by Vicinity

TITLE: Mercury
AUTHOR: Vicinity
CATEGORY: Story/Angst
SUMMARY: The idea of redemption leads Yves - and Jimmy - into the heart of something more dangerous than she could have imagined. DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not mine.
AUTHOR's NOTES: For VesperRegina, Amy Jonas, and Evashin91, and perhaps for L., as well. All apologies.

"Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair, And dream about the great and their pride; They have spoken against you everywhere, But weigh this song with the great and their pride; I made it out of a mouthful of air,
Their children's children shall say they have lied." -W.B. Yeats

She moves in darkness, seeing only by the faint, dim light from the street outside. She glances around the sterile apartment one last time, making sure that she has not forgotten anything that could lead to her, to her location. She used to worry about being followed by the men hired by her father, those who would bring her back to him for a price she would not be able to afford, but now she worries about being followed by him, and for a such different reason. She worries because she no longer cares only about her own survival, the continuation of her own freedom, but about his, as well, and she thinks that it is perhaps this that frightens her the most. Her dreams are no longer haunted by her own death, but by his as well.

Satisfied that there is nothing that can give her away, she hoists the black bag over her darkly-clad shoulder, thin apartment key in one hand. Even though she knows that the lock on the reinforced door will not keep out anyone who has a real interest in getting in, it will give her time. Besides, it would not be right to simply walk out, as she has so many times before. She wonders what has changed, and she thinks that unfortunately, she knows.

She opens the front door and comes face to face with him. She sighs, because somehow his presence here does not surprise her. "Jimmy?" she questions flatly, wondering why he is here, why now.

"Hey, Yves. I was just stopping by to say hi. Where're you going?" She pauses in answering as she locks the door behind her, slipping the key into her pocket and making a mental note to get rid of it as soon as is really safe.

"Out," she answers finally. "I'm going out."

"Where to?" he asks, falling into step beside her as she walks resolutely down the narrow corridor. He is near enough for her to smell what she always thinks of as simply his scent, though she knows this is ridiculous.

"Does it really matter?" She doesn't look up at him, not wanting to see what he will do when he comprehends.

"You're leaving, aren't you? And you're not coming back." He makes the question into a statement, sounding at once pensive and resigned. He has to think that she is leaving him, and now he will truly be alone.

She stops walking and turns to face him. "Jimmy," she sighs, trying to put the complexity of thoughts and unspeakable reasons into words, words that will make him understand. "No." This one word seems to convey the myriad of meanings associated with it, and so she does not elaborate, watching his shoulders slump as if she is simply affirming something he already knew.

"Why now?" he asks, sounding lost.

"It doesn't matter." She says this coldly, as coldly as she can, because she knows that anything that happens now will be less painful than whatever could happen later. She shoves past him, stalking towards the elevator at the end of the hallway. There she will be safe, locked behind the steel doors, and even if he sprints down the stairs, she will have a moment to decide what she is going to tell him, and how.

He reaches out, catching her wrist, and she inhales sharply before she can catch herself. "I'm sorry," he says, sounding confused. "I didn't mean . . ."

"You didn't," she answers, before he can finish his sentence, not wanting to know how he will conclude. Not wanting to hear his thoughts spoken aloud, because if they mirror hers, she might not leave. "I really need to be going."

"I'm coming with you," he announces firmly.

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am," he argues.

"Jimmy, you have no idea . . . and you're not even prepared." She tries to refute his answer, but as she recognizes the stubborn glint in his calm eyes, she knows that it will be easier just to give in momentarily than to continue to fight. He will follow her anyway, as he has done before.

"Fine." She pivots on her heel and moves quickly to the end of the hall. He will leave eventually, she thinks, when he learns what she will be doing, and how much it will take. And if he does not go on his own, she will leave him, as she has before. But not now. Not now. Because no matter how bitter she can be to him, she does not want to leave by herself again.

The ride to the airport is silent, as she does not want to speak, and he seems to sense this as he stares out the passenger window. She wonders why she let him come with her, because the last time he tried to do the same, she stopped him. She didn't give him the chance to say anything, and maybe that was her mistake, because then he chased her around the world so that he could tell her what she didn't give him time to. Now he is with her, afraid to let her go without him, because he thinks that this time she will not come back.

And she knows that he would be right. The fact that she is leaving with a destination in mind does not matter, because after she finished there, she was going to disappear. It would be easier that way, to not come back in between, and to not say goodbye. She has learned this so many times.

It would be easier to just give in. To stop fighting and to go along with him. To pretend that what they could have would be right, would somehow be right. Afterward, though, when reality would become a factor, it would be more dangerous for the both of them, because then they might know that there was a chance they could be real, that they could stop pretending. Then they would become desperate, and when one is desperate, they are more likely to make mistakes.

She parks the car, knowing that most likely it will not be here when, and if, she returns. He follows her silently up to the ticket counter, not reacting when she books two tickets to Seattle. He only moves when she reaches for her bag to pay, and his well-intentioned gestures are cut short by a sharp glance. He is quiet as they pass through the security screening and she is relieved that the contents of her bag go unnoticed. He does not speak until they are sitting in twin patterned chairs, waiting for the plane to arrive.

"Why are we going to Seattle?" he asks then, sounding nonplussed.

"We are going to Seattle to meet someone," she answers. "A friend of my father's." He looks like he wants to ask something else, but he knows that she does not want to answer. She decides to oblige him, because he will have to know, eventually, and it would be better to tell him now than in the middle of something important, something vital. "A group outside of Seattle is attempting to develop a drug that will allow them to live forever. It is believed that they may be close to a breakthrough."

"They're finding a way to live forever?" he questions excitedly.

"Attempting to find a way, yes. But the breakthrough in question is more closely related to a nanotechnology revolution than an actual immortality . . ." She sees that she has lost him at some point in her response, and she pauses. "What?"

"Nanotechnology," he says, shrugging.

"Incredibly tiny structures, machines, if you will," she replies. "One design of which is used for medical purposes."

"Ah," he replies, settling back into his seat. "So we're going to Seattle to look for someone who's building tiny machines so that he can live forever."

"That's about it," she agrees, not wanting to argue semantics. And it is somehow comforting, his innocence, something that she has not really seen for so long. Not since the funeral. Not since both he and his friends - they were hers, too, she reminds herself - paid for her mistakes. He has not laughed near her since the funeral, and she wonders if it is only her or if he hides from everyone else as well. She wonders if he feels guilty for any happiness he would know.

"Cool." His smile fades slightly. "And then you were going to leave?"

She lets out a deep breath. "Jimmy . . . please. Not now." Not ever, she wants to add, but she knows it is something that she cannot avoid forever, simply because he will not forget. It is important to him, and he has shown her so many times that he does not abandon the things he deems worthwhile.

They do not speak again until they are on the plane, crowded aisles darkened with the idea of encouraging sleep. She appreciates the attempt as it means that she will not have to try to hold a safe conversation with him for the next several hours. They have been given a two-seat row near the back, and so he sits near the window while she is next to the aisle. She would have preferred to be separated, for peace of mind, if nothing else, but he refuses to let her out of his sight, though he does not say as much. He seems to think that she will disappear if given the slightest chance, and though it appears so cruel when he implies it, she thinks that on some levels, he is right.

She sits stiffly in her cramped seat, trying to appear unaware of his proximity. She has been avoiding him for this reason, among others, and she thinks that he would cling to her simply because the others are no longer here. But that is not fair to him, in all honesty, because she thinks that she would do the same, and perhaps before he would.

He has told her that their deaths were not her fault. He says this blatantly, and when he does, she wants to describe to him the nuances. She wants to tell him about the variations and degrees of death and of guilt. She wants to watch understanding dawn upon him. She wants him to know how she lives.

But she has said nothing. She would not break him again. He already does not understand that part of her, and she does not want to widen that gap. She does not want to have him look at her and see her as the destroyer of his best friends. She sometimes thinks that this would be better, though, because then perhaps in his revulsion he would leave her alone. She doesn't really believe this, though. She thinks that he would try to love her, try to rehabilitate her, and this would be the undoing of them both.

He shifts next to her, and she glances over at him. He opens his eyes when he feels her gaze upon him. "Aren't you going to sleep, Yves?"

"I can't sleep on planes," she replies, for lack of anything else to say. How can she tell him that she cannot sleep for more than a few hours at a time? She is not sure that she would like to sleep for any longer, though, because her dreams are visions of death and loss and pain. She wonders what he dreams about. Is he able to forget, or is he haunted as she is? He should not be, because while he may remember them, he has not known everything that went before.

"You could try," he suggests, and before she can react, he slides over and reaches around her, moving her slightly towards him. "Lean against me." With his arm guiding her, she does so, and then she can hear the evenness of his breathing, and she knows that he is sleeping. He has not removed his arm, and so she is trapped for fear of awakening him. She wonders why she worries about this, and she decides that she does not want to think about it. Instead, giving in, hoping that this time will be different, she closes her eyes.

Darkness. He sits down beside her on the worn sofa, and she thinks that she should have heard him coming. He is quiet, though, and she thinks that this has intensified since . . . then. "Couldn't sleep, Yves?" he murmurs, and she wonder if it is directed more at her or toward himself.

"And you?" she asks.

"You left," he says simply.

"Go back to bed, Jimmy," she tells him, more harshly than she intends to.

"So you can sit in the dark by yourself and think about little Jimmy sleeping soundly in the next room?" The sarcasm is unexpected and painfully accurate. She does not respond, though, because he is right. A moment later he sighs. "You're not the only one who wonders."

"I should be," she answers softly. "I should be."

"Why? Because I'm too dumb? Too innocent?"

"Because you shouldn't have to." Her whisper is choked and she can almost hear him wince. And then he is gone in a burst of red, the room explodes with smoke and gunfire, and she falls into consciousness, cutting off a scream before it passes through her lips. The plane is still dark, he is sleeping beside her, and they are descending into Seattle.

They arrive at the nondescript hotel with no trouble. He was content to look out the window, to watch the scenery as she maneuvered through the streets, and now he is standing in the middle of her hotel room, looking slightly confused. "Yes, Jimmy?" she asks tiredly.

"What are we doing to do now?" he questions, sounding excited and somehow plaintive.

"Well," she begins. "I am going to put away my things, and then I am going to out for a little while. I'm not sure what you are going to do."

"I thought I was coming with you," he says, hurt.

"You came with me. You're here now. What else do you want?" she snaps. She wants to blame it on exhaustion, but she can't, and she sighs. "I've got to meet my contact."

"What should I do?"

"Wait here."

"But," she cuts him off mid-sentence.

"Jimmy, please. I'll be back soon. Try to keep out of trouble until then?" At his resigned nod she turns and stalks out of the room, ignoring the unpacked bag lying on the flowered bedspread. Once in the hall, with the door closed safely behind her, she allows herself a deep breath. This will be harder than she thought, and she wishes so badly that she had not let him come. She wishes that she had fought it, eluded him, something, so that he would not be here now. It could so easily become dangerous, both in regard to the reason she is here and to herself, as well.

She walks quickly out to the parking lot, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched, trying to fight the urge to turn around and catch him watching her walk away. She tells herself to focus on the task at hand, on the upcoming rendevous. She will be purchasing information, in an odd role reversal. She is buying what could very possibly begin the destruction of her father's world. If all goes as she expects it to, she will walk away with proof, real proof, of one of his finest projects.

He wants to be the king that will not fall. He wants to live forever, to continue his reign for as long as possible, and this is how he is going about it. He has chosen scientists, built a team, and their only goal is to find immortality and to give it to him. Working with nanotechnology, they have been attempting to create a drug that would stop the user from aging. Through their achievements, she believes that she can destroy him. He thinks that he works in secrecy, and so he does not implement such security around the Immortal Group as he does around the rest of his projects. Meaning that there should be records. Records and names that, when put to the proper use, can be deadly.

She stops the car next to the darkened industrial warehouse in which she is supposed to meet her contact, a man she knows only as Anarchist17. She feels oddly undressed to be going in without backup, without even the Gunmen to rely on, but she had been doing this for so long before she met them, before she began to trust them . . . it should not matter. She shuts the car door quietly and makes her way into the main offices of the former storage building.

It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, and she has to blink before she can really see the man standing opposite her, darkness against a wall gray with grime. He is slender, wearing a leather jacket, and as she crosses the room she pulls out the envelope containing her part of the deal, payment. "As promised," she murmurs, and he nods.

"As promised," he says as he hands her a small packet of papers. She slides them into her jacket and turns to go, only to be shoved forward. She spins around and punches, but he moves backwards quickly and grabs her wrist, twisting her body against him with iron strength. His body is taut, muscular, and his voice is cold as he whispers, "Surprise. Didn't expect this, Lois?" He knows, and her eyes widen involuntarily as she realizes how foolish she has been, how much she has forgotten. He moves slightly behind her, displaying a stiletto in her vision.

She tenses and he smiles into her hair. "Don't worry. I'm not going to kill you. Not with this blade." His words are cold and tight, and she can feel the metal on her wrist. Then he shoves her and, not expecting this sudden release, she stumbles forward. By the time she turns around, he is gone, the office door ajar, and she can hear an engine start outside. She looks down at her wrist, pushing back her jacket sleeve, surprised at the apparent restraint of the man . . . someone she knows, she thinks, because his voice is familiar.

The slight cut is red, blood welling at the surface. It does not hurt, but it looks odd, and it takes a moment for her to realize that her blood is moving.

She closes her eyes momentarily, trying to focus, hoping to open them and see that it was nothing. A hallucination, would that be better? And when she does, the wound has stopped bleeding and whatever she saw is no longer there.

She waits until she gets into the car and is a good distance away before looking at the sheaf of papers she was given, though she does not know what she really expects to get out of them now. An answer, perhaps, to what he - Anarchist17 - has done to her, or maybe to why. Her wrist does not hurt, and she is trying not to think about what, exactly, it means. What could have been on the blade, what she could now be carrying in her body. He was, or still is, a doctor, and working for what she knows as evil.

The streets are dim with twilight when she eases the car to a stop in the hotel parking lot. She does not know if he will still be awake, and so she opens the envelope in the car. She is not sure why she wants to know what is in it first, without him; she needs to know what is happening before she tells him anything, she thinks. She has to protect him . . . and that knowledge is something she has known for so long. To be the fighter, the one who protects and leads . . . it is tiring, and yet she does not think that she could ever stop.

There is a letter, typed neatly on white paper, and there are several blank sheets. Empty. She does not know why she would have expected otherwise, and so she scans over the letter. It is addressed to her, to Lois, and she does not know if there is really a difference between the identities. The letter is brief and it is unsigned and it is a warning. It is signed `Anarchist17,' and he has made sure that there is nothing she can use against him.

She sighs, trying to overcome the urge to simply turn around and drive away, and then she gets out of the car and goes into the hotel. Her room is on the eighteenth floor, and the time she spends in the elevator is enough for her to gather what composure she has. She wonders if he is still here, and even as she wonders, she knows it is not worth thinking about. He will be. She pulls her room key out of her jacket, sliding it in and out of the lock. She opens the door quietly, not sure whether he will still be in her room or not. She is not sure whether she would like him to have gone away, so that she could think in peace, or whether she would like him to be there so that she will not let herself fall apart.

He isn't there. She slides out of her leather jacket, pausing to hang it up in the mirrored closet. Slipping out of her heeled boots, she wonders what she is going to do. How she is going to find out. Whether she should continue to work on this. What she is going to tell him tomorrow. Anarchist17's letter said nothing about the blade - in fact, it was almost careful to avoid that entirely. She wonders if she is being paranoid, if it was simply a warning and nothing less. Almost unconsciously her hand goes to her wrist, and she touches the slice gently. It is beginning to heal already, small knots forming over the gap, and she wonders if she would be able to sleep if she tried.

She crosses the room to the large windows overlooking the coast. The city should be dark, but instead neon illuminates the night. She can make out the headlights of passing cars, and she wishes that she were in one of them, headed to home and to nothing more than a television set and a late dinner. She wonders, though, if that would be enough for her. Would a mundane life be enough, and why shouldn't it be?

She turns back to the relative anonymity of her room and the more immediate problems that face her, and then she shakes her head and goes to turn on the water for a shower. She strips quickly, stepping under the steaming water and wondering if it is possible to scald herself clean. She runs soap over her body, trying to appreciate the time to reflect, and then she decides that it is of no use. She washes herself regretfully, and then steps out of the shower. Her thoughts are going in circles, and she is not accomplishing anything. Sliding between the cotton sheets, she hopes that she is tired enough to sleep without dreaming.

Light. She is younger, an adolescent, her body fresh and unscarred. She smiles, feeling cool tiles beneath her feet as she pulls the silk robe around herself. He is standing in front of the door that leads to the ocean, and the morning light streams in around him. She stretches silently, gliding behind him, and as she touches the metal in her pocket, some part of her remembers. He turns, the sun shining red on his dark hair, and then she remembers how he looked the first time. He falls, and then he is no longer Andre but all of them . . . they are fighting, and as she looks down at her hands, they are red, but this time it wasn't her blade. She glances up, and he is there, her father and Gillnitz, both of them, and they laugh as she takes the knife into herself . . .

And then she awakens, sweating and cold. She sits up as she pulls the blankets around her, reflecting on a dream she has had so many times before. She knows that she will never look into his eyes and see the recognition of guilt and death that she has seen in so many men, in men who did not deserve it. He does, though, and now she will not have the chance. In his crime he took any justice she could have been able to deliver, and so she has watched the deaths of three of her closest companions in vain.

She should have been faster. She should have been quicker. She should have known. These are thoughts that run repeatedly through her mind, and no matter how many times she tells herself that she simply couldn't have, they will not stop. Because she could have stopped him. It was possible. She failed, and so they paid for it. They paid for it, and so did Jimmy, with his innocence and his laughter.

They were buried as heroes. They died for their country, as patriots, and they would have wanted that. They did want that . . . they had no choice but to want that, because otherwise they would have gone to their deaths unwillingly. Better to choose the death of a savior than the death of a bystander.

Perhaps she, then, is their Judas. If they counted her as a friend, which she wants to believe, does believe, that they did, she in turn gave them their death. She offered it to them as heroes, and they took it as such, but what choice did they really have?

She shivers, glancing over at the clock, glowing numbers telling her that she hadn't been asleep for more than four or five hours. As her feet touch the floor, though, she thinks that if she had the choice, she would never sleep again.

She is sitting in front of the windows when he opens the door, and he raises his hands in apology when she stands up quickly. "It's just me, Yves," he says, and she nods.

"So, what happened?" he asks, when she does not volunteer anything.

"It was a trap. I received a warning. And this," she pulls her sleeve enough to show him the slight cut. She has decided to be honest, though not to tell him more than necessary. There is really nothing else she can do, because she can only hold him away for so long. He reaches out for her arm, and she pulls it away. He frowns slightly.

"Are you okay?" he questions concernedly.

"I'm fine," she replies automatically. He sighs.

"You don't have to," he stops when he sees the look in her eyes, and he does not finish what he was going to say. "What are we going to do?"

"I," she informs him, "am going to find out who Anarchist17 really is. And why he stopped with a cut."

He nods. ""How're we going to find out about the Antichrist?"

"What?" She shakes her head slightly.

"The guy . . . your contact.

"You're not . . . ah." She sighs, not wanting to bring it up again. "By going through all of the information we exchanged, looking for anything that might hint at his identity. Anything at all." She hands him a sheaf of papers and then reaches for her titanium notebook.

They work in relative silence, his suggestions of bringing in some of his music quelled by her disinterested stares. She does not know what he thinks he is looking for, and she does not know how he would understand any of what he is seeing - computer printouts, lines of code - but she does not want to take the time to explain. She scrolls through what she has on the laptop, various minimalist letters. Nothing.

[root@neo /usr17:] She blinks, rereading the line. It shouldn't be there, she thinks. She shouldn't have gotten so close . . . but there it is. She wonders why Anarchist17 didn't catch it, and she wonders if he ignored it on purpose. It doesn't matter at the moment, though, as she stares at the glowing characters. Neo. The system. Wherever it was located, she would find, at the least, a record. She minimizes the screen, pulling up a new window.

She stretches, waiting for the search to conclude. She glances around the room, wondering when the morning turned to afternoon and how early shadows can already be forming. She has lost a day, and she does not know how many she has left. She looks over at him, sprawled across the floor, surrounded by papers, and judging by the expression on his face, hard at work. She smiles slightly, turning back to the computer.

One result. Obsidian, Inc., working out of Seattle.

"Got it," she breathes, and he looks up, startled.

"You did? I haven't found anything . . . I don't think this is in English," he says confidentially, and she sighs.

"Thanks for helping, Jimmy," she tells him, and he grins.

"No problem. Are we going somewhere tonight, or . . ."

"Tomorrow," she says. "Tomorrow."

"What are we doing tonight?"

"I have no," and she sees what he wants. "Do you want dinner, Jimmy?"

He nods. "There's a room service menu over there," she gestures in the general area of the uniformly designed table. "Order something. I've got to work on this."

Sometime later she looks up, and for a moment she wonders why it is so dark. Then she realizes that he is gone and that he's left a tray on the table for her, evidently several hours ago. She sighs, wondering when he left and why she didn't hear him go. She thinks that she should have, that she should have said something, but when she looks back at what she has accomplished, she has to wonder if she would have gotten it done otherwise. It has been so long since she has done this, and she had not remembered how much she missed it.

Turning off her notebook, she leans her head onto the table, relishing the feel of the smooth wood grain against her warm skin. She lets out a deep breath, wondering if mental exhaustion will be enough to allow her to sleep. She wonders how long it will be until he returns.

She is almost asleep, and then she is awake.

Sharpness all over her body, burning, tingling with pain and pleasure at the same time should she scream with pain or pleasure or just terror but she can't speak can't move and it hurts hurts but hurts so exquisitely goddamn much

And then it is over, and she is sitting rigid in her chair, measuring each breath and wondering if she made any noise. For a moment she isn't sure if it was real, but as she attempts to get up, she feels leftover twinges in her muscles. Moving more slowly, she knows it had to be. Whatever Anarchist17 was carrying, she now has in her own body.

She stares into the screen, watching alphanumeric characters scroll past. She has to find out who Anarchist17 is, what he has given her, and what it will do. She thinks that she should be terrified, and perhaps she is, but right now all she can feel is curious and slightly numb. She wonders if it is shock or simply a lack of caring. She wonders if she is just doing exactly what whoever engineered this wants her to do.

She wonders how long she will be able to keep it hidden from Jimmy. She thinks that she should get away from him as soon as possible, because she doesn't want to expose him to this and she doesn't want him to see her . . . . like this. And yet she wants him to stay. She wonders if it is situations like this that lead to personality disorders, and she thinks with a sad smile that it is already too late for something like that.

The LCD casts a pale light over her face as she enters the necessary commands. She crosses her fingers, and then lets herself relax when the next screen appears, listing employee names and user profiles. She glances over the list until she reaches number 17, a Dara Love Welhsey. She pauses for a moment, and then slowly moves to the next page. She waits, almost certain, as the image next to the corporate ID loads, and when it finalizes, she is not sure whether she should be relieved or worried. It is a blonde woman, not resembling her in the slightest. She wonders if the name is simply a coincidence, and then she thinks that it would be too perfect if it was.

She frowns, realizing that this means whatever is going on is more than just the betrayal of one person. It's a group, a conspiracy . . . she makes a note of the woman's home address, not wanting to visit Obsidian, Inc. only to discover that the setup is company-wide, and then she turns off the notebook and sighs, placing her fingers against her temples. She thinks that maybe she should wait for Jimmy before going out, and then she wonders why. She bites her lip impatiently, glancing at the clock and seeing that if she doesn't leave soon, she may miss Welhsey as she leaves for work. Making a decision, she gathers her things and closes the door behind her.

His room is light, a contrast to the darkened area she has created in her own. She lets herself in quietly, wondering if he was aware of the connotations of the key he left behind on her table. She isn't sure, and in some respects she is not sure that she would like to be.

He is sprawled across the large bed, fully clothed and apparently sound asleep. She crosses over and bends down next to him, not sure how she should awaken him. He looks so young, and then she realizes that it is no different from how he usually looks. He is young, after all, and so is she. She wonders when she stopped thinking of herself as so and when she began thinking about her mortality. She reaches out a hand to brush the hair away from his face, and then stops when he moves, rolling over slightly. Aware of a quickening in her own breathing, she pulls her hand away and goes without waking him.

Welhsey's apartment is plain, and incredibly lax with regard to security, and she is slightly surprised when she is able to make it up to the woman's quarters unquestioned. She wonders what she is going to say, and then she knocks on the door. She wonders what will happen if the woman opens the door firing and decides that the likelihood of that is slim, and indeed, the door is opened by a frail and harried-looking blonde who simply looks at her expectantly.

"Ms. Welhsey?" she asks. "Do you have a moment?"

"I'm about to leave for work," the woman answers, "but if you'd like to come in, I can spare a few seconds." She nods in response and enters the apartment cautiously, wondering if the entire meeting is being recorded.

Once the door is closed behind them, the woman raises her eyebrows. "Can I help you?"

Surprised at the apparent lack of recognition, she hesitates. "Sorry to bother you so early in the morning. I'm Elle Wyvold, and I'm interested in getting a job with your company, Obsidian . . . I saw your site online, and they listed you as someone I could talk to."

"Excuse me?" Welhsey looks taken aback. "I'm not aware . . . just a moment, please." She disappears into an adjoining room and returns aiming a small pistol. "Now who are you, again?"

Too easy, she thinks. It was too easy. "Ms. Welhsey, I assure you I'm not here to harm you. I just want to ask you some questions."

"I think I'll be the one asking questions, seeing's how I'm the one with the gun," Welhsey snaps, gesturing her into an uncomfortable looking metal chair. She sighs, mentally measuring the distance between her and the other woman, and then moves quickly, knocking the gun out of the woman's hand and forcing her onto ground, one knee in her back, before the Obsidian employee can react.

"Ms. Welhsey, I'm trying not to be difficult. Are you familiar with the name Anarchist17?" She doesn't know where that question came from, why she asked it so quickly, but beneath her the woman stops struggling.

"Oh God, you're her, aren't you? You're the woman he was meeting."

"Excuse me?" The tone of fear in her voice takes her aback, and she wonders how informed Welhsey really was about what was going on. Beneath her, the woman sighs.

"Let me up, and I'll tell you what I know." She allows the woman to stand, keeping the weapon aimed steadily at her.

"Then talk," she says coldly. Welhsey perches delicately on the metal seat.

"I knew it was just a matter of time," she answers softly. "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it."

"Knew what?"

"Knew that you would catch on, that you would find us. He said that he would scare you off, warn you, get you to leave us alone."

"Who is he, Ms. Welhsey?" she asks, her mind finding a multitude of possibilities, all impossible.

"Matthew," the blonde replies. "He told me, though, that if I saw you, I should run like hell and let him know. He said he would take care of it. He said he would take care of me."

"I'm sorry," she says sharply, "but just who is 'Matthew' and what were you planning on doing to me?"

The woman looks a little surprised. "You don't know? I thought . . . he said you were better than this."

"Better than what?" She is rapidly growing tired of this, and she wonders if she's failed somehow. She feels like she has, and she thinks that letting this woman make her feel like this is foolish.

"He said you were trained . . . he said this was the only way to bring you down. He said," she frowns slightly, trying to remember. "He said that you were truly your father's daughter."

"How does he know that?" The words are ice, each one forced out as if in pain.

"He said your father told him. He said your father told him everything. He said that your father controlled him, and that through pleasing him, he would have whatever he wanted."

"Why are you telling me this?" she asks softly. There has got to be a motive to this honesty, and she wants to know now. She wants to know now so that she can know that she cannot trust this woman.

"You would find out anyway," Welhsey replies. "And after all he's told me, I have say I'm starting to admire the way you work."

She opens her mouth to reply, but before she can, she sees something move in the building across the way. She turns to look at it, and Welhsey pauses. "No. Tell me he," the blonde begins, and then it is too late. She drops to the ground, an instinct based purely in reflex and not at all a function of thought. She can hear her heart pounding in her ears as she throws herself out of the door and down the stairs, breaking out of the entrance at a full run. She does not stop moving until she is in the rental car and a mile away, and then she allows herself to pull over and rest her head against the leather steering wheel. She wonders when she lost it, the ability to watch death so coldly and to not let it affect her.

Dara Love Welhsey. Obsidian employee, worked with someone named Matthew, who works with her father. She shudders as she remembers the feel of something wet on her dark shirt and the look in Welhsey's light eyes as she recognized the look of death in her own.

She wonders why he didn't aim at her. He had a clear shot, and it would have been so much easier. She thinks that he is playing with her, and she wonders what he has planned for the future. She wonders what effect whatever he poisoned her with will have. She thinks that she wants to vomit, but instead she drives slowly back to the hotel.

When she lets herself into her room, he is waiting. He is sitting on the edge of her bed, not looking at anything in particular, and the expression on his face when he sees her makes her want to cry. She nods at him, drops her jacket on the table, and then goes into the bathroom, where she spends several minutes making certain that she won't throw up. Then she goes back out and sits opposite him on a chair she drags away from the table, and she waits for him to begin. He does.

"Yves, please. I know you don't want me here, but I want to help. I have to," he tells her, and when she looks at him she wants to curl up and cry, and then sleep for as long as possible. Instead, she nods, and then, wondering why, she tells him. She is tired of pretending, tired of everything, and so if this is to be the end, then at least she can say she tried to tell him why.

She starts from the beginning, and she tries to make it as simple as possible. Not for him, but for her. Because some of these are memories that she can barely tolerate, and others are pieces that she remembers only as she says them. She does not want to make them any more real, any more vivid, than she already knows.

She tells him about her father, and the way that he raised her in steel and ice. She tells him about her mother, and how she died only when faith was not enough. She tells him about Drou, and she could not be both a servant and a friend. She tells him about Andre, but she does not tell him about how he looked at her when he died. She tells him about the Gunmen, and how she could have saved them. She tells him about Anarchist17 and Welhsey . . .

She tells him everything that she can fit into words. The others, the images and the sensations, she keeps to herself. It has to be that way, she thinks, because if even she cannot speak them, he will not be able to understand. She watches him as she speaks, looking for the first glimpse of a separation, of a hatred. She speaks, and she thinks that she should stop before it is too late, but she can't, and he makes no move to stop her himself.

When she is done, it is quiet. He does not speak, and when she rises and retrieves her jacket, he does not move to stop her. She pauses in the hallway, and when there is nothing, she walks faster.

The streets are chilled and she shivers slightly, wondering why she had to tell him so much. He didn't ask for it, not all of it. She wonders why he didn't stop her, and why she didn't notice that she was going too far, way past all of the limits she had thought about so many times. Maybe it is better like this, though, because she will not have to worry about hiding as much, and she will not have to worry about what he will do when he finds out. She won't have to worry about him at all, once he leaves. She wonders if he will be gone when she returns to the hotel, and she wonders when she will go back.

She walks for hours, ignoring the looks she receives from the other pedestrians. She walks through the early shadows into the neon glow, and she stops only when she thinks that she is beyond feeling anything other than exhaustion. She walks back to the hotel, finds her room empty and dark, and collapses willingly into her bed.

She awakens to find him watching her, and she wonders how he got in, until she remembers that she did not lock her door, and then she wonders if that is a sign of something else, something larger. He waits until she sits up, pulling her hair back and stretching slightly. "Yves?" he says. "I'm sorry I didn't go with you last night. I couldn't . . . and then I was thinking about what that might have seemed like to you, and I wanted to tell you that I just needed to think. That was a lot . . ."

"I know. I'm sorry," she answers, wondering how he is going to say goodbye.

"Don't be. Thanks for telling me." She nods in response, and then he continues. "You don't have to hide anything from me." She waits for him to continue, but he doesn't, and when she looks up at him he is looking back at her, waiting for a response. She shrugs, not knowing what to say. Somehow "I know" seems paltry, and she honestly cannot think of anything else.

Finally he breaks the silence. "What are we going to do now?" he asks her.

"I don't know," she answers, and then she sighs. "We're going to go to Obsidian."

She waits in the shadows of the small car as one by one employees filter out of the small, nondescript building. The car is small, cramped even, but she is aware of his presence next to her only peripherally. Her thoughts are on what she will do, what she will look for, what she will find. She is not sure what she would like to find, really, because she wonders if an attempt at hope would be better than simple knowledge. She thinks that perhaps she is being overly fatalistic, and so she tries to think about precise movements rather than what they would symbolize. An elaborate dance, each step chosen carefully though unknown to the dancer before . . .

He touches her shoulder and she jumps slightly. "Ready?" she asks to mask her break in composure. She does not want to let him see that she is afraid, that in part she is afraid of herself. He would fear her, then, and she does not want that. She could watch him recoil in hate, she thinks, but not fear. She thinks that if he were to fear her, she would truly have lost all she wanted. His pure humanity, his innocence, to be repelled by acknowledgment of her . . .

They open opposite doors and she straightens her dark jacket. She knows that she will not pass close inspection, because she did not take the time, did not have the materials, and she also knows that she is taking a great risk in assuming that the man, Matthew, did not notify anyone of his actions, but she sees no other way. Nothing immediate. She wonders again if perhaps she is developing some sort of urge, some sort of subconscious desire to die.

He watches her walk away, and then she hears the car door close behind her. She convinced him that she needs to do this alone, and now she stands in front of the glass doors, dressed in a demure suit and clenching her fingers nervously. Without a final thought - not wanting to allow herself any regrets - she opens one of the doors and strides determinedly inside.

The lobby is cool and sterile and it takes almost no effort to walk past the security desk down to the bank of elevators at the end of the hallway. The walls are plain, undecorated, and she wishes she knew what kind of security is place, other than the obvious guards. There is nothing she can do about it now, and so she continues resolutely down to the small office marked "208 - Welhsey" on the building map.

The door is not locked, to her surprise, and she thinks that the room will have been cleaned, sanitized. She waits a moment in dreadful silence for what she thinks will be inevitable, but when no security forces appear, she allows herself to look around the space for something other than an immediate threat. A computer terminal sits on the gray faux marble desk, monitor facing away from her. The office has been done in shades of gray, she realizes, and wonders if it was a favorite of color of Welhsey's or if it was just a corporate design. The only other discernable object in the room is a small screen mounted on the right side of the desk. It is dark, and she wonders if it was once a security camera.

She sits gingerly on the matte gray chair, switching on the computer. After several moments of practiced improvisation, she manages to pull up a list of files, surprisingly still present, though in their presence supportive of Matthew keeping his actions secret. She selects the most recently opened file, a video, not sure of what to expect. A documentary of a recent discovery, a threat, or something more frivolous and personal?

Welhsey's office appears onscreen, and from the apparent position, the video was taken from the screen next to the desk. She watches it without reacting as the digital Welhsey stands to greet a dark-haired man, and she realizes that he looks familiar because he is Anarchist17 - Matthew.

She reaches for the volume control almost subconsciously, turning the knob while she stares at the screen. The onscreen Matthew sits down across from Welhsey and hands her a slim folder. "The files," he says, and Welhsey nods. She opens the folder, glancing at the contents, and as she watches the screen, she wishes that she could enhance that corner, to see what the folder contained. That will come later, she tells herself. The blonde skims through the papers and then looks up at Matthew.

"You're meeting her soon?" Welhsey queries flatly, and then she thinks she knows what the files are, suddenly realizing that she is sitting in the dead woman's chair, mirroring her actions.

"As soon as I can. She's pressing for a date," the man says. "The sooner, the better, for both of us."

"All four of us, really. Any progress with regard to Corin's group?" She does not react to the mention of her father, because she knew it would come eventually.

"They're still not letting us in," Matthew hisses, suddenly angry, and she wonders why. He sighs, and then he shrugs. "I don't know, Dara. I don't know what he wants, what he wants me to do, but he's always there. Always watching me with that damned knowing look. I don't know . . ."

Welhsey reaches across the desk to touch his shoulder. "We'll do it, Matthew. We'll do it together." And then the woman turns around, her hand filling the camera screen, and then it is black.

She leans back slightly, wondering who was the last to view this video. Welhsey? Maybe, but she doesn't think that she would really need to. And looking at the date the video was created, Welhsey only had a day to do so. She shudders slightly, replaying mental images of the woman's death, and she wonders how Matthew could have allowed himself to do it, could have destroyed her with the memories of even the previous day's conversation in mind. She knows, though, that somehow he did, and she wonders how much she has underestimated him. She folds her arms over her chest, sighing. Wondering what she is going to do now, what she is supposed to be doing. She thinks it was easier when she had a goal, a purpose, and when it was not her life that she was attempting to save.

Something moves in her peripheral vision, and she glances up at the computer screen. The video frame has been replaced by a black screen, a light cursor flashing in the corner. As she watches, it moves to allow letters to appear. She watches transfixed as it spells out a message.

Hello. I am here. Is this a test? I am watching you.

She hesitates, wondering who it is from. Who is watching her. Trying to decide whether to attempt to reply or to get the hell out of the office. She is reaching for the mouse when the screen flickers and returns to the original video program. She jumps and it takes a surprising effort for her to flick the power switch on the computer for a manual shutdown. She rises and crosses the room, not sure if the electronic doors are going to lock. Not sure if the message was a warning or a joke. If . . .

And then she is walking down the hall, up the stairs, moving as fast as she can without drawing any attention to herself. She does not pass any other employees, and when she reaches the lobby the security desk is empty. She ignores the urge to break into a run as her heels click across the tiled floor, and then she is outside.

The night air is cool on her face and she takes a deep breath, trying to decide where she went wrong. She wonders what is wrong with her, why she is making so many mistakes. Why it matters. And then she thinks she understands.

She is scared. And unlike before, she has a reason to be.

The car is parked where she left it, and she thinks for a moment that he is not inside. When she walks closer, though, she can see him, apparently sleeping in his seat. He awakes abruptly when she opens her door and slides in. "What happened?" he asks as he stretches, turning slightly.

"I don't," she begins, and then changes her mind. She thinks that she will have to be honest; it was what she decided to do. "I got into Welhsey's computer and went through one of the security videos she kept on it. Then I got a message that I was being watched."

"Are you okay?" He frowns concernedly.

"I'm fine," she tells him. "I just wish . . . that I knew what was going on." He nods, not saying anything, and gives her a small smile.

"It'll be alright, Yves." And then he starts the car and there is no sound save for the noise from the engine.

She stares out the window at the lights, the darkened storefronts and the passing cars. She wonders where she went wrong, where she made her crucial mistake. It was supposed to be simple, a transferal of money and information, and already she should have been able to do something to start the inevitable entropy of her father's work. Instead she has nothing, has been . . . poisoned with something she did not know, and can do nothing about it. Without understanding what has been done to her, she cannot know what she will be able to do, and without that knowledge, she can do nothing to stop her father. She sighs, feeling the beginnings of a headache grating on her temples.

He parks the car neatly in front of the ornate hotel, and she stares at it for a moment before comprehending her location. The pretentious design irritates her and the thought of returning to her room and climbing beneath the soft-plastic sheets to sleep is almost unbearable.

But he is waiting for her, and so she climbs out of the vehicle, refusing to look at the bricked building. Instead she turns to watch the coast behind them, dark enough to be almost indistinct from the cloud-darkened sky. She thinks that it will rain soon, and she shivers slightly. She feels him behind her and she thinks that she would break if he touched her, and so she looks away from the shore, not meeting his eyes. "I'm going to go take this off," she says, gesturing at her face. "I'll see you later."

She does not wait for a response as she walks away. If she turns back and sees him standing alone, silhouetted against the dark sky, she will shatter. And so she walks one step at a time into the hotel, into the elevator, down the hall. She stares at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, staring into her eyes in Welhsey's fragile shape, and she feels incredibly ill. Suddenly she cannot wait to get the weight off her face.

The robe is soft on her skin as she pulls it tightly around her body, tying it snugly. Her hair is wet, dripping down and soaking into her back, but she feels better. She is herself again, whatever that means. She is no longer the dead woman, though of how long that reality will last she is not sure.

She flicks off the bathroom light and steps into her darkened room. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the change, but when they do she realizes that she can see the city and beyond it the ocean from her window. It is hypnotic and sad, she thinks, and for a moment she thinks that she can see ghosts. She shakes her head slightly, ridding herself of such fantasy. It won't help.

There is a knock at her door and she goes to open it, first checking to see that it is in fact Jimmy. She undoes the deadbolt, opens the door, and retreats back to the window. Waiting to see what he will say. She can see her reflection in the glass in almost perfect detail, but her eyes are invisible because they match the darkness outside.

"Yves?" he begins, and then she thinks that she is falling. Her hand against the window - she can imagine the glass shattering around her - and then it is here again, the pain, the sensation, whatever it is, it is all she knows, all she can focus on and she can feel everything and she wants to scream wants to cry wants to hide

She blinks slowly, trying to regain her sense of balance, and then she realizes that she is on the floor. He is bending over her and then she realizes that she can feel his hands on her shoulders. He is saying something. "Yves?"

She shivers slightly. "What?"

"What was - are you okay? Should I call an ambulance? What was that?" his words come out in a rush.

"I'm fine. No. Just let me up." He obliges and she tenses under his scrutiny, making every effort not to let the residual tingling throughout her body show on her face as she sits gingerly on the edge of the bed. She thinks that she should feel humiliated, but she just feels tired. Glad that it wasn't anywhere else. That only he saw. She wonders how she will explain it to him.

He kneels in front of her on the floor. "What is it?"

She sighs, crossing her arms across her chest. "I don't know. I think it's related to whatever was on Matthew's knife. I don't know."

"It's happened before?" he asks, and she wonders how he could tell and why she can hide from everyone else but him.

"Once," she says quietly.

"Why didn't you tell me?" His voice is gentle, but she thinks that there is something else - hurt, maybe. Disappointment.

"I didn't want you to worry." I didn't want to make it real . . . "I don't know anything about it. There's no reason for the both of us to worry about it."

He is silent for a moment, and then he touches her hand lightly. "I want to help, Yves. You know that." She is suddenly acutely aware of the damp coldness on her back, the brisk temperature of the room, the fact that she is wearing only her robe.

"I know," she says. "And it doesn't matter anymore."

"It does. We have to find out what it was, why . . . and what happened. Yves, the way you fell . . . I thought . . ."

"I know," she answers. "I saw. I watched it." He looks at her quizzically until she continues. "The last time was different. It was just a - tingling. This time it was more. This time, I think I know what it was."

"What?" he questions immediately.

She stares down at the hand he still holds, the way his larger one envelops it. "They were working on immortality," she says. "They were studying nanotechnology. They were creating machines that would do whatever they want." She looks up to meet his eyes. "I think that's what was on the blade. What is now . . . in me." She waits until she sees that he understands. "What happened to me?" she whispers, more to herself than to him, and then he wraps his arms around her, holding her against his body. She thinks that she should pull away, should push him back, but instead she leans into him, allowing him to support her.

After a few moments he releases her. "Yves," he says softly. "I'm sorry." It is such a simple phrase, so overused that it should seem trite, but it doesn't. She nods.

"Well," she swallows. "I think that's about it."

He nods. "For now. We'll work on it in the morning, hm? Both of us." He touches her shoulder lightly. "Right?"

"Right," she echoes, and then he smiles. The door closes behind him and she lies back on the bed. She wonders what he would do if she left during the night, and she wonders when he began to let her out of his sight. He's right, though - she is too tired to run, and right now, she doesn't have anywhere to run to.

She watches the sun rise, destroying the darkness and flooding the city with almost irritable brightness. It is easier to pretend when she cannot blend into the darkness. She thinks that as the skies lighten, she begins to change. Fanciful, she knows, but perhaps too true. She sips her coffee, made several hours ago with the small machine by the sink, and relishes the bleak taste on her tongue. Blackness, she thinks. What it means to be awake. She wonders how much she would really like to close her eyes and be able to forget.

She sighs, draining her mug to bone-dust white, and then she rises. She stares at herself in the mirror over the sink, reflecting so recently a dead woman. Lady Lazarus, she thinks. Truly. She sighs, setting the porcelain down gently and turning to check her mail.

Two messages. She ignores the first, a request for services at an exorbitant price, and focuses on the other. She stares at it for a moment before she is able to fully comprehend. An image, unreal but of extreme quality. A dream-image, she thinks, a photo of a nightmare. She stares at her onscreen self and wonders if her eyes are always that dark. But behind her, the others . . . fallen and broken, and yet somehow still alive. And then she realizes that the image of her has been blurred over a photo of her father, and she slams down the laptop screen as the source of the image resurfaces.

A nightmare. One of her most vivid, most recent. She shudders at the memory of the sensations that are always so real in sleep, and at the harsh reality of such sensations after dawn. Taking a deep breath, she steels herself as she raises the screen., forcing herself not to react at the sight of the - collage. She swallows, scrolling down past the image to the words beneath it.

I am.

There is nothing else. She sighs and stands, crossing out of the room and into the hall. He answers the door a moment after she knocks, looking slightly tired, something he tries to hide as soon as he sees her. She smiles half-heartedly at the attempt. "Morning," he greets her, moving out of the way so that she can enter.

"Morning. I just wanted to let you know that I'll be in my room most of the day, I think. On the computer." Simple enough, she thinks, and it is the truth.

"Alright," he answers. "Thanks - I mean,"

"I know. At any rate, I'll see you later." At his nod she turns and goes back into her room. She closes the door tightly behind her before pouring another cup of coffee and returning to her laptop on the desk. She thinks that her headache is intensifying, but right now there are more important things to deal with, the sender of the image being at the front of her mind. Matthew, she thinks, but how could he have known? For all that she has sacrificed in order to remain anonymous, has her father somehow managed . . . it's not unreasonable, she knows, and she hates that. Nothing is beyond him. Nothing.

Hours later, and she has nothing. Codes and lines and there is nothing. She thinks it is impossible for there to be no trace, and she has to be missing it. She blinks as her eyes blur slightly when she turns away from the screen. All of this, and she still does not know what to do. She sighs, opening the image again. She does not move this time, staring into it as she wonders what else there is.

"What's that?" His voice comes from directly behind her, and despite herself she jumps.

"Nothing." She does not turn to look at him, and he comes around the desk to face her.


"What?" She knows that her voice is cold, but she cannot think of another way to mask the exhaustion. Anything else would take too much energy, and right now, she has none.

"You have to stop it." When she opens her mouth, he continues. "Not him - what you're doing. All of it. If you don't stop, you're gonna drive it to pieces, and then there'll be nothing left."

"Jimmy," she begins. "I can't not do this. I can't ignore it. I can't pretend that everything's alright, and I can't pretend that it doesn't matter. I can't keep doing it." She still does not look at him as she realizes that her voice has risen. She closes her eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry."

A tableau in the growing darkness. They sit opposite each other, neither saying a word, as the shadows come and the temperature drops. She thinks that he will have to go, and she thinks that she is being irrational. He is still. She looks behind him, out the window, at the dark-red sky. Scarlet, she thinks, and the blackness when there is nothing left. She wonders how long it took for her mother to decide, to finally escape. She watched her then, and she did not envy her destruction. She thought it was weak, the entire act. Now she is not sure, and she hates not knowing. She hates not being certain of anything.

Her vision blurs slightly, and then she feels the burning in her eyes and realizes that she is crying. She swallows sharply to force herself to stop, and she wants to tell him to look away, to not see her like this. She wants him to let her fall apart by herself so that he will not watch the shattering. She thinks that it would be inexcusable to let him see, for the both of them. She doesn't say anything, turning her head away from him and refusing to touch her face. She will not acknowledge them, she thinks.

He does not say anything, and she appreciates this. She wonders why, but she does not want to break the silence. Does not want to draw attention, to make him see her.

"You don't need to be strong," he says finally, and she thinks that there will be more. There isn't, though, and so she lets out her breath.

"Yes, I do," she answers, even as she knows she does not need to and by doing so she is playing his game, speaking her cues. She stands quickly, because suddenly the scene is oppressive and frozen. "I'm going out," she tells him.

"I'm coming with you," he says softly, and she suddenly does not want to know why. She does not want to know what he thinks of her. She does not want to care. She doesn't answer him, grabbing her jacket as she goes out the door. He closes it behind them, taking care to make sure that it locks. She realizes that she does not care about that anymore. There are so many other ways of destruction than the physical assassin can offer.

Outside the air smells of the ocean and growing darkness. It is cool and the neon is too bright for the early evening. She walks past the car, because she does not want the forced conversation that will accompany such a ride. She thinks that she will walk forever, but then he is next to her and he is asking her where they are going.

"I don't know," she says, sounding vaguely amused. "I don't know. Why don't you choose?"

He grabs her arm, forcing her to stop, and she wonders why she doesn't stop him herself. "Yves, stop it." She pulls her arm away, not responding. She doesn't know how to. What else she can say.

"I don't think I can." The words surprise her, and she immediately wants to take them back. He is looking at her as if she has said something incredibly profound, and she wants him to stop. She turns to leave him there, and she is several feet away by the time he replies.

"I know."

There is no-one around to watch her return to the hotel. The sky is as black as is possible for the area, and when she compares it to that of other, more crowded cities, she does appreciate it. Still, she can't help but wish for more light, because the darkness makes hiding easier and she can't help feeling that she is being watched. She scans the windows lining the front of the hotel and does not see anyone staring back at her. It is not until she is ready to turn around and see who is behind her that she realizes that it is her, it is something in her, waiting. She shivers, hoping the idea is simply nervous anxiety but knowing that it has to be something else, something real.

She crosses the front lot quickly, knowing that the feeling will not fade as soon as she is within thick walls, but hoping that it will. It does, slightly, once the automated doors close tightly behind her. She takes the elevator up to her room, not wanting the empty echo of the stairwell. It is ridiculous to take comfort in the vacant protection of walls, but when there is nothing else, it will do. She thinks that perhaps she should leave the lights off, that doing so would make it harder for her to be seen, but the idea is irrational, and so she touches the bedside lamp, allowing a soft glow. It will do, she thinks, and then she wonders what she will do the next day. She wonders why they have done this to her, why he had it done. To destroy her, to stop her, vengeance mirrored, but why like this? It would have been so much easier, so much quicker, to hire an assassin. He had plenty of them, she knew.

She sighs. He has chosen this because it is what she would have chosen, or perhaps the reverse is true. She is her father's daughter, after all. She used to hate that phrase, but now she understands it as true, and she begins to appreciate it. It has been necessary, and it will be, if she is to continue.

It is art, she thinks. It is his art. He finds beauty in death, and he wants hers to be personal. She reaches to the small black radio on the dresser, suddenly finding too much in the silence. The music is soft and edged with static, but she doesn't move to adjust it. She rests against the edge of the bed, not trusting herself to rise again if she falls any further. She wonders where Jimmy is now, alone in the city. She wonders if he will be coming back. She thinks she made it clear enough that she didn't want him to, that she could not let him. Another time she might have been able to, but now he is too much. He is a reminder of what she was for a little while, and as she begins to realize this, she knows why he cannot stay. He would make her human, and that is what she cannot be if she is to destroy her father now.

She thinks that he understood.

She rests her face in her hands for a moment, trying not to think. When it doesn't work she sighs and rises, opening her laptop. She has one new message in her inbox, and she thinks that she knows who sent it. Finally.

She reads the words quickly, not sure if she should be relieved or terrified. Maybe both. A threat, a warning. My beloved daughter . . . an ending. She does not close it, but she does look away. She wonders why he did not do it earlier. She thinks it is foolish to let him hurt her now, and she swallows harshly. She shoves her chair back and realizes she has nowhere else to go.

She sleeps. He is in her dreams. They both are. First Jimmy. He touches her face gently, and she runs. Outside it is snowing, thick and frozen and white, and she is trapped. He is coming after her, and she is freezing. She hears him behind her, and she turns to tell him to go. As their eyes meet he begins to speak and there is no sound. They are in a void. And then he is gone, replaced by her father as he was the night she left. He smiles, and he tells her that he misses her. He says he wants to see her again, and so does Drou. The woman is next to him, smiling and radiant. They both want to see her again. They are both so sorry, and she is so cold.

She awakens on her feet, and almost stumbles. Leaning against a building for balance, she realizes that she is outside, on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. She is wearing her jacket and boots and she knows that she was walking. It is raining, and she can feel the moisture on her face. She is not dreaming, but she is here. She was going somewhere . . . she feels nauseated as she understands what he is doing to her. It is not enough that he can force her to lose control, but that he can control her body while she is unaware . . . where was she going? There are so many choices, so many answers. She wonders if she will find out, but she knows that she will not voluntarily return to sleep. Voluntarily . . . she wonders if he can control that, too.

She looks at the blank windows of the hotel. If she went back inside, would anyone notice? She wonders if her thoughts are even hers. She wonders . . . and she knows she will drive herself insane by wondering. There is no way to know, and she can either allow herself to think or she cannot, but the sacrifice in that would be permanent.

She takes a deep breath, trying to consider her options. She could go back inside and wait for another email, or she could try to find him again. Or she could just wait here. Give in, for the time being. She pauses, and then sighs. She really doesn't have a choice at all, not tonight. And not tomorrow. She closes her eyes.

She walks along the dark shore, Andre next to her. He is so young, so beautiful, and she knows he isn't real. None of it is. She wonders where this image came from, whether it is a simple dream or whether it was created for her. Andre looks out at the water, his eyes on something she cannot see, and when he speaks to her she is startled. He asks her why she is here, and she says that she doesn't know. He wants to know if she remembers, and she says she has never forgotten. He smiles at her, and touches her hand, and then he is cold, ash, gone, and only a faint horrible laughter reminds her he was there. And then she feels her body go numb, and she is marble, and she is lost.

She forces her eyes open before she can see where she was supposed to go, and she thinks that she has arrived. The room is white, clean, and he is waiting for her. "Daddy," she says, not knowing whether she is cursing or calling to him.

"Lois," he smiles. "Welcome." She thinks that she should hate him, that she should destroy him now, but she can't.

"You're still . . ." she doesn't finish her sentence.

"No," he says, "Not your actions. I can't do that here."

She sighs. "But what are you doing?" And why am I not dead now, she wants to say, but she stops herself.

He laughs. "I thought you were brighter than that. I thought I'd taught you better than that."

"You've done it," she answers. "You've found your immortality."

"In a manner of speaking. To think, all of those years I was focusing on the extension of the flesh. Really," he says, "I wanted to extend my mind."

"Then why am I still here?" she asks. "Why do you want me here, like this?"

He smiles at her, a cold twist of his lips. "The same reason you wanted to find me, but I would like to think I am a little more eloquent about it. Secret contacts - was that your best?"

She is silent, not knowing what she can say. What will allow her to continue, to destroy him.

"This isn't the way I'd wanted it, Lois," he tells her, almost gently. "I never wanted you to run. I wanted you to work with me. I wanted to give you my world." She senses sincerity behind his words, and she remembers how much she loved him, a long time ago.

"I would never take it," she answers. "Your world is monstrous. You are a monster."

"So you have said," he looks at her with an expression she can't read. "So you have said. But Lois, what are you?"

A murderer. The word echoes in her mind, accompanied by a rush of memories. He watches her face and she has to fight to keep it blank.

"You don't have to say it," he tells her. "You don't have to say anything." He smiles at her again, and she shudders. He looks at her for a long moment, waiting, and she does not know what for. Finally he breaks the silence.

"Is this how you are going to save the world?" he asks. "How you are going to avenge your friends?"

"No," she says. "It's not."

They stand across from each other, neither saying a word.

She remembers her mother, beautiful and dark, surrounded by candles on the last night.

She remembers cool metal against her hand as she stared into the faces of the damned.

She remembers the hurt on his face when she told him not to touch her.

"This isn't real," she says softly. "And I know it."

He waits for her to continue, and then she pulls the gun from her jacket. "Bye, Daddy," she whispers.

The world is black, and there is no sound, and then she stumbles and her hands are bleeding. She looks up at her surroundings, the darkened warehouse where she'd first seen Matthew. She has the feeling that she would find him here, if she looks, but it won't matter. She looks at the small box across the room, at the wires trailing from it. There is no screen, and it doesn't matter. Her father is dead. She wonders what he would have done, how he would have kept her there. She wonders why he let her bring a weapon. She wonders what would have happened if she had aimed at him, instead. She wonders if that was how he defined love.

She walks outside, relishing the cool breeze when it moves her hair from her face. The rain has stopped, and the moon is out, and she feels tired.

When she gets back to the hotel, his room is empty. He has left a hand-written note atop her laptop. She looks at it for a minute, and then crumples it. She hoists her bag over her shoulder, and closes the door behind her.

She never sees him again.

The End.

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