or check out Skyla's books!
Instead, she felt Sage shaking her arm.
Gen opened her eyes to see Sage looking at her.
Sage pressed her fingers to her lips, motioning for her to be quiet.
Great, and what the hell else did she expect her to do? Start shouting?
Swiftly, Sage started mouthing words, and it took all of Gen's focus to figure out what she was saying. At last she understood, and immediately wished she didn't.
Sage was mad. She had to be. Why would she ask her to do that? What was she supposed to do? Melt his icy heart with a warm island song?
Gen shrugged, horrified that this task was being left up to her, but Sage waved at her impatiently, then pulled herself into a crouch and faced the broken punching bag.
Distraction, distraction... Not even being able to magically blow out a candle with her mind would come in handy right now.
Hanging over her shoulder, Gen caught sight of her long blonde braid and, more importantly, the hair band that held the bottom. If years of shooting elastics back and forth in class with Levi when their teacher's back was turned had taught her anything, it was that they could be pretty damn distracting.
She tore the elastic from her hair just as she heard the gunman draw closer, then she yanked it between her index finger and thumb, and sent the thing flying over the couch and towards the right wall. The elastic struck the brick, and she heard feet shuffle as the noise startled their assailant.
At that moment, Sage took her cue and leapt toward the punching bag. With a speed and grace Gen wouldn't have believed had she not see it firsthand, Sage took a handful of sand from the floor and flung it at the gunman. Gen snuck a glance over the couch to see the man reach for his eyes and stumble backward, the sand having temporarily blinded him. His next few bullets missed Sage entirely as she hopped over the couch to face him.
Unable to see much of the action from her vantage point, Gen slid across the floor and around the side of the couch to watch the fight unfold.
Though Sage managed to kick his gun from his hand, the assailant recovered quickly. Regaining his sight, the man threw a series of punching combos at her, which she could do little to block or avoid. She pivoted out his reach, but ended up backed against the couch, and in seconds his hands were around her throat, squeezing. She kicked at him and tore at his arms, but his face showed no sign of pain—only annoyance. He kept one hand on her throat, tightening his grip to the point she gasped and her eyes nearly popped from her skull, then grabbed her wrist with his other hand and wrenched it in a twist.
Sage might have screamed if any sound could breach the stop on her windpipe.
Gen looked around wildly, hoping to find something that might help—something to hit the guy with or throw at him in distraction, but this time a hair elastic definitely wouldn't be doing it...
The sound of gunfire ceased her search, and she turned to see what had happened.
Please don't let there be any more of those guys...
But no, they were still alone, only now blood was splattered across Sage's face and upper body, and the assassin slumped to the floor in front of her. There were two bloody holes in his head.
Both Gen and Sage stared transfixed on the image of Merri standing in the middle of the staircase that lead up the loft, a gun held expertly in her two hands and pointed at the unmoving corpse.
"Shit," Gen muttered. She looked from Merri to the dead guy, then to Merri again. "You killed him."
Meredith walked down the stairs without a word, her face emotionless as she stopped next to the body of their former attacker, and emptied three more bullets into him. She flicked on the gun's safety and rested it on the back of the couch, then regarded Gen with a steady, cold gaze.
"Yeah, and we should probably move him before much more blood stains the floor."
It was about then that Genevieve's nerves finally snapped.
"I don't...I just can't...this is insane—we were just shot at, then you killed a guy and there's blood everywhere and Michael's dead. I just can't—"
"Michael's not dead," Merri cut in.
"He was shot three times—"
"He's not dead."
"No," Michael called from where he still sat against the wall. "But thanks to all of you for checking on me after dispatching of the threat."
Sage looked just as shook up as Gen felt, but she regained herself quickly and ran over to Michael's side, along with Meredith, to help him stand.
Gen was too busy staring at the dead guy on the floor to think to help. He was dead. Granted, he was trying to kill them, so it wasn't like she would be mourning him, but...but still, a strange sickness overcame her, and as she wrapped her arms across her chest, she realized she was shaking.
The others brought Michael over to sit on the couch while Gen paced back and forth across the floor, the speed of her stride increasing as she went. She was nearly frantic by the time Sage grabbed her arm and pulled her to a halt.
"Jesus, Genevieve, would you calm down—"
"No!" Gen yanked her arm from Sage's grasp and spun to face her. "I won't calm down!" Under normal circumstances, she would hate to cry in front of any of these people, but she was too upset to think to be embarrassed, and the tears flowed freely from her eyes. "I shouldn't be calm right now! Am I the only sane one around here?"
"Look," Sage said, her hand shaking a little as she ran it through her dark braids. "We'll get him to the hospital and we'll figure this out—"
"I'm not going to a hospital," Michael said.
Gen took a moment to look over where he'd been shot. One bullet clipped him in the upper arm, the other in the shoulder, while the third was the only one to actually hit him in the chest. Still, there was a hell of a lot of blood there, and with his pained expression, it wasn't hard to assume he was hurting.
"You look like you need to go to the hospital," Sage said.
"Someone show's up shot, they immediately call the police," Merri said. "No hospital."
"And you don't think the dead guy on the floor won't attract the cops too?" Gen shouted.
"Not with a silencer on the gun, but your yelling might," Michael barked. "So shut up already."
"Shut up?! Fuck, we just got shot at and you're almost dead but still as unpleasant as ever and Merri killed a guy and Sage was almost strangled and—"
"First, we need to get the body out of here," Michael said to the others, ignoring Gen for the time being. "Merri, get something to wrap him in and bring my car around to the front door."
Meredith nodded and disappeared into a back room without argument.
"Wait, we're disposing of a body now?" Gen said.
Michael shot her a look. "You're not doing anything, nor are you leaving this place until you calm the fuck down."
"You can't go anywhere all shot up," Sage said.
"I won't be—you and Merri can take care of moving the body."
As Meredith returned with a box of garbage bags, Michael wasted no time dispersing more directions to her. "Get me the first aid kit as well, then I want you and Sage to wrap up the body and get rid of it." While Merri went to get the first aid kit from the bathroom, Michael turned to Sage with surprising gentleness to his voice. "Are you all right?"
Sage absently reached for her neck. "I'm okay."
"You did well."
She looked doubtful of his compliment. "But he would have killed me if Merri hadn't—"
"You didn't panic. You did well."
She gave a short nod. "Thank you, Sensei."
"Merri will know what to do with the body; follow her instructions."
"Can I please go home now?" Gen said, her voice close to breaking as tears threatened to start once more.
"No—go to the kitchen, get some cloths and a fill a large bowl with water."
Merri returned then to hand Michael the first aid kit, then as she and Sage set to wrapping up the corpse, Gen turned her back on the group and went to the kitchen. She hunted through the cupboards for the items he requested, happy at least that she had something to distract her now.
She heard the front door open and the others grunt and mutter over moving the heavy dead body, so she turned on the tap and let the water run on full. She really didn't need to hear that and be reminded of the dead guy.
"Boil the water first," Michael growled from behind her.
Gen jumped and swung around to see him leaning against the kitchen table. Sweat poured down his forehead and he was noticeably pale.
"You look like you've lost a lot of blood..."
"Just boil the damn water."
Gen rolled her eyes—she didn't know why she bothered feeling bad for him.
She found a kettle and filled it with water, then set it to boil on the stove. Reluctantly, she went back to Michael to see how he was doing, and hoped he didn't have any more tasks for her.
"Scissors," he said.
"What about them?"
"Stop shouting at me!"
"Excuse me, but I was just shot three times, and you're bitching about me yelling at you?"
Without a word, Gen hunted down the scissors, and handed them to him.
He cut through his shirt, which seemed awkward with only the use of one hand, but Gen abstained from offering to help because he'd probably just growl at her some more. Once he had sliced down the middle of his t-shirt, he cast the scissors aside and peeled the bloody material back.
"Did any of the bullets go through?" he asked.
"I would know that how?"
His impatience was growing, but if Gen was lucky, he just might pass out before he could yell at her anymore.
"You'll know if there are any holes in my back."
Oh, right. How could he be bleeding to death, and still swifter than her?
She counted two bullet holes in his back, and while she'd never thought of herself as all that squeamish before at the mere sight of blood, the fresh wounds were making her shiver.
"There's one there and there."
"Where and where? You know I can't see my back, right?"
"Well, I'm not going to like touch them or something!"
"Are you capable of telling which hole in my back corresponds with which one on my chest?"
That she managed to do, and if she never had to see another bullet wound after it, she'd be happy.
"How are you going to get the bullet out?" she asked, almost afraid to know.
"The way one usually does," he replied as he opened the first aid kit and pulled out a strange looking pair of tweezers. "Pull it out."
Gen's eyes got wide. "You don't mean for—"
"Fuck no, I wouldn't trust you. The water's done boiling—pour it in the bowl and bring it to the table to cool."
She did as he instructed, thankful she wouldn't have to be doing any emergency bullet surgery herself.
"There's a removable mirror on the bathroom wall—go get it."
She did that as well without complaint.
"Hold the mirror," he said as she returned. "And please...keep it steady."
Gen averted her eyes the entire painstaking time Michael was pulling the bullet out of his chest. Surprisingly, it didn't seem to take that long. She couldn't be certain because she hadn't looked at her watch since before all the gunfire, but it didn't feel like much time had passed before he said, "Okay, you can put the mirror down now."
She set it on the table and hoped that would be all he required of her for now, but the tasks weren't complete yet.
Michael emptied out the first aid kid onto the table and picked out several packages of bandages and sterile cloths.
"Watch what I do here—I need you to do the same on my back. Got it?"
It didn't seem terribly complicated; hold something there to stop the bleeding, clean of the blood afterward, disinfect the area, and dress the wound, though she still wasn't eager about it.
"Have you done this a lot?" she asked.
"Removed bullets and patched up yourself?"
"More times than I'd like to have," he said with a roll of his eyes.
"Can I ask you something?"
"I don't imagine I can stop you, though I'd prefer you talk and work."
She went to work on his back, following the same steps he had demonstrated.
"Do you get it yet?" she asked as she cleaned the blood from his back. "I'm...I'm not this person you think I am. I can't do this. I mean, I froze back there—completely froze."
"Oh, right, yeah. I flung a hair elastic at the guy because Sage told me to."
"Sage told you to throw a hair elastic?"
"No, she told me to distract him."
"And you did. That was quick thinking on your part, and demonstrated competent problem solving skills."
"Gee, that almost kinda sounds like a compliment."
"Don't let it go to your head—I still think you're pretty useless."
She soaked a cloth in the hot water and pressed it to his back with little care. He flinched from the contact and sent a glare over his shoulder.
"Sorry," she mumbled, only half meaning it.
"Besides the fact that you froze, what makes you think you can't do this?"
"Because...because Merri shot a guy. I can't shoot guys. Or girls. Or anyone. I'm like a pacifist."
"Like a pacifist, or are a pacifist?"
"I don't know. It doesn't matter. The point is I'm passive and I don't want to be shooting anyone."
"Well, you don't have to worry about that."
"No. I'm certainly not going to be giving you a gun."
"That's really a comfort." After cleaning around the wound and disinfecting it, she set to taping bandages in place. "There. Can I go home now?"
With a sigh, she sat on the table about a foot away from him and waited while he downed a few aspirins. He tied his shirt into a temporary sling and slipped it on.
"You want to know why you can't put the candle out?" he asked her.
"I already know—it's because I don't have any supernatural powers."
"You're half right; there's nothing 'super' about your powers..."
She was about to mutter something about him being an asshole when he continued.
"They're completely natural for you. Your failure to put out the candle is not a lack of ability, it's a psychological block. You haven't been able to do it because you're afraid."
"Well, duh. Freud, you're definitely not—you haven't even reached Dr. Phil status. I've said how many times already this terrifies me? That isn't news."
The loss of blood was either doing something to his patience, or he was just having a delayed reaction to everything, since Genevieve observed he wasn't as quick to throw out berating comments as usual. With some luck, he might pass out at any moment.
"You're afraid about what it'll mean if you can put out that candle," he said, ignoring her insults. "Right now, it doesn't matter what happens—you don't have to believe it. By believing it, and accepting it as real, will mean admitting the responsibility this brings, and that scares you."
She pondered this for a few moments. He wasn't wrong, though she loathed to admit it.
"But I...I'm not going to be able to do this. I can't kill people—I know myself well enough to say that for sure. I still can't wrap my head around what Merri did..."
"You're going to have to learn—they will kill you."
"Sage couldn't even stop them, though! And if she can't—"
"What's the difference between you and the man that came to kill you tonight?"
"Uh, let's see..." She started listing things on her fingers, one by one. "First, he had a gun. And he's got mad fighting skills. And he's stronger than me. And he's experienced, presumably. And—"
"And none of that matters."
"Really? 'Cause it looked like it did to me, and probably to Sage too."
"The only difference that matters is he wouldn't hesitate to kill you. You can have a gun, and fighting skills, and strength, and it wouldn't level the playing field with him. Sage could have ended all this a week ago if she'd taken care of them after she knocked them out, but she didn't for the same reason you can't—when it comes down to making the killing blow, you'd hesitate, whereas he wouldn't."
"Yeah, well that sounds like a good thing to me; I don't want to kill anyone."
"For a lot of people, it's perhaps an admirable quality," he agreed. "But you don't have that luxury. Your life is more important than that."
"But so is his!" she insisted. Tears started forming in her eyes again as she grew more and more upset. "And don't give me this B.S. about him just being a killing machine—it's still a person. It's still a life—a life that's not better or worse than mine."
"And that's where you're wrong. You, Sage, and Meredith—your lives are infinitely more important. More than his, more than mine, more than anyone else you know. You three matter."
She buried her face in her hands for a moment, too overwhelmed to listen anymore. Everything he said…it hurt. More than any physical pain, more than anything else she could think of. The weight, the pressure—it was all too much to handle.
At last, she wiped some of the tears from her eyes and looked up at him. "I don't want this."
"It's not about what you want, Genevieve," he said evenly, as if impervious to caring how upset she was. "This is what you are."
"I don't want to be this..."
"And I'm telling you, there isn't a decision to be made about this. It's done. Either you survive it, or you fuck over the whole world because you're scared."
Well, when he put it like that...
"So what are we supposed to do now?" she asked.
"Exactly what we have been. You need to stop fucking around and do what you're supposed to, and I have to hope to hell Sage gets her act together too."
"But you said—"
"She did do well, for where she is, but that's far from where she should be right now. And the three of you need to be more careful. Stay with one another at all times, and never go anywhere alone. Before today, they haven't come to anyone's home, though, so things could be stepping up a bit..."
"My home? You mean, like, with my mom and dad and my dog? But—"
"Honestly, I don't know what they'll do now. But one is gone. This might draw out the others, then there's just three to take care of."
"And whoever sent them."
"That's still a lot of dangerous people."
"Then you'd better get working."
Once Merri and Sage returned, Michael went to his room to slip on a fresh shirt and an actual sling for his arm. Just as the group was getting in the car to leave, the delivery boy arrived with their ordered food, though no one felt much like eating. Merri stowed it in Michael's fridge for another day.
They dropped Sage off first, then drove to the Weist residence. Gen had never been so glad to get home, though she had been thinking that every time she came home for the last week. Though ready to bolt from Michael's car as he pulled up in front of her house, she froze as he called, "Wait."
She met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. God, what the hell could he want now?
He sent a glance to Merri, who seemed to understand what he wanted without him uttering a word. She leaned forward, popped open the glove compartment, and handed him the book she found inside.
Michael looked at the slim, hardcover book for a moment, then met Gen's gaze again in the mirror, and thrust the book over his shoulder.
At least he's not throwing it at me, she thought as she tentatively took the book.
"What's this?" she asked as she flipped open the cover and leafed through the pages. Some sheets were blank, while others contained several paragraphs of writing here and there, though she couldn't read anything in the dim light. The format itself seemed annoyingly familiar, however. "It looks like a workbook."
"It's a journal, so to speak," he said. "Something for you to record things in, be it your progress, dreams, weird occurrences—anything."
"Should I be expecting any weird occurrences?"
"You might find it helpful, Gen," Meredith said. "Just every time you practice something, or try a spell or whatever, write stuff down. Keep a record."
"You do this too?" Gen asked.
Merri nodded. "I have for awhile."
"And all the other writing and things?"
"It's something you shouldn't be trying for awhile yet," Michael said.
"Is it magic?"
"They are exercises," he corrected her.
"I don't think I need to remind you to keep this private," Michael said.
"No, but you probably will anyway."
"Don't leave it somewhere for people to find, and don't be waving it around."
"I won't." Jesus, how old did he think she was? "Uh...thanks."
Penny was eagerly waiting for Genevieve when she opened the front door. And the dog wasn't the only one.
"Where the hell have you been?" Rebecca Weist said, pouncing on her daughter the moment she stepped in the door.
"Studying at Merri's house."
Gen rolled her eyes. "Meredith McCreary, the girl from my Geography class. I told you that this morning. You're losing it—it's probably 'cause you're old."
"Don't you take that tone with me today, young lady—you and I need to have a talk."
As her mother started for the kitchen, Gen slipped the journal Michael gave her into her bag, then followed.
"Sit down," Rebecca said, and as Gen complied, her father entered the room as well.
Uh oh... God, it was bad enough Genevieve felt like crying into her pillow with the weight of everything on her already, and now her mother was going to lecture her about something stupid?
"Do you want to explain to me why I came home to a dozen messages on the machine from your school?" Her mother crossed her arms over her chest and waited, one blonde brow arched in expectation. "Hmm?"
I was busy being nearly killed by some guy with a gun, my friend murdered him, another guy got shot, and so I couldn't be home to erase the messages before you saw them?
That didn't seem like the kind of answer her mother was looking for, however.
"Presumably because I skipped class today to go to the library to study with Sage?" Gen said instead.
"I thought you were with Meredith."
"Yeah, I met up with her at her place tonight."
"Genny, you've never studied a day in your life," her father said.
"Well, I thought it was a good time to, uh, start?" Gen's gaze went from her mother's to her father's. Neither seemed to believe her.
"If you're doing all this studying, why didn't you hand in your English essay?"
What the hell?
"Your English teacher called me this evening to inform me if you didn't hand in your last essay."
"Jesus, I can't believe that—I was in her stupid class today and rather than say something to me then, she called you about it? What a bitch."
"That doesn't matter—the point is you should have had it done."
Christ, who was her mother kidding? Since when did she get anything done on time for class?
"And what happened to your arm?"
Genevieve glanced down at her bruised wrist and recalled Sage's "training session" earlier that paired her with an overly-strong Michael. His grip coupled with the fact she easily bruised produced some questionable marks on her wrist and forearm.
"Phys Ed. They had us out there playing rugby, co-ed and everything. It was way rough—I'll probably skip it next time."
"You won't be skipping anything," her mother warned. "Not anymore. You are to come straight home tomorrow, you're staying home all weekend, and you're going to get that damn essay handed in."
Gen was going to argue more, but truth be told, she felt safer in her house anyway, so she wouldn't put up a fight about missing out on being at Michael's tomorrow. With any luck, crazy killer people would just harass the others, then Merri could shoot them all, and Gen wouldn't have to deal with it. Problem solved.
"Do you hear me—"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll do that. In fact, after I take Penny out, I'll run upstairs and work on it right away, okay?"
Though she wasn't sure that satisfied her mother, Rebecca didn't complain further, so Gen tossed her bag by the stairs, grabbed Penny, and hurried out the door.
After a quick walk with Penny, Gen slipped back inside the house and tried to be as quiet as possible.
Apparently she was more than quiet, because as she crept up the stairs to her room, her parents didn't notice her and continued their discussion about her in their bedroom.
Normally, Gen didn't eavesdrop on her parents' conversation. She almost did once, and hearing them say one sentence about their sex life was enough to traumatize her for life. Just as she passed their partially open door on the way to her own room, however, she paused as she heard her name.
"She hasn't been acting right for the past week," Rebecca insisted.
Leo sighed. "What do you think, then? Drugs?"
"I don't know—I can't see that. But have you met any of these new people she's been with?"
"No, and it is odd," Leo agreed. "She's not exactly sociable. I don't think she's gone anywhere with anyone for the past three years other than Levi and Stephany."
Gen rolled her eyes at this. God, her parents didn't have many friends either—what the hell were they complaining about?
"I know she said she was in an accident on the weekend, but then her arms today... I don't like it."
"You don't think that..." His voice trailed off before Gen could learn exactly what he meant by that.
"I don't know. I hope not. I'm sure Levi would tell us if she was with anyone hurting her..."
Why the hell? They thought she was in an abusive relationship?
"Dammit, I was so relieved she wouldn't ever be dating boys for this very reason—and the pregnancy thing—that I didn’t even think she could get knocked around by a girl too."
"I probably should have made more of an effort to talk about this with her," Rebecca said. "I know girls can be just as violent as boys are these days."
No kidding, Mom; you should meet Sage.
Having had enough of the conversation, Gen crept the rest of the way to her room, and after Penny was inside, she shut the door, flung her messenger bag on the bed, and sank down against the wall to sit with her head buried in her knees. How could it be that in merely a week her life had gone from happily uneventful to one where her parents were arguing over her supposedly abusive girlfriend while she hid from them the fact that she was almost killed a couple of times?
And let's not forget that pesky apocalypse thing that's supposed to be coming up, she thought. Michael hadn't said another word about that, which she was thankful for because any more pressure might just make her head explode.
To top it off, she had an essay on Macbeth due that she'd neglected to hand in—or even finish—days earlier. That wouldn't have been her top priority even before all this happened, and it certainly wouldn't be getting done now, despite what she told her mother.
Instead, she opted for a different sort of homework.
After rummaging through her free-for-all dresser drawer for a few minutes, Genevieve came across an untouched scented candle and some matches. She flicked off the lights, then walked across the dark room until she came to her low windowsill, where she set the candle. She knelt in front of it, then lit a match and touched the fire to the candle wick. Yellow light spread across her face, casting shadows in the dark room.
Michael was right, though she'd never breathe that aloud, and certainly not to him. There was no more being scared of this. No more denying what was actually happening to her. Either face this now or...
Or she may not live to have another chance.
Letting her mind relax, she regarded the candle flame with distance this time rather than the single-minded focus she had tried before.
She couldn't be sure, but she swore the flame flickered ever so slightly. Thinking it could be all in her mind, she checked to see if there were any drafts sneaking past the closed window—and there weren't—then sat back a bit to ensure she didn’t accidentally breathe on the candle.
That time it definitely flickered. And the next few tries produced the same results.
Something still wasn't right...and she couldn't entirely place her finger on it.
You're afraid. That was what Michael said. Sure enough, even now, with the comfortable temperature of her room, Gen felt a chill overcome her. Michael chalked it up to fear of accepting what was to come, but what if there was more to it than that?
Maybe she shouldn't bother with anything more tonight...
Gen pulled her bag off her bed and took out the journal Michael gave her, as well as a pen, and went to the first blank page.
Tried putting out the candle, she wrote. Didn't work. Still not sure about this. Also, Michael is a douche bag.
Well, that seemed a little brief now that she looked at it. What else could she write about? The strangest occurrence so far had been the guy trying to kill her, and she wasn't ready to put that to the page yet. What else was there...
Dreams. And she'd had plenty of those. All at once she recalled the eerie dream/nightmare from nearly a week ago—the dream of the girl who looked like her, but at the same time was so different. She had no sooner put the pen to the page when it hit her what she really feared...
If I can do this, what will I become?
Would she still be herself? Lazy, full of self-doubt, and passive, sure, but that was all she'd ever been. She didn't want to be someone else. But somewhere in the darkness of her room, Gen felt that other girl standing there, all proud and confident, beckoning to her—calling her out of her shell, to face what she couldn't escape, no matter how she avoided it.
Genevieve felt the warmth overcome her—no chill, no cold could touch her now. Her blue eyes went to the candle flame, only another's gaze seemed to be with her own, both familiar and foreign at the same time...
The sight of the flame dying suddenly took her aback, and she blinked a few times, fully herself once more.
Oh my God...
She did it. It was out. She put the stupid candle out!
Unable to control her grin, Gen hopped to her feet, flipped on a bedside lamp, and grabbed the journal to start writing.
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Michael saw the candle flame snuffed out from the driver's seat of his dark sedan across the street of Genevieve's house. Seconds later, her room filled with light.
Her face had been barely visible in the dim glow of the candle, and she appeared to be really trying this time. He didn't doubt that she was.
And so it begins.
His hand on the key in the ignition, he was about to turn the car on, when he paused to take one last glance at the window. Was there relief now that she could finally do it? Or dread?
Michael pushed his worries from his mind and started the engine. Relief or dread—did it even matter anymore?
They'd all know which it was soon enough.