“So you gonna talk to me or what?”
Melody leaned against the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest. The events of two days before were still burning in her memories. She had hoped that Natalie would have come around and talk to her. But she respected that the other woman needed her distance and was willing to wait.
She just didn’t want to wait anymore.
Laying on the floor of her living quarters, Natalie was doing yoga when Melody’s voice sounded. She raised herself slowly to a sitting position and then looked at her best friend, a shadow in her gaze that has never been there before. “I’m afraid to,” she admitted in a quiet tone. “I appear to be a walking time bomb, activating anyone I touch. It’s bad enough I activated Toby and Elana and Maddy… but I know you don’t WANT yours. I’m afraid if I’m anywhere near you, I’ll accidentally activate you and you’ll never forgive me.”
She took a moment to digest that statement before giving her friend a wry smile. “Well of course I’ll forgive you. Between me and Tob, once I’m powered up too, we’ll just remake you all. Once you’re the person I’ve always wanted you to be, well. . .” She shrugged. “Make you all so forgivable Nat. Each and everyone of you. Bwahaha.”
Before Nat could respond, she pressed herself off the doorway and stepped closer. To be honest, she was a bit wary of being near her friend now. Okay, terrified. But there was no guarantee that her own powers would come back in a bad way or even at all. Melody forced a smile, knowing that Nat’s frown was mirrored on her own face. There was no getting out of the way of the freight train; they were already stuck on the tracks. It had occurred to her finally that there was no running away. So a wise person just figured out how to survive the hit. But she wasn’t going to make Nat feel like a pariah and she sure wasn’t going to deny herself her best friend.
“Bwahaha,” she added flatly with a raise of her eyebrows. “I really need to work on that, huh?”
Natalie couldn’t help the flinch that happened when the second ‘bwahaha’ happened, but she offered a cautious smile. “Maybe a little,” she conceded. “You can’t be an evil mastermind remaking the world with that lame excuse for a maniacal laugh.” She shook her head. “It just isn’t done, I tell you.”
Gesturing for Melody to pull up a patch of floor, the healer admitted, “I knew… that things were happening, Mel. I just… was scared of them. And I didn’t want to see your face when you realized what they meant.” Her tone held a depth of sadness that Natalie couldn’t hide. “Maybe Jared was right… maybe I need to be taken somewhere that I can’t hurt anyone again. I just don’t know.” Because so FAR she hasn’t hurt anyone, but will that keep holding true?
Melody sat down near her. “Maybe? But to let you know, I’m already totally using that lame excuse to avoid thinking about or planning what to do when I activate. In fact, I’ve been using it for a while so it’s mine, lady. And you know what else? I really should stop planning to run away far, far from home like a mad six year old and put some real thought on planning how to handle it when it happens. Because sometimes far isn’t far enough.” She gestured helplessly. “C’mon Nat, smile. Please. We’ve already caused the end of the world.”
Natalie snorted with a soft huff of laughter. “Yeah. What else can go wrong?” She rolled her eyes at her own sarcasm and sighed. “So much is going wrong right now… I think I may have sorted out how to tell my emotions from the ones coming at me. A little bit. But… the learning curve is steep, Melody. I want so much to be able to tell you I won’t activate you. Or tell Langston that I won’t heal him. But sometimes, like when I stole health from all of you, I don’t have that kind of control. I think I can get it. Maybe. But who the hell knows?”
“Well you don’t. But you were once a baby power. You make mistakes on the way Nat. But on the balance of things, you have done more good than bad.” Melody shifted, curling her feet underneath herself to get more comfortable. “Why do you need to reassure Langston or me?”
Natalie gave her side-eyes. “Oh, I don’t know…. because Langston was ready to shoot me if I got near him?” she said drolly. “And I think you might seriously consider bashing me over the head or throwing yourself off a cliff to keep from touching me?” She remembered the way Melody backpedaled away from her when they’d both been hurt. And it still stung.
Mel stared for a moment and then shook her head. “No,” she started and then stopped. Gathering her thoughts with a sigh, she opened and closed her mouth and then said, “Yes. Until a few minutes ago. Yes I would have. But it has finally occurred to me that instead of fighting destiny, I ought to embrace it. Plan for it and maybe it won’t turn out to be a disaster. Besides, I might not be fixable.”
Watching her as she struggled with the truth of the words, Natalie felt… sadness. She missed the days when she and Mel would take off and just do stupid stuff like shopping or having coffee at the bookstore after yoga. “It’s not about fighting or embracing destiny, Melody,” she finally said quietly. “And you don’t need fixing. It’s about the fact that my ability could hurt people just as easily as Geetha’s did. That’s not something I ever even thought was possible, but it’s been made brutally clear to me in the past week that whatever my healing ability was before? It is not the same now. Taking on psychological damage as if it’s my own? That wasn’t even in the same solar system as my power before. And people are right to be afraid. I’m afraid. Even with a plan that I think will work as I learn to build shields, it’s still terrifying.”
Melody nodded. She understood. There was no way for Nat to understand the deep-seated cold panic that what she casually joked about was potentially something that could be very true.
She and Toby could potentially remake the world if she were to reactivate. Fix the damage, reverse what was done. Erase the memories of the survivors even. She hadn’t dared ask Toby what he could do in that regard. She fought back a shiver. Shiny happy people, made to order in a world of clean air, clear water, and landscaping to her preference.
Almost every day of her past, she had fought not to extend and grow her powers. She still remembered the shrieking of the first and only villian she had sunk into the asphalt of the street, realizing too late that she had let him go too far when the screaming stopped.
She had never told Ryan. She knew he had known; the body had been hard to ignore. But she had known then that mistakes could be fatal. Great power, great responsibility. ‘GPGR baby’ as Ryan had always quoted short hand. And so she had worked hard to make sure her powers weren’t great because she knew she wasn’t strong enough to handle the responsibility.
Maybe it was a blessing that she didn’t remember what the nanobots had released. Maybe it had been Mr Hyde finally free from Dr Jekyll.
She realized she needed to say something to Nat, to reassure her friend. She had been quiet for too long. Reaching out, she forced herself to touch her friend’s shoulder. “I believe in you Nat. You’re stronger than you think. And you’ve got us.”
The silence went on, but Natalie didn’t seem bothered by that. Instead, her eyes remained on Melody as her friend dealt with the storm within her own thoughts. She didn’t reach out, not wanting to startle Mel… and with no knowledge of what exactly the other woman was thinking, all she could really do was remain present and focused in the here and now. When Mel reached the end of her reverie and reached out, Natalie reached up and twined their fingers together and held tight.
“I’ll get the hang of it. Let’s hope it’s before I activate anyone who REALLY doesn’t want it, you know?” She smiled a little. “So…. dish. What did the betting pool on me and Jared look like?” She needed to change the subject, needed a little bit of ‘normal.’
To her shame, she flinched the tiniest bit but she responded a fraction later with a tight squeeze of her own. Nat needed the reassurance that her simple touch wouldn’t break them. And Mel needed it too. Even more because she couldn’t lose her best friend. Jared could love her but she needed her in ways that only besties could. She sighed and shook her head mournfully.
“Odds are horrible. Couldn’t play Nat. Everyone bet on you two being a couple.” She winked. “Now as to you two fighting and killing each another, sure. I’m in that pool. Two stubborn, headstrong people like you two. Yeah, so took those odds. Other people were silly romantics. Bet on nothing but love and kisses.. But I know you guys.”
“This is why I love you,” Natalie chuckled, pretending not to see the flinch. It cut deep, but the return squeeze went a long way toward easing the hurt. “I guess we’ll get to the fighting part eventually — now that the sexual tension has somewhere to go,” she observed mildly. Wait for it …. the ‘about time’ … 3… 2… 1…
Melody nodded knowingly. “Yep,” she replied. “It is.” Tempting Fate, she gathered her friend into a hug.
Natalie laughed, hugging Melody tightly, relieved. Burying her face in her friend’s shoulder allowed her to hide the tears she had wanted to shed at the wariness. “I’m bummed — you didn’t even say ‘hallelujah’ or ’it’s about time,’” she quipped on a watery chuckle.
“Nah. I’m just happy he found you again.” She paused a moment and then softly added, “Don’t drop him in the Atlantic.”
Natalie almost chuckled again but something in Melody’s tone arrested the sound before it could escape. Holding her friend tightly she could feel the subtle tremor that went through Mel, and it didn’t take an empath to realize that she’d just been told something earth-shatteringly important. Natalie pulled slowly backward, looking at her best friend in shocked comprehension.
“Oh God, Mel…. I’m so damned sorry.”
There was nothing else she could say; all she could do was haul her friend back in for the tightest hug she could create. Her tears couldn’t begin to touch the ache she knew Melody had to be feeling, but they slid down Natalie’s face nonetheless as she mourned not only an amazing friend but the horror that Melody had lived with silently for more than two years.
“I don’t remember it. I’ve just been told. It’s on video apparently. I’ve always been honest that I most likely killed him. But now you know how.” She smiled sadly. “Thought you might have seen the videos too and just not mentioned it the whole time. Toby admitted he saw it. We’ve talked. A lot. But he hasn’t brought up his dad recently.”
When they finally drew apart, Natalie shook her head. “I never came across anyone who had video of anything,” she admitted. “When I woke in San Francisco, the cop who almost executed me … he told me a few things, but local to that area. The rest, I just… couldn’t ask.” She looked sad.
“I always knew you said you’d killed him, but…. I never thought about the specifics. I didn’t expect you would know them, and it wasn’t….” Natalie paused, searching for the words. “It wasn’t something I wanted to force you to try to talk about. We’ve all done unforgivable things. Maybe to people we love, maybe to strangers. I can’t imagine knowing the way you do. But what I do know is that you lovers Ryan more than anything. And he wouldn’t want you to beat yourself up for something you couldn’t control.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Melody admitted softly. “But I do and I will. Forever. I failed us both. And worst of all, Toby.”. She sniffed and then inhaled deeply. “We were talking about you tho’ lady.”
“Do we have to?” Natalie retorted, struggling to keep her emotions in check. Melody didn’t need to be trying to comfort her. She shook her head. “It’s still out of my control, Mel — I might be able to access it a little more readily than when I started, but when I do access it, I only have the barest of control of it. It maybe goes where I send it…. but then it expands and goes a hell of a lot more places too. What’s happening to me now is really no better than what happened when the virus hit. Except now I get a front-row seat and a remember what I’ve done. Oh… and I haven’t killed anyone. Yet. Which is sheer dumb luck because there were a half-dozen of you around me instead of only one or two when my self-preservation instincts decided to siphon off life force to heal me.” It was the ultimate fear for her — consciously she would never choose her own life over someone else’s.
Her shrug was casual even though her gaze was serious. “What’s a little life force among friends?” she retorted. “Look Nat, we’re all evolving in this new world. We could just as easily be eaten by a plant or a twisted animal. Or random person we meet. Or have an emo vampire suck us dry. But I have faith in you. And confidence in who you still are. Which is a good person.”
Natalie simply sighed. “Yeah.” Good person or not, like everyone who survived D-Day, she has her demons. She looked up at Melody and said simply, “Being an empath sucks. And it’s going to suck more when word gets out… because their fear is probably going to impact me. Your fear, Jared’s fear… those are the ones that cut the deepest. I need to know we’re still okay, Mel.”
Her smile came slow but blossomed into a bright grin. “You nitwit! Of course we are,” she exclaimed. “So now can we share clothes again?”