My dark eyes flash at him as I wrench my hand away. "Don't touch me," I hiss. "I'll kill you." He gazes at me, he looks sad. I stand there and stare at him. Yes, you are my brother, my CO, and yes, I love you. But I will kill you if you put a hand on me again. I'm not in the mood to be coddled. I never was.
"What are you going to do?" he wants to know. He doesn't touch me, I've won that much. I can win more, push it. He's asking, giving me an in. I stare at him, cross my arms lazily, but I'm ready for anything, to attack, to run. He was never my safety net like he was everybody else's. I don't owe him anything because he said to run away. But I do owe him something because I love him, because he loves me. Who taught us that? A nurse? Zack himself? Or did we just know, is it something you're born with? Love. The thing that bound us. The thing that set us free.
"I'm going to be happy," I say, and already I know it's a lie, I can feel it in the back of my mouth, burning. Maybe he doesn't see it, or maybe he doesn't want to. Either way, he gives a nod. His steel blue eyes gaze at me. I touch his arm, but he doesn't make a move to hold my hand. He's smart, he learns fast, that's why they made him the CO. How lucky I was to never have that responsibility, to never have even been considered for it. Jondy, Syl, Cade, Tosh, they all had their units, the soliders under their command. I was the little girl who stood in the background with my dark eyes and snapped the target's neck when he stumbled into me. I was the one no one noticed, I disappeared, I was quiet. I was a great solider.
"Happy," Zack says, and he turns the word into a scoff. He shrugs off my hand. "You'll be tying yourself down." He's right. For a moment I see myself through his eyes, the way he must see me, and I understand. Yes, I will by tying myself down, I will be leaving myself open, vulnerable to attack. Yes, I will live at the same address for more than six months, I will have friends, I will take small risks that gradually get larger. He looks at me and can't understand why.
"Yeah," I say. "You're right. My choice, Zack. My life."
"You'll compromise us all," he snarls.
"What are you going to do, keep every one of us moving until we die? Why didn't you just keep us in Manticore, at least there was more to do there."
"Why do you have to be like that?" he asks, and the words are more tired than angry. Zack is tired a lot, constantly, all the time.
"It's not up to you to run our lives anymore," I tell him. "You got us out. It's up to us now."
He shakes his head, and I hear him say under his breath, "Children."
"No," I tell him, and he looks at me, sadly, he never looked so sad back at Manticore, there was too much anger to cover it all up. Or maybe the outside world made him sad, I don't know. All I know is, he doesn't understand the way things were. "No," I say again, and I find his hand, put it over my stomach, drag it a little lower. The tiny life there is stirring, it moves just a little under his hand. "We're not children anymore."
"You don't understand." But he doesn't take his hand away. He gazes at it, fascinated. He's so innocent sometimes.
"Yes I do," I say. "This is something to live for."
"And what about when they take it away?" he asks. I twist away from him so he isn't touching me anymore, he makes me so angry I could punch him. Maybe I would have if I didn't know I'd have to kill him to get out of it alive.
"I'll die first," I tell him. He moves away then, toward the door, pulls it open.
"You will," he says. For the first time, I get a chill, but I cover it up. I'm good at that.
"I've been out of there for seven years," I tell him. "I'm not going back. They can't control me anymore, what makes you think you can? I wouldn't let them take this away from me and I won't let you do it either." He stops, the door half open, his hand still on the knob.
"Don't you think I'd let you have this if I thought it was a good idea?" he asks, and his eyes are more pleading than sad now. It bothers me. "Don't you think I want you all to be happy?"
"Maybe," I say. "Maybe not. It doesn't matter. This is what I've decided to do with my life. You don't like it, fine." I walk over to him, push aside his hand and open the door the rest of the way, stare him down with my dark eyes. "Just go, Zack. I'll call you if we move. Just go away."
He steps through the door, and I'm about to close it behind him, but he stops, turns around. "Don't tell him who you are," he warns.
"I haven't," I say, and there's a pang of guilt deep inside that I try to stifle, that I've been trying to stifle since this all began. Zack nods.
"Not the kid either," he says.
I say, "Of course not." But I will tell this baby, when he's old enough. My child will never be lied to. One day, I will tell him where I came from… and one day, I'll tell his father too.
Zack puts his hands in his pockets, backs away from the door. It's cold outside, summer is long gone, winter's not too far away. I can see his breath turning the air to mist, but I know he isn't cold.
"I'll check up on you," Zack says, as though I had a doubt.
I tell him, "I know." He nods, walks away, disappears into the night. I close the door, lock it, stand there for a minute. There's a sound from upstairs, a light padding on the stair. I whirl, ever-ready for an attack, especially now, especially when there is another life clinging to mine, so dependent, so helpless.
"Who was that, Penny?" I relax, it's just Charlie, his hair tousled from sleep. He's stayed the night, my roommates are all still sleeping, the house is quiet. I hold out a hand, he comes down from the last step and takes it, gives it a squeeze. He is warm and real and so innocent that it still amazes me.
"I'm pregnant," I tell him softly after he's kissed me, and his eyes raise to mine, bright and full of promise and love. He smiles at me. It's the beginning of something hopeful, something exciting and warm and beautiful. Something mine.