Thirty-Three

“Who’s your daddy?”

Chester’s. Feckin-A, I hate this place even more than I used to. The line outside tonight is nuts. It’s zero degrees in Dublin, snow’s begun to fall in earnest, there’s a killer wind kicking up and still five blocks of folks are shivering outside, bundled in layers of clothing, huddled together waiting to get in.

I blast past them in fast-mo, skidding on an icy spot, whiz around one of Ryodan’s human bouncers who’s got his hands too full controlling the crowd to stop me, jump the ladder down to the main entrance and explode through tall black doors into the club.

It’s rocking tonight same as always: music thumping, lights flashing, folks partying up a storm. We got something icing our city, killing innocents everywhere, turning it into an arctic zone in June, and this is what folks are doing about it. Dancing, laughing, getting drunk, getting laid, acting like the walls didn’t fall, the world didn’t lose half the human race, and nothing’s changed.

I stand on the platform inside the door that overlooks it all for a sec, scowling, blowing on my hands, trying to warm them up. I need gloves. And a scarf and earmuffs. The scowl doesn’t last long because I get distracted from being pissed by the song that’s playing. It’s one of my oldie faves from a few decades back, heavy on bass, and it’s so loud it vibrates the soles of my combat boots, all the way up my legs and into my belly. My bones rumble with resonance. I love music because it’s so fecking brilliant. Music is math, and math is the structure of everything and pretty much perfect. Before everything got so crazy, Dancer was teaching me stuff about math that dazzled me.

My scowl comes back.

Jo’s in the kiddie subclub, dressed all sexy, laughing at something some skanky waitress said, moving sleek and pretty with the music as she goes from table to table, chatting up the customers and occasionally looking around, like she’s keeping an eye on things in general, or watching for someone. She’s still got those highlights and sparkly boobs. I’ll be real glad when that stuff’s gone and she’s the Jo I know again.

I’m going to make her quit tonight. We don’t owe a dead man anything, and if the other dudes think to try to enforce our contracts, well, we’re walking out anyway and they can just try.

I groan and roll my eyes, realizing I can’t make her quit tonight because I can’t tell her he’s dead. I can’t tell nobody he’s dead. Only me, Christian, and whoever moved their bodies — assuming it wasn’t Christian — know they got killed. It’s only been three days. Folks might not decide he’s dead for a while yet. Knowing her, she’ll stick around for weeks, hoping he comes back!

I feel a little perturbed. I been gone almost a month and she doesn’t look sad at all. Didn’t she miss me? Worry about me?

I shove that thought away and look up at the ceiling, eyeing the girders, wondering what kind of metal was used in the construction of Chester’s. If this place is as old as it seems, I’d think it’d have to be iron because I don’t think the method of making steel was figured out till recent times. Well, recent in terms of how old this place is. Then I wonder how old iron is. Then I wonder if Ryodan and his dudes just spelled the whole mess together. Or maybe they created their own kind of metal or brought it with them from whatever planet they were born on.

I wonder who’s in charge now that I killed Barrons and Ryodan. Lor?

As if my thoughts conjured him, I hear him say behind me, real close to my ear: “Aw, honey, you got some nerve coming here.”

I turn around to say suspiciously, “What do you mean by that?” but he’s not there by the time I complete my rotation. I wonder if I imagined him, a product of my guilty conscience. Then I decide if I really did hear him say what I thought he said, he was only referring to how Ryodan’s been looking for me for a month and now I waltz in like I never been gone, and he thinks Ryodan’s going to toast my ass for missing work so long. Because, like, he doesn’t know Ryodan’s dead either.

This is exactly why I hate lies. The second you tell one, you know something everybody else doesn’t know and you have to constantly keep reminding yourself to behave like you don’t know it, so they don’t decide you’re acting weird and figure out you know something they don’t. If they do, they’ll back you against a wall and demand to know why you’re acting weird and you’ll say something stupid and they’ll use it to trip you up with. Then everything comes spilling out and you’re in ten kinds of trouble! It’s so much easier not to tell any lies to begin with.

This is going to be a tough pretending gig. Reminders of Ryodan are everywhere in here. Heck, Ryodan is Chester’s! It’s, hands-down, the hardest place to pretend he’s not dead that I could possibly be. But I need those samples. The HFK is icing something practically every day, and Dancer thinks things are going to get worse.

I spot a sifter down in the Tuxedo Club and grin. The Gray Bitch. This is one I’m going to love laying the flat of my sword against and ordering around. Mac promised not to hunt her but I never took no such stupid oath, and besides, I’m not hunting her, I’m just going to threaten her into doing something for me. Hand hovering over the hilt of my sword, I map out the grid as best I can, considering most things on it are moving — not that I mind jabbing all these idiots with my elbows — and freeze-frame down the stairs. At the last minute I detour from the Tuxedo Club and head for Jo. I want to see her face when she sees me. See how glad she gets to know I’m alive. She must have been as worried about me as Dancer and it’s only right to put her mind at ease.

“Dani! What are you doing here?” Jo goes white as a sheet when I whiz to a stop in front of her. “Are you crazy?”

Not the reaction I expected. Where’s the look of relief, the big hug, the excitement to see me alive and back here again? “What are you talking about?”

“Ryodan’s been looking for you for a month! You broke your contract with him!”

“And according to that,” I say irritably, “you should be dead. But you’re not. Fact is, you look pretty darn good to me. Guess boinking him kept you alive, huh? You been doing it all this time? Didn’t he get tired of you?”

She flushes. “He said it wasn’t fair to take out his displeasure at you on me. Ryodan’s a smart man. He makes good decisions. He’s not impulsive like some people.” She gives me a pointed stare.

I’m disgusted. “Oh, he was just a … uh, is a fecking saint, now, huh?”

“He’s a fine man. You should give him a chance.”

“He’s a dead man, is what he is!” I blurt, because I can’t fecking stand to hear her defending him.

“Would you quit making threats about him every time you turn around? It’s getting old.” She lowers her voice. “You need to get out of here before he catches you. I’ve never seen him like he’s been since he hasn’t been able to find you.”

“I ain’t scared of Ryodan.” Gah, I wish I could just tell her!

“You should be. You pushed him too far this time, Dani. I don’t know what he’s going to do when he sees you, and I’m not sure I can stop him. I don’t think he’ll listen to even me about you.”

He’s never going to find out because he’s dead, but that’s not what I fixate on. “What do you mean ‘even you,’ like you’re some kind of special to him?”

She blushes and gets this soft-eyed look on her face like a sap in love. “We’re a couple, Dani. It’s been over a month and we’re exclusive. All the waitresses are talking about it. They never thought anybody would … you know, get a man like him to settle down.”

I just stare at her, blinking. Ryodan ain’t exclusive with nobody. Settle down? Tornados touch down. They don’t settle. They leave destruction in their wake. Not shiny, happy people. I feel sick inside, at the idea of him and Jo setting up house together, making plans for the future. As fecking if. What am I going to be? Their little fetch-it dog? I shake my head, reminding myself again that Ryodan’s dead. How does she keep getting me all distracted? Talking like he’s alive is confusing me.

“I ain’t talking to you anymore. I got things to do. Maybe you noticed Dublin is turning into the North Pole?”

“Of course I have. You’re the one that took off for a month and didn’t tell anyone that you were going to Faery with Christian.”

“Huh?” I gape at her. “How’d you know that?”

“Christian told me.”

“Scary-Unseelie-prince-Christian dropped in and told you I was okay?”

“I don’t know why he came, but he overheard me talking with Cormac yesterday in the Tux Club about how worried I was about you and he said the two of you had just gotten back and you were fine. I’m not going to breathe a word to Ryodan even though we tell each other everything. But I don’t appreciate you putting me in a position where I have to lie to him. Now get out of here before he comes down! Things are calm tonight. I’d like them to stay that way.”

Tell each other everything? She’s wrong on all counts. Ryodan was the most keep-it-to-yourself dude I ever met. Things aren’t calm in here; as usual they’re a catastrophe waiting to happen. And he ain’t ever coming down again.

So I’m walking away from Jo, heading toward the Tuxedo Club to commandeer the Gray Bitch’s services, when somebody crashes into me from behind so hard I go flying into one of the fluted columns at the exit of the kiddie subclub. I end up hugging it, to keep myself from puddling to the floor. I hit it so hard I’m going to have another black eye and the whole left side of my face is already working itself into the mother of all contusions. I think: Who the feck would dare attack me when I’m carrying so blatantly? Mac? ’Cause she hates me so much it made her stupid? I didn’t hide my sword when I came in. I peeled my leather coat back so everybody could see it’s mine again!

I stumble away from the column and am about to turn when I get slammed into it again. This time I swear I see stars and hear cuckoo birds whistling. My hand falls off the hilt of my sword, I’m so dazed. I hear Jo yelling behind me. “Stop it! Don’t hurt her! Stop it!”

I get slammed again as soon as I start to move. This time I bust my lip against the column. It pisses me off so bad that I shift up into fast-mo, grab my sword and yank it out. If it’s Mac, I don’t want to hurt her. I just want to run. But she’s really got to stop pushing me around in front of the whole fecking club. I got a reputation to consider.

It’s gone from my hand before I even can turn around. I get slammed again and I bite the fecking column a fourth time.

“You move one more time, I’ll rip your fucking heart out.”

I go still as the slayed Unseelie chunks at the iced scenes. That was not Ryodan that just spoke behind me because he, like, got gutted and died. Apparently I’m having hallucinations. Either that or a ghost is haunting me. It would figure the dude would come back from the dead just to make my life miserable. He was such a pro at it when he was alive.

I’m crushed so tight between the column and whatever’s behind me I almost can’t breathe.

“You can’t be here,” I say. “You’re dead.”

He slams me into the column again and I make an involuntary squeak.

“I first learned of your existence when you were nine years old,” he says. “Fade told me he’d seen a human child on the streets that could move like us. He advocated, as did the rest of my men, killing you immediately. I have rarely found it necessary to kill human infants. They don’t live long anyway.”

That sure sounds like Ryodan. Cold. Void of inflection. Maybe Ryodan had a twin brother I knew nothing about. If not, I’ve gone completely nuts and being tormented by a guilty conscience in a weird and incredibly real way. He died. I watched it happen. There was no mistaking it. I try to move my hand, thinking to wipe blood from my face. He crushes it in his fist so hard my bones grind together.

“I said don’t fucking move. Not a hair on your head. Got it.”

Another Ryodan characteristic. No question mark. I hate being cued so I don’t say anything. A bone snaps in my little finger. Gently. Precisely. Like he’s showing me he could break them all, one at a time, if he felt like it. I grit my teeth. “Got it.”

“When you were ten, Kasteo told me you’d somehow gotten the sword. Again my men advocated I take it and kill you. Again, I felt the mewling pup would die soon enough.”

“I’m not a pup and I don’t mewl. Ow! You said don’t move. I didn’t. I spoke!”

“Don’t. And you will mewl before the night is over. In a moment I’m going to step back and let you go. You will turn around and follow me, walking behind me. You will not speak to anyone. You will not look at anyone. If anyone but me speaks to you, you will not answer. You will not move any part of your body that is not absolutely necessary to get you up the stairs and into my office. If you deviate from my orders in any way, I will break your left leg in front of the entire club. If you piss me off while I’m doing it, I will break your right leg. Then I’ll carry you up the stairs I’m currently giving you the choice to walk up and break both your arms. I trust I’ve made myself clear. Answer me.”

“Clear as the floor of your office.” He can’t be alive. I watched the Hag scrape his guts out and sew them up into her dress. Surely he wouldn’t really break all my arms and legs. Would he?

The presence behind my back is gone and I’m floored for a second by how cold I am. I hadn’t realized how much heat he was throwing off until he was gone.

There’s no way he’s alive. It can’t be Ryodan behind me. Is Barrons alive, then, too? How could they be? I know they’re tough to kill and all but folks don’t survive being gutted! Where did they get new guts from? Did somebody take them back from the Hag and sew them both up again? Will he look like Frankenstein’s monster?

I don’t want to turn around. I don’t like any of the possibilities confronting me. If it’s not Ryodan, I’ve gone nuts. If it is Ryodan, dude, I’m dead.

“Turn around, kid.”

I can’t make my feet move. I can’t wrap my brain around that he’s standing behind me. I’m shaking like a leaf. Me! What the feck is wrong with me? I’m tougher than tough! I ain’t scared of nothing.

“Now.”

I take a deep breath and turn around. I absorb his face, his body, the way he stands, the look in his eyes, the arrogant, faint smile.

It’s either Ryodan or a perfect clone.

I do something I can’t believe I do. I hate hormones, I hate Chester’s, and I bloody fecking hate Ryodan. I’m never going to be able to live this down!

I burst into tears.

Ryodan turns and stalks off for the stairs.

I trail miserably behind him. The whole fecking club is watching Dani Mega O’Malley cry and walk behind Ryodan without saying a word, like a dog brought to heel. I can’t fecking believe it. I hate my life. I hate myself. I hate my stupid face. I want to snap, “He broke my ribs and I’m crying from the pain of one them puncturing my lung but I’m tough and I’ll kick his ass and be okay and then I’ll kick all of your asses, too!” to save face, but I’m pretty sure if I say a word he really will break my leg. I wipe angrily at my eyes. My stupid, pansy, betraying eyes with their stupid, pansy, betraying tear ducts.

The whole club has gone silent. Folks and Fae part a wide path to let us walk through. I’ve never taken a long walk of shame before and it chafes real bad. Jo’s standing there, white-faced, looking from me to Ryodan’s back, and back at me again. She might be his flavor of the month but I can tell by the look on her face that she’s afraid of pushing him. She mouths, Apologize! Bend. Or he’ll break you!

Over my dead body. The Mega doesn’t bend. I pass Lor at the bottom of the steps to the upper level. I turn my face away because I can’t stand him to see me being such a baby. He leans in close and says soft-like against my ear, “Honey, you might just have saved your life with those tears. I thought you had too much ego and too little common sense to know when to turn on the waterworks. He can’t stand a woman crying. It fucks him up every time.”

I look at him. He winks at me.

I flash fire at him with my eyes because I ain’t allowed to use my tongue. They say: I ain’t a woman and I ain’t crying and I ain’t afraid of nothing.

“He can deal with not being able to control you as long as you let the world believe he does. He’s king here, honey. Kings can’t be challenged publicly.”

Nobody controls me. Ever, my eyes snarl. And I challenge whoever the feck I want wherever I fecking feel like doing it!

He grins. “I hear you, kid. Loud and clear. Just remember what I said.”

I jut my jaw and follow Ryodan up the stairs.

He turns on me the second I close the door.

“Turn it off. You don’t cry. I expect you not to cry. Stop it. This fucking instant.”

“I’m not crying! I got stuff in my eyes when you slammed me into the column. And I expect dead people to stay dead! So, I guess we both got disappointed, huh?”

“Is that what you are? Disappointed? You watched me get gutted and die and now that I’m standing in front of you alive you feel disappointed?”

“Did I just hear, like, three question marks?”

“Do not fuck with me right now!” He slams me back into the wall so hard I feel the pane rumble behind my back.

“You don’t care what I feel! You never have. You just order me around and expect me to obey and get pissy if I don’t. I’m nothing to you so don’t pretend you give a royal rat’s ass what I feel!”

“Loyalty stems from what you feel. Or don’t. You aren’t on thin ice, kid. You’re underwater and my hand is on your head, holding you down. So choose well: ‘D’ is for disappointed to see me. And Death. ‘L’ is for loyalty. And Life. Convince me I should let you live.”

His face is an inch from mine. He’s breathing hard and I feel violence in him. Lor said I should use my tears to manipulate him. There’s no way I’m stooping to such wussy-girl depths. I’m just as big and bad as he is.

He’s alive. He’s here. Bullying me. No doubt getting ready to eventually — after he’s done killing me — order me to report to work again.

We’re back to being us. Robin to his Batman.

He’s alive.

Tears stream from my eyes.

“Stop it!” He slams me back into the wall again so hard my teeth clatter but the idiotic tears just keep coming.

I bounce off and use the ricochet to smash into him as hard as I can. He grabs my wrist when I hit him and when he goes flying back, takes me with him. We crash into his desk. I go flying up on it, roll over it and leap to my feet, tossing my hair from my eyes.

I slam my palms against the desk and snarl across it, “Don’t you think I would if I could! Do you think I liked looking all sissified in front of your whole fecking club? In front of you? You stupid fecking stupid fecker! What were you doing outside that wall anyway! Why did you have to be right there in that exact spot when we came out? I mean, who has that kind of crap luck? Ever since I started to hang with you, my life has been a total fecking nightmare! Couldn’t you just stay dead?”

He slams his hands down on the desk so hard it cracks down the middle. “Not. Convincing. Me.”

I glare through my tears. “Not trying to! I don’t convince nobody of nothing. You take me or leave me just the way I am! But I ain’t changing for you or nobody else and I ain’t faking either, and if you think breaking my bones one by one is going to accomplish a thing besides, like, breaking my bones, good luck with that!”

I’m sobbing now and don’t have any clue why. Just that it feels like ever since I came out of the wall with the Crimson Hag and watched it kill Barrons and Ryodan, I’ve been all trussed up in one great big painful knot, and the second I looked at him and realized he was alive, really, truly alive, and I wasn’t going to have to walk around for the rest of my life with his death on my head, never seeing his smug-ass smile again, that knot relaxed, and when it let go, everything in me came apart and my whole self heaved a sigh of relief and somewhere I guess I got a well of tears in me, like maybe everybody has a certain allotment of them and if you never let them out, the second a single one sneaks out, it opens a floodgate and you can’t shut it again. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me the rules of life? If I’d known it worked this way, I would have taken myself off somewhere private and cried until I’d use up my quota! This is worse than getting off on the wrong foot when I’m freeze-framing. This is emotional careening with no control.

I look at him and I think, Crimeny, if only Alina could have stood back up from what I did to her. Mac could have had her sister back. And I wouldn’t have to walk around all the time, every single minute of every single day, hating myself because even though I’m pretty sure Ro did something to me that night that made me some kind of automaton that didn’t have a will of her own, I was there. I was there! I led her to the spot where she died by lying to her and telling her I had something really important to show her and I’m just a kid so she trusted me! I stood in that alley and I watched Mac’s sister get killed by Fae that I could have stopped with one flick of my sword and I can never undo it and I can never scrape it out from behind my eyes. It’s seared into my soul for the rest of my life, if I’ve even got one after all the shit I’ve done!

I hurt Mac worse than anything in her life ever did and I can never undo it.

Still … there’s a silver lining to this cloud: if Ryodan isn’t dead, Barrons isn’t either. At least Mac still has Barrons.

“You killed Mac’s sister,” Ryodan says. “I’ll be damned.”

I didn’t say that. “Stay the feck out of my head!”

He’s across the desk and practically on top of me. He shoves me back against the wall, clamps my head between his hands and forces me to look up at him. “How did you feel when you thought you’d killed me.”

He’s looking in my eyes like he doesn’t need me to answer, just think it. I try to double over so he can’t poke around in my thoughts but he won’t let me. He’s holding me firm, but almost gentle now. I hate gentle from him. I prefer fighting. I know exactly where we stand then.

“Answer me.”

I don’t answer him. I’m never going to answer him. I hate him. Because when I thought I’d killed him, I felt more alone than I’ve felt in a long time. Like I couldn’t stand walking through this city knowing he wasn’t in it. Like somehow, as long as he was out there somewhere, if I was ever really in trouble, I knew where I could go and while maybe he wouldn’t do exactly what I wanted him to do, he’d keep me alive. He’d get me through whatever it was to live another day. I think that’s the kind of feeling you get from parents when you’re a kid, if you’re lucky. I didn’t get that feeling. I curled in a cage and every time she put on her perfume and makeup and hummed while she got dressed, I worried that she was going to kill me this time by forgetting me. I hoped her new boyfriend would suck so she’d come home sooner. I know that no matter what fecked-up things Ryodan does, he’ll never forget me. He’s meticulous. There’s a lot to be said for detail-oriented. Least in my world there is. Especially when I’m one of the details.

I can’t look away. How the heck is he alive? I feel like he’s stirring around in my brain. Watching the light go out of his cool, clear eyes in the alley behind BB&B had just about slayed me. I missed him. I bloody fecking missed him.

Ryodan says real soft, “Disappointed or loyal.”

I got no intention of dying. “Loyal,” I say.

He lets me go and walks away. I slump down the wall, scrubbing tears from my face. I hurt everywhere, face, hands, chest, ribs. “But you’re going to have to—”

“Do not try to barter with me right now.”

“But it’s not fair that I—”

“Life isn’t.”

“But I can’t stand working every night!”

“Deal with it.”

“You’re making me nuts! A person needs some time off!”

“Kid, you just never give up.”

“I’m like, alive. How could I?” I stand up and dust myself off. My tears are gone as mysteriously as they came.

He kicks a chair at me. “Sit. There are new house rules. Take notes. Violate one and you’re dead. Acknowledge.”

I roll my eyes and toss myself into the chair, slinging a leg over the side. Belligerence is me. “I’m listening,” I say irritably.

I hate rules. They always screw me up.

Contents