The following evening Zsadist pulled a fresh set of leathers over his thighs. He was stiff, but he felt incredibly strong, and he knew it was Bella's blood still nourishing him, giving him his full power, making him whole.
He cleared his throat as he buttoned his fly, trying not to cry over her like a sissy. "Thanks for bringing these, cop."
Butch nodded. "No problem. You going to try and poof it home? Because I got the Escalade if you don't feel up to it."
Z yanked a black turtleneck over his head, shoved his feet into his shitkickers, and stalled out.
"Z? Z, my man?"
He looked over at the cop. Blinked a couple of times. "Sorry, what?»
"You want to ride with me?"
Z focused on Butch for the first time since the male had come into the room ten minutes ago. He was about to answer the human's question when his instincts fired up. Cocking his head, he sniffed a little. Stared at the man. What the fuck…?
"Cop, where have you been since I saw you last?"
"You smell different."
Butch flushed. "New aftershave."
"No. No, that's not—"
"So do you want a ride?" Butch's hazels hardened as if he wasn't going to go a single inch further on the subject.
Z shrugged. "Okay, yeah. And let's get Phury. We'll both go with you."
Fifteen minutes later they were pulling away from the clinic. On the way to the mansion Z sat in the back of the Escalade and stared at the passing winter landscape. It was snowing again, the flakes streaking horizontally as the SUV sped down Route 22. From the front seats, he could hear Phury and Butch talking in low tones, but they sounded far, far away. Actually, everything felt that way… out of focus, out of context…
"Home sweet home, gentlemen," Butch said as they pulled into the compound's courtyard.
Jesus. They were back already?
The three of them got out and headed for the mansion, the fresh snow squeaking under their boots. As soon as they walked into the foyer the females of the house came at them. Or rather, came at Phury. Mary and Beth threw their arms around the Brother, their voices a lovely chorus of welcome.
As Phury wrapped the females up in his arms, Z stepped back into the shadows. He watched covertly, wondering what it would feel like to be in that knot of limbs, wishing there were a welcome-home for him.
There was an awkward pause as Mary and Beth glanced over at him from Phury's embrace. The females quickly looked away, avoiding his eyes.
"So, Wrath is upstairs," Beth said, "waiting for you guys with the Brothers."
"Any word about Tohr?" Phury asked.
"No, and it's killing everyone. John, too."
"I'll go see the kid later."
Mary and Beth gave Phury a final squeeze; then he and Butch headed for the stairs. Z followed.
He looked over his shoulder at the sound of Beth's voice. She was standing with her arms over her chest, and Mary was right by her side, looking similarly tense.
"We're glad you made it back," the queen said.
Z frowned, knowing that couldn't be true. He didn't imagine they liked having him around.
Mary spoke up. "I lit a candle for you. I prayed that you would come home safely."
A candle… lit for him? Only for him? As the blood hit his face, he felt pathetic that the kindness meant so much.
"Thank you." He bowed to them and then rushed up the stairs, sure he was the color of a ruby. God… Maybe he'd get better at the whole relating thing. Someday.
Except when he walked into Wrath's study and felt the eyes of his Brothers all over him, he thought, Maybe not. He couldn't stand the scrutiny; it was too much when he was this raw. As his hands started to shake, he shoved them into his pockets and went to his usual corner, far away from the others.
"I don't want anyone going out to fight tonight," Wrath announced. "We're all too much in our heads right now to be effective. And I want you boys back in the house by four A.M. As soon as the sun rises we'll be in mourning for Wellsie all day long, so I want you fed and watered before we get down to that. As for her Fade ceremony, we can't perform it without Tohr, so that's on hold."
"I can't believe no one knows where he's gone," Phury said.
Vishous lit up a hand-rolled. "I go to his house every night, and still there's no sign of him. His doggen haven't seen him or heard from him. He left his daggers. His weapons. His clothes. The cars. He could be anywhere."
"What about the training?" Phury asked. "Do we keep it up?"
Wrath shook his head. "I'd like to, but we're damn short-handed, and I don't want to overwork you. Especially because you need time to recover—"
"I can help," Z interjected.
All heads turned in his direction. The disbelief on their faces would have been a laugh riot if it hadn't stung as much as it did.
He cleared his throat. "I mean, Phury would be in charge, and he'd have to do the classroom shit because I can't read. But I'm good with a knife, you know. Fists, too. Guns. Explosives. I could help with the physical training and the weapons parts." When there was no response, he looked down. "Yeah, or maybe not. It's cool. Whatever."
The silence that followed made him itchy as hell. He shuffled his legs around. Eyed the door.
Fuck me, he thought. He should have kept his yap shut.
"I think that would be great," Wrath said slowly. "But are you sure you'd be into it?"
Z shrugged. "I could try."
More quiet. "Okay… so be it. And thanks for manning up."
"Sure. Ah, no problem."
When they broke a half hour later, Z was the first to leave the study. He didn't want to talk to the brothers about what he'd volunteered to do or how he was feeling. He knew they were all curious about him, probably looking for signs that he'd been redeemed or some shit.
He went back to his room to arm himself. He had a hard task in front of him, a long, hard task, and he wanted to get it over with.
Except as he went for the weapons cabinet inside his closet, his eyes latched onto the black satin robe Bella had worn so often. Days ago, he'd thrown it in the trash in the bathroom, but Fritz had obviously picked it out and hung it back up. Z leaned forward and touched the thing, then took it off the hanger, draped it over his arm, and stroked the smooth cloth. He brought it to his nose and breathed deep, catching both her scent and the smell of his bonding for her.
He was about to put the thing back when he caught sight of something flashing as it fell onto the floor at his feet. He bent down. Bella's little necklace. Left behind.
He fingered the fragile chain for a while, just watching the diamonds sparkle; then he put it on and got out his weapons. As he stepped back into the bedroom he meant to leave right away, but his eyes caught sight of the Mistress's skull sitting next to his pallet.
Crossing the room, he knelt in front of the thing and stared into the eye sockets.
A moment later he went to the bathroom, grabbed a towel, and headed back for the skull. Draping the thing in terry cloth, he picked it up and moved fast, racewalking and then jogging down the hall of statues. He took the grand staircase to the first floor, cut through the dining room and the butler's pantry, then crossed the kitchen.
The basement stairs were way in the back, and he didn't turn the light on as he took them downward. As he descended, the roaring sound of the mansion's old-fashioned coal-burning furnace got louder.
Approaching the great iron beast he felt its warmth, as if the thing were alive and fevered. He leaned down and looked through the little glass window in the hutch. Orange flames licked and gnawed at the coal they'd been given, always hungry for more food. He flipped the latch, opened the door, and got a blast in the face. Without hesitating he tossed the skull in with the towel.
He didn't wait around to watch it burn, just turned and headed back upstairs.
When he got to the foyer he paused, then walked up to the second floor. At the head of the stairs he took a right, went down the hall, and knocked on one of the doors.
Rhage opened the thing, a towel around his waist. He seemed surprised to see who it was. "Hey, my brother."
"Can I talk to Mary for a minute?"
Hollywood frowned, but said over his shoulder, "Mary, Z wants to see you."
Mary was pulling a silk dressing gown closed and tying it with a sash as she came to the door. "Hi."
"You mind if I do this in private?" Z said, glancing at Rhage.
As the brother's eyebrows got real low, Z thought, Yeah, bonded males didn't like their females alone with anyone else. Especially not him.
He rubbed his skull trim. "It'll just be here in the hall. Won't take long."
Mary stepped between them and nudged her hellren back into the room. "It's all right, Rhage. Go finish getting the tub ready."
Rhage's eyes flashed white as his beast checked in with its own bonded reaction. There was a weighty pause; then Mary was kissed soundly on the throat and the door shut.
"What is it?" she asked. Z could smell her fear of him, but she met him in the eye.
He always had liked her, he thought. "I heard you taught autistic kids."
"Ah… yes, I did."
"Were they slow at learning things?"
She frowned. "Well, yes. Sometimes."
"Did that…" He cleared his throat. "Did that get on your nerves? I mean, did you get frustrated with them?"
"No. If I got disappointed at all, it was with myself for not figuring out the way they needed to learn."
While he nodded, he had to look away from her gray eyes. He focused on the door panel next to her head.
"Why do you ask, Zsadist?"
He took a deep breath and then threw himself off a ledge. When he was finished speaking, he risked a glance at her.
Her hand was over her mouth and her eyes were so kind they were like sunlight on him. "Oh, Zsadist, yes… Yes, I will."
Phury shook his head as he got into the Escalade. "It has to be ZeroSum."
He so needed to go there tonight.
"Figured as much," V said as he slid behind the wheel and Butch hopped in the back.
As they made the trip into town, the three of them were totally silent. Not even music was banging in the car.
So much death, so much loss, Phury thought. Wellsie. That young female, Sarelle, whose body V had returned to her parents.
And Tohr's disappearance was like a death, too. So was Bella's.
The agony of it all made him think about Z. He wanted to believe that Zsadist was on the road to some kind of recovery or something. But the idea that that male could turn himself around was completely baseless. It was only a matter of time before the brother's need for pain came back and shit started to unravel again.
Phury rubbed his face. He felt a thousand years old tonight, he really did, but he was also wired and twitchy… traumatized on the inside, though his skin had healed. He just could not keep it together. He needed help.
Twenty minutes later, Vishous pulled up to the back of ZeroSum and parked the SUV illegally. The bouncers let them in right away, and the three of them went for the VIP section. Phury ordered a martini, and when it came he finished it in one long swallow.
Help. He needed help. He needed double-barreled help… or he was going to explode.
" 'Scuse me, boys," he murmured. He headed for the back, for the Reverend's office. The two huge Moors nodded to him, and one spoke into his watch. A second later they let him through.
Phury walked into the cave and focused on the Reverend. The male was sitting behind his desk dressed in a pristine pinstriped suit, more businessman than pusher.
The Reverend smirked a little. "Where the hell is all that beautiful hair?"
Phury glanced behind himself, to make sure the outside door was closed. Then he took out three Benjis. "I want some H."
The Reverend's violet eyes narrowed. "What did you say?"
"You sure about that?"
No, Phury thought. "Yes," he said.
The Reverend ran his hand back and forth over his cropped mohawk. Then he leaned forward and pressed a button on his intercom.
"Rally, I want three hundred worth of Queen up here. Make sure it's fine-granule." The Reverend eased back in his chair. "Straight up, I don't think you should take that kind of powder home with you. You don't need that shit."
"Not that I'd take any direction from you, but you told me I should go hard-core."
"I retract that comment."
"I thought symphaths didn't have a conscience."
"I'm half my mother's boy, too. So I have a little."
"Aren't you lucky."
The Reverend's chin dipped down, and his eyes flashed pure, purple evil for a split second. Then he smiled. "No… all the rest of you are fortunate."
Rally arrived moments later, and the transaction didn't take long. The folded packet fit neatly in Phury's inside breast pocket.
As he was leaving the Reverend said, "That stuff is very pure. Dead pure. You can sprinkle it in your blunt or melt it and shoot up. But a word of advice. It will be safer for you to smoke it. You'll have more control over the dose."
"So familiar with your products."
"Oh, I never use any of this toxic waste. It'll kill ya. But I hear from folks about what works. And what'll give you a toe tag."
The reality of what he was doing shimmered across Phury's skin on a nasty little tickle. But by the time he got back to the Brotherhood's table he couldn't wait to go home. He wanted to numb out completely. He wanted the deep nod that he'd heard heroin gave. And he knew he'd bought enough of the drug to take him to heavenly hell a couple of times.
"What's the matter with you?" Butch asked him. "You can't sit still tonight."
"Nothing doing." As he put his hand inside his pocket and felt for what he'd bought, he started tapping his foot under the table.
I am a junkie, he realized.
Except he didn't have enough left in him to care. Death was everywhere around him, the stench of sorrow and failure polluting the air he breathed. He needed off the crazy train for a little while, even if it meant getting on another kind of sick ride.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, Butch and V didn't last long at the club, and they were all home a little after midnight. As they walked into the vestibule Phury was cracking his knuckles, a flush breaking out under his clothes. He couldn't wait to be alone.
"You wanna eat?" Vishous said, yawning.
"Damn straight," Butch said. Then he glanced over as V walked off for the kitchen. "Phury, you with us for some chow?"
"Nah, I'll see you later." As he hit the stairs he could feel the male's eyes on him.
"Yo, Phury," Butch called out.
Phury cursed and looked over his shoulder. A little of his manic drive bled out as the cop's knowing eyes burned up at him.
Butch knew, he thought. Somehow the guy knew what he was up to.
"You sure you don't want to eat with us," the human said in a level voice.
Phury didn't even have to think. Or maybe he refused to let himself. "Yeah. I'm sure."
"Careful, my man. Some things are damn hard to undo."
Phury thought of Z. Of himself. Of the shitty future he had little interest in slogging through.
"Don't I know it," he said, and took off.
When he got to his room he shut the door and dropped his leather coat on a chair. He took the packet out, grabbed some red smoke and a rolling paper, and doctored up a blunt. He didn't even consider shooting up. It was just too close to addict status.
At least for this first time.
He licked the edge of the rolling paper, pressed the joint up tight, then went over to his bed and sat back against the pillows. He picked up his lighter, flicked it so the flame leaped to life, and leaned into the orange glow, the hand-rolled between his lips.
The knock on his door pissed him off. Fucking Butch.
He clicked off the lighter. "What?"
When there was no answer, he kept the dutchy with him and pounded across the room. He threw open the door.
John stumbled backward.
Phury took a deep breath. Then another. Chill. He had to chill.
"What's doing, son?" he asked, stroking the blunt with his forefinger.
John brought up his pad, wrote a few lines, and turned the thing around. I'm sorry to bother you. I need someone to help me with my jujitsu positions, and you're so good at them.
"Oh… yeah. Ah, not tonight, John. I'm sorry. I'm… busy."
The kid nodded. After a pause, John waved good-bye. Turned away.
Phury shut the door, locked it, and went right back for the bed. He flicked the lighter on again, put the blunt between his lips—
Just as the flame hit the tip of the hand-rolled, he froze.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't… He started gasping. As his palms grew wet, sweat broke out above his upper lip and under his armpits and all down his chest.
What the fuck was he doing? What the fuck was he doing?
Junkie… junkie motherfucker. Low-life junkie… motherfucker. To bring heroin into the king's house? To be lighting the shit up in the Brotherhood's compound? To be polluting himself because he was too weak to fucking deal?
Hell, no, he would not do this. He would not disgrace his brothers, his king, like this. Bad enough he was addicted to the red smoke. But H?
Shaking from head to toe, Phury ran for the bureau, picked up the packet, and bolted for the bathroom. He flushed the blunt and the heroin down and flushed again. And again.
Stumbling out of his room, he raced over the hallway's runner.
John was halfway down the grand staircase when Phury burst around the corner and all but fell down the steps. He caught up to the boy and dragged him into his arms so hard, those fragile bones must have bent.
Dropping his head onto the kid's shoulder, Phury shuddered. "Oh, God… thank you. Thank you, thank you…"
Little arms came around him. Little hands patted his back.
When Phury finally pulled away, he had to wipe his eyes. "I think tonight's a great night to work on your stances. Yeah. It's a really good time for me, too. Come on."
As the kid looked at him… his eyes suddenly seemed eerily knowing. And then John's mouth worked, moving slowly, forming words that had impact even if they didn't have sound.
You are in a prison with no bars. I worry about you.
Phury blinked, caught in an odd kind of time warp. Someone else had said those very things to him… Just last summer.
The vestibule's door opened, breaking the moment. As Phury and John both jumped at the sound, Zsadist came into the foyer.
The brother looked beat as he glanced up the stairs. "Oh, hey, Phury. John."
Phury rubbed his neck, trying to come back from whatever d'ej`a vu slice of weirdness had just happened with John.
"So, Z, ah, where you coming from?"
"A little trip. A little trip far away. What's doing?"
"We're going to go work on John's positions in the gym."
Z shut the door. "How about I join you? Or… maybe I should put it this way. Can I join you?"
Phury could only stare. John seemed likewise surprised, but at least the kid had the good grace to nod his head.
Phury shook himself into focus. "Yeah, of course, my brother. Come with us. You're always… welcome."
Zsadist crossed the brilliant mosaic floor. "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
The three of them headed for the underground passageway.
As they walked to the training center Phury glanced at John and thought that sometimes it took only a hairbreadth between cars to avoid a mortal accident.
Sometimes your whole life could hinge on a fraction of an inch. Or the beat of a nanosecond. Or the knock on a door.
Kind of made a male believe in the divine. It really did.