysstraight.Doesn’tlookgood.”Heswipedhiskey-cardtoopenthe

door,andhelditopenforme.“Don’tbetoolong.Justscreamifyouneedanyhelp.”Thetwoofthem

chuckledattherathermacabreadvice,andIgavehimmyweakestsmile.

“Thanks.”Not.

Haulingthetrolleyinbehindme,Iclosedthedoorandwentaboutmyusualtasksatapainfullyslow

rate–emptyingthetrashcan,disinfectingthetabletop,wipingdownthewindowsill.WhenIfeltthe

eyesofthepolicementurnfrommebacktothehallway,Isnuckapeekattheobjectofmyintrigue.

IfAchilleshadheardmyentry,hedidn’treacttoit.Hisheartrateliftedalittle,buthiseyesremained

closed.

Withthecautionofarabbitapproachingatrap,IinchedtowardsAchilles’sstillform,makingitseem

asthoughIwasgoingtosprayandwipethebedsidetable.Hisfacepaintwasintact,thoughitwas

crackedattheedgesandsmudgedacrosstheeyes.Hissuit-shirt,nowrolleduptohiselbowsand

openattheneck,exposedskinthecolorofcinnamon,pepperedwithfreckles.Tubesandwiresranout

ofhishandandnose,andsomethingeerilylikesympathytuggedatmyheartstrings.Crap.

“Yousmelllikeabakery,”hecroakedwithoutopeninghiseyes.

Ifroze,andmadesureIlookedbusywhenIreplied,“Yousmelllikedeath.”Iwasn’tkidding–the

wholeroomhadahorribly‘dead’feeltoit,likeablackmistblanketingthesmallspace.

Hecrackledalaugh.Thecornersofhismouth-paintsplintered.“Darling,youwouldtoo,ifyou’d

gonethroughwhatI’ve–”Hebrokeintoarattlingcough,andIinstantlyreturnedtothewindowsill,

expectingthecopstobargeinatanysecond.Whennotasinglepeepcamefromoutside,Ihalf-turned,

wellawareasecuritycamerainthecornerwaswatchingmyeverymove.Tomyknowledge,though,

theycouldn’thearme.

“Whydidyouhelpmeescape?”Idemandedinahiss,wipingdowntheglasswithmuchmorevigor

thannecessary.

Anotherlaugh,thisonemuchquieter.IsawhiseyesblinkopenandstifledagaspwhenIsawtheall-

consumingblackcontact-lenseswereleftin.“Didyoureallycomeallthiswaytoaskmethat?”

“Ifyoudied,Iwouldnevergetananswer.”ItwastheonlyjustificationIwasreadytogivetoeitherof

us.

Thoseterrifyingeyesstudiedme,butIdidn’tfindmyselffrozeninplacethistime.Imovedtohis

bedside,crouchednearhishead,pretendingtopickupthingsfromunderthebed.Somethingabout

seeinghimsovulnerablemadememuchmoreconfidentthanitshouldhave.

Afteralongmomentofsilentobservation,hetriedforashrug.“Youlookedlikeagirlwhowould

appreciatechivalry.”

Itriednottotakeoffense–Ihadtoassumetherewasaninsultintheresomewhere.“Doesthatmean

youweren’tplanningonkillingme?”

Intheblinkofaneye,hiswristflickedoutandgrabbedmyneck,hisgriptightenoughtokeepmein

placewithouthurtingme.Iprayedhisarmwasblockedbymybodyforthecamerainthecorner,

insteadofprayingformylife.Ididn’twantSecurityrushinginhereandspoilingmysuicidally-brave

intentions.“AreyouimplyingI’macoward?BecauseIcouldfinishthejobrighthere,ifyou’dprefer.

Nobodywouldevenhearyouscream.”

Likethatnightinthegazebo,myspineprickledwithunadulteratedfear.Oneofhisfingerscurled

againsttheskinundermyear,sendingshiversacrosseverypartofme.Somehow,Imanagedtofind

thecouragetospeak.“No,butthey’llhearyouscreamwhenItakemymopandshoveitupyour–”

“Kinky,”hepurred,blackeyesflashing.Foraheart-stoppingmoment,Iwonderediftheywere,in

fact,hisrealeyes.Hisgriponmetightenedever-so-slightly.“Butanemptythreat,Ithink.Youshould

becareful–thatstreakoffirewillgetyoukilledoneday.”

“Aswillyours,”Iretorted,rollingmyeyesbacktowardsthesecuritycamera.

Withagrowl,hereleasedme,andIbackeduptowardsthecart,idlyrearrangingmycleaning

products.

“Whatareyoudoinghere,darling?Becauseifyou’regoingtograntmylastrequests,youshould

know,I’manabsolutesuckerforred-heads.”

Anothershiver.Iignoredit.“I’malreadyconvincedthisisabadidea–youdon’thavetoopenyour

mouthandconfirmthetheory.”Beforehecouldprovokemefurther,Ireturnedtohisbedside,backto

thecamera,andslappedahandoverhismouthandpouredexactlyhalfofthesunshineI’dcollected

fromthepartythreedaysagointohisskin.

JustlikewithMrs.Corbet,theeffectshithimswiftly.Theunhealthyhuetohisdarkskinlifted,his

heartratejumpedbacktonormal,andhischestbowedoffthebed,asthoughI’dsentelectricity

throughhisveinsinsteadofconfidenceandhappiness.

Theshockwasplainasdayonhisface,evenunderneaththemake-up.Heopenedhismouthtospeak–

andruinthemoment,mostlikely–butIkeptmyhandagainstit.

“I’mgoingtopretendyouthankedme,gobacktomycar,andhopenevertoseeyouagain,

understand?Mydebt’sbeenpaid,”Itoldhimfirmly.

ThedoorinstantlyopenedwhenIknockedonitsinside,andbeforeIpushedthetrolleybackoutinto

thehallway,IstoleonelastglanceatthemanI’djustsavedfromcertaindeath.Hislifewasbackinhis

handsnow,andthatwouldhavetobeenough.Hisebonyeyeswereonme,seeingthroughtomysoul,

evenwiththeclosingdoorbetweenus.

Hemouthedsomethingatme,butIchosenottointerpretit.Hewasnothingtomenow.

Ithankedthepolicemenagain,stowedthetrolleywhereI’dfoundit,allbutsprintedfromthehospital,

reachedmycar,andspedhome.

Itwasn’tuntilIwastuckedinbed,scrubsstuffedinmycloset,sleepcreepingtowardsme,thatI

replayedAchilles’swordstomeacrossthatmiserableroom:

Seeyousoon.

ChapterThree

TakinginStrays

Bythenextmorning,newshadspreadthatAchilleshadescapedthehospital.BythetimeImetLucia

forlunchdowntown,rumorwasthathehadpersonallyhunteddownthedoctorwhotriedtooverdose

him,andhunghimwithhisownstethoscope.

Overandoverlogicscreamedatme–‘Itoldyouthiswouldhappen!He’scomingforyounow!’.

Which,youknow,washighlycomforting.

“Youdon’tlooktoogood”wasthefirstthingLuciasaidtomeassheapproachedourusualtableat

thecafé.“Areyousureyou’rewellenoughtobeout?”

IgaveherwhatIhopedwasareassuringsmile.“Justalingeringthing–I’mtakingtonsofvitamins,

though,soI’msureit’llblowover.What’sbeenhappening?”

“Well,didyouhearaboutAchilles?Youknow,thecrazydudewhodresseslikeaskeleton?Ihearhe’s

roamingaroundthecityrightnow.OriginallyIwasgoingtocancelourlunch,butIfigured,since

you’re…youknow…”Sheloweredhervoicesignificantly,“neutral,thatwewouldn’tbetargets.So

we’resafe.”

“Yeah,totallysafe,”Isaid,moretomyselfthanher.Iknewhewascomingforme.Whetherornothe

wouldkillme,Ihadnoidea.So,tomydismay,thehospitalwouldhavetodowithoutmeforawhile.

Ihadbeenrunningallmylife.I’drunfrommyfamily,frommyhometown,frommypast.Iwasso

usedtobeingbetrayedthatnothingshockedme.IfLuciahadsuddenlypulledoutaknifeandstabbed

meinthechest,Iwouldn’thaveevenflinched.Myownhappinessandgoodfeelingswere

unimportant,afterall.Peopleinneed–inneedofcheeringup,ofaboost,ofaspiritlift–took

precedence,always.WhyuseitformyselfwhenIcouldsaveliveswithit?

“Istillcan’tbelieveyoubailedonFinnCole,”Luciagushed,breakingmyreverie.Fromthecornerof

myeye,Isawaheadsnapup.Ibrusheditoffasparanoia.“Youhavetobethefirstgirlinhistoryto

dothat.Whatisitabouthimthatfreaksyououtsomuch,anyway?Isitthesmokething?BecauseIcan

seehowthatwouldcomeoffascreepy.”

“He’sjust…Idon’tknow…boring.Toonice.”Itwasalameexcuse,butitwastheonlyoneIcould

comeupwith.Ididn’tdo‘nice’guys.Niceguysusuallyfixatedonmendingpeople,andIwasinno

waylookedtobemended.Theskeletonsinmyclosetwereveryhappyweretheywere,thanksvery

much.“Washemadwhenhecouldn’tfindmelateron?”

Sheshrugged.“Ifhewas,hedidn’tshowit.Ileftjustbeforeeleven,anyway,andhewaschattingup

someothergirlthen.So,ifIhadtoguess,I’dsayno.”

“Good.”Imeantit.SomeonelikeFinnColedidn’ttakeagenuineinterestinsomeonelikeFelicity

Eastwood.Mostlikely,he’dseenmeasaneasylay,andgoneforit.Eitherthat,orhehadbeen

drunkerthanIremembered.

Lucia’songoingstreamofchatterwaseasyenoughtogetthroughwithminimal‘oh,yeah?’sand

‘mm-hmm’s.WhenshevisiblysaddenedatthementionofherdogBruno,who’dhadtobeputto

sleepafewmonthsback,Ibrieflyconsideredsendingashotofsunshineherway.Onebrushofthe

handwoulddoit.Hell,sheprobablywouldn’tevennotice.

ButI’dsworntomyself,allthoseyearsago,thatIwouldneverusemypoweronsomeonetooclose

tome.ItwasthereasonIdistancedmyselffromthepatientsatthehospital,andthereasonIdidn’tlet

manypeopleknowofmypower.Justtheessentials:mydoctor,Lucia,andmynext-doorneighbor,

who’donceoverheardmediscussingthepowerwithLucia,andwhohadonlyagreedtokeepquiet

aboutitafterIwrotehimacheckforfivehundreddollars.

I’dlearnedthehardwaythatpeoplecouldeasilybecomeaddictedtomypower.Itwasadruginits

ownright–thepowertounleashyourhappiestthoughts,increaseluckandconfidence,andboost

yourmoraleforalongperiodoftime.WhichiswhyIkeptatightlidonitforeverybody,including

myself.Anythingmorethanaburstofthestuffcouldsendapersonofftheedge–again,I’dlearned

thatthehardway.

So,really,itwasinevitablethatAchilleswascomingforme.He’dhadatasteofpurehappiness,and

nowhe’dbecomingtogetanother.Thebestplanwastosittightandwaitforenoughtimetopassso

theeffectsofmypowerwouldhavewornoff.Ithadbeenfoolishofme,todowhatIdidinthe

hospital,butIdidn’tregretit.Myconsciencewasstrongerthanthat.

“Felicity?Areyoufeelingokay?”Oncemore,Luciabrokemyconcentration.Thankgoodness,too,

becauseIwasdippingintomemoriesIdidn’tcaretorevisit.Hercoffee-coloredeyessearchedmine

withconcern.

“Oh,yeah.Abittired,isall.Ihaven’tbeenoutinawhile,”Isaid,asthewaiterclearedawayourlunch

plates.

Shetutted.“Timeforyougethomeandbacktobed.Youlookexhausted.I’msorryIdraggedyouout

here,Ijust–”

“Don’tbesilly,”Iassuredher,“Iloveourlunches!AssoonasI’muptoit,wecandoaday-trip

somewhere,Ipromise.”

“Ooh,good!”Andthatwasenoughtosetheroffonanotherramblingspeechaboutanewshopping

centeropenedinthenearestcity,PortMartha,andallthewinteroutfitssheplannedtobuy.Lucia,it

seemed,hatedwinter.I,ontheotherhand,lovedthecold.Icouldn’twaitfortheskiestodarkenand

thenightstolengthen.

Wesaidourgoodbyessoonafter,whenwewereoutonthestreet,andLucia’shugwastighterthan

usual.

“Takecareofyourself,okay?I’mgoingtovisitBradthisweekend,butfeelfreetocallmeanytime.”

Lucia’sboyfriendBradwenttocollegeinNewYork,andsheusuallyflewuptoseehimwhenever

possible.Istillhadn’tmethim,butfromherstories,hewasabitofadouchebag.

“Sure,”Isaid,thoughwebothknewitwasalie.“Thanksforeverything,Lucia.Ireallyappreciateit.”

Notalie.IwasluckytohaveafriendlikeLucia,whoputupwithallmycrapanddidn’tjudgewhenI

didn’tlaughatanythingorsmiletoooften.

“Becareful,”sherepeated,grippingmyshoulderslightlybeforesteppingaboardthebusbehindher.I

stayedlongenoughtowaveheroff,andthenheadedbacktomycar,parkedafewblocksaway.

Lucia’sdepartureleftaheavyfeelinginmychest,likeIhadjustsaidgoodbyeforthelasttime.Maybe

allmymorbidthoughtswerecatchinguptome.

Peoplebumpedintomeonthestreet,someapologizing,othersnotbothering.Sometimesitfeltas

thoughIwascompletelyinvisible–likeIwasghostingthroughthestreets,thebottleofhappinessin

mychesttheonlyanchorIhadtotheground.Isawmyselfinthereflectionsofstorewindows–

untidycopperhair,shapelessclothes,largesquareglasses,nodistinctfeaturesoraura–buthardly

recognizedthatgirl.

Anditwasn’tuntilIlookedcloserinthereflectionofmycarwindowasIunlockedthedriver’sdoor

thatIsawIwasn’talone.

“Whatluck–FinnCole’slittlepiece,”sneeredamasculinevoice.Iwaitedfortheshocktohitme–

forascreamtoripfrommylungs,agasp,acryforhelp,anything.ButinsteadIjuststoodthere,

lookingattheunfamiliarfaceinthereflection,blinkinglikeafishoutofwater.

Evenwhenablackcaseenvelopedmyhead,andsomethingwhackedacrossmyskull,andeverything

wentblack,Istillwasn’ttheleastbitsurprised.

Iawoketotheinsideofthesameblackbag.Panicwelledinsidemebriefly,beforethenumbnessof

myblooddrowneditoutagain.Iftheywantedmedead,they’dhavekilledmebynow.

“What’sthis?”askedanothermalevoice,differentfromtheoneatmycar.

“Presentfortheboss,”repliedthevoicebesideme.Slowly,headachereceding,Iregisteredthegrip

onmyarm,theropesbindingmyhandsandfeet,thescrapesonmyknees.I’dbeendraggedalong

way,bythefeelofit.“IheardhersayCole’safterher.”

Achuckle.“He’llbehappywithyou,man.God,Ihatethatsmokybastard.”Oh,brother.Theseguys

somehowthoughtIwasinvolvedwithFinn.NexttimeIsawthatidiot–ifIeversawhimagain–Iwas

goingtopunchhimrightintheface.

Ididn’tmakeasound,evenasmyassailantcontinuedtodragmeoverthecementfloorforwhat

seemedlikemiles.IfIgaveawaymyconsciousness,I’deitherbebeatenorsomethingworse.UntilI

couldassessthesituation,Iwasmuchbetteroffplayingknockedout.

Araponwood.Adeepvoicefrominside.Adooropening,closing.ItriednottocryoutasIwas

suddenlytossedforwardontomyface.

“Idon’ttakeinstrays,Joshua,”saidaneerievoice.

“Thisain’tastray,sir.She’sinvolvedwithFinnCole.Youknow,romantically.Sir,”theothervoice

addedquickly.

Crap,crap,crap,thiswasn’tgood.WhoeverIwasdealingwithwasobviouslysomeoneofpower,if

hehadthugsworkingforhim.AndjudgingbythehatredofFinnCole,I’dhavetoguesstheywere

superhuman–oneofthecriminalbosses,maybe?Anothervillain?Or,Godforbid,Achilleshimself?

Ialmostlaughedattheideaofthat.Howironic–himcatchingme,notformesavinghislife,butfor

beingpubliclyseenwithFinnCole.

“Justthrowherinacell,I’lldealwithherlater,”cametheorder.

“Yes,sir,”repliedthethug,grabbingmeroughlybythecollaranddraggingmyforced-limpbody

outoftheroom.Ifeltthewarmthofbloodtrickleintomytornstockingsattheknees,theskin

scrapingwitheveryinchhetuggedme.

Finally,blissfully,hetossedmeonthegroundoncemore,andIheardalockresoundbehindme.

“Nicelegs,”commentedsomeonefromadistance.

“Toobadabouttherestofher,”snickeredanothervoice.“Therewon’tbemuchleftoncethebosshas

aturn.”

Aturn?Aturnatwhat?Oncemore,thepanicthreatenedtooverloadmysensesandhaveme

screamingoutforhelp.ButIforcedmyselftoremaincalm,nomatterwhatthecost.

Itwasn’tuntilfootstepsfadedintothebackground,andyetanotherdoorwasclosed,somewherefar

away,thatIstretchedoutmylegstotesttheenvironmentsurroundingme.Ihadtostretchmyentire

bodyoutbeforemyfeetmetawall,meaningthecellwasaboutsix-footinwidth.Ididthesameforits

length,onlytofindIhadtoscootforwardsaboutthreeorfourfeettotouchtheend.Well,atleastI

knewdimensions.

Asourceoflightwasattheverytopofthewallbehindme,whichIhadtoassumewaseithera

windoworalightbulb.Somethinghardandmetalsatinthecorneroftheroom–atoilet?–andthe

floorwascoldconcrete.Itwasn’tlongbeforethatverycoldseepedthroughmyclothes,throughmy

skin,intomybones.Shivering,IcurledupinwhatIhopedwasacornerofthecell,andtriedtowill

warmthbackintomyself.

Theycouldn’ttortureme–IliterallyhadnothingtotellthemaboutFinnCole.Theycouldkillme,I

supposed,butitwouldn’tdomuchgood.Iwasn’tworthanythingtosociety.Intheory,theyreallyhad

nouseforme.MyrelationshipwithFinnwasnonexistent.ThesoonertheyrealizedIwasanobody,

thebetter.

Whatfeltlikehourslater,afterI’dsimplyacceptedthefrigidcoldrunningthroughme,thedoor

scrapedopen.Instinctively,Ileanedfurtherintothecorner,asthoughthewallwouldswallowme

wholeandhideme.

“Shedoesn’tlooklikemuch,”commentedthevoiceatthedoor.Thesameeerievoiceasbefore.

“That’swhatIthought,boss,butTonysayshesawherwithColetheothernight.ThenIheardhertalk

abouthiminthecafé,soIguessshemustbehidingsomething,right?”

“Leave,”saidthefirstguy,inavoicesocool,itmadethecementbeneathmeseemwarm.

“ButIthoughtIcouldmaybehaveagoather,youknow,afteryou’re–”

Thesoundofastruggle,andsomethingwasscrapedagainstthewall.Ahorriblegaggingnoisefilled

thetinyroom.“No,Idon’tthinktherewillbeago,Joshua.Andthesooneryoulearntherules,the

lesslikelyitbecomesthatI’lltryandmineyourinsideswithmyscrewdriver.SowhenIsay‘leave’,

you…?”

“Ileave,”chokedthethug.“Ileave!Ileave!”

“Goldstar,”chirpedtheother,andthedoorblewopenandslammedshut.

Secondstickedbyincompletesilence.Iwasballedupsotightly,everymusclescreamedatmein

pain.Butitwasagoodthing–thepainwastheonlythingkeepingmefromfreakingoutentirely.

“Now,let’sseewhat’sfallenintomy…”Theblackbagwaslifted,andlightfloodedmyvision.“…

lap.”

Thevoicesoundedoddlyamused–staggered,even.

Gradually,myeyesfocused,andthefigurecrouchedbeforemecameintoclarity.AndwhenI

recognizedhim,somethinglikeashrieklodgedinmythroat.

Blackeyesboredintomyown,neitherofussomuchasbreathingheavily.

Istaredrightbackathim,knowingjustaswellashedidthathecouldn’thurtme,notreally.I’ddone

morethansavehislife–I’dgivenhimthemeanstoescape,theconfidenceofrevenge,thepromiseof

betterdays.Hismoralcodewasskewed,buthewasn’tanidiot.I’msureheknewitwasbettertobeon

mygoodsidethanhavemeasanenemy.

“Shouldhaverecognizedthelegs,”Achillessaidsimply,takingaseatonthecotnearme.Ihadn’tfelt

thatinmyblindsearch.Hiseyeslingeredonthebloodoozingfrommyexposedknees,mystockings

rippedtoshreds.Ifelttheinsaneurgetocovermyself.

“IamnotinvolvedwithFinnCole.”Itwasthebestmybraincoulddounderthecircumstances.

Iexpectedhimtolaunchintoattackmode,butinsteadhethrewhisheadbackandlaughed.Theface

painthadbeenredonesinceI’dseenhimatthehospital–thedetailsofhiseyesweredifferent,the

sown-uplipsmoreintricate,thecheeksnotashollow.Iwonderedbrieflyifhepaidsomeonetodohis

make-upforhim.

“Igotthat,fromthewayyoulethimgetshotwithanail-gun,”Achillessaiddryly.“Sowhyohwhy

wouldoneofmymenlietome?Anyideas?”

“IwaswithFinnataparty,buthewasrecountingthegazebostorytome.Forsomereason,he

deemedmeworthyofhisattention,atleastforawhile.Soyourmendidn’tlie,notreally.”

Inaflash,hewascrouchedbesidemeoncemore.Henolongersmelledofdeath–itwasalittle

mintierthistime.Animprovement,Iguessed.

Hetuttedslowly.“Protectingtheoneswhoabductedyou,darling?That’snotnormalatall.Ithinkyou

shouldbemoreworriedaboutprotectingyourself.Itoldyouyourcarelessnesswouldgetyoukilled,

didn’tI?”

“I’mnotdead,incaseyouhadn’tnoticed,”Iretorted,usingwhatlittlecourageIcouldmuster.

“No,you’renot,”hesaid,aferalgrinilluminatingtheskeletalfeaturesofhisface.“Butyoucouldbe,

Isuppose.”

“Look,ifyou’regoingtokillme,justkillme.Idon’thaveanyinformationonFinn.Ihaveno

money,nofamily,andthecitywon’texactlymournthelossofme.Sodon’tbotherbeatingaroundthe

bush.”Thewordsspewedoutofme,asuicidenoteintheirownright.

Forthesecondtimeintwodays,hishandwrappedaroundthecolumnofmyneck,andhisotherhand

tangledafistinmyhair,tiltingmyfaceback.Ididn’tstruggle.

“Imustsay,Iexpectedbetterfromsomeonewhospecializesindishingouthappyfeelings.Aren’tyou

supposedtobemadeofrainbowsanddaisies?Sugarandspiceandeverythingnice?”

Imadeafaceatthat.“Thesooneryourealizemypowerhasnothingtodowithmypersonality,the

better.”

Forasplitsecond,thoseemptyblackeyeswidened.Thenthemaskreset.“Welldarling,thesooner

yourealizeIgetwhatIwant,nomatterthecost,thebetter.”

“Andwhatisityouwant,exactly?”

Hisfingersloosenedfrommyneckandhairashegottohisfeet.“WhenIfigureitout,I’llletyou

know.Untilthen,sittight.”

Withoutanotherword,helefttheroom,asmearofblackpaintonthebedcovertheonlyevidence

he’deverbeenthere.

Ididn’tknowhowlongIsat,curleduponthepaper-thinmattressofthecot,alternatingbetween

prayingforhimtostayawayandwonderingifhewasevercomingback.

Mylegsachedfrombeingboundforsolong,andIcouldnolongerfeelmyhands.Thebloodonmy

kneeshaddriedinriversonmylegs.Ikeptexpectingthequelledpanicfrombeforetocomerushing

backtome,butIremainedinastateofmentallimboforwhatseemedlikehours.I’dknownAchilles

wascomingforme–Isupposedthisabductionhadjustspeduptheinevitable.

Theonlythoughttetheringmetorealitywas,itcan’tgetanyworse.Iwasinthedingiestprisoncell,

tiedupwithrope,beingheldhostagebythemostpsychoticvillaininthecountry,withnoonewaiting

formeontheoutside.Ihadnothingtolosebybeingthere.Achilleswouldsoonrealizethat,and

eitherreleaseorkillme.

Imusthavefallenasleepsittingup,becausewhenIwoke,thelightoutsidethedirtywindowatthetop

ofthewallhadfaded.Theonlyremaininglightcamefromthehallwayoutside,whichIcouldsee

clearlythroughtheglassdoortomycell.Anotherprisoncelllayacrossthehallfrommine,butit

wasunoccupied.

Thedoorscrapedopensoonenough,andIsawanunfamiliarmanstandinthedoorway.

“Yes?”Iaskedbluntly,whenhecontinuedtojuststandthereandstareatme.

“Bossisonhisway,sayshewantsanswers.WellI’mgonnabeathimtoit.”Theweedymanstepped

towardsmeandclickedthedoorshutbehindhim.Instantly,mygutbegantochurn.

“Idon’thaveanswers,”Itoldhimquickly,flexingmyfingers,desperatelytryingtoregainfeelingin

them.IfIcouldslipahandoutoftheropes,Icouldproperlydefendmyself.

TheferalgleaminhiseyeswassodifferentthanAchilles’s–lustier,dirtier.Itwasenoughtomake

mereconsiderthe‘can’tgetanyworse’mentality.

“Iwonderwhatitwouldtakeforyoutotalk,hmm?”Hisfingerslatchedontothetopofmybaggyt-

shirtandrippedthecollarwideopen,exposingtheswellofmybreasts.“Yourskin’sperfectfor

carving,littlegirl.”

Beforethefearcouldparalyzeme,Iswungmyboundfeetathim,hittinghiminthestomach.He

staggeredbackwardsandIjumpedoffthebed,throwingmyweightintohim,sendingusbothintothe

cementwall.

Foulwordshitmyearsaswestruggled,andhefinallygotmepinned.Well,goodlucktohim–he’d

havetocutmyfoottiestoopenmylegs,ifhewasreallyplanningongoingthroughwiththis.Andas

soonasmylegswerefree,Iwasplanningonshovingakneeorsixintohisgroin.

“He’llbeimpressed,”slobberedmyattackerinmyear,hishandspressingontomychest.“Justgive

measecret,andI’llleaveyoualone,Ipromise.Tellmesomething.”

Ibuckedhimoffonce,twice,untilhegrowledandslammedmyheadintotheconcrete.Myvision

swam,myteethrattledinmyskull.

“TELLME!”hescreamedintomyface,butIcouldn’ttalk,evenifI’dwantedto.

Again,myheadsmashedintothefloor.Aringingnoisefilledmyears,andaweirdcryescapedme.A

dooropened,voiceswereraised,mybrainseemedtodeflate…

Andtheworldfelloutfromunderneathme.

ChapterFour

TheDailyGrind

Iawoketoahandtappingagainstmycheek,soinsistentIhadnochoicebuttoslowlycometo.

“Comeon,darling,notimelikethepresent.I’veseenworsebrainssplatteredacrossafloorbefore.”

Thathadmyeyesflyingopeninhorror.“What?”Ishrieked,thoughmyvoicewasawisp.

Achilles’sskeletalfacehoveredabovemyown,thedetailsofhismaskalittlelessdefinedthanusual.

ItwasthenthatIrealizedIwasmissingmyglasses.

“W-whathappened?”Iasked,thoughIvaguelyrememberedmyheadbeingusedasabouncingball

foroneofhisgoons.Myeyesfeltdriedout;mybrainfeltasthoughsomeonehadflatteneditwitha

hammer.

Acackle.“Nobrains,I’mjustteasing.Here.”Abottleofwaterappearedinmylineofvision,

blockingAchilles’sface,andInoddedinthanksbeforesuckinghalfthethingdowninonego.

Asmyclose-rangevisioncameintofocus,Irealizedtherewassomethingbesideme.No,someone.

Slowly,mybrainregisteredthepuddleofbloodhaloingmyhead,thestenchofexcrementanddeath,

andworstofall,thesightlesseyesofthecorpselyingnexttome.

WatersprayedfrommeasIscrambledbackwardsandhitthewallinaninstant.Thebodyofmy

attackerwasspreadoutlikeThanksgivingdinneronmycellfloor,hishandscutcleanfromhisarms

andstuffedintohismouthinanightmarishfashion.Histhroatwasslitfromeartoear,thesoundof

blooddrippingintothepoolaroundhimdrillingintomymind.

Imadeittothetoiletjustintimetoemptyoutthefewcontentsofmystomach.Irinsedmymouthout

withthewaterandheardAchillessay,“Alright,takehimout.”

Thecorpsewasdraggedoutofthecellbytwogoonsjustlikehim,leavingathicktrailofbloodas

theywent.IfI’dhadanythinglefttothrowup,Iwouldhave.

Mybodywantednothingmorethantocollapseonthebedandneverwakeup,butIknewIwasvery

muchstillvulnerablewiththispsychopathinthesameroomasme.Ballingupnexttothecot,away

fromthebloodandgoreleftbehind,IkeptmyeyesstrictlyonAchilles.Hisface,thoughsomewhat

terrifyinginitself,wasawelcomedistraction.

“Youdidthat,didn’tyou?”Iwhispered,rememberingthevoicethatjoinedthechaosofmymind

rightbeforeIpassedout.“Why?”

Hebouncedacrossthepoolofbloodandontothebed,pillowinghischeekwithbothhandsand

turningtofaceme.“Doesitreallysurpriseyou?”

“No,butitwouldstillbenicetoknowwhyyoufelttheneedto…tomakeashowofit.”Myvocal

chordswereregainingstrengthwiththehelpofthewater.

“Hebrokethese,”hesaid,off-topic,handingme…myglasses?Oneofthelenseswascrackedalittle

inthecorner,butatleastIcouldseeproperlyagain.Ididn’tneedmyglassestosee,butitmademe

feelalotbetter,knowingtherewasabarrierbetweenmeandtherestoftheworld.

“Thanks,”Imuttered.

“You’rethankingme?”Hegavemeafunnylook,evenfrombehindtheblackeyesandface-paint.

“DoIgetananswerifIthankyou?”

Timestretchedouttoanalmost-awkwardlength,andthenhesaid,ratherquietly,“ItoldJoshuanotto

touchyou.Therearerulestoworkingforme,darling,andhebrokethem.Sohelosthishands.Then,

becausehetriedtounderminemebyinterrogatingyouhimself,Ichokedhimwiththem.”

Ishuddered.“Andthecutthroat?”

Heshrugged.“Tosetanexample.”Buthistonewastootighttobetruthful–Ihadasneaking

suspicionhewaslying.

NotthatIwouldevervoicethetheory.Ilikedmyhandsattachedtomybody,thanksverymuch.

Speakingofmyhands,itwasonlythenthatIrealizedmytieshadbeencut.DidthismeanIwasfreeto

moveagain?Orwashejustplayingwithme,gettingmyhopesup?Ididn’tdarethankhimforthat,in

casehethoughthemightbegoingsoftonme,anddecidedtotiemeuponcemore.

“Oh,Iforgottoopenmypresent,”saidAchillessuddenly,reachingintohispocket.Ifullyexpected

himtopulloutagun–orsomethingequallyviolent–butinsteaditwasmywallet.Mywallet!

“That’smine!”Igasped,lungingforit.Imanagedtogetahandoverhisbeforeheflippedmeover,

pressingmywholebodyintothemattress,holdingthewalletoutstretched,awayfromme.

“Ah,ah,”hetutted,hisbodyfartooclosetomineforcomfort.Myhandsimmediatelyflewtomy

openshirttocovermyskin,agesturehedidn’tmiss.“I’llgiveitbackonceI’mdone.Wearen’teven

onfirst-nametermsyet,darling,andit’skillingme.”Withagrinthatcouldonlybedescribedas

wicked,hepushedawayfrommeandsatattheendofthecot,myfeettuckedunderhisarms.

“Right,whathavewehere?”Heflippedthewalletopenandtookoutmysmallbundleofcards.The

nameonthefirstcardmadehimfrown.“FelicityEastwood?”

“Yeah,so?”

Ihadn’timaginedit;thefrowndeepened.“Nothing.”Heflickedthroughthecards,visiblybored.“Not

averyactivelifestyle,Flick.IfIdidn’tknowanybetter,I’dsayyouwereabitofadrifter.”

“Thenit’sluckyyoudon’tknowmeatall,”Iremindedhim.Flick.I’dneverhadanicknamebefore,

anditwasso,sowrongthatthefirstoneIreceivedwasfromahomicidalmaniac.

Stuffingthecardsbackinrandompockets,hepulledoutthemorepersonaltouches.

“Well,well,”hecommentedashislongfingerswentthroughphotosofmymomanddad,apacketof

painkillers,appointmentcards,and–mostembarrassingly–acondomwrapper.Ifeltmycheeksburn

brightred.“Somebody’stakingtheBoyScoutmottoalittletooliterally.”

“Shutup,”Igrumbled,thoughIdidn’tknowwhy.Achillescertainlywasn’tthekindofmanto

appreciatebeingtoldtoshutup,especiallybysomeonelikeme.

Hejustlaughed,though.“You’refun.”Takingspecialcarewiththecauseofhisamusement,heslid

thethingsbackinmywalletandhandedittome.“See?I’mamanofmyword.”

“You’realsoapsychopathicmurderer,”Itoldhim.

Heblinkedthosehuge,fathomlesseyesatme.“Ifyou’rereferringtothemanIjustkilled,letme

remindyouthathadInotdonewhatIdid,youwouldbe,atbest,violatedwithhalfyourbrains

hangingout.WouldyoubecallingitmurderifFinnColehaddonethesamething?”

“FinnColedidn’tabductmeandkeepmestarvedandmistreated,”Iretortedheatedly.

“Thatisn’tananswer.”

“It’stheonlyansweryou’llgetuntilIhaveashower.”

“Yousureyouwanttorequestthat?Theonlyshowersaregrouponesinthechange-rooms.”Theevil

grinwasbackinfull-force.

“Fine,thenI’llsettleforwetwipes.Youaren’tgoingtogetwhateveritisyouwantfrommeifyou

insistontreatingmelikeadog.”Mychinstuckitselfoutofitsownaccord,anothergesturethose

ebonyeyescaught.

“Me-ow.Wheredidthissuddendefiancecomefrom?Iwasundertheimpressiondeathdidn’tscare

you,ifthegazeboandhospitalincidentswereanythingtogoby,”hesaid.Icouldn’ttellifitwas

sarcasmornot.

“I’monlydefiantaroundyou,itseems,”Imuttered,butIknewheheard.Itwasthetruth.Iwasusually

acomplacentperson,passivetothepointofadoormat.ButAchilleswas…different.Likeitornot,

somethingabouthimmademewanttostandupformyselfforonce.Hemademeconfident,andit

wasterrifying.“Anddeathscareseverybody.Somepeoplearejustbetterathidingit.”

Silencefelloncemore.Heabsentmindedlyunlacedmysneakersanddroppedthemtothefloor.Of

coursetodayhadtobeamismatched-socksday.NotthatIcaredwhathethoughtofthem.

“Iwouldverymuchlike,Flickdarling,toknowhowyourpowerworks.Whateveryoudidtomein

thehospitalwasjustshortofamiracle,andnowthatIhaveyou,Idon’tplanongivingyouup.”

Iexpectedasmuch.“Soyou’ll,what?Suckmedryofmypowerandbethehappiestguytoaimfor

worlddomination?Icanonlygiveyouthefeeling–Ican’tmaketheworldseeyouinaparticular

way,orboostyouupthesocialladder.”

“Worlddomination?Imaginative,darling,butabitoff-target.Isitsowrongforaguytowantabitof

excitementaddedtothedailygrind?”

“Itiswhenthe‘guy’inquestionisyou.Besides,youwon’tgetmuchoutofmeatthemoment.Once

I’mdriedup,IcanguesshowusefulI’llbetoyou.”Therewasanother,muchbiggerreasonIwas

nevergoingtogiveAchillesalargerdoseofsunshine,butthatstorywasburiedinthedeepest,

darkestcornerofmymind.

Settingmyfeetbackonthebed,hecrawleduptome,sendingmescramblingbackagainstthewall.

Whenhisfacewasagoodfiveinchesawayfrommine,hesaid,inadeadlytone,“ThenIsupposeit’s

imperativethatyoufinditinyourhearttohelpmeout.Forbothoursakes,Ihopeyoudon’tdryout

toosoon.Ithinkitwouldbeofgreatbenefittoeveryoneifyoukeptmehappy.”Hestaredatmefora

longmoment,then,withanothersinistersmile,bouncedoffthebedandoutthedoor,lockingit

behindhim.

Awhilelater,afterI’dcoveredthepoolofbloodwithmytornshirtandtakentosimplywearingmy

sweaterastheonlytoplayer,aflaponthecelldoorcreakedopenandapaperbagwastossedin.With

slightlyshakyfingers,Iopenedit,fullyexpectingtofindadismemberedheadorabomb–something

tocementmysuspicionthatAchilleswascertifiablyinsane–butinsteadfoundatubeofalcoholic

wipes,anotherbottleofwater,proteinbars,andabowlofsteamingrice.

Whatthe…?

He’sbutteringyouup,IremindedmyselfasIwolfeddowntherice.Iwaspastthepointofcaringifit

waspoisoned–Idoubtedit,seeingasAchilleshadhadathousandopportunitiestokillmeandhe

hadn’t.Hejustwantsyourpower.Youdon’tmattertohim.

Well,hehadanotherthingcoming.ThesunshineIcouldprovidedidn’tappearinmysystemoutof

thinair.Ithadtohaveasource–Ineededtofuelmyselfwithhappinessfirst,andonlythencouldI

transferittoothers.

So,unlessAchillesmagicallyfoundasourceofhappinessforme,Iwouldn’tbeofmuchusetohim

withinaweek’stime.Mysunshinewouldfade,andIwouldbeleftwithanemptywell.Ihadn’t

experiencedthatinyears,andIhopedIwouldn’thavetoagain.Itwasn’tprettywhenapersonranout

ofallgoodfeelings.

IthoughtaboutLucia,enjoyingablissfulweekendwithherboyfriend.AboutMrs.Corbet,alonein

thehospital,withoutmetheretoensureshekeptgoing.AboutFinnCole,who,forallIknew,was

beinghunteddownlikeadogbyAchillesatthatverymoment.Aboutmyparents,allthewaybackin

Florida,withnoideawhereIwasorwhatIwasdoing.

Thestrangestthingwas,Ididn’tmissanyofthem.Notyet,anyway.IsuspectedIwould,onceAchilles

grewtiredofmeanddecidedtorturingmewastheonlywaytoensurecooperation.Andhewould

growtiredofme.Iwastheshinynewtoynow,butmystubbornstreakwouldbecomeirritating

eventually,andgreedformypowerwouldsupersedecareformycondition.

Iburiedmyselfundertheblanketsofthecot,farawayfromtheeyesIknewwatchedmefromthecell

door.Clutchingmyjackettogetherwithonehandandtheemptybowlintheother,incaseIshould

needaweaponofsomesort,Isqueezedmyeyesshut,andwaitedformorningtocome.

Fourdayspassed.Threetimesaday,everyday,Achilleswouldentermycell,askmetotellhimhow

mypowerworked,andleavewhenIpolitely–butfirmly–declined.Threetimesaday,Iwouldget

thesamemeal–bottleofwater,bowlofrice,proteinbar.

Therewerenomorevisitsfromguards,nomorethreatsorviolence.Andtheboredomwasalmostas

badastheuncertaintyofmyfuture.FearstoppedmefromaskingAchilleswhatheplannedtodowith

me,justaspridestoppedmefromaskinghimtoletmego.

Ihadusedmostofthewipestomopupthebloodfromthefirstday,andflushedthemdownthetoilet,

soIhadtousetheremaindersparingly.Translation:Istank.IalsosuspectedIwasgoingalittle

insane,judgingbythewayIfoundmyselftalkingtothehatchinthedooroneday.

Ontheafternoonofthefourthnight,thedooropened,andIwaitedforAchilles’sskeletalfaceto

appear.Sometimeshestayedtotalktome–probablywaitingformetoslipupwithinformation

aboutmypower;othertimeshesimplyaskedfortheinformationandleftstraightawaywhenI

rejectedhim.

Buttonight,adifferentmansteppedintothecell.Achilleswassinisterbecauseofhisface,and,ifI

washonest,hisvoice.Heworesinisterasacostume,acoverforsomethingunidentifiablebelowthe

surface.

Butthismanwasdifferent.Hecarriedsinister.Itwaswovenintothefinethreadsofhisexpensive-

lookingsuit;itbledfromhismanicuredfingersandperfectlygroomedfacialfeatures.Hehadthat

familiar,eerieglowtohim–thesuperhumanglow.

Thismanwasawholedifferentballgamethanmycaptor.

“Hello,Felicity,”hesaid,hisvoicefartoosmoothtobehuman.

“Where’sAchilles?”Iaskedcasually.Behindmyback,Igrippedthericebowlfromlunch,readyto

throwitathisheadifneedbe.

IthadbeensolongsinceI’dlookedatanormalperson,I’dalmostforgottenwhateyeslookedlike

withoutconsumingblackcontactlensesandface-paint.Thisman’sbrowneyesflaredwithsomething

justasmenacingashisaura,andIgotthedistinctimpressionhekneweverythingaboutmefromjust

oneglance.

“I’mafraidhecouldn’tmakeitthisafternoon,soheaskedmetopayyouavisit.Andcharmingas

yourlittlecellis,”hesaid,inalowvoice,“Ithinkwe’dbestmovethistoamoreprivatelocation.”

Whatthehelldidthatmean?WasIleavingthecellpermanently?

Ididn’tgettimetothinkaboutit,though,beforeyetanotherthugappearedbeforemewithapairof

ropesandablindfold.

“I’mnotmoving,”Isnarled,countingdownthesecondsbeforeImadearunforit.Achillesnever

gavemeaninchofroomtoescape,butthisguyhad–soIwasplanningontakingawholemile.

Tutting,thesuitedmancametostandbesidethethug,sothepairofthemtoweredoverme.“After

whatAchillessaidofyou,Iexpectedalittlemorecooperation,MissEastwood.”

Rightasthethugreachedforme,Ismashedthebowlintohisface.Hestaggeredbackwards,giving

meenoughspacetokickoutatthesuitmanandmakealungeforthedoor.Tomycredit,Igotout

intothecorridorbeforeyetanotherthug–wheredidtheykeepcomingfrom?–tackledmeintothe

wall.Myhead,stilltenderfromtheattackdaysago,swamwiththeforceofthecontact.

“That’smorelikeit.Idolikefighters,”commentedthesmoothvoicefrombehindme.

Takingadvantageofmymomentarydizziness,thethugpounced,ropingmywriststogethertight

enoughtorubmyskinraw,thendidthesamewithmyankles,tyingthebindsintoshackles.Itriedto

shoulderthethugwiththeblindfoldawayfromme,butinsteadendedupcareeningintothewallonce

more.Thesuitedman’slaughtermademybloodboil.

“Leavetheblindfoldoff,”hetoldhishenchmen,smirkingatme.“Butgagheranyway.Ihavea

feelingthisone’sascreamer.”

OhGod.ThesicknessthatshouldhavehitmewithAchilles’sappearancefour…no,fivedaysago

struckmewiththosewords.I’dknowntorturewasonthecardswithAchilles;hemadenosecretof

hisviolentstreak.Butthisman–amanwho,intherealworld,couldhaveeasilypassedasapolitician

orlawyer–scaredmemuchmorethanthemandressedasDeathhimself.

Itriedveryhardnottopanicastheytiedtheblindfoldovermymouthandledmedownthecorridor,

toanotherdooratitsend.

Thesmellofbloodandfearhitmehead-onasweenteredthelastroom.Likemycell,itwasmade

entirelyfromcementandstone,butitwasmuchbigger,withamirroronthefarwallthatwas

obviouslyanobservationwindow.Inthemiddlesatatablestainedwithdarkredsplotches,alamp,

andtwochairs.

“Putherthere,”saidthesuitedman,gesturingtooneofthechairs.Iwasallbutthrownintoit.“No

oneistodisturbus,understand?NotevenAchilles.Don’twanthimfindingoutI’vestolenhislittle

pet,afterall.”

Doublecrap.AchilleshadnoideaIwaswiththisguy,then.Whydidthatfactinitselffillmewith

dread?

Thedoorscrapedclosedwithaheavybang,andthenwewerealone.Myheartbrokeintoasprintas

hetookuptheseatacrossthetablefromme.

Iwasintrouble.Bigtrouble.

“Howrude,Ihaven’tevenintroducedmyself,”hesaidwithacharmingsmile.Mystomachflip-

flopped,andnotinagoodway.“MynameisPatrickMolten.IworkforAchillesashis…well,his

right-handman,Isupposeyoumightsay.”

Thatstruckmeasalittleodd.Achillesdidn’tseemthetypetorequirearight-handman;hekilledhis

ownpeopleatthedropofahat,afterall.Whataboutthismaninspiredsuchtrust?,Iwondered.

“Well,ontobusiness.Business,business.”Herubbedhishandstogetherandgavemeanother

winningsmile.“Achilleswantsyoursecrets,andwhatAchilleswants,Ido,too.Personally,Ithinkour

effortscouldberedirectedintomorepracticalpast-times–riddingthiscityofFinnColeandhisband

ofmisfits,forexample.ButsomethingaboutyouhasAchillesonthepursuitofhappiness,soto

speak.Betweenyouandme,Ithinkheseessomeofhimselfinyou.”

Iwantedtosnortindisbelief,butIwastoobusytryingtokeepmybreathinglevel.Molten’shands

crepttowardsmeoverthetabletop,andmyinsidesslowlyturnedtolead.

“Broken,”hesaidinaquietvoice.“Alone.Nothingtolose.Soundfamiliar?”

Quickasablink,hishandshottohispocketandproducedaswitchblade.Amomentlater,he’dcutthe

tiesaroundmywrists.ThefirstthingIdidwasuntiemygagandtheropesaroundmyankles,despite

theragecoursingthroughmyveins,demandingIslamMolten’sheadintothedesktop.

“Iknowthatlook,”hechuckledwhenIglancedbackathim.“It’sthelookmostpeoplegivemeright

beforetheyattack.AndI’musedtobeingattacked,Felicity.Ithinkit’stimeyoulearnedyouaren’tthe

onlyonearoundherewithapowerfulability.”

Withoutasecond’swarning,heslappedhishanddownonmine,andsaid,“Attackyourselftheway

youwantedtoattackme.”

BeforeIknewwhatIwasdoing,I’dgrabbedthebackofmyownheadandsmasheditintothedesk,

justasIenvisageddoingtoMolten.

Therewasonlysomuchmyheadcouldtake,anditwasonthebrinkofshuttingdownaltogetherby

thetimeIstraightenedinmyseat.Apalmsmackedatmycheek,muchharderthanwhenAchilleshad

rousedmefromunconsciousness.

Iblinked,andMolten’sfacecameintosharpclarity,eventhroughthecracksinmyglasses.Hissmile

wasnowpureevil.“Idon’twantyoupassingoutonmejustyet,Felicity.Myinstructionsdon’twork

ifyouaren’tawake.Now,maybeweshouldaimforsmallertargetsandworkourwayup,yes?”

“Gotohell,”Islurred,clutchingmyforehead.God,myheadhurt.Icouldhardlyhearhiswords

throughthebloodrushinginmyears,thestingingpainradiatingthroughmynose.

“Wonderful.Now,”Heclutchedmyhandharder,“Takeoffyourjacketandpants.”

No!screamedmymind.Iactuallymanagedtohesitateforafulltensecondsbeforemyshaking

fingersreacheduptomyzipper.Thiswasallsowrong.I’dneverheardofthissuperpowerbefore–it

wasunlikeanyotherI’dcomeacross.

Mybodymovedofitsownaccord,withmybrainlefttowatchitperformlikeapuppetonstrings.

Thejacketslidontothefloor,andIkickedthepantsoff,leavingmeinonlymyunderwear.Everypart

ofmeflushedwithangerandshame.

“Goodgirl,”purredMolten.Hiseyeswerecompletelycold,likehewasassessingmeforsomekind

ofsickmedicalexam.Icoulddonothingbutstandthereandwaitforhisnextinstruction.Ifeltas

thoughI’dfallenunderaspell,andmyhappinesswas–

Myhappiness!

Ididn’thavemuchleft,thankstodaysofmistreatmentandsolitude,butthetrickleremainingwould

havetobeenough.Maybefightingfirewithfirewastheonlywaytoavoidwhateveritwasthis

madmanhadinstoreforme.

“Mypowerhasitslimitations,ofcourse,”hesaidconversationally,circlingmeasalionwouldstalk

itsprey.“Ican’ttouchyourmind–decisions,opinions,feelings,speech.Butsometimes,actions

speakmuchlouderthanwords,don’tyouthink?”

Ididn’trespond–IconcentratedongatheringallthesunshineIcouldmusterfrommylasthit,atthe

partyallthosedaysago.

“Now,ifyoutellmethekeytoyourpower,itwillmakethismucheasierforthebothofus.Butifyou

don’t…well,I’msureIcanthinkofsomeexcitingmethodsofgettingyoutotalk.I’msureyou’ve

neverbrokenyourownarm,forinstance.Orchewedoffyourownfingers.Ortornoutyourown

hair,chunkbychunk.Andthat’sonlytheself-inflictedoptions–Iwouldlovetheopportunityto

instructyouondoingsomethingstome.”Heranasinglefingeracrossmyshoulderblades,and

everymuscleinmybodyscreamedatmetostrikeback,todosomething!

“Letmegiveyouacluetomypower,then,”Isaidthroughgrittedteeth.“Violencewon’tgetyou

anywhere.”

ButIknew–Iknewfromthewayhewaslookingatme:thiswasn’taboutmypower.Hecouldn’tcare

lessaboutwhatmademetick.Thiswasamanwhofoundpleasureindolingoutpaininitspurest

form,andneedednoincentivetodoit.

“You’llhavetodobetterthanthat,I’mafraid.”Thefingerpushedintothemiddleofmyback.“Knock

outoneofyourteethonthecornerofthetable.”

Immediately,Ifloodedmysystemwiththeremainingsunshineatmydisposal.Ihadn’tfeltitseffects

inyears,sinceI’dstartedattheCarovaCityHospital,anditwasabiggerhitthanIremembered.The

interrogationcellwassuddenlyalotbrighter,itsshadowsslinkingbackintothewalls.Myheadno

longerhurt;myshouldersrelaxedandthethreatofpainandsufferingsuddenlydisappeared.Itwasas

thoughtheworldhadturnedsunny,andtherewasnochanceofthedarknessreturning.

Bestofall,Iremainedstanding.Mykneesdidn’tevenshakewiththedemandofdroppingtotable-

height.Instead,Ilaughed,asthoughMoltenhadjusttoldafantasticjoke.ThereliefofknowingI

couldrepelhispowerwastoogreat.

“Ah,soyourabilityisimmunetomine,”hecommented,thoughthesinisteredgetohisvoicehad

faded.“IwashopingIwouldn’thavetogetmyhandsdirty,MissEastwood,butIseeyouleavemeno

choice.”

Isoberedquicklyenoughtoavoidhishandsnatchingouttograbmyhair,andevenmanagedtostrike

backwithaslapofmyown.Iwasfast,buthewasfaster.Hisangerdrovehim,whereasmyhappiness

distractedme.Soonenough,hehadmepinnedtothewall,mybackagainsthisfront.

“Achilles!”Iscreamed,voicemuffledbythestone.Ihavenoideawhyhisnamewastheonetofall

frommylips–probablybecausehewastheonlypersonIthoughtcouldhearmeinthisdump.

“You’rehisnewtoy,youknow,”Moltenhissedintomyear,yankingmyheadbackwithafistfulof

hair.“AndAchillesisveryterritorialabouthistoys.He’llgettiredofyou,though.Afterawhile,

whenhe’sdoneplayingwithyoursweetlittlebody,he’llmoveontosomethingbetter.Andwhenthat

happens,I’llbeonyoulikeashot.Untilthen,I’llhavetobidemytime.”Hestudiedmyside-profile

foralongmoment.Thehappinessinmewaned,butdidn’tvanish.Itwouldtakemorethanafew

threatstobreakmypower’sholdonme.

Justashejerkedmyheadbackwards,nodoubtaimingtobreakmynoseagainstthewall,thedoor

slammedopen,andMoltenjumpedagoodfivefeetawayfromme.

“Whatthefuckisgoingonhere?”growledafamiliarvoice.

ChapterFive

WithoutaFight

IneverthoughtIwouldberelievedtohearAchilles’sdrytone,butIwas.Anyoneasidefromthis

monsterwasawelcomechange.

Isankagainstthewall,thesunshinethreadedthroughmyveinshelpingwiththeelationofbeing

interrupted.HisemptyblackeyesflickedovermeforallofhalfasecondbeforeheturnedtoMolten,

wholookedlikealittlekidwho’dbeencaughtwithhishandinthecookiejar,despitethefactthathe

hadtobeagoodfiveyearsolderthanAchilles.Thelookwasenoughtomakemystomachroil,

happinessbedamned.

“Iwastestingtheeffectsofmypoweronhers,”explainedMolten,sosmoothlyIwouldn’thave

guessedhewaslyingifIhadn’tknownotherwise.“She’sgood,butshe’llbreakunderpressure.”

Iwenttoargue,butAchillessilencedmewithasinglelookbeforeturningtohis‘second-in-

command’,hisexpressionutterlycalm.“Funny,IcouldhaveswornIexpresslytoldyounottotouch

her,Patrick.She’smyprisoner,myproperty.”

“Iamnotyour–”Ireallyshouldhaveexpectedthehandthatreachedoutandwrappeditselfaround

thecolumnofmyneck.Achilles’sfavoritepastime,asidefromkillingpeople,seemedtobechoking

me,afterall.Hisgripwasnowhereneartightenoughtocutmyairsupply,though,soIhadtoassume

hewasjusttellingmetoshutupinhisownspeciallanguage.

“Didsheuseherpoweronyou?”heasked,asifhewasn’tstandingthere,holdinganinnocentgirlby

thethroat.

Moltenshookhishead.“Shediduseitonherself,though.”

Achilles’seyesflashedtomineoncemore.Helookedsodeadlythatthesunshineinmemomentarily

tookover–Imadeafunnyfaceathim,andIcouldhaveswornhislipstwitched.

“Takeherupstairs,andmakesureshestaysthere.Keepyourhandstoyourself,unlessyouwantto

losethem,”heinstructedtosomeonebehindme.Rough,glovedhandsclosedaroundmyarmandled

meoutside.Achilles’sblackeyesblazedwithsomethingunidentifiableasthedoorclosedonhimand

Molten.

“Here,”myguardsaidgruffly,thrustingatowelatme.

“Thanks,”Igushed,trulygratefulforanygooddeedafterwhathadgonedownwithMolten.Ilooked

upattheguardfromundermylashesasIwrappedthetowelaroundmyself.JustasMoltenstruckme

asapoliticiantype,thismanlookedmorelikesomeone’sfatherthanthethugofacriminal

mastermind.Heevenhadahandkerchiefneatlyfoldedinhisjacketpocket.

“SoI’mnotgoingbacktomycell?”Iasked.HeledmebackpastthecellI’dcalledhomeforfive

days,andthroughtoafireescapestairwell.

“Guessnot,”herepliedshortly.Silence,andthenheadded,“Youokay?”

Isupposed,toanoutsider,ImusthavelookedlikeI’djustbattledmywaythroughtheAmazon.My

hairwastangled,Istanktohighheaven,myclothesweremissing,andIhadadistinctfeelingmy

scalpwasbleeding.Butitcouldhavebeenmuch,muchworse.

“ThatMoltenguyisadick,”Igrumbled.“DoesAchillesgooutofhiswaytoemploycreepers?Don’t

answerthat,”Isaidquickly,whenhewenttorespond,“Idon’twanttoberesponsibleforyouchoking

onyourownhands.”

I’mnotquitesurewhyIwasopeninguptothiscompletestranger.Thefatherlyvibejustgottome,I

guess.Plus,hewasthefirstpersontoshowgenuineconcernformywelfarehere.Iwouldlatchonto

thatcompassionanywayIcould.

“Iwouldn’tworryaboutMolten,”hesaidasweclimbedthestairs.“Ifthebosswantsyoukept

upstairs,there’slittlechancehe’llgettoyou.”

“Why?What’supstairs?”

Ishouldn’thaveasked–amomentlater,heopenedanotherfireexitdoor,andIfoundmyselfstanding

insomekindofoffice,completewithcubiclesanddesks.Thugsofallshapesandsizessataroundthe

room,someingroups,othersriflingthroughpapers,otherstalkingfuriouslyintocellphones.

Everythingwasallwrongintheoffice,though–therewerenocomputers,orphones,orprinters.

Paperswerescatteredacrossthefloor,filesstrewneverywhere,knivesembeddedinwallsandbullet

holesriddlingthecubiclebarriers.

Someoddlookswerethrownmyway,butnoonestoppedusorseemedtoquestionmypresence.

“Comeon,”myguardsaid,leadingmeawayfromthecubicles,intowhatIassumedwasoncea

CEO’soffice.Ithadtworoomsofitsown,probablyabathroomand…abedroom?Judgingbythe

waytheofficehadbeenconvertedintoalivingarea,Iwouldthinktherestofithadtohavebeen

renovatedaswell.

Unliketherestoftheoffice,thisroomwasimmaculate.Notonepieceoffurniturewasoutofplace,

nolitterinsight,notaspeckofdustortraceofbadhygiene.Asmoky,citrusysmellclungtothe

room,suchawelcomechangefromthestenchoffearandblooddownstairs.

“IsthiswhereI’mstaying?”Iasked,ratherbreathlessly.Thesofalookedbigenoughforfivepeople,

withsuedecushionsandanottomanatitsfront.TheTVmountedonthewallencompassedmostofits

background,andthecabinetbelowitwasstockedtothebrimwithmovies.

“Isupposeso.Youshouldstayinthereuntilthebosscomesup,”hereplied,pointingtotheclosed

doorattheendofthelivingroom.“Trynottotouchanything–he’sabitparticularabouthisstuff.”

Iwasn’treallylistening–I’dtakentoexaminingthecountlessrowsofDVDsstackedonthewall.“No

problem.”Asmyguardturnedtoleave,Istraightened.“I’mFelicity,bytheway.Iknowyouprobably

aren’tsupposedtotalktome,but…”

Heshifteduncomfortablyfromonefoottotheother.“Hugo,”hemumbled,andthenhewasgone.

Itwasn’tuntilIreachedthebedroomHugohadindicatedthatIrealizedwhat‘he’sparticularabouthis

stuff’meant,exactly:thiswasAchilles’sapartment.Hehadputmeinhisownapartment.

Whatwasworse,thebedroomwasclearlynotjustforme.Adoublebed,completewithintricate

wrought-ironheadboardandblacksheets,layastheroom’scenterpiece.Ablackchaise,adresser,

full-lengthmirror,andanightstandlayaroundtheroom,perfectlyarrangedaccordingtoshapeand

size.

Clearly,someonehadabitofOCD.

Andclearly,Iwasn’tgoingtobesleepingalone.

No,Itoldmyself.You’llsleeponthesofa.Onthefloor.Inthebathroom.Anywherebutinthesame

roomashim.

Theulteriormotiveherewasobvious:putmeoutofreachentirely.Moltenwasnowathreat,aswere

hisownmen,andhemusthaveknownkeepingmeclosewastheonlywaytokeepmesafe.Notfor

mypersonalsake,obviously,butbecausemypowerwasworthenoughtowarranttheeffort.

WellawareIonlyhadashorttimebeforeAchillesappearedinthedoorway,readytointerrogateme

somemore,Ihastilyrifledthroughthedresser,searchingforanykindofclothing.Ididn’tcareifit

belongedtomycaptor–anybarrierbetweenmyskinandhiswasfinebyme.

EventuallyIpulledonanoldt-shirtandapairofcottonshorts–Ihadtofoldthewaistdownafew

timestostopthemfromfallingdown.Happywiththeflimsysenseofsecuritytheclothesgaveme,I

satontheedgeofthechaiseandwaitedformycaptortoshowup.

Icouldhavefetchedsomethingtoattackhimwith,Isupposed.Therewasalargewindowintheliving

room–Icouldeasilyoverpowerhimsomehowandmakeajumpfortheoutsideworld.Butwewere

onlyonthesecondfloor;thefallwould,atbest,incapacitatemelongenoughforAchillestotrackme

downanddragmeback.

And,somewhere,deepdowninmysoul,IknewIwouldn’tbeabletoattackAchilles,ifpushcameto

shove.Hehadn’thurtme,hadn’tstruckthefirstblow,hadn’tdoneanythingtodeservephysical

retribution.Partofbeingallaboutneutralitywasbelievingthatiftherewasnoblood,therewasno

foul.

Idraggedthechaiseovertothewindow,hopingthecitybelowwoulddistractmefromtheitchy

feelingMolten’stouchandwordshadsentskitteringacrossmyskin.I’dneverbeensocloseto

breakingpointbefore;ifAchillesmademefeel,Moltenmademenumber.TherewasnowayIwas

goingtoletmyselfbecorneredbyhimagain.IwouldglueAchillestomyhipifIhadto–Iwould

takehimoverhisprotégéanydayoftheweek.

“Planningadaringescape,darling?”cameadarkvoicefromthedoorway.Ijumpedaboutafootin

theair.

“Don’tscaremelikethat!”Igasped,clutchingatmyheart.“Jeez!Isyoursuperpowerthatyou’repart

phantom?”

Ifelt–ratherthansaw–hiseyeslingerontheclothingI’ddonned.Ashiverranthroughme.“Idon’t

haveasuperpower.Where’dyougettheclothes?”

Hedidn’thaveasuperpower?Well,thatwasnewstome.EveryoneinCarovaassumed–probably

becauseofhisblackeyesandgenerallypetrifyingdemeanor–thatAchillesharboredsomedeep,

darkability.Telepathy,maybe,orasuperhumanintellect.Tohearthathedidn’thaveonewas…

oddlycomforting.

“Ifoundthem.”Ijuttedmychinoutdefensively.“Andifyouwantthemback,you’llhavetodobetter

thanorderyour‘right-handman’todoyourdirtyworkforyou.”

Hestalkedtowardsme,butIdidn’tgetthesamefeelingaswhenMoltendidit–perhapsbecauseI

knewAchilleswasn’tabouttodosomethingunforgivable.Washereallythatpredictabletome

already?

Whenwewereafootapart,hecroucheddownsowewereeyetoeye.“Keepthem,butIdon’twant

yousnoopingaroundmyplacewhenI’mnothere.Youwantsomething,justasktheguysoutside.

Theywon’tbotheryouagain.”

“WhatdidyoudotoMolten?”

Heshrugged.“Nothing.”

Nothing?Buthe–”

“Iknowwhathedid,”hesaidsimply.“Iwatchedthesurveillancetape.Hewasstupid,toforgetabout

it.Buthewasright,insomeways–I’mtoopossessiveasitiswhenitcomestoyou.IfItookrevenge

againsthim,itwouldjustprovethattheoryright.AndIcan’triskMoltenbecominganenemy.”We

staredateachotherforwhatseemedlikehoursbeforehespokeagain:“Youcalledformewhenhe

wasattackingyou.”

Iresistedtheurgetoblush.“Yeah.”

“Why?”

Nowitwasmyturntoshrug.“Betterthedevilyouknow,right?”Itwastheonlyreasonable

explanationthatIhad.Theotherwouldhavebeensomethingalongthelinesof,‘Itjusthappened!’.

“DidyoubelieveIwouldhelpyou?”

“No.ButI…”Iknewhe’dseerightthroughanylieIpresented,soIoptedwiththesimpletruth.“I

didn’twanttobealonewithhim.”Seeingasthatwasoutintheopen,Idecidedtousemyconfidence

whileIhadit:“Areyouplanningonkillingme,Achilles?”

ItwasthefirsttimeI’dusedhisnamealoud,andheflinchedattheword.Didhenotlikehisown

name?Orwasitsimplytooweirdformetouseit?“AreyouplanningongivingmewhatIwant,

Flick?”

Ilaughedhollowly.“Doesitreallymatter?Iwouldratherbedeadthanbeyourhappy-drugdealer.

Andyouwouldratherkillmethanletmego.Thatdoesn’tleaveusmuchleeway,doesit?”Isank

furtherintothechaisewithasigh.“Iknowthatsmallhitwasenoughtohelpyouescape.AndIknow

it’saddictive–thatfeelingofinvincibility,thatfearlessness.ButI’mnotlyingwhenIsayit’slikethe

worsttypeofdrugimaginable.You’llbecomedependentonmeforit,andifI’mkilled,orabducted,

ormanagetogetbeyondyourreach,thewithdrawalwillkillyou.You’llkillyourself.”

“Areyouspeakingfrompersonalexperience?”heasked.

Alltheairleftmybodyinonebigrush,asthoughhe’dpunchedmerightinthelungs.“No,”Ilied

quickly.Tooquickly–thesmirkonhispaintedfacetoldmehe’dnoticed.

“Whathappened,Flick?Didyoudishoutonetoomanyhitsandsomeoneoffedthemselvesbecause

theycouldn’thaveyou?I’mclose,aren’tI?”Hisferalgrinreappeared,andastrangenoiseescaped

me,amixtureofasobandasquawk.“Whowasit,Flick?Someoneclose,hmm?”

“Stopit,”Irasped,cuppingmyfaceinmyhands.MemoriescametothesurfaceandIinstantly

slammedthemtothebackofmymind,strugglingtowranglethembackintotheclosettheyinhibited.

“Youhavenoright.”

“Aparent?No,Idon’tthinkso…”Ijumpedtomyfeettoruntothedoor,butquickasafox,he

blockedmypath.“It’sstillfreshthough,isn’tit–thepain?Youaren’tunhappybecauseyoucan’tuse

yourpoweronyourself;you’reunhappybecauseyoudon’tuseyourpoweronyourself.Right?”

“Shutup!”Thesunshineranthroughmyfeetlikewaterdownadrain,leavingnothingbehindbutraw

griefandtheimageoftwopolicemenatmyparents’door.No!No!Notagain!“Youdon’tknowme!”

AsIwenttoelbowmywaypasthim,hecrowdedmeintothecorneroftheroom,mychinbetweenhis

fingers.Myeyeslookedthroughhim,though,toatimenotsolongago,whenmyworldhad

collapsedinonitself,whenI’dhadtoruntoavoidthefalloutofmyownstupidity.

“Lookatme,Flick.”Igulpedinbucketfulsofair,butmanagedtomeethisemptygaze.“You’re

breakingintopieces,rightbeforemyeyes.I’mnotgoingtoholdyouwhileyoucry,andI’mnot

goingtogiveyousympathy.WhatIamgoingtodoisstandhereandwatchyoupullyourself

together.You’reabiggirl–whateverthissufferingis,youcanhandleit.Faceitandmoveon.”

“Whyareyoudoingt-this?”Isobbed,thoughnotearswereshed.Iputitdowntoexhaustion.

“BecausethisiswhatIdo.I’mnotyourkindheartedFinnCole–”

“No,”Icorrectedinasmallvoice,“Imeant,whyareyoub-beingsonice?Youshouldn’tcare!”

“Jesus,girl,”hesaid,runninghisfreehandthroughhisshorthair,“ifthisisyourideaofnice,I’d

hatetoseewhatyou’ddoifIofferedyouaKleenex.”

Tobothofoursurprise,Ichokedoutalaugh.HishanddroppedfrommyjawandIshovedthepainful

memorieshe’dbroughtupbacktothefarthestcorneroftheclosetinmymind,lockingthedoor

behindit.Gradually,Itookinenoughairtocalmmynerves.Ididn’tdareanalyzehowAchilles’s

treatmentofmehadjustworked.

“Thanks,”Imumbled,andhesuddenlybaredhisteethatme.

“Stopbeingsogoddamnnice!”hebarked.Iaccidentallylaughedagain,ignoringthemurderouslook

hegaveme.Iwasasgoodasdeadanyway.Hevisiblycooledhistemperbeforeasking,“Howabouta

deal?”

“Whatsortofdeal?”Ididn’tknowwhyIbotheredasking–itcouldn’tbeanythinggood.

“I’llaskanexternalsourceiftheycanfindthekeytoyourpower.Iftheyfindit,Icankeepyou.If

theydon’t,I’llletyougo.”

“Youmeankillme,”Icorrected.

“No,Imean,I’llletyougo.”Heseemedtobelostinhisthoughtsforafewminutes,thenthoseeyes

snappedbacktome.“What’syourgreatestfearhere?Beingkilled?”

“Youknowthat’snottrue,”Igrumbled.“Ijust…Idon’twanttobealabratfortherestofmylife.

ThewholereasonIdon’tsidewithyouorFinnoutrightisbecauseifmypowergotout,bothsides

wouldbegunningtocagemeupandmilkmedry.That’snothowitworks,though.”

“Andyouaren’tgoingtotellmehowitworkswithoutafight,yes?”

“Whydoyouevenneedme,whenyouhaveMolten?Surelyhispowerisworthahundredofmine.”

ThepowerofinfluencethroughspeechcouldgetAchillesanywhere,ifheputhismindtoit–

couldn’tit?

Thosetwoblackeyesocketsdippeddownintoafrown.“Moltenisn’tadog.He–”

“AndIam?”

“You’reaprisoner.You’recontrollable–toanextent.Moltenis…unpredictable.Hisdreamsareofa

somewhatlargerscalethanmine.”Suddenlyhewascrowdingmeagain,thesmellofpaintandcitrus

tangfillingmyworld.“Don’tmakethemistakeofthinkingyou’retheonlyunhappysoulinthis

world,Flick.”

Somethinghorrifyinglyclosetosympathytuggedatmyheartstrings.No!Nosympathyforthisguy!

Notever!

“Iwon’tgiveitupwithoutafight,”Istressed,lostforanyotherwords.

“I’dbedisappointedifyoudid,”hesaid,surprisingme.“Dowehaveadeal,then?”

“I…who’syourexternalsource?”IsuddenlyhadamentalimageofAchillestorturingmydoctor–

orworse,Lucia–forinformationonmypower.

“Nopeoplewillbeharmedintheprocessoffindingouttheinformation,includingyou,ifthat’swhat

you’regettingallflusteredabout.”ThoughIcouldn’tseehispupils,Ihadthedistinctfeelinghe

rolledhiseyes.“YoureallythinkIjustcutpeopleopenforaliving?”

“Provemewrong,”Icountered,archingabrow.

“Well,there’sagoodidea!”Hegrinned,andIgotafamiliarsinkingfeelinginmystomach.“Any

plansforthedayaftertomorrow,darling?”

Ikeptmylookdry.“Ohyeah,Iwasthinkingoftakingtheyachtoutforarun,thenmaybehelpingout

atthehomelessshelter.Ijusthavesomuchfreetime,youknow?”

Hestudiedmeforalongmoment.“Yougetsarcasticwhenyou’vebeenupset.That’sinteresting.”As

thoughthatstatementwasasimpleaside,hecontinuedblithely,“Keepyourcalendaropen.We’re

goingonashortfieldtrip.”

Heturnedtoleave,butIpipedup,beforeIlostthenerve,“Ihavesomeamendmentstoyourdeal,

too.”

“Suchas?”

“IgetaccesstoaprivateshowerwhileI’mhere.Andyou’representwheneverMoltenisaroundme.

Andnobodytouchesme,ever.”IfIdidn’tlaydownsomeground-rulesnow,I’dnevergetanother

chance.

“Whataboutme?”Hisfingerspinchedatmychin.Ididn’tsomuchasflinch.

“YouknowwhatImean,”Isnapped.

Thefrownhegavemecreasedthewhitepaintacrosshisforehead,crackinglinesjustabovehis

eyebrows.Ashardofcinnamonskinpeekedthrough.“Ido.Anditwon’thappenagain.”Justas

quicklyashisstormylookcame,itblewawayagain,replacedwithaneerilybrightsmile.“Your

demandsarehardlydifficult.Sureyoudon’twantanall-expenses-paidshoppingtrip,orgolden

tampons,orwhateveritiswomenwant?”

“Wow,carefulthere–yourgender-basedignoranceisshowing,”Icommented.

Acackle,andhepushedawayfromthewall,headedforthelivingroom.“Ialwayshavefunwithyou,

Flick.Getsomesleep–I’llseeyoutomorrownight.”

Ididn’tbotheraskingwhereheplannedonsleeping.Myeyesweresosore,myheadsoheavy,thatthe

bestIcoulddowasshutthedoorbeforecollapsingintothemassivebed,revelinginthelemonysmell

clingingtoitssheets.

AsmallpartofmybrainremindedmethatIshouldbeonmyguard,shouldtuckaweaponundermy

pillow,shouldplananescaperoute,justincase.Unfortunately,therestofmewastooexhaustedto

eventakeoffmyglassesbeforeIfellasleep.

ChapterSix

AGoodHost

Itwasanoddfeeling,inhabitingAchilles’sapartment.Hewasn’ttherewhenIawoke,buthe’d(I

assumeditwashim,anyway)removedmyglassesandshoessometimeinthenight,and,judging

fromthedipinthemattressbesideme,hadsleptbesidemewithoutevermakingasound.NotthatI’d

beeninanystatetowakeuptotheslightestnoise–Isleptuntilmidday,wokenonlybythesoundof

drillinginthestreetsbelowus.

Dressedinmyunderwearforsafety’ssake,Ishoweredinthemassivebathroomuntilthewaterran

cold.Icouldhavetakenabath,butdidn’tliketheideaofbeingpronefortoolong.WhenIwent

throughthebathroomcabinets(Ifigured,ifIfoundanythingAchillesdidn’twantmetofind,itwas

hisownfaultfornotguardingitbetter),Idiscoveredtheface-paintheused–bigpotsofblackand

white,withsmallerpotsofallcolors.Goingwithmygutinstinct,Ileftitalone.

Oneoftheupsidestostayingintheapartmentwasthebetterqualityfood.Insteadofriceandwater,I

wasgivencoldpizzaandacanofcola.Achilleshadastashoffoodinthecornerofthelivingroom,

butIdidn’tdaretouchit.Itwasallsugaryjunk,anyway–heseemedtorunentirelyonenergydrinks.

ChanceswereifIneededadentistinthisplace,he’dprobablysendMoltenuptodothejob.

WhenitbecameobviousthatIwastobelefttomyowndevicesallday,IturnedtotheTVtokeep

myselfentertained.AnotherbenefitoftheapartmentwastheplethoraofmoviesAchillespossessed;I

watchedthreefilmsbeforetuningintothesixo’clocknews.

“…DiscoveredbytheChannelEighthelicopterduringitstrafficreportflight,”saidthenewsreader,a

pictureofawordIcouldn’tquitemakeoutbehindher,“andisbelievedtobetheworkofserial

murdererandwantedcriminal,Achilles,whoescapedfromtheCarovaBaseHospitallatelastweek,

andisyettobeidentifiedacrosstown.”

Thephotoexpandedintoashortvideoclip,startinginthenewshelicopterandlookingdownonto

Carova’sinnersuburbs.Afewsecondsintothereport,aseriesofletterssuddenlylitupthecity

landscape,runningacrossatleastsixbuildingrooftops.Theyappearedtobewritteningasolineand

fire,judgingfromthewaytheflameremainedcontrolled.

Cole:3PMMonday,ourweddingchapel.Xox.

Mybreathcaughtinmythroat,somethingbetweenalaughandayelpemergingfromme.Whyinthe

worlddidIfindthatfunny?Ihadtobesick.Like,psychologicallysick.I’dbeenaroundAchillesfor

toolong–hisdarksenseofhumorwasstartingtosinkintomybones.

“AndthesearchisstillunderwayforwaitressFelicityEastwood,”notedthenewsreader,aphotoof

meflashingupbehindhernow.“Thenineteen-year-oldwentmissingfromthecornerofGrevillia

andTaylorStreetlastWednesday.Thepolicearetreatingthedisappearanceassuspicious,andare

currentlyaskingforanyinformationfromwitnessesandfriendsofMissEastwoodalike.Nowonto

sports…”

Myphotodisappeared.Iclutchedthesofa’sarmsohardIsplitsomeofthesuedewithmynails.Tobe

honest,IwassurprisedanyonehadactuallynoticedI’dgonemissingatall.Luciawouldhave,of

course,andmybossprobablywouldhavecalledthecopswhenIfailedtoshowformyshiftfivedays

inarow.Hadanyonetoldmyparents?

Achillesdidn’treturnafterIwatchedmyfourthfilmoftheday,orwhenmydinnerwasdeliveredto

me(coldpastaandanothercanofsoda),orevenafterI’dclimbedbackintothebed,hopinghe

wouldn’tbebackuntilI’dfallenasleep.

Ididn’tknowhowlongIslept,butitmustn’thavebeenlong,becausewhenthebedroomdoorburst

open,Iwasconsciousenoughtograbthealarmclockbesidemetouseasaweapon.

Softlightingilluminatedtheroomasthemotion-sensorlampbythedoorflickedon,andIsatup,

clockinhand,notquitebelievingwhatIwasseeing.

Agirl–shehadtobearoundmyage,withyellowhairandorangeskin–stumbledtowardsthebed,

herarmsthreadedaroundAchilles’sneck.Thestenchofalcoholwaftedintotheroombehindthem,

andImadesomekindofchokingnoise,alertingthemtomypresence.

“Who’sthat?”slurredtheblonde,blinkingatmeratherstupidly.OrmaybeIwasbeingunfair.

Alcoholmadeeveryonestupid,afterall,notjusther.

“Ah,shit,”groanedAchilles,alarmingmeevenmore.Washe…no…hecouldn’tbe…drunk?His

face-paintwasstillintact,buthelookeddistinctly…off.

“Areyoujoiningin?”giggledthegirl,clawingupthebedtowardsme.

Ijumpedoutofthereasthoughspidershadstartedfloodingthesheets.Aninexplicablydirtyfeeling

washedthroughme,asthoughI’djustwitnessedsomethingIcouldneverunsee.“Leaving,leaving.

Havefun,”Isaidquickly,rushingforthedoor.

“Flick–”startedAchilles,butIsnappedthedoorshutonwhateverhewasabouttosay,andallbut

sprintedoutontothebalconyoftheapartment,draggingablanketandpillowfromthecouchwithme.

I’drathersleepoutsidethananywherenear…whateverthehellthatwas.Shehadtobeaprostitute,

right?NowomaninherrightmindwouldwillinglysleepwithsomeonelikeAchilles.Well,maybe

shewasn’tinherrightmind–maybehe’dbustedheroutofanasylum,orsomething.Maybeshewas

hisgirlfriend.Ididn’tknowanythingabouthispersonallife,afterall.ForallIknew,hehadawife

andsixkidssomewhereinthecity.

Anuneasyweightsettledinmygut,andIhadnoideawhy.

Well,shewaswearingclothesthreesizestoosmallforher,sothathadtomeanshe’dcomefroma

clubsomewhere.I’dheardrumorsAchillesfrequentedaclubonthesouthside–Firestorm–butI

supposehecould’vepickedherupfromanywhere.Again,anuneasinessthatwasn’tatalltodowith

concernforthegirltwingedinme.

IhatedAchilles.Right?

Yeah,Itoldmyselfhastily.Youjustdon’twanttoseehimhurtsomeone,evenifitisaslutty,drunkgirl.

Ofcourse.Thathadtobeit.

ThenwhydidIfeelso…weirdabouthimbeingintherewiththatgirl?

“Don’tevengothere,”Imumbled.Drawingtheblankettighteraroundme,Itriedtofinda

comfortablepositiononthewoodenplanksofthebalcony.Thechillofthenightairwasn’t

particularlyunwelcome–ithadbeendayssinceI’dseentheoutsideworld,andIwasgoingtomake

themostofitwhileIcould.

Thewrought-ironbarsboxingthebalconyshowedthehustleandbustleofthestreetsbelow,evenat

thishour.IbrieflyconsideredwhatwouldhappenifIcalleddowntooneofthepassersby.Nodoubt

oneofAchilles’sthugswoulddragmebackinsideandI’dbecoopedupindoorsfortherestofmy

stayhere,howeverlongthatwouldbe.

Besides,whatwouldIsay?‘Help!I’monlyhalf-unwillinglybeingheldhostage!IcouldescapeifI

reallywantedto,butIcan’tworkupthecouragetojustdoit!’?Itsoundedcrazyenoughinmymind,

letalonealoud.

Sighingindefeat,Icurledupclosertotheironbars,wonderinghowlongitwouldbebeforeIcould

goinsidewithoutriskingoverhearingthingsIdidn’treallywanttooverhear.Wasthisanightly

occurrence?ShouldIhavebeenpreparedforthiskindofthing?Achilleshadneverstruckmeasa

player–mostlybecausethinkingofhimoutsidehisvillainouspastimesmademefeelweird–but

then,therewerethousandsofgirlsgunningforFinnColeandhissuperherofriends;whowastosay

thereweren’tsimilarnumbersforthevillainsofthiscity?

Eventuallytheskyblackenedoutcompletely,notasinglestarinsight,andthepeakhourtrafficdied

downtoaninfrequenthornblastorsquealoftires.Thecoldbegantoseepintomybones.Shivers

shookme,butIrefusedtomovefrommyspot.IfIcaughtpneumonia,itwasAchilles’sfault.

Whathadtobehourslater,Iheardgigglesfillthelivingroom.Again,Ifoundmyselfwonderinghow

baditwouldbeifIsimplyjumpedfromthebalcony,seeingasthey’dmovedtheirpartytotheroom

rightbehindme.

“Butwhycan’tIstay?”whinedtheblondegirl–stilldrunk,bythesoundofit.Ihopedforhersake

thatwasn’tthewayhernormalvoicesounded.

Iscootedtotheshadowsofthebalcony,watchingtheareathroughthegapbetweencurtainandwall.

Achilleslookedimpeccableasusual.Nosmudgedface-paint,nobed-head,noindicationthatanything

hadoccurredinthatbedroom.Asidefromthefacthewasbuttoninghisshirt.

WhythehelldidIsuddenlyblush?

“Thatothergirlgetstostay,”addedthegirl,poutingratherunattractively.Iwinced.

“She’stheexception.Nowgetout,”saidAchilles.Itwasn’tsaidangrily,orevencoldly.Just…

matter-of-factly.

Huffing,theblonderolledhereyesandbouncedoutthedoor,slammingitbehindher.Iheardthe

catcallsofthehenchmenondutyandalmostsnorted.Justafriendlyreminderofwhysometimesit

wasgoodnottobeaffectedbyalcohol.

Achilleslookedaroundtheroomassoonasthedoorclosed,clearlysearchingforme.Shrugging,I

turnedbacktothecityskyline,hookingmylegsovertheedgeofthebalcony.LethimworrythatI’d

somehowslippedthroughhisclutches.ItwastheonlysurgeofsatisfactionI’dhadinawhile.

“Youknowthesofaisafold-out,right?”askedafamiliarvoicefromthenow-opendoorway.Ididn’t

turnaround.

“Idid,actually.Don’tyouthinkit’sabitstrangeforsomeonelikeyoutohaveafold-out?”Iavoided

thequestionathand:whyaren’tyouasleepinside?NowayIwasdiscussingmymixedupfeelings,not

ever.

Someonelikeme,darling?IthinkI’minsulted,”hemock-gasped,andslidintothespotnexttome,

danglinghisfeetovertheedgeinthesamefashion.“Andyouknowthesaying–agoodhostis

alwaysreadyforguests.”

Iraisedmyeyebrows,stillnotmeetinghisgaze.“You’reagoodhostnow,areyou?”

Heshrugged,andhisshoulderbrushedmine.“Youaren’tdead.I’dconsiderthatgoodhosting.”

Well,hehadapoint.Anothersigh,andIleanedmyforeheadagainstthecoolmetalbarsinfrontof

me.Thecitywassoclose,butsofar.Hell,myapartmentbuildingwasalmostvisiblefromhere–

wherever‘here’was.Itwasmyowncowardice–andsomethingIwasn’tquiteabletoname–that

preventedmefromrunningforit.

Whilethesilencelingered,Islidaslyglanceattheboy–guy…man…whateverhewas–beside

me.MycheeksinstantlylitupwhenIsawhisshirtwasstillunbuttoned,leavingropeafterropeof

cinnamon-tintedmuscleoncasualdisplay.

Iwhippedmyeyesbacktofront-and-centerbeforeIdidsomethingextraordinarilystupid,likedrool.

Hey,‘appreciation’doesn’tequateto‘personalinterest’,right?

“Isthisgoingtobeanightlyroutine?”askedAchilles,breakingmyshamefultrain-of-thought.

“Idon’tplanonsleepingouthereeverynight,ifthat’swhatyou’reasking.”Ifinallymethiseyes.

Yep,stillhadtheblackcontactsin.Inthedarkness,italmostseemedlikehehadnoeyesatall,just

hollowsockets.Ifanythingwastoputmeoffmydrooling,thatwasit.“Unlessyouplanondoingthe

rough-and-tumbleeverynight,inwhichcase,youmightaswelldragthesofaouthereformenow.”

Rough-and-tumble?”herepeatedwithadefinitesmirk.“Areyousuddenlyacharacterfroma

nineteen-twentiessilentfilm?”

Ireturnedthesmirk,hatinghoweasyitwastobesuckedintoconversationwithhim.“Youknowwhat

Imean.”

Hedidn’trespondforsolong,IthoughtI’dnevergetananswer.Whichwasfinebyme–theless

detail,thebetter.

“Ididn’ttakeyoufora…”Ihesitated.Thesmirktransformedintoagrin.

“Youcansayit,Flick.You’reamongfriendshere.”

“Amanwhore,”Ifinished.

Heclutchedathisheart,asthoughwoundedbymywords.“Youch!Isleepwithonegirlandyou’re

blacklistingmeforit?Youknow,ifourroleswerereversed,andIwascallingyouout,I’dbefacing

anhour-longtiradeonthedouble-standardsofmen,feminismrules,andallthatcrap.”

Thealcoholhaddefinitelysoakedintohissystem–hewouldneverhaverambledsomuchtome

otherwise.Ididn’tmindit,butthefactthatIwassittingbesideahalf-drunkenmegalomaniac,alone,in

thedeadofnight,didn’teasemyconscience.

“IsawyourmessageforFinnonthenews,bytheway.”Ichangedthesubject,decidinghewasn’t

goingtorevealanythingabouthimselftomejustyet.Evendrunk,hewasadeptatkeepinghis

personalityunderlockandkey.

“Didyoulikeit?”heaskedwithanothergrin,buttoninghisshirttherestoftheway,whichIwas

definitelynotatinybitdisappointedabout.

“Well,itdidn’tkillanyone,soIsupposethat’sastart.What’s‘ourweddingchapel’?”Iasked.

Hegrinned.“WhereFinnianandIfirstmet.Iwasnaiveenoughtotryandstrikeupbanterwithhim.I

thinkI’vehadbetterbanterwithyou,andyou’renotevenmyenemy.”

ThenwhatamI?

“WhatdoyouwantwithFinn?”

“Theusual–settinganunachievabledemandinreturnforsomethinghewants.It’sfuntowatchhim

squirm,butsometimesit’sliketryingtoprovokeasloth.He’ssoboring.Ihonestlydon’tknowwhat

youseeinhim,Flick.”

“Idon’tseeanythinginhim,”Isaidheatedly.

“Justteasing,darling.Yourseverelackofescapeattemptssofarprovesyou’renotexactlyeagerto

getbacktotherealworld,amIright?”

Hegottohisfeet,leavingmetoblinkandgapeupathim,likeafishoutofwater.Thereitwas–the

truth,laidoutinfrontofmeinasinglesentence.“Whyisn’tyourface-paintsmudged?”Iaskedina

high-pitchedvoice,hopingyetanothersubjectchangewouldworkinmyfavor.

Asmirktoldmeheknewhewasright,butheletitdrop,thankGod.“Whywoulditbesmudged?”

HeheldoutahandandIlatchedontoitwithoutsomuchasasecond’shesitation.I’msurehenoted

that,too,ashepulledmeuptohisheight.“Well…youwerewiththatgirl…soIjustassumed…”

“Firstruleoflivingwithme,darling?Assumenothing.”Thoseebonyeyesturnedtothecityskyline.

“Andasforthepaint,nobodytouchesmyface.”

“Ever?”

“Ever,”hestressed.“Doyouhaveanyideahowlongthisartworktakesmeofamorning?ThedayI

letaonenightstandruinitisthedayIreassessmymentalstate.”Flickinghiseyesbacktome,he

suddenlysteppedevencloserintomypersonalspace,fillingtheairaroundmewiththesmoky,

citrusysmellhecarriedwithhim.“Doesitbotheryou–thepaint?”

“No,”Iansweredtruthfully.“It’swhoyouare.Andevenifitdidbotherme,Idoubtyou’dchangeit.”

“Youhaveamaskofyourown,”hepointedout.Hisfingerswavedtomyglassesandclothing.“First

timeIsawyou,youwereburiedunderyourownemotionalbaggage.Theglasses,thebigclothes,the

nondescripteverything.Butnow…”

“Nowwhat?”

Heglanceddownatmybody.“You’redifferent.Well,atleastI’vechangedtheclothes.I’mstill

workingontheglasses.”

“I’mnotdifferent,”Isaid.

“ThenwhydoIseeshadowsinyoureyesthatweren’tthereyesterday?”Hepinchedmychinnone-

too-gently,tiltingmyfacetowardsthelighttoexamineitmoreclosely.Itwasdisconcertingthathe

couldreadmesoeasily.Iwouldhavetoworkonthat.“Comeon.Don’tmakemegoallvillainouson

you.”

“You’reincapableofbeinganythinglessthanvillainous.”Okay,Iwasprojecting,andwebothknew

it.

“Whataboutmeissovillainous?”Heseemedgenuinelycurious.Thatinitselfwasalittlefrightening.

“Ihavenoscars,nodisfigurements,noeye-patchorwoodenleg.Nooutstandingpsychological

problems,otherthanmaybeaninflatedegoandaloveofthetheatrical.I’mcompletelysound,

medically-speaking.Sowhatisitthatmakesmesuchahorriblevillaininyourmind,hmm?”God,he

wasabsolutelydrunkerthanI’dfirstthought.Hewasactuallytalkingtome,notjustwithme.

“Youkilledthemayorincoldblood,”Iremindedhim–andmyself.

ThefingersholdingmychinflinchedawayasthoughI’dswattedthem.Hiseyelidsshutteredclosefor

halfasecond,enoughtopiquemycuriosity.Didhenotlikebeingremindedofthemurder?

Itriedadifferentroute.“Youare…”IfIdidn’tknowanybetter,I’dthinkhewasholdinghisbreath.

Hiding.”

IthinkIsurprisedhim,becausethefrownfromthemayorcommentlifted.“Hiding?”

“Everyone’shiding.Everyonehasaskeletonintheircloset.Butpeopledon’tlikeitwhentheskeleton

isondisplay–punintended.”Iarchedapointedbrowathismask.“You’rehidingthemostimportant

featureinthisworld–yourface,anditfreaksthehelloutofpeople.Peopledon’tunderstandyou,and

forthat,theyfearyou.Therefore,you’reavillain.”

Silenceenvelopedthebalconyoncemore,hiseyessearingstraightthroughtomysoul.“Sowhatwas

itabouttonightthatmadeyoubraveenoughtosaythat?DidIshowaweakness?”

Ikepttightlipped.IfIlied,hewouldseethroughit,clearasday.

“Idon’tlikesecrets,Felicity,”hesaidinalowvoice,walkingmestraightbackintotheglassdoor.

Hisbodywassuddenlyflushagainstmine,toe-to-toe,hismouthlevelwithmyforehead.Iglaredupat

him,butitdidn’tperturbhimintheleast.“Tellmewhat’supsettingyou.”

“Thatgirl,”Iblurtedout,mostlybecausehiscloseproximitywasmakingmyheadspin,andIdidn’t

wanttodrawthisissueoutforlongerthanabsolutelynecessary.“Thatgirlbotheredme.Idon’tknow

why–thiswholenighthasjustbeen…weird.”

Twenty-sixsecondslater,hegaveasinglenodandsteppedback.Iresistedtheurgetoexhaleheavily.

“Areyoucominginside?”heasked,tomysurprise.

“I’mnotsleepinginyourbed,ifthat’swhatyou’reasking,”Isaidtestily.

Hislipstwitchedupwards.“Iwasgoingtowatchamovie,actually.Butifyouwanttostayouthere

andfreezetodeath,Iguessthat’s–”

Ihadracedinsideandallbutthrownmyselfatthesofabeforehecouldshutmeoutthereforgood.

Givingmeyetanotherinscrutablelook,heputonsomeoldWesternmovie,dimmedthelights,and

collapsedbesideme,pullingmylegsontohislap.Ididn’tresist–itwasmorecomfortablethatway,

anyway.

AnotherthingIdidn’twishtooveranalyze.

Icocoonedfurtherintothesofa,exhaustionslowlycatchinguptome.Achillesseemedtoknowthe

filmbyheart,judgingbythenumberoflineshequoted,andagainIwasstruckbyhowabsurdthis

wholescenariowas.Iwasstupidtotrusthim,evenalittle.Fallingasleepinthepresenceofa

renownedpsychopathwasapotentiallyfatalmove.

Butifhehadn’tkilledmeyet,whatwasonemorenight?

“Gotosleep,darling.You’reinsafehands,”Achillessaid,soquietlyIcouldhardlyhearhimoverthe

dialogofthemovie.

Imumbledsomethingincomprehensibleeventome,andsnuggleddeeperintothemicrofiber

cushions.

Mylastconsciousthoughtwasthatitdefinitelywasn’tnaturaltofeelassafeasIdidinthehandsof

Achilles.

ChapterSeven

AVeryLucrativeBusiness

WhenIawoke,therewasasportsbagundermylegswhereAchilleshadbeen,andtwothugs

hoveringbythedoorway.Asusual,mycaptorwasnowheretobeseen.Theclockonthewallread

oneo’clock–intheafternoon.ImusthavebeenmoreexhaustedthanI’dfirstthought.

“What’sgoingon?”Iaskedthemen,instantlyonguard.IfMoltenwassomewhere,sniffingaround,I

hadtobereadytofight.

“Bosswantsyoutogetchanged.”Oneofthempointedtothebag.

Inexplicablynervous,Iopenedthebag,noideawhattoexpecttofindinside.

Setintothreeneatpiles,arrangedbycolor,weremyclothes–normalclothes,frommyapartment.

Ontopoftheclothesweremytoiletriesbag,shoes,andacollectionofbookspluckedfrommy

shelves.Igapedatthethugs.

“How…howdidyougetthis?”Thiswasimpossible.Hecouldn’thavebrokenintomyapartment–

howdidheknowwhereIlived?Frantically,Iwhippedoutmywalletandscannedthecardstofind,

yep–he’dtakenmylicense.

“Hewentandfetcheditthismorning.We’releavinginhalfanhour,soyou’dbetterhurryup,”

advisedthethug,whoresembledaclichédbiker,completewithbandanaanddenimvest.

Icouldn’tbelieveit.Ihadmythingsback!Well,someofthem.Therewasanulteriormotivehere,but

Ididn’tcare.Bundlingafewrandomitemsinmyarms,Iracedtothebathroomandlockedmyself

inside,somethingakintogiddinessfloodingmyveins.

AsifChristmashadcomeearly,Ihastilyshoweredanddonnedmybeautiful,clean,feminine-

smellingclothing.Icouldfinallywearmake-up,andcleanmyteethwithmyownutensils,andbrush

myhairwithsomethingotherthanmyfingers!

Itwasn’tuntilIsteppedbackintothelivingroom,andsawthatoneofthemenwasholdinga

blindfoldandearbudsattachedtoaniPodthatIrealizedwhyAchilleswantedmescrubbedand

dressedappropriately.

“We’retakingthatstupidfieldtripofhis,aren’twe?”Iaskedthebikerdude.

“Pleasedon’tmakethismoredifficultthanithastobe.Ilikemyhandsattached,thanks.”

Crap,I’dcompletelyforgottenabouthispromiseoftwonightsago.Whydidhewantmeto

accompanyhim,anyway?Ididn’tparticularlycaretoseeAchillesinhisnaturalhabitat–which

probablyinvolvedbeingcoveredinbloodandguts.

“CanIatleastknowifIshouldbringacardigan?”

Theyexchangedaglance,thentheotherman,shortandround,answered,“Goon,then.”

Idartedtothebag,mybacktothem,andquicklypocketedametalnailfileasIfetchedmyoversized

cardigan.Nopointinbeingweaponless,especiallyifMoltenwastaggingalongfortheride.

Ifollowedthepairoutofthelivingarea,downstairstosomekindofrubble-filledfoyer.The

blindfoldwastiedaroundmyheadandtheearbudsshovedin,blastingsomekindofbluegrasssong

throughmyhead.

Ididn’tbotheraskingwhythemusicwasnecessary–Iwouldn’theartheansweranyway.

Handspushedandpulledmearoundforawhile,untilIhitaseat–thebackseatofacar,Ihadto

assume–andweweresoonmoving.Myhandsimmediatelyshottomyeyes,whippingtheblindfold

off.

Thebikerthugsatbesideme,sayingsomethingtothedriver.Iwenttopulltheearphonesout,buthis

handsstoppedme.

“Keepthemin,”hemouthedtome.Irolledmyeyes,butcomplied.BesttosavemyenergyforwhenI

trulyneededit.

Ofcourse,thatdidn’tmeanIcouldn’tpress‘pause’ontheiPodintheseatbetweenuswhenhewasn’t

looking.

“…she’scomingalongfor,anyway.Ishefinallygonnakillher?”Iheardthedriverask.Hiswords

werealittlemuffledthroughtheearbuds.

“Doubtit,”snortedBikerDude.Ikeptmyeyesoutthewindow.“She’sgotsomepowerhewants.”

“Fuckin’superhumans,man.Can’ttrustoneof‘em.”

Youcanhavemypower,Ithoughtathim.GodknowsIdon’twantit.

“Shedoesn’tseemtoobad.Maybeshe’llsoftenhimup,”pointedoutBikerDude,glancingatme.I

foughttheurgetogivehimagratefulsmile.

“Ormakehimworse.YousawwhathappenedtoJosh.”

Weturnedasharpcorner,andwhentheiPodskiddedtowardsme,Ihastilypressed‘play’oncemore

beforeBikerDudesnatcheditbackup.

WhythehelldidpeoplekeepthinkingIhadanyinfluenceoverAchilles?Theguywasahomicidal

maniac–Idoubtedhelethimselfbeaffectedbyanyone,ever.Well,asidefromgirlsliketheonehe

broughthomelastnight.Theverythoughtmademyskincrawl.Ick.

IthadtobewhatMoltenhadsaid:Achillessawmeasashinynewtoy,andthereforetreatedmebetter

thanhisusualplaythings.Mypowermadememorevaluable,moreworthyofsecurity.

Yeah.Thathadtobeit.

ThecarpulledupoutsideaChineserestaurantontheoutskirtsoftown,anareaI’dneverbeento

before.BikerDudeyankedthebudsfrommyearsandsaid,inagrowl,“Wedon’twannakillyou,

girly.Don’tgiveusareasonto.”

Translation:don’tputupafight,don’tdrawattention,don’ttrytoescape.

“Loudandclear,”Imumbled,followinghimoutofthecar.LikeIwouldbother–thisrestaurantwas

theonlybuildingaroundforagoodthreeblocks.They’dshootmedownbeforeIgottenyards.

Thedriverledusinside,whereanelderlyChinesemanjustpointedtoadoorinthebackwithout

sparingusaglance.Therewasnooneelseinsight,noteveninthemainareaoftherestaurant.

IgotthedistinctfeelingIshouldhavebeennervous.Thetwothugsseemededgierthanbefore,their

handsatthegunsattheirsidesasweenteredthebackroom.

“Finally,”calledoutavoicefrombehindawallofcardboardboxes.Theroomseemedtobesome

kindofstoreroom-meets-private-dining-area.“Don’ttellme–yougotallgirlyaboutyourstuffand

tookawholehourtodoyourhair.”

Urgh.Evenwithoutseeinghim,Iwantedtostranglehim.

Whenitbecameobviousthetwothugsweretoremainbythedoor,Iwanderedaroundtotheother

sideoftheboxes,whereafour-seatertablewastuckedintoacorner,itssettingawholelotmore

lavishthantheonesinthemainrestaurant.

“Isthisseriouslywhereyoudoyourcriminalbusinessmanstuff?”Iaskedwryly,pointedlylooking

aroundtheroom.“Alittlecliché,don’tyouthink?”

“It’sclichéforareason,darling.”Hepattedtheseatbesidehim.Itentativelysat,myarmbrushinghis.

Hiseyesweren’tonme,butIwaslearningtoreadAchillesbyhisbodylanguage,insteadofhisfacial

expressionsandeyes.Thewayhisshoulderstensed,hishandsfistedslightly;hewas…

uncomfortable.Withthesituation?Ormycloseproximity?

“Whatarewedoinghere?”

“Meetingwithaprospectiveinvestor.”

Investor?Peopleinvestinyou?”

Helookedasthoughitwasanobviousfact.“Therateyouunderestimateme,honestly.Ihavevaluable

skills,Flick.”Hewiggledhisfingersinfrontofmyface.“Thewholekillingpeoplethingisavery

lucrativebusiness.Plus,I’marealwhizatcomputers,especiallybankaccounts.”

Ifrowned.“Isthatwhyyoudothis?Formoney?”

Hetookaprawncrackerfromthecenterbasketandcheweditthoughtfully.“Iguessyou’llfindout

foryourselfin…”Heglancedathiswatch.“Thirtysecondsorso.”

Ididn’thavetowaitthatlong.Aknockcameatthedoorassoonashesaidit,andagain,Inotedhow

hisbodyreactedtothesound:straighteningthetableclothbeforehim,dustingoffhisjacketcollar,

headtiltingslightlytotheleft.Anxiety?Eagerness?

“ShouldIleave?”Iwasn’tquitesurewhyIasked–Ijustfelt…out-of-place.

“No,no,”heassuredme,proppinghiselbowsonthetable.“I’msureyourbeingherewilldistract

himenoughtoslipuponthetermsandconditions.”

Ididn’tquitelikethesoundofthat,butthedoorscrapedopenandIrealizedIdidn’thaveachoice.

“Achilles!”boomedavoice.Afigureroundedthecorner,armsoutstretchedforahug.“There’smy

man!”

Holymacaroni.Thisguywasterrifying.Notinahulking,wrestlerway,either.Hewasquiteskinny, actually,witharmsthatwerefartoomuscularfortherestofhim,butheseemedtocarryasenseof importancewithhimthatinflatedhis physicalpresence.Thickunibrow,pox-scarredcheeks,oily browncurls,andeyesshieldedbyexpensive-lookingsunglasses.

Achillesdidn’tmeetthehug.Insteadheclaspedoneoftheoutstretchedhandsandshookitpolitely.

“Maxim,”hesaidwithaveryAchillessmile.“Iknewitwasonlyamatteroftimebeforeyoucavedto

myoffer.”

“Andwho’sthis?”ThesunglassesturnedinmydirectionandIcouldfeeleyesperusingeveryinchof

me.“Sister,Ihope.”

MyfacecrinkledinrepulsionandAchilleslaughed,clappingahandtomyshoulder.“Mydateforthe

afternoon,actually.Saidshewantedtogooutforlunch,sohereweare,rightdarling?”

“Well,”saidMaxim,notgivingmeachancetoanswermy‘date’,“thisismen’sbusiness,babe.How

aboutyougooccupyyourselfelsewhere,hmm?”

Achilles’shandclampeddowntighter,preventingmefrommoving,evenifIwantedto.“Shestays.”

Andthatwasit.Noexplanationgivenorneeded.

Maximstaredatmeforalongmomentbeforetakingupthesingleseatacrossfromus.Achilles

squeezedmyshoulderandsataswell.Itdidn’tescapemynoticehowhisotherhandhadgonetothe

weapontuckedintothebackofhispants,norhowtwobeefyguyshadappearedbehindMaxim,

watchingourexchangecarefully.

AsmallChinesewomanappearedafewmomentslater.“Readytoorderyet?”

“Theusualforme.Darling?”Achillesaskedme.

“Uh…”Well,thiswasanunexpectedturn.“Dumplings?”

“Getmesomeofthathoneychickenyouguysdo.That’ssomegoodshit.”Maximsniffedandpushed

hissunglassesuphisnose,lookingeverybitthementallyunstablecriminalthatheprobablywas.

Thewomandisappearedandthesilencethatensuedwasuneasy.

“So,whatbroughtonthechangeofheart?Midlifecrisis?Midnightepiphany?”Achillesstirredthe

drinkinfrontofhim–somekindofcoffeeinawhiskyglass.

“Cameintoafairbitofamoneylately,decideditwastimeforachangeof…tastes,ifyoucatchmy

meaning.”

“Idon’t,I’mafraid.”

Maximgrinned,anditshowcasedasetofentirelyfalseteeth.Creepy,insomeonerelativelyyoung.

“YouknowaswellasIdo,Achilles–sometimes,yougottahithardtowinbig.”Hetookaswigof

Achilles’sdrink,wholookedasthoughhe’dpredictedthemove.“Foundoutaboutthisbitchawhile

ago–somewidowofanarmyprick,Idunno.JustmovedtoCarova,intothisfuckingmansionbythe

lake,Ikidyounot.Nokids,soshe’sjustlivingoffherdeadhusband’spensionorwhateveritisthey

get.”

Ididn’tlikewherethisstorywasheaded.AsthoughAchillescouldsensemydistress,heleanedinto

meslightly,thepressureofhisshoulderonmineweirdlycomforting.

Thefoodarrived,butMaximwasn’tfinished.Ashewolfeddownthehoney-batteredchickeninfront

ofhimwithhisfingers,hespatout,“Itellyou,man,itwaslikeshefuckingwantedtogetdone.Left

thefrontdoorunlockedandeverything.”

Thesmellofthedumplingssuddenlymademefeelsick.

“So,what?Yourobbedthehouse?”Achillesasked,cuttinghismealupintoveryequalportions

acrosshisplate.

Maxim’sgrinwidened.“Robbedit,tookthefuckingloadsofcashinthesafe–aroundahundred

grand,mind–thenshecomeshomeandfindsme,startsgettingallcatty,throwingknivesatmeand

shit.Fuckinghot,though,dude.”

Myhandunconsciouslygrippedtheknifeonthetablebeforeme.Achillesreachedacrosstogently

removeitfrommygrasp,eyesstillonMaxim.

“Isthatit?”Likeme,Achillesmusthavesensedtherewasmoretothestory.

“Well,likeIsaid,shewashot.Wasn’tlikeIwasgonnaleavewithoutgettingapieceformyself.Had

tofuckingslitherthroattokeepherfromscreaming–andnotinthegoodway.”

Bileroseinmythroat,andIgulpeddowntheglassofwaterinfrontofmetoquellthesickness.

Achilles’sshoulderdugfurtherintomine,butitnolongerhelped.Iwantedtokillthisman.Iwanted

tostabhimintheeyeandwatchthelifebleedoutofhim.Thiswaswhatevilwas.ThisiswhatIknew

tobevillainy.

ButMaximjustkeptchewingthatchicken,suckingonhisfingerswithahorriblesmackingsound,as

ifwhathe’dsaidheldnoproblemsatall.

Achillesactuallysmirked,andthesightmademefeelworse.“So,justtogetthisstraight,youraped

andmurderedawarwidowforahundredgrand?”

“Yeah.PlusmoreinthestuffItook,too.”Hewipedhisgreasyfingersonhisshirtfront.“ButIhappen

toknowshe’sgotahundredmoreinherbankaccount–that’swhereyoucomein.”

“Enlightenme.”IcouldhardlybelieveAchilleswassittingthere,listeningtothisguy.Iwasone

secondawayfromrippinghisthroatoutwithmybarehands,andIwashardlyaviolentperson.

“Youhelpmegetintoheraccount,I’llgiveyouhalf.That’sthedeal.”

Mycaptorlaughedinawhollydryway.“Well,you’reambitious,I’llgiveyouthat.Yougotthebank

details?”

Maximpassedoverapieceofpaper.“Youagreetothisandyouwon’tregretit,dude.We’dmakea

goodteam.”

“Hmm.”Achillespocketedthepaper,andafrowncreasedMaxim’sbrow.

“Soyou’lldoit?”heasked.

“Whatdoyouthink,darling?Soundlikeagooddeal?”Achillesaskedme,lookingthoroughlybored.

Icouldn’tevenformwords,Iwassoenragedanddisgusted.

“Mythoughtsexactly.”Achillesturnedbacktoaconfused-lookingMaximandsighed.“Thisiswhere

itgetsawkward.Yousee,Ilikeachallenge,Maxim.Givemeawordpuzzleoraso-called

‘impenetrable’vaultoverapettyrobberyorkillinganyday.Giveme,say,Felicityhere,”hegestured

tome,“oversomeoneastransparentandweakas,say,you.”

“Idon’t–”

“Ihonestlythoughtyou’dbealittlemoreoriginal.Less…predictable.Youmakeyourselffeel

biggerbyoverpoweringthoseweakerthanyou–you’relikethefatkidoftheclasswhogoeshome

andbeatsupapuppy.So.Damn.Boring.”

“Youcan’t–”

“ButIgaveyouachanceanyway,becausehey,youhavemoney.Unfortunately,yourmoneyisn’tas

cleanasI’dlikeittobe.Infact,I’dsayit’sdownrightfilthy.”Achillestossedhisnapkinontohis

unfinishedmeal.“Sohere’swhat’sgoingtohappen:I’mgoingtogiveyouyourjustrewards,and

you’renotgoingtodoathingaboutit.”

ItwasonlythenthatIrealizedthedistinctlackofthemenwhohadbeenbehindMaximearlier.Where

theyhadstood,twobigbodieswerenowstrewnacrossthefloor,nobloodormess.Achilles’smen,

however,stoodrightbehindthem.

MaximnoticedthecorpsesthesametimeIdid.“Youpunkasskid!”Hishandsshotouttograb

Achilles’shead,butbeforeheeventouchedhim,mynail-filewasembeddedinhisneck.

Anditwasmewho’dputitthere.

“That’stokeepyoufromscreaming,andnotinagoodway,”Isnarledathiminavoicethatdidn’t

soundatalllikeme.Hisfingerstoreatthenow-bloodyfile,tryingtowrenchitfromhisjugular,but

Achillespushedhimbackintohischairbeforehecoulddoso.

“Nowwe,”AchillessaidtoMaxim,gesturingbetweenhimselfandme,“wemakeagoodteam.”His

eyesflashedtome.“Turnaway,darling.”

“ButIwantto…”Wanttowhat?Stay?Watch?Beapartofit?Iknewwhatwascoming,andtheworst

thingwas,Ididn’tseeathingwrongwithit.

Turnaway,”herepeated.“NowayI’mgivingyounightmares.”

Toolateforthat.Maxim’sstoryhadplantedblack,insidiousseedsinmysubconsciousthatIwassure

wouldcropupinmydreamssomehow.

ButIdidasAchillesaskedanyway.

“Youmadeaninnocentpersonsuffer,”Iheardhimsayinalow,deadlyvoice.“Notonlythat,you

haveahistoryofdepravity,notenoughmoneytoswayeventhelikesofme,ruinedourmeal,and

upsetFlick.”Iflinchedatthesoundofmyname.Ididn’twantthismantoknowit,evenifhewas

secondsawayfromdeath.Ialreadyfelttaintedenough.

Ahorriblegargledsoundcame.Achilleslaughed.“Toolate,dude.Butthanksforthemoney–I’ll

takegoodcareofit.”

Athud,thensilence.Pure,sickeningsilence.

Mybreathfeltsoheavyinmylungs,liketheairwasturningtoleadasIinhaled.Ihadjustmurdered

someone.EvenifIhadn’tstruckthekillingblow,IhadstillputthedamningnailinMaxim’scoffin.

Myeyesweregluedtothetableinfrontofme,thespotsofbloodpepperedalongitswhitelace

edging,theperfectlycut,untouchedmealinfrontofAchilles.Suchacasualthinginthisotherwise

macabretableau.

Handssuddenlypriedatmyshoulders,turningmeslightly,andmybreathrushedoutofmeinwhat

soundedpatheticallylikeawhimper.“Comeon,darling.Let’sgetyouhome.”

Home.LikeIhadahometogoto.

Ikeptmyeyesfirmlyaboveallthebodiesintheroom,notevenglancingintheirdirectionaswe

headedout.Achillesexchangedawadofcashandaquickconversationwiththerestaurantownerin

thefrontwhileIwasherdedoutsideintothecrispafternoonair.

Nobodytalkedonthereturnjourney.Thetwothugssatinthefrontofthecar,AchillesandIinthe

back.Eventuallytheblindfoldwastiedovermyeyesagain,andIdidn’tbotherprotesting.Therewas

ahorrible,hollowfeelinginmychest–I’drunoutofsunshine,itseemed.Noquestionastowhy.

Morehandsguidedmeoutofthecarwhenitcametoahalt,intoabuilding,andtheblindfoldwas

takenoffwhenwewereinthestaircasebackat…whereverwewere.WhenwereachedAchilles’s

quarters,thetwothugsseemedtodisappear,andAchillesledmestraighttothebathroom.

“Whatareyou…?”Thequestionfadedoutwhenheshovedmyhandsundertherunningfaucetand

begantowashthebloodfrommyskin.Ihadn’tevenrealizeditwasthere.Redwaswedgedundermy

fingernails,inthecracksofmypalms.

“Needlesstosay,that’snothowitusuallygoes,”hetoldmeinastrangelysoftvoice.“Mostofthe

peopleIdealwitharen’tso…”

“Sick?”

Hislipsquirked.“Yeah.”

Silenceagain.Good.Silence,Icoulddealwith.

Hepulledoutalemonbodyscrubandgentlyrubbeditaroundmyfingers,makingmesuppressa

laugh.“Ididn’tthinkyouwerethetypetoexfoliate.”

Hiseyesshottomine,trademarksmirkreturning.“Howdoyouthinkthispaintgetswashedoff?

Magicalface-washingelves?”

“Oh.Don’tyoufinditannoying,havingtopaintyourfaceeveryday?”IknewIwaspushingthe

envelope,butIdidn’tcare.ItwasabouttimeIgotsomeanswers–ifonlytotakemymindoffrecent

events.

Hisshouldersheavedinashrug.“Getsmeattention.”Hedriedmyfreshly-cleanhandswithatowel.

“Upforanothermovie?”

Intwosimplesentences,he’dgivenawayafewvitalpartsofhispersonality:whathedid,hedidfor

attention;andwhenthegoinggottough,heturnedtofilm.Thatwouldexplainthemassivecollection

ofmoviesinthelivingarea.Andwhyhe’dchosentowatchonelastnightwithmeinsteadoftalking

furtherabouthisrendezvouswiththathorribleorangegirl.

Itwasn’tuntiltwodayslaterthatIfoundsomethingthatrevealedevenmoretomeaboutAchilles,

tuckedunderastackofpaperonhischest-of-drawers.Somethingthatmademyheartbothtightenand

expand:

Areceiptforacheckalreadydonated,madeoutanonymously,forthesumofahundredthousand

dollars,addressedtotheWarWidowsAssociation.

ChapterEight

PowersofDeduction

“Whatareyouguysdoinghere?”

ThetwothugsfromtheotherdaystoodinthelivingareawhenIemergedfromthebathroom,three

daysaftertheMaximincident.Ihadafeelingtherewassomethingweirdabouttoday,somethingIwas

supposedtoremember.Someone’sbirthday?

Ilookedattheclock,andsuddenlyrealizedthesignificanceofthetime–andwhythesetwowere

standinginfrontofme.Ithadbeenonthenews,allthosedaysago:2o’clock,ataweddingchapelin

thecity.

“We’regoingtomeetFinn,aren’twe?”Iaskedthem,wellawareIwasright.

“Don’tmakeustakeyoutherebyforce,honey,”saidthebikeroneinagruffvoice.

Icouldhaveputupafight,butIknewtherewereatleasthalfadozenotherthugsoutintheoffice,

probablywaitingtobackthesetwoupifneedbe.

So,liketheidiotIwas,Iwentwiththem.Ididn’tevenrequirebonds–Iwascomplianttothepointof

resemblingavegetable.

Onceoutside,ittookmyeyesafewmomentstoadjusttotheblindingsunlight.Ofcourse,itwasonly

amatterofsecondsbeforeablindfoldblackedoutmyvision.

“Iknowwherewe’regoing,”Itoldmyguard.“Youdon’thavetoblindfoldme.”

“Bossdoesn’twantyouknowingwhereyou’vebeen,justincase.Bestjusttogowithit,”replied

someone.

Iwasstuffedintoacarofsomesort–avan,Ihadtoguess,bythesoundofslidingdoors–andfelt

theengineroartolifebeforewetookoff.

SoweweregoingtomeetFinn.Great.Nodoubtthere’dbeadozenorsosnipersaroundthebuilding

aswell,waitingforAchillestoshowhisface.Plus,Finnwouldconnectthedotsbetweenmyidentity

andthegirlfromthegazebo,mostlikely.

Whatintheworldwas‘ourweddingchapel’,though?ClearlythehistoryofFinnandAchilleswas

morecomplicatedthenI’dfirstassumed.

Alongtimelater,wecametoahalt.Iwashandedoutofthecar,madetowalkashortdistance,up

somesteps,andintoabuildingofsomekind.Thechimingofbellsinthedistancefilledmyears,and

thentheblindfoldwastakenfromme.

Iscreamedatthesightthatgreetedme.

AtleasttenversionsofAchillessurroundedme,allwiththesamepatternofskeletonontheirfaces,

allwearingthesameoutfit,allaroundthesameheightandweight.Theyevenhadthesamefathomless

blackeyes.Theymusthavedonetheirmake-upinthecar,becauseIrecognizednoneofthem.

“Whatthehell?”Igasped,takinginthesetting–adilapidatedchurchofsomekind,withbrokenstain-

glasswindows,batteredpews,andanaltarscribbledwithgraffiti.

“Istherealonehere?”IaskedarandomAchillesclone,notinghishairwasalittletoolongtobethe

actualAchilles.

“Youtellme,”hesaidwiththetrademarkAchillessmirk.DearGod,thiswasbeyondfreaky.What

wasevenfreakierwasthewayIwasbeginningtotellthemapart.

Istudiedeachofthemclosely,notingthewaysomeoftheireyesavoidedme–definitelynotthereal

one–andhowsomeofthemwerestandingwithaslighthunch,orinanaggressivestance.Some

werebigger,somewerescrawnier,somehadobviouslyjustsprayedtheirhairblack.Scattered

aroundthechurchweremoreversions,oneattheendoftheaisle,hipjuttedagainstthealtar,

examininghisfinger-nailsfartoocasually.

Withalastlookatthegroupclosesttome–nope,noneofthemfitthefewdescriptionsIhadof

Achillesbesidestheface-paint–Iapproachedtheoneinmysights.Icouldn’texactlycallouthis

nameandseewhichoneturnedaround,becausechanceswere,Achilleswasn’thisrealname.

So,IdidtheonlythingIknewwouldinspireareactioninoneofthem,and‘accidentally’trippedon

thecarpet,hittingmyheadonapewonthewaydown.Itdidhurt,butmaybemyskullhadbecome

immunetopainoverthelastweek,becauseitwasn’tasbadasIthoughtitwouldbe.

Lettingoutakeeninggroanofagony,Iclutchedatmyhead,triedtogetup,andsankbackdown

dramatically.

“Boss?”askedoneofthethugs–theoneI’dfirstguessedwasjustaclone.

Footstepsapproachedme,thenashadowfellovermy‘unconscious’face.“Christ,girl,whatamI

goingtodowithyou?”

Ahandslidundermyhead,feelingforalumporblood,andmyeyesflewopen.TheAchillesleaning

overmewasdefinitelytherealone–theoneIhadbeenapproachinganyway.Samefloppyhair,same

squarejaw,sameintricatedetailintheface-paint,sametannedskinpeekingoutfromunderhiscollar.

“Youcanstartwithnotunderestimatingmypowersofdeduction,”Itoldhimwithanunrestrained

grin.Ishouldn’thavefoundthattobesomuchfun,andIreallyshouldn’thavereceivedatrickleof

happinessfromAchilles’sendwhenIopenedmyeyes.

WashejusthappythatIwasn’tdead?Orsomethingelse?

“I’llrememberthat,”hegrowled,butIsawthetwitchinhispaintedlips.Ha!Hebentclosertome,

mouthhoveringjustabovemyear.“I’mslightlyimpressed,darling.”Thewhispermadethehairson

thebackofmyneckstandonend.

Hestraightened,pullingmeupwithhim,andIheardoneoftheAchillesclonesmutterbehindme,

“She’sjustasweirdashim.”

Achillesdidn’treact,andneitherdidI,butIwasn’tquitesurewhetherornottobeinsulted.Thatin

itselfwasworrying.

Whenaknockatthechapeldoorscame,Achillesinstantlyhandedmeofftooneofhiscarboncopies.

“Trynottoreadtoomuchintothis,darling,”hetoldme,beforeclickingapairofhandcuffsonme

thatheprocuredfromhispocket–what?–andreturningtothepewstolounge.

Oneofthethugsopenedthechurchdoors,justasanothergaggedmewithastripofmaterial,and

anothercametostandbehindmeandpressedaguntomyhead.Istruggledagainsthishold,looking

totherealAchilles,whowasstudiouslyavoidingmygaze.Well,thatwasn’tgood.

Asecondlater,Finnappearedinapuffofsmokeattheendoftheaisle,surveyinghissurroundings

withaspeedIhadn’tthoughtpossible.Hiseyescastoverme,overeveryversionofAchilles,and

settledontheoneinfrontofme.

“Nicetoseeyouagain,Finnian,”saidtheimposter,hisvoiceatexactlytherightpitchforthepart.“I

wasstartingtothinkyou’dstoodusup.”

“Itwasstupid,youknow,makingabigshowofwhereyouwantedtomeet.Mostofthecity’spolice

forceareputtingsnipersonyouaswespeak.”FinnseemedalotlessconfidentthanwhenI’dlastseen

himatthepartysomanynightsago.He’dlostthesparklingedgethatseemedtosethimapartfrom

mostotherpeople.Why?,Iwondered.

“Oh,Iknow,”saidFakeAchillescasually.“Ijustwantedsomeattention.Plus,Ihaveapropositionfor

you.”

Finnarchedaneyebrow.“Forme?Howsweet.”Hiseyesrakedovermeagain,kneelingonthesticky

carpet,andIsawabriefflareofrecognition.

“IthinkyoumayhavealreadymetFelicity,”saidFakeAchilles,gesturingbacktome.“She’sbeen

stayingwithmeforawhile,keepingmecompany.Sayhi,Felicity.”

IglaredattheFakeAchilles,andtheonebehindmetuggedonmyhairhardenoughtoelicita

muffledyelpfromme.AnotherglanceattheRealAchilles,whostillwasn’tlookinganywherenear

me.

“Goddammit,Achilles,Ithoughtwewerepastthiscrap.Lethergo.”Finnsoundedsoweary.What

waswrongwithhim?WherewasFinnCole,niceguyextraordinaire?

“Well,I’lladmit,Iexpectedabitmorefightfromyou,”tskedFakeAchilles.“Butnomatter.Idon’t

justhavedearFelicity,afterall.”

“Whatdoyoumean?”

Icouldn’tseeFakeAchilles,butIknewhewasgrinning.“Doesthislookfamiliar?”Heheldouta

maskofsomekind–sapphire-colored,withsplotchesofblood,andthinsilverdetailing…

Skye’smask!

Igaveanothermuffledcry,drawingFinn’seyestome.Thethugbehindmefistedmyhair,bringing

tearstomyeyes.“Shutup,”hesnarleddownatme.Iresistedtheurgetosendadonkey-kickbackinto

hiskneecap.

“Wheredidyougetthat?Whereisshe?”demandedFinn,stormingtowardsFakeAchilles,whoheld

themaskbackwithonehandandgesturedtowardsmyholderwiththeother.Thesafetycapofthegun

againstmyheadwassuddenlyflickedoff.

“Nofurther,Finnian,unlessyouwanttolosebothofyourfangirls.Skyeissafeandsound,tucked

somewhereyouwon’tfindher.Thesamecan’tbesaidforthisone,though,”hesaid,turningtosmirk

atme.“Don’tgetmestarted–hadtowrenchherlegsapartwithacrowbarjusttogetsome,ifyou

knowwhatImean.”

IchokedonmygagandsawtheactualAchilleshalf-standfromhispositioninthepews,thenquickly

sitbackdown.Clearlythatlittletitbithadn’tbeenpartofthescript.

Finn’sfistsclenched,buthedidn’trisetothebait.Smartman,Ithought.“Whatdoyouwant?”he

askedagain,theconfidencefloodingbackintohistone.

FakeAchillesshrugged.“Nothingyoucan’tgetme,I’msure.Felicityhereisasweetheart,butshe’sa

bittight-lippedonherpower,I’mafraid.Ifyoucangetmeinformationonhowherabilityworks,I’ll

setSkyefree.”

Finn’sfrowndeepened.“Whydoyouwantherpower?”

“Whydoesanyonewantanything?Becausetheycan’thaveit.That’smydeal,takeitorleaveit.No

catches,nopitfalls,nofine-print.Justgetmetheinformationsomehow,andyou’llhaveyour

preciousSkyeback.Or,don’tgetmetheinformation,andI’llcutoffboththeirheadsandsendthem

toyouinabasket.Choices,choices.”

IcouldseetheindecisiontakeholdofFinn’smind,couldallbuthearthecogschurning.Whenhis

eyessearchedminefromthesmallspacebetweenus,Itriedtomentallyshouttohim:Don’tdoit!

She’snotreallybeingheld!Getout!

Hemustn’thaveheardmyimploring,becauseamomentlaterhesighedandsaid,“Fine.Youhavea

deal.”Tomysurprise,headdressedmenext,“I’msorry,Felicity.I’llgetyououtofthissomehow,I

promise.”

“Howromantic,”commentedFakeAchilleswithaneyeroll.ButIwasactuallyveryimpressedwith

Finn–hedidn’tknowmeatall,didn’thavetoplaythegoodguyparthere,butheseemedgenuinely

worriedaboutme.Sweet,inabackwardsway.

“Oh,andyouhavetwenty-fourhours.DidImentionthat?Probablyshouldhave,”addedFake

Achilles.

Finn’sjawtensed,butheshowednoothersignsofanger.“Onedaysoon,I’llhaveyoualltomyself.

Thenwe’llseehowconfidentyouare.”

“Careful,Finnian,weareinachurch,”warnedFakeAchilles,winkingdramatically.Hethenturnedto

meandhauledmetomyfeetbymyhair.Iwinced,butmanagedtoholdbackmycrythistime.“See

youtomorrow,then?MaybeinthesamegazebowemetFelicity?Seemsfitting.”

Finnsimplystareddaggersathimaswebackedoutintothechurchhallway.Alltheotherclonesof

Achillesfollowedus,andwithalastwickedgrin,FakeAchillesslammedthedoorbehindus,

blockingFinnoutaltogether.Hecouldn’tteleportbeyondsolidwalls,orsotherumorswent–he

oftenendedupwithpartsofhimselfinsidethewall,usuallyresultinginhimhavingtosmashthe

wholethingdowntofreehimself.

“Don’tgivemethatlook,darling,”saidtherealAchilleswhenIwashandedbacktohimlikean

unwanteddoll.“Ithinkyoudidbrilliantly.”

Icouldn’tsayanythingtohim,evenifthegaghadn’tbeenonme,becausewewerechargingoutinto

theparkinglotbehindthechurchamomentlater,intotwoseparatevans,asI’dguessedbefore.

Seemingtoknowwhattodo,thegroupsplitinhalf,andIwasbustledintothebackofavanwith

Achilles.Hegrinnedatme.“Havingfunyet?”

IgruntedsomethingbehindthegagthatIneverwouldhavesaidtohisface,butheseemedto

understandme,becausehelaughed.

“Trackersonthevans,Ithink,boss,”pipedupthethuginthedriver’sseat,roaringtheenginetolife.

“Good,”saidAchilles,surprisingmeforthethousandthtimeinsomanydays.Hepulledmedown

intotheseatbesidehimaswetookoffoutofthelot,intothestreets.

Iwasthrownaroundthebackofthevanenoughtomakemefeelalittlequeasy.Weskiddedtoahalt,

andIwasquicklydraggedoutofthevanandintowhatappearedtobearentalcaryard.People

screamedandscatteredasweapproachedthemainbuilding,eachoftheAchillesclonesarmedwith

varioustypesofweapons.

Asweenteredtherentalofficesinthemiddleofthepark,policesirensblaringinthebackground,a

pudgymanstrodetowardsus,redintheface.

“Out!”heshouted,shooinguswithhishands.“Don’tbringyourgoddamnedgunsinherelikeyou

ownthejoint!Getout!”Thethugsinstantlydispersed,takinguppostatmostofthewindowsand

officedoors,roundingupthepeopleinsidethebuilding.Soonenough,asmallgroupofpeoplewere

herdedoutinfrontofus,mostofthemcoweringorsobbing.

Oneoftheclonessteppedforwardandpressedahandtothepudgymanager’sneck.“Goandgetthe

keystothreewhitevans,bringthembackhere,don’tstopforanything.

Withoutasecond’shesitation,themanagerturnedandpracticallyfledfromtheroom.Iturnedto

Achilles,panicinmyeyes.Hisgriponmyarmtightenedever-so-slightly,asthoughhefearedI’d

suddenlymakearunforit.Hisfearwasn’texactlymisplaced.

Moltenhadbeenintheroomwithme,thatwholetime.He’dbeentheFakeAchilles–theoneto

addressFinn,whichexplainedhowhe’dknownAchilles’sidiosyncrasiessowell,andalsowhythe

realAchilleshadshownahintofdefensivenesswhenMoltenhadmentionedpryingmylegsapart.

Panicseizedmygut,makingtheworldaroundmesuddenlyseemverystark.Instinctively,Ireleased

thesliverofhappinessI’dattainedfromAchillesinthechurchintomysystem–Iwasn’tgoingto

needitanytimesoon,anyway.

Ofcourse,I’dforgottenthatAchilleswasindirectcontactwithmyskin,sothesunshineslidright

throughthebothofus,mybodyonlyretainingalittleofit,hisreceivingmuchmore.

Thefearinmybloodsettledtoalowhumofcaution,whichwasbetterthannothing,Isupposed.

Achilles,ontheotherhand,experiencedmorethanme.Hisbreathlefthiminaquietwhoosh,and

immediatelyhiseyesslidtome.Crap.HeprobablythoughtI’ddoneitdeliberately.

Thepudgycardealerreturnedwiththreesetsofkeys,whichMoltensnatchedupandgavetoafew

randomAchillesclones.

“Y-youcan’tdothis,”blubberedthemanagertoMolten,who,tohim,wastherealAchilles.

“Surewecan”wasMolten’sreply,slingingashotgunoverhisshoulder.

“Almostthere,darling,”whisperedAchillestome.Heproceededtounthreadthescarffromaround

myneck,unlockmyhandcuffslongenoughtoslidemyjacketoff,lockmyhandsbackup,andpile

myhairatopmyheadusingarubberbandaroundhiswrist,allinaseamless,fluidmovement.I

wincedagainsthisroughtreatmentofmyhair,andIsawhislipstighteninascowl.Why?

HehandedthescarfandjackettoMolten,whothengesturedtotwowomeninthesmallcrowdbefore

us–abrunettemyheight,andared-headalittlebiggerthanme.IstruggledagainstAchilles’shold,

knowingwhattheywereplanning,butitwaspointless.Icouldn’tevenreassurethem.

TheirfearwaspalpableasMoltenhookedthescarfaroundthebrunette’sneckandhandedhertoone

ofthethugs.Aman–herpartner,Ipresumed–stoodandwenttoargue,butMoltenpushedhimback

down.“She’llbefine,pal.Justyourstandarddecoymove,”heexplained,jerkingathumbbackatme.

Alleyesfellonme,andIglaredatthebackofMolten’shead.

Thered-headwasgiventhejacket,andshedonneditwithlittlereluctance.Thewholeexchangewas

overinabouttwominutes.Ididn’tknowwhethertobeimpressedwithAchilles’sgang’sskill,or

embarrassedthatthesepeoplehadputupsolittleafight.Thenagain,livinginCarova,therewasn’t

muchpointtofightingback.

“Offwego,”saidMolten,clickinghisfingersattheotherversionsofAchilles.

Thebrunettewentoffwithonegroupofcopies,thered-headwithanother,andAchilleshandedmeto

oneofhisthugs.Ifeltinexplicablyfearful–abandoned,even.Hemusthavereadsomethinglikeitin

myeyes,becausehesaid,inalowvoiceformyearsonly,“Don’tgetallpanickyonme,Flick.It’sfor

yourowngood.”Hesmirked,butitwasoddlystrained.“Don’tmissmetoomuch.”

Heandthreethugsjumpedintooneoftheoriginalvanswe’dtravelledin,leavingmewithasingle

copyofAchilles.IhopeditwasHugoorthekind-ofnicebikerdudefromthismorningunderthat

paint.

Wordlessly,hegrabbedmyarmandhauledmepastthegroupofhostages,whogavemeacollective

lookoffear–probablyforthemselves,notme–andintothepassengerseatofoneoftherentalvans.

Hedidn’tbotherwithmyseat-belt,andwewerezoomingoutontothefreewaybeforeIcoulddoitup.

Thethreeothervanssplitup–Molten’sexitedearlyon,thenAchilles’s,thenthethird,policecars

trailingafterallofthem,untilweseemedtohavelostthetrail.Iballedupintheseat,handstwisted

uncomfortablybehindmyback,justwishingthisafternoonwasoveralready.NotthatIhadanything

bettertodo–Ijustdidn’tlovetheideaofbeingapartofahigh-speedchasethatwassuretoresultin

deathofsomekind.Ijusthopeditwasn’tFinn’s.

PoorFinn.IhopedforhissakeSkyewasn’treallyanywherewithMoltenorAchilles.SurelyI’dhave

heardaboutitifshewas.She’dbeenmissingformonths–therewouldhavetobesometraceofher

inthewholebuildingI’dbeenkeptat,somecluetoherpresence.

Asharpskidtotherighthadmymindjoltingbacktomypresentsituation.Mydriverhadswerved

downanexitthatseemedtobeinthemiddleofnowhere.Ilookedathiminquestion,hopinghewould

catchmyglance.Werewesimplythrowingthepoliceoffourscent?WhenIlookedbehindus,I

couldn’tseeanyfollowers,butIsupposethatdidn’tmeantheyweren’tthere.

“Twoyears,”saidmydriver,withahiccupofalaugh.Iblinkedathim.“I’veworkedforAchillestwo

yearsnow,andyouknowwhat?Hestilldoesn’tknowmyname.Hedoesn’tknowmyname,”he