Since George was turning his attention back to reconfiguring the exoskeleton, Lynn got up and took the box of gloves to her room, then wandered in my direction.
“You don’t seem all that upset that it didn’t work,” I observed out loud.
She shrugged, a bit of a smile on her face. “It’s hard to be that upset right now. I have friends for the first time in years and you guys have already done a lot to make me more independent. My phone can read books to me, or read the news. I know Cynthia’s trying for more, but even that is just – a lot. Besides,” she glanced up as George came into the living room, too, carrying his project with him and sitting down at the desk where he could work but still be near us, “you’ve all just accepted me and my…issues…so easily.”
I gave her a crooked smile. “We’re all weird in our own ways. We all bring our own issues. Yours are mostly practical, but we can find ways around them. Mostly,” I amended, trying to hide a smile. “The golden sink was interesting. The light switch was more of a problem, but hey, George figured it out. At this rate, though, our landlord is going to be confused about why we are replacing random things when we move out.”
She looked a little embarrassed. “At least I can pay for what I mess up,” she grumbled.
Yeah, there was that. But talking of issues, I was reminded that we maybe hadn’t helped Lynn with one thing.
“By the way,” I changed the subject a little hesitantly, hoping I wasn’t going to make her uncomfortable, “I know being prisoner of someone like Allen for years couldn’t have been easy. We haven’t exactly talked about therapy, but we can arrange something.” We probably should have, to be honest. We just were used to trying to deal with this stuff ourselves because we couldn’t go to human therapists for our problems and supernaturals were kind of iffy, too, given that we sort of existed in a weird place based on our chosen career. For Lynn, though, that wouldn’t be a problem. She was our friend, but she wasn’t part of our anti-Hunter group.
Lynn took a bit to respond. “Jo gave me some stuff to read,” she said softly at last. “It’s helped.”
I was kind of surprised about that, but then, we’d all dealt with losses in our lives, maybe it wasn’t surprising that we had recommendations on what to do to help someone else.
“I’m not going to pretend I don’t have nightmares and still wake up sometimes thinking I’m back there,” Lynn added reluctantly, “but as far as just dealing with it overall, Jo’s been helping. She’s also done some research into psych stuff and tried to just help me figure it out.”
I was really startled with this information, and apparently my face said as much, because as Jo came into the living room, she grunted and made a face at me.
“Don’t give me that,” she snapped. “I used to want to study psychology, remember? I couldn’t make up my mind between that and violin. This is a chance to explore that again. The rest of us, we all dealt with loss, mostly – I haven’t seen this particular issue before.”
I considered that, thoughtful. Jo had changed some since Lynn arrived, I couldn’t deny it. She seemed friendlier, less angry.
Lynn had been good for all of us. She’d helped George rekindle his passion, helped Jo remember another interest, and her presence was making Cynthia and me reconsider our long-term plans. Well, all of us, but I had a feeling it was mostly Cynthia and me who had to think this through. Because we were committed but the others might not be, so we had to figure out what our future might hold.
I leaned back and listened as the others talked about random things, watching as Lynn fiddled with a golden stylus for her phone. My eyes suddenly narrowed.
“I think we’ve forgotten an important detail,” I announced suddenly, interrupting their discussion of what movie to watch. “Lynn, you can’t change gold things, right? Because they’re already gold?”
She looked confused, but nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”
George stopped to look over at us, the wheels in his head clearly turning.
“So,” I asked him, “can you make her gloves or whatever out of gold instead? Or would gold plating work? Do your powers work on gold plating?” I turned my attention back to Lynn.
She shrugged. “Not sure?”
“That’s easy enough to test.” George was clearly intrigued by this idea.
He and Lynn soon got focused on that, and for a moment I watched as Lynn shyly smiled at something he said and laughed a little, earning a broad smile from George in return, thinking to myself that it was nice to see him looking more relaxed.
Speaking of more relaxed, I turned my attention back to Jo. “You’re enjoying getting back into psychology?” I kept my voice lower, so the others couldn’t hear.
She fidgeted a bit, then nodded. “I’d had this goal in mind, that my mom actually planted. I wanted to go into psych and look at the intersection of music on helping people recover, in particular. That’s why I ended up choosing psych over violin. But then when my pandemonium was killed…I’ve just been so angry. I knew in my head that it’s okay to be angry and all, but at some point, I needed to work past that. Not just hold onto the anger forever. But I’ve been scared to let go of the anger, too, because before – before I wasn’t capable of facing down Hunters.” She frowned, her eyes unfocused as she seemed to be remembering the past. “I was kind of timid for a demon. Lynn reminds me a bit of myself back then – a little shy, a little hesitant, but ready and willing to be happy and content. I know she’s been through something awful, but I don’t want to see her get ruined the same way I did.”
I shook my head. “You’re not ruined, Jo. Yes, you lost some of your innocence and your peace of mind when they murdered your family, and you’ve gone through a lot since then, helping us with all the clans. That kind of stuff changes you, but it doesn’t mean you’re ruined.” I paused, trying to figure out how to word this as carefully as possible. “If you hate who you are and what you’re doing now, it’s not too late, you know. You can change. We don’t want you to be unhappy.”
Jo let out a long, frustrated breath as she glanced over to where the other two were busy in their own world, not hearing our conversation, thankfully. “It’s not like I’m unhappy, exactly, but I also – this was never my plan, you know? I had a career I wanted, that my parents supported me, and helping Lynn sort of rekindled that. But now I’m all mixed up as far as what that means. I don’t want to just leave you guys, and I do feel like this is important, but – I just don’t know.”
I let that sink in for a bit. “You don’t have to be the one to help us in the field, Jo. Maybe it’s time for you to consider something else. Maybe you could go back to school like you wanted, maybe you could work with Gil, even – counseling supernaturals who’ve lost family due to Hunters, even. Maybe not, maybe that’s too close to home, but I think you also might be able to connect better with people who need psychological help from stuff like that.”
She was clearly turning the idea over in her mind, but didn’t look totally convinced nonetheless. “I don’t know if I’m still the person who could be a therapist, to be honest. Psychology interests me and I want to be able to help, but – but I’ve held onto that anger for so long. It’s normal for demons, really. I guess we just tend to have a lot of anger simmering, and now I’m not sure if I can let it go. Even if I want to.”
The fact that she was thinking about whether she wanted to told me she probably did. “Then maybe you need to be your first patient,” I suggested. “Well, other than Lynn. Figure out how to use psychology to help yourself. Let us be your soundboard or accountability partners if you need them. But if you don’t want to be the angry demon killing Hunters anymore? That’s okay.”
She gave me a slightly incredulous look. “It’s not exactly okay, though. I feel like I’d be leaving you guys in the lurch. You can’t convince me that Cynthia can do what I do and it’d be too much of a strain on you and George to try to do it all yourselves.”
I glanced back over to George, who was happily fiddling away on the exoskeleton. “Or maybe we need to rethink our plan entirely,” I admitted quietly. “Or recruit more people. I’m not sure, but don’t let that stand in your way of being who you want to be. We can figure out how to deal with that.”
Jo crossed her arms, looking a mixture of pissed off and confused, so I decided to leave her to it. She clearly needed time to think, and maybe I did, too. Not just about the future of what I wanted to do, but I needed to come up with plans for how to do our job without Jo or George if they both decided to leave. I needed to be able to convince them that they could do what they really wanted and we’d be okay if they left.
It might be a lot harder without them, but there had to be a way to make this work and let them be what they really wanted to be at the same time.
“Cynthia,” I began without preamble a few days later, “is there some sort of witch potion or poison or something we could give Hunters, maybe that would take effect in a few days and look like a heart attack? Or something else natural?”
She paused and looked up from her computer, then shut it and set her glasses aside. “You’re trying to come up with a way to do this without George and Jo.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nodded as I sat down. “You’ve seen it as well as I have. Jo is dying to pursue her first love, and now that she’s letting her armor crack, it’s breaking. She won’t want to stay. And George – George will say he does because he wants to be there for us, but he doesn’t. He loves robotics, you can tell. I don’t want to force either of them to stay.” I rested my forearms on my knees, feeling broody. “I can’t accept it if they decide to stay when I know that’s not what they really want.”
“It’s hardest for you.” Cynthia’s tone was blunt. “You hate this job more than any of the rest of us, don’t pretend. And you have a much more limited lifetime – well, most likely, although given our current occupations, that’s really not guaranteed. Point is, it’s a lot easier for us to stick with something for 20, 30, even 40 years and then choose another career, but for you, that’s going to be a big enough chunk of your life, that just can’t happen. You’re in your 30s now. You’re not old, even by human standards, but most humans your age think about settling down. You’ve never even dated since you started working with us.”
“I did back in high school,” I answered automatically. That was some of the reason Cynthia wanted us to reconsider? To allow me time to have a “normal” human life and family? “And I haven’t particularly missed it.” When she raised a clearly doubtful eyebrow, I sighed and threw up my hands. “I’ve never felt one way or the other about kids. Of my own, I mean. Like wanting them or not, it was just…whatever. Sort of assumed I’d have some eventually when I was younger, because that’s what people usually do, right? But it’s not like I’m dying to have kids. A partner – that does sound nice, you know. Having someone supporting you and being there for you, even for little stuff that’s not important to anyone but you, but they care because it’s important to you. That idea I like, but realistically?” I ran a hand through my hair. “I can’t date humans, not when I do this, and supernaturals are going to be really iffy about me. Even if they decide to trust me, they might feel like they have to help if they started dating me, and I don’t want that. I don’t want people to feel like they have to do this just because I am. It’s my choice, I don’t want to drag others into it.”
Cynthia shook her head a bit. “It’s not really your choice, August. Don’t give me that, and don’t start frowning at me, I can out-glower you in a second.” She glared at me as if to prove her point. “You do it because you feel like you have to. We need a human for our setup to work, and we don’t know any other humans we could entrust with this, not to mention that the human also has to be good under pressure, good at martial arts, good at lying, good at a lot of things. It’s a fairly limited skillset and you’re one of a handful of humans who not only has it, but has our interests at heart. Sure, there are probably other humans out there that could do the same thing, but finding them and convincing them would be hard. You know that, and I think that’s why you don’t leave. Because don’t tell me you want to do this, we all know how much you hate it. You have a soft heart, you really don’t like killing anyone, even when they’re monsters.”
I winced a little. “It’s a necessary evil,” I started.
“But an evil nonetheless,” she interrupted. “That’s how you see it, and, well, you’re not entirely wrong. Look, August, obviously I don’t want to see you go because yeah, that would sort of end the setup as we know, but you’re over here worried about making sure George and Jo know they can leave if they want – but you’re not allowing yourself the same permission.”
I slid down in the chair, resting the back of my head against the low back. “If I left, I’d always feel guilty that there are more Hunters out there who would be hunting down innocent supernaturals and I could have stopped them.”
“Hmm.” She got up and shuffled over to me, patting my head in an awkward mothering sort of way. “Everyone who retires or leaves jobs that involve protecting people probably feel like that. Military, police, doctors – there’s always more people out there to help. But at some point, you have to pass the torch. At some point, you have to realize that it’s not all on you to save the world. At some point, you have to remember to save yourself, too.”
She headed out, leaving me alone to ponder her words.