Val would have given anything to leave the room, but she forced herself to stay. For one thing, she’d lose Blueblood’s respect if he thought the Black Valentine couldn’t stomach watching someone get tortured. But more importantly, this was her fault. She hadn’t been able to break through Dave’s mental shields, so she could at least bear witness to the price he was paying for her failure.
Joey had stepped into the kitchen behind the bar earlier, rolled up his sleeves, and pressed his forearms to a hot stove to put himself in enough pain that he’d be strong enough to hold Dave’s head under. Even with Werecat’s help and Dave in chains, it was a struggle. The two men crouched awkwardly over Dave’s kneeling position, their hands grasping his arms, shoulder, and head. Dave bucked and thrashed beneath them, but it wasn’t enough to throw them off. Not since Madame Morphine had gone up to him before the torture started, leaving him conscious enough to experience it but in enough of a stupor to have trouble fighting back.
When Dave’s movements began to slow, they pulled him out and threw him back onto the floor. Dave hit it hard, his head rolling back, and immediately started coughing up water. His eyes were squeezed shut, his shoulders curled in, every inch of his body language screaming torment. He looked frail, a word she’d never associated with him before. She should have scorned that show of weakness, but the world seemed to have turned upside down. She wanted to go to him. She wanted to hold his head in her lap, smooth back his wet brown hair from his face, and make sure none of these bastards touched him again.
Val hurt. She could blame some of that on her telepathy, on how she could psychically feel his pain and physical shock, but that didn’t explain her nausea or the ache in her heart.
“We should take a break.” Giordano looked down at Dave’s trembling form impassively.
“Oh, but we’re just getting started!” Blueblood exclaimed, looking in the same direction with wicked glee.
Val was going to kill him. She’d been planning on killing him from the start, but now she was going to do it with feeling.
“He’s right,” she said, struggling to keep her voice flat. “Keep oxygen from him much longer, and you’ll give him brain damage. Then I won’t be able to get anything from him.”
“You ready for round two, then?” Blueblood asked.
Val arched her eyebrows. “You want me to jump inside the head of a man who just stopped being tortured five seconds ago? And here I thought you liked me, Raf.”
“Ah, would that be unpleasant?” He glanced back at Dave. “It would, wouldn’t it? Alright, then. How about we pick this up in half an hour? I need to make some calls, anyway.”
“And I need a drink.”
Madame Morphine and Werecat were left on guard duty, and Joey followed Val and Blueblood out. The first thing Val noticed when they got back to the main room was JB’s black eye and split lip.
“Cleto?” Blueblood asked, seeing the same thing.
“He disrespected me,” Cleto grunted.
Instead of shouting all about Cleto’s embezzling, JB remained silent and fiddled with the edge of his sleeve.
Blueblood frowned, but the expression was fleeing. “Well, teenagers will be teenagers,” he said. “Mr. Dupree, any visions of a SWAT team bursting in here?”
“Carry on, then.”
Blueblood walked through the door to the kitchen, presumably to find a phone. Val tore her gaze from the blood on JB’s lower lip and walked behind the bar. She rifled through the bottles and supplies and poured herself a gin and tonic. After downing it in a few quick gulps, she poured herself another one, took the time to garnish it with a wedge of lime, and set it on the counter for later. Then she started searching the cabinets for a plastic bag.
“Up for a game?” Cleto asked Joey.
Joey glanced at Val.
“Go ahead,” she said.
The two men walked to one of the tables, and soon the sound of balls knocking into each other could be heard as Joey racked. Val located the plastic bags, filled one with ice, and walked back around the bar to sit next to JB.
“Here,” she said, pushing the icepack into his hands.
He took it wordlessly and pressed it to his swelling black eye.
What happened? she asked telepathically. You backed down. I told you to—
Stop it. The force behind his thoughts was the firmest she’d felt from him yet. Just stop. I don’t want any more advice.
You need my advice if you’re going to survive here—
You’re the reason I’m here in the first place! His grip on the icepack tightened, grinding the cubes together. You kidnapped me. Your dad gave me to Blueblood. This is your fault, so stop pretending you want to help me.
His condemnation would have been more effective if he could block off his mind from her, keep her from feeling his hurt and fear. Or maybe that was the most effective part of it. Val took a sip of her gin and tonic and watched Joey lean over the table and take the break shot, sending the balls careening off each other with a loud crack. JB was right; it was her fault, but she wouldn’t apologize, and she wouldn’t explain herself. It wasn’t like the kid would understand, anyway.
Val had goals. Forget Blueblood, and forget the Fox Woman. The Black Valentine was going to be the greatest supervillain the world had ever seen, but it wouldn’t happen overnight. She had to work for it. She had to prove to her father that she could take over the family business. She had to hold her own with Blueblood and the Fox Woman, show that she was every bit as shrewd and powerful as they were. And then, when her enemies were in ashes and those who’d doubted her were kissing her feet, she could do whatever she wanted.
Because that was why Val had become a supervillain in the first place: to do whatever she wanted. And yet…she didn’t want to leave JB like this, and she definitely didn’t want to hurt Dave. She was doing it because she had to in order to achieve her goals, but….
She stared down into her drink and thought. The bittersweet taste of the gin and tonic lingered on her tongue, and the wheels of her mind turned. Joey and Cleto continued their game, Cleto cursing as a ball bounced off the side instead of falling into the pocket. JB set down the icepack and gingerly touched his eye. And in the back room beyond her view, guarded by two supervillains, Dave lay on the floor breathing unsteadily, his muscles sore and trembling.
Val downed the rest of her glass in a few quick gulps. Screw this. Dave wasn’t going to die. She wouldn’t let him. Simple as that. It wasn’t the smart thing to do, and it wasn’t the villainous thing to do, but what was the point of being the Black Valentine if she couldn’t break the rules? And she might not have to sacrifice her goals to save him. If she pulled it off right, she could have her cake and eat it, too.
Misgivings made her pause. It was the same feeling she used to get as a child before doing something she knew her father wouldn’t like: the fear that things would go wrong, and she would pay for it painfully. She forced the doubts away, her mind made up.
It was rushed and risky, but the Black Valentine had a plan.
I promise I like Dave and JB’s characters. I do terrible things to them because they’re my favorites. 😉
Sorry this is late again. The school year is almost over, and then I’ll have that strange, forgotten thing called “free time.”