The breathing did not alter as Lyssa waited, uncertain and scared. In the waiting, her eyes adjusted to the dark, and she saw a human form in the bed that stood as its twin had in the other room. His breathing did not alter; he didn’t move at all, and, running on instinct, her body tense, she flipped the switch.
A man lay in the hospital-style bed, bald, well-muscled, and eerily still save for the slow, even breaths of one in deep sleep. When he didn’t react to the light, Lyssa began to ease into the room, watching him closely. Something about him seemed… off. Artificial. She stood two feet from the foot of the bed before she realized that it was his sleep that seemed unnatural, the breaths too evenly spaced, the body too still. She’d never seen someone on life support, but she imagined they’d look something like this, only this man was connected to no machines. He lay on top of the sheets still tucked with hospital corners, and he wore a shirt and pants in loose, white linen, his feet bare, and the hairs on her neck rose as she remembered meeting Ji in an outfit like that one.
“You should not be here.”
She gasped and whirled around to find Ji in the doorway, watching her, his expression impassive.
“I—” No excuse came to her, no explanation both credible and innocent. Her heartbeat pounded in her temples, and she realized that her hand had gone to her throat. She dropped it and, at a loss, could only stare at him. Her body felt both light and heavy, and she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet, thoughts skittering as she acknowledge how little she knew of this man, this powerful, silent man who now stood between her and the only exit.
Ji stepped forward into the room but stopped when Lyssa stepped back, keeping the distance between them. “You should not be here,” he said again, “but I will not harm you.” Slowly, deliberately, he moved sideways into the room, clearing the way to the door while still keeping his distance.
Lyssa studied him as he stood silent now, letting her take his measure with not sign of impatience or agitation despite the admonition of his words. He frightened her, yes, but as her heart calmed she realized she didn’t feel threatened by him. Strange how the distinction had never occurred to her before.
Still, better to be cautious even as her curiosity waxed and her fear waned. She turned enough to keep Ji in sight even as she glanced at the man on the bed. “Is he okay?”
That that should be her first thought surprised him. She stood as tense as a doe catching the scent of a wolf, and yet she worried for another. “Yes. He’s in an induced sleep is all.”
“Is he hurt?”
“Yes. And no.” He moved closer to the bed, keeping his eyes on Cale even as he watched her watching him in his peripheral. “He would be suffering from acute nausea were he conscious. He’s asked to sleep through it.”
“Who is he?”
“And who are you?”
He faced her then, startled to find her gaze suddenly piercing. Their steady intensity unnerved him, felt fierce and familiar and unknown all at the same time. “Ji.”
“You’re more than that.”
“Only as you are more than Lyssa.”
“I don’t want riddles.”
“Then don’t ask philosophical questions.”
Lyssa narrowed her eyes, but her shoulders relaxed, a minute shift that had Ji offering her a small smile. “You’re not related to Clare or Dan, are you?” she asked.
He considered, fleetingly, of lying. But something about her tugged at the truth of him, and he felt almost relieved to be unburdened of it. “I should insist that I am, but no. I am not.”
“Why shouldn’t you be honest about that?”
Ji didn’t answer right away, his gaze drawn to the unconscious Cale. He drew in a slow breath, wishing he’d had more time in her world before his had intruded. “Because it is safer that way.”
He sensed rather than saw her focus sharpen to a honed edge. “For who?”
“For us all.”