Nix was there, but she refused to look for him. She closed her mind against the beacon of his presence, refused the rush of blood to her heart.
If she crossed over, he’d want the gun, and if he had the gun, he might use it. If she stayed in the fade, she could cover him. Protect him—from the Sensors, from himself.
Claire listened—not for Nix’s silent footsteps, but for the reason he’d come to this shop. The Sensors. With steely effort, she managed to focus her eyes and mind on the material world and was overcome with a vague sense that this particular duo, two women, midforties, were not what she had imagined they would be.
“Which one’s which?” Claire whispered, unsure whether she was talking to herself or the gun. “What do these Sensors do?”
Claire watched and she listened the way that only someone who had spent a very large amount of time people watching could. The woman on the left scanned the room in a gridlike pattern. The one on the right walked with her hands held out in front of her body.
Extrasensory sight, extrasensory tactile sensations—and neither one of the Sensors had any idea that there was a boy lurking behind them, or that Claire was standing in the fade, a hair’s breadth away from their paltry, solid bodies.
“Ryland has gone out of contact,” the woman holding out her hands said.
“Do you think they got him?” her companion asked, after a single beat.
“Who?” The first woman wrinkled her brow and then touched her forehead, and the touch seemed to anchor her thoughts. “The Nobodies?”
The women did not seem bothered by the prospect that one of their colleagues might have been “got.” They weren’t scared. They weren’t agitated. They were neutral.
Claire hated neutral. Neutral was being ignored and stepped over and having the same thing written in your yearbook every summer.
Claire stayed away from those hated thoughts and re-centered herself in the fade. She closed her eyes and breathed in the not-quite air. She was powerful. Wispy. Nothing.
Nothing with a gun. Nothing that could step out of the fade and shoot that gun, if she had to.
Nix chose that moment to cross into her peripheral vision, and Claire had to force herself to look away. She knew that he could see straight through her fade, the same way she’d always been able to lock her eyes on to him, but she couldn’t let their gazes meet. She had to stay invisible to the Sensors. She had to be the one with the gun.
Nothing. I’m nothing. Stay nothing.
Claire eased herself back, away from the Sensors, into the wall. Now she was part of this place—unnoticed, unwashed, unloved. Back in reality, the boy she couldn’t think about was moving, silently and smoothly. He had a wind chime in one hand, a lobster plate in the other.
I can’t let him kill them.
The urgency of that thought undermined the even calm of Claire’s mind, but she fought against solidifying, a deeper instinct telling her that it wasn’t time yet. That before she could save him, she had to give him a chance to save himself.
She’d brought him the gun, the way he’d asked her to. He could fade and take it from her, shoot the Sensors. Once the bullets left the faded gun, they’d solidify. Two shots, two fewer Sensors.
I am what I choose.
Nix knew, in that instant, that if he let himself fade, he’d take the gun from Claire, and he’d shoot them. He’d kill them without a second thought. If he wanted to stay in control, whatever he did—or didn’t do—had to happen on this side of reality. He couldn’t fade.
Nix tightened his grip on the items he’d liberated from the front of this shop.
The Sensors meticulously scanned the piles of boxes and excess inventory all around them, looking for some sign that a Nobody had been there, unaware that if they’d turned a little to their left, they would have seen him, plain as day.
And these are the people who decided my life. Who gave Ione her information, so she could tell me who to kill.
Sensors weren’t all knowing. They weren’t all-powerful. These two had no idea that Claire was faded, just out of reach, and they had no idea that he was now standing directly behind them.
“Looking for me?” Nix wasn’t sure why he said the words. Maybe to get them to turn away from Claire. Maybe because he wanted to see their discomfort when they realized that they were his prey, and not the other way around.
The one whose ability rested in her hands went immediately for her gun, but to Nix, the pace of her motion was laughable. Adrenaline gave Nobodies an edge. The Sensors’ presence threw Nix’s body into fight mode, while his did nothing to theirs.
Emotions? Useless in a fight. The biochemical jolt that came with them? Gold.
Lightning quick, Nix feinted to the left and turned to block the woman’s movement toward her gun. He caught her wrist in the strings of the wind chime, and twisted viciously—first to trap her hand and then to break it. Meanwhile, the woman’s partner managed to get her gun unholstered, but Nix spun and lashed out with his left leg, knocking it out of her hands.
“Some of us have spent every day of our lives being molded into the perfect weapon,” Nix said, his voice high and light. “And some of us haven’t.”
He backed up his words with action, pinning the first Sensor’s good hand to the ground with his right foot and sending the commemorative plate he held in his left hand crashing into the second woman’s face.
The impulse was strong, and it would have been so easy. He dropped the remains of the plate, except for a single shard.
I could slit their throats.
One motion, two dead Sensors, two fewer problems down the road. Nix wanted to do it. He needed to do it. Wanted desperately not to. He couldn’t think straight. But Claire was there, in his mind and in the wall. Watching.
So he didn’t kill them. Instead, he shifted all of his weight to his back foot and felt the crunch of the first Sensor’s bones under his heel.
No more hands. No more sensing.
The logic was elegant, the reality ugly, and Nix found the two sides of justice satisfying and nauseating both. Course set, he turned to the second woman, the one who’d scanned the room’s energy with her eyes instead of her hands.
Her face was already bleeding. And, having seen what he’d done to her partner, she knew what to expect. But still, the Sensor’s face was blank. Neutral. Her pupils weren’t dilated with fear.
She didn’t even seem to have a desire to run.