The First of Many

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Chapter 4

Hannah felt heavy and tired as she stumbled through the door of the Duke home, back in Chicago. It had been a long year, that she knew. What had happened during it, she had no idea.

Fortunately, Gio was standing just behind the door, and he caught her just before she collapsed and helped her hobble towards the staircase that led to the residency floor.

“Jesus, you're thin, Hannah,” Gio muttered. “Has Nine been feeding you?”

“No,” Hannah muttered.

"Alright, come on," Gio said as he helped her up the stairs and into her room. He left for a moment and returned with a bowl of broth. He sat next to her on the bed and carefully started spooning the warm liquid into her mouth.

The pair sat in silence as she ate messily, letting her eyes slide shut as her body relaxed for the first time in nearly a year. It was her only moment of weakness, the one time when she would allow another to tend to her and help her. Her head pounded as she took in the color of the world around her: the walls of her room were painted blue, and her sheets were blue and green and white, all in smooth silk. She hadn't seen blue in years, she realized – the injections turned her vision to red and black and blood and fear. It had taken her a while, after the injections had worn off, for her to realize that her eyes weren't red, but green. Even though she'd been through this routine nearly ten times already, the colors still took her breath away.

Gio pulled the spoon away from her, gently scraping a drop from where it had fallen down her chin. “You feeling better?”

“I'm tired,” she said quietly. “It's just withdrawal. It's normal.”

Gio nodded. “You'll be better soon?” he asked.

She smiled at him, and he flinched away.

“Don't do that,” he said softly. “Don't smile.”

“Why not?” she asked, the smile melting off her face in record time.

“It's... you're different now. You're not smiling like... like you anymore, you're smiling like Mirage. You don't even see it anymore, do you? You can't tell the difference between who you were and what you are.”

“I know,” Hannah murmured. “I'm sorry.”

“How many left?” Gio asked. “How long will it be before I...” he broke off.

Hannah smiled faintly. “Nine says I'll be perfect in two injections. I'll be seventeen.”

Gio grimaced. “I don't want to lose you,” he said quietly.

“You don't have a choice,” she answered.

"Yes, I do. We don't all have to be mindless drones. There are advantages to thinking for ourselves. I just want you to be safe. I care about you, Hannah."

“I know,” she answered. “Will you stay with me tonight?”

“I'll stay as long as you'll have me,” Gio answered. “Unless Nico wants you. Then you're on your own.”

Hannah winced. “Didn't he have enough of me last time?”

“Never enough of you, apparently.”

“I wish he'd die.”

“He's useful,” Gio droned.

“And he enjoys beating me with metal pipes on a regular basis. Some brother.”

Gio shrugged, setting the empty soup bowl down and sliding under the covers with her, letting her curl up into his chest. “That's useful too. Keeps you quiet.”

Hannah sighed heavily. “Do you think there'll ever be a day when we won't have to kill?” she asked.

“For me, one day,” Gio said. “When I retire. For you, no. It’s what Nines do. You enjoy it, anyway. Once the effects become permanent, you'll enjoy it forever. You'll be exactly what you were made to be.”

“What if that's not what I want to be?”

Gio stiffened. “You're talking about dangerous stuff, Hannah.”

"Maybe I want to leave this life, maybe find someone who can take care of me, for a change."

Gio choked on his laughter. “You, with someone?” he asked incredulously. “Jesus, Hannah, what are you thinking? You'd kill the guy! And if you didn't, he'd die because you ran away. Nine would hunt you.”

“What would you do if I ran?” she asked.

“Kill you. Immediately and without hesitation. I won't let you bring Nine's anger on us. I thought you loved the Department.”

“I can't be held accountable for what I say when I'm doped up on crazy juice,” Hannah muttered. “This, here, this is me, and I don't want to kill anymore. I wanna remember what blue looks like, I wanna fall in love, I wanna go to school and get a degree and a job and worry about my hair and my boyfriend like any old fifteen year old girl. I’m too young for failed experiments and stretch marks.”

Gio sighed heavily. “I’m going to talk to Nine about upping your dosage,” he muttered. “You should have grown out of this kind of thinking years ago.”

“I know,” she answered. “I’m trying to be okay with what I’m given, Gio. I am. I know the rules, I know we’re doing the right thing and some people just don’t deserve to be happy or normal. But I can’t do that. I don’t understand why I keep resisting.” She sighed. “Maybe I should tell Nine, turn myself in. Let him punish me, that might set my mind straight.”

Gio sighed heavily. “Right. Just sleep, Hannah. I've got you," Gio said as he pulled her close.

Hannah whimpered softly, allowing herself to fall into a light slumber as her brother held her close.

He was gone in the morning.
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