The two of us stood there on the rooftop, staring at each other, not saying anything. Her thigh-length coat fluttered lazily in the wind, too heavy to be moved much. She had her hands tucked into her pants pockets, leaning casually against the doorway that led back into the building.
She’d lost weight, I realised. She’d always been fit, but she’d also always had a persistent layer of body fat that gave her a cuter, cuddlier look. Not that anyone else seemed to consider her cuddly, but I’d seen her softer side.
The kindness in her eyes was gone, too. Had that just been a trick? Surely not. We’d known each other for too long for her to have been faking that. Beneath it all, she was a genuinely caring person.
Or at least, she had been.
There wasn’t anyone more dangerous in the city. Before Impact Day, before the arrival of everything that had changed the landscape of the city, she was impossible. With the power she had now…
Charlie was tenacious, driven, single-minded. She had a goal, and nothing and no-one would stop her from achieving it. She was tough, clever and more than able to handle herself in a fight. She’d gone up against the gangs with nothing, and nearly won.
Now, she had all of that and more. Superhuman strength, speed and resilience. Her wounds healed almost instantly. Her senses were sharper than anyone, or anything. She was unstoppable.
Her words from the television broadcast echoed through my mind.
She smiled again, a softer smile, but one that conveyed just what a difference in power there was between us. I had nowhere to run, no way to escape from her, and she knew it.
“You’re looking better,” she said, almost taunting me. The last time she’d seen me, I was halfway dead and entirely broken.
“So are you,” I replied, my tone full of venom.
My reply seemed to give her pause. What was that expression? Concern? Irritation?
“You’re still angry,” she said bluntly.
I took a deep breath. This wasn’t the time for over-the-top theatrics.
“Do I not have a right to be?”
Charlie shrugged. “I did what I had to do.” The line was careless, forced, too much like she was reading from a script.
“And to hell with the consequences, right?” I demanded.
Charlie cocked her head, the way a curious dog might do. Her hands remained in her pockets, but her arms seemed tense, ready to move at the drop of a hat.
“Do you want to fight me?” she asked, surprising me.
The idea was laughable. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less.
“What good would that do?” I asked, trying to figure her out. Even now, she was a mystery to me. It’s what had attracted me to her in the first place, way back when. She’d been a puzzle for me to wrap my head around, as much as anything.
She smiled again. A different smile. A smile of triumph, bemusement and arrogance. It was a smile I knew well.
“Would you like to dance, then?” she asked, and if her last question had surprised me, this one nearly knocked me off my feet.
She was asking me to dance? Surely she wasn’t being serious. Was she mocking me? After everything that had happened, was still happening, was going to happen? What part of her thought it was a good idea?
“What, here?” I asked, confused enough that it took me several seconds. “Now?”
She shrugged casually, the smile remaining. “I guess we could go somewhere else, but I like the privacy here. Nobody can see us.”
Nobody can see us, she said.
I shook my head. “Weirdo.”
She took another step towards me. I didn’t back away. What would have been the point? This situation, this conversation was entirely out of my control.
Another step. Close enough to touch. I didn’t know what to do. If someone saw us, what would they think? If Sabrina saw…
It was hard not to remember what it used to be like, with her. The love that I’d felt, the passion, the need. Bodies don’t just forget those feelings, even if heads would very much like them to.
I took her hand, the hand of someone who had threatened to kill me, who had the power to do it. Her fingers wrapped around mine, gently, and her other hand found my hip.
There was no music, no rhythm, only the sounds of the city. That was what we danced to, holding each other in silence, moving slowly, gracefully.
“I miss you,” she said softly, so quietly I almost didn’t hear. We stopped dancing. I let her go.
“You’ll live,” I said coldly. The message needed to be clear.
“How’s Sabrina?” she asked, her expression and body language shifting instantly, defensive and professional.
“She doesn’t like me,” I said, though I’m not sure why. Reflex response, maybe. We used to tell each other everything.
“You never were good at making friends,” she said, understandingly, condescendingly. A reminder I didn’t want, didn’t need.
I decided to try catching her off guard. She deserved it, even if provoking her was a stupid idea.
Charlie’s eyes narrowed, and for just a moment, I saw vulnerability flash across her face. It was gone in an instant, but I relished the victory.
“I think she hates me more than you do,” Charlie replied reluctantly. The edge to her voice almost made me regret asking.
“Sounds about right,” I said instead, rubbing salt into the small wound, the only wound I was capable of making.
Charlie looked distant, vacant, though only for a few seconds. When she returned, everything about her was hard.
“Do you still have it?” she asked, the question I’d been waiting for. The question I’d known she was here to ask. The question she already knew the answer to.
“No burning desire to give it back to me? To come work with me again?” she asked, the sort of question with only one correct answer. The sort of question that still needs to be asked.
“No,” I said bluntly. “I’m happy where I am.”
A screeching sound filled the air, grating against my nerves. The fighting from earlier had attracted infected. Already, I could smell them.
Charlie nodded, and backed away. “Well, you know where to find me. You know, if you want to,” she said. One final chance, she left unsaid. “Otherwise, sooner or later…”
I shook my head again, the message clear. “I can’t see you again. You know that, right?”
“I know,” came her wistful reply.
“It… was good seeing you, though,” I confessed, surprising myself. Despite everything, the chance to see her gain, to talk to her, to touch her… It was why I needed to stay away from her. Proximity was dangerous. She was dangerous.
“Does that mean I’m forgiven?”
“No. Goodbye, Charlie,” I said.
She just nodded, turned on the spot, and leapt off the rooftop, disappearing into the darkness.
I collapsed, my head whirling.