Ray watched the elevator doors open onto a long, dim corridor of slate-gray stone, lined on both sides with staggered arches, which split in two directions at its end.
Lighting—what little there was—came from a series of pale yellow glow disks which brought to mind the passenger tunnels of the Bradbury City subway tunnels.
As soon as his eyes adjusted, Ray stepped into the corridor, Sims at his side.
Both men held their weapons ready, and both had their comms silenced.
Jessyn . . .
He felt her, next to him, or more, inside of him.
As though she began where he ended, and vice versa.
Was this what it meant to be bonded?
“What are you waiting for?” Sims whispered.
He slid a glance at Sims, held a finger to his lips, and pointed to the end of the hall.
Sims nodded shortly and followed, though Ray doubted Sims knew he was he tracking Jessyn by way of her fear.
He came to the of the corridor, where it split into two directions. He paused to confirm the small, pulsing sonar of Jessyn’s being, then turned to indicate to Sims they needed to take a left . . . only to find the other man had disappeared.
Jessyn’s panicked thought pulled Ray back and, forgetting Sims, he started to run.
I’m coming, baby. Hold on.
* * *
To what? Jessyn wondered, even as she backed into the recessed door that, try as she might, would not open for her.
Perhaps she was to hold on to Ray’s essence—that cold determination, sharper than the blade she’d seen in Gavin’s hand.
She’d escaped that blade once . . . and had Gavin’s blood on her hand to prove it.
She only hoped to live long enough to forget how it felt to gouge at Gavin’s eye, the way Eineen had taught her, so long ago.
A footstep, and then another, thudded from somewhere to her left. Jessyn automatically reached for her earbud only to remember how she’d lost it upstairs during the initial struggle with Gavin, after he had shot Arrion.
But thinking of Arrion bleeding out in front of her sparked a flame of anger, which on the whole, was better than fear.
And so it was in anger for her friend that she braced herself in the door and, for the first time, reached out to the monster that hunted her.
“Run all you want,” she heard Gavin call, felt the pain in his eye as he crooned, “I’ll still find you.”
Stilling the terror, stilling herself, she focused on the blot of Gavin’s being, then made a suggestion of sound—the faintest skitter—that had him turning in a different direction.
The footsteps paused. Jessyn held her breath, and only when they resumed, the thud of shoes receding in the direction of her psionic prompt, did she dare release that breath, along with a silent prayer of gratitude for her mother’s obsession with Star Wars.
She eased out of the doorsill, hoping to put more distance between Gavin and herself, when her gown caught on the sill’s rough edge.
In the close stillness of the basement, the faint whisper of silk tearing against stone might as well have been a timpani.
The receding footsteps stopped and, after a heartbeat, turned back in her direction.
Jessyn might have cursed.
She might have wept.
Instead, she braced herself, preparing to fight with everything she had, and tried not to think how Gavin brought with him years of dealing death without remorse, without thought, without hesitation.
She had been lucky upstairs, catching him unawares.
She would not be lucky again.
* * *
“Not this time,” Gavin’s voice echoed through the basement corridors, and Ray angled toward the sound of the killer’s voice.
A thud and a gasp told him Jessyn was fighting back.
Keep doing that, he thought.
“I hope you understand,” Gavin’s flat voice stated. “I’m not doing this for fun.”
“You seem to be enjoying yourself.” Jessyn’s reply, so quiet, so brave, pushed Ray to move faster, faster . . .
“Okay, maybe a little for fun,” Gavin admitted. “After all, Sims did promise I could entertain myself after tonight’s party. And I think the party’s over, don’t you?”
“I don’t believe Sims would want you seeking your fun with me.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Gavin agreed. “But only because you’ve distracted him, made him forget what’s important, made him your dog. But all that’s done now.”
As Gavin spoke, Ray turned a corner so fast he skidded.
“No more teasing, no more lies,” Gavin continued. “You’ll be gone, and Sims will get over you, and everything will go back to normal.”
Ray rushed around one last corner to find Gavin, blood drying on his cheek, pressing Jessyn against the wall, his blade held to her throat.
Then Ray was behind Gavin, his gun held to the other man’s skull. “Drop the knife,” he said, “or your brains will be decorating the floor.”
“There’s an image,” Gavin said, turning to display his tearing, wounded eye as he added, “I bet I can do her before you do me.”
“You’d still be dead,” Ray pointed out.
“Everyone dies,” was Gavin’s response, but then his shoulders relaxed, and his knife hand began to move. “But, just this once, we’ll do it your way.”
Which was the moment that Sims came rushing around the opposite corner.
“Wait!” Sims skidded to a halt, eyes on his brother who, in that second of distraction, had again pressed the blade against Jessyn’s throat.
Ray cursed. “Sims, your timing is fucking unbelievable.”
Sims ignored him, his focus on his blood brother. “Gav, what are you doing?”
“I’m helping you, like you asked.”
“I asked you to follow her,” Sims said. “Not this.”
“But this is what you need,” Gavin replied, all that was reasonable. “She’s poison to you. You’ve been distracted since you met her. Head’s not in the game, brother, and the game is what matters.”
“Okay. Okay.” Ray watched Sims calculating and hoped he was good at math. “You’re right about me being distracted, but I’m done with Jessyn. She means nothing to me.”
“Yeah?” Gavin’s eyes slid toward Sims. “You talking true?”
“I’m talking blood true,” Sims told him. “So, you see? You don’t need to kill her.”
Gavin sent his brother a scathing glance. “Of course I need to kill her.” Even as he spoke, the blade moved, raising a bead of crimson on Jessyn’s skin. “You promised me this.”
Ray’s innards went cold.
“Brother . . .” Sims took a half-step forward, glancing at Ray as he moved closer, drawing Gavin’s attention. “Wait.”
“Why? So you can have one last bang with the whore?”
“Don’t call her that,” Sims snapped.
With Sims pulling Gavin’s focus to the left, Ray shifted as far as possible to Gavin’s blind right side.
“Don’t,” Sims repeated as Gavin’s eyes locked on his. “Don’t you . . . ever . . . call her that.”
“You don’t want to test me, brother.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” As he spoke, Sims raised his gun so the barrel pointed directly at Gavin. “I don’t want to test you at all. So go ahead.” He nodded to Jessyn. “Kill her. Kill her and count how many seconds you get to live. I bet you don’t make it to three.”
“You wouldn’t.” Gavin’s head was shaking. “You can’t. We’re brothers,” he said, his entire frame trembling with determination. “You can’t kill me.”
Sims waited for half a beat. “Shit,” he sighed, and let the gun drop to his side. “You’re right,” he admitted, “I can’t.”
And Gavin, tuned to his brother’s every move, his every mood, let the knife ease away from Jessyn’s throat.
“But I can,” Ray said and, springing forward, drove into Gavin with his shoulder, throwing him away from Jessyn in a tackle that would have done the Bradbury Martians proud.
Sims, waiting, caught his flying brother and swung him away from Jessyn.
Ray, meanwhile, grabbed Jessyn and pulled her close, noting the line of red welling just above the drape of her gown. With a growl, he raised the Sig and swung to face the two brothers. “Get out of the way, Sims.”
Sims, however, continued to face the other direction, blocking Ray’s shot.
“Wait.” Jessyn patted his arm.
“No,” he said, pushing her behind him.
But Sims was already turning, revealing that Gavin had already disappeared.
Ray cursed and started to chase after the maniac but was stopped by Jessyn’s cry. He followed her gaze to the hilt sticking out of Sims’s chest.
“No,” Jessyn whispered, moving to support Sims.
Ray cursed again as he dove forward to help.
Together, they eased the mortally wounded man to the floor, but as soon as he was down, Ray straightened and moved away, keeping watch while Jessyn held Sims’s hand.
“I am sorry,” she said, her voice filled with tears. “I never wished you any pain.”
“S’alright,” Sims, his voice scarcely more than a breath, soothed. “I know . . . I’m not the kinda guy who gets the girl. But . . . for a while . . . with you? I could pretend I was that guy.”
“I know,” she said. “And for a while . . . with me . . . you were.”
And because Jessyn was what she was, and what she and Ray were to each other, Ray knew she spoke the truth.
Which also meant—because Jessyn was what she was, and they were what they were to each other—that as Sims’s last breath sighed out, as his eyes emptied and his hand slid from Jessyn’s to thud to the floor, Ray knew her words had come too late.