Catwoman soulstealer, p.29
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.29

           Sarah J. Maas
 
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  He sucked in a breath, legs bending, fighting past the pain as he prepared to lunge.

  Something hissing and metal thumped and slid down the hallway behind the assassins.

  Spewing smoke.

  Instantly, the hall was full of it. The assassins whirled, daggers flying.

  Onyx got a lungful and went down, crumpling to the cracked, blood-streaked tiles.

  Rictus stayed up. He must have had some sort of toxin immunity as part of his training—that even Onyx had not received.

  Rictus whirled, swords angled upright, as Poison Ivy emerged from the smoke. One of Luke’s fallen batarangs in her hands.

  The assassin glanced between them. Ivy didn’t take her gaze off Rictus, her bloodied face pale as she said to Luke, “Help her.”

  He didn’t object. Whirling toward the door behind him and throwing the lock, his body barking in agony with each movement, he got through the door. He locked it from within, glancing through the window in time to see Ivy beckon to the seething assassin. Rictus’s sword lifted in answer.

  Luke scanned the room.

  The machines were on. The platform was dripping dark liquid at the edge of the pool. And the girl now sitting up atop it, soaked…

  She rubbed at her face, made a small sound at the thick liquid coating it, her hands. Her hospital gown and body.

  Luke said nothing, barely breathing as he compared the healthy girl now sitting up with the wrecked, wasted body he’d seen moments before. She started, as if realizing it, too, a hand going to her chest.

  Maggie Kyle sucked in a long, deep breath. Marveling. Glancing at the pool, the factory around her, her brown brows knotting as she twisted the other way, toward the machines—

  Luke spotted Selina at the same moment Maggie did.

  A limp, lifeless body by the third machine. Her emerald eyes staring up at the ceiling. Unseeing. Unblinking.

  Maggie’s sob cleaved the room.

  Cleaved Luke’s chest apart.

  Feet slipping on the tiles, skin slick with that liquid, Maggie hurtled for her sister.

  For Selina, lying on the floor.

  Dead.

  Maggie was sobbing as she shook Selina’s shoulders. As she stared into those lifeless eyes, the bloodless face.

  Luke’s head was empty. Silent.

  It hadn’t been this silent since that day in the desert. The memories pushed in, swarming, his chest seizing—

  She’d known. That she was running on empty. That this pool had only enough resources for one.

  And this woman, through every lie she’d fed him, every taunt and deception…Luke pushed back against the panic creeping over him, the flashes of desert sun and blood. Stay here.

  He wasn’t sure if his silent order was to himself or Selina.

  Maggie laid her head on Selina’s bloody chest, as if searching for any hint of a heartbeat. Her green eyes—the same as her sister’s—met Luke’s. No shock or surprise filled them upon seeing him, seeing Batwing. Just that panicked, despairing grief.

  Do something. Luke pivoted, scanning the warehouse. Basic training had taught him a few medical tricks, ways to keep injured soldiers alive until they could get to a field hospital or the doctors could reach them.

  If her heart had stopped, he could pull apart the wires on one of the machines, somehow get a safe-enough current going, and maybe—

  The door blew open, and Luke whirled, hand going to his remaining batarang. But it was Ivy. Panting, bloody, but—alive. No sign of Rictus.

  Her attention went right to Selina. Then she noticed Maggie, who lifted her head, still unfazed by the company she now kept.

  But Luke watched the realization dawn on Ivy as she behld Maggie’s emerald eyes, her now-healthy limbs.

  As she understood who Maggie was. What all of this had been for.

  Ivy stalked forward as if in a daze. “A Lazarus Pit,” she whispered, scanning the machinery, the pool, and the few feet of liquid remaining at its bottom.

  Ivy stopped at his side. Luke breathed, the only explanation he could muster against the panic crushing his chest, “Maggie was dying. If we can get the wires on the machines exposed, we could restart her heart—”

  Maggie faced them. The machines and the pool. “Use it to save her.”

  Luke studied the pool at the same time Ivy did. Ivy said, “There’s not enough liquid in there.”

  “Try it,” Luke said roughly.

  “Please,” Maggie begged.

  The same word her sister had uttered. Her broken plea for mercy—to save the person Selina loved more than her life. Her very soul, it seemed.

  Ivy glanced to the pool again, to the machines. With the lingering chemicals and toxins, the natural charge of the ley line…Ivy’s eyes were darting, as if calculating it, too.

  “It’s a slim chance,” Ivy said, but already strode to the machines.

  “Take it,” Luke said, Maggie backing away on her hands and knees as he scooped Selina’s lifeless body into his arms. He’d have tried it himself, but his mind was spinning, his body barking in pain, every movement an effort—

  Picking her up, the blood on her…He’d done this before. That day. He’d carried a dead friend—

  He breathed and breathed, working through the memories, the way his body clammed up against him. Ivy flicked a few switches, studying and assessing.

  “Hurry,” Maggie whispered, rising to her feet and standing between two machines.

  “I’m going as fast as I can,” Ivy said through her teeth, hands flying over the machines. “Right,” she declared. “Put her on the platform.”

  Clenching his jaw against the pain, forcing himself to take deep, soothing breaths, Luke did so. Selina’s hair spilled over the edge, her too-pale face still staring up at the ceiling. Lips white as death.

  As death—because she was dead.

  The thought clanged through him. He barely noticed Ivy flying through the network of machines, flipping switches and pumping levers. “A manual charge for the depleted ley line,” Ivy muttered. “Clever kitty.”

  Because, as Ivy hauled herself into the lever in the machine, pumping it once, twice…those were white sparks beginning to flicker in the liquid pool below.

  Ivy finished, darting to the next machine. “Red or green?”

  “Green,” Luke said, struggling to remember words over the roaring in his head. “Green means go.”

  Ivy cut him a look that said, Duh, and hit the green button.

  The pool shuddered and groaned. Maggie let out a low whimper.

  “Is she secure?” Ivy asked him, jerking her chin toward Selina and the platform as she gripped a toggle stick that no doubt controlled the levers to move it into the pool.

  Luke peered down at the lifeless face, gently closing Selina’s eyes as a panel slid up to reveal the lower half of his face. He leaned in, brushing a kiss over her mouth before he murmured into her ear, “Please.”

  “I’ll take that as a yes,” Ivy said, and the platform swung away, Selina’s body jostling with it. Her body—her body—

  In and out, deep and calming, he breathed through the panic, the feeling of the walls pushing in.

  Ivy shifted the lever, and the platform lowered. Farther and farther into the depleted tank, the rusty sides encompassing her. Heading for the too-shallow sliver of liquid at the bottom.

  Dark liquid seemed to rise up to meet her. Swallow her whole.

  It covered her—barely.

  “Now what?” Maggie breathed, coming to Ivy’s side as she hovered over the machine. Light flared, bright and blinding, from the water.

  “I don’t know,” Ivy admitted.

  But the liquid was dissolving, as if Selina had absorbed it, as if its usage, the charge of the ley line, evaporated it—

  Bit by
bit, her body appeared. The blood had been washed away, revealing the hole in the shoulder of her suit.

  Ivy slammed a hand into the lever, raising the platform up as the last of the liquid vanished. Closer and closer, Selina came.

  The skin beneath that hole in her suit…healed. Smooth.

  The color had returned to her face.

  But her heartbeat, her chest…

  His helmet scanned her.

  No life signs.

  None.

  The platform swung toward them, groaning as it stopped. Luke moved, hauling her off it, setting her down on the floor, his body numb and distant.

  He couldn’t endure this again. He wouldn’t endure this again—

  “Selina,” Maggie pleaded. “Selina.”

  She did not move. Her eyes did not open.

  Ivy reached for her wrist. “No pulse.”

  The wounds had healed, but nothing else. His stomach churned and rose up his throat. Not again, not again, not again—

  “She’s not breathing,” Maggie said, pushing past Ivy, kneeling at her sister’s side. “She needs help!”

  Without waiting, Maggie rose up on her knees, interlaced her hands, and set them over Selina’s chest. Pumping once, twice—Luke lost count before she tipped back her sister’s head, blew a breath into her mouth, waited. Went back to pumping her chest. Her heart.

  Nothing.

  Ivy was pale. Unblinking as she stared down at Selina. At Maggie, performing CPR. Giving her new, unfaltering breaths to her sister.

  It hadn’t worked. The pool—it hadn’t worked. And Selina…

  Maggie sobbed through her teeth. “Wake up.” Her curls bounced with every frantic push of her hands on Selina’s chest. “Wake up.”

  Luke didn’t quite feel his arms, his hands, as he reached for Maggie. “She’s g—”

  “Don’t you say it!” Maggie shouted, knocking his hand away. She breathed again into Selina’s mouth.

  Nothing.

  And at Maggie’s shouted words, something snapped into place. Settled and cleared in his head. Luke said to the girl, “Keep going. Don’t stop.”

  He scanned for the nearest cord to split open, to expose the wires and get a charge. He could restart her heart, risk the electrocution—

  Maggie went back to pumping, weeping as she spoke. “You fought for me every day, every hour.” Over and over, her hands slammed into Selina’s chest. “You came home with those bruises, you stole and you fought, for me. And when they brought me to Peter and Hiroki’s house, when I saw how nice it was, how nice they were, when you never came back…I knew you’d done that for me, too. The police said you went to prison, but I didn’t believe them. And I knew—I knew when the money came in last month, the bills all paid…I knew it was you. Somehow. I knew it was you.”

  Maggie blew another breath into Selina’s lifeless lungs.

  Across from her, tears slid down Ivy’s face as she silently watched. Luke lunged for the nearest power cord, opening up a panel on his suit arm to grab the small pair of wire-splicers.

  Maggie’s shoulders shook as she resumed pumping. “You fought for me, even when no one else would. You fought, and I love you.” Maggie sucked in a shuddering breath, sitting back on her heels. “Fight back,” she whispered. “One last time.”

  Selina’s chest did not move.

  Luke sliced down the plastic coating on the wires, revealing the tangle of metal beneath. A hollow, aching void filled him, silence pealing through his head.

  Maggie lunged, slamming a hand down onto Selina’s heart as she screamed, “FIGHT BACK.” Another slam of her hand, right over that silent heart. “FIGHT—”

  Selina’s body arced off the floor, eyes flaring wide.

  His helmet glowed with assessments and data that he ignored. Ignored as she gasped for breath, then coughed, curling on her side—

  Maggie threw her arms around her, shaking with the force of her sobbing. For a heartbeat, Selina just lay there, and Luke looked then—at his helmet’s monitors.

  To make sure the sudden stillness didn’t mean anything amiss.

  But there was her heartbeat, hammering steadily. The wire tumbled from his hands.

  Slowly, Selina’s arm rose, gently resting on Maggie’s back.

  Her younger sister pulled away, and Selina stared up silently into Maggie’s face.

  Those green eyes scanned over every curve and freckle, along every wild curl and plane of healthy, glowing skin.

  Tears began sliding out of the corners of Selina’s eyes.

  Maggie surged forward, hugging her again.

  This time, both of Selina’s arms came around her sister—and held tightly.

  Ivy asked, voice thick but clear, “Does this mean you have eight lives left?”

  The oak-lined street was awash with reds and golds and oranges, the sky a crisp blue above the fall splendor.

  Luke and Selina lingered in the shadows beneath one of the trees, monitoring the lovely white house across the way, the mums lining the path to the red-painted front door, the flower beds bursting with color beneath the wide windows and black shutters. As pretty a house as one could picture, on an equally beautiful street.

  Quiet, yet humming with life. Families out and about, kids shouting as they played backyard soccer. Luke and Selina leaned against the hood of the black SUV of the League assassins that they’d taken here, and he brushed his fingers against hers as they watched Maggie run up to the door and ring the doorbell. Once, twice. Bouncing on her toes, curls bobbing with her.

  Healthy. Healed. Whole.

  The door opened, an Asian man filling the space.

  He fell to his knees at the sight of Maggie. As she threw her arms around his neck and he grasped her tightly. A heartbeat later, a white man approached, tall and blond. He took one look at his husband, at the girl in his arms, and knelt, too. Wrapped his arms around both of them.

  Luke glanced sidelong at Selina.

  Silver lined her eyes, a smile, soft and yet full of joy, dancing upon her mouth. Full of life.

  He’d removed his helmet, his suit—and stood in the black athletic gear he wore beneath. But Selina…She still wore her torn battle-suit. Clean, but they were still shadows in this neighborhood. Slivers of the night. They did not belong.

  “You sure you don’t want to say hi?” Luke asked as Maggie and her dads rose to their feet, the men now looking the girl over with utter shock—and gratitude.

  Selina shook her head, focus never straying from the family that moved inside, the door shutting behind them. She and Maggie had made their goodbyes in the SUV moments ago. Maggie had tried to convince her sister to meet her adoptive parents, but Selina had gently refused. Her return would raise too many questions, potentially bring too many people sniffing around Maggie and her family.

  Maggie had cried, asking when she’d see her sister again. Luke had tried not to watch through the rearview mirror as Selina had kissed her sister’s cheek.

  “I’ll surprise you,” Selina had told Maggie. He’d never heard that voice, the tone she used with her sister. The softness. The kindness.

  “But when?” Maggie had frowned deeply.

  Selina had brushed a curl from Maggie’s face. “So bossy.”

  Maggie’s eyes welled again. “In a week?”

  Selina kissed her brow this time. “Soon.”

  “What about Friday night movies?”

  Joy—that was joy in Selina’s eyes. “Get settled again, Maggie. Then we’ll figure it out.”

  “Just come meet Hiroki and Peter. You’ll love them. Maybe they’ll adopt you, too—”

  Selina had chuckled. “You should go in. They’re worried sick.” She’d held her tightly. “We’ll see each other again soon. I promise.”

  With that, Maggie had reluctantly left
the car. She’d taken two trudging steps before she sprinted for the beautiful house. Where she was now safely ensconced.

  “She’s safer this way,” Selina said, staring at the now-shut front door.

  Luke studied her. “And what about Holly Vanderhees? What happens to her?”

  Selina faced him at last, mouth tightening. She said nothing.

  “When did you figure it out—who I am?” he asked.

  “That night on the balcony.”

  When he’d kissed her—or tried to. He lifted a brow. “So you’ll kiss Batwing but not Luke?”

  He could have sworn color bloomed on her cheeks. “That’s what you ask about? Not how death was, what I saw, but why I kissed one of your identities over the other?”

  “How was death, Selina?”

  “None of your business, that’s how it was.”

  Luke grinned, rubbing his jaw. “I mean it—what happens to Holly?”

  “Well, I’m sure she’ll mope over not getting easy access to the shellfish platters at all the galas….”

  Luke laughed as Selina strode for the passenger-side door and pulled the handle. She angled her head, hair spilling over her shoulder. “What do you think should happen to Holly?”

  “Well, her apartment is now a crime scene….”

  “Too bad.” She opened the door and sliding in. “There was so much money stowed in there.”

  Luke laughed again, coming around to the other side of the car and getting in. “Oh, I know.” He slid the keys into the ignition, but glanced over at her. She leaned against the side door, watching him. “So Holly Vanderhees vanishes…but what about Catwoman?” He lifted a brow. “Or does the cat become a Leopard again?”

  She let out an impressed laugh. “You really did your research.”

  “Like you, my computer skills are…above average.” She’d explained everything to him, to Maggie, on the drive here. What she’d done at the League, what she’d stolen. How she’d stolen it. He had a feeling she’d left out some gory, brutal details for her sister’s sake, but he’d filled in the gaps himself.

  “You’ve got the tats, don’t you,” Luke said, jerking his chin toward her arms.

  She only zipped down the front of her suit a bit, just far enough to peel it off her shoulder to reveal two splotches of black-lined purple. Black-and-purple leopard spots.

 
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