Chapter Twenty-Two

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Sasha’s body bucked in protest when Garrett tried to slide his hands under her. “No!” Her fingers probed at the metal strip protruding through her chest. This was bad. This was very bad. Her blood spilled freely to the ground, pooling around her, and Sasha could do nothing to stop it. Even sitting up seemed impossible.

Garrett frantically withdrew his hands. “What do I do? What do you want me to do? Sasha, tell me what to do!”

It hurt to speak. “Garrett,” she moaned. A gurgle followed, rather than the words she had carefully chosen. “Where…where is s…she?”

“Christ, there’s blood in your mouth—”

Sasha shook her head with much effort. “Move, Garrett.”

“Where?”

Sasha did not look up. She gulped, downing the thick, coppery fluid accumulating in her mouth. “Anywhere.”

They were too vulnerable. She was too vulnerable. They needed to get inside as soon as possible, before the Chameleon could wade through the rubble enough to find them. And then they needed to find medical supplies, or Sasha would be dead anyway. Her screaming may have already given them away for all she knew.

“You’re hurt, I can’t lift you,” he reasoned.

Sasha tested the blade driving her in two and steeled herself against another scream. “You…you have to.” She would have said more, but those last few words left her breathless.

“I’ll hurt you—”

“Now!”

He was not gentle, although Sasha assumed he was trying to be. He scooped her up at an inhuman speed, clutching her against his chest to muffle her cry of pain. She kept perfectly still. Her mind was clouded by the agony, but she still searched for a way out. There had to be a way out. There always was.

Garrett sighed with frustration. “There’s people everywhere.”

Her eyes flickered in every direction, taking in the sight of the aghast pedestrians and the construction area they were lucky enough to stumble across. There were three commercial buildings, all in various stages of production, although they all seemed stable enough to hold the two of them. Any workers would have come out to take in the sight of the wreck. Any others could face Garrett for all she cared.

Sasha nodded to the site. “There.”

He did not question her. Holding her close, he ran, ignoring the wails of the onlookers behind them. With every contact between Garrett’s foot and the ground, Sasha’s maimed flesh erupted anew. She felt the blood spilling off of her body.

“Oh God,” he kept saying, looking between her and the door of the building. “We’re leaving a trail.”

“Go.”

Sasha should have cared more that they would easily be tracked by the Chameleon, but her closing window took precedence. She knew what she should have been doing, given the circumstances. She should have been applying pressure to the wound and keeping her eyes open, but there seemed to be some kind of disconnect between her mind and body that forbade it. All she wanted to do was sleep. To give herself over to the peace and quiet that rest offered.

And that was exactly why she refused to do it.

Because, even though she had only delivered death to others hundreds of times, she already knew that this was what it had to feel like. Sasha was losing blood too quickly. Death was creeping into her thoughts, whispering that she should sleep. She refused to give in, especially not to something that she had bested many times in her two decades of life. There had to be another way.

Garrett stopped, shaking Sasha from her thoughts. Her eyes had closed against her will. “What do I do? What do I do?”

He placed her on what had to be a table. It was covered in saw dust. Sasha swallowed blood. Something was very wrong.

“Oh my God. Sasha, tell me what to do,” he pleaded.

Her mind was racing, but she could not tell what she was thinking at the same time. Nothing productive was surfacing. “I don’t know.”

“What?” he looked her over with glassy eyes. “I need bandages. And…um…alcohol. This place is too dirty. It won’t be good for you.”

Sasha cracked a little smile. “I’m going to die.”

“No! No, you’re not,” he insisted. “Just hold on a little longer and I’ll figure it out.”

Sasha did not have a little longer. As much as she hated to think it, the fatigue was becoming too much for even her to fight. Oblivion was so close. Too close. And she was afraid. “Garrett…” If she had the strength, she would have reached for his face. She wanted to touch him. She could not even find words to say what she wanted.

“Stop it, you’re not dying,” he snapped. Under his breath, he continued, “Not again.”

She wished she could have known if she had been Poppy once. The thought came out of nowhere. After all, it did no good to wish for impossible things. She knew that. But now, on the edge of death, did it really matter what she wanted or wished or waited for?

“Garrett—”

“What?” he countered, ripping her shirt enough to display the huge red ring around the sharp steel killing her. “What do I do?”

What would it have been like to be her? Sasha imagined it. She saw herself, sitting in a school cafeteria with a boy that was completely bewitched by her presence. She saw a carefree life, without training or fighting or killing. She wondered if she could have enjoyed a life like that.

“Garrett,” Sasha spat through the blood in her mouth. “Am I her?”

“What?” he hissed. “Now’s not the time, Sasha! We have to think—”

“I wish I was her.”

He froze. “You do?”

She nodded. From far away, she could tell that there were tears running down her face. It was already too hard to ignore how tired she was, but she was accustomed to being strong. “I wish I could be what you want.”

“Stop it, stop talking.” He wrapped his hand around the steel and pulled, but Sasha’s body refused to let go. She sobbed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry.” His face reflected her tears. Garrett grabbed for her hand, holding it tightly between his larger, much warmer ones. “You’re everything I want.”

She smiled. “I want you, too.”

“That’s why we’re going to figure this out. Just stay with me. We need to think.”

“I can’t—”

“You can and you’re going to. Just think. You’re so smart. Help me think.”

It was too hard. Everything was too hard. How could she think when she could not even stay awake? “I don’t—”

“You’re going to live, Sasha!”

He was talking too fast, she could hardly understand him. Her head was too full. “I’m not strong enough.”

Garrett laughed, albeit shakily. “God, who are you?”

She did not know what to say, so she said it again. “I’m not strong enough.”

“No,” the revelation came over his face like a bright light. “No, but I am. I can save you.”

“What?” she slurred. Her eyes slid shut.

He shook her by the shoulders, snapping her back to semi-awareness. “My blood. If I give some to you, it would heal you. It could save you!”

Something about his blood meant something to her, but the rest of his words got jumbled up in her head somewhere. She only looked at him, smiled again, and closed her eyes.

Wednesday, October 13th, 1993

Somewhere in the building, a door slammed, sending a ripple of echoes my way. A familiar scream followed, pleading wildly, “Let me go! Please! Please, let go!”

“Oh, relax, my dear, it’ll all be over soon,” Summit replied.

“Poppy?” I called, grasping for anything I could reach. I ran faster around the room, hand still poised over the wall. “Poppy?”

I could tell in the dark that her voice was full of tears. “Garrett!”

“Where are you?!” I yelled.

She sobbed loudly, her only answer.

“Where are you?” I was forced to a halt by something flat and hard, bruising my face. I bounced off. “What—”

The lights abruptly turned on, blinding me. I masked my eyes with my palm and found Summit Freeman holding Poppy just before my eyes.  His arms were wound around the woman’s waist, holding her still against him while she reached for me, kicking and screaming. I reached for her, only for my hands to hit the same hard surface my nose had just met. “Baby,” I whispered, knocking on her face.

A mirror.

I looked around, only to find the same picture surrounding me in every direction. Mirrors stood in every direction, reflecting the nightmare before me hundreds of times. The walls were made up of mirrors, the door was covered by mirror, the ceiling, the floor, and everywhere I looked. All I could see was Poppy and Summit. Each one looked the same, but only one would be the real thing. “Pretty isn’t it?” Summit asked over Poppy’s desperate pleas.

I was not in the mood. “What do you want?” I weaved through the mirrors, knocking on each one I passed to be sure that was what it was.

“I want you to stop moving.”

I did not stop, just kept investigating the glass. “You know I can’t do that.”

Summit smiled. “Fine, then she dies right here!”

Poppy’s unintelligible sobbing turned to a series of “No! No!”

I simultaneously froze, finding one reflection to stare at and entreating it to sympathize. “Please, she has nothing to do with this.”

“I think she does, Garrett,” Summit continued. “After all, she’s here isn’t she? You told her about us didn’t you? You made her a part of this!”

I shook my head. “She doesn’t know anything about you, I swear.”

Summit laughed. “Oh. Well, isn’t this awkward. I suppose I shouldn’t have told you all about it, my dear.”

“Just let her go—”

“I’m afraid that would be impossible.”

Poppy was still screaming.

My head was feeling light from the rush of adrenaline in my system. I struggled to speak clearly, wanting nothing more than to run to my wife and leave. Dispatching the weak, mortal man should have been all too easy. “What do you want?”

“I thought you’d realized by now,” the villain hissed, groping the love of my life. “I want you to suffer.”

“It’s done. I’m suffering. I’ll do anything, Freeman,” I swore. “Just give me my wife.”

Summit appeared to consider this for a second. “I suppose I could be persuaded. But I want you to do something first.”

“Anything. Anything.”

“Beg.”

My pride evaporated into thin air. “Please, Freeman—”

“Sir.”

I winced. “Sir, I’m begging you, don’t hurt my wife. I will do anything, if you don’t hurt my wife. Have mercy.”

Summit stood silently, thinking it over. “If you want her, Garrett, come get her.”

I didn’t move. “I did what you told me.”

“And now I’m telling you to come get her.” Summit bowed theatrically. “Now, Psionic Soldier. Do it now or she dies!”

It was all I needed to hear. I spun in every which direction, searching for the flesh and blood image of Summit and Poppy. I could have sworn the scream she released was close, even beside my ear. I swung out at the nearest man, only to imbed my fist and wrist in glass. “Garrett!” she cried, tears marring her face. Her mouth was covered by her captor’s palm.

“Garrett, Garrett, Garrett!” he mocked, shaking his head. “Yeah, Garrett, hurry up, or I might do something you regret.”

Despite the obstruction over her mouth, I could hear her sobbing freely.

I briefly thought that I could use his mind to shatter the mirrors, leaving only the true image in the room with me, but it was too dangerous. The shards would hit Poppy, and that was the last thing I wanted. I could not try anything with Freeman, the slightest hint of funny business would mean certain death for Poppy. Without option, I walked the hall of mirrors, hunting.

I continued to swing, striking another mirror behind me. “Coward, where are you!?”

Summit’s laugh echoed through the facility. “I’m with Poppy, Garrett, you know that. If you work a little harder, I might let you see her again.”

“Let go of her!” Another mirror crashed to the floor.

“I don’t think I will,” the man’s face twisted deeper into a sneer, all anger in his expression turned to dark glee.

My eyes only widened. Summit’s hands were moving, sliding from Poppy’s mouth down to the underside of her jaw and yanking her up to face him. “Get off me!” she whimpered, shoving uselessly at the monster holding her hostage.

Summit placed a kiss on Poppy’s lips, to which she fought and cried in protest. “I can see why you like this one, Garrett.”

“Don’t touch her!”

My plea was useless. “It really is a shame, though.”

I struck another dead end, finding myself buried in another pane of cold glass. “Don’t hurt her.”

“Or what?” Summit got a better grip around Poppy’s head.

I choked when I tried to swallow. Poppy was still screaming my name, scared, and it was making it hard to think. Garrett, Garrett, Garrett.

“I’ll come back to work for you!”

Summit grinned victoriously but did not loosen his grip. “Too late.”

“Garre—” Poppy was cut off by the sharp crack of her breaking neck.

Time stopped around me. My head pounded along with the harsh beat of the heart in my chest and then stopped altogether, just like hers. Each inhale was like a scream in my ears, but it was the only thing I could hear at all. It was the only thing that assured me that I had not somehow ended up underwater. Or in molasses. I could not move.

The sound of the crack replayed in my head. Or was that really happening? I could hardly stand to see. Could hardly stand at all. No, no, no, no, no… Was I speaking out loud or in my head? The ache in the back of my throat told me I might have been screaming.

Summit, or one of his many reflections, released Poppy. She crumpled to the floor unnaturally, limp limbs flailing out and around her. I did not see where Summit left to, only that he was there one minute and the next I was alone with the shell of my wife. The world slowly came back into focus around me I shook myself to awareness. “Poppy?”

She did not answer.

I approached her slowly, only to smack my face against the cool surface of another mirror. I turned to another Poppy and hit another mirror. “Christ!” I shrieked, flinging my fists wildly into mirror after mirror. There were so many. Sweat beaded up on my face, tears welled up in my eyes, and I shoved the final standing mirror to the floor. Glass erupted around me, tearing my clothes and skin, which frantically scrambled to heal itself. It didn’t stop me.

I faced the true image of my love on the floor. Her face was still, eyes shut like she had fallen asleep, a sight I was all too familiar with. Her hair was splayed in every direction, covering her mouth and nose. Her legs were bent underneath her. Her chest had abruptly ceased rising long ago.

My knees gave out beneath me. Words failed me. I just shook her shoulder lightly at first, then harder when she still gave no sign of waking. “Baby?” I whispered, just as I would to get her up in the morning. Still ignored, I grew annoyed. “Baby.”

The tears in my eyes made it difficult to see, and they only fell harder and faster. I lifted her up by her shoulders so her face would be in line with mine and studied her. Poppy’s head lolled back and away from me, too heavy for her broken neck to support. She still looked like she was sleeping.

It was there, holding her on the floor, that I came to the realization. She was still warm, but that would be short-lived. Her face would never light up. Eyes would never open. Smile would never shine on me again.

I did not care about where Summit had gone or what he would do next. All that mattered in the world was that I loved Poppy. And now she was gone.

“I’m sorry,” I whimpered. My heart felt like it had dropped to my feet. My entire body must have been falling to pieces. “I’m so sorry.” The ceiling of mirrors shattered under the weight of my mind’s influence, raining glass bits down on me.

I embraced her tightly, hoping it would hold me together like she never would again, but it did not help. Nothing would.

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