He considered his answer for a moment before he gave it. “Dissonant,” he said finally.
Another long pause. “Unstable.”
He shook his head. “Not the way you’re thinking,” he said, the shadow of a smile on his lips. “In music, consonant chords are points of arrival. Rest. There’s no tension,” he tried to explain. “Most pop music hooks are consonant, which is why most people like them. They’re catchy but interchangeable. Boring. Dissonant intervals, however, are full of tension,” he said, holding my gaze. “You can’t predict which way they’re going to go. It makes limited people uncomfortable—frustrated, because they don’t understand the point, and people hate what they don’t understand. But the ones who get it,” he said, lifting a hand to my face, “find it fascinating. Beautiful.” He traced the shape of my mouth with his thumb. “Like you.”
HIS WORDS WARMED ME THROUGH EVEN AS HE pulled his hand away. I was sure my face fell.
“Your parents,” he said, with a glance at the door.
I got it. But still. “I like hearing about your ability,” I said, my eyes on his mouth. “Tell me more.”
His voice was level. “What do you want to know?”
“When did you first notice it?”
When his expression shifted, I realized I had asked him that question before; I recognized that shuttered look. He was withdrawing again. Shutting down.
Shutting me out.
Something was going on with him, and I didn’t know what it was. He was growing distant, but he wasn’t gone yet. So I quickly said something else. “You saw me in December, after the asylum collapsed, right?”
“When I was hurt.”
“Yes,” he said again. To anyone else, he would have sounded bored. But I was learning, and now I recognized something else in his voice. Something that never fell from those reckless, careless, lips.
I was pressing up against something raw, and I wanted to know what it was.
“You’ve seen other people who were hurt,” I went on, keeping my tone even. “Four?”
Keeping my tone light. “Including Joseph.”
He nodded again.
And then I had an idea. I pinched my arm. I watched Noah to see if there was any reaction. There wasn’t, as far as I could tell.
I pinched it again.
He slitted his eyes. “What, exactly, are you doing?”
“Did you see me when I pinched myself?”
“It’s a bit hard to ignore you.”
“When you first told me you saw me,” I started, “in December, in the asylum—you said you saw what I was seeing, through my eyes. And when Joseph was drugged, you saw him through someone else’s eyes—the person who drugged him, right? But you didn’t have a—a vision just now, did you? So there’s some factor besides pain,” I said, studying his face as I spoke. “Don’t you want to know what it is?”
“Of course,” he said indifferently.
“Have you tested it?”
His eyes sharpened, then. “How could I? You’re the only one I’ve seen that knows.”
I held his stare. “We can test it together.”
Noah shook his head immediately. “No.”
“We have to.”
“No.” The word was solid and final and laced with something I couldn’t quite identify. “We don’t. There’s absolutely nothing at stake except information.”
“But you’re the one who said that whatever is happening to me is also happening to you—that was your argument for why I can’t be possessed, right?”
“Also because it’s stupid.”
I ignored him. “So figuring out how your ability works could help me figure out mine. And no one would get hurt—”
Noah’s expression grew very serious, and his voice grew dangerously quiet. “Except you.”
“It’s madness,” he said. He was completely still but completely on edge. “I’ve never regretted telling you the truth. Don’t make me start.”
“Don’t you want to know what we are?”
Something flickered behind his eyes, there and gone before I could identify it. “It doesn’t matter what we are. It matters what we do.” His jaw tightened. “And I won’t let you do that.”
Let? “It’s not just up to you.”
There was nothing but apathy in his voice when he finally spoke. “I’ll leave.”
“I’ve heard that before.” The second the words left my mouth I wished I could take them back. Noah’s expression was as smooth and colorless as glass.
“I’m sorry,” I started to say. But then a few seconds later, when Noah’s expression still hadn’t changed, I said, “Actually, I’m not. You want to go because I don’t agree with you? There’s the door.” I flung my hand dramatically, for emphasis.
But Noah didn’t leave. My outburst thawed whatever had frozen him, and his gaze slid over me. “I wish you had a dog.”
“Oh yeah?” I raised my eyebrows. “Why’s that?”
“So I could take it for a walk.”
“Well, I’ll never have a dog, because dogs are either terrified of me or hate me and you won’t help me figure out—”
“Shut up.” Noah’s eyes closed.
“You shut up,” I said back, quite maturely.
“No—stop. Say that again.”
“Say what again?”
“About dogs.” His eyes were still closed.
“They’re either scared of me or hate me?”
“Fight or flight,” Noah said as something clearly fit into place for him. “That’s it.”
“The difference between the humans and the animals that you’ve—you know,” he gestured. “When we went to the zoo and the insects died, it was because I nearly forced you to touch the ones that terrified you most. But once they were dead, I couldn’t push you anymore.”
He ran a hand over his mouth. “In the Everglades, you were terrified we wouldn’t reach Joseph in time, and so you eliminated what was in your way—you reacted—without needing to think.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “You were pushed, and unconsciously you pushed back.”