Iced - Page 16/120

We lock eyes. I’m not looking away first.

“It didn’t hurt you when your mother left you in a cage like a dog, and forgot you for days while she was off with one of her endless string of boyfriends.”

“You’ve got a seriously wild imagination.”

He grabs a handful of my hair close to the scalp and uses it to keep me from looking away, as if I fecking planned to. When he reaches into one of my coat pockets and pulls out a Snickers bar, my mouth waters. I fought him and his men so hard back at Dancer’s place that I’m drained. I pretend my spine is a broomstick so I don’t sag into the chains holding me to the wall. Pretending is a game I’m good at.

He rips it open with his teeth. I smell chocolate and my stomach hurts.

“How many times did you curl in that cage, chained by a collar around your neck, waiting, wondering if she was going to remember you this time. Wondering what would kill you first: hunger or dehydration. What was it—five days she left you sometimes. No food or water. You slept in your own—”

“You want to shut up now.”

“When you were eight, she died while you were locked up. Rowena didn’t find you for a week.”

That’s the story. I don’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. Things got real simple in that cage. There are only two things to worry about in life: either you’re free or you’re not. If you’re free, there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re not, you kick the shit out of everything around you until you are.

“Sometimes her boyfriends played with you.”

Not that way. Never that way. I’m a virgin and I take it seriously. I’m going to lose it in a really epic way someday, when I’m ready. I’m all about gathering up some fan-fecking-tastic experiences to compensate for the crappy ones I had as a kid. That’s why I wanted to give it to V’lane or maybe Barrons when I was old enough. Someone stellar. I want it to be with someone who will make it a night to remember.

“Are we like swapping philosophies, Ryodan? ’Cause if so, here’s one of mine. Feck you. Past is past.”

“It carves you.”

“Vanishes. Means nothing,” I say.

“You can never outrun it.”

“I can outrun the wind.”

“The wound you refuse to dress is one that will never heal. You gush lifeblood and never even know why. It will make you weak at a critical moment when you need to be strong.”

“I get it, all right? You’re going to torture me to death by talking. Kill me now. Get it over with. But use something quick and clean. Like a chain saw. Maybe a grenade.”

He touches my cheek. “Dani.”

“Is that pity, Ryodan? ’Cause I don’t need it. Thought you were tougher than that.”

His thumb brushes my mouth and he gives me a look I don’t understand. I head-butt his hand away.

“You think you’re going to chain me to a wall then stand here and tell me why it’s okay that I am the way I am? That because of all the crap folks put me through when I was young it’s all right that I turned out like this? Dude, I don’t have a problem with how I turned out. I like me.”

“Rowena made you kill your first human when you were nine years old.”

How the feck does he know this stuff? She made it a game. Told me she wanted to know if I could whiz in and dump extra milk in Maggie’s cereal bowl without her seeing me. Of course I could. Maggie died, sitting there at the breakfast table. Ro told me it was a coincidence, that she was old and had a heart attack. When I was eleven, I found out the truth. Ro hated Maggie because she’d been rallying sidhe-seers to elect a new Grand Mistress. I found the old witch’s journals. She chronicled everything she did, like she thought one day she’d be immortalized and people would want to read her private memoirs. I have all those journals now, tucked away in a safe place. I’d poisoned Maggie that day with the “milk” I’d added to her bowl. I’d done a lot of other things, too, that I hadn’t understood.

“Significant words there: Rowena made me. I got over it a long time ago.”

“Funny, your speech is changing, kid. Getting all grown-up-like.”

“Dude,” I add.

“You’re going to be a tough one to crack.”

“Let me give you a clue: substitute the word ‘impossible’ for ‘tough.’ ”

He peels the wrapper back from the Snickers. Offers me a bite.

I turn my head away. I won’t eat like a chained-up animal.

“When we find your little boyfriend, you’ll change your mind.”

My guts unknot and I almost slump into the chains with relief but I lock my knees so I can’t. He said “when” we find, which means they haven’t. I don’t telegraph unless I slip. I was afraid they had Dancer. He must have left while I was sleeping. He keeps odd hours, goes off sometimes until he feels like coming back. I can’t always find him when I want to. Sometimes I don’t see him for days. It’s good to know he’s safe somewhere. They didn’t get him. They only got me. I can handle this kind of stuff. I cut my teeth on it. Dancer … well, until the walls fell, he lived a charmed life. I never want him to have to deal with these men.

“He isn’t my boyfriend.”

“How long will you make me keep you here, Dani?”

“Until you figure out it isn’t going to do you any good.”

He smiles faintly and turns away. At the door, he pauses and puts his hand on the light switch like he’s giving me a choice. As if all I have to do is give him a look that says “Please don’t leave me in the dark” and he won’t.

I flip him off big and showy, with both hands chained over my head.

He leaves me without my sword, in the dark.

I don’t worry.

I know Ryodan. If anyone is going to kill me, it’ll be him. That means he’s got this place protected from Shades and Fae or he’d never have left me here.

I’m hungry and tired. I close my eyes and play an old game with myself, one I learned young.

I pretend I have a giant, cushy pillow in my stomach, filling it up softly, absorbing the acid that boils from extreme hunger. I pretend that I’m stretched out in a downy soft bed in a perfectly safe place where nobody can hurt me.

Hanging by manacles around my wrists, I sleep.