Waking up disoriented was getting to be a pattern. This time, it wasn’t the sound so much as the smell. Although, the sizzling broke through almost immediately after.
“You’re making breakfast?” I yawned halfway through, the inadvertent and unattractive yelping covering over the indignation I meant to express. Henry turned from the stove and smiled.
“Recovery food,” he waved a spatula, wearing an apron that I dimly remembered stuffing into the far reaches of an upper corner cabinet when I first moved in. It showed off the rows of bandaids to nice effect. What happened to his shirt?
“Hope you don’t mind; I borrowed your shower,” He said, noticing my gaze. “Can you get up? The eggs are on the table already, and this is almost done…”
I swallowed back the snarky response that leaped to my lips and shifted my weight. Sleeping on the floor, half propped up against the couch had done nothing for my bruises. I set my jaw and refused to groan as I heaved myself up to the couch, and then, unsteadily, to a standing position. If I hurt this much, how was he managing? His injuries last night had to have been worse than mine…
I turned to look Henry over once more, and yelped, finding him at my elbow, looking concerned.
“Sorry,” he slipped an arm around my back to cup my elbow, “I wasn’t thinking. Here, let me help you over…”
“Whoa! Hands off!” I twisted away, ignoring complaining muscles and the twinge of half-closed scabs. I stomped over to the table and sat down, pretending that he wasn’t half a millimetre behind me the whole way.
He stayed beside me for a beat, standing. My pulse raced. Had I gone too far? Insulted him? All he’d really done was try to help… And what was I going to do if he lost it?
The moment passed, and Henry headed back to the kitchen without comment. Well, good. It was my place, after all. He knew I didn’t want him here. And apparently last night had just been a play for sympathy - he seemed to be alright this morning, after all. No wonder he was trying so hard; probably trying to make me forget that he wasn’t even supposed to be here. And forget what a mess he’d been, losing it like that on some strange girl’s doorstep…
Henry deposited the last couple dishes on the table and then perched on the back of the sofa across from me. What? It’s not like I’d ever needed a second chair before.
“I hope you like pancakes,” He said, smiling at me with wide, hopeful eyes while fiddling with the edge of his apron.
I sighed. “Look, I don’t know what you-“
“I know you don’t want me here,” Henry held up his hands, interrupting me. I raised my eyebrows, but let him continue. Interrupting. Minus five points. “and I’m sorry about that. I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you, April. But I’m not leaving.”
“I don’t remember giving you my name,” I was proud of how neutral my tone was, how still I held myself. He almost flinched, freezing in place for a moment as I continued, “and I wouldn’t keep insisting on promises - or threats - that we both know you’re not going to keep. What is this really about?”
Henry’s eyes widened as I spoke, his gaze flickering away and back, before dropping. He was silent for a moment after I finished, tense and rigid. I felt my lips tighten in grim amusement; apparently I’d backed him into a corner. I took the pause in conversation to scoop eggs onto my plate. I watched him as I chewed, wary. He was bigger than I was, and unpredictable. He seemed like more of a pest than a threat, but it didn’t hurt to be cautious. I needed to maintain the upper hand here.
Henry’s shoulders slumped as he exhaled, and when he looked up, pain was etched across his face. His sunny confidence was replaced by exhaustion, worry, hurt.
“I’m sorry,” It could have been an act, maybe, if he was very, very good, but he gave every appearance of vulnerability as he responded, “I had hoped… but I was too late, it was stupid, so stupid to go like that… You have to live, April - you have to! - and I shouldn’t have gone off like that. I won’t, not until I know you’re safe, I won’t let you out of my sight.”
Hang on, that didn’t sound good at all, even if his expression did tug on the heartstrings, at least a little. I think he saw me getting ready to protest; he sped up a little as he continued.
“I know, it’s not what you want, but you don’t understand. You’re marked now. It’ll come after you again, April. You’re the only one who’s lived. It’s not worth the risk, leaving you alone.”
“Marked?” I shook my head, sure I didn’t want to hear the rest of this. Dread crawled across my skin, too like the nightmare for comfort, and I rubbed my arms as if I could wipe the memory away along with the sensation. Suddenly, I hoped Henry was crazy, that this was all some elaborate ploy to get a roof to crash under. “I’m nobody. Why would I be in danger?”
“It’s my fault,” Henry covered his eyes, his fingers tangling in his still-damp hair, “you were supposed to die yesterday. I stopped that happening - it’s not that hard, if you know what you’re doing. The only thing is, it doesn’t give up. It gets angry and comes back, and keeps coming until it claims its victim.”
He was wrong. He had to be wrong. Because if he was right - I glanced at the open windows, my scalp itching as I thought about the door behind me, was it locked? - if he was right, the nightmare would be back, and I would be…
“You’re wrong,” I cringed when Henry flinched at the words, his lips twisting painfully as he shook his head. “You’re crazy. It doesn’t work like that. You have to be wrong. Stop lying. STOP LYING TO ME.”
I reached across the table as I yelled, wanting to push him away, to shake him, to make him take it back. Lies. It had to be lies. How dare he mess with me like this?
Henry grabbed my wrists, his grip gentle but solid. I couldn’t pull away, couldn’t move as he stared at me.
“April.” He let go, and I dropped into my seat, breathing hard. “April, I’m…”
“Sorry. I know.” I refused to look at him, rubbing at my wrist as if he’d hurt me.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be so hard. It should be simple. Confront evil. Fight back. Defeat it. Happily ever after. I came to the city to make a difference. I’ve trained my whole life for this.”
I stole a peek at Henry. He stared off into the distance, his gaze remote and his voice soft. Sad.
“At first, it was great. I felt so strong, so right. I was making a difference, saving lives, defeating evil! The victims, they were so grateful - well, most of them -“ His eyes cut over to April and she flushed, looking away, “-and I knew it was worth it, the sacrifice, the years of discipline, everything I’d given up. For a couple days, it was like living in a fairytale.
“And then I figured it out. I wasn’t defeating the nightmare. I wasn’t making anything better. It came back, it always came back. I fought, again, and again, racing across the city, barely resting, but it’s never enough. I can’t keep up. It always wins in the end.”
“Always?” I didn’t realize I’d spoken until Henry’s focus snapped back to me. The dreamy, far away look on his face ironed out to stone. He reached across the table and took my hand.
“This time, I’m not going anywhere. I figured it out. The only way to beat the nightmare is to stay ahead of it. If I’m with the target at all times, there’s no opening. It can’t get past me.”
Henry’s hand was so warm, but I felt sick to the stomach. This wasn’t even about me. It was all some random coincidence; I’d just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time for him. Which was a stupid thing to feel weird about, because…
“So it’s coming back?”
“Yeah. It’s coming back.”