“I’m so sorry,” Charlie whispered, standing over Veronica’s body. She looked around, scanning the area, but saw nothing. Even still, she knew she wasn’t alone.
Part of her wanted to pick up Veronica’s corpse, to take it back with her. Maybe she could give it a proper burial, at the very least. It was infected, so she couldn’t send it back to Veronica’s family, but if she could preserve it for long enough for the infection to die out…
Part of her might have wanted that, but a bigger part of her just wanted to hit something. She and Veronica might never have been close, but they were friends. Veronica was someone she respected, someone who deserved better than she’d gotten. Her death was unfair, and there was nobody Charlie could punch in response. It sucked.
You can go. The words floated through her head, half whisper, half thought. Not her words. Nothing she could do about it. She left, walked off the side of the building, enjoying the rush of gravity as the ground raced up to meet her.
For nearly eighteen months, she’d dedicated her entire life to saving her city. First it was just the gangs, and she’d paid dearly for her efforts. Captured, tortured, punished over and over again for her naivety. She’d had to take more drastic measures, had needed more power, and she’d never forgive herself for the damage she’d caused in the pursuit of that.
It wasn’t enough. Instead of granting her the power to save the city, things had only gotten worse. Horrors from a whole other reality, people even more powerful than she was. Somehow, the gangs had gotten stronger. The military had moved in to clean up the mess, and they only made things worse. Nothing had worked out.
Still, she kept fighting. What else could she do? Giving up wasn’t in her nature, and too many people were relying on her, even if they didn’t realise it. Nobody else could do the things she did.
Eighteen months, and nothing had been as hard as killing Veronica. She hadn’t been ready for it, hadn’t expected it, and Veronica was innocent, so undeserving of death.
You didn’t have a choice, she tried to remind herself. The description Veronica had given her, she knew exactly who it was. The poor girl had seen a Reaper, she was already marked for death. It was the least Charlie could do to make it painless.
Doesn’t make it any easier.
Too angry to patrol the streets, she opted to return home instead. It wasn’t far, but she had to be careful, had to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Even the Celestial didn’t know where she disappeared to.
She stormed into the living area, a large space barely filled by the two couches and four bookshelves it contained. The younger girl on the couch looked up, concerned but not surprised.
“You’re home early,” she commented.
“Not in the mood, Sadie,” Charlie replied shortly.
“You weren’t watching Rachel again, were you? You know that’s kind of creepy, even for you.”
“It wasn’t Rachel,” Charlie snapped.
“Good,” Sadie replied. “You’re still way too obsessed with that girl. You broke up. Get over it.”
“We didn’t just break up- ugh, why am I talking to you about this?”
“Because you don’t have anyone else,” Sadie replied. “You’re stuck with me, just like I’m stuck with you. So tell me, why are you in such a foul mood?”
Charlie glared at the younger girl, but couldn’t maintain it. She let out a ragged breath, and slumped onto the other couch.
“I killed somebody.”
“You’ve killed before,” Sadie pointed out.
“Only when I had to,” Charlie argued.
“Did you have to this time?”
“No,” Charlie confessed. “But…”
“The Reaper was there,” Charlie said. “Veronica saw her. It was the same one.”
“Since when can Veronica see- oh. Oh. You killed Veronica. Fuck, Charlie. You killed her because she saw a Reaper? Seriously?”
“What was I supposed to do? Fight her again?”
“You beat her once,” Sadie said.
“No, I didn’t,” Charlie argued. “It wasn’t me. That thing isn’t me.”
“Probably for the best, anyway. Wouldn’t want poor Veronica getting stuck like me, eh?”
Charlie ignored the barb, staring up at the concrete ceiling. She loved Sadie with all her heart, but she didn’t like her one bit, these days. They were always at odds, always disagreeing, and Sadie had literally nothing better to do than to argue with her.
Just another in a long list of failures. Another reminder of a time she’d tried to make things better, and only fucked up worse.
Enough unproductive thinking, she scolded herself. She had a lot of work to do, and her mood wasn’t going to improve while she sank into the couch and sulked.
She hauled herself to her feet, making her way out of the room. To her surprise, Sadie followed her. The two of them walked in silence, navigating the maze of concrete corridors. Neither of them felt the cold, but it was impossible to feel warm in that environment.
Charlie opened a heavy metal door, tensing before walking through it. Sadie stood in the doorway, her mouth agape.
“Charlie, you can’t be serious,” she said, as the door slammed shut beside her. “This is barbaric.”
“It’s necessary,” Charlie replied coldly.
She approached the infected chained to the back wall of the room. It snarled at her, but lacked the energy to move much.
“Hey, buddy,” she said softly. “How’s it going? You feeling any better yet?”
Only another snarl in response. She shook her head, disappointed. It had been several weeks, and daily infusions of the chemical synthesised from her blood hadn’t changed anything.
“What are we doing wrong?” she asked, reaching out to them. They lashed out at her, weak and pathetic.
“What are you doing to it?” Sadie asked.
“Trying to save them,” Charlie said. “Using my immunity to try and undo the damage the infection has done. So far, it hasn’t achieved anything.”
“But… how? You’re not a scientist. You don’t know the first thing about this stuff.”
“No, I don’t,” Charlie agreed. “That’s why I made a deal.”
“With who?” Sadie asked. “What deal?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Charlie said. “They get to study my blood, and in return, they use that information to create something that can help people.”
“People have tried to study your blood before, remember? They didn’t find anything different about it.”
“I found someone who knew what to look for,” Charlie said. “They already helped create something which retards the process. Now we’re working on reversing it.”
“And what else are they going to find out about you, Charlie?” Sadie demanded. “What if they discover weaknesses? What if they figure out how to hurt you?”
Charlie laughed, startling the infected. It actually scurried a bit further away from her.
“God, I wish. Do you have any idea how boring it is, being like this? Nothing can kill me. Pain barely registers. It’s like everything is pointless. How am I supposed to get stronger if nothing ever challenges me? If there’s never any risk?”
“Why do you need to get stronger?” Sadie asked, with uncharacteristic aggression. “Why are you obsessed with being strong and powerful? Why can’t you use all that power to actually do something productive, instead of thinking about fighting all of the time?”
Charlie felt her jaw clench, and her hand curled into a fist, the nails digging into the skin of her palm. She took several seconds before she responded, breathing with forced patience.
“Because,” she said, her voice low, “this is the only thing I can do. Everything that’s happening out there is my fault, Sadie. I let monsters into the world, and for all my strength, all of my goddamned immortality, I can’t stop them. I can’t save everyone. This is all I have.”
The angrier she got, the more agitated the infected became. It began to roar alongside her, struggling against its chains.
“You’re wrong,” Sadie said, pressed up against the wall, as far away from both Charlie and the infected as she could get.
“No. Not wrong. Not this time.” Charlie stared at the infected, and once again, it cowered away from her. “I’m going to keep getting stronger, and I’m going to destroy everything that threatens this city.”
Charlie hesitated. It was only for a second, but Sadie’s face made it clear she noticed.
“Even Sabrina,” Charlie said. Sadie’s disappointed expression cut, but she knew better than to try and explain anything to her sister.
Charlie’s phone rang, a distraction she was incredibly grateful for. Sadie left the room, making a disgusted noise. Charlie rolled her eyes and answered the phone.
“Having a bad day?” a male voice asked.
“Is there any other kind?” she replied, coldly. “What do you want?”
“I was hoping for an update,” he said. “I think I can infer, though.”
“So try something else,” she snapped. “We had a deal, Gabriel.”
“I promised my best effort, nothing more,” he replied.
“And if you want what I promised, you’ll step your best effort up,” she threatened.
“I don’t take orders.”
“I don’t care,” she said, and hung up on him.
Alone save for the infected, she slumped against the wall, sliding down to the floor. She willed the fury that was building up inside of her away, but as always, she was at its mercy. It took all of her self-control to keep from lashing out at anything nearby at times like this.
When she’d had Rachel around, everything had felt so much easier. Rachel stabilised her, grounded her, soothed the rage she was constantly at war with.
“I miss you,” she whispered, knowing nobody could hear.