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Several minutes passed with Sage unable to take her eyes off of him. Her fingers absently went for the chain around her neck. She pulled out the ring and squeezed it in her palm. I’ll never put it on—not ever. Not now that she had him back.
He won’t remember me, she reminded herself. We haven’t been dating for the past two years—I’ll be lucky if he knows my name. But it was all worth it. Like Michael said, anything would be worth it to have him back.
Sage stood at last, wiping her eyes dry. A glance at her watch revealed it was nearly eleven-thirty, and in this reality she had school the next day. Time to head home before her mom freaked out.
Her own home, however, was among the darkest on the block. Her mom hadn’t even bothered with Christmas lights, which seemed horribly out of character.
At least they’re asleep and they won’t know how late I am getting back, she thought. After slipping inside, she locked the door behind her and looked around the main floor. Everything appeared the same; there were Ceci’s toys, her Mom’s briefcase, Kat’s cell phone… She breathed with relief—though two years of history were different, at least they hadn’t moved.
Sage headed downstairs and readied for bed, making as little noise as possible as to not wake her mother. As she climbed beneath the covers and switched the bedside lamp off, she considered the matter of Gen, Michael, and Merri. Was it even worth telling them? She’d probably seem crazy if she did manage to explain it coherently. Then Michael would yell at her for going to see the kid and his grandma, no doubt. God, what if he made her go back?
Aware of the ring hanging around her neck, she hugged her pillow tightly. So she wouldn’t tell them. Not yet. Perhaps eventually—well after the twenty-four hours were up.
Though it took awhile, at last she drifted off and for the first time in months she didn’t cry herself to sleep.
As her eyes opened, Sage immediately glanced at the clock by her bed. After ten in the morning—she’d missed her first class already.
Muttering an obscenity under her breath, she grabbed a change of clothes and her book bag, and ran upstairs for the shower. At least her mom and sisters were already gone, so she had the place to herself. Thoroughly washed, changed, and ready for school, she skipped breakfast and left the house in a jog.
Her anatomy class had just begun as she slipped into the school. Thankfully, this-reality-Sage seemed to be taking the same classes as her, however following the teacher’s directions when she’d missed so much school proved difficult.
I’ll adjust, she reminded herself as she struggled through a short homework quiz. It’s a small price to pay to have him back. Worst case scenario, she failed to get a scholarship next year and had to go to community college. If the reason she missed out on that was because she’d altered her history in order to save her boyfriend’s life, there would be no complaints from her.
Lunch couldn’t arrive soon enough for Sage, and as soon as the bell rang, she was out the door and on her way to her locker. The halls filled with students, and ahead of her she spotted a familiar tall figure. Genevieve weaved—and in some cases pushed—her way through the crowd. She reached her locker a few moments before Sage caught up with her.
Will she remember anything? She was there when it happened, sure, but…
"Hey," Sage said as she leaned on the locker next to Gen’s.
Genevieve looked her way, startled. The dark circles under her eyes were a stark contrast to her light complexion, which was paler than usual. Tired blue eyes looked back at Sage.
"What?" Gen snapped. She stared expectantly for a moment, but when words failed Sage, Gen went back to stuffing her books in her locker.
"I just wondered what’s up," Sage said at last.
Jesus, she’s bitchy—how could Gen change so much in just two years? "What the hell is wrong with you today? Michael giving you shit?"
Genevieve’s full attention shot to her. "How the fuck do you know about him?!" Her eyes grew huge and simmered with a combination of anger and fear. Sage found herself stammering her response.
"Why wouldn’t I—I mean I—"
Realization struck Sage suddenly like a slap across the face. She only knew about me because of what Levi saw that night I was attacked, and he only witnessed it because Hayden asked me to go to his game… So in this reality, Michael hadn’t found her yet.
"How do you know about him?" Gen yelled, frayed nerves showing in the wail her tone took. The scene startled several people in the general area, and they sent curious looks Gen’s way.
"I-I’m sorry." Sage backed away. "It was just a—a mistake." She slipped into the crowd and zigzagged between people until she could duck around a corner. Pressing her back to the wall, she held her books tight to her chest and processed this change. So they didn’t know about her. Did she even want them to?
She glanced around for the source of the voice, hoping Gen hadn’t tracked her down yet. Her gaze fell on a guidance counselor cutting through the crowd.
"Ms…Sommers," Sage said, the name taking her a moment to remember. God, what the hell is happening now? Am I a problem student here or something?
"Your uncle’s been calling all morning," Sommers said, as if Sage was stupid for not already knowing this fact.
Keep calm, try not to look too confused… But she had very little contact with any of her uncles, so who exactly would be calling her? Her mom’s brother lived in Saskatchewan and her father’s side had absolutely nothing to do with her.
"You’d better call him right away—come on. He was very worried."
Sage followed Sommers down the corridor and towards the guidance offices. They stopped at a desk, where Sommers handed Sage the telephone and a pink slip of paper with a message on it. She dialled the unfamiliar number.
"Hello?" a gruff voice answered.
"Uh, hi. It’s Sage—"
"Where the hell have you been?"
He sounded a little familiar…
"Uncle Badri?" she asked.
"Who the hell else were you expecting? Now why didn’t you come home last night?"
So it was her dad’s brother. What happened during these past two years? Had her mother dropped a few I.Q. points and gotten back with her father?
"Where were you?" he repeated.
"I was at home. I was late getting in, but I—"
"You went back there again," he said, understanding reaching his tone. "This has gotta stop. Your Aunt Jay is trying to clean the place up—the real estate agent is appraising the house next week. You can’t keep going there—"
I don’t fucking care if they think I’m crazy anymore! I can’t keep doing this.
"Why are you selling the house? Where’s my mom?"
"I want to talk to my mom," she interrupted. "Does she know about this?"
Silence followed. "That’s not funny, Sage."
Dread pooled in the pit of her stomach. "Why would it be?"
"Look, I’m coming to pick you up. We’ll discuss—"
Sage slammed the receiver down and spun to face Sommers. "What the fuck is going on?"
"Please lower your voice—"
She felt her face heat up with rage. "What the fuck is going on!"
Sommers eyes narrowed, concern knitting her brows. "Did something happen with your uncle’s family?"
Sage snatched up the phone again and dialled a familiar number.
"Who are you calling?" Sommers asked as Sage pressed the receiver to her ear.
"Sage," Sommers said calmly. "Put down the phone. You know she can’t answer."
"Where’s my mom?" she said as she hung up.
"Are you having memory blackouts?" Sommers said with concern. "Trouble remembering things? Do you recall where you were last night?"
"I was home last night. Now where the hell is my mom?"
"Have a seat—"
"I don’t want to fucking sit down!"
Sommers sighed heavily and took the seat behind her desk. "You’ve pushed the accident out of your memory, I take it."
"What accident?" Sage managed to whisper.
"A few weeks ago," Sommers said, as if that would jog anyone’s memory in and of itself. When it didn’t, she continued. "Your mother and sisters were in an accident."
Oh no, please… She dropped onto the chair behind her, gaze fixed on the floor.
"Do you remember yet?"
Sage shook her head.
"Your mom had picked up your sisters after school, I believe for a dentist appointment. An SUV hit theirs—a hit and run, according to witnesses."
They can’t be dead…they can’t all be gone… How could this really be happening? Trading Hayden’s death for that of her family—what the hell kind of cosmic joke was this?
"Are they okay?"
"Your sister Ceci had minor injuries. She’s in the custody of your aunt and uncle."
Oh god no…mom?
"Your sister Katlynn is…in the hospital. She has been since the accident. Perhaps your uncle can take you to visit her today."
"Is she going to be okay?"
"Sage, there’s…there’s little brain activity. You don’t remember any of this?"
"I told you I don’t!"
"She’s on life support. From what your uncle has told me, the doctors don’t think…" Sommers didn’t finish and Sage understood why.
She bit her lip, worry gripping her then. Why would her uncle be telling the guidance counselor all this? Unless…
"Where’s my mom?"
"Is she okay?"
"She’s in the hospital as well. She had some head trauma and spinal injuries."
"Is she on life support too?"
"No, but… Sage, I really think you should talk to your uncle—"
"Just tell me what the fuck is going on! What’s wrong with my mom?"
"As I said, she had head trauma. I think it would be best if you went to the hospital. I can schedule you another appointment to talk about this later this afternoon, if you’d like—"
"Who did it?" Sage interrupted, fearful that she already knew the answer.
"The SUV left the scene of the accident and they haven’t been caught," Sommers said gently. "It was just a very, very bad accident."
It wasn’t an accident. The Brethren assassins still came after me. God, in this reality, they’re not dead…
Sage buried her head in her hands. This couldn’t be happening. She had to go back—couldn’t let this happen to them. But, I can’t go back to having him be gone too… And maybe it wasn’t as bad as Sommers made it sound—maybe doctors were working on her mom and Kat and they would be okay after all. And didn’t doctors always tell people the worst news? Prepare them so they’d be surprised later?
"Do you need a few minutes or—"
I need to get out of here. Only vaguely aware of her movements, Sage stood and stumbled towards the door. She slipped back out into the busy hall, tunneled vision blocking out the bodies around her. One collided with hers, knocking her books to the ground.
Automatically she dropped to the floor to pick them up.
"I’m sorry—let me get those."
Her head snapped up at the familiar voice to see Hayden kneeling next to her, scooping up the scattered books. His friendly grin faded as his eyes met hers. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah—I’m…" Her lower lip trembled and tears made it difficult to see. She wanted nothing more than to crumple on the floor and cry, and breathing deeply had been doing nothing to calm her down. Grief hugged her tightly—a familiar feeling she couldn’t seem to escape no matter where she went…
Holding her books for her in one arm, Hayden stood and offered her his hand. She accepted the gesture, shivering a little as her fingertips made contact with his. Once standing again, she retrieved her books from him.
He frowned in concern. "Bad news or something?"
Her eyes locked on his, their dark depths both comforting and a painful reminder of what she’d left behind. How the hell was she expected to make that choice?
But Mom and Kat are still alive, she thought. They might be all right after all. And if not, I’ll talk to Austin—I’ll find a way to change this…
"I have to go," she said when she’d found her voice at last. "Thanks for…" She couldn’t face him anymore and fled from the corridor. After tossing her books in her locker, she went straight for the front door. Would Austin be home, though? It was only noon, but did strange, magical kids like that actually go to school?
Her uncle might be there soon, however, so Sage didn’t waste time leaving Newhaven High. Down the street was a convenience store, and it was there she chose to use a payphone and call a cab. Though she could have called from within the school, it seemed less likely that she’d run into her uncle there. After withdrawing a twenty from the bank machine, she met the cab outside and directed him to Austin’s house.
She requested the cab wait for her as she raced up to the bungalow Austin shared with his grandmother, and pounded her fist on the door. Her impatient banging was met several seconds later when an annoyed Austin finally answered.
He frowned up at her, sighed, then stepped out onto the porch.
"Thank god you’re home," she whispered.
He crossed his arms over his small chest. "My grandmother and I are working on our gingerbread house."
"There has to be another way to do this." Her eyes filled with tears. "My family was in an accident and—"
"So go back."
"But then Hayden will be dead!"
"Sounds like you have a choice."
That little prick. "I can’t make that kind of choice. You’ve gotta be able to do something—"
"You had one," he held up his hand and waved his index finger at her, "choice. One decision you could change."
"Let me do another—"
"That’s not how it works. You get one. I can’t do anything about what happened."
Sage paced back and forth across the porch, raking her fingers back through her hair. This can’t be happening… "There’s gotta be another way."
"I told you I couldn’t make any guarantees," Austin said, softening his tone a bit. "I’m sorry. I have to go back inside now." He opened the door and stepped into the house, but sent a glance back at her over his shoulder. "Merry Christmas."
She stared at the closed door for several moments in shock. How could he just leave her like that? Why wouldn’t he help her?
The taxi horn honked behind her and Sage jumped.
"Metre’s running, babe," the driver called.
Swearing under her breath, she stalked back to the cab and directed him to return to the school.
Michael, she thought as she walked back into Newhaven High. If anyone in town would have any idea of what to do, it would be him. Michael was connected—Michael knew a lot more than he told anyone. He could help, though whether or not he would was a completely different matter. So I’ll have to make him tell me…and I’ll need help.
Lunch was nearly over, and students crowded around their lockers. Sage wove around people until she reached Gen’s locker, where she found both the Witch and Merri deep in conversation.
"Both of you, come with me," Sage interrupted.
"Who the hell are you?" Merri asked.
Sage walked right passed them, only pausing briefly to gesture for them to follow. She waited for them inside the girls’ washroom, where she kicked out any unwanted occupants.
"What do you want?" Gen asked as Sage locked the door behind her and Merri.
"I take it you guys and Michael haven’t killed The Brethren assassins yet, right?" Sage said.
"Who the fuck are The Brethren?" Gen said.
Sage took a deep breath. This wouldn’t be fun.
She explained what she could; that she was the Warrior, that she was from another "reality" in which she had been dating Hayden and he died, and that she and Gen had gone to someone who was able to let her change things. She detailed what she knew about the four men with identical knives that had been chasing Gen and Merri, and related what happened to her family. When she finished, both of the other girls stared at her in shock.
"Mer, you know I’m telling the truth," Sage said when it seemed no one else would speak. "I mean, you could tell if I was lying." Her dark eyes pleaded with Merri, who watched her coolly in return. "Mer?"
"I believe you, I think," Merri said with caution.
"Mer—" Gen began.
Merri ignored Genevieve’s warning tone. "So what are we supposed to do?"
"I figure if anyone knows how to fix this—or knows someone who might know—it’s Michael," Sage said.
"Now Michael is not going to believe you," Merri said.
Sage glanced at her watch. "I’ll deal with him, but I have to head to the hospital first." I need to know how bad this is… "I’d really appreciate it if you could tell him what I’ve told you, though. And if he still doesn’t believe you, mention Natalya."
"And who is Natalya?" Gen asked.
"The fourth one of us—an Immortal."
"No—no, he would have told me about a fourth," Merri insisted.
"He didn’t," Sage said. "We only found out while he was trying to track her down, through a guy named David Shaw. You haven’t met him or Thad yet?"
"Who the hell is Thad?" Merri said, definitively answering Sage’s question negatively.
"Your boyfriend," Sage replied.
"Now I know you’re crazy."
"So do I get a girlfriend in this alternate universe?" Gen spoke up.
"Yeah, someone named Peyton," Sage said, though she could hear the skepticism to Gen’s voice. "You’ve been talking about her nonstop, but I don’t really know her."
"Isn’t she in our English class?" Merri said.
"Uh, yeah," Gen replied. "And she’s not into chicks. She went out with Levi last week."
"Look, if you just tell Michael what I’ve said, he’ll believe me." Probably, she silently added. "Head to his place. I’ll meet you there."
"But—" Gen called as Sage headed for the door.
"I’ll see you in a few hours."
The hospital was within walking distance of the high school. At the reception desk, Sage requested both her sister’s and her mother’s room numbers. Kat’s was the nearest, so Sage headed up to the third floor to see her.
She heard the slow beep of a machine just before she stepped into Kat’s room, but nothing else. Hardly recognizable, her little sister lay on a hospital bed. Sage walked to her side. Kat’s hair was bound back in braids, but for a spot on the side that had been shaved, leaving a long ugly scar. Her left arm was in a cast, while the right hooked up to several I.V.’s and machines.
"Oh, Kit Kat," Sage whispered as she reached her sister’s side. She gingerly touched Kat’s hand, her fingers sliding over the smaller, lifeless ones. Though Sage glanced over the machines, she could discern nothing from their flashing lights and noises. She ran a hand over Kat’s brow, hoping to see a reaction, hoping what her guidance counselor had said was wrong. But still, her sister didn’t open her eyes, didn’t flinch—didn’t move. Even the machines breathed for her.
"I figured you’d show up here eventually."
Sage swung around to see her uncle, Badri, standing in the doorway.
She hadn’t seen any members of her father’s family in years, though he looked the same as she recalled. Older than her father, hard eyes, and an embittered frown, she’d disliked him immensely growing up. Her parents had fought a lot, and her father left them when she was just a child. His family had sided with him during the disputes, and Sage grew up with a grudge about it.
"You weren’t at the school," he said.
"How long did it take you to figure that out?" she snapped.
"Don’t be such a brat. Not here. Your teacher at school said you had some kind of breakdown—"
"Yes, I had a breakdown. So can you explain to me why you’re here when my dad’s not?"
"He’s in jail again."
"Smack around another girlfriend?"
Big damn surprise. Sage rolled her eyes. "So why the hell are you here again?"
"I’m your mother’s power of attorney. She never told you?"
She shook her head.
"I was called after the accident."
Sage had no idea that her mother had kept in contact with him, let alone that she would permit him to make important decisions regarding their finances and health.
"I want to see my mom."
"She’s in another wing—I’ll take you there."
After giving her sister’s hand one last squeeze, Sage followed her uncle from the room. In the doorway, she cast a glance back at Kat. I’ll try to make this right…I promise.
Diana Bethany was on a different floor of the hospital, in the wing for patients requiring longer term care and rehabilitation. Sage found her mother seated in a wheelchair in a common room, staring out a window. She rushed to her side and dropped down on her knees.
"Mom?" Sage whispered, reaching up to clasp her mother’s hand.
Diana blinked a few times as she glanced down at her daughter. It took a moment, but eventually recognition passed through her dark eyes.
"Sage. Is everything all right—"
Sage stood up on her knees and hugged her mother, happy to be in her embrace. "Mom, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…"
"About what?" Diana asked kindly as she brushed the hair back from her daughter’s forehead.
Tears shone in her eyes as she gazed up at her mother. "The accident."
"Oh sweetie, you can’t blame yourself for that. I’m glad you weren’t there too."
"I’ll be out in the hall," Badri called. Her mother gazed over her shoulder at him, smiled, and nodded.
"Why did you let him come here?" Sage asked as she sat back on her heels.
"He and Jayanti have been helping us out a lot. Don’t be so rude with him."
"He said you’re selling the house."
"You know that… We’ve talked about it. In the New Year, we’re going to be moving in with them in Toronto. I can get better treatment out there."
"Can Kat get better treatment too?"
Her mother’s eyes glistened with tears. Her lips parted, but rather than speak, she wrapped her longer fingers over her face.
"The-the counselor, at school, says I’m having a breakdown," Sage said quickly. "Because I can’t remember much about the weeks since the accident."
"Sweetheart…" Her mother reached down and took one of Sage’s hands in both of hers. "I think we’re going to be taking her off the machines."
"But she can still get better—"
"We’ve been talking to a few doctors. There’s no brain activity. Honey, she’s not going to wake up."
No…no… Sage’s hand went to the ring hanging on the chain beneath her shirt. How could she trade Hayden for Kat?
"We’re going to wait until after the holidays," her mother continued gently. "We’ll still have one last Christmas with her."
I’ll make this right, Sage thought, the image of her sister in that hospital bed burned in her mind. I’ll go to Michael, I’ll make him find a spell or something—even if I have to go through his computer myself—and I’ll make this right.
Sage walked the way to Michael’s place, hoping Merri and Gen were already there and had explained at least a bit to Michael. If they had broken him in a little, convincing him she told the truth might be easier.
Michael’s old car waited in the driveway, so she guessed at least he was home. She banged on the door until Merri answered.
"He’s pissed," Meredith said in a low voice as she let Sage inside. "Really pissed."
Not exactly news.
Inside the house, Michael leaned on the arm of a chair in the living room, facing Sage and the front door. Arms crossed over his chest, she recognized the look on his face; as Merri said, he was pissed. Gen sat on the couch a few feet away, feet tucked under her and cheeks stained with tears. Long hair hung around her face, giving her a tired look.
Michael wasted no time getting to the point. "What the hell have you been telling them?"
Sage took a deep breath. "The truth."
"Oh, right, the truth that you learned while you existed in another reality."
"Yes. How else would I know about The Brethren, about Natalya, about David Shaw? Thad Kincaid, Shaw’s student whom you’ve been corresponding with to try to learn more about the Immortal? I know you have a friend named Finn O’Shea who lives in London, and that he’s a medium, because you asked him here to contact my boyfriend who died. And you know Finn because you wanted him to contact your wife, but he couldn’t."
Michael’s face changed then—his eyes widened and flesh paled.
"You tell me about her because I lost Hayden," Sage continued before he could stop her. "I know you used to be a teacher and you met her at a party. And I know you used to promise to take her to the theatre, but you never got to. And I know you fill sketchbooks with drawings of her that you later burn. You were going to name your son after your father and I know Anne was murdered—"
"Enough," he cut in. Sage went silent, accustomed to doing so under his steady gaze.
"You were married?" Gen spoke up in a small voice.
"Shut up," he snapped her way, then directed his attention back to Sage. "If this is true, how did you do it?" He nodded Gen’s way. "This one wouldn’t have been any help."
"Gen found out from this witch, Krysta, that there was a kid in town—Austin—who can connect with the Vision Serpent. We went to him, hoping he could contact Hayden, and he offered to let me change the past."
"The Vision Serpent…Jesus-fucking-Christ, do you have any idea what you’ve been playing with? Do you know what that ‘kid’ is capable of?"
"Yeah," she said, matching his dark tone and stalking forward. "I know that he brought me Hayden back—that is what he’s capable of. Now I need to know what else is out there—or who else—that can do something about my sister. She’s in the hospital on life support."
"You haven’t a fucking clue what you’ve—"
"And you’re telling me you wouldn’t do that for Anne? You wouldn’t—"
Glass shattered in the far left of the room, startling everyone. Sage glanced around, alert and attempting to detect the source of the noise. Her gaze fell on the window in time to see more panels break. Michael hit the ground, blood splattering on the floor around him.
"He’s been shot!" Merri cried.
"Get down!" Sage ducked to avoid any further gunfire.
Gen dropped down behind the couch, while Merri knelt near Michael.
Sage crawled to meet her. "Jesus, you get shot in every reality." She grabbed a semi-conscious Michael under the arms. "The kitchen," she shouted to the others. There weren’t any windows in that area, and it seemed a better place to find temporary cover.
Merri went ahead of her while Sage dragged Michael across the floor, leaving a bloody trail on the hardwood.
"Mer, look for weapons," she instructed as she safely moved Michael behind the kitchen table.
"Way ahead of you," Merri said. Silverware clattered on the floor as she dumped out the contents of drawer. She separated the steak knives, scissors, and anything else sharp she could find. "Why are they doing this now? They’ve come at us a few times, but—"
"They’ve got all of you confined…" Michael gasped in pain as he sat up. "And they must think they can kill you this time." The bullet hole in his chest seemed dangerously near his heart, but he otherwise seemed to be functioning. He reached forward but winced in pain again. "My ankle…there’s a gun."
Merri went for the weapon while Sage grabbed a knife from the stack.
"I don’t suppose you put in the roof exit yet?" Sage asked.
Michael looked at her sharply, surprise passing through the depths of his eyes for a moment before he recovered. "They hadn’t yet been to my home, so I’ve put it off."
"Damn. So what—"
More glass shattered as something sailed through the window. A bottle landed several feet away, cracking open and spilling a liquid on the floor. Sage breathed in deeply.
"They want to smoke us out," Michael said, confirming her thoughts.
"We gotta get out of here," Sage said.
Michael rifled through his pocket and produced a set of keys, which he thrust into Merri’s hand. "You need to drive."
"They’ll be waiting at the front," Sage said.
"Then shoot anything that moves," Michael said, nodding Merri’s way. "Go first and…" His eyes travelled over their faces. "Where the hell is the other one?"
Sage glanced back to the main room and found Gen still crouched behind the couch, face a mess of tears.
"Get the fuck over here!" Michael shouted at her.
Another bottle filled with gasoline hit the floor not far from where Gen hid.
"They’ll shoot me!" Gen cried.
"Jesus Christ, you’re fucking useless—"
"I’ll get her," Sage said quickly. "You guys get to the car." She crawled forward, keeping an eye on the windows and her hand on the knife. Just steps away, a lit book of matches hit the floor.
"Gen, c’mon." She reached for the other girl’s arm.
"They’re going to shoot us," Gen sobbed.
"Mer and Michael are getting the car—we’ll be fine. But you have to come with me." God, this Gen is even more of a whiner than the other one. She wrapped her fingers around Gen’s wrist firmly. "Come on."
Fire snaked along the trails of gasoline around them. She yanked on Gen’s arm and dragged her towards the door, both of them in a half crouch. The front door lay open. I hope they made it…
Out of view of the windows, Sage and Gen stood at last. Beyond the front door, Sage saw Merri and Michael making their way to the car. Glancing cautiously out the door but seeing no sign of trouble, Sage gave Gen’s wrist another tug and moved towards the car.
Gen froze behind her, drawing Sage to halt.
"We’re almost—" Sage looked back and her eyes widened in horror. A Brethren assassin had Genevieve pinned against him, knife against her throat. In the chaotic moments that followed, Gen’s terrified eyes met Sage’s, and Sage tried to move, tried to stop him…
He slashed the blade across Genevieve’s throat. Hot blood struck Sage in the face as she stepped forward to stop him. Gen’s eyes went glassy, and though her lips parted, no sound escaped them.
The assassin let her go and Gen fell forward into Sage’s arms.
Behind her, Merri screamed and fired the gun, striking the assassin in the chest. Sage backed up, Gen’s lifeless body heavy in her arms.
"Everyone in the car," Michael shouted.
Merri had the vehicle running by the time Sage got herself and Gen into the backseat next to Michael. Tires squealed as the car spun out of the driveway and flew down the road.
Sage looked up to meet Merri’s tearful gaze in the rearview mirror. Gen’s body moved in Sage’s arms and for a moment she felt an instant of hope that perhaps she was okay after all… And then her eyes settled on Michael, who had eased Gen back to feel for a pulse.
Blank eyes stared up at the roof of the car and Sage knew the answer before he spoke.
"She’s dead," he said quietly.
Sage doubled over, hugging her stomach and openly crying. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way…
"I just wanted Hayden back," she whispered, to no one in particular. "I just wanted him…"
"I wanted Anne," Michael said, his voice cutting through her and immediately drawing her eyes his way. "More than anything. But I would never change the past to have her back."
"Because I’m supposed to be here for the three of you," he said simply. "And that never would have happened if she had lived."
"Some things are more important than what you want, Sage." He gazed down at Gen, and Sage couldn’t decipher the look in his eyes. A hint of grief? Of regret? She didn’t know.
And I never will.
After driving in silence long enough to ensure they weren’t being followed, Sage directed Merri to a familiar road after dusk had fallen. As she got out, Sage sent a final glance back to the car where she could make out the form of Gen’s lifeless body in the back and Michael staring straight ahead. They drove off, leaving her to stare up at the house in silence.
Her feet felt heavy as she forced them forward, up the path to the porch, then onto the porch to the front door. Pressing hard on the cold plastic button near the door, she heard the bell ring within.
Moments later the door opened and Levi peaked out. He looked her up and down, and then frowned. "Are you—"
"I need to see your brother," she said in a soft voice, well aware that she was covered in Gen’s blood but not wanting to bother with an explanation.
Levi stepped back, still staring at her with worry, and called for Hayden. Several minutes later, Hayden came to the door. Sage stepped back. He understood the invitation and slipped on a pair of shoes, then met her out there.
"Are you okay?" he asked in concern. "Was there an accident? Do you need a pho—"
Sage threw her arms around his neck and pulled him close, sobbing into his shoulder. His arms tentatively went around her waist. She knew he probably didn’t even remember her name, but she held him anyway.
She breathed him in, felt the familiar plane of his shoulders, his back—everything was so familiar. But her joy at feeling him in her arms again was crushed by the knowledge it truly would be the last time. She tightened her embrace, heart aching.
Tilting her head to look up at him, she was met with an expression of confusion, but didn’t care. She leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips, tears falling steadily.
"I love you," Sage whispered against his lips, eyes squeezing shut. "I love you so much…and I miss you more than anything…" Her voice broke. She moved one hand to her neck and felt around for the chain. Once in her grip, she yanked it from her neck and slipped the ring off. The chain clattered to the floor of the porch as she wrapped both arms around his neck again.
"Please tell me you love me," she whispered.
"Okay…" There was doubt in his voice, but he hugged her tightly. When he spoke, she felt his warm breath on her ear. "I love you."
She positioned the ring at the tip of her finger.
She let out a deep breath. "Goodbye."
Sage slid the ring onto her finger.
She could feel the couch beneath her, the cold night air replaced by the warmth of a home, and someone’s hand on her arm. Though everything was different, she kept her eyes closed, wishing it had been a bad dream. She felt the ring on her finger, however—a reminder of what she had just done.
"Sage, you can’t seriously be thinking…"
She opened her eyes to see Gen sitting beside her on the couch in Austin’s home, her friend’s grip tightening on her arm in worry.
"You don’t know what he’s talking about—it could be dangerous."
Sage felt a warm tear hit her cheek; she reached up to brush it away. "You’re right." Casting a glance at Austin, she found the kid stared at her with little emotion. A small nod her way was the only indication given that he remembered what happened.
"Why don’t we just stick with the Vision Snake thingy?" Gen suggested.
"Maybe another day," Austin said. "I think I’m done working tonight."
"Let’s go home." Sage rose from the couch and left the room without another glance behind her. Genevieve followed suit, and soon the two of them were back outside on the street in front of the house.
"I’m sorry you didn’t get to talk to him," Gen said immediately. "Maybe another time…"
"And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you—"
Sage met her friend’s eyes. "It’s all right, Gen." She took a deep breath, hoping she didn’t sound too upset. Her voice cracked a little, but seemed steady enough. "Do you want to call a cab home or walk?"
"I don’t mind hoofing it if you’re okay with it," Gen said with a grin. "Unless you want to be by yourself…"
Sage shook her head. "It’s okay. I’ll walk you home."