Spirit in the Room
In which Dodger bears witness to a reunion
After treating the man’s various cuts and burns, then dosing Feng with a number eight, a ten and a five, the doc mopped his sweaty brow, tossed his injection gun into his bag and declared that all they could do now was wait and see. Dodger reckoned they had little choice in the matter. Celina was still a few hours off, as was their showdown with Rex, so the crew had nothing but time on their hands. He pulled up a stool and parked himself beside the Celestial to do just as the doc asked.
“You don’t need to wait with him,” the professor said. “I don’t mind staying.”
“I’m fine here,” Dodger said. “Besides, I don’t reckon I have anywhere else to go.”
“You could lie down for a bit. You must be exhausted.”
“Let me have a look at you.”
“I said I was fine.” Dodger held up a hand to keep the doc from examining him.
“Nonsense. You’re badly hurt.”
“Actually, I’m doing great.” Dodger turned his hand over, pondering the scorch marks across his left palm. The hand in which he’d held the LAD rod while Dian Wu filled him with the last of her powerful voltage. “By all rights, I reckon I should be much worse off. But it seems I can take quite a licking these days.”
“I see what you mean.”
“Do you? Because I’m starting to wonder about it myself.” Dodger leaned forward, parking his elbows on his knees as he stared at the floor. “Doc, can I ask you something?”
“Certainly. Anything you like.”
“What happened to me at the Desert Rose?”
The professor was quiet a moment, carefully thinking over his words.
“Please, sir,” Dodger said. “I need to know.”
“From what I understand,” the doc said, “you fought a terrible monster in those mines. When you returned to the surface, you were nearly dead. The ladies of the Rose healed you. Brought you back from the brink, as it were, by employing their unique methods.”
“Surely you could have used your medicine-”
“There wasn’t time,” the doc said over Dodger. “You were bleeding to death. Miss Rebecca did what she had to do in order to save your life. And rightfully so.”
Dodger raised his eyes to the doc. “What did she do? Exactly?”
“You lost a lot of blood, Mr. Dodger. Miss Rebecca … How should I put this? Well, you needed a transfusion, so she gave you one.”
“A transfusion? Of whose blood?”
The professor didn’t reply. He didn’t have to.
The answer was pretty damned obvious.
Dodger swallowed hard as he pieced it together. “Rebecca gave me her blood.”
“It was either that,” the doc said, “or let you perish. I, for one, believe she made the correct choice.”
Dodger wasn’t complaining about her saving his life. Not at all. He just wondered what the price for such a favor would entail in the long run. Just how marked was he? “What does that mean? If I have her blood running through my veins … the blood of a Forsaken … then what does that make me?”
Before the doc could answer, the cargo-car door opened. Lelanea entered the cab, fixing the top button of her blouse and smoothing down her vest—lingering evidence of her hasty change from beast to beauty.
“How is he doing?” she asked.
“Better than I at first worried,” the doc said. “He’s resting now, but he should be awake soon.”
Lelanea gathered her long hair into a bun, pinning it in place with a clip she pulled from the pocket of her breeches. A fine sheen of sweat shimmered across her skin, making her blouse cling to the sides of her ample bosom. “Did you take care of the others?”
It took Dodger a moment to realize she was speaking to him. “Yes, ma’am. Feng handled the twins on his own, and I dispatched Dian Wu. Is Lei Gong …?”
“Finished?” Lelanea asked. “Yes. I do believe his assassination days are over.”
“So we won?” the doc asked.
“It would seem that way, yes.”
Rather than raise a huzzah of relief, the three went quiet.
“Then why do I feel so horrible?” the doc asked.
Lelanea took the doc’s hand in hers. “Because you have such a tender soul, Uncle.”
The professor wiped at his damp eyes and muttered, “I don’t like when folks suffer. And I don’t like it when they die. No matter who or what they are.”
“I know. If only the whole world were as kindhearted as you, things would be so very different.”
Dodger couldn’t add anything to that. He didn’t enjoy making folks suffer, but he also understood that sometimes suffering was the only way. Sometimes pain was the only path. Sometimes death was the only answer folks understood.
Lelanea gave her uncle a hearty hug before she patted the back of his hand once more. “Now, how would you like a cup of tea?”
The doc cooed. “Tea?”
“I asked Mr. Torque to bring us all a nice steaming pot of Earl Grey.”
The doc’s mood lifted considerably at this news. “What an excellent idea.”
“Yes, but I worry he won’t be able to manage the trays on his own. And with Feng resting, well, you see what I mean? Will you go and make sure he doesn’t spill milk all down the hallway?”
“Oh, my. You don’t suppose he will? Do you?”
Lelanea raised her eyebrows and nodded.
“I better make sure,” the doc said. His usual mischievous grin returned as he scampered away after his manservant.
Once the professor was gone from the meeting cab, Lelanea turned to Dodger. “He won’t be long. We probably have ten minutes to do this before he gets back.”
“Ten minutes to do what?” he asked.
All at once, her mood slipped from wistful to wrathful. “Ten minutes for you to tell me what in the hell you and Boon thought you were doing sneaking around like that.” She marched toward Dodger with angry, heavy steps. “And don’t try to fast talk yourself out of this one. Ched has already told me everything.”
Dodger buried his face in his hands with a groan.
“I knew I’d seen him,” she said. “I knew I felt him near. You shouldn’t have kept him from me. It wasn’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair,” Dodger mumbled into his palms.
“Don’t you dare lecture me about fairness, Mr. Dodger. You don’t understand what it was like. Every day since has been pure torture. Every day I kept … feeling him everywhere. I spent the last few weeks convincing myself I was going crazy. I thought I was losing my mind! Then I find out he has been here the entire time? Having secret conversations with you? Confiding in you, of all people, when it should’ve been me the whole while!”
“Me?” Dodger twisted on the stool to face her. “What about Ched? He knew before I did.”
Lelanea let loose with a slap right across Dodger’s right cheek hard enough to almost set him spinning around and around on the stool in its wake. He rubbed at his jaw while she continued her tirade.
“Ched is a moron!” she shouted. “Anyone with eyes can see his brain is soft. You can’t expect him to remember what day it is! But you … I thought you knew better. What gave you the right to keep him from me?”
“He did,” Dodger said.
Lelanea pursed her lips and set to glaring at Dodger.
“I didn’t agree with it,” Dodger said. “But Boon demanded I keep it from you, ma’am.”
“But why?” she asked.
“Because I was afraid,” Boon said, and stepped out of the shadows, materializing before their very eyes.
For a moment, no one said anything. Lelanea stared up at Boon, her crimson lips parted ever so slightly, her eyes dancing with a million unspoken questions. Boon looked down at Lelanea with a powerful longing on his ethereal face as he almost crushed the hat he held between his hands. Meanwhile, Dodger watched the couple stare at one another, feeling as much of a third wheel as a man could be. It didn’t help that he had just set to the task of pursuing the gal for himself. Trust fate to thrust such a vixen in his path only to snatch her away again. This was the reason Dodger didn’t like to get mixed up with the likes of love.
After what seemed like quite a long while of staring and waiting for someone to say something, Dodger finally got to his feet.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” he said.
“Don’t,” the pair said together.
Dodger had no intention of staying to watch their sappy little reunion, but the need in their combined voices forced him back onto his seat. It wasn’t his place to play couple’s counselor to anyone, much less a supernatural lady and her nearly dead sweetheart. But, truth be told, the pair had a whole lot of kinks to work out before the Sleipnir reached Celina, and they weren’t going to get anywhere just standing about staring at one another. Dodger cleared his voice as a way to prompt them to move along with it.
“Washington,” Lelanea whispered, never taking her eyes from the spirit in the room.
“Miss Lelanea,” Boon said. He dipped his head, but again, never looked away from her.
“Is it really you?”
He nodded and gave a sad, pitiful smile.
“Why did you hide from me?” she asked.
Boon opened and closed his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came forth. He worried the hat in his hands ever more, twisting and rolling the band between his trembling fingers as he struggled to speak.
“I … I … I …” was all the spirit managed to say.
“You heard him the first time,” Dodger said for the spirit. “He was afraid.”
“Of what?” she asked Boon, even though Dodger kept on talking for the man.
“He reckoned if he showed himself, and made his peace with you and the others, well, then he would shuffle off to the great beyond. Leaving y’all on your own. Unprotected. And alone.”
“Alone,” Lelanea echoed.
Boon nodded at her, confirming Dodger’s claims.
“And if you don’t mind me saying so,” Dodger said. “He didn’t want to lose you, Miss Lelanea.”
Boon looked to the floor at that.
Lelanea’s eyes welled with tears at the spirit’s shyness.
Dodger pressed on, telling Boon’s sad story while Lelanea sniffled and sobbed. “He kept his distance and watched you from afar. He tried protecting you from afar too, but that didn’t quite work out. That was when he sought my help.”
She furrowed her brow.
“When he realized I could see and hear him,” Dodger said, “he asked that I take his place on the Sleipnir. That way, I could be his hands and guns. But not just so I could keep an eye on an experimental train, or your trouble-attracting uncle. Boon wanted me to protect you. Specifically.”
A few teardrops broke free and rolled down her pale cheek. “I don’t need protecting. He knows I can take care of myself.”
“He said you would say that.”
Lelanea stepped closer to the spirit. She raised a hand and caressed his cheek, her slender fingers slipping in and out of his crackling features.
Boon gave a long, ghostly sigh.
“I missed you so much,” she whispered.
“I missed you,” Boon finally said, his voice heavy with grief. “Every hour. Every minute. Every second. It wasn’t just torture, Lelanea. It was pure hell itself. To be so close to you, so near to you, but always so far off …”
“Shh,” she hissed, hushing him. “It’s okay. You’re here now.”
Dodger was impressed at her willingness to let it all go. He reckoned there would be a whole lot more screaming and shouting and fussing and fighting. But no, here the pair was, just about reconciled.
“I’m sorry,” Boon said. “I’m so sorry. If I had known the truth, I would have been with you every day.”
“Don’t be,” she said. “You did what you thought you had to do. What I would’ve done in your place. I forgive you, Wash. I forgive you, because …” her voice caught in her throat as she paused a moment, then finished with, “because I love you, Washington Boon.”
The spirit jawed the air, once more at a loss for words. He closed his eyes, drew a deep, unneeded breath to settle himself, then answered her pledge. “I love you too, Miss Lelanea.” He opened his eyes to brave a glance her way as he added, “I’ve always loved you. From the moment I saw you, I knew I would always love you.”
Dodger got the impression that was the first time either of them had spoken those words aloud to one another. Good gravy. As if he didn’t feel enough like a third wheel, this whole thing was sweet enough to make his teeth hurt. The cynic in Dodger wanted to upchuck his last meal, while the lover in him ached to the core at hearing her say those words to another man. These inner selves battled, each vying for the chance to say the next thing, until the cynic won.
As it always did.