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The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

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Chloe glanced down at her watch quickly, wondering how long they had been standing there. She was tired and wrung out, emotionally and physically. She felt like she could sleep for a week.

“Just go,” Alek said, looking straight ahead, not even turning to Chloe.

His eyes were fixed straight ahead, on the man talking in front of them, on the small urn on the stand waiting to be interned. That was where you were supposed to be looking during a funeral.

But Chloe turned to look at him. His shoulders were set back, squared and strong. His face was hard, mouth downturned and tight. It was only Alek’s eyes that gave him away, blazing with hurt and fire and a passion he could not hide.

His left arm was in a sling, all that remained of his injuries from the fight.

She wanted to reach out and take his hand, to let him know that it was going to be alright. They would figure it out. But it would be a lie, and she owed him more than that.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. She was talking about the funeral, but she was also talking about San Francisco. Everything was turned on its head, but she wasn’t giving up, and she wanted him to know that.

Alek was distraught; of course he was. Angry and riled up. He was still mad at her for what he overheard. Mad at the world for takaing away people he cared about.

Three funerals in as many weeks. Anyone would be upset.

First it was Jasmine who had been laid to rest. Or at least, the Mai version of “rest”. Cremated and put into a mausoleum with other past members of the San Francisco Clan. It had been a small ceremony, mostly people Chloe had met before. It had been so soon after the museum, after everything that happened, that Chloe did not have time to process what was happening.

A week later they had said goodbye to Valentina. All the Mai in the area had shown up, not just those from San Francisco. Representatives from other clans came to pay respects. It was a long and drawn out affair, befitting her stature as a leader.

No new leader had been named yet for San Francisco, and Chloe did not know how it was done. But given what happened with Zane there was a lot of potential for trouble. Chloe didn’t know who she could trust, even within the Mai. Especially within the Mai.

Next to her, Chloe could feel Alek bristle at something the speaker was saying. This time she did reach out, placing her hand firmly on Alek’s arm.

“Alek.” She muttered his name as a warning. They could not make a scene.

“These lies,” Alek seethed through his teeth, looking ready to launch himself forward. “How can-“

She pulled him back a little, away from the group. He could have resisted, could have made it hard, but he came along with her without a fight. She turned him so that they were facing each other. “You know why we had to lie.”

A Jackal, they had said. Given the chance, they will rip your throat out.

It was better than the truth. That Alek and Zane had fought. That Alek had killed Zane himself, full of rage and revenge. The bodies of Valentina and Jasmine were still warm on the ground when their own murderer was taken down.

But how could Chloe and Alek tell that to the New York Clan delegation? How did they know if Zane was working alone or on the orders of someone else? Someone who wanted them dead.

“Valentina and Jasmine deserve more then to have their killer’s ashes next to theirs,” Alek said, shaking his head. “How can we stand here while they honor him?”

“Because the alternative is you being held responsible for his death,” Chloe reminded Alek. “It would be your word against a pile of bodies.” They had been having this argument for days, since everything happened. In the end they had both agreed, though. They had to be the ones to find out the truth, and they could not trust anyone else.

And that meant telling everyone else that a Jackal had gotten into the apartment and killed all three of the dead Mai. It meant lying about what Zane had done, and covering up Alek’s response.

Because without Alek, Chloe would truly have no one left.

+++

“Here again?” the evening shift nurse asked, as she recorded something in the chart in front of her.

Chloe looked up and gave a wane smile. She came by whenever she could after school. Whenever she could get away from the prying eyes of her mother, who wanted her on lockdown. Apparently coming home with a bullet hole in your shirt did not lead to trust.

Especially when you could not explain it. Or the blood. Chloe had told some of the truth to her mother - that her father really was dead, that it had been a trap. But she could not explain why anyone would try to hurt her.

For a second she had considered telling her mother everything. But after what happened to Jasmine and Valentina, her options seemed limited. There was no adult she could send her mother to talk to. And the number of Mai she trusted, really trusted, was down to one. Alek was in no place to have to help explain everything to her mother. And neither was Chloe, honestly.

“Has he moved at all?” Chloe asked hopefully.

In the last three weeks, there had been no changes. Brian was alive, but paralyzed. He had a heartbeat, his lungs pumped in air, and tests had shown brain waves. But he had not moved at all.

Chloe was relieved that their kiss had not taken his life. The fear that had coursed through her when he fell over, unmoving, was still tangible.

It had been Paul who checked for a pulse, who told her Brian was not dead.

The hospital had been unable to figure out what was wrong with him, of course. And Chloe could not very well tell the doctors that the cause had been a kiss with a girl from another race. Still, she had hope, she had to. He was not dead; she had not killed him.

“No changes, honey,” the nurse said, giving Chloe a comforting smile, before leaving the room. It was private, presumably set up by Brian’s father.

It was Alek who had given her the most comfort, though, after everything was over, when they were finally able to catch their breaths again. He was patched up and she was healing and they were both caught up on what had happened before she broached the subject of the kiss.

If he didn’t die, then it’s not permanent, Alek had said, looking thoughtful. I have heard of it happening before. Depending on the kiss, he could regain himself at any time.

“It’s only been three weeks,” Chloe said out loud, taking a deep breath and looking down at Brian’s still form. Only this time, there was something different about him. A twitch of an eyelid, the fluttering of an eyelash.

Chloe watched, leaning in close, as Brian’s green eyes revealed themselves.

“Hey,” Chloe said in a low voice.

Brian’s eyes locked on hers, looking confused and scared. He made no other movement, and Chloe understood that he still could not move.

“Hey,” she said again, placing her hand on his arm. “It’s okay. You are going to be okay. You are in a hospital.”

His distress did not seem to abate, though. If anything, he seemed more agitated. His eyes flicked from her face down to her stomach, up and down, over and over. Chloe realized he was looking at where she had been shot.

“I’m fine, too,” she reassured him, lifting up her shirt to show him where the bullet had been. She knew without looking down exactly what he would see. She had spent almost a day looking at it herself, marveling, hardly believing it. Her taut skin, unmarked and unscarred, as if nothing had happened.

She was completely healed.

He seemed to come to the same conclusion, because Brian’s eyes settled on hers again and she dropped her shirt. She could see the question in them, amazed at how much he was able to express without moving anything other than those spots of green.

“I’ll explain everything,” she promised, something she had decided to do when she found out he was alive. His last words to her echoed in her head and she knew there was no choice, not really. “I love you.”

His eyes fluttered again at those words, and closed, finally relaxed.

“Get better,” she said. “We can figure it all out later.”

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