His face is a desperate mask, stretched tight. He starts forward, but the other man pulls him back.
“Dia!” he yells, struggling, “Dia!” He sags a little as she disappears into the burning house, but resumes his struggle in moments. “Angel,” he says, “She’ll die. I can’t let her go in there. She’ll die. She’ll die.” He’s frantic, this man who wanted to leave John and I behind to die. I wonder vaguely who this Dia is to him, that she matters so much.
The man named Angel is still grappling with him. He has dark hair and intense, deep-set eyes. He has the sort of angular face that looks proud and cruel and passionate, and I wonder whether he really is all or even any of those things. He wanted to save us, I remind myself. He told the others to stop. And he wears the red band of the rebels, a ragged swatch of fabric tied around his upper right arm. He’s a friend.
“So will you, if you follow her,” he says to the other man, “And that’s not happening. Not to you.”
The other man ignores him.
“You’re going in after her,” I murmur, half to myself, and he looks at me sharply, remembering for the first time that I’m here. The world swims and dips around me, a heat-haze of blurred shimmer. I want to sit down again. “You can’t. No point.” My voice has dropped too quiet for him to hear.
He pushes out of Angel’s grasp and rockets off down the street. Angel’s going after him, I think, when the barrel of a gun is pushed against the side of his head. He lurches to a halt, wild-eyed and staring. John has sunk to the pitted ground, rocking back and forth, thin arms encircling his knees. The man holding the gun wears the charcoal-coloured uniform of the City Command. His hair is dark and close-cropped. His eyes in my swinging pendulum world are pits of nothing. I’ve seen him before. Seen him in pictures; seen him on the command screens in the Research Facility. He’s the Commander. James Moreau. You couldn’t ever forget his face or his name. The hard-faced, high-strung bigot who has made the city his – Commander James Moreau. Not one could forget. Not allowed. Not free; never free of him. Never. I blink; try to focus. Everything’s moving too quickly.
He’s got three men with him. Here. Here. Why are they here on this street? I don’t understand. My knees cave beneath me and then I’m kneeling on the pavement beside John. Wish I could press myself down into the concrete and make myself invisible – Commander Moreau will see my white smock and my scars and know I’m from the Research Facility. He’ll have John and I killed, point blank, for escaping. John’s ragged whites stick to his back; he’s broken out in a cold sweat. Oh. Withdrawal. Withdrawal from the medicine. That must be why I feel the way I do.
“You ought to have been more careful who you trust,” the Commander’s saying, and his voice sounds as though it’s coming from a long way away, “Girl named Meghan Clearey? Know her? She tipped us off about where you were going to be.”
The man called Angel flinches. For the briefest moment, I see shock register on his face. Then it’s gone, and he’s impassive and marble featured again.
“It was a bit pointless, really,” says one of the Commander’s men. He’s got the blue stripe of a Lieutenant on his uniform. “We killed her, anyway.”
The Commander glares at him. “Shut up, Tiernan,” he says, his voice taking on a higher, sharper timbre, “You didn’t kill anyone. You’re all talk, you are.” To his men at large, he says, “Kill those two. We don’t need them. We’ll take this one along with us and make his death a public execution; set an example.”
I can’t breathe. Can’t move. Can’t look away or close my eyes, even though I want to.
Kill them both, he said.
It’s John and I he’s talking about.
I wait for the shot. For the pain. But it doesn’t come.
So fast. So fast, it all happens. Angel jerks away from the Commander. There’s a struggle. Blur of red and black and grey; melee of shouts and grunts; rush of panic. Somehow the gun’s in Angel’s hand. He’s wide eyed. Blank, almost. Does he even know, anymore, what he’s doing?
And then the sound that’s like the crack of a whip, only ten times louder. Commander Moreau goes flying, hitting the ground in a crumpled heap. There’s blood, and I can’t see where it’s coming from. John’s sobbing beside me, and the sound only stops when another whip-crack goes off and he jerks, head coming up, eyes rolling back, and then slumps sideways, falling onto me, skull cracked open by a bullet that came from Lieutenant Tiernan’s gun.
SOPHIE: BtN's resident whimsical insomniac fairytale-junkie!
“Hope is the thing with feathers"
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