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beyond the shadows

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Bill pulled her back onto the rooftop, and Nina felt a sense of relief and loss all rolled into one. She hadn't really wanted to die, but it would have meant an end to the pain. So much pain she had caused everyone, and she couldn't escape knowing it. Her purpose lost, she collapsed on herself the moment she wasn't being held up, like a marionette which had its strings cut. She was vaguely aware of Lee and Bill talking, the radio squawking. None of it mattered anymore.

At some point people came over, lifted her to her feet, slipped gauze over her already-closed eyes. She stumbled across the roof, down stairs, and was seated abruptly in a wheelchair, straps slid over wrists and tightened. I'm sorry, she thought. I'm sorry.

She sat pliantly as they transported her to a room somewhere and pulled off her clothes, dressing her in a hospital gown. Nimble fingers stripped her of her earrings and other jewelry, then left her to will herself into sleep, the only method of escape left to her now.

Nina struggled to awareness, feeling something bump against her lip. Her ears gradually made sense of the sounds: a voice she didn't know saying, "—drink some water now."

"Hmm?" Her tongue felt thick and her throat tight.

"Doctor's orders. Drink some water now, or we get to stick an IV in you." Well, when they put it like that, she didn't have a lot of options—and she wasn't all that fond of needles. She opened her mouth and sucked on the straw until they pulled the cup away. The door clicked shut behind them and she resigned herself to plenty of time to think over the mess she had made of everything.

A few minutes later, she heard the faint sound of voices outside her door, too muffled to make out what they were saying, or even who they were. The metal in the doorknob ground against itself as the knob turned open, and footsteps heralded the arrival of someone in her room. She lay, limp and unmoving, as they came to her side.

"Nina, it's me. Cameron." She breathed in and out, silently, as he went on. "I, uh, just wanted to let you know I'm here. Seeing how you're doing."

What was there to say? She'd pushed him, so many times. She'd made him shoot at his friends. And then when she freed him, he'd endangered his life to save her. She didn't deserve him—she was nothing but trouble and heartache. He'd been wise to move on.

Nina lay quiet and still, and he eventually left the room.

At first, when the door opened again, she thought it was the nurse, once more attempting to get her to eat, or Cameron, returned to try to talk with her. But the words instead were, "Nina, it's Lee," and she sighed a little to hear the familiar voice of the one person who had tried to reach out to her at the end. She had heard warning and reproof in his voice, but never anger, and even at his most disapproving, there was an undercurrent of caring that she craved down deep.

"I'm sorry about these— these restraints," he said.

What did they matter? The staff were right to put them on her; how else could they protect themselves from her? "It's okay," she told him, shaking her head with the little energy she could muster. "I'm dangerous."

She was startled slightly to feel Lee's fingers gently unwrapping the gauze. "No, don't, okay?" He didn't understand. "You can't trust me."

He didn't listen, either, and she blinked as the last of it came away from her face. She stared straight ahead, where she could do no harm. She could make out Cameron's profile as he sat in a chair beyond the observation window into her room.

And then Lee said, "Look at me," in a voice that was nearly a whisper, partly a command, and completely a promise, a sign he had not given up on her when he should have. Nina's jaw quivered with the effort to hold back the tears that threatened to creep into her eyes, and obeyed.

He looked directly into her eyes, unafraid of what she could do to him. He smiled at her, a gift unmerited. And then he said, "Hi."