“You would have killed me,” Nix said, considering the shard in his hands as he mentally replaced the me with us. “But I’m not going to kill you.”
“Why not?” The woman’s interest seemed entirely academic, even as Nix brought the shard to her throat.
Nix looked over his shoulder, to the wall, to Claire standing there, visible to his eyes only.
Because I don’t want to, he thought, but out loud, all he said was, “Because.” And then he slashed the shard across the woman’s face.
No more eyes. No more sensing.
Claire couldn’t dwell on the liquid ease with which Nix moved, the way his eyes narrowed in an almost snakelike fashion as his limbs fell into a blur of motion. So instead, out of the corner of her faded eye, she watched the Sensors. Not their bodies, but the light around one’s hands and the other’s eyes. It was a glint, a glare, a flickering aura—the kind of thing that couldn’t be seen from outside the fade.
Claire held the gun, loose and ready at her side, but she didn’t take aim, didn’t pull the trigger. She watched the lights—the power—that had marked her view of the Sensors go out, like a firefly’s bulb pinched between two fingers, as Nix attacked them.
He didn’t kill them.
Claire stepped out of the wall, pulled by a force she couldn’t deny.
Nix could have killed them, but he didn’t.
He threw the shard in his right hand roughly to the ground. Walking toward her, he faded, and an instant later, they were beside each other, standing eye to eye with only a fraction of space between them.
“How many of them are there left?” Claire asked. Nix brushed his hand lightly over her cheek. The world froze around them.
“Two.” Nix moved his hand from her hair to the back of her neck, keeping contact. “We need to find them before they find us.”
Claire let her eye travel away from Nix’s to the Sensors on the floor, broken and bloody. Powerless. One of them was unconscious, but the other lay frozen mid-action, her mouth open, as if she were about to speak.
“What do you think she’s saying?” Claire asked.
Nix rubbed his thumb over her neck. “One way to find out.”
Claire nodded and took a step away from Nix’s touch. The moment they broke contact, the world around them fell back into motion.
“Target is gone. The Nobody just disappeared. I’m hurt. My eyes. God, my eyes …”
Claire glanced at Nix and lifted one invisible hand to the woman’s eyes. “Here,” she said and then she turned to the unconscious woman. “And here,” she indicated the woman’s broken hands. “There used to be light. There isn’t anymore.”
Nix looked away. “They used to be Sensors. Now they’re not.”
Faded, Claire wasn’t horrified. Her eyes didn’t linger on the broken bones, the blood. She was a step removed—and all she could think, over and over again, was that Nix hadn’t killed them. He could have—but he hadn’t.
The fox asked the little prince to tame him.
“Stay where you are, Elena. We’re about three minutes out. We’ll be there soon.”
Claire forced her faded brain to process the words coming from the Sensor’s communicator. Three minutes. The other Sensors would be here in three minutes. Moving on instinct, she grabbed Nix’s hand, her palm brushing lightly against his, their fingers interlocking.
“They’re close,” Claire said. “They’re on their way here, and now”—she glanced meaningfully at his hand, at hers—“they’re frozen.”
“Two left,” Nix said again. “We’ll need to talk to at least one of them.”
Claire brushed her lips against his, grounding her thoughts—and his—in the fade. Here, now, them—that was what mattered.
“Two left,” Claire repeated. She lifted the gun and rested it against his chest between them. “I like our odds.”
Pulling away from Claire was hard.
The smell of her hair. The curve of her lips. The way her hand held the SIG P226. Claire was more than the sum of her parts, but even the tiniest details of her body drew Nix like a planet toward the sun.
Forget the Sensors. Forget what they’d come here to do. Forget everything. Why go back? Ever? What had the real world ever done for them?
But Nix knew he couldn’t do it. They had to disable the last two Sensors. Had to leave one of them in shape to talk.
Nix took a step away from Claire, putting space in between them, but keeping a tight hold on her hand. Together, they walked through the walls of the store, through the dozen or so wind chimes out front, frozen where the wind had left them.
The boulevard was silent, motionless. The remaining Sensors had taken to one of the side streets, but they weren’t hard to find. The older man had a nondescript nose and a pockmarked face, and he carried himself in a way that reminded Nix of a bloodhound—snout first.
Beside him, the younger man, the one Nix had recognized as the kind of person who liked playing the role of predator, had one ear tilted toward the ground and the other turned toward his partner.
The two men must have been talking—to each other, to the frantic, blinded Sensor via their comms—at the moment that Nix and Claire had stopped time.
“Lights,” Claire said, nodding toward their faces, her voice dreamy and rough, as if the owners of those faces did not want them dead.
“I see them.” The lights. The Sensors. The enemy.
“You see the lights,” Claire murmured, and Nix heard something in her voice that told him that concentrating on the sheen of energy that marked these men as Sensors kept her from thinking about them as people, thinking about what he—they—were about to do.
Nothing. No fear. No emotions. No hate.
It wasn’t a bad strategy, and Nix wondered if it was that simple. See the lights. Put them out.
Nix stepped forward, hand still in Claire’s. He couldn’t touch the Sensors from the fade, but there was some chance he might be able to touch the light.
To Normals, a Sensor’s power is invisible. It’s nothing. So am I.
Nix reached out his free hand and for a moment, he expected to be able to catch the light in his hand and pull the powers out of the Sensors’ bodies—no muss, no fuss, no blood. But the moment he made contact, a violent jolt traveled up his arm, from hand to shoulder.
Is this what Claire felt when she brought the Null drug into the fade?