Chapter Eighty Six
Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,521
He believed they were in Melody and Dante’s room. It smelled of wet bear. The stinging in his cheek where Atlas had slapped him was beginning to dissipate. He wiped the blood from his face with his damaged t-shirt, having already pulled on a clean one.
“What did you think you were doing, Pilot? Was that really the appropriate time?” She was angry. Her eyes boiled with a golden heat that he hated seeing directed at him.
He shut his eyes, frustrated, and squeezed his fingers against the bridge of his nose. It felt broken. “Just fucking listen,” he was yelling; he didn’t mean to yell. He lowered his voice and added, mostly growling, “Please.”
She fumed, he could feel it in the air, hear it in her forced breaths. “This had better good.”
He dropped his hand then, meeting her gaze with all the steel he had within him. He would not be punished like a child for a mistake another man had made.
“I was trying to end the fight without killing the old fool,” he spat, all venom and wounded pride. “He’s got his poorly construed ideas on whom and what I am, and instead of seeing me as I am, he sees me as his enemy.”
“That doesn’t mean you fight him on the roof, Pilot! He doesn’t know what he’s dealing with!” She began, but he cut her off.
“No, Eden,” he was roaring, then, and he knew it could be heard from the adjacent rooms; but the fury was too strong. He would not be misjudged by his own wife because of some ignorant man with an egomaniacal obsession with controlling Atlas’ understanding of the world around her. “That means I didn’t have to drop him directly into his own grave, which I did not do, in case you’ve overlooked that. While he whipped out Atlantean magic like a party trick, I kept myself in check.”
They stared at each other for a long time. “You don’t need to remind everyone of the reaper that you are; we all know the Dealer when we see him,” she said, and her voice was calculated and controlled.
“I do not think we all do,” he said, and reached for his jacket. “In fact, I think there’s at least one of us in this room who’s lost track of how infrequently I fuck up.”
“Where are you going?”
He turned to meet her eyes, then, the stoic mask already shielding his emotions. He tugged his jacket into place and the hard snap of leather echoed in the room. “Out, your highness, or is a King not allowed to do anything without express permission from someone else?”
“I will see how much I can fix with Atlas and Elseron,” she said, rising from her seat with the elegance of her royal bloodline.
“Don’t do me any favors,” he snapped, and slammed the hotel room door behind him.
He was back on the roof before he realized where he was headed. It was deserted once again, and he couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. He strode over to an edge and stepped up onto it, staring down at the parking lot and city beyond. He thumbed a cigarette from his soft pack in his pocket; holding it between his lips, he dug for his zippo until he found it at the very bottom of the inside pocket of his jacket.
He smoked his entire pack of cigarettes on the roof, in an hour and a half, watching the slow motion of the moon across the night sky. No one searched for him, no one ever did – he preferred it that way, he supposed; he would rather be alone than try to explain.
He struggled to suppress the itching feeling that everything he did would eventually backfire. He was not the kind of person that questioned his actions; Pilot simply acted, and he spoke in the same way. He said nothing he did not mean, did nothing he did not intend to complete. He wondered why it was such a terrible thing in the eyes of others. He thought it was consistent, reliable; he liked consistence and reliability. Most people were neither.
He sighed and flicked the last cigarette butt off the edge of the roof. He was still restless; his temper still scratched at his insides, demanding he do something. There would be a gym downstairs, he thought to himself, and made his way down.
The gym was empty, and rather large for a hotel gym. He made his way to the back and found the punching bag; it had been a while since he’d used one, but he remembered the free feeling well. It had often been an outlet for his frustrations when he had no other way to battle his situations. He removed his jacket and shoes, tucking them in a corner and slipping on a pair of gloves. They were thin, the newer gloves he’d read about in magazines but never tried, and he marveled at the dexterity of his fingers. They were practically motorcycle gloves, though the knuckles stretched out farther and were padded with an almost gel-like substance.
He stretched slowly, allowing the routine to calm his thoughts into silence.
It was the first punch that shattered his rigid control over himself. Almost immediately he was swallowed up by the untamed beast inside of him; the beast screaming for the kill, wailing out a war cry that shook his very bones. He allowed himself to release the pent-up fury, landing blow after blow after blow. The punching bag swung wildly until boxing was no longer enough to keep it from smacking into him. He switched to kickboxing, and only then did his heart-rate increase.
He heard the door to the gym open and he stopped abruptly, grabbing the punching bag mid-swing and holding it still. He was panting, sweat dripping down his face and landing on the padded mat beneath his feet, his heart racing in his chest.
He felt better.
Melody entered the gym; he could smell her all the way from the back of the huge gym. He peered around the bag and met her eyes.
“Sorry,” he said, “I was just finishing up.”
“It’s about time,” she answered, “No one’s seen you in almost twenty-two hours. We leave for Encante in a few hours.”
It had been that long?
Not even Eden had come looking for him. He ripped off the gloves and threw them to the laundry bin. “I hadn’t realized anyone was looking.”
She seemed to understand his implication, and her silence was almost comforting; almost as if she was allowing him to continue. He looked up at her, and for the first time, her blue eyes met his and he did not feel a wall between them.
After a while, her voice cold, she said, “Have you been here the whole time?”
“Pretty much,” he answered, his trademark shrug punctuating his words. “I had a few things to work out.”
“Care to talk about them?”
He froze. Had she really just asked if he wanted to talk? He attempted to wrap his head around the offer but couldn’t quite do so. Not even his wife had given him the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m going to head to the roof,” he said, slipping his sneakers on and grabbing his jacket from the floor. “I need a cigarette.”
That was it, that was the extent of his offer – but she recognized it for what it was. He had to give her credit – she did make an effort to keep the surprise from her expression, but some of it leaked through her eyes.
There he was, sitting on the edge of the roof with his feet hanging over the side, beside Melody. He kept a steady stream of cigarettes from his spare pack to his lips.
“I’m not a demon,” he said finally, and he wasn’t certain why it was the first thing he felt the need to contest. He had been accused of being many things in his life, demon included, and he had never before made an attempt to argue the insult.
“Then what are you?”
He took in a lungful of smoke and sighed, pushing it from his nostrils. He chortled, once, and said, “Unlucky, I suppose.”
She didn’t need to ask what he meant by that, he could hear the impatience in her breathing.
“I followed someone into death,” he said, spitting out the words he had only ever told one other person. “I bartered with the boatman of the River Styx, and I pulled her from the afterlife.”
He didn’t look at her, knowing how very much he did not want to see the look of disbelief on her face. She was sure to think he was making it up, trying to get pity or sympathy in a situation he had been the catalyst of. Already, he was beginning to resent saying anything at all.
“I came back a little damaged,” he said, shrugging for the umpteenth time and taking another drag.