Iced - Page 101/120

She gives me a look like I’m deranged. “There’s no way you’re doing that to me! Especially not on ice. Half your face is a bruise and the other half is recovering from one. Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

“That ain’t because I’m a sloppy freeze-framer. It’s because of stupid jerk-ass Ryodan.”

“Stupid jerk-ass Ryodan is going to break both your legs if you take one more step,” Ryodan says right behind us.

I whirl on him. “Why are you always stalking me?”

“You’re always making me.”

“How do you keep finding me?” Do I have a blinking beacon on my forehead that sends a signal straight to him every time I disobey an order? I refuse to believe since he bit me, he can track me wherever I go. That’s a suffocating thought. It’s wrong and unfair.

“Get back inside. Now.”

“You didn’t find me in the White Mansion.” A lightbulb goes off in my head. I been busy with other worries, or I’d have clued into it sooner. “You can’t track me in Faery!” That’s why he was so mad. I almost punch air I’m so happy. I have a safety zone. If I ever need to hide from him, Faery’s the place to go. “And you’re the one who’s always making me do stuff that makes me have to do other stuff that ain’t what you want me to do. It’s not my fault. I’m just reacting to you.”

“There’s your first mistake. Learn to act, kid.”

“I am acting. I’m trying to do something about our problems.”

“And you, Jo,” he says soft, “you should have known better.”

“Leave her out of this,” I say.

“She helped you disobey me.”

“She did not. ’Cause, see, I didn’t disobey you. You said I could leave with one of ‘your people.’ You’re boinking her every day, and if that doesn’t make her one of your people then you need to quit boinking her. Either she is or she ain’t, and you can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to have sex with folks then discount them. So. Is Jo one of your people? Or just another piece of booty in your endless lineup?”

“Dani, stop it,” Jo warns.

“Feck no, I’m not stopping it.” I’m so pissed, I’m vibrating. “He doesn’t deserve you and you deserve so much better!” It doesn’t help that behind Ryodan the fire-can folks have switched songs again and are now booming out a rousing rendition of “Hail Glorious St. Patrick,” clapping their hands and banging on cans with pieces of wood, getting all rambunctious. The louder they sing, the hotter my temper gets. “He’s always pushing everybody else around but nobody ever calls him out on the carpet. I say it’s way past time. Either you matter to him or you don’t, and he needs to say which one it is. I want to know which one it is.”

“She matters,” Ryodan says.

Jo looks stunned.

It pisses me off even more. She’s looking all dreamy-eyed and in love again. Anybody can see she ain’t his type. “You liar, she does not!”

“Dani, stow it,” Jo says.

I know him. I know how he tricked me. He’s splitting verbal hairs. Of course she matters. But he didn’t say “to me.” She matters to the club, for mercenary reasons, because she’s a waitress. “Does she, like, matter to you emotionally? Do you love her?”

“Dani, stop it right now!” Jo says, horrified. To Ryodan she says, “Don’t answer her. I’m sorry. Just ignore her. This is so embarrassing.”

“Answer me,” I say to Ryodan. The hymn folks are really rocking it now, dancing and swaying, and I’m almost having to yell to be heard. But that’s okay. I feel like yelling.

“For fuck’s sake,” Ryodan growls over his shoulder, “can’t they go sing somewhere else.”

“They want in,” I say. “They’re going to die on your doorstep because you’re too much of a prick to save them.”

“The world is not my responsibility.”

“Obviously.” I put twenty kinds of verbal condemnation in the single word.

“She just wanted to find Dancer,” Jo says. “I think it’s important. Sometimes you have to trust her.”

“Do you love her?” I push.

Jo groans likes she’s going to die of embarrassment. “Oh God, Dani, shut up!”

I expect him to scoff at me, say something bullying, throw an insult back in my face, but he just says, “Define love.”

I stare straight into those clear, cool eyes. There’s some kind of challenge there. I don’t get this dude. But the definition he wants is easy. I had a lot of time in a cage to think about it. I saw a TV show once that gave the perfect definition, and I say it to him now: “The active caring and concern for the health and well-being of another person’s body and heart. Active. Not passive.” In a nutshell, you remember that person all the time. You never forget them. You factor their existence into yours every single hour of every single day. No matter what you’re doing. And you never leave them locked up somewhere to die.

“Think about what that entails,” he says. “Providing food. Shelter. Protection from one’s enemies. A place to rest and heal.”

“You forgot about the heart part. But I didn’t expect anything else. ’Cause you ain’t got one. All you got are rules. Oh, and yeah, more rules.”

Jo says, “Dani, can we just—”

Ryodan cuts her off. “Those rules keep people alive.”

Jo tries again. “Look, guys, I think—”

“Those rules strangle folks who need to breathe,” I say, talking right over her. Nobody’s listening to her anyway.

All the sudden he has me by the collar, hanging in the air, my feet dangling off the ground, our noses touching.

“By your own definition,” he says, “you don’t love anyone either. An argument could be made that you only ever do one of three things to the people closest to you: make enemies of them, kill the people they love, or get them killed. Careful. You’re on thinner ice than you’ve ever been with me.”

“Because I’m asking if you love Jo?” I say coolly, like I’m not hanging helpless by my shirt. Like he didn’t just take a mean shot at me below the belt.