‘I didn’t mean to kill her. Just to show her I controlled her. I should have just told her. You only get to breathe because I let you…’
‘They make us wear saffron because there’s a STARMAN. WAITING. In the SKY.’
‘Why do I do it, nurse? Tell me, why!’
‘Hey, supersex! You and me, BAM BAM POW POW!’
‘I can smell your werewolf!’
Justice felt Mercy’s tail wagging against her trenchcoat, and the guide dog harness quivered with silent laughter. Wagging and giggling meant Mercy was really amused. Justice wasn’t. The air in this place was full of rage and fear and nightmares, and pain she couldn’t fix. In spite of everything he’d done, her heart squeezed with pity, even guilt, for Dante locked up here.
And as she thought of him, she felt him. She knew where he was as clearly as you know where the fire is in a room. He burned against her cheek. She stopped, put out her hand, and felt a barred cell door.
‘Here we are – oh.’ She heard the guard ahead of her turn in surprise. ‘How’d you do that? Does your dog know where to stop?’
Justice chuckled. ‘No, it’s – uh -’
‘Is it a super-thing?’
‘Super-thing, yeah.’ Though really, couldn’t everyone feel that burn? So fierce and bright…
‘I’ll be right outside. Yell if you need me.’
‘I’ll be fine.’ She ran a hand through her hair and adjusted her shades. Keys jangled in the lock, and the door creaked open. Mercy began to growl low in her throat. Justice gave the harness a sharp jerk to shut her up.
She walked forward into the room, into the heat of his presence. The door closed heavily behind her. She could sense the shape of him, leaning against the wall, hand on hip, elegant as ever, though she knew he was dressed in prison uniform.
‘You came,’ he said. His scarred voice, between a growl and a purr, from a throat that had breathed fire.
‘What do you want?’
‘Have a seat. The bed’s just to your right.’
She put out her hand and felt metal and rough blankets. She sat awkwardly, feeling his eyes on her. She knew where she was with living things. With inanimate objects, she was just an ordinary blind girl, groping in the dark, and he enjoyed that. She could tell.
He came over and sat beside her, close to her. The bed creaked from his slight weight. She tensed, and Mercy bristled at her feet, ready to spring.
‘So how’s life on the outside?’ he said, with a cruel smile in his voice. ‘Bored without me? Sorry you put me away?’
‘Not at all. Busier than ever. There’s a new bad guy in town who’s -’
‘Tougher than you.’ She had missed this, the thrill of verbal sparring that could turn physical at any second. Except it couldn’t, not here.
‘Spring me and I’ll help you take him down.’
‘Because,’ he growled, ‘it’s my city.’ The fire in him flared. Justice held steady, though her instinct was to jump back.
‘You know I can’t,’ she said. ‘You need to be here. You need help.’
‘Help? HELP?’ His voice cracked, full of painful high notes. ‘You call this help? This, drugs, injections, iron bars, these dreadful clothes, these people! I’m dying in here, Justice. Dying. If you want to help me, help me. Take me out of here. Redeem me. You’re the only one who can.’
He sounded so plaintive, so young. Just for a second she allowed herself to think of it, taking him home, giving him food and shelter, teaching him, showing him there was hope. Making him grateful, making him cry in her arms, breaking him down and building him up again, someone to fight on her side.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I don’t break the law, and I don’t trust you.’
‘I trust you. You could have killed me. You didn’t. That means you care.’
‘It means I care about all life.’ She wished she knew what her face looked like, whether it gave her away.
‘I asked you here because I wanted to check something,’ he said suddenly. ‘How ugly am I to you?’
‘On the inside? Hideous.’
‘You don’t know what my face is like. You’ve never really touched it.’
‘I’ve punched it.’
‘Not the same.’ She felt his hand touch hers. No gloves. They must have taken them away. Why did it feel so intimate? She’d split his lip, she’d licked his blood off her knuckles. This was just skin touching skin.
He guided her hand to his cheek. She ought to resist, but she’d always been curious about his scars. She ran her hand over his cheekbone, down to the jaw. There was none of the downy softness of normal skin, no stubble, all seared off by the flames. His skin felt unnaturally smooth, but rippled, like crumpled silk. She wondered how much more of his body felt like this to the touch.
‘It still hurts,’ he said, almost a whisper.
‘My burns. They hurt me all the time.’
She felt her heart turn over. ‘No they don’t. There’s no feeling in scar tissue.’
‘And yet,’ he purred, ‘your touch just changed…’
He was right. Her face felt hot as she realised. Her hand was resting on his cheek very gently, as if his scars were painful, as if they needed to be soothed. She pulled away, and heard him sigh, and felt his longing trying to pull her back. She put her hands behind her.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘How ugly am I?’
‘It’s just a different texture,’ she said brusquely. ‘Nothing worth going psycho over.’
‘I knew it.’ She could hear him smiling. ‘You’re the only one who doesn’t find me hideous.’
‘Like I said, inside -’
‘You’re the only one who can love me.’
She jumped up off the bed, nearly falling over Mercy. ‘What? How did you get from there to – Never mind, I don’t even want to know. If that was what you asked me here to ‘check’ you’re even sicker than I – what, because I’m blind? Okay, one, that’s really sad, and two, there are a whole lot of blind people in the world who are not your worst enemy.’
She heard him chuckling softly as he approached her. ‘Ah… anger. And that’s why, you see. You’re the only one who understands my rage. Didn’t you know? You’re as angry as I am.’
‘I am not!’ she snapped, then wished she hadn’t sounded so angry.
‘Oh? Then why do you spend your whole life fighting?’
‘Because I care. Because I want there to be justice in the world.’
‘Exactly. Justice. You were born blind and you call yourself Justice. You’re a walking joke.’ She clenched her fists. ‘You can kick and punch as much as you like, but life’s never going to be fair. You’re living proof. Stop lying to yourself. Life is cruel and random, like me.’
‘It’s not. It’s not! There are patterns. There’s love. That’s what there is under all this crap. I can feel things, remember?’
But she couldn’t, not now. She couldn’t feel that quiet presence in the air, that tremendous breathing stillness. She would have liked to give it to him, to wrap it like a blanket around his scarred body. But all she could feel was his fire.
‘Oh, there’s love? So you admit it?’
‘No! Not me – I mean, not you – I mean, I love everybody. I don’t love you personally.’ She felt herself blushing again behind her shades.
‘Liar,’ he hissed. ‘Where’s your honour, hero? At least I’m an honest liar. What you don’t see is what you get with me. And speaking of which – I’ve shown you mine, now why don’t you show me yours…’
She felt his hands at her temples. He was taking her shades. Why didn’t she stop him?
‘Oh…’ he sighed. ‘The windows of the soul. You can’t see out, but I can see in. You look so focussed with your shades on, but your eyes… they’re wandering all over the place. You’re lost… naked and vulnerable…’
‘I’ll give you naked and vulnerable. Give me those NOW.’ She made a grab for his hand, but he was too quick. She heard them skittering to the floor behind him. ‘HEY!’ She tried to lunge past him. He grabbed her lapels and pulled her up short, pulled her up close.
She felt the heat of his breath, and she stopped breathing. For a split second, he hesitated to kiss her, and she hesitated to stop him.
She snapped out of it first. As he leaned in, she grabbed his hand and twisted it into a harsh wristlock that dropped him to his knees in front of her. ‘Show some respect!’
She heard his breath catch in pain, but she didn’t relax her grip. His free arm came up around her waist, and she braced herself for a throw, but nothing happened. He just held on, his hand in the small of her back. She could hear him fighting not to make a sound as she kept the lock on him. Slowly and cautiously, not trusting him, she released his twisted arm. He clung to her, and leaned his head against her, and she could feel him shaking. Was he crying?
She let her hand rest lightly on his hair. She wanted to sink to her knees and hold him, but she didn’t. Mercy padded up to her and pushed her shades into her hand. She put them back on, and stayed standing, straight-backed, staring over his head into the dark.