I took a chug of root beer to clear my throat. “Turn the anger waves down a few stations,” I said finally. “I didn’t mean for that to sound the way it did, Bryn. I know what you’re made of just as much as I know what you’re capable of. I know you’d never intentionally hurt anyone. But there are ancient, sly Immortals who have mastered the art of deception and bending others to their ways.” She huffed. “I’ve never been a girl who bends easily to others.” I wanted to shout, “Understatement!” but refrained.
“I know, you’re right,” I said, caving. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m not trying to be a dick about this, but I lost a close friend to the Reversal Project and it’s something I’m determined to never let happen again.”
“Yeah, William mentioned you lost a fellow strength instructor,” she said, laying her hand over mine. The quivering stilled instantly—a women’s touch was the ultimate calming salve. “I’m sorry. I promise I won’t let anything like that ever happen again.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” I exhaled. “I’ll quit acting like a sensitive schmuck so you can tell me what, exactly, father and you have discussed.”
Her eyes flicked to the stairs, like she wished William would make his way down them right now to save her. “Charles harbors a lot of guilt for all those lives lost,” she said, ambling over to the nearly empty pot of coffee. “I mean, he’s never said that, in so many words, but it’s there in his face whenever we talk about the Reversal Project and what went wrong.” She upended the pot, emptying the last of it into her cup.
Caffeine wasn’t only an addiction for Bryn, it was a coping mechanism.
“So he regrets it, feels bad that dozens of our kind were eradicated on his watch, how cathartic,” I said, reminding myself why I was a fan of these kinds of memories staying repressed. “Then why in the hell is he revisiting the topic with you, Miss Walking Death?” Bryn’s face crumbled. And she was a strong girl, not the kind that was devastated because she’d chipped a nail. I was reminded, yet again, why I was an ass.
“Damn it,” I cursed, running my hands through my hair. “I’m sorry. That was a crap thing to say.” She waved her hand, running the other arm over her face. “It’s—”
“No, it’s not all right,” I said, having completed enough rodeos with Bryn to know her M.O. She was hurting, but trying to keep it suppressed. “You couldn’t control what gift the universe bestowed upon you, and you weren’t around the horror that was the Reversal Project.” She ran another arm over her eyes, turning away from me and busying herself with putting the leftovers back in the fridge. She was still hurting thanks to my latest display of insensitivity at its finest.
I didn’t have a way with words like William to dig myself out of this crap hole I’d buried myself in, but I was acutely aware that, sometimes, a solid hug took the place of a million lines of poetry.
“Come here,” I said, shoving out of my stool and walking over to her. “Let’s hug it out.” I didn’t wait for a response—I just wrapped her in my arms and pulled her tight against my chest. It was intimate—as any touch was—but it didn’t ignite a fire in my stomach that spread to every nerve in my body. I’d loved Bryn, no doubt about it, and I still did, but not in that way. I loved another woman in that way., I could now be close to Bryn without feeling an ache in my chest that threatened to tear me apart.
“I know you’re good, nothing but good,” I whispered into her dark hair. She still smelled like Bryn, but the undertone of William was there too. He clung to her everywhere she went, as it should be with the two of them. As I hoped it would be with Emma and me. “I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.
Just chin up, okay?” I leaned back, lifting her chin so I could look her in the eyes. “I know Father wouldn’t do anything intentional to hurt anyone either, but he’s tainted by politics and democracy. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Just say no.”
Her mouth broke into a smile. All would be right again. “You know, my parents gave me the ‘just say no’ talk about ten years ago, but thanks for the refresher course.”
“That was pathetic, Hayward,” I said, making a face. “The entire world of comebacks at your disposal and that’s what you throw at me? I’m disappointed.”
“Sorry. My study of comebacks has been lacking as of late. I’ve been a little busy.” I felt the corners of my mouth curl. “I bet you have, newlywed.” My inflection wasn’t missed, as the screaming red color of her face attested to.
“What have you and Mr. Chancellor been discussing about reversal?” I asked, back to the point at hand.
She lifted a shoulder, her face recomposing. “He thinks that someone like me, with the gift I have,”—
she swallowed, looking down—”I’d be more in tune to the subject’s body—their life force. Better able to recognize when they were passing from Mortality to death.”
I forced myself to reply, although my insides were twisting speech right out of me. “You do realize that instance, passing between Mortality and death, is a line so thin it’s all but invisible, right? It’s not like the transition from Immortality to Mortality, and Mortality to death, is identical. The first part takes a great deal of focus, energy, and time. The second part,” I took in a breath, although I needed it for nothing more than courage, “one fraction of a second longer than necessary and you kill the subject,” I repeated her words; well, my father’s words. The Immortals whose deaths I’d witnessed weren’t subjects; they were brothers and sisters who hadn’t deserved the fate that’d befallen them.
“I know, Patrick,” she said in a small voice. “I know. I’m positive I’m too new and uncertain of my gift to be able to keep from killing someone at the first touch when I’m buzzing. However, Charles thinks that, unlike the teams we use to create and, once upon an evil time, used to reverse an Immortal, one person would be able to better sense that line between Mortality and death than a group.”
“Yeah, and if you kill someone, there’re no other members of a team to share the blame with either,” I huffed. “Come on, this is crazy talk, Bryn.”
“You’re right, it is,” she said, giving me a look that I’d seen dozens of times from her—a drop it, Patrick face. “Besides, this is all just theory and speculation. Charles has not once mentioned putting words to action, nor would I agree to it if he did ask. So take a chill and be nice.” I grinned. I liked this Bryn, the spunky, don’t-mess-with-me one. “Does William know?”
“Of course he does.”
“Of course I do what?” an all too familiar voice asked before he rounded the corner into the kitchen.
Taking an exaggerated look at the two of us, William said, “Nice to see you hugging my wife.” I pulled back, but only because our embrace had come to an end; there was no threat in William’s voice.
“I had a bout of verbal diarrhea and she was in the way,” I said, clapping his shoulder in passing as I headed back to my pie. My appetite had returned now that reversal was back where it should be—in a jar with a tightly sealed lid.
“How many times will I have to tell you,” he said, running the backside of his hand down Bryn’s face as he stopped in front of me. “Use this,”—his index finger drilled into my temple—”before you use this,” he finished, staring at my mouth.
I cracked a dry smile before shoveling a heaping forkful of pie into my mouth. “Considering you’ve told me that at least once a day for the past two centuries,” I said, my words muffled from my mouthful,
“I’d say I’m a lost cause. I’d consider my verbal diarrhea chronic.” William shoved off the counter and back from the lost cause and mouthed, “So would I,” over to Bryn.
“I can read lips you know,” I said, flicking a piece of crust at his bed mussed hair.
Catching the chunk of flaky pastry, he glanced back at me. His damn eyes were all but twinkling. “I know.”
“Not you too,” I grumbled, stabbing the pie with my fork. “I’m already a man on the verge, incarcerated and surrounded by felons that think itching, spitting, and one syllable cuss words are the height of civilization, I haven’t been able to touch my girl in months despite seeing—”
“Spying,” Bryn inserted, grinning like a fox.
I continued my rampage with a glare aimed her way, “despite seeing her every night, and then every night when I finally get a reprieve from prison life, I have to dodge and deflect insults from Breathes Fire and Farts Sunshine.” Nathanial would have been pissed and Joseph would have laughed had they been here to hear their latest nicknames. “I don’t need to be on my guard with you too, brother.” William waited, his mouth sealed and arms crossed. After a few seconds of silence passed us by, he said, “Are you finished?”
“No, but I didn’t think you’d want to hear anymore.”
“And you’d be right,” he replied, trying so hard not to smile. “It seems finding you wrapped around my wife in the middle of the night makes me a bit…”
“Of an a**hole?” I muttered, just loud enough for him to hear.
“Territorial,” he said. “That’s the word I was going for.”
“Play nice, boys,” Bryn said, interrupting our brotherly stare down. Good thing because neither William nor I were known for being the first to back down—we could be here for the rest of our existences. “Or no more pie for you,” she said, tugging the plate away from me, “and no more…”—she looked at William, running her eyes down his entire six foot monster sized frame and squirmed—”no more”—she cleared her throat in explanation—”for you.”
“A formidable threat, Mrs. Hayward,” William replied, looking amused. “Consider me on my best behavior the rest of the night. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I won’t say anything at all.”
“Men,” Bryn said, shaking her head.
I curled my nose and looked away, sticking the fork in my mouth and gagging. Please, for the love of onlookers and third wheels’ eyes everywhere, please tell me Emma and I didn’t nauseate those around us like these two did.
“So what were you two talking about down here?” William asked, pulling a fork from the drawer and heading towards me and my pie. I repressed snarling my lip and guarding it from him. “What were you concerned with me knowing?”
“About the damn reversal topics father’s been discussing with your wife.” The rebirth of the topic resulted in loss of appetite. I shoved the half eaten pie William’s way.
“They’re just talking about them, Patrick,” William said, in his most appeasing, calming voice.