Aaron led Milena to Isabella Grava’s house, and his ex-girlfriend was gracious enough about it. She made tea and didn’t even really mention Milena’s bleeding on her expensive furniture – she merely found a bandage in the bathroom and helped apply it.
The only sign that she didn’t like the situation was the long look she sent Milena before leaving them alone.
You may have saved his life, the look said. But that doesn’t mean I’m not keeping an eye on you.
It made Aaron feel warm inside in spite of everything. She had his back.
But then of course Milena Hartfield did, too.
She stood by the door, hands awkwardly twiddling. Her eyes met his carefully, and she smiled.
“She’s nice. Ms. Grava.”
“Very. Almost makes me forget why we broke up, her being so nice… Then I remember her snoring, though. Just terrible.”
His joke fell flat, but she gave a little chuckle.
“It’s very nice of her… letting you stay here for the night.” She turned around and inspected the walls thoroughly.
“I’ll probably be here even longer. A couple of weeks maybe.”
Milena nodded. “Oh, I see, because of…”
“After everything, I don’t feel like my house is much of a home.”
“I’m sorry…” She looked back at him. “I’m going to tell you everything, of course.”
“I appreciate it. Please, do sit down.”
“Now, first of all – why in the name of everything holy did my friends try to kill me?”
Sadness crossed her eyes. “I can’t say. That’s the one thing we don’t know.”
Aaron shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. It was getting greasy. His greasy hair and his dusty jeans and the wounded woman across from him made him want to scream. He held it back.
“So, what can you tell me? I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know anything. Like I’m a huge idiot and everybody is in on this great old secret that I’m not.”
The sadness in her eyes seemed to grow. “You’re not an idiot…”
“Well then explain to me why the hell I just tried to run away with two people who tried to murder me!” She started as his voice rose and turned away. “I willingly let them out of those cells after everything they did, after all your warnings. Why the hell would I do that?”
She looked up at him, her eyes dark with some emotion he couldn’t place. “The Lover’s Talent.”
Just as she opened her mouth to explain, the door to the living room burst open. Dani practically strangled Milena as she flung her arms hard around her; then Janus and Sally filed in after her, ruining all chances that Milena could talk. Aaron wanted to scream at them to go away. Instead, he shared a look with Milena. She stood up and mouthed at him: Later.
Later turned out to be two hours later. Dani and Janus had left Milena and another guard at Isabella’s house. Aaron accepted Isabella’s offer of sleeping in the bedroom while she took the sofa; after Sally had made sure that nothing was wrong with him, he went to get some sleep. That didn’t happen, and after hours of staring at walls, Milena knocked on the door. She wore a light blue sweater over her top and her right hand had been bandaged.
Seeing her was odd. He was at once infuriated and relieved. Even though he couldn’t place her, it was nice to see her familiar features. And at the same time, there were all those secrets…
He sat up on the bed and nodded towards a chair in the corner.
He motioned to her bandaged hand.
“Sprained, according to Sally. But you’re not really interested in my hand, are you?”
“No. You said something, the Love’s Something?”
“The Lover’s Talent,” she corrected, her voice lowered to a near-whisper. “It’s one of the five Talents.”
Five. He had chills. “You have five Talents?”
“I do. We all do.”
“Dani, Janus, Sally, myself… most people you’ve met who are with the ‘police’.” She made air quotes with her good hand. “If you didn’t already realise, we’re not really. We’re with the League of the Talented, and we’re here to make sure people like us don’t mess with people like you. ‘People like us’ meaning Talented Ones.”
“Tell me about those Talents. I saw you using one…”
“Yes, it’s called the Fighter’s Talent. I told you all about it – pushing and pulling people. We usually use it to fight, so we call it the Fighter’s Talent. It’s my specialty Talent, and we call someone like me a Fighter.”
“But you made Nate sort of… hover.”
Milena looked away, biting her lip. “It’s a special technique – you push on the person from all sides and that’s the result. I wasn’t supposed to do it; I lose control.”
He asked a couple of more questions, but it was like pulling teeth. She refused to look him in the eye. All he could seem to understand was that losing control of your Talent was not common. Milena almost gasped in relief when he suggest she talk about the other Talents.
“Next we’ve got Searchers, Readers and Seers,” she explained.
Her voice was much too calm as she told that they could find people, read minds, and see the future.
Aaron sputtered. “W-wait, read minds? See the future? What the-?”
“It doesn’t work that well and it’s hard to do.” She shrugged. “Nathan tried to read your mind up by the school. You got a headache, right?”
He sank something. “You get a headache when somebody tries to read your mind?”
“Yeah, most of the time.”
Well, that explains my migraines in the past year…
“Have you been reading my mind?”
She shook her head. “I’m awful at it – Janus says I’m too impatient. Besides, the League only use Readers for interrogations.”
A small comfort, but he took it. “Right. Then… what about the fifth Talent. The Lover’s Talent?”
“The Lover’s Talent. It’s used to manipulate emotions. Happiness, anger… love.”
A lump settled in his stomach. It brought with it a desire to jump through a window and run into the night.
“I’m afraid so.”
Millions of questions roared in his head. He chose the hardest one first: “So, I didn’t really love her?”
“You must have liked her, at least sort of,” Milena said. “You can’t create emotions in anybody. All you can do is enhance or decrease the ones that are already there. You might have liked her a little, or maybe you found her attractive. But she needed an emotion close to it to turn into love. Hate can’t become love, but liking can… over time.”
Aaron realised that he didn’t even remember how it started. The first time he met her had melted together with the times that came later, and now he felt certain that he loved her from the moment they met. She had been using that Talent of hers from day one.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stared at the floorboards.
“I’m sorry,” Milena said. “The Lover’s Talent is a rough one to deal with. If the Lover is really careful, you won’t notice that your feelings don’t make sense anymore. We call it the Lover’s Talent because people often use it for romance. It’s sick…”
When he looked at her, her nose was wrinkled as though something smelt bad, and the nails of her fingers dug into her arm. “There’s nothing romantic about doing that to other people. It’s cold and cruel. It ruins people. It can give you depression, anxiety, PTSD, even hallucinations.”
Her eyes were intense, cold with hatred.
“Did someone ever…?” he swallowed something. “Did someone use it on you? You seem…?”
The hatred faded from her eyes as she went pale.
“N-no. Never.” She suddenly stood up, one hand tearing at the sweater while her eyes stayed away from his. “Do you mind if we talk more about this later? I think I need to sleep.”
He nodded and she left.
Aaron was left in the quiet bedroom, sleep further away than ever.
He felt insane.
But then he stopped feeling insane and he was angry.
Then sad. Confused. Hurt. Ruined.
He felt nothing and he was alone in his ex-girlfriend’s house, sitting with his head resting on his hand and staring at the fibres of a small, round rug. It was impossible to get it all out of his mind, but he tried… imagined the piece of code he had been working on before Siobhan stabbed him. Functions and objects and loops. True. False. If. Else.
Then he put his head in his hands and sobbed.
He sobbed and sobbed for the first time in weeks and in the end there was nothing left but strings of code in his mind.
Author’s note: Hiiiiii? 8D
I’m so sorry for the long time between chapters. I started university again at the beginning of September, and since then things have been crazy busy. I get up at seven every morning to study – I’m, among other things, learning coding right now, which is exciting and different and crazy hard! This leaves precious little time for writing, and most of the time I don’t feel like doing anything productive after dinner.
BUT I’m still determined to do this. I can’t promise more than a chapter a month (if that) so no more promises from me, just a reassurance that I’m totally still here and I love doing this story and hearing from my readers – you guys rock my world hard.
So, yes, I’m here and I’m here to stay and I’ll see you in the next one. Whenever that may be 🙂
Also: Today’s question is – why did Aaron have to be shirtless in that last scene? The answer is simply: why not?