I didn’t even know someone was in the room until the bed shifted, and a hand pressed on my shoulder. “I wish I could say something to make it better.” Domenic’s voice was soft, barely above a whisper. “But the best I can do is offer my understanding.”
“Why do you care?” I didn’t bother to move my face from the tear-soaked pillow. “You’re supposed to be glad she’s dead!”
His hand lifted off my shoulder, then went back down. “I can’t pretend I had any love for the woman, but I do know what it’s like to lose a parent. And my mother wasn’t exactly a saint, no matter what Nanna tries to say. None of that makes the loss any easier.”
I am such an insensitive bitch. “She was trying to manipulate me right up to the end.” Wait, that’s it! I pulled my head off the pillow to look at Domenic. “Do you think maybe she faked her death? To trick me into coming back?”
Domenic frowned, holding up his left hand, the newspaper whose headline declared my mother’s death. “I admit, I had the same thoughts, but I don’t think so. The article says she was killed in battle, complete with autopsy and attempts by the best healers in the state to save her. It would take an illuminati-grade conspiracy to fake all that.”
My stomach dropped; I’d had one possible hope to turn the that loss into anger, and it was gone.
Domenic took a breath. “Even if I wanted to be that kind of paranoid, there’s the second page.” He folded the paper over, to show a picture of my mother, and a line that read ‘Amanda Harrison dead at age 45’.
The words blurred, and some stupid part of my brain wondered how I hadn’t run out of tears yet. I’d give anything to feel any other emotion right now.
“The article claims it was an undiagnosed heart condition,” Domenic added. “The medicine is flimsy to the point of transparent. They’re not even trying to hide that your Mom is Starfall. In fact, it’s pretty obvious they want her identity revealed, and they’ve done everything short of coming out and saying it in a press release.”
A cold wave of dread hit me, proving that maybe there was one worse emotion. I flipped around onto my back. Domenic puled his hand away fast enough to avoid touching anything awkward. “But if her identity is blown…”
“They’ll go on to assume she’s married to one of the most notorious villains in the state and her daughter’s also a superhero?”
I relaxed a little, but only a little. “Well, when you put it that way, that does sound kinda ridiculous. But it’s still taking a big risk.”
“Your family’s something of a big deal. When one of you dies of highly suspect causes, people will talk and ask questions. Especially when there’s no police investigation. I expect your father will make some kind of statement after the media circus has died down. I, uh, don’t want to make ugly assumptions about your family, but a cynic might see it as a political play.”
“No!” How dare he. I pushed down that anger, it wasn’t fair to blame Domenic for my feelings right now. All he knew about my parents were what I’d told him, and that didn’t paint a kind picture. “No, whatever their faults, Mom and Dad loved each other every day the way most couples only wish they could on their honeymoons.” It got awkward sometimes. “Dad would never exploit Mom’s death like that.” Except. “But, even if he wouldn’t, she might.”
Domenic kept his face neutral. “I think you’ll have to explain that to me.”
“I just. Right after my powers Mom said they were hoping we’d never get powers, because it meant one of them was murdered. It’s the only way to recognize who gets new powers with any reliability.”
“I read about that, the Mark of Caine.”
“The official term is ‘Retributive Imbuement Transferal’, but people only call it that in academia.”
“As an aspiring doctor, I can relate.” Domenic’s face took on his usual thoughtful state. “I guess that a lot of people are going to be looking at you and your brothers to inherit Starfall’s powers. But Damascus and Daybreak are off the hook.”
Daybreak. “I’m changing my name. I only picked it as a slap in Mom’s face, and now…” I trailed off, unable to find the words. Yesterday, the decision seemed so right, and now it feels so wrong.
“I get it.” Domenic’s hand found a place on my knee. “We’re not that well known, yet, so it shouldn’t cause too much stir. But right after Starfall’s death might be seen as suspicious, and maybe your name can be seen as a tribute instead of an insult?”
“I don’t want it to be a tribute, either!” It was only after I’d finished that I realized I shouted, and was floating above the bed. It was a small miracle that I didn’t put my head through the ceiling. I let myself drift back down to the bed, and collapse face first on Domenic’s shoulder.
She was my mother, I was supposed to be able to trust her. Starfall was supposed to be unbeatable. And then… then I hated them both and at least I could tell myself I was doing the right thing. And now. “I just want the world to make sense again.”
Domenic’s arms went around me. If anything, it just confused me more. I wanted to want him, to have a normal relationship with the one person that was everything I could ever imagine wanting, but one stupid chromosome ruined everything.
I’m just spinning my tires right now, I have been for a while now. I can’t do that, it’s not who I am, it’s not how I deal with problems. “I need something to do.”
“Sorry, I just need something to focus on that takes my mind off of this.” I pulled away, glad Domenic was nice enough to ignore the moisture I left on his shirt. “I need something to do, a goal to set that keeps me busy. If I keep doing this, it’ll just drive me crazy. I guess I’m weird.”
“Not really. In fact, it’s a pretty common response.” Domenic didn’t try to smile. “If we’re talking plans, maybe we should worry about identities? Next weekend, I think everyone will know your mother was Starfall, and that means media attention. Do you know what your parents might do, you said something about them planning for their deaths?”
He’s right. “I… a lot of what I’m going to say is guesswork.” It’s easier to focus on planning. “Like I said, my parents said they’d expected us to only get powers if they died. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but they were confident, they knew the risks even from day one. Mom and Dad were, well, they had a system. In many ways, Mom was the man in the relationship. Logical, calculating even.”
Domenic nodded. “She gave me that impression last night. The way she talked sounded like she knew she’d win, no matter what. With luck control, I imagine she’s used to getting her way.”
Is that why she died? Was that how she would get her way? No, that’s stupid, she would never abandon Dad, and Adam and Jay, not even for me. “She was. Dad was, like, the complete opposite. He was everyone’s buddy, the fun one at the party or board room. You know the ones that everyone thinks is a little too happy, but can’t help but smile around?”
Domanic nodded. “Kinda like Dan, at school?”
“Dan wishes he was an amateur compared to my dad.” I closed my eyes, a prayer that I could tell the story without crying. “Together, they were, like, when you read about wolf packs being able to work together on instinct to take down larger prey. They always knew exactly what the other was doing, Dad softening them up with the social skills while Mom was there with numbers and facts. The perfect tag team, opposites that fit together into something greater.” Their Pairbond at work.
The heat of a new wave of fresh tears pushed past my eyelids. I collapsed back on Domenic’s chest. “I… I always dreamed of one day finding someone I could share that sort of relationship with.”
One of his hands went around the small of my back. “Can’t say I blame you. So we’ll assume that they were prepared for something like this, and had plans within plans. I guess a different one if Quash met a bad end first. So, what does revealing identities give them? Aside gossip pages that don’t accuse your dad of murder? Though I can see that being reason enough.”
I sniffed. “Mom, Mom would want us kids to benefit. She would have plans to angle it to prop up Adam’s future political career. I… I don’t know about me or Jay. A lot of their companies were in her name, maybe she’s set up some kind of memorial charity?” I left out how I was heir apparent to their business assets. Assuming, of course, I hadn’t been written out of the will already.
“And, maybe some kind of setup to make sure you aren’t suspected of getting powers?”
There’s a thought. “I… I don’t see how they could. I mean, sure they’d have something, but people would be watching to see if any of their kids start acting stra-” oh, fuck, that means me. “I have to go back.”
Is this what you had planned, Mom? If it was just me, I could live with it, but Domenic had to worry about his identity, and he lived in the same neighborhood as the guy whose hand I burned off. I’d heard enough about gang violence and retaliation to know where that could go.
“We can figure something else out.” Now it was Domenic’s turn to look like he was ready to cry. “You don’t have to go back there, not if you-”
I interrupted him with a kiss. One nothing like that awkward attempt at passion from last night, a mistake I would never be able to thank him enough for preventing. This was something chaste, but far more meaningful. I pulled back. “I get that you think I you need to protect me. It’s even sweet, sometimes, but there’s nothing we can do. My mother was always one to get her way, and I can’t let you suffer for my family drama.”
“But, I. Chloe, please, don’t leave.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but he stayed quiet.
“I’m not really leaving. We’ll see each other in school on Monday or Tuesday, and we have all summer to be heroes together, right? And a complete school year after.” Followed by you going off to college and me staying behind. “This is just to keep my cover, okay? If Dad tries to pull any Vader bullshit, I’ll walk out. Through the wall if need be.”
“I… if you go, Nanna and Bea will piece together enough of the puzzle to figure out the real story. I’m not sure Nanna doesn’t already know.”
“Better them than the entire world.” If this keeps going, he might even talk me into staying. “Let’s be honest, it was a stupid idea to begin with. One way or another, something would have forced the issue.” Kathy, for example.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I know, but even our powers can’t stop that from happening.” I forced myself to smile. “At least you won’t have to sleep in the garage anymore.”
He tried to do the same, and likely failed as badly as I did. “I guess this weekend’s going to be spent dealing with funeral arrangements. I’ll get your stuff together so you can pick it up before school, okay?”
I doubt I’ll be coming to school. “That’s a good plan, we’ll start-”
My phone picked right then to beep at me. I didn’t recognize the number, so I ignored it. “Damn telemarketers, it’s as if they have Esper powers to know exactly how to be-” My phone started beeping again. This time I flipped it open. “The hell do you want?!”
“Hello, Daybreak. I would offer pleasantries, but I’m afraid they’d fall on deaf ears.” The man’s voice, at least I think it was a man’s, was distorted into something hollow and mechanical.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like crying anymore. “Uh, I think you got the wrong number, whoever you are.” Domenic’s look of concern changed as well.
“Who I am doesn’t matter. You are invited to a meeting regarding recent events that I’m certain you’re already aware of. It is in your best interests to attend. You may invite Damascus to as well. Be at Lake Crabtree in seventy three minutes.”
The line went dead.
“Who was that?” Domenic asked the moment my arm started dropping.
“I think that was my mother’s funeral arrangements.”