The Willow Society

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Chapter 73

Chapter 73

When they neared the door which provided access to the stairwell, near the place where John Behrstable had knelt weeping over Philomena, where the Mayor had hovered oblivious behind him, they found it empty. They're gone. Helicopter sounds throttled through the early morning noise as Manhattan awoke. Taylor thought he could feel the wind of it one near.

“Where did they go?“ Taylor asked..

“Who?“ Alexander said.

“Philomena! John Behrstable! The Mayor! They were up here when I came to get you guys, we have to find them!“ Taylor cried out.

“No time, kid. This building is about to become a no man's land. You kids should not be here.“ Alexander said sternly, rubbing the trail of dried blood near her ear. Taylor wanted to argue but a quick look at the worn, exhausted faces of Lou and Winston, faces which must have mirrored his own tiredness, and he knew there was nothing more to be done there. Nothing except escape. They had destroyed, disabled or co-opted almost everything the Behrstable Twins and TwinStar had been working on. Catching them would have to wait.

“Fine,“ he said, a little sullen. I beat Philomena, I wanted her to know it! He was also conscious he still possessed a wiper. “Does anyone have a weapon?“ he asked belatedly.

“They took my Taser.“ Winston said. Lou shook her head in the negative as Alexander frowned. Taylor took that to mean the agent had a gun... somewhere.

Alexander led the way down the stairwell. Clearly she had retained enough memories from her forced service under TwinStar to navigate the building. She led them to an elevator, marked for deliveries. The elevator was quite large, completely unadorned, not at all like the beautifully crafted conveyances Taylor remembered from his trip up. When they reached the first floor and the elevator opened into an expansive hallway, all white paint and bright lights, was the first moment of the descent in which they encountered anyone. The guard, the Unit, which had been walking down the hallway turned at the noise. Without much of a pause the man rushed them, his shoulder down as though he intended to ram himself bodily into them, like they were bowling pins.

Acting quickly, Lou shoved Taylor and Winston against the wall, pushed herself against the opposite wall. But not Alexander. She dropped to a crouch and at the moment before the guard would have collided with her she slid to the ground, twisted her body, wrapped his legs in her own and tripped him to the ground. Before Alexander could fully throw her body back around and continue attacking the man, Lou had kicked the man hard in the face. Lou only has one boot on! The guard seemed to shrug, then abruptly fell, unconscious.

They skirted past the stilled man, down the rest of the hallway to a nondescript door which swung open to the street. It was easily one of the most welcome sights Taylor had ever seen, the streets of midtown Manhattan at almost seven in the morning; the air crisp and cold, the glow of the Sun rising into full morning. Not a single person looked twice at the three disheveled, bruised teenagers rushing out of the building's side door.

Alexander didn't follow them, however. Lou and Winston were already hobbling away when Taylor realized Alexander wasn't with them. He stopped and turned around. Alexander said, just loud enough to be heard over the din of the street and the cars. “Go on, kid. I have to clean this shit up. You kids lay low, don't go out in public until I've contacted you. And don't talk about any of this to anyone! Your lives depend on it!“ She darted back into the building and her hand reached into her blazer smoothly, like second nature just as the heavy, unmarked door slammed shut behind her.

None of them had money on them, but it was New York City. They hailed a cab, not wanting to risk the subway. Before long they pulled up to Once they were outside Chatham House, Taylor waited in the cab while the others ran inside to get someone to give them money to pay

Izzy herself ran out with a pair of crisp twenties in her hand to pay the fare. Taylor's sense of relief crashed into seeing her beauty framed by the early morning glow. Once the door to Chatham shut behind Taylor his knees went weak with that relief. He barely made it to the sofas in the HQ before collapsing. Everyone was already there. Myth and Izzy and Lou and Winston. The last two holding ice cold cans to their bruises and leaning back exhausted against the cushions of the sofas. Myth looked worried.

“You guys made it back!“ Izzy said. Her voice was strained and streaked with disbelief. She was clearly upset about something, and also relieved. Her arms were crossed over her chest and her hands twitched.

“You could sound a little happier about it, Iz.“ Lou grumbled. “Where are Isabel and Sue-Ann?“ Izzy asked.

The question came out of left-field. What does she mean? Why would we know and not her?

“How should we know?“ Winston asked, smiling blissfully.

“Because they left half an hour ago!“ Izzy said angrily. “For the TransClarion Building! To get you guys out! We couldn't stop them!“ Taylor knew now what the strain in her voice was. “Helen isn't with you?“

Lou choked back a bitter sob. Winston stopped smiling. Taylor closed his eyes and let his head fall back onto the sofa. “She's not coming back.“ Taylor said, sadly, pointedly.

Myth's head jerked back. “You LEFT her at TwinStar?“ She was incredulous.

“She dead.“ Taylor said glumly, softly. His eyes closed again. Lou sighed dejectedly, Winston gave a little moan. Myth gasped a half-laugh, like it was stupid joke. Izzy said nothing.

“You're joking, right?“ Myth said. “Helen's not dead! She's just in the other room, she put you up to this...I know she did...“ words failed her. When no one refuted Taylor's words she broke into tears, crying into her hands. Taylor finally opened his eyes only to see Izzy across the room, walking away. He jumped up and followed.

“T, let her go man. She'll be OK!“ Winston said tiredly but he made no move to follow or stop Taylor.

Taylor sped up and caught Izzy, just as she exited the HQ in the direction of Myth's lab and Helen's comfy little study-lounge. He put his hand on her shoulder, gently. She turned around hard and angry, eyes already puffy, clearly holding back tears. Her face fluttered with the effort of keeping composure.

“What do you want? Leave me alone, Taylor!“ Izzy said, turning back around or trying to do so.

Taylor's hand pulled her back. “I'm sorry Izzy! I tried! I didn't want Helen there in the first place! There was nothing I could do!“ Taylor explained.

“Isabel and Sue-Ann are there now! If Helen is dead, they might be as well! So. What do you want from me Taylor? A hug? A kiss? Do you want me to make you feel better? You really want to be close to me now?“ Her voice went up in pitch as she spoke, as did her volume until she was nearly shrieking shrilly at him. But she moved her body, suggestively, close to him, almost seductively. “Do you want to touch me Taylor? Is that what you want?”

Taylor felt sick.

He pushed her away, but kept a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it hard. “I'm so sorry, Izzy. I didn't think! I... I mean. Isabel and Sue-Ann. They'll be OK! Alexander was there when we left. Behrstable and the Twins and the Mayor had all fled!“ He only now realized Izzy might have no idea about Philomena and Phaedra. “Alexander will take care of them! She got us out of the building. We can trust her!“ Taylor said, but it rang false. Because he wasn't sure he believed his own words. They were nothing like the heroic things people in movies and stories said at times like this, when they wanted to stir emotions or something in someone. Had none of the magical affects of those speeches. Izzy just continued to look at him, hurt, vulnerable, and angry. Without warning she threw herself into him and kissed him.

It was his first kiss. Excepting his mother. Her mouth was hard at first, and surprisingly... wet. It was such a shock Taylor struggled away for a moment, before he gave into it. Everything else faded away. All he could feel was Izzy. His arm left her shoulder and wrapped around her waist, pulled her closer. She didn't resist.

Taylor had no idea how much time passed but suddenly a feeling in the pit of his stomach roiled. No! He put hands between himself and Izzy, pushed her gently away. He realized it wasn't gently at all, rougher than he intended. Her face was surprised, quickly hurt, angrier. Her arms crossed to form an X across her chest, her face tear-streaked, hot with blood. Taylor didn't think he had ever seen her look more beautiful, more remote and yet right before him. Somehow the whole thing felt wrong. Not the kiss itself, that was more sublime than he had words to describe. The timing, the situation, those somehow rang as false as his attempt to soothe her before must have seemed.

It's all wrong. Not like this!

Izzy wiped her mouth and cheeks, the corners of her eyes. She glared silently at Taylor, challenging him, daring him to say something, but he couldn't get a word out, even had he wanted. Still, Izzy seemed to be waiting for him to say something. Finally his words returned.

“I'm sorry.“ Taylor mumbled. Her glare only intensified. She snorted at him.

“It's what you wanted and now you're sorry? You're sorry!“ It wasn't a question. She shoved him away. “Leave me alone, Taylor. Go rest somewhere. Just go.“ She turned away from him and walked into Helen's lounge, gently shutting the door behind her. Taylor's hand reached for the handle just as he heard the bolt sliding into place. He sighed and went back to the HQ.

“What are we going to do now?“ Myth said, sniveling a bit. “We can't just leave and we can't call anyone and Isabel and Sue-Ann are out there... and our families... and they know who we are...“ the girl's voice trailed off.

“I don't know. But I can't stay awake much longer...“ Winston said through a stifled yawn. He hadn't smiled since Taylor had told Izzy and Myth about Helen's death. None of them had. At the TransClarion Building, when Taylor had told Lou and Winston of Helen's death, they had taken it stoically, quietly. But they hadn't known if they were going to make it out of the building alive, themselves. Lou had only nodded and looked away. It was remarkable, though Taylor hadn't thought of it then, just how much in control of herself the fierce girl was. Not now.

Lou was curled up into a ball on the sofa, staring blankly at the floor as though she had been wiped. She wasn't sleeping, just staring. Unmoving.

“We have to wait. We should all sleep.“ Taylor, trying to make his voice sound solid, neutral. Izzy should be leading us right now and I messed that up. A yawn broke through right after he spoke.

“Sleep?“ Myth said, an incredulous whisper. “We can't sleep, what if they come for us?“ There was no need to ask who she meant by they. She knew now that the Behrstables and the Mayor had gotten away. She shuddered.

“Sorry. But I have to crash.“ Winston said, eyelids dropping. He was asleep soon after. Lou continued to stare at nothing until her eyes closed as well. Myth eventually left, presumably to what remained of her lab. Taylor fell asleep not long after, staring at the seemingly comatose Lou.

She didn't move once.

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