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Nuée Ardente

The winds rose up around Suzanne and Josh. She didn't know whether Simon was alive or dead, and all she could do was fold up to protect her head from flying debris and try not to cry.

"I don't understand you," Josh was saying, the ferocious heat of his own personal sun beating on her as surely as the wind. "I've crossed hundreds of light-years of space to come back to you. Any normal wife would be thrilled to see her long-missing husband. Any good wife."

She looked up at him and felt her control slip wildly out of her mouth. "You haven't been missing!" she screamed. "You've been lying in your goddamn room with a goddamn feeding tube in you for ten goddamn years!"

Josh looked startled. "I... but I haven't been there. I've never been there. The backlash knocked me out into space."

Suzanne mustered a pitying look. "The backlash knocked you out of your body."

"That bastard!" Josh exclaimed, turning his gaze away from her and showing more expression than he had before. "That little bastard! He tried to kill me. He threw me away like trash!" Then he looked back at her, his electric blue gaze going straight through her in a way that made her feel like she ought to be crisping around the edges. "And you were going to leave me for him. For him," he said. "But I won. I'm here now, and you're here, and he's dead, and we're going to live happily ever after."

His smile made her go cold all down her spine. "Josh," she said, trying to sound intensely reasonable, "I was going to leave you. I was going to leave you then. And now it's been ten years, and I don't want you back."

"That's ridiculous," he said, opening his arms wide. "Look at me. I'm the perfect man. I made myself the perfect man for you."

The cold turned to ice water in her veins at something in his tone. "When did you make yourself 'the perfect man'?"

He looked annoyed, able to hear the quotes in her voice. "Back then, of course."

She froze from toes to skull. "You took the Godstuff?"

He smiled. "Of course."

Suzanne stared at him, her mouth going dry, feeling like her grip on sanity was getting all sweaty again. "Then... Mitch was trying to stop you. Not the other way around."

"Is that how people remember it?" Josh laughed. "I guess Mitch was more of a bad boy than me."

"And you killed him." She didn't even ask.

"I killed him," Josh said, his smile broad and terrifying. His voice dropped menacingly. "And I shredded his mind and soul as I did it. So he couldn't ever come back."

Suzanne wasn't surprised to realize that she was crying. Her throat hurt with the effort of not screaming.

The wind was shrieking in a cyclonic wall around them. Suzanne couldn't see out of it, but she did see the giant green-gloved hand punching through it. She ducked, covering her head again.

When nothing happened, she peeked through her fingers. Josh was looking up at the hand, which hovered inches from him. Then he gestured, and the hand flew back out beyond the wall.


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