I woke up in the middle of the night, eyes full of the Lost Boy, arms outstretched, hurtling down towards me, and I felt the impact of broken bones like sugar glass and tasted hot tar across my tongue, his hands covered in the face of a child and his eyes as dark and innocent as the eyes of a shark.
Sharp breath of air, lungs aching. I clawed at where the armor had been, fingernails digging into my skin, but only from my right hand, and I tore myself up and off of the futon and stumbled into the kitchenette.
The coffee brewed too slow, but the cup didn’t burnt too badly in my hands as I took up the kitchen table. The steam ran across my skin and I tugged at it and let it billow, floating in the grasp of my power.
I was still awake when it hit morning and Colton groggily forced his way out of bed and walked by me. “Hey, did you get any sleep?”
I slid him a cup of coffee. Lots of cream, lots of sugar. “Probably got enough. Do you think you’re ready for the island?”
Colton yawned. His hands settled around the handle of the cup and he drank like an alcoholic. “I think,” he said, pausing to swallow and get the taste out of his mouth. “I should be asking you that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, looking at him. “You lost a lot of people there.”
Colton’s eyes twitched away from mine and he stared over at the shuttered window. “It’ll be rough for me, yeah,” Colton admitted. “But from what Hands said,”
“And what did Hands say?” I cut him off, my voice a tad shrill.
“Well…” Colton trailed off, then went back to his coffee. “The point is, I get it if you don’t want to go. I don’t really want to go either.”
“You don’t have to go either,” I returned.
“I need to. There are bodies there that need to be buried properly,” Colton said, softly. “There were a lot of teachers there that put in a lot of hours to try and adjust me.”
“Why were you there?” I asked, catching his gaze. He tried to turn away, but I caught the flitter of pain across his face.
“Look,” Colton said. “I don’t want this to change anything between us. I don’t want you to get nervous about me.”
“Colton, you saved my life,” I said, but remained in the chair without touching him. “What could possibly be wrong?”
“I just… I don’t know if I’m comfortable. I mean, you’re rooming here, are you sure you’d…”
“I won’t know until you say it,” I said.
“Colton, come on,” I pried.
“I worked on a kill squad,” Colton cut in. “The people they send in when negotiations break down.”
The room grew a bit colder then, and I turned away from Colton and tugged at the wind to keep things moving. “So did I.”
“You worked on a celebrity squad,” Colton pointed out. “The kind that only actually gets called in for the big guys. I worked on a more local level. You’d be surprised how many times we got called in because some kid had discovered he could transform people into frogs and we had to figure out how to put a bullet in his head before he turned us into amphibians.”
“Is that an example?” I asked.
“Of course not, I’m still under NDA about most of what actually happened there, I’ll have to be general. Not mention names,” Colton said.
“So why were you in Dauphin island?”
Colton’s face turned a bit stony. “I was in… it doesn’t matter where. Biggest criminal we’d ever encounter, an absolute snake of a woman, minor hypnosis, an utter bitch who was basically starting her own cult. Negotiations had finally broke down, and we were all steeled to go in and take her out.”
“She’d been using people as shields?”
“She seemed surprised that they were trying to be shields, honestly,” Colton said. “It was strange… she’d been doing good things for the area… I don’t think she really knew people were only going along with her ideas because of her power, rather than her persuasion.”
“Were they?” I asked, quietly.
“You’d have to look up the case files if you wanted that, and they’re censored to hell. Originals are probably buried somewhere.”
“We busted inside,” Colton started, “and we were given the clear to wipe everyone out. Piece by piece, room by room. It was bloody. We never knew if they’d go back to normal, and people threw themselves at us and they were terrified, and we were terrified. We didn’t want to do it but it all snapped when I… when we lost the sniper. Blow from behind from some civvy we thought had been unrelated. Turned our pepper spray and stun guns into knives.”
Colton flicked out knives in front of them and they glinted in the dim light of the apartment. “I just… I think knives are so beautiful sometimes, Gale,”
“They are something,” I said, eyeing them. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if I even wanted him to continue the story.
“We managed to breach in with…” his face contorted. “Minimal casualties,”
I could smell the lie.
“And we got there, and we get the call that she’s not to be harmed.”
“Not to be harmed?”
“Someone had brokered a negotiation with her through her pad.” Colton sounded distant. “But I opened the door anyway and I thought I saw the face of god for a moment, her face perfectly cut, eyes glinting like gems of emerald. Saw through time and space, through those beautiful curves and up and down the dimensions we tread upon and into the lattices that intersect us, plain and simple and link us to the stars. Saw something reflected in my soul.”
I wondered what that was like. Was he snapping, going insane, or just… was there something there?
“She lay on a bed made of roses, or perhaps their were peonies, and there were posters spread out around her… she had a sister that was a crime lord, and she’d been trying to do the right thing, I think, or maybe she was the crime lord and she had a sister who was a hero, or maybe…”
“Which one was it?”
Colton shrugged. “I can’t remember, it all runs together, briefings, the day, the knives, the bodies. I just remember her face, and I got the call to stand down and I lashed out. Knives everywhere, threw myself at her, wanted to kill her so bad.”
He shook against the table. “Wanted her bleeding on the ground, her stupid ivory skin split open like froth on coffee, wanted to pluck her eyes out of her skull and eat them, wanted to… I don’t know what I wanted. I don’t know really, I wasn’t… I wasn’t there. Like I’d been locked out. And there was such sweet supple blood.”
“Colton…” I said, haunted.
“I just… I think knives are so beautiful Gale. They’re sharp… they do whatever you want them to do… They’re humanity; omnipurposed, destructive… but… when the time came, I couldn’t hold back. I’m a fucking useless knife I guess.”
“So your demotion was…”
“I tried to kill the wrong person, and they took it poorly,” Colton whispered. “And the people on Dauphin island, they’d seen it before, seen the rage, seen the ripples. Saw what had been worked on me, and they didn’t blame me when I talked about it. They’d… they’d seen things like it before. And I was so angry that they made me into this murderer, that the Association had seen some stupid test and filed me away in a squad like that, some Last Encounter squad, and I hated them all.”
Breath in, breath out.
“Hey. Hey, you’re here now.”
It was horrifying to listen and to think about, but how could I say otherwise, when I’d squirmed like a worm and spat fire in Dauphin island? When I’d see people turned into chips of bone by a monstrous toddler? When I’d given up my hand? I knew that the kill squads were… not necessary… but could see how they were justified.
It wasn’t right. The entire thing wasn’t right.
But the world didn’t need us to be right, it needed us to be there.
So I stood up and hugged Colton as he shook, arms wrapped around him.
“And dammit Gale, they didn’t get to live long enough to see me better… and I’m not better. Not really. I don’t know why I’m fighting anymore. I want to talk to them again, I want to see them again, I want to hear… I want to hear that I’m a person. Why am I fighting, I just… I think I hate it.”
“You’re fighting because it’s right,” I said.
“And who says it’s right?”
I thought it over for a long moment, breath hissing through my teeth. “Well. I’m saying it’s right.”
Colton laughed, hollow. “God, that’s such a stupid do nothing statement. Fuck, Gale, it helps a little though.” He laughed.
“So are you going?”
“Like I said,” Colton finished his coffee and stood up. “I can’t afford to do anything else. There were good people there, and I need to come to terms with them.”