-This will be the final chapter with a short epilogue at the end. I thank each and every one of you who have stuck with it thus far, and would like to hope that all of you enjoy this. Keep running.-
'Why do people die?'
'...Usually, because they made a choice. An' they stuck with it until the end.'
"Iris, you ready?" Three words as I sat in the car, just starring out the dashboard at the crisp, clean, red building in front of us, red and blue tubes running up and branching off, supplies of oxygen and various other things going in an out. Everything working like it was any other day, as if everything about to happen was of no conciquence. It just kept going, because that's what it chose to do.
"No."I said in a monotone, feeling like I should be more afraid, nervous, excited at least. All I felt was...peace. Strangely enough, as if I expected everything that was about to happen, and if some decision had been made and I wasn't aware of it.
"Perfect, let's go."Thrax said, and without a word I slid out of the car, slamming the door shut next to me. Silence wasn't something we were worried about. Pox knew we were here, anyway, and nothing really mattered until we got to whatever room he was using as a barrier before him. We had all the time in the world, and yet everyone seemed anxious to head into the building that, by orders of Chief, had been abandoned right after the meeting yesterday.
Maybe we just wanted to get this over with. I wasn't so sure. In fact, I wasn't sure about much right now, just that I wanted to get in there and get my hands on Pox. I wanted to do something for myself, not for my father's advice or my brother's wishes. I wanted to make a decision, and end something that had gone on for far to long. Something I'd been running towards for twelve years. If now was the time to stand, everyone was moving pretty fast.
Drix and Ozzy were standing side-by-side, Ozzy's gun pulled and Drix with his gun-arm cocked, just in case there were men spread about the building. Maria was copying Ozzy's at-the-ready stance, her own gun held in her slightly-shaking hands, something that was so slight only I would be able to see it. Chief had his own gun still in the holster, looking up at the heart with dark and serious eyes, eyes of a seasoned veteran who knew what he was getting himself into.
Even Sniff and Sneeze were here, but I'd made sure they were just guarding the cars to make sure no one tried to get away. I knew that they wouldn't last a second in what we were about to go into, and couldn't deal with throwing innocents into this, too. Thrax and I walked up to the others, both serious, everyone in a silent state of readiness and equal unpreparedness.
We'd gone over the plan over the phone maybe ten times, and each time we all knew that if one thing, one small thing went wrong, it could end very differently. And that thought hung heavily in everyone's eyes, but it was coupled with a severe determination to end this, once and for all. I stopped, thinking for a second as we all paused, just looking at each other as we gathered ourselves.
My 24 hours turned into 7 days. Looking around at everyone, I was suddenly damn glad that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I arrived here.
"Well? What are you kids waiting around for, my retirement? Let's move!"Chief ordered gruffly, seeming to snap everyone out of our stupor. I nodded, and Ozzy looked into the glass doors we stood in front of, the inside dark and almost creepy-looking, but I was used to blackened abaondoned buildings. And this one was a hell of a lot nicer than the ones I'd been in.
Ozzy moved, the doors sliding open automatically as he and Maria entered first, quickly stepping aside as Drix floated in and sweeped around in a semi-circle, aiming his gun while Chief walked up behind him, everyone focused on the inside. I stepped forward, but Thrax didn't move, his hand wrapping hard around mine and pulling me around to face him.
He held me there with his look, nothing out of the ordinairy to most, but to me, who had spent so long looking into those eyes and straining myself to read them, there was something swimming behind the mask of toughness and anger. And that thing was worry. And a little something else, something I shared with him.
I felt like this was a precaution, his eyes travelling over my face, mine over his, over every sharp edge and smooth curve. As if something would happen to the other, and a promise that we'd do everything in out power to prevent that. He looked behind me for a moment, then to the side, making sure no one was watching or listening before moving closer to me, looking me dead in the eye as he squeezed my hand tightly, asking quietly,
"Iris, please. What the hell am I supposed to do if you...if he gets you? If this whole plan goes wrong and he takes you away from me. Screw the damn city, what'll I do?" I gave him a straight-forward look, no smirk or playful banter between us. What I said I meant, and it wasn't a request.
"You keep fucking running until you get there." There. In his eyes he knew I didn't mean any place. I didn't mean to me. I didn't even mean up to the Atrium. There, the place he'd been trying to get for years, the place that he'd been set back from by Ozzy and Pox. There, were he belonged. I wasn't going to stop him from going there, even if I wasn't going there with him. But inside me, I wanted to. After this was done, after I'd gotten to my 'there', I wanted to help Thrax get to his. That's why I couldn't let anything happen to him.
The others whispered behind me, and I squeezed his hand tightly before letting go.
I had to walk into this on my own, because it was something I'd started alone. He understood, and gave me a bit of space while still staying protectively close to me as, taking in a deep breath and still not feeling any of the things I'd expected to, I pushed into the room.
It was completely dark the second I stepped in, the others having moved ahead as I walked across the floor, footsteps echoing as Thrax stepped in behind me. Once the doors closed, it was like everything had been cut off. A silence that clogged our ears, the outside world a thing of the past, only unlit corners and silent, shiny surfaces.
We all paused in front of a dim stairwell, the elevator unlit and unusable, tense and waiting for the first attack. After what felt like hours, it never came. Just an unnatural silence and stillness of the air around us, nothing disturbing it but our soft and quiet breathing, the sound of our hearts pounding in our perked and alert ears. I looked forward at Drix, who made eyecontact with me as I nodded. He gave a small not back before turning to the stairs, quickly propelling up them.
Maria and Ozzy quickly followed, Chief in front of me and Thrax behind, climbing the stairs that instantly became so dark without a dim outside light that I tripped several times, almost falling clean backwards had Thrax's quick hand not steadied me in more ways than one. My hand felt along the wall, a crease and an evening telling me that we'd reached a floor.
This time, even I tensed, hands clenching into fists and instantly moving in the gap between Maria and Drix as we lined up in a curve, everyone ready for the oncoming attack of muscle-men and germs hiding in the shadows of the long hallway ahead of us, one green, dim emergency light in the center of the hallways illuminating the outlines of cookie-cutter doors within the Heart. We waited, Drix loudly cocking his gun as we all suddenly stiffened, the noise loud and alerting...
"...Maybe they're on another floor."Maria whispered, though our noise level wasn't the least bit concern, "Pox wouldn't put all his men spread out across every floor, even he can't have that many men...right?"She asked, and I paused. Lying wasn't going to fix anything now.
"I don't know. Thrax could have taken out a lot at the warehouse, but this...I just don't know. Maybe you're right...which one leads us up to the Right Atrium?"I asked quietly, and Maria pointed her gun to the door at the very end of the hallway, propped open by what I assumed was a doorstop in the dim, eerie lighting.
"We go up that stair case and then take an immediate right up another. There's one room seperating us from the Right Atrium..."Maria trailed off, all of us knowing where she was leading. One room with all of them. Not that we hadn't expected that, we'd just expected to face some ahead of time. At least this way we'd all be rested and unharmed...going into it, that is.
"There anyway to get into that room other than the stairwell?"I asked, and Maria nodded, walking quickly to a door four doors away from us.
"C'mon, follow me."She said, me now right behind her with Ozzy behind me, not looking back to see the others but hearing every pair of footsteps following us through the door. On the other side was a small platform, and then a long and and narrow bridge maybe hundreds of feet above the nearest surface, with no lighting other than four small, dimming blue lights a few hundreds of yards above our heads. I wasn't afraid of heights, having run across taller buildings than this structure pleanty of times.
Maria moved cautiously across it, me keeping a respectful distance so as not to worry her, my eyes looking all around. This seemed to be a location in the center of the heart, with multiple bridges identical to ours criss-crossing and streaching far away from one another, leading into identical doors on either side of the cylindrical structure. I followed Maria as we arrived on the other side, following through another door.
Instead of exiting out the door a little ways away from us, Maria stopped, turning and waiting for everyone with one finger pressed to her lips, the other holding the gun at the ready. Once everyone was inside, the space slightly cramped as I realized we were in what appeared to be a utility closet, Maria nodded her head to the door not in front of us, but to our side. I looked at it, pausing as our footfalls silenced and every noise became amplified.
For a moment, all was silent, and a worry twisted inside me that she'd chosen the wrong door.
And then a muffled voice, deep and dumb, followed by another. On the other side of that door. Everyone moved into a formation we'd discussed: Drix, Ozzy to his side, Maria behind him, Chief on her other side, me in the middle, Thrax completing the circle behind me. I tensed, Drix moving silently to the door, all of us following him in a unit, his gun lightly tapping the surface of the door.
I felt one claw trail across my hip in a calming, reassuring manner, right before the blinding blast and deafening bang that sent the door flying and the room erupting in echos. We moved before the germs on the other side could know what was going on, staying in a tight circle as we charged through the door and then, once Drix broke through the first line of germs filling the large, finally lit, red room, we expanded like a ripple in the water.
Drix blew past three germs, shouts as some of them understood what was going on followed by gunfire by Ozzy and Maria, Chief holding his own out of the corner of my eye as Thrax moved swiftly, taking out the ones who were standing on one side of the door and hadn't been injured by the blast. I turned, one germ barreling towards me in a blind rage, something I could use to my advantage.
I stepped sideways and, as he almost passed me, wrapped an arm around his throat like a sling and slammed my knee into his ribs, my strength combined with his momentum making him gasp and fall to his knees. I brought a leg up and crashed it down on the back of his skull, a sickening 'crack!' sounding out as he slumped face-first to the floor, me not even taking a moment to make sure he wasn't moving before a hand brushed the back of my arm, me spinning before the massive, hulk-like germ could grab a hold of me with his large, meaty fist.
I heard a massive explosion, probably from Drix, that visibly shook the room. It took the massive man's small attention, and I took the advantage. I brought a foot up and slammed it between his legs, the only way to level a man his size with a body my size. He cried out and his eyes watered, knees locking together as he slumped to them, me whipping a fist around and smashing it against his nose.
My hand exploded in pain, and I cried out a bit as the man didn't even flinch, looking like a fly landed on him as he shook his head irritatedly, the sound of a solid 'thud' sounding out somewhere near me. I stepped back as the man glared up at me, his giant hand suddenly shooting up and grasping my wrist so hard I was sure he was going to snap it right in half, clenching my teeth as I pulled my other hand back to try and do anything to get free...
A flash of red was all I saw before the man cried agonizingly out, a massive rip in his throat opening up and letting red, bubbling fluid coarse through his skin, releasing my wrist to slap a hand over it. He convulsed a bit and then fell to his side, cringing and, right before my eyes, becoming covered in the red boiling substance, shrinking down and melting until he was nothing but a puddle on the floor. A massive puddle.
A hand wrapped around my wrist, but this time it was gentle and guiding, turning me and instantly letting go, running a claw along the inside as Thrax, before me, asked,
"You hurt, baby?" I quickly shook my head and looked around, blinking quickly as I saw that everyone else was already done. Maria was wiping green goo off her shoulder, Ozzy shaking a shoe and Drix re-loading, Chief looking around and breathing heavily, almost as if he couldn't believe we'd actually succeeded.
There were bodies unconcious and unmoving all around us, some more-than-unconciouss and in puddles across the floor, seeing Thrax's path of destruction. They were all down and out, just like we'd planned...
So why did something feel off? I looked around, something twisting in my gut as a shiver ran down my spine. Something wasn't right here, something dark creeping along the joy I should have felt, something dark creeping over the atmostphere in the room. My heartbeat started to beat quickly for the first time, eyes narrowing as the dread fell like a rock in my stomach. Something was wrong, very, very wrong...but what?
I couldn't place it, tugging and pulling at my mind and heart as I knew something here wasn't how it should have been. Men lying on the ground, Pox somewhere near us, all of us intact. Everything looked just as I'd planned it...everything except how I was supposed to feel. Relieved, ready, excited, energized...but I couldn't. I just couldn't.
No, something wasn't right, but I felt that if I said anything with everyone breathing sighs of relief without even knowing what was wrong, I'd just be worrying them for no reason. And maybe there wasn't a reason, maybe it was the nerves finally getting to me...but something inside me screamed that that wasn't it. Screamed that this wasn't how it should have been, and that we were walking into something terrible, more terrible than we could have imagined.
That the one thing that we all feared could go wrong was about to.
"What's wrong?"Thrax whispered so quietly barely I could hear it. I paused, looking around as Ozzy and Drix lightly bumped elbows, Maria standing against the wall and taking a breath, Chief just standing there and making sure everything on his gun was in place. All waiting for me and Thrax to walk through the door first. I shook my head and whispered back, equally quiet, barely a breath across my lips,
I felt that he didn't believe me, but he didn't push it further. What I did notice was him moving closer to me as we walked across massive men to the door, pausing in front of it as the others filed in behind.
"There's a hallway behind this door, and then the door to the Right Atrium. You guys walk in, five seconds later we go in, body guards or no body guards."Maria ordered, and all I could do was not, that horrible sense of foreboding numbing me. Please just be nerves, please be nothing.
I pushed open the door and looked down the hall. All the lights were on. Almost like a welcoming. I shook my head silently and walked down the hall, Thrax right by my side, hand brushing my wrist, the others walking as quietly as possible. We were almost there, just a few more steps down the white hallway and we'd be in front of the door.
A big plaque on the front of it read 'Right Atrium: Authorized Personel Only'. We may be the most unauthorized personel possible, the irony of us entering in order to save the heart the only sense of comedy amoungst the sickening tightness of my chest, the twisting of my guts, the goosebumps and shivers along my arms and down my spine.
I stopped at the door. On the otherside, I feared that something horrible was waiting. I hoped that it was exactly what I planned. I knew it was the prior.
I placed a hand on the doorknob and leaned against it, ready to burst in like we'd just run from the battle that was finished so quickly, Thrax tensing beside me, the others plastered against the walls, guns raised. Five seconds was all we had to stand in there, just the three of us. Me. Thrax. Pox. And when we walked out, everything would have changed.
I turned the doorknob and threw myself into the room with all the strength I could muster.
It was large. But I didn't notice. There was a massive computer to the side, taking up the entire wall, but I didn't care. There was a clear tube with a red button on the floor in front of it, but I didn't know. I stood in the center of the room, Thrax next to me.
Pox in front of me, black hair falling in his face, out of the ponytail, a black remote dangling lazily from his hand.
"Oh good, I thought that might have actually killed all of you. What a waste that would have been."
I realized what was wrong.
One second too late.
There was an explosion of noise behind me, and I whipped around to see the others bursting in, ready to fight the two body guards.
Only there weren't two.
There were twenty.
"No!"I screamed, the other's eyes widening as the door was slammed behind them, the army of massive men descending upon them and filling up the room as Drix, without missing a beat, blasted a hold in their wall. They moved quickly, spreading to the center of the room and beyond, everything thrown into instant chaos.
I turned, throwing my fist into the throat of a shorter man, grasping the back of his head and slamming it against the head of a man running at me from behind. Both fell to the floor as I looked ahead, seeing Drix fighting off five men at once. Spinning, ducking as a man sent a punch over my head and throwing myself into his gut, throwing him backwards and into the path of a stray bullet, falling to the floor like a rag.
A glimpse of Ozzy. A shout from Maria. A moving, pulsing, screaming, shouting sea of men and everyone. Thrax was gone, that I noticed quickly, pulled into the sea of men. Twenty. No...no...there couldn't be...but it was what made sense.
That's what was wrong. There weren't enough men in that room to make up Pox's gang. He wouldn't dare, not with everything on the line, act as he normally would. Only a truly insain man could change his behaviors on a dime. And Pox was beyond insaine. He was a genius. Something inside me broke, whether it was a heart or not was up for debate. Dread fell in my gut. Guilt ripped me apart.
This was my plan, and they'd followed it trustingly. I didn't know, I couldn't, and they'd trusted it. This was my fault. I didn't think. Didn't know. And now...now what was going to happen? Just one thing, and the whole thing could end so much differently... A gunshot tore through the noise, a scream, me spinning around rapidly and throwing men off me, fighting them, connecting with flesh that I didn't even distinguish from any other.
"Thrax!"I screamed, horror settling inside of me. This was it. This was the scene I'd missed so many years ago. My family fighting for me. Dying for me. A reply. The wrong voice.
"Not quite, dear."
I took in a breath to scream, to fight, to do something, but a hand so strong that I never would have guessed it's owner slapped over my mouth, fingers digging painfully into the side of my face as I was dragged backwards, feeling like a feather fighting a brick as an arm wrapped around both my arms and waist. I kicked, fighting and wiggling, not believing that this strength was from Pox, but that voice, that voice, that was unmistakable.
We stopped, at the back of the room, me kicking his shins and yet him giving no sign of pain, not flinching, not even grunting. Like kicking a statue. Even his voice was calm, breath on my ear as he said quietly and yet very audibly,
"I'd stop fidgeting if I were you, my dear. I do believe I'm doing you a favor." I paused, eyes straying downwards at the arm that was wrapped around my waist, pinning me against a slight but strong frame. In a jaundice-yellow hand, held limply like a toy, was a black remote with one black button on it. A thumb rested comftorbly over that button.
I froze instantly, every part of my body screaming to not move and to fight for my life at the same time. He was here, holding me, touching me, breathing into my ear. The man that killed my family, the voice that ordered the death of my entire family, that ruined and changed my life forever. Right behind me, holding me with a strength that resembled the situation. Horribly, terribly underestimated. I looked forward, his hand covering my mouth and breathing heavily through my nose, body stiff and ridgid, eyes glued to the scene ahead of me.
An indistinguishable sea of bodies and fighting and gunshots and screams and thuds and punches and friends and enemies. A blur, really. The only clear thing, stark contrast against the rest of the room, the rest of the world, was his voice eerily calm in my ear.
"I must say, it was brilliant. Both your plan and mine. You make me so proud sometimes, Iris. Almost as proud as I was when you managed to escape me for twelve years...yes, it was infuriating, and I did miss you so. But a small girl running from me, succesfully? Astonishing and just...remarkable. Maybe that's what Thrax sees in you." I stiffened at his name, a name that shouldn't come from his mouth, an assumption he didn't deserve to make.
But I didnt' dare move, knowing that he was doing this because he knew he had me, because he knew I couldn't do anything until he got to the point.
"A girl with a certain defiance in her. You refused to quit, after all these years. So what made you change, dear? Was it him, afterall? Did he convince you that you could fight against me after all those nasty things I did? I assume that's the case...and quite noble. You tried heroicly to stop the man who killed your family...
"They didn't have to die, you know. If they'd have let me have you, they might have all lived on in their lives. But they loved you far too much...almost exactly like this group." I looked, eyes narrowed in anger that boiled in my veins, his words careful and articulate. He knew what he was saying. He was doing what he'd been trying to do for years. Break me.
"...How about this? Back then, you were far too younge to make your own choices. Your father made your choice for you, didn't he?" 'There's something I never want you to do from this day forth, sweetie, okay?' "He told you to run, and you did." A gunshot, Ozzy thrown hard against a wall. The scream of my mother instead of his. Too many men. Drix had the activation code, he was the only one who could stop this...
"But you don't have to let them die for you now." ...But he'd never reach it in time. "You could save them, just like you wanted to." They were fighting for me, the family I swore I'd protect. All of them, from the very start, taking in a stranger and risking their lives for me. And now they were going to die, no chance at stopping this bomb, even if the men didn't kill them first.
"You're able to make your own decisions, Iris."His voice was suddenly serious, as if he were giving me an actual choice. I saw my mother, standing in front of us with her chin held up in defiance. I saw Ian, fighting like it was what he was born to do, like an underdog about to go down swinging. I saw my father, taking on all of them, strong and standing as long as he could to let me get as far as I could.
"And I think you know which one will save everyone."
I saw Maria, fighting fiercely like I always knew her to. I saw Ozzy, wounded and still fighting like it was all he knew. I saw Drix, taking on so many men that it seemed impossible, and yet he stood his ground without wavering. Chief, fighting like the city was his child. My family. My second chance.
And, as I looked at all of them, watched them fight, memories flashing across my eyes from playing with Ian, to the grocery store, to arriving in Hector, to a red man with something about him, to a barter for a glove, to a hospital bed, to a conversation with Ozzy, to Maria fighting with Thrax, to my first kiss and more, to breakfast with the whole gang, to my father telling me to run, to a promise that they'd all fight together, with me, to getting here.
To a family photo.
And a choice was made. It wasn't my father's, it wasn't Ian's, it wasn't my mother's. It was mine. And I'd made it a long, long time ago.
I saw Thrax, standing up and flipping his dreads back like always, a flash of yellow eyes that held something so beautiful, so unique. A look of courage, of defiance against all odds. I looked at him as everything stopped, as if someone had paused the whole scene. I slid a finger under my left-hand glove and slid it off, letting it fall to the ground near my foot, landing on something red.
He was perfectly visible, and for the first time in what felt like a long time, I let a lopsided smirk fall onto my face.
"Hm?"Pox asked in my ear, amused as everything moved slowly. My family, fighting slowly. This time, for a reason. This time, it would end in my choice.
"I made a choice." Before he could respond, I slammed my foot down over the glove, onto the red button on the floor, and then shoved us backwards with a burst of final strength, slamming us back into a wall.
I looked until tube doors closed in front of us, smoke clouding my vision, a could of white.
A blur of red.
I cut one down, and it was like pulling a curtain away. The man fell and revealed an empty room, the final men being taken down almost instantly. It ended so quickly, after what felt like hours of fighting, my arm aching and lungs on fire. Maybe I was just too caught up in keepin' myself alive that I just didn't notice, looking over to see the pill rapidly typing numbers into the massive computer on the other side of the room.
Jones limped quickly over, Maria trying to support him with Chief wheezing somewhere else, all eyes on the computer screen, all of us waiting for the boom, for the fire, for what they imagined the destruction of a body looked like, for what I knew it looked like. It was a lot different being the one trapped inside it, every fiber of my being was screaming to get away.
But I felt that I'd have no time, the pill visibly sweating and panting as he typed with his one hand, the series of numbers on the paper in front of him long and complicated, one wrong one and he'd have to start over. One wrong one and we'd probably be out of time.
"Wait..."Jones said quietly next to me, and I looked over curiously, his brow furrowed and eyes wide.
"Jones?"I asked, but was interrupted as Drix flew back and exclaimed,
"Done!"...A silence...I looked at the computer screen, and saw exactly what Jones had seen.
"...The timer never even started."Maria said in a perplexed voice. Something like an icy dread fell in my stomach, the cause something I didn't care about, more the person that it reminded me of. I whipped around and shouted,
...A heavy silence. I looked, looked, and looked, as if my eyes could see if I stared longer, as if I could make them appear. As if I could deny that no one was there, that the space where Pox had been standing was empty, and nothing else was moving. My first thought send a flame of fury through me, shouting,
"He took her!" The fury blinded me, enveloped me, something inside of me swelling and twisting as a new kind of heat spread across me, ready to rip that man limb-from-limb the second I got my hands on him, knowing he couldn't be far now. If I moved, I could find him, find her, save her-
"Wait...isn't that..."Maria trailed off, and I looked at her quickly, seeing her eyes grow wide. Her hand flew to her mouth as her jaw clenched, pressing her fingers to her lips hard, eyes wide. But it wasn't the look on her face that got to me. It wasn't the horror of realization that made my gut twist and every ounch of anger seep out of my body. It wasn't the sudden break of her hard shell that made everything I'd just felt seem like nothing compared to what I felt afterwards.
It was what she was looking at. I turned, following her line of sight, still panting...until I saw it. And then I wasn't breathing at all. Just looking, for a moment, and then moving slowly forward. Stiffly. Numbly. Someone held back Osmosis as he tried to follow, but I had tunnel vision, barely caring. Because I knew what it was. I got to it, looking down, and somehow ended up on my knees, reaching down and picking it up.
The soft black leather. The same glove I'd bartered information for with her. And then underneath it, the red button on the floor and the shoemark across it. And when I realized what Maria realized, I didn't want to. Wanted to hold myself together. Wanted to stop the breaking, the splintering, the sick feeling rising in my throat. Wanted to stop the pain threatening to rip through me. Wanted to deny it. Couldn't.
Because I looked up, and when I saw the pod gone and traces of smoke still clinging to the edges of the enclosed walls, I knew exactly what had happened, and no amount of lying to myself was going to change it.
And I fucking lost it.
I slammed a hand against the glass so hard that it splintered, cracking loudly as I screamed, no words, just let out a long, agonized, injured-animal-like scream. And I didn't give a shit that they heard it, didn't give a shit that they were there, that they could see, that they were watching, that for just a moment I let my walls down. No, I didn't let them down. They shattered.
She was so small. That fragile, beautiful, defiant, annoying, infuriating, witty, special, idiotic little kid made the choice that saved us all. I punched the glass again and it splintered even more, a small chunk of it fallling out and down where she'd gone, with him, killing him... I grit my teeth so hard it hurt, but I didn't care.
Because that wasn't the most painful thing in the world. It was imagining her making that decision. It was imagining everything that had happened, because all of a sudden, as the pain and guilt and realization ripped through me and bled out, a pain so indescribable that I should have, wanted to, die from it, all of a sudden the memories came rushing back.
A girl fighting. Pure white. A beautiful smile. Light grey eyes. Tears. Laughter. Holding her. Kissing her. Her kissing me. Fragile. Something that couples wished they had, something no one could ever have with anyone else after us. Something no one could define, something that made her part of my life in a little over a week. Part of me. It was torn out. A sleeping face. Little sounds.
A promise. A look of defiance until the very end. A promise that stopped me cold. I hadn't realized that I'd been screaming more than once until I stoppped, throat aching and sore, fist bleeding lightly against the almost-broken tube, didn't realize I had tears on my face until I heard one fall on the floor, didn't realize I was shaking until I had to fource myself to stop.
She was gone. Just like that, as if none of it had ever happened. As if the past week was just me and the others. No one would ever know of her existence outside of us, coming and going without leaving a trace, like a true runner... Just a deep, permenant scar inside of me, where something should have been. Torn out and gone, the only remaining proof that she'd ever existed in the first place. That, and the families she'd saved. The family right here that she'd saved.
And her glove, balled up tight in my fist. A scar. Unknowing families. A glove. That's all she left us with. All she left me with. And that was the price of her goal. That's what she'd been running towards all this time. That was the price...that, and her life. And the life we could have had...but it was her 'there'. A promise...
"C'mon, let's go."I heard the pill whisper softly, noticing for the first time that Maria was crying, stifling it behind me. I heard them walking away, along with Chief's heavy footsteps. The door closed. Just bodies, me, and Jones. And a connection I never wanted to have. A loss we both shared.
"Ya know, Thrax,"He said, a tone of pain in his voice I'd never expected, "I never knew anyone who liked you..." I was about to tell him to shove it somewhere, to remind myself that this was Jones and he didn't give a shit... "..But that girl more than loved you. It was something more...something that don't die."
I paused, he paused, and then he left. They didn't ask me to follow. Didn't expect me to. They were letting me leave, keeping their part of the bargain. Leave... I stood up, stiff, everything inside me almost rattling and broken. That would take a damn long time to heal, and it would never heal right, never the same, at least.
Then again, was anything going to be the same after her? No, not really. I got to an open window and slashed it open, jumping and crouching on the windowsill and looking out into the city, just waking up, no idea of what just happened. I looked down at the glove, and imagined what she said, right before we entered here.
She changed my life and kept it the same all at the same time. She was something I could never get again...but there was one thing that I could still get. A promise to her, one I'd keep. Make us even. Never make that pain in my heart stop, no. It throbbed inside there, ripping through me with every heartbeat I wished I wasn't taking without her. If she could see me now, she'd call me a sap and probably punch me.
I looked down at the glove. Her words. I wouldn't leave the city yet, nah. I had shit I had to get together first...but instead of staying longer, like I'd planned to, I was haulin' ass outta here the second I could. Because a little, pure white girl told me I had to get 'there'.
So I had to start running.
The club was empty on a sunday, the only somewhat-respectable thing about it. The dancefloor littered with trash and a few sketchy items, the bar locked tight, the air dusty and smelling like the bad decisions of all last week. I shoved my hands into my pockets as I got near the back door, only one person in this dump on a sunday morning.
I kicked on the door three times, and an irritated voice answered with,
"Learn how to knock, damnit! You think they just give me new doors?!" The door flew open, and I shoved past Gina as I entered the room, wanting to get what I ordered and get out before Sneeze and Sniff started bawling again. Who knows, I might end up taking them with me, so long as they stopped breaking into hysterical tears everytime they looked at something white.
"Who pissed in your cereal?"Gina asked, walking past me in a tight tank top and black short, her hair up in a tight ponytail and brushing her back. I didn't respond with anything witty, just asking impatiently,
"You got it?" She rolled her eyes at me like normal and opened her desk, pulling out something round and black. She held it up between her thumb and middle finger, saying proudly,
"It'll make a smoke screen so big the whole damn city's gonna be coughing for the next week. I'd throw it while standing in the uvula." She tossed it to me, and I caught it easily, slipping it into my pocket. I'd already paid her, and was about to turn to leave, but she stopped me.
"So where's Little White, huh? Gotta repay her for last time."She said mischeviously, clearly trying to get to me. And she did, but not in the way she wanted. A twist of pain worked it's way up to my chest, and I was glad I'd put my shades on, making it easier to mask how much I really didn't want to explain this.
I'd already told Sneeze and Sniff, and that was worse than I ever could have imagined. It was like I'd killed their damn puppy...but I knew I couldn't talk. I hadn't exactly...I shook my head inwardly and said, trying to use as little emotion as possible,
"She killed Pox." There was a silence in the room, my jaw stiff, feeling that she understood what I was saying. What I was leaving out. And I could feel her sorrow, even though she'd met her once. That was the kind of effect Iris had on people. You meet her once, you never forget her.
There was a shuffling and a desk drawr slamming shut. I looked back, seeing Gina holding out a small piece of paper. One I remembered foggily, seeming like an eternity ago. I paused, looking at it as she held it out farther. And, for the first time, I saw Gina's jaw clenched and a face that was angrily holding back tears. And I felt like she wasn't crying because of the news, but because of something she knew that I didn't.
"Take this. She wanted me to give it to you..."She took a breath, voice wavering frustratedly, "...In case anything happened to her. She told me to give it to you."
I paused, looking at it. So that's what it was... I reached up and took the slip of paper, looking at the folded note, and then back to Gina, who was looking at me with watery eyes, a scowl on her face as tears threatened her. A brick wall, broken by whatever was in this note. Maybe she didn't even understand it, but had a feeling...
For a moment it looked like she was about to say something, do something, but decided against it. She shook her head and motioned me out, saying,
"Get out, go find another bomb technician that'll put up with your shit." That was Gina's way of saying goodbye, and that she'd miss me. All I gave her was a nod that she may or may not have seen, her facing away as I turned and opened the door, exiting quickly. I thought I heard her fall into her chair, but didn't pay much attention.
I had a smoke bomb in my pocket, the likes of which this city hadn't seen, and yet what weighted heaviest was the note in my hand. Because all along part of us had known that something like that could have happened, she was just the only one who prepared for it.
I got outside and stopped, the car in front of me. I'd given Sneeze and Sniff an hour to get to the uvula or I was leaving without them. All that was left was to drive there now... I slowly looked at the note, at her words, part of her. The glove was in my inside jacket pocket. I'd keep that. Whatever this note said, I had the feeling that I'd never forget what it said.
I was already keeping the glove, if I kept the note Iris would have laughed and probably punched me...again. Slowly, I opened the note, the small paper folded only once, the words small and neat and written in black ink. I read them once, and then just kind of looked at them. Stood there for a second. And then smirked.
I dropped the note outside the club and slid into the car, turning it on and screeching down the street. I could have sworn I saw Jones walking down the street with the pill, but everything was moving too fast for me to see, anyway. And really, I didn't need to see. All this was here. I needed to get to there. I'd forgotten that for a moment. And then I got a forever that was cut short. I kissed, screamed, cried, laughed, fought, and in the end I remembered why I was even moving in the first place.
I was running, towards something, towards those records, towards those medical books. There, maybe I'd stop. Maybe I'd find a new there. All I knew was that I had to keep fucking running until I got there. My smile grew as I thought of those words on the paper, the words I'd never forget, no matter how many theres I found:
'Thanks for the breather.'