Archangel

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Freeport

Gabriel shifted in his seat as he tried to alleviate some of the pressure on the new stitches that had been used to close the wound in his stomach. Moving only succeeded in upsetting his other injuries and after a few minutes of trying to find a more comfortable position he resolved to just stay completely still. Besides him Millie was stretched out across two seats, her knees tucked into her chest and a rolled up ELA jacket serving as her pillow. A bandage was still wrapped around her head, a precaution Charlie had insisted upon, even though Millie had protested that the cut wasn’t bad enough to warrant the attention.

Unable to fall asleep as Millie had done, Gabriel was left with nothing more to do than stare around the large building that the Dillo had pulled into.

It had been four days since the Vulture ambush and morale was still low. Gabriel hadn’t heard the official death count, but he had noticed many faces were missing from the Dillo during dinnertime, both ELA and civilian. Most meals were eaten in complete silence. Everyone just wanted to get to Freeport in one piece.

Gabriel hadn’t seen Charlie much in those four days. Somewhere along the line Charlie had become the defacto leader of the Dillo and anyone else on it. When she wasn’t trying to organize the remaining ELA forces into action, she was in the infirmary car, doing the best she could for the patients with what limited supplies they had left. Occasionally she had stopped by to check on Gabriel, but their conversations were short and terse. The burden of leadership was beginning to wear on her. The day they had arrived at their destination, Gabriel doubted anyone had been more relieved than her.

He also doubted anyone had dreaded the day more than him.

Those that could move were currently unloading whatever valuables the Vultures hadn’t managed to take. Gabriel wasn’t exactly sure why. Charlie had announced over the intercom that they had arrived in Freeport, but beyond the building they were in, Gabriel did not see how the area could be considered a base, military or otherwise. It wasn’t even a town really. It just seemed to be a series of prefab buildings, some large enough to be considered hangers, but they were all empty. No one else seemed confused though, so Gabriel remained silent and waited in his chair, keeping a careful eye on Millie, not that it was a hard task.

Since helping to rescue her from the Vultures, Millie had been practically glued to his side. She was talkative as ever though, and Gabriel had worked on steering conversation to Freeport as often as possible. Millie had been born in Freeport, but moved after only a few years. It was apparently not only the largest ELA base, but also the best in terms of amenities. Gabriel hadn’t really cared about that part of Millie’s description, but he had filed the information away anyways.

A loud crash drew his eyes and he watched as a large group of ELA soldiers, aided by a handful of able-bodied civilians, attempted to unload the Shield Maiden from the Dillo.

“I don’t know if she’ll ever start up again,” said Charlie as she sat down beside Millie. She leaned over and pressed her hand against the girl’s exposed forehead. “Good, she had a fever, but it feels like it’s breaking.”

Gabriel nodded. After Charlie had rescued them, the Shield Maiden had barely had enough juice to get them back to the Dillo. Charlie had burned through the startup sequence, forcing the Kniv into action and damaging multiple motors and burning out the neural interface. Gabriel had done something similar in the past. It was an extremely painful occurrence and not many Pilots would be able to function after such an experience.

“How are you feeling?” Charlie said. She wasn’t looking at him, her eyes fixed squarely on her Kniv. A look of pain crossed her features as the great machine tumbled onto its side and out of the dismantled engine car.

“Better,” said Gabriel.

“You look better,” Charlie said, finally turning to look at him. “Some of your color is coming back. I thought you were going to die. You barely had a pulse when I found you. Again.”

“Lucky me.”

Charlie stared at him for a long time before nodding. “Lucky.”

Between them Millie stirred but did not awaken. Charlie continued to stare at Gabriel. The edge of her mouth turned down and her brow creased. It was a look she had given Gabriel almost every time she had seen him since the rescue. It made Gabriel feel incredibly small, like Charlie was looking at him from far away. He looked away from her and dropped his eyes to the ground, but the feeling remained.

“If your ribs weren’t fractured before, they definitely are now,” Charlie said. “Once we enter Freeport, I’ll get you an x-ray.”

Gabriel nodded, but he knew that wasn’t something he could allow to happen. His implant would show up clearly on any type of scan and he wouldn’t be able to come up with any sort of excuse that could explain it away.

“When are we going to get to Freeport?” said Gabriel in an attempt to steer the conversation somewhere safer.

Charlie dropped her eyes to her watch. “Should be any minute now.”

Gabriel glanced at the Dillo. Most of the cars were still half open and the engine car had been completely disassembled to aid in the removal of the two Knivs. It didn’t look like it would be ready to go for at least a few hours, if not an entire day. He was just about to voice this concern to Charlie when a loud alarm went off and a loud, mechanical whine filled the air. A few civilians jumped, still wary from the Vulture attack, but Gabriel saw Charlie’s shoulders slump in relief.

“Time to go,” Charlie said softly as she closed her eyes. “Don’t stand up, by the way.”

“What?” Gabriel had time to say before the floor suddenly lurched and he nearly fell out of his seat. The whine grew louder and Gabriel felt his stomach drop as the room suddenly began to descend at an alarmingly fast rate. The walls rose up on every side and Gabriel gripped the edge of his seat. He suddenly understood why Freeport, despite being such an important base, was unknown to Nova.

It was underground.

The trip down to the base took longer than Gabriel expected. He didn’t have a watch, but he estimated between fifteen and twenty minutes. He assumed what they were on was some sort of cargo elevator. The ELA would have to have something much faster in the event of a Novan attack. Millie slept the entire trip, only waking up when they finally reached the bottom and the hydraulic brakes squealed loudly.

“We’re here,” Charlie said as she stood up, giving Millie a small shake for good measure. The younger girl kicked Charlie’s arm away before yawning, stretching her arms out and inadvertently punching Gabriel directly in the ribs. He winced but said nothing as he got up as well.

The elevator had brought them down to large corridor, easily wide enough for two or three Knivs to walk through, side by side. A massive blast door separated the elevator from the rest of the base. Charlie broke away from the group and walked directly to the door. She slammed her fist against the door a few times and looked up at one of the cameras that hung from the ceiling.

“We have injured. Open the damn doors already!” Charlie snapped. Even if she understood the reasoning, she was still upset about the lack of ELA support during the Vulture attacks.

A series of loud thumps emanated from the door as the locks disengaged before, with a high-pitched screech, the door slowly began to slide open. Behind the door two Knivs stood ready, large machine-cannons cradled in their bulky arms. Gabriel didn’t recognize the make or model, but he knew they had to be older. They lacked internal battery packs and instead had large power cables hanging off their backs, feeding them a continuous source of energy. The Knivs were plated with thick armour that looked heavy enough to withstand even a Devastator slug. These were not Knivs meant to move, only to hold position and obliterate anything that tried to pass through the door without authorization. Behind them stood a small squad of soldiers, each covered from head to toe in body armour and armed with chunky assault rifles.

If Gabriel were to leave this place, it would not be through the way he came.

One of the soldiers walked forward and lifted up his hand in greeting. Charlie did not return the greeting as she started issuing orders.

“We need medics here ASAP. I have soldiers and civilians that are in need of immediate medical attention,” Charlie said. Her voice carried easily through the massive corridor. “The Dillo is still upstairs and being reassembled. It’s going to need a skeleton crew to take it out tonight. None of my men, they’ve been through enough. Get it done.”

The soldier nodded once before he turned back to his men and began to relay the orders. In less than an hour Gabriel found himself being whisked through multiple security checkpoints, along with the rest of the civilians. Millie stayed close by his side, bouncing with every step. He supposed it must have been nice for her to return home.

“Do you know where you’re going to stay?” Millie asked abruptly as they were each handed a satchel filled with clothes, along with a new pair of boots.

“No,” Gabriel said as he shouldered the bag.

“You’ll probably get put in the barracks,” Millie said after a moments thought. “They’re pretty nice though. You’ll get your own bed and a little locker for your clothes.”

Gabriel nodded. “Where are you staying?”

“I’ll be staying with a friend. Her parents are both engineers here, so they have an apartment,” Millie announced in a loud, happy voice. “Mom already sent a message ahead and got it set up.”

Gabriel smiled. He was glad to see Millie was still her usual self, even after what she had gone through. “Sounds like fun.”

“It will be!” Millie beamed at him. “I’ll come visit you though. I promise.”

Gabriel’s smile didn’t waver, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes as he nodded. “Yeah.”

“Not until after you’ve rested,” Charlie said, appearing behind Millie and lightly patting her head. “You’ve been through a lot, you know.”

“I was asleep for most of it.” Millie shrugged.

“Being unconscious is not the same as being asleep,” Charlie sighed before turning to Gabriel. “Come with me.”

“Where are you going?” Millie asked, taking a step to follow before Charlie held up a hand.

“Gabriel needs to get some x-rays taken,” Charlie said as she lightly rapped her knuckles against his side. Gabriel hissed in pain. “See?”

“Oh, okay,” Millie’s shoulders slumped a bit “Charlie, do you still have an apartment here?”

Charlie nodded. “Yup. Same building. Now hurry up before they leave you behind.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Millie waved her hand and started to scamper away. “Bye Gabriel!”

“Goodbye… Millie,” Gabriel said slowly, the words coming out with surprising difficulty. He watched her walk away and disappear into the crowd. His right hand began to form into a fist and he forced his fingers to relax, shaking his head and turning to Charlie. She was staring at him again.

“Ready?” Charlie said.

Gabriel nodded and allowed her to lead him away. After a few minutes of walking they came out of the hallway and into a brightly lit opening. Gabriel had to suppress a surprised breath.

He had assumed that Freeport was nothing more than corridors and rooms built underground. Maybe more of a series of tunnels than anything else.

He had been wrong.

Freeport was not just a base. It was a city. A massive city built inside a naturally occurring cave that had been expanded greatly over the years. It looked as though it could almost rival Nova in sheer size. Buildings rose up from the ground and reached up to the ceiling where large lights had been installed to cast down a soft yellow light. Gabriel could even see trees that had been planted along the sides of the roads.

“Everyone’s first time seeing it is special.” Charlie said as she took in a deep breath. “Hard to believe, isn’t it? The air gets a little stale sometimes, because it has to be pumped down from the surface, but they’ve been working on oxygen farms to fix that. Pretty soon we won’t even need the pumps.”

“It’s amazing,” Gabriel said, still in awe of the sheer size.

“It is.” Charlie finally seemed at peace as she stared out at the city. “Come on, they should have gotten through most of the injured by now, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.”

Charlie began to walk at a leisurely pace through the city and Gabriel followed her, his eyes slowly scanning over everything. He could tell that even if Nova ever managed to find Freeport, taking it would be a different matter entirely. Every building looked like it was built to withstand an attack, with thick windows and what looked like pull down shutters. Soldiers patrolled the streets, and even though they looked relaxed, he could see they were well armed, and those were only the ones who were on duty. He knew there must be Knivs stationed somewhere as well.

“Here.” Charlie stopped in front of a large clinic. “If you go up to the third floor you’ll be able to get yourself checked out.”

“Okay,” Gabriel said, looking up at the clinic. He was glad Charlie didn’t seem like she would be coming in with him. It would give him at least a bit of time to formulate a plan.

“And make sure they have someone look at your stitches too, in case you’re developing an infection,” added Charlie.

“I will,” Gabriel lied.

Charlie took a step away before turning back around and reaching out to lightly touch his arm. “Gabriel.”

Gabriel stared at her, waiting for her to say something else but she didn’t. An uncomfortable, thick silence fell between them. Charlie’s fingers began to beat an unsteady rhythm against the holster on her hip, her fingers dancing in and out of time.

“Gabriel...” Charlie tried again, lifting a hand and running it through her messy hair. “After you finish your examination, could you come to my apartment? There’s something I need to talk with you about.”

Gabriel nodded slowly.

“Okay, then. It’s the Wesin building, two blocks down from here, room 302. I should be back before you finish up here. See you.” Charlie slowly turned away and walked off. Gabriel waited until she had faded out of sight before turning back to the clinic. He considered not entering at all, but his clothes were filthy and torn up. If someone noticed that it could cause problems. Inside he was easily able to find a bathroom to change in. The clothes that had been supplied to him were cheaply made and rough against his skin, but they fit. It was strange to be back in civilian clothes after so many weeks in ELA fatigues. He found the hood of the supplied jacket annoying as it bounced between his shoulders with every step.

Freeport was bustling with activity. Gabriel didn’t know if it was always like that or simply because of the sudden arrival of the Woodcrest evacuees. There were no cars, but trolleys ran on electric lines set into the street. Gabriel stepped onto the back of one, holding onto the handlebar. He figured he had at least half an hour before Charlie would be back at her apartment and maybe another twenty to thirty minutes after that before she would come looking for him.

The trolley traveled through the majority city and Gabriel took the time to take in the layout. It seemed to have been built from the inside out, with most of the civilian housing and development starting in the center and slowly branching out into more militarized aspects. He noted the large metal tubes that were placed in set intervals around the base. At first he had thought they were support columns before realizing they had entryways built into their base. Next to each one was no less than four Knivs, all armed and ready to launch. The columns must have served as some sort of launching device for rapid surface deployment. Gabriel kept a careful eye on each one as he rolled by. While there was an armed guard at every station, they looked bored, with many simply leaning against a wall or outright sitting down on the foot of a Kniv.

Gabriel stepped into the trolley and sat down as they went by the final column. The trolley would come in a full circle and return him to where he had started.

He checked the digital clock that hung near the front of the trolley. It had been just under forty minutes and it would take another five or so before he would be back. Attempting to escape now would be the best course of action. Nightfall would come soon and even though they were underground, the lights inside were beginning to dim as well. The low light would give him an advantage if he were forced to engage any of the ELA soldiers, though preferably, he could escape without any open conflict.

And yet, even as he let the plan begin to formulate in his mind, he found himself stepping off the trolley and walking down the rapidly emptying streets until he was in front of Charlie’s apartment building. The building was quiet as he entered. He chose to take the stairs over the elevator, counting each step until he reached the third floor. Charlie’s apartment was directly next to the stairwell. It was where Gabriel would have wanted his room to be. It would allow the quickest exit in case of an attack from opposition forces.

At her door he faltered, his hand stopping just before he knocked. He didn’t know why he was here. He couldn’t explain the force that compelled him to lift his arm and rap his knuckles against the metal door. His once stable life had suddenly been filled with so many unknowns. It felt like a chain had been locked around his neck and was dragging him along. He was powerless to resist.

The door creaked open and a light brown eyes looked at him through the crack before Charlie opened the door fully. She had showered since he had last seen her and dressed in a new set of fatigues, these a pale shade of grey compared to black she had worn on the Dillo. Her sidearm was still firmly strapped to her hip. She beckoned him inside.

“How did it go?” She gestured for him to come in. It was a small apartment with only two rooms, but it was neatly organized, exactly the kind of apartment that Charlie would have.

“Fine,” said Gabriel. The lie added another link to his chain.

“I’m glad,” Charlie said before pulling him into a tight hug. Gabriel hissed in surprise and pain, but Charlie didn’t let him go, her arms wrapping even tighter around him as she buried her face in his shoulder.

It was nothing like the first time she had hugged him, he realized as his arms came up to wrap around her. That hug been filled with warmth and trust. An embrace to replace words that she was too exhausted to speak. This was desperate and rough. A question lingered in her touch, mired with worry and anxiety.

“You saved Millie,” Charlie said when she finally released him. She took a step back and sucked in a long, calming breath. “You saved her and I can never thank you enough for that, Gabriel.”

“You saved her,” Gabriel said. “And you saved me.”

“No, if it hadn’t been for you, they would have escaped. I never would have been able to track her down if it wasn’t for you,” Charlie said with a small shake of her head. “I know I should have talked to you about this earlier, but I couldn’t, there just wasn’t enough time.”

“How did you find me?” Gabriel asked. It was something he had been genuinely curious about, but Charlie was right, there hadn’t been enough time.

“There are short-range wave emitters sewn into the collars of our fatigues,” Charlie said, reaching back and touching the back of her collar. “The frequency is faint and hard to pick up if you don’t know what to look for, because we change it constantly, but it helps keep Pilots from accidentally gunning down our infantry.”

“I see,” said Gabriel.

Charlie rocked her weight from one foot to the other. “Gabriel… There something I need to ask you now. It’s something that’s been bothering me and I… I just need you to answer me truthfully, okay?”

Gabriel gave his head the barest of nods.

“How did you do it?” said Charlie. Her voice came out almost a whisper. “How did you save Millie?”

“I got lucky.”

“No,” Charlie shook her head. “I saw the bodies. Not just there, but in the Dillo. People said they saw you go back there.”

Gabriel remained silent. Charlie didn’t seem to expect him to answer as she began to pace back and forth.

“No one recognized you when you were first brought on the Dillo, you know. I asked the others when you were unconscious. That wasn’t too strange though. Woodcrest was…. is pretty big. There were lots of people moving in and out, families, soldiers, even just civilians.” Charlie’s was pacing faster now. “You were so… so out of place in the Dillo. You barely spoke to anyone unless they spoke to you. You were like a caged animal, like you were scared something was going to happen to you at any moment. At first I thought it was just because of the attack. What kid wouldn’t be shaken up after something like that? But when Tom almost died, you seemed so calm. Too calm. People aren’t that calm when they see death, Gabriel.”

Charlie came to a stop and turned to face him. Gabriel had nothing to say and he remained silent still. Charlie took in another deep breath.

“You killed the Vultures on the Dillo, didn’t you?” Charlie breathed.

Gabriel knew, in that moment, if he said no, Charlie might just believe him. She might let out a shocked laugh and shake her head. She might give up on her almost impossible line of thinking.

“I killed them,” said Gabriel.

“And the ones that took Millie?”

“Yes.”

“A civilian couldn’t do that and you’re not an ELA soldier . I know you aren’t. So how? How could you kill all those Vultures alone?” Charlie took a small step back and her hand inched closer to her weapon. “You can’t be a Novan. That’s not possible. There was only one Novan close to Woodcrest and he’s dead. The Archangel is dead. You can’t be…”

The question was left unanswered as Gabriel retreated back to silence. He knew Charlie was slowly connecting all the dots, even if she didn’t want to, even if she couldn’t believe it herself. It wouldn’t be long now.

“No. No. That isn’t possible,” Charlie’s hand was resting on her sidearm now and she took another step back. “You’re too young. The Archangel killed my father six years ago. It’s not possible!”

Charlie’s breath was coming faster now, her off hand closed into a tight first. Gabriel realized his right hand had closed into a fist as well.

“You’re a Novan, aren’t you?” Charlie’s voice came out with a waver. She was throwing him a lifeline. She could have left the accusation as just that, but she hadn’t. She had made it a question. She was giving him a final chance to deny it. He could see the desperation in her eyes. The glimmer of hope that she was wrong. That this was nothing more than a horrible misunderstanding.

“I’m a Novan,” Gabriel said softly and he watched the spark of hope in Charlie’s eyes die.

Another link to his chain.

“A Novan,” Charlie said the words like a curse.

Gabriel nodded.

“You Piloted the Kniv in Woodcrest.” Charlie’s shoulders began to shake as the truth washed over her.

“Yes.”

“You killed David.”

“Yes.”

“You are...” Charlie took in a rattling breath. “You are the Archangel.”

“I am,” Gabriel said after a beat of hesitation. “I’m the Archangel.”

“The Archangel,” said Charlie in a hollow voice before letting out a bitter laugh. “You’re the Archangel. Do you know what they say in the ELA? The one thing every soldier knows to be true? If the Archangel is coming, then Death is not far behind. Do you know, our children don’t look under the bed before they go to sleep, that they look into the sky? They look for you, because they think you’re coming to take their parents away. Coming to kill them just because you can.”

Gabriel said nothing. There wasn’t anything he could say. Nothing that Charlie would want to hear.

“So now what? You return to Nova?” Charlie said.

“Yes.”

Charlie’s hand was now fully around the grip of her pistol. Her voice no longer wavered but was sharp as a knife. “You know I can’t let you do that, Gabriel.”

“I know.” Gabriel’s voice was almost silent.

There was no going back now and they both knew it.

Charlie drew her sidearm and Gabriel launched himself across the room. His hand shot out and caught the gun by the barrel, keeping it aimed downward. Charlie lifted up her foot and slammed her heel against the puncture wound on his leg. Gabriel cried out as his leg buckled and he dropped down to one knee, but he didn’t let go of the pistol. He twisted his hand to the side as hard as he could. Charlie was forced to let go of the gun or have her finger break under the sudden force.

Gabriel started to spin the pistol around but Charlie’s knee caught him in the side of the face before he could manage to bring the weapon around. The force knocked him onto his side. Gabriel started to push himself back up and Charlie kicked his hand, knocking the gun free and sending it skittering along the floor. Gabriel caught her next kick and pushed back, hard. As Charlie stumbled back, off balance, Gabriel slowly got back to his feet, his head spinning, Charlie didn’t give him a chance to recover, stepping forward and throwing a quick punch. Gabriel blocked it but Charlie swung again, her fist hitting his injured left arm when he tried to block. He grit his teeth against the pain and turned his body, angling his right shoulder towards her to accept the next punch before returning with an open handed palm strike that slid through Charlie’s defense and caught her hard in the chest.

Charlie didn’t relent even as he struck her, grabbing his outstretched arm and pulling him close to attack with her elbow. Gabriel managed to duck the attack at the last moment. Breaking her grip, he spun behind her. A quick kick to the back of Charlie’s leg dropped her down to one knee, but she threw herself backwards, slamming her shoulders against his legs. Gabriel fell down to the floor and Charlie rolled away from him before bouncing back to her feet and leaning over the kitchen counter. Gabriel heard the unmistakable metallic ring of a knife being drawn and quickly found his feet again.

Charlie clutched the kitchen knife in her right hand, the blade gleaming dangerously. She lunged at Gabriel and thrust the knife forward. He deflected her arm to the side but Charlie followed up with a punch, her small fist cracking against his ribs. The pain sent him reeling back and Charlie slashed down at him. Gabriel slid back another step. The tip of the blade just sliced through the front of his shirt and barely caught against his skin. The shallow cut burned and Gabriel grabbed at his chest. Charlie slashed at him again. He ducked by her but Charlie reversed her grip and managed to catch him across the back before he could get away. He felt warm blood begin to slide down his back as he slammed against the kitchen counter and a pained breath escaped his lips.

Gabriel spun around as Charlie came at him again. The knife came arcing down and he reached behind him. His fingers brushed against a dishtowel and he whipped it forward. The fabric wrapped around Charlie’s wrist and he pulled it tight, trapping her arm. Without missing a beat Charlie released the knife and caught it with her other hand and thrust forward. Gabriel twisted his body to the side and narrowly avoided being run through. He let go of the towel and grabbed onto Charlie’s wrist and tugged her towards him, keeping the knife angled off the side. Charlie let herself be pulled and slammed her shoulder against his chest, throwing Gabriel off balance and down to the floor. As they crashed down the knife was forced deep into the carpeted floor. Charlie landing awkwardly on top of Gabriel with her leg trapping his left arm beneath her.

Charlie tried to sit up but her wrist was still trapped by his right hand. Her other hand, however, was free to slam into his ribs. Gabriel sucked in a painful breath, but did not release Charlie’s wrist, keeping the knife trapped in the floor.

“Let. Me. Go!” Charlie growled, punctuating each statement with another strike to his ribs. Gabriel grit his teeth as stars burst across his vision. He couldn’t breath and he felt his grip on Charlie’s arm beginning to lessen. Her body tensed up as she prepared to tug again. Gabriel waited until the very last moment before releasing her wrist and swinging his arm up in the same motion. Charlie reeled back in surprise before being struck in the side of the head by Gabriel’s fist as the knife slipped from her fingers.

The blow was strong enough to roll Charlie to the side and her back slammed against the wall. She recovered before Gabriel, rolling onto her knees and wildly jerking her head from side to side until she saw her gun. Scrambling across the floor she grabbed her the weapon and spun around, holding up the weapon just as Gabriel sat up.

“Don’t move! Hands up!” Charlie yelled as she slowly stood up. She kept the gun aimed squarely at Gabriel’s chest as he glanced down at the knife beside him. He wouldn’t be able to grab it before she pulled the trigger. Slowly, he lifted his hands up.

“Are you going to kill me?” said Gabriel.

Charlie shook her head. “I won’t kill you. I should kill you. It’s my right to kill you, but I won’t. But you owe me answers. I deserve answers!”

Gabriel slowly got back to his feet and Charlie squared her stance.

“Will you answer me?” Charlie asked.

Gabriel nodded.

“Why didn’t you kill me? I gave you a gun. You could have killed me when the Vultures attacked. No one would have noticed. Why didn’t you?” Charlie’s finger was tight against the trigger.

“I don’t know.”

“Why did you save Millie? You risked your life for her. You chased after her!” Charlie’s eyes began to shimmer and she blinked rapidly.

“I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you just run when you had the chance? Why did you stay with us? Why did you do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what do you know?” Charlie cried. Tears were flowing freely down her cheeks now, but she made no move to wipe them away. Every one that fell to the floor was another link in Gabriel’s chain, weighing him down ever more.

Gabriel took a step towards her and Charlie lifted up the gun, the barrel pointed at his head.

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Gabriel said quietly as he took another step forward. Charlie held her ground.

“Please,” Charlie’s hand was shaking and she wrapped her other hand around the grip to steady her aim. “Please don’t make me kill you, Gabriel.”

“It’s too late,” Gabriel, said as he moved forward and reached for the gun. Charlie did not close her eyes as she pulled the trigger.

Click.

Wide-eyed, Charlie had no time to react as Gabriel grabbed the empty gun from her hand and struck, the heel of his palm slamming directly into the center of her chest. The air was forcibly expelled from Charlie’s lungs and she dropped to the floor, gasping. She looked up at Gabriel, watching as he slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out the magazine from her pistol. He loaded the gun and pulled back the slide, loading a round into the chamber. Stepping back he aimed the gun down at her.

“How?” Charlie wheezed as she fought to breath.

“I ejected the magazine when you hugged me,” Gabriel’s voice was flat. “When I grabbed the slide earlier, I ejected the round in the chamber. The gun’s been empty since then.”

“What kind of monster are you?” Charlie said as she struggled for air. “How could you?”

Gabriel was silent as he waited for Charlie to regain her breath. In his hand the gun was steady.

“Just tell me, before you kill me,” Charlie’s hand balled into a fist and she bowed her head. “Did you kill my father?”

“No,” said Gabriel. “I didn’t kill your father.”

Charlie bit her bottom lip and took in a shuddering breath. “And Millie’s father? What about him?”

When Gabriel didn’t respond Charlie lifted her eyes up to look at him. Gabriel couldn’t meet her gaze as he brought his arm back. The gun was heavy in his hand, but the weight of Charlie’s hatred was far worse.

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Gabriel said as he swung his arm down and caught her across the temple with the hard metal of the pistol’s barrel. Charlie didn’t make a sound as she dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Gabriel pocketed the pistol and rolled Charlie onto her side, checking the wound on her forehead. The cut was shallow and the blood was already drying, but the skin was turning an angry, reddish-purple as the welt formed. For a moment he considered tying her up, but it wouldn’t be necessary. He would be gone long before she woke up.

At the door he paused and looked back at the young woman on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel said one last time before pushing out the door.

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