He woke up in a small cell, alone and scared. He had a bad bruise on the opposite cheek from the one he’d had one on last time, although this time it wasn’t quite a black eye. There was also a nasty bruise on his shin, a basically cylindrically-shaped one. He knew what had happened-Scythe had tripped him and knocked him out. He didn’t know what had happened to Shark or Jem, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
He got up and went to the small, open bathroom area they had put in the back of his cell. After using it, and splashing water on his face from the tiny sink, he stood on it to try to see over his cell wall-there was a small gap, about half an inch wide, that must have been left by mistake.
One side was empty, as far as he could tell, but the other held a bundle of cloth that could only be Shark. She was curled up in the fetal position, most likely asleep, and he called to her to try to get her attention. “Shark! Shark, wake up!”
She gazed up at him and almost knocked him from his perch. She looked absolutely terrible. Her eyes were bloodshot and her face was red. Tear tracks traced down her muddy cheeks. “Rek, she’s dead,” she said.
“Jessi?” he asked, his spirits falling.
“No,” she said, “Jem. Crystal, she…she… she told me last night. She let me see her die. I’ve been dreaming it all night long-the same ten seconds looping through my head.”
“Jem…how?” he asked. “How could…why?”
“I don’t know. The guy, the guy with the wings…” she paused. “Rek, he dropped her. Hundreds of feet. She…I think Jem surprised him somehow, and he let go. She fell through the school roof and they didn’t even go to look, they were so sure she was dead.”
“That b*****d,” Rek said, shocked.
“I don’t think he meant to,” sobbed Shark, “He tried to catch her, and he was so sad afterwards…”
“Why did they go after her? She was helpless!” Rek cursed again, stepping from the toilet seat and marching in a circle. “They didn’t even have to hurt her to catch her. Why’d he kill her?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!” wailed Shark. “I just know what Crystal let me see, and I would be happier not knowing at all!”
Rek sat down suddenly, hiding his face in his hands. “Oh man, this is horrible. We couldn’t let Jessi know even if we could tell her. We’re locked up and Jem’s dead! It’ll kill her.”
“It would,” agreed a new voice. “That’s terrible news. She was putting all her hopes on you-and so was I, if I tell the truth.”
Rek looked up. A sandy-haired man in his twenties stood at his cell door. “Chris?” he said, surprised. “You’re dead!”
“Let’s hope your friend is as dead as I was,” he said, sighing. “I’d heard that someone was killed but didn’t know she was with you. Is she a new recruit?” Chris added, nodding at Shark’s cell.
“Not really. Shark just kinda got thrown in.”
“And this Jem?”
“Chris, I found her myself! She was my first solo find! And…and…I let her die. I feel like I let everyone down.” Rek hung his head again. “After you left, a lot of things fell apart. Not just the vehicles-Rek took care of them after you—but a lot of little things. Angela…she’s rarely around anymore. And James-you know, the puppy-boy -he went after you, to find you, and never came back. Things got really tense. Razo left for a while, and by the time he came back, I had left. That’s why I found Jem-I was out on my own when the ISA started blowing stuff up.”
Chris shook his head. “I didn’t mean to upset you-I was sent undercover by Sir and-”
“One of my friends died! She was dropped from…from…from…I don’t know, a long way up!”
“Could she have just made it look like she’d died?”
“No! Chris, she didn’t even have her powers yet. She’s dead.”
Chris looked nervously up and down the hallway. “I can’t tell Jessi you’re here-it would kill her. She thinks you’re coming to save her.”
“Jessi’s here? In this prison?” Rek asked, surprised.
“Yeah, down on the fifth level, with the labs. Listen, I have to go now-they’ll be sending a patrol down here any minute now and I’m late as it is.”
He walked around the corner, his white coat billowing behind him, and Shark spoke again. “I don’t trust him.”
“He’s trustable-I’ve known him since I was little. I’d trust him with my life.”
“I won’t ever trust him, no matter what happens,” Shark proclaimed. “Not so long as he wears that uniform.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
“Don’t you recognize me?” she replied, turning her head slightly. I saw her scar-her very familiar scar- and gasped.
My hands opened from my surprise, and I watched her fall for a second, stunned, before I realized what I had done. “NO! Alex!”
I dove as fast as I could, but I couldn’t catch her. There was no way.
She didn’t try to save herself. She didn’t even scream. She just fell, face down, hair streaming behind her, tumbling through the air. I reached for her, stretching my hand one last time before I had to pull up, and my fingers brushed the ends of her hair.
I watched her break through the roof, bounce against the wall, and fall limply like a broken rag doll to the dirty floor.
I woke up, trying to keep myself from screaming. Every time I closed my eyes, it was the same scene, playing over and over again behind my eyelids. I couldn’t believe what I’d done.
I’d found her-I’d finally found Alex-and I’d killed her. I had worried so much about her being dead, and now I knew…Now I knew I had no one to blame but myself for her death.
I wanted to kill myself.
From the looks the others were shooting me, they shared my sentiments. Nobody sat anywhere near me on the plane, like I was contaminated. And I couldn’t feel mad at them because I agreed. I was contaminated.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get in trouble for it-the government would make some kind of excuse and I’d get off free. I wasn’t sure I wanted them to, though-it wasn’t like she was some faceless stranger. Heck, she hadn’t even struggled. It must have looked like I’d murdered her in cold blood to the others.
The last person in the world I wanted to be today was myself.
We were back in a military plane, as they figured there would be no great risk in letting us fly back in style if we had defeated our foes. Even now, the other two-the ones I hadn’t killed-were being shipped to the same high-security prison they had meant to break into in the first place. Why they’d wanted to break into it was unknown, but they’d probably just been trying to throw the ISA into chaos with all the criminals running free.
I caught myself dozing off again and slapped myself on the cheek to wake myself up. I didn’t want to see her fall again-each time, it felt as bad as the first time, when I’d really killed her.
I was a murder. Oh God, I was a murderer. I was just as bad as the people they…she…Alex… had been trying to break out of prison. No, I was worse. Most of them hadn’t even killed anyone. I ought to be going to prison right now instead of back to some fancy headquarters.
Nevermore had been glaring at me since we’d gotten on the ship, and I realized that I couldn’t meet his gaze. Instead, I ducked my head and covered it with my hands, drawing my wings around me to help silence the world. I felt my eyes and nose start to burn, and then I started to cry, dragging my wings even closer to hide my shaking shoulders and to muffle the sound. Alex was dead, forever. I was never going to see her again. And it was all my fault.
We came down for the landing and TG finally came out of the bathroom. She’d holed herself up in there for the whole flight back to Virginia and RfR. The clicking of the bathroom door caused me to look up, right into her eyes, and although we both looked away quickly, I could see that hers were red. She’d hidden in the bathroom to cry, it seemed.
Crystal was being really cold about Alex’s death, almost happy, although I couldn’t figure out why. It was like she didn’t care that Alex was dead-but then, she hadn’t known Alex. She could dismiss Alex’s death as that of a foe while I could not. Scythe, on the other hand, had gotten even darker and more depressed, if possible, and if I hadn’t felt so bad myself, I’d have been worried about her cutting herself. It wasn’t even like you could just keep sharp items away from her-her scythe was absorbed back into her if it was taken from her for any length of time, and all she had to do was reach out her arm to conjure it back up. That was where it had been on the way here, and where it was now-inside of her, somehow.
I closed my eyes and composed myself, trying to get myself to stop crying. It took a second, but I was able to keep myself from actively crying, although quiet tears kept sliding gently down my cheeks. Inside, I was a maelstrom of emotions, and not all of them could be completely concealed. But I had to try, had to put up a calm face to society, had to act normal. I didn’t know what my superiors would expect, but I knew that they would be shocked to learn how closely I had been connected to the…to Alex.
The plane set down with a quiet thump, then taxied around to the side, where a black SUV, emblazoned with the golden symbol of the ISA, was waiting. I stepped from the plane first and got quickly and numbly into the SUV, not bothering to hide my wings. The driver didn’t even look at me when I climbed in next to him, just waited until everyone got in and drove away. I rolled my window all the way up and hunched my shoulder so no one could see in, but looked out through the windshield rather than face the others. I was afraid I’d start crying again, this time in front of everybody, if I looked anyone in the eye. Right now, I was trying to detach myself from me, trying to lock my emotions away, so that I could bring them out at night when nobody was there, and cry without feeling embarrassed.
There was nobody waiting for us at the HQ, which usually meant we were going to be debriefed the next day. So we went to our separate changing rooms to get back into our street clothes. Normally, this was a quiet affair, given the size of the changing rooms and the number of kids involved, but not so today. You could hear the screaming coming from the girls’ room all the way in the back of the boy’s room.
I turned my back to Nevermore as I slipped back into my jeans and pulled my shirt over my head. “The girls’re being loud today,” I ventured.
A foot smacked hard against my head, knocking me to the floor. I flared my wings, caught completely by surprise and slightly stunned. My attacker managed to flip me over and pin me to the floor, my wings pushed painfully against the cold tile, before I was able to shake off my initial surprise.
“Nevermore?” I asked, shocked, trying to clear the stars from my eyes. “What’s this about?” I tried to get up, but he shoved me back and punched me in the face.
My nose started bleeding as I pushed back at him, knocking him away for long enough to get up. He jumped up and rushed at me, but I sidestepped him, lifting my wings clear. Before he could spin around, I had him in a headlock, holding him still enough that he couldn’t really get to me. He dropped suddenly to bird-size, slipping from my grasp, and I fell, almost on top of him. He hopped onto my chest and turned back to a human, knocking the wind from me and effectively pinning me to the floor, with both my arms and wings stuck beneath me.
“Why did you kill her?” he said. “Why?”
“I didn’t mean to, you idiot!” I yelled at him, anger replacing my depression. “Is that what this is all about? You could have just asked me!”
“You would have lied,” he said.
“You didn’t even know her!”
“That—that doesn’t make a difference. You still killed her, and I want to know why.”
“It was an accident. The last thing I wanted to do was to kill her.” My anger slipped away from me suddenly as Alex fell and fell in my mind’s eye. “Nev, she wasn’t just anybody…she was my best friend.”
“The one you’ve been looking for?” he said, surprised. “Why’d you kill her, then?”
“I didn’t mean to. I already told you it was an accident. She startled me and I dropped her.”
He got off me and I stood slowly, my head hanging. The brief life his attack had given me sunk back into the darkness I was living in. The girls had finished shouting, or at least paused, and there was just silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and walked out of the locker room.
I walked numbly back to my apartment, wishing it was raining but content with the grey twilight anyways. I didn’t deserve to have the weather change for my mood. Not after what I’d done.
I’d lived in this apartment since the ISA had bombed the US. When I’d agreed to join them, they told me the truth about my “parents-” they were actually agents who’d been chosen to look after me from my birth. Somehow, they’d guessed that I was a post-human from the very start, and had set me up to be what I was today. I had resented them at first, and moved as far away from my “parents” as I could as soon as I could. But I’d gotten over it by now. There were always been bigger things to worry about.
Yeah, like killing your best friend.
My weird, mutated feet hurt from being cramped in shoes for too long—we’d barely had time to get into uniform before we were needed, forget being comfortable. I took my shoes off and climbed into bed, not bothering to brush my teeth or go through any other nighttime routines. I couldn’t go to sleep, though-I just lay on my bed, watching the shadows traverse my ceiling.
Around two o’clock, something tapped on my window. I knew it had to be Nevermore-no trees grew close enough. I lay on my bed, refusing to open it—I didn’t want to get yelled at again; I was already beating myself up enough over it. The window creaked and slid open, and a dark-skinned boy climbed in-Nevermore. He was wearing the same clothes I’d last seen him-a black t-shirt and ragged jeans.
“They didn’t find a body,” he said.
“What?” I asked stupidly.
“They didn’t find her body. If she died, someone already took it.”
I almost asked him who he was talking about before it hit me. Alex. They hadn’t found Alex’s body.
Was that good or bad?
“I thought you should know, since she was your friend…and since you killed her, accidentally or not.”
“How’d you hear this?” I asked, confused.
“Couldn’t sleep. Flew around the city. Some police guy gave me a ride when I got tired, and I heard it on his radio.”
“Oh,” I said. “Have you told anyone else?”
“No. I figured they could wait until the morning. No one else had a reason to be upset. I don’t want you to have a completely clear conscience, either, but I would have felt horrible keeping it from you. Since you really knew her, I mean.”
I nodded. He sat on the windowsill and dropped down to bird size, muttering something under his breath. I watched him fly away and closed the window, flipping the lock this time.
They hadn’t found her body.
What did that mean?
Was it possible that Alex hadn’t died? That somehow, by some miracle she had survived? Or had someone stolen her body for whatever horrible reasons?
If someone had stolen her body, I would chase them to the ends of the earth and kill them for it. After all, it would mean I’d already killed one person…what did another matter after that?