It Was Him

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9

“I’d prefer if you stay,” Ellery tells me.

“Hell if I will.” I’m already stepping out of the car. My sanctuary is in shambles. The building is nothing but rubble now. And the ground beneath it is almost in worse shape. I approach the scene, eyes wandering. “If there’s an active rift here, I could easily make it bac-”

“No.” Ellery jams a hand to my shoulder. Is he starting a fight now?

“If it’s open-” I try to explain to him again, but he’s not letting me.

“-Stay in the car,” he orders me.

“I won’t.” I hold my ground. I don’t need him to protect me. For years, I’ve been doing that just fine on my own. I hold his stare, waiting for him to break. But he’s equally stubborn. “Ellery. You’re not keeping secrets anymore. If I’m going to trust you, you can’t.” His jaw pulses.

“I just hope you’re not squeamish,” he relents, turning to peer over his shoulder. “I’m not usually, but right now...” Walking past him, I stand over the wreckage. My eyes wander the debris until I suck in a breath.

No. No. My hand immediately tightens on the handgun. They killed her. They killed me. Below the rubble and the smoke, I can see her black hair. My black hair.

“They know,” I choke out, turning on Ellery. “They know!”

“It’s a warning.” Ellery nods. “They found her. And you’re next.” I scoff.

“Thank you. I’m glad you brought me into this mess,” I growl at him. That seems to hurt his feelings, more than his own brother’s funeral did.

“I didn’t!” he argues.

“Didn’t what?” Torres trudges to Ellery’s side. “Miriam! You shouldn’t be out here. This is a live scene. There could be aftershocks, another Earthquake, falling rubble. Come back to the car.” I hate this man. I thought I could tolerate him, but I can’t.

“You’re not my father.” I raise the handgun from my pocket, pointing it at him.

“Hey!” Torres’ hands immediately rise defensively. “Miriam. Please. This isn’t what Theo would have wanted.”

“I don’t care what Theo would have wanted. I care about what I want!” I’m not going to apologize for my outburst, no matter how insane I seem. My nerves have been frayed enough, my heart has been wrenched enough. These people aren’t going to scare me into submission, especially when I have no idea what they really want from me. I meet gaze with Ellery. “You know more than you’re letting on, and you’re going to tell me.”

“No,” he answers. My arm swings, the gun moving with it. But he’s as aloof as ever. Apparently hurting his feelings gives him a death wish.

“Then don’t expect me to help you,” I shout.

“Hands in the air!” A new voice joins the conversation. I guess the other officers finally saw my gun. But I’m not backing down. If our pursuers are after me, I’m probably safer in jail anyway.

“I never expected you to.” Ellery takes a step towards me, raising a hand to the other officers. “It’s alright.”

“Why even take me to them then?” I feel myself faltering. The thought of my doppelganger dead in the rubble behind me is clawing its way through. I’m terrified. I’m willing to admit it. And I just want answers. More answers than he can provide. I almost have to remind myself that he didn’t kill my sister. The murderer who did that is back in my world, probably on another killing spree. But out of reach. He’s always been out of reach.

The dredged memories have a way of controlling me. They sink their claws into the depths of my brain, and then they pester. Like my subconscious. If someone really is manipulating my subconscious, is it because it was easy? Was it because I’ve always been at odds with myself? Am I that vulnerable?

“Because.” Ellery’s hand clamps down on the gun. He wrenches it from my grasp, returning it to my pocket as he draws me into him. I’m surprised by my own need for a hug right now. In any other circumstance, I’d have sent him to the ground. Instead, I’m having to focus on not letting the tears fall. The warmth of his embrace reminds me of home.

“Will you stay with me now?” His voice is nothing but a breath. He’s holding me to make sure no one else can hear him. Even still, it’s the comfort I needed. “Where I live is secure. We can finally talk in peace. And I will provide everything I can.”

“Fine.” I nod. A shifting of colors blinds me, but I swallow it down. The object still remains, even though it’s done its duty. What does it emit that causes a connection to form between us?

“We’re alright here,” Ellery calls out to the officers. “Torres, a little help?”

“Of course. Just take care of her,” Torres blubbers, before clearing his throat. “Officers, do we have any information?” He leads the officers away, leaving me alone with Ellery.

“If I let go, you won’t threaten me again, will you?” he whispers.

“I guess you’ll find out,” I grumble.

“I’m doing everything I can to gain your trust,” he pleads. “What more can I do?” My head slumps to his shoulder, as I close my eyes.

“You can start by not insulting me, rude woman, or no.” I step out of his embrace, lifting my eyes to meet his. “And you can stop trying to protect me. I don’t need it.”

“Noted.” he nods. “I did try to apologize for that.”

“And know that if you don’t give me every answer you have, you’re liable for the gun you gave me.” I turn to the wreckage again. “They won’t shoot us for being here, will they?”

“It’s a warning. I doubt they’re still here. Well, the ones who did this.” He strides into the wreckage, climbing over some of the rubble.

“What if there are more aftershocks?!” I exclaim. Should I tell him? Is he going to risk his life here looking for a device if I don’t? After my outburst...it’ll raise some eyebrows. But I doubt there ever was anyone here. The machine did all the work they needed it to do. It hit its mark. And that mark wasn’t me.

Not yet.

“You think I haven’t been through those before?” He doesn’t stop climbing through until he’s at the house--what’s left of it.

“Shamus!” One of the officers is running to him now. I guess I’m not the only one worried he’s going to get himself killed. Is it hypocritical to worry about his death, when I just had a gun to his chest? Whether or not it was the right choice, it worked. He’s at least promised to give me the answers when we’re alone. If he doesn’t, he did give me the gun back. “That’s not safe!”

The ground rumbles beneath us. I watch as Ellery rides the wave. The rubble causes him to stumble, and then he’s falling forward. He catches himself on the window, but his hands are clapped down on broken glass. Maybe courageous was a far stretch. He’s just plain stupid.

“Ellery! Please, come back?” I call out to him. I can’t watch him die. After my sister, my father, Theo...not him too. He dismisses my concern with a hand, dropping beside their Miriam’s body. To get to her fully, he breaks through the wreckage. A couple of boards, some cement.

“Shamus.” Another officer joins the first. They’re trying to make their way to him, but they seem terrified. I’d be worried if they weren’t. Earthquakes shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Did you find someone?”

“I did.” Ellery snaps another board and coughs. “She’s dead.” His eyes wander to mine. We have an issue. And I think he suddenly realizes at the same time as I do because he’s already starting back towards me. “She’s shot. It wasn’t the Earthquake.” Ellery announces this as he struggles to my side.

“We have to go,” we say the words simultaneously. He nods. I rush to enter his car, slamming the door shut after me.

“They’re going to identify her,” Ellery continues our shared thought.

“And when they do, I can’t exist.” I cover my face with my hands.

“They’re trying to flush you out. The police arrest you, and you’re not going home.” Ellery swerves us backward, almost recklessly.

“They flush me out, and the police will wonder who the hell I am. They won’t just arrest me, they might even consider I’m the one causing the Earthquakes. And then your parents are free...” I open my mouth, then clamp it shut. “Ellery-”

“-Don’t jump to conclusions just yet,” he talks over me. “That’s something we still have to prove.”

“Like me trusting you.” I release a humorless chuckle.

“That’s more difficult a task.” Ellery half-smiles. “But I hope I can achieve it soon. Because hiding you is our only option. And if you don’t trust me to hide you, and you leave hiding, and I have to chase after you, only to find you dead in a ditch somewhere. I’m not going to be happy.”

“Good to know.” I run my fingers into my hair. “So I’m your prisoner now.”

“Sure, you can’t leave, but you’re not a prisoner,” Ellery mutters.

“How do you keep yourself safe? Why is your house any safer than mine?” I argue.

“Because we’re about to lose our tail,” he retorts, pulling through a busy parking lot. He parks, glances at me, and then purses his lips. “Ready to run?”

“We’re going to lose them on foot?” I’m honestly skeptical.

“Harder to track than a vehicle.” He pops open his door. “Keep up with me.” I tense, prepared for the chase. He stands from the vehicle and I follow him. We rush forward, stepping into a crowd of people. We follow the grain of it, moving among the mass. As it starts to scatter, Ellery casually leads me around a corner, then another. I notice a man turn as well. He’s not the only one.

Ellery doesn’t stop, his eyes not leaving our path forward for even a moment. He leads us out onto another busy sidewalk. We blend, and I force myself to keep my eyes forward. I have to play along, truly disappear. All I need is natural behavior. He hooks his arm around mine, crosses the street to another crowded sidewalk, and then into an alley.

“It’s frustrating, I know,” he murmurs. “Just keep going.” This time, I don’t see anyone drifting behind, but Ellery continues. We repeat the process a couple of times before he’s unlocking the door of a massive warehouse.

“This is our resident Shamus’ house?” I mutter, holding in my laugh.

“I’m starting to look like a criminal, aren’t I?” He shrugs. “It was either this warehouse or an old movie theater.”

“I would have preferred the other,” I murmur.

“Me too.”

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