The room was amazing, a round table of blue-stained wood under a sky of gold-purple clouds. The forest the bounded their private dining area was a wintry fir forest, branches heavy with snow, flakes drifting through the air, but never touching them. It was beautiful, it was nonsensical, and it was the perfect kind of fantasy after the fire of the phoenix and the dulled experience of Limbo. The Lost had left them a small feast, and assured them that there would be no interruptions. It was beautiful, but she could only process it in snatches, everything fading to grey when she lost focus for even a second.
I want to live.
She didn’t feel weak like she had after being used the first time, just hollow, empty in a way that neither food or cuddles would fill. It would have been easy to call it detachment, but that wasn’t right – emotions were still there, she was still sad, still scared, still needing to hide and pretend to be someone else, but still, there was some distance, some invisible wall. Probably just a side-effect of losing all but a few drops of mirror.
I want to live.
Curt squeezed her hand and she lifted her head a little, listening to the steady, comforting words of Ryan explaining the last three days. Agenty voice. Dad voice. Sensible and safe and positive that everything was going to be ok, even when he was very carefully complaining about their Sydney counterparts. It was fun to hear him complain, it brought the narc out in him. Narc, good narc, narc that always saved her.
I want to live.
She started to cry again, and they both held her.
There was no reason to cry, Death said she was going to live and if you couldn’t trust Death then you really couldn’t trust anyone. It was going to be easy, walk down a hall, go through a bubble designed to kill anything and everything on contact, knock on the moon, and send two firebirds home.
I want to live.
She looked at her wrist and the single strand of hair tied there, one wish she didn’t have to make. One tiny bit of mirror she got to keep.
All of it was gone, what was left was completely negligible, yet somehow enough to keep her alive. If this was life. It hadn’t even taken six months to whittle away something that had needed two grown-up hands to hold to something that would blow away on the breeze. The barrier was going to eat some of what remained, that wasn’t even a question, leaving her with less of almost nothing.
I want to live.
She pulled free of them, and hugged herself, unable to process their words, their affection, the fact that they were even there.
I want to live.
It was worth it, it had all been worth it. Every wish had been worthwhile. The wish to escape. To heal. To grow Curt a new arm. To get Carol back. To save the world.
I want to live.
She felt Ryan sliding his thumbs across her palms, and a little bit of pain. She forced herself to focus, and saw blood under her nails. She relaxed her hands, and waited for them to heal. Another tiny bit of almost nothing gone.
I want to live.
She let them hold her again, and Ryan resumed talking as Curt tried to offer her food.
‘I want to live,’ she whispered.
‘Stef?’
She slapped her face and forced herself to focus.
‘She said-’
She said I wouldn’t want to kill myself ever again. How can I be me if I- I’m-
‘-I’m not gonna die, but I’m not gonna be me, so that’s dying anyway.’
The world’s been trying to kill me since I was two, why the hell am I still trying to live?
She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.
Spyder-
‘Dammit, not you too!’
You have to do this.
‘No I don’t! No I don’t!’
You’re externalising.
‘Like I care!’
You aren’t more important than the world.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. ‘I know.’ Her shoulders slumped. ‘I know.’ Resignation settled into her chest. ‘I know.’
They were hugging her and she could barely feel it, they were talking and she could barely hear them.
And it didn’t matter.
Hugs for a dead girl. Comfort for a dead girl.
Cognisance started to reclaim her mind. ‘Let me go.’ The arms stayed wrapped around her. ‘Let me go!’
They slowly released, and she took in her surroundings again. Dad. Boy. Food. Forest.
‘There is no choice,’ she said, her voice a pitch higher than usual. ‘And- And I have to,’ she said, her voice cracking. ‘Cause who else can do it?’
‘Stef-’
‘Newbie-’
‘Death herself said that no one other than a thing like me can get through that barrier! If I had any more mirror left, I would ask you to generate a new agent and we could sacrifice someone who hasn’t figured out that living is nice! But I don’t have enough left for anything but this. And it doesn’t matter cause it’s just me dying, it’s not me…dying. You might like new Stef better! You will like new Stef better. She’s got to be better than this one.’
‘Stef-’
‘Newbie-’
‘You can help me or you can stay out of my way. We’re with the Lost right? How much money did I just indirectly donate to them? I’m sure that’s earned me a couple of guards who would lock you two away for long enough. I didn’t die alone the first time and- And I’d like the last time not to be lonely either.’
‘Stef-’
‘Newbie-’
‘Jesus Christ, can you two say anything else? Are you going to help me or not?’
‘Newbie-’
‘Curt.’ Ryan’s voice. Ryan’s sensible narcy-dad-voice.
‘Yes sir.’
Ryan knelt in front of her. ‘Sweetheart, what do you need?’
She took a breath. ‘Taylor. Or an elephant. Someone strong enough to get me through the stupid bubble. Cause I think I’m going to die as soon as I hit it, so I need to go at it so hard that at least the mirror makes it through and I can respawn on the other side.’
Ryan kissed her cheek. More comfort for the dead girl. ‘I’ll get him.’
‘Newbie-’ Curt started after Ryan left. ‘You don’t know that you’re-’
‘She said I’m never gonna want to kill myself again. How can I be me if I’ll never want to kill myself again? And she said what happens to me isn’t up to me so-’
‘That still doesn’t mean-’
‘It doesn’t matter what it means or doesn’t mean, I still think I’m gonna die, and I’ll still scared.’
He cradled her, and for a moment, she felt some of the comfort for the dead girl.
‘Picard,’ she said as he stroked her hair. ‘I never gave you an answer. I decided. It’s Picard.’
‘Nerd,’ he said, and held her tighter.
It should have been a moment. Been a big thing. Brought on the Kirk vs Picard debate until they were blue in the face. It should have been fun. It should have lead to watching more Star Trek and watching him come further out of the geek closet. It should have meant dragging the tech department into the argument.
It didn’t mean anything.
She closed her eyes, listened to his heart beat, and hoped that whoever she was tomorrow still loved him.