This is Anima and Guardian. I just stared at two of the strongest people on the east coast; the country, even. How strong was Kitten, to do so much damage in a fight against these powerhouses? Zach was unconscious and half naked, laying on Anima’s lap. Some shimmering cloak kept him mostly covered, but I caught the occasional peek through the shield. He looked unhurt, just sleeping.
“Umm, I have to look after Zach,” Anima spoke. “The driver will take you home, or to a hospital if you need to. Maybe file a police report?”
I swallowed, trying so hard not to think about it. “I don’t think it’ll make a difference. She’s dead now, right?”
Anima hesitated, looking down at Zach. “If she somehow survived, I will kill her myself.”
She then looked over at Guardian, and I had to look as well. The man was a living legend, supposedly untouchable, and he was bleeding through the bandages over his missing arm. “What about you, will you be alright?”
Guardian took a slow breath. “Yeah, I’m just going through shock. Not as young as I used to be. I know a couple high end Gifters that will have me back to full an hour after I’m back home. You get Respawn somewhere comfortable first, then we can drop off, uh…” Guardian looked at me.
“Cassie,” I managed to say after a moment. “I’d just like to go home and take a bath.” No one would be home, I begged off going to Christmas dinner by claiming to be sick, so I could try to talk to Zach. It didn’t work out how I’d hoped.
Anima gave instructions to the driver, leading them to Laura’s house, and I just sat there and listened. No one bothered pushing me for information. Anima was too busy focusing on Zach, and Guardian sat there looking like he was about to pass out. They saved my life, and I couldn’t think of anything to say to them.
I looked at Laura’s apartment, forced myself to breathe, step forward, and knock. Last time I waited too long, it didn’t go well for me. Laura opened the door and looked at me. “Oh! Hi, Cassie. I didn’t expect to see you. You should be getting some rest after…” she trailed off. She couldn’t say it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I offered what I hoped was a nice smile; I was never very good at dealing with other women. “I wanted to return this.” I held up the coat that I wore home. It was a stupid excuse and I knew it, but if it gave me a chance to fix things, then I didn’t care. Maybe, even if it didn’t work out, he’d smell my scent and think about me.
Laura hesitated, glancing into her apartment for just a heartbeat. Now I knew he was in there, but I didn’t know if she’d tell me. Please let me in, I begged her with my eyes. “I need to talk to him, to set everything right.”
Kitten was right about me, I really am a stalker.
You can do it, Cass, all you have to do is drive up, knock on his door, and apologize. He’s with his family, this isn’t the right time to cause a scene. It’s Christmas, the time for forgiveness and love, he has to accept it now. No, that’s just manipulating him, you can come by in a couple days and-
I screamed and jumped, twisting around to look for the source of the voice. “How’d you get in my car?!” I didn’t even hear the door close, and for that matter my doors had child safety locks.
A middle-school girl with dark brown hair and Asian features was in my backseat smiling. “Speaking as one stalker to another: you suck.”
Stalker? “Get out before I-” I stopped talking when she held up her hand and a knife of solid ice formed between her fingertips. “What do you want?”
I thought about running, but I didn’t know what kind of power she might have. My self defense classes said the same thing about Imbued as guns: stay calm and cooperate until you can escape. Besides, she already had a knife, she could stab me like five times before I got the seatbelt off.
She leaned forward, resting her chin on the back of my chair. “Just a bit of girl talk about our mutual love interest.” She sighed and smiled like a schoolgirl with a crush. “It doesn’t surprise me that he bagged a babe like you. Tell me, how is he in the sack?”
I looked away. I didn’t want to have this conversation with anyone, but she had powers. “We… we never did anything.” She just waited and watched, angling the knife to reflect the sun at me. “I wasn’t ready, and he didn’t try to make me.”
“Aww, he’s the sensitive type.” After a breathy sigh, she giggled. “I bet you wish he did, right?”
Yes. “No.” Again, the girl just watched me, a knowing smirk on her face. “It doesn’t matter now, he doesn’t want me.”
“I know how to change his mind,” she offered happily. “I was looking for a good Christmas present. I was going to kill that meany-face from his school for him, but even I’m not crazy enough to break into a maximum security prison.” She talked so casually about murder that I was convinced she’d done it before. “So how about we play a game? I’ll kidnap you and he can come save you and it’ll be like a fairy tale.”
She’s going to kill me. “I… he won’t come for me.”
“Nonsense. Trust me, he’ll come rescue you and then you’ll get the fucking of a lifetime. Now drive north and cross the river on 495.” I shook, but forced myself to turn around. I didn’t have any choice, and maybe she’d even be right. “Oh, my name’s Kitten, what’s yours?”
I gulped as I shifted into gear. “Cassie.”
“Trust me, Cassie, this is destiny.”
“It’s okay, I’ll talk to her.” Zach’s voice, the first time I’d heard it since he rescued me from Kitten. She was right about everything else; he did come for me, he did save me, and he even defeated her in the process. Now we just need the reunion and kiss and everything will be okay again.
I smoothed down my skirt and made sure everything was perfect. This is it, your last chance to say it. To apologize, to let him know how you feel. To explain why you’re such a fuckup.
Instead of letting me in, Zach stepped outside into the chilly wet weather. I was disappointed, I wouldn’t be able to show off my figure as much with my coat on. Maybe I can take advantage of this, I can get away with more without his sister watching.
“Okay, Cassie, what do you want?”
He still hasn’t forgiven me. “I should probably give this back.” I offered his coat to him. In the process, I allowed mine to open a bit, letting him get a good look at my cleavage. I smiled my best smile while he tried, but failed, to look at my face. I didn’t have much else to offer, but my body was spectacular.
I struggled to stop gasping and sobbing long enough to catch my breath. Kitten climbed up and straddled my lap, then stroked my face as a gentle lover might.
“You know, you’re lucky.” I said nothing, she’d punish me even worse if I cried out or argued with her. “You’re only the second girl I’ve done that with who got to live. You’re almost as beautiful as she was.”
I shuddered, and pretended it was all in revulsion. This wasn’t the first time I’d been raped, but that was nothing like this. Kitten dragged it out and talked to me the whole time. She wasn’t in it for sex; she wanted to torture me on every level, and she was good at it.
She kissed my lips, and I tried not to think about the taste. “You love him, don’t you? Don’t worry, you’re allowed to speak, but if you lie to me, I’ll have to find an even more exciting way to punish you.”
I nodded, trying to find my voice. “Y-yes, I love him.” With her insane obsession, I wasn’t sure how she’d take that news. “Are you going to kill me?” In a way, I almost hoped she would. It would be so much easier just to give up and be free from the heartbreak, the guilt, and the memories.
“Nope,” she popped her lips. “You’re Zach’s gift. He gets to decide what to do with you. Maybe he’ll kill you, or maybe…” she slid her hand down between my legs again.
Zach accepted his coat, finally pulling his eyes away from my chest. “Okay, thank you. Is that all?” That actually made him more attractive: he at least tried not to treat me like an object. Even when I was tied up by Kitten, completely exposed and vulnerable, he treated me like a human being.
I took a breath. “And I wanted to say I’m sorry for everything. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just-”
“You didn’t hurt me,” Zach interrupted. “I don’t care about that.”
My heart jumped. Does this mean he forgives me? “Really?”
“Well, yeah.” His voice didn’t sound forgiving. “I mean, all you are is a groupie.”
No! No, please don’t. “But I…”
“You telegraphed it from, like, a mile away.” Every word drove the pain that much deeper. “But you were attractive and fun to be around, amazing arm candy. So I figured what the hell? You used me, but that’s okay because I used you back.”
I almost broke down crying. That’s all I’m good for, to be used. Nothing I didn’t already know, but having the man I loved say it was a new kind of agony. “O-okay.”
“But then you had to stab me in the back. No explanation, not even a warning. I just come to school thinking everything’s fine, and the people who are supposed to have my back screw me over. You’re a traitor.”
I fought back my tears, all the words running through my head. I wanted to explain why my popularity was so important to me. I wasn’t smart enough to get a decent grade without help, and I wasn’t charismatic enough to talk people into helping me. I had no way to make people like me other than my looks, and I wasn’t strong enough to be alone. I was lost, so I resorted to what always worked before.
I stepped forward, and pressed my body against his. It felt so good to touch him, to smell his skin. After what Kitten did to me, I needed to feel the touch of someone else.
“What can I do to convince you I mean it?” I looked up at his hazel eyes and poured on the sex appeal. “I’ll do anything you want.” I ran a hand down his stomach, feeling his abs underneath.
Zach’s hands came up and grabbed my shoulders. “What I want is for you to turn around, walk away, and stay the fuck out of my life.” He held me back, then stepped back into his sister’s place and slammed the door. I turned and walked away, crying.
I looked out at the bank of the Potomac. The river was slow and peaceful, the full moon reflecting off its surface despite the drizzle. On another night it could have been romantic. But tonight was cold and wet and unpleasant; even the muggers and prostitutes didn’t bother coming out. I was alone, for every sense of the word.
I slipped out of my boots and stepped into the water itself, the frigid cold sending pain up the nerves of my legs. A couple more steps in and I felt something slice my foot; it could have been a rock or broken bottle or anything. I shivered and took a another step into the water, now it halfway up my thighs.
Zach asked me to get out of his life, and I was going to give him what he asked for. It’s not like I had anything else in life. Kayla got the brains, the talent, and the drive. I didn’t even get to say I was better looking than she was. Sure, I had more curves, but she’d always be taller and more graceful then I would ever be. The best I had to look forward to was being some rich old man’s trophy wife. There was a time when I was okay with that, but not anymore.
I shed my coat as I made my way waist deep into the water, pushing through the thin layer of slush and controlled my breathing so I didn’t hyperventilate. Then I jumped forward and kicked out my legs. I was a good swimmer, and trusted muscle memory to handle the movement, since I couldn’t feel my legs. There was even a time I thought I might become a competitive swimmer, until puberty ruined that for me as well.
This way’s better for everyone. I pushed myself harder, finally the pain stopped and I started to feel warm again. Everything felt so calm out here in the water, like everything might actually work out in the end. I looked at the shore, so far away. Oh well. I closed my eyes and sank into the water. I’ll just rest a bit first, that’s all.
A sensation more than a voice spoke in the back of my mind. The cold, fatigue, and numbness faded while my thoughts kicked up to a level I’d never experienced before. Moments later, it pulled away.
I opened my eyes, looking at the surface of the river from below and barely able to make out the moonlight through the murk.
The siren’s song was still there waiting, just beyond the senses I was familiar with. Somehow, I knew I had to be the one to accept both the power and the consequences, whatever they might be. I only hesitated for a moment before grasping that one last opportunity to matter.
Pain and strength in equal measure coursed through my body, mending and redesigning every aspect of my physiology. I screamed out as I plummeted to the bottom of the river, kicking up a cloud of mud consisting mostly of pollutants. My density was roughly double what it had been before, making me far too heavy to float in water.
I stood up and looked around. I was equipped to survive down here despite being unable to swim. I no longer needed my lungs to survive, and my eyes could see the shore through the virtually lightless environment. I started walking, bits of glass and other garbage breaking under my feet.
Sorry, Zach, I love you too much to let go.