The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 30

Griffin smiled at him. “You can keep hitting him if you like.” That seemed to appease his old friend.

The mediums released each other’s hands, which broke the circle that bound Garibaldi. Griffin’s heart pounded hard in his chest as his enemy drifted toward the floor. He reached out for the Aether with that part of him deep inside that was connected and felt a tiny spark. A tingle in his fingertips and toes. Joy spread through his veins. He could feel the Aether. It hadn’t left him.

Let go. That’s what his mother had told him to do. All right. Instead of trying to command and control the Aether, he imagined opening a tiny door inside his soul and letting the Aether in—like opening a window to a summer breeze. Warmth blossomed in his chest.

“Griffin.” It was a whisper, but he still heard it. It was Finley, and he knew why she sounded so shocked. With that warmth he could feel life seeping back into his body. He could feel it burning in his eyes, and knew that she could see it.

Garibaldi saw it, too. “No, you don’t.” He threw a ball of energy at him. Griffin lurched out of the way, and almost fell. Another whisked past his head.

“Stand still,” The Machinist growled. Griffin would have chuckled if he wasn’t trying to stay alive.

Another ball came at him. He tried to dodge but his feet refused to move. He was still so weak from lack of food and water on top of everything else, that he couldn’t move fast enough. The ball struck him in the center of his chest, knocking him off his feet.

Finley shouted, but it wasn’t the scream of a hysterical woman. It was the cry of a warrior. She rushed toward Garibaldi.

“Sam!” Griffin shouted, struggling to his feet. His heart was pounding, blood racing. Underneath his fear for Finley he could feel his strength returning. His friend turned around at his shout and caught Finley in midstride, picking her up as if she were a child and holding her in the iron band of his arms so she couldn’t risk her fool neck.

Griffin stood and faced Garibaldi. “That felt good.”

The villain threw another ball and then another. Griffin didn’t dodge this time, and he didn’t fall down either. He let each sphere hit him and absorbed the energy into himself. It felt good. By the time Garibaldi caught on, Griffin felt almost hopeful.

“What are you?” Garibaldi demanded with a scowl. The Machinist held out his arms. Aetheric energy danced along his skin like electricity. What was left of the house began to tremble once more. God only knew what he was calling forth this time. If Griffin didn’t act now he might not get another shot.

He looked at Sam and then at Finley. She looked terrified as their gazes locked. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and kept his attention on her as he stretched out his own arms. The crackle started at his fingers and shot up each arm to his shoulder. Then, he felt it snake up his legs, pooling somewhere behind his stomach. It was scary as hell but he didn’t try to stop it, even though every instinct demanded he do just that.

The house shook harder. Bits of ceiling fell down around him as books toppled and furniture collapsed. Was this from him or Garibaldi? He couldn’t tell. The Machinist floated off the floor, his eyes glowing blue, sparks dancing on his skin. “Say goodbye to everyone you love, Griffin King.” His voice echoed ominously.

Griffin only smiled. Damn, but this was incredible. It felt as though his skin were dancing. He could feel the universe in his head, hear the flapping of angels’ wings roaring in his ears, and still the Aether came to him, filled him. He could feel his soul expanding, feel the pressure building as he let the energy rush in. He felt like a rag doll about to come apart at the seams.

He looked at Finley again. He couldn’t take much more of this. It was too much, and he wanted it too badly. “I love you,” he told her. “Ipsley, now!”

He waited until he heard her shout, saw her start to fade. Only when he knew she was going to make it did he finally give up his control.

He let go.

Chapter Seventeen

Finley came back into the world of the living with a scream that threatened to shatter her own eardrums. The last thing she had seen as Griffin tossed her out of the Aether were arcs of lightning sparking all around him as his eyes glowed an intense bright blue.

And then there had been nothing but light. Light that came from inside of Griffin. Light so pure and beautiful and terrible that there was no way he could have survived it.

She tore out of the suit, ripping it to shreds in her grief. She was like some sort of wild dog and she didn’t care. She crushed the helmet in her hands, rejoicing as the glass cut her palms. The pain was something she could focus on. She snapped tubing and ripped off knobs and dials. Blood ran down her arms and slicked her fingers, making them too slippery to do any more damage. That’s when she switched to fists.

But before she could smash anything, strong arms closed around her again—just as they had in the Aether. Sam, the Judas. She pummeled him with her fists and feet, used ever vile word she could think of against him, and still he held her. He even told her it was all right, to just let it out.

Bastard. She punched him in the shoulder as hard as she could. The impact jarred her all the way up to her jaw. Of course she would hit the arm that was metal beneath the skin. He grunted, and staggered backward, but still didn’t let go. Eventually, the fight drained out of her, and she went limp in his arms, sobbing. Everyone had gathered around her and she didn’t care. She had no shame; she was too heartbroken. She was numb, but inside she screamed in pain. How did anyone ever survive this sort of grief?

“Mary and Joseph.” It was Emily. A collective gasp rose from around her, including Sam. She felt his partially mechanical heart skip a beat. His arms went slack around her, so it was easy to push away and turn to see what everyone was looking at.

It was Griffin. Standing there in the middle of the ballroom, clutching her father’s shield as though nothing had ever happened, looking fresh as a spring daisy.

Finley almost fell down. Then her brain reestablished contact with her body and she ran to him instead. She threw her arms around him and hugged him while pressing her lips to his jaw. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but this time they were tears of joy. And when his arms closed around her she couldn’t help but smile.

“I thought I had lost you,” she whispered.

He kissed her hair. “I’m not that easy to get rid of, love. You ought to know that.”

They stood that way for what felt like forever before the others joined them. Finley had to let him go so his friends could welcome him back. Even Jack shook his hand. Mila picked him up and swung him around as if he were a child, which made everyone laugh.

Finally, when they’d all had a chance to rejoice at his return, Sam asked what they were all wondering. “What happened?”

Griffin raked a hand through his already disheveled hair. It was a familiar gesture, one he often made, but Finley was stupidly happy to watch him do it. “My mother told me I had to let go. I thought she meant my control, but she really meant my fear. For years I’ve fought the Aether, tried to manipulate it and contain it. What I didn’t realize was that it’s in me. It’s as much a part of me as my skin. I wasn’t controlling it so much as denying it. Once I let it in... It was incredible. I’ve never felt so alive.”

“Garibaldi?” Jasper asked.

“He’s gone. I unleashed a wave of power that left nothing but a very small part of him in its wake.”

Everyone went still. They were all thinking the same thing—Finley could see it. “What did you do with that small part?” she asked.

He picked up her father’s shield. “It’s in here. Thomas absorbed it. He offered to stay in the Aether and guard it, but I had a suspicion that I could bring it into this realm with me.”

Finley swallowed. “My father. Is he...?”

Griffin smiled sympathetically. “He moved on. I think he went to the same place as my mother. He gave me this to give to you.” He offered her a folded piece of paper.

“You brought it back, as well.”

He shrugged. “It seems that I’m able to take this realm into the Aether and vice versa.”

She stared at him. She wasn’t quite afraid of him at that moment, but she awe. That was it. She closed her fist around her father’s note. Her mind couldn’t make sense of all of this, couldn’t understand how Griffin could be so powerful, or how he had gone from death to so very much alive in what seemed like minutes.

But then time was different in the Aether.

“So, The Machinist is done?” Mila asked. “Forever?”

“He is,” Griffin replied. “I think we’ll put what’s left of him in a safe place just to be certain.”

“Like the bottom of the ocean,” Sam remarked.

They all chuckled, but there wasn’t one among them who thought it a bad idea.

“You must be exhausted, laddie,” Emily spoke up. “You should get some rest.”

Griffin glanced around at all of them. “Actually, I’m starving. Who wants supper?”

* * *

It was hours before Finley and Griffin were finally alone. After a meal with their friends, and after the mediums had taken their leave—after Griffin’s heartfelt thanks—they’d all helped seal her father’s shield in a lead chest and buried it beneath the fountain in the back garden—far away from any automatons or machines, just in case. Sam had then set a huge statue of a half-naked Greek lady on top of the spot. It would take a little while before they would all truly believe The Machinist was gone, even though they knew it was true. After their connection, and with the connection he now shared with the Aether, Griffin would know if there was anything of Garibaldi left out there.

Once that was done, they separated into their pairs and said good-night. Jasper and Wildcat went off to the room they shared in the house, followed by Sam and Emily. Emily had gotten a little emotional after a glass of wine at dinner and not only told Griffin how much he meant to her, but how much he meant to everyone else, as well. When she burst into tears, Sam took her wine away and gave her a hug.

Jack and Mila took their leave after that. While Mila hugged Griffin like a long-lost sibling, Jack held out his arms for Finley.

“I’m happy for you, Jack,” she whispered.

He smiled at her. It was a good look for him. He ought to do it more often. “I’m happy for you, too.”

“Someday, will you tell me what you said to Blackhurst?”

His grin grew as he released her. “Maybe.” Then he took Mila by the hand and off they went.

“So,” Griffin said when they entered their own room and closed the door. “Jack and Mila?”

“I know!” Finley squealed. “Can you believe it?”

He seemed to consider it. “Actually, it makes an odd sort of sense to me.”

“Oh, now that you are one with the universe and heavens and all that?” she teased.

He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into his arms. “No. I mean that I can see how they’d make it work. He needs a little happiness and goodness in his life, and Mila is nothing but. Mila needs someone who will love her just as she is, and Jack, for all his faults, is one of the least judgmental people I’ve ever met.”

Finley wrapped her arms around his neck. “You’re spending too much time thinking about Jack and Mila and not nearly enough time kissing me.”

An error he immediately remedied. And then some. It had been such an emotional few days that they were both needy and urgent. Clothes scattered as fingers stroked and touched, unable to get enough of each other. It was as though both needed some sort of physical assurance that the other was indeed real. Afterward, they lay entwined under the covers, Finley with her head in the crook of Griffin’s shoulder.

“I read the note from my father.”

He tilted his head to look at her. “When?”

“While you were digging the hole in the garden.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She ran her fingers over his chest, just enjoying the feel of him, so thankful that he was there with her. “He said that he’d remained behind for so long because he wanted to watch over me, and that he finally felt that he could move on knowing that I had you to depend on.”

He kissed her forehead. “That you do. Although, I thought you were going to murder me when I made you wake up.”

Finley came up on her elbow. “Me murder you? I thought you committed suicide, you great idiot! You were all tragic and self-sacrificing.”

He made a strangled sound that was something between a laugh and a gasp. “You heartless wench! I was trying to make a grand gesture.”

“You scared me half to death.”

“Only half? For a few seconds I went the whole way.”

Her merriment faded into a hard lump in her throat. “If you had died I was prepared to die, too.”

He frowned. “To be with me?”

She nodded.

“Finley, that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said!”

“Oy! It was a grand gesture.” She was able to make the joke because she knew he wasn’t really mad at her—well, he was, but he would have felt the same way. “What I’m trying to tell you, Griffin King, is that I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have you in it.” She drew a deep breath and summoned all her courage. “I love you.”

Time seemed to stop. He just stared up at her. A swath of her hair fell over her shoulder onto his chest and he didn’t even blink.

“Griffin? Did you hear me?”

“I did,” he answered without a change in expression. “I’m just waiting to see if maybe I died after all, because this certainly feels like heaven.”

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