I feel raw. Empty. Like a fire has raged within, and left nothing but a dead, smoldering husk.
My arm has begun to ache in earnest now: the pain of deep swelling; the promise of more to come. My back, too, where Conlan scraped me. And where I rolled through broken glass. It’s always like this—nothing hurts when I do it. At least, nothing seems to.
Later, it’s a different matter.
I pause on the upper landing. Muffled sounds of Faolan and Cormac talking in the den echo up the stairs from below, but the rest of the house is quiet.
Conlan’s door is ajar; dim yellow light spills out around and under the door. But I’m not up to any more hard conversations tonight. I step as softly as I can into the hall, carefully avoiding the creaky floorboard just to the left of the stairs, and head for my room.
I just want to put this day behind me.
“I would never have called you a coward. Until today.” The growl is quiet, but unmistakable, and Tara steps forward, out of the shadows at the end of the hall. She must have been waiting there a long time.
I fight to keep my eyes open, but it’s a battle I know I can’t win.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow?” I ask. Even I can hear the exhaustion in my voice.
But she doesn’t seem to notice. Or simply doesn’t care.
“How could you do that to him? All he’s ever done is look up to you. And you’re supposed to look out for him!”
Her voice is angry, but hushed. Like she doesn’t want Conlan to hear us.
Probably because he told her to leave it alone.
I glance to the door of my room, but she steps closer, blocking the way. Her tone and posture needle me fiercely, and anger rises like a fire. It seems strange . . . that I still have the energy for it. But maybe, when you wear me down to nothing, anger’s all that’s left.
Best I can do is hold it, just short of my mouth.
“You know nothing about it, Tara. And I’m too worn out to explain it to you tonight.
“Can you please let me by.”
She steps closer and pokes me in the chest. “No. Go talk to him. Now.” She punctuates her final order with another jab.
And I almost hear, more than feel, my hand moving upwards, as if of its own accord, as if I’m watching someone else—someone who looks like me, but isn’t me. Someone who would do that sort of thing.
Someone who would enjoy it.
And I wonder, if maybe it’s okay. If maybe, just this once, it would be okay.
Faolan would do it.
Yeah. He would.
But I’m not him.
And it is my arm swinging. And it’s not okay. And with the last of my will, I pull it back, just in time.
She steps back and her eyes blaze. “What, me next?” she growls, her voice defiant.
But there’s just a hint of fear, too. It sickens me.
I focus hard on the words. As inadequate as they’ll ever be. “I’m sorry, Tara. I didn’t mean it. I’m just . . . in a lot of pain, right now. And I’m so tired.
“Can we talk about it tomorrow. Please?”
I take a deep breath and wait for her response.
I could just tell her. Get it over with. Deep down, I probably do want to.
Because, deep down, I want her to hate me, too.
Maybe I’ve already seen to that.
“What, you think because you were right about the trap you get a free pass on any bullshit you want to try tonight? Is that it?”
And the decision’s made.
Because, deep down, I want her to forgive me, too.
I meet her eyes in the dim light, then look past her to some spot in the shadows. My voice sounds lifeless in my ears as I speak.
“I killed a man tonight. Tore his throat out. Because I wanted to. Faolan’s proud of me for it. And I don’t know how to feel about that. Because I want him to be. And I hate him for it. Or me.
“I beat the shit outta Conlan. Because he insisted. And because I wanted to. At least, I probably did. Faolan’s proud of me for that, too. And I know how to feel about that. But I want him to be, anyway. And I hate him for it. And me.
“So, tell me, Tara? What’s there to say? To Conlan. To you. To me? That will ever make any of this right? Ever again?”
I stare at the floor. What would I find in her eyes if I met them? Fear? Loathing? Disgust? Pity? Or just sadness. Now that it comes to it, I can’t bear to look.
She says nothing.
I step past her and she lets me go. I enter my room, and quietly push the door shut behind me.
Because she’s right. There really isn’t anything more to say.