Until he’d met Claire, Nix had never thought much about the way that energy worked, the ins and outs of a Nobody’s powers. For her, he’d put everything he’d learned into words.
He’d told her that you could take a physical object with you into the fade if you considered that object an extension of yourself. Dragging his immaterial hand over the Sensor’s chest once more, Nix considered the reverse. Stands to reason that if you don’t consider something part of you, it stays behind.
Nix pushed his hand into Ryland’s body and moved it down, down, down—his wrist in between the man’s rib cage, his fingers behind it. Nix knew human anatomy. He knew how to put bullets into hearts to stop them from beating, and into skulls, directly between the eyes.
They taught me that.
Nix knew where to find the Sensor’s heart.
And based on what he’d taught Claire, he knew how to grab it. How to squeeze it. How to stop its beat, without any weapons at all.
This hand isn’t mine. I have no hands.
Claire had always been able to imagine anything, to convince herself of anything. That was how he suspected she’d survived on her own, before he’d told her what they were. She’d had imaginary friends, imaginary interactions. That was why she’d picked up fading so quickly. All she had to do was imagine something, and it became real to her.
When Nix thought of Claire, it was easy enough for him to do the same.
This hand tried to kill Claire. It isn’t mine.
Nothingness slipped away from the appendage, one finger at a time, and though Nix couldn’t feel his own hand, though it was as gone to him as it would have been if he’d spontaneously transformed into an amputee, he could see it.
He could see it, solid and wrapped around the Sensor’s heart.
Ryland, blind to what was happening, stopped speaking into his watch. He stumbled. He gasped. He clutched at his chest.
Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze.
Nix cheered on the hand that wasn’t his.
Nobodies don’t need weapons. We are weapons.
At the word—Nobodies, plural—Claire’s face came unbidden into Nix’s mind. Her eyes, bright, inquisitive, tearing up. Her eyelashes—long and not quite black. Her heart-shaped face. The way her bangs never fell in quite the same way from one day to the next.
This hand brushed Claire’s hair out of Claire’s face. This hand has held hers. This hand is hers, and so am I.
Nix felt his fingers, one by one, slipping back into the fade as he reclaimed them. Wholly immaterial once more, the Nobody pulled his hand out of Ryland’s chest. The man fell to his knees. Nearby, a woman screamed, and a ripple effect spread through the crowd.
“Somebody, quick! Call nine-one-one! I think this guy’s having a heart attack!” Pedestrians rushed to the Sensor’s side. Nix took a step back.
I didn’t kill him. I could have killed him, and I didn’t.
In Nix’s mind, the words were tinged with equal amounts accusation and awe. Killing Ryland might have made Claire safer. It would have weakened The Society by one one-hundredth, or one one-thousandth or some margin, trivial or not.
If I’d held on a little bit longer, I’d have killed him. He’d be dead.
“He’s still breathing. That’s right, buddy, just breathe. The ambulance is on the way. Can you talk? Are you okay?”
The pedestrian leaning over Ryland had no idea who or what he was talking to. Maybe, if he’d heard the casual manner in which his “buddy” had ordered Claire’s death, Mr. Good Deed wouldn’t have been so keen to save his life.
The life Nix hadn’t snuffed out, because he’d thought of Claire. Because he had a choice.
I am what I am. I am what I want to be.
The Sensor’s face sagged on one side, and as Nix watched, the man’s tongue crept out of his mouth, limp and useless.
He’s trying to taste for me, and he can’t.
“Oh, man. I think he’s having a stroke!”
“Don’t worry,” Nix whispered to the Good Samaritan, backing away and into the crowd as the paramedics swarmed the sidewalk. “He’ll live.” The words were battery acid on his tongue, even as his insides warred. “He’ll live, and he’ll recover—mostly anyway.”
But he wouldn’t be tasting for Nobodies anytime soon.
Nix slipped back through the crowd unnoticed.
One down, four to go.
Claire knew the second Nix stepped into the fade. And she knew the second he left it. The sensation was a cousin, twice removed, from the one she’d had the first time he looked at her. A faint chill, a subtle shattering of things that were.
Her feet touched down on the boardwalk, but she kept her fade. The gun in her hand felt lighter than it had in the solid world, and she found herself drawn to the weapon. She held it up in front of her face, staring.
She knew, in the back of her faded brain, that she’d brought this weapon for someone else to use, but there was another not-quite thought that was just as insistent—protect Nix, always tries to protect me, can’t let him use it—that made faded Claire think that maybe she’d brought the gun for herself. Her hand warmed the metal until they were the same temperature, and Claire concentrated on the sleek angles of the gun, the muted power of the bullets that bided their time in the belly of the beast. She’d brought the gun to the fade.
It was hers.
Claire kept her eyes trained on the gun as she walked through the crowd, barely conscious of the fact that she was passing through people in a way that would have thrilled her the day before.
She couldn’t let her mind fully form the word, couldn’t think about the fact that he was close and solid without feeling the pull of reality at the edge of her consciousness. She could, however, give in to the magnetic pull of Nix’s presence. Claire had always had a horrible sense of direction, but faded Claire had a perfect sense of Nix.
Her feet—touching the ground in only the most cursory manner—propelled Claire toward a tiny tourist shop, the kind that sold plates with cartoon lobsters painted on them, and wind chimes made of fake seashells, and shirts emblazoned with statements of various levels of cheese and impropriety. The sign on the door—BACK IN TEN—was crooked, and there was a smiley face at the bottom. This was the kind of place that would have made her smile when she was just plain Claire, but now she was Nix’s.
“Come on,” she whispered to the gun. Light on her feet and giddy with anticipation, Claire flowed through the walls of the shop and into the back room.