Light filtered through the curtains, glowing in through Shaun's eyelids. He blinked, waited as the red world drifted back to normal colors, rolled himself so he could see Lucy sitting next to his gurney.
“Hey, baby...” he wheezed, his voice barely more than a whisper. “How long was I out?”
Lucy glanced at her mobile, then returned to stare into Shaun's eyes. “About ten minutes. You're tired, I'll let you go.” She stood, but Shaun grabbed her wrist, silently implored her to stay. She lowered herself back to the small folding chair.
“Where were we?”
Around them soldiers and medical personnel and shell-shocked civilians shuffled by the make-shift hospital ward that took up what had once been Sky Crest Tower's fitness center. Gurneys lined the mirrored walls, stacks of equipment spread every which way, exercise gear cluttered one corner.
“Um, well...” Lucy reached down and picked up her tablet. She flipped through a few files and began, “They wanted to court-martial you. They're calling it dereliction of duty, treason, impersonating a military officer—”
“That should be a civilian charge.”
“I know. Like I said, they wanted to do that. Most people still believe you're dead, though. Mistlethwakey even saw to it you were brought in as a John Donalson.”
“Sorry, John Doe, John Doe.”
Silence stretched between them as Shaun stared at the charred stumps his hands had become, and Lucy stared at Shaun.
“Why'd you do it?”
Lucy dropped the tablet and leaned forward. “Why'd you attack him? Putting aside my history with him, putting aside that he was a Defender, the President asked for him personally.”
Shaun's lip quivered, and he shrugged.
“The whole country's been in civil war for a week because you killed John. And... and I don't see why. Or, or how even. I know you had friends in the service, but they couldn't be that good of friends.”
Shaun's nostrils flared and he looked up at the ceiling. He didn’t want to have this conversation now. He didn't want to think of John, to relive the decisions that had brought him here, that had brought the whole world here. International relations had been severed by every country on Earth, no one was allowed into or out of the country, Mexico was on the verge of invasion and the whole nation was at war and for what? Petty jealousy? Revenge?
“Honestly,” he wheezed, “I'm surprised it took you this long to ask.”
Lucy opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, thought for a moment. “I love you Shaun. I've loved you since the moment we first met... But I've also been afraid. Something about you terrifies me. But since I saw you Tuesday, since I've started talking with you again, I haven't been afraid. So now, as much as I love you, I'm ready to ask questions.”
Shaun shuddered. He knew why she wasn't afraid of him anymore; he was a different person now. Before, he had been in control of everything, a successful man built upon a successful life, a happy life. He was the best of the best, and he wanted the whole world to know. But since John had touched his mind, had begun to scrape out the memories that made Shaun who he was, he had fallen. Now he was a loser, a pitiful loner who had slunk through life, always trying to be better than he really was. His strength had been a reaction to weakness, a bully trying to better himself through violence, and he hated that. The worst part though... the worst part was that he knew none of it was true. He just couldn't remember it being any other way...
Lucy interrupted his thoughts. “Twice, after John came back, I thought about leaving you for him. The first time—”
“Was when he first called. You couldn't believe it. You wanted so much for it to be true...”
He waited for a response, looked over to see her shivering.
“The next time was the day of the first riot,” he continued. “You had forgotten about him again. Something eased him out of your mind. Then you saw him in the restaurant with that bitch Naomi and you thought, 'It's real, isn't it? He's alive. I have a second chance.' But you were so afraid for me, so concerned that I was going to die, that you decided to stick with me, to see it through to the end.”
Her hand shot out, latched onto Shaun's wrist, squeezed.
“But this... this is the end. I'm going to die. I know that; you know that. You decided to put aside me killing John, tried to work out that last little bit of paperwork so you could get a kick out of finally telling a boyfriend goodbye...”
Lucy's jaw pulsed as she silently chewed, her eyes turning red and puffing up. “How did you know that?”
“You remember our first date?”
Lucy nodded furiously for a moment, slowed, shook her head.
“I do. We met each other on the train. You tripped and spilled coffee on me. You were so apologetic, but I brushed it off. I said, 'Now that you don't have coffee, would you like to go with me to have some more?'” He stared wistfully at the ceiling for a moment, then glanced at her. “You know why you don't remember it? It never happened. I made it up. I slipped it into your mind, I made you believe it was real, just long enough to get you in the door and on the bed.”
No reply from Lucy, just the sound of a hard swallow and teeth grinding.
“I'm one of them, Lu. I'm a Defender, or close to one. I was one of the military test subjects Latterndale won't shut up about. And the whole reason I came after you? To get back at John. At first, that was all it was; I was just trying to hurt him. But the more time I spent with you, watching you,” he laughed, short, loud, “reading your mind... I started to love you. So you want to know why I killed him? I couldn’t let him talk, couldn't let him name names, couldn't let him take me from you.”
He rolled, tried to look at her; she ducked out of his sight. “It was stupid, but everything I did, I did for us.”
“Then why tell me now?” Her voice was rough, thick with mucus.
“You wanted the chance to say goodbye to a boyfriend. This is it. No more secrets from me. The real me, that's what you want to see. That's what you're seeing.”
Lucy leaned up, her face wet, tears and mucus dribbling down her chin. “Why didn't he remember me?”
Shaun closed his eyes. “What were your first thoughts when you saw him again?”
Lucy didn't answer, but Shaun didn't need her to.
“I couldn't risk him looking for you. I needed to make sure he didn't come and take you away from me.”
“The way you took me away from him?”
Shaun ignored her. “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have stayed in Philly.”
Lucy continued to weep. As Shaun stared at the ceiling, hearing her gasps and sobs, he felt guilty. Why? A week ago he would have pushed into her mind, smoothed this over, convinced her killing John was for the best. He had come to know John down in the pit, had seen how quickly he was distracted by every woman who fell on top of him. But now...
Tentatively, Shaun reached out and touched Lucy's mind. He felt despair, anger. Anything more and he became too tired, pulled back in on himself. There were limits to his powers; apparently, being burned alive and left on an IV drip pushed him to the edge of those powers...
God, if only he had another EHUD to push his body back together...
A hand touched his arm, caused him to flinch at the momentary pain. He glanced over to see Lucy, her eyes wide, staring down at him. “Oh, Shaun, I understand.”
It felt as if a great burden had been lifted from him.
“What you did was wrong, but... You did it for love. You did it for me. I won't leave you, Shaun. You can count on me to be with you forever...”
She bent forward to wrap his frail body in her arms. He fought down a scream as her clothes touched his raw flesh, tried instead to bask in the forgiveness she had extended to him.
In the new life John had given him he had been miserable, had made many poor decisions, had lived in constant regret. But this one thing, this moment of openness, he could be proud of as he died...
Sudden pressure clamped down around his chest as Lucy jerked backwards, pulling him from the bed, scraping his burned skin across the sheets, yanking needles and electrodes from his arm. He screamed in blood-curdling agony as the catheter ripped loose. And then he was laying across Lucy's lap, looking up into her face and the ceiling beyond.
A nurse must have heard his scream, had come running to help him. A woman in pink scrubs came skidding around the edge of the gurney, took in the horror that lay in Lucy's lap. “Ma'am, I need you to step away from the patient.”
Lucy reached into her purse, rummaged for a moment, came up with something. The nurse gasped and backed away. Shaun followed the line of her arm up to the thick black 'L' of metal clutched in her right hand: his gun, from the second shelf up in his closet.
Lucy looked back down into his eyes, tried to smile. “You took my life from me. You convinced me John was dead, you really killed him. Then you came into my house and raped me until I thought I loved you, until I was ready to spend the rest of my life with you. Well guess what? You're going to get it. The whole rest of my life, it's all yours, Shaun.”
Her elbow flexed, the 'L' moved, warm, thick liquid rained down over his burns.
And all Shaun could do was scream.