She was there. Before anything else came back to him, Cass was there, looking down at him. Watching over him… No. Cass was gone now. She was gone. He had left her.
Something moved in the darkness. A presence. Watching. Waiting. Evaluating. Lie still. A steady patter, just at the edge of hearing. Boiling water? Sharper. Rain upon a roof. Inside, then. The presence shifted, slipped away. Low voices in the distance.
Three felt his eyes open thickly, felt them strain to focus in the gloom. An orange-hued darkness; dusky, warm. The walls seemed too tall, the ceiling too far away. He turned his head, or rather let it roll to one side under its own weight. Across the room, a small canister sat on the floor radiating a dull orange light. Soothing, but unsteady. Fire in a bottle. Three’s clouded mind struggled to identify the device, nagged him for his inability to find its name.
A shadow moved across the room. Feet gliding into view, backlit by the light. The presence. A person. A woman. She knelt down, but only in silhouette. Three realized he was lying on the floor. No, not the floor. On some sort of mat on the floor. The woman pressed a hand to his forehead, her skin smooth and cool.
“Cass?” he heard a voice whisper. A voice like his, but weak, ragged. His tongue felt too large for his mouth.
She made no reply. Not Cass. Cass was gone. She moved her hands, and he felt them on his shoulder, on his chest, then a stab of white pain slashed his vision. He wanted to cry out, but there was no air in his lungs. The woman stood quickly and disappeared again, as spots floated in Three’s already blurry vision.
Wren. Where was Wren?
Footsteps outside. Louder, but somehow more distant. Darkness closed in.
A lantern. It’s called a lantern.
In his dream, and he knew it was a dream because he was with Cass, they were back in the agent’s office, back where Three had killed Kostya thinking he was Fedor. Except Kostya wasn’t there now, and the agent was away. Cass sat on the agent’s desk, and Wren stood by her, driving his shuttle car amidst the clutter. And she watched her son, smiled at him, smiled with her sudden warmth like the sun breaking through a storm cloud. Three wanted to reach out to her and found he couldn’t move. Wanted to call her name, but found he couldn’t speak. She noticed him anyway, she looked to him, surprised, startled. But then her eyes danced with some secret delight, and her lips moved with a subtle curl at the edges. A whisper. She spoke, but Three couldn’t hear her.
She slid off the agent’s desk, landed lightly on her feet. Glided to him, so close he could feel the warmth of her, so close but never touching, and she passed by and slipped through the door and walked down the long marble hall, impossibly long, without looking back. Three strained to call out, fought to chase after her, to catch her one last time before she disappeared, but it was no use. The office grew steadily warmer, steadily darker, and as Three tried to draw a breath, it was like sucking air through a heavy blanket.
A dream. Only a dream. And some part of Three’s mind, the part that knew he was dreaming, knew just as well that something was terribly wrong.
There was commotion, and a fiery brand of raw pain shot from between Three’s ribs into his chest cavity, forking like a bolt of lightning, shocking him awake. He struggled to escape, to twist away from the hurt, but they were holding him, they were holding him down, and there were too many to escape, and he was too weak to break free. The Weir. It had all been a dream, and he was only now waking to find the Weir were upon him.
No, there were hurried words. Three’s mind fought the confusion, the disoriented thoughts scattered by fatigue and trauma and pain and loss. Cass was gone. He had left her.
A face loomed into view, serious, concerned, but human. Fully human. A man. Old, early sixties, Asian. Bright eyes peered into his, as a voice floated into his consciousness.
“…relieve the pressure there…”
There was still pain, but Three found breathing easier. The man nodded, withdrew. Three’s vision swam, his limbs went suddenly warm and tingly. He fought it, but knew he was going under again. The man reappeared, calm, soothing.
“Rest. You are safe here. Your son is here, safe.” Three felt a pressure on his shoulder. A comforting hand. “Rest now. Rest.”
Three felt a question forming in his mind, but couldn’t grasp it before the darkness came, and he knew no more.
Oddly, it was hunger that brought him around. A dull but deep ache in the pit of his stomach dragged him from whatever bottomless sleep he had fallen into. And in that in-between space between sleep and wakefulness, a sound entered his consciousness. Soft, subdued, but clear, haunting as it was hopeful. Singing. A woman’s voice, like a winter’s wind in high places, or the sharp brilliance of the night sky. He’d heard it before. There, at the end.
Three let his eyes open. He was still on the same mat, staring at the same ceiling. The searing pain from… before, however long ago it had been, was gone now, replaced instead by an low-intensity but widespread ache, as if every muscle in his body had been bruised or strained in some way. He shifted and felt his elbow bump something that sent a jolt of pain through his ribcage on the left side, forcing a reflexive inhale. Glancing down, he noticed a clear tube inserted between his ribs. A long hose, snaking away. Before he could follow it, he realized the singing had stopped.
His eyes instinctively flicked to the corner of the room, and he saw her there. For a moment, she was Cass. But then, no, taller, lighter hair, fairer skin. Blue-eyed, blue as a glacier. She didn’t approach.
“I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
Three swallowed, and realized his mouth was painfully dry. He settled for shaking his head.
“Do you think you could take some water?”
He nodded. The woman dipped her head slightly and disappeared. A few moments later she returned holding a small blue bowl. She set it on the floor beside Three, and knelt. He curled himself up, clenching his jaw against the onslaught of his senses, forced himself through the discomfort and disorientation. The woman seemed surprised, and as he raised himself to a sort of hunched sitting position, he realized she’d intended to lift his head to help him drink. After a moment, she just handed him the bowl.
“Thank you,” he choked out, surprised by the hollow sound of his voice, like the wind through rusting beams. He raised the bowl to his lips and sipped tentatively. The water was cool with hints of mint and citrus, and though his body screamed for him to drain it all in one breath, he forced himself to take it slow. Testing. A little bit at a time. The woman watched intently, hesitant. Or expectant. Maybe she was waiting to see if he’d collapse backwards. He wouldn’t.
As he sipped the water, he traced the tube from his side, followed it to where it punched through some rubbery membrane down into a jar half-filled with water. The end of the tube was submerged. He watched as the hint of a bubble bulged, released, and floated to the surface. The woman followed his gaze, anticipated the question.
“Your lungs collapsed,” she said. “But they seem to be stabilizing. Chapel thinks we should be able to pull the tube out tomorrow, maybe.”
Three meant to respond, but only an exhale escaped, and even that seemed to take more effort than he’d expected. He closed his eyes and took another sip of water.
“Shall I bring your son?”
It took a moment to process. Wren, of course. Three didn’t have the energy to explain. He nodded. At least, he felt like he did. There was no telling how perceptible the movement had actually been. He heard her rustle, and knew she was standing. Three opened his eyes in time to see her slipping out. Almost floating. She had an easy grace in her movement that made him think of silk and falling snow.
Gravity seemed to have tripled since Three last noticed it. His body started to sink slowly back to the floor, but he refused its motion. Instead, he turned, slowly, painfully, until his back was against the wall, and crossed his leaden legs. It wasn’t even slightly comfortable. He sipped the water again, longer this time. Two, three swallows. The room was smaller than it had first seemed. Long enough for him to lie down, but not much longer. And not as wide. Wooden walls, wooden floor. Simple, but well-fashioned, and well-maintained. A craftsman’s work. He noticed as well the door was on a track, with neatly-hidden rollers that kept it nearly flush to the wall when opened. Clean, efficient, space-saving.
Three’s gradual evaluation was interrupted by Wren’s sudden appearance. The boy slipped in quietly and stayed close to the door, in the corner. Like a child expecting punishment. Or at a funeral. His eyes were wide, expectant. Hopeful. But far too heavy for a boy his age. The woman did not return with him.
The two waited in brief silence, neither knowing what to say, or if anything should even be said at all. Finally, Three motioned with his head to the space next to him on the mat. Wren slipped over and sat down with him, and for a time they just sat together in the dusky gloom. Three offered his bowl of water to Wren, but Wren shook his head. Three nodded, and sipped again, and struggled to find the words. But it was the boy who broke the silence.
“They thought you were dead,” he said. “At first, I mean.”
Three grunted. “Not too far wrong, I’d guess.”
Wren looked down at his hands, tugged on the fingertips of one with the other.
“How long has it been?”
“Five days, I think.”
“And they’ve been taking care of us?”
Wren nodded, and looked up at Three with unexpectedly bright eyes. “They have tomatoes.”
An odd detail, and a surprising one. “Real ones?”
Wren nodded again. “And some green things too, but they don’t taste very good.”
An underground farm, perhaps. Could explain the small room, the use of the lantern. But no, they’d need UV lights. That would mean generators, electric light. Three took another swallow of water. Still about half the bowl left.
“What happened?” Three asked. “When they came? The last I remembered, the Weir were…”
He trailed off, unsure of Wren’s state, suddenly concerned of waking memories that might have been best unmentioned. But while Wren dropped his gaze back to his own hands, he answered readily.
“The Weir ran away.”
“What do you mean, ‘ran away’? They didn’t follow us?”
“Oh, no they found us, but they ran away.”
“Was there a fight?”
“No,” Wren shrugged, but answered matter-of-factly, as if it was no big deal. “I think the angels scared them.”
“Who are the angels, Wren?”
“Lil. And Mister Carter. And Mister Chapel, I guess. They’re not really angels, I don’t think. But they can look like them. When they want to.”
Three’s mind swirled, still off-balance from the damage he’d suffered, the time he’d been under. He drank more deeply. Steadied himself. Ravenously hungry, but daunted by the idea of trying to stand. Real tomatoes. That would be something.
Angels. Something else entirely.