She’s in my face, pushing me, pointing behind me, trying to herd me toward the emergency exit. “He’s coming, you have to–”
I push back, panicked, confused. “Stop pushing, who are you? I don’t know who you are! Why should I believe you?”
Her expression is familiar, but everything about her is familiar. She’s me. “He’s coming, shit, fuck, you have GOT to RUN, you stupid bitch! No wonder I’m dead everywhere, I’m a fucking idiot!”
I can’t get up and run fast enough; she’s pulling on my arm and I can hear other people running and shouting from down the hall and then someone comes busting in through the fire escape stairwell in the back of the cubicle section, and all I can hear is a desperate shout: “OI! NICKLES! DOWN!”
The crazy woman who was shoving me toward that very door throws me down on the floor, covering me, and then come the sounds of… Bullets? Explosions. Small explosions? I don’t know — it’s heat and light and sizzling howls and confusion.
I hear so much screaming, I don’t know if any of the voices are mine.
Until there is more weight — a whole extra body, perhaps, pressing down. “Found you,” growls a voice that seems only faintly familiar — but it is so wholly malevolent, I try to curl up, try to make myself as small as I can beneath her, try to hide, to protect myself, try to shield myself from what I instinctively know is coming.
The world suddenly feels muted, as though I am under water, and I feel her panic against me. “No,” she pleads. “Not yet — not yet!”
His voice becomes a laugh, which becomes her scream. “You know that won’t work on these, love.” There is heat like I have never known in my life, and my whole world becomes ash and char.
Her scream cuts out abruptly.
Or maybe I pass out.
When I come to, she is pressed down heavily atop me, and a green braid has fallen, smoking, against my cheek.
I don’t move. I still don’t move. If I don’t move, maybe he’ll think I’m dead and move on?
It’s a thousand eons later, after the screams of everyone else have cut off that I feel the weight of her pull away. I’m crawling out from under her, gasping, and turning around to ask if she’s all right, to ask her anything. If she’s moving now, it must be safe enough to go, but the words die in my throat.
She is dead; that much is plain. The back of her body is smoking, burned not quite past recognition; five rays have been driven nearly through her in a fan pattern, as though someone had lain a palm-shaped brand against her back, and driven it in.
A blue-eyed man is pulling her into his arms, looking for a pulse, desperate to prove to himself she’s not simply meat. He is talking quietly to her, and strokes her cheek with the gentlest touch.
I am looking away; it’s too private a moment.
When I looked back, his eyes are closing, and he is kissing her forehead, and laying her back to the ground.
When he opens his eyes, they’ve muddied and turned to red, brilliant red, flaming red, and he is looking at me. I can see one hand open, fingers splayed into a palm pattern, his fingertips neon scarlet — like when you press them to a flashlight, and your skin glows.
He is baring his teeth as he reaches for me with his other hand, and I do not have time to be afraid before he brings that hand up, and I can see the heat mirage inches from his skin, I can feel it, like standing too close to a bonfire — no.
A house fire. No — a forest fire; no.
I can feel the heat of it on my face, and the glow of it shines on my skin. I look at him, because I can’t not, and when our eyes meet, this time, his return to an astonishing too-blue, and the betrayal on his face is more than I can bear.
“No. No, anyone but her,” he says, and his voice is rough with grief, low and broken and Londoner and it is the same voice as the one that killed her, I am certain of it, but I am still not afraid. Tears run down his cheeks, tracing lines down his sootmarked face, and those fingertips, now just dark with ash, reach to cup my cheek, the gentlest touch. I keep my eyes on his, but I can tell — one of us isn’t long for the here and now. Some kind of madness is most certainly beckoning.
“Anyone but you, Jones.”