Jennifer leaned back against the wall, pulling her legs to her chest. The room was darkish, with the emergency lights flickering on, like always. There was some stuff in here, but not as much as other people’s rooms. It was like he never wanted to get too comfortable.
A few piles of books, clothes, weapons, a few pieces of jewelry which she dared not touch. If she did, it would be too real that he wouldn’t see him again with a flash of gaudy rings on his fingers.
Every part of her felt numb and trembling at the same time. There was a hole carved out of her, a whole piece of her just...gone. She experienced time unlike others, watching it be broken and mended over and over again, but this felt different. It was absolute.
It was Cole trying to save Deacon but he couldn’t . It was Olivia destroying the church, burning Deacon’s body out of time so it could never be touched again. He didn’t deserve that.
No matter how much he said it, no matter the earnest tone, those deep emotions behind his eyes as he proclaimed his choice, his sacrifice, he didn’t deserve to be erased.
Jennifer wondered and worried that if he was erased from time, would he be forgotten? Would she forget him?
She sat there, holding onto his knife, her knuckles white around the handle, her other fingers, pale and ghostly, touching the sharp blade. She managed not to cut herself, though it was tempting, for a moment.
It was all wrong, this. Time was unhappy, Jonsey was dying, Cole and Cassie were barely hanging on, and Deacon was gone. What was left of their family was small and broken like a baby bird fallen from a nest, except worse since they were losing the will to fight.
How could anyone fight the Witness and Titan? It was a mammoth and it could erase people from time. The Witness didn’t care about causality. She wanted to break time.
Jennifer knew she should care about it more. That she should be fighting for him so that he didn’t die in vain, but right now she couldn’t. She just sat there in his room, on his bed, clutching his gift, a phantom haunting a space whose owner no longer existed.
Her eyes were damp and blurred. She didn’t want to go out to the War Room and face everyone else. She wanted to stay here and close her eyes and wake up and have it all be different. She even pushed away the whispers of time and the swirls of pointless symbols, something she’d never done before. She’d never been able.
But she’d never felt this way before either so maybe Time didn’t know what to do with her yet.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” she said finally. She didn’t know how long she’d been silent, but her throat was froggy and hot and dry and phlegmy all at once. She swallowed and sniffed and sunk down against the pillow there on a perfectly made bed. She lifted the blade, turning it this way and that and watching the lights play along the metal.
“I’m not her,” she murmured. She wasn’t the older, wiser Jennifer who mothered girls and created soldiers with something to fight for. She would be, could be, but she wasn’t. She didn’t have the strength. But then she realized, maybe she did. Maybe that older her was her right now. Maybe she did get through this and learn to thrive. Maybe she would see Deacon again, because time was all twisted up. It would spit Deacon out again, when she was older, wouldn’t it?
If they fixed Time.
Climb the steps, ring the bell .
That was all the purpose that Jennifer had, and she’d done it to disastrous consequences. Now what?
Her brain fizzled and popped and that Primary part of her sprang back. She tried to push it down, shaking her head, closing her eyes, nearly cutting her hand on the knife. “No,” she whispered, a tear slipping down her cheek. “No, stop. Don’t .”
Her head swam and she felt dizzy because it didn’t make sense. It wasn’t like before. This was different and it was awful and it had been eating away inside of her for so long now but it wouldn’t leave.
She took a few deep breaths and wriggled on the bed, pulling something out of her back pocket and unfolding it. It was a piece of paper, thick and lined with black charcoal. It was the only thing she’d drawn in her life that hadn’t been from the voices in her head.
She had drawn it and hidden it away long before Deacon played double agent, when Olivia was a crawling, creeping snake within these walls. She’d drawn it after Deacon got upset that she never saw him, that his face never graced her mind, her walls, her fingers. So she drew it and then she was tossed into a cell before she could explain it to him. And now it was too late.
It was always too late.
Jennifer hesitated, as if putting this off would make it easier. It didn’t. She opened her eyes and her dark gaze fell on the slightly smeared drawing of Deacon, with a few creases and folds, spread open against her thighs.
It was almost worse, seeing him. She could close her eyes and imagine him and it hurt less.
Her eyes threatened to spill over and her head buzzed. Jennifer blinked and shook her head and set the knife against her chest, like it was a kitten, nuzzling up over her beating heart. She gripped both sides of the drawing.
It was a false start. How could the last time she’d seen him feel so far away? It had been merely hours. Less than hours. And yet it felt like she’d spent an eternity with his memory.
Her head threatened to spill over like a mason jar filled with bees. If it fell, it would hurt. She put off twisting the lid.
She licked her lips, tasting salt, and closed her eyes again. She was laying down now, matted hair spilling over his pillow and his knife shimmering against her chest every time her heart beat. How it could still serve its basic function when it felt like it was broken was one of life’s greatest mysteries.
She tried again, pressing her hand over the drawing.
“I miss your voice,” she finally whispered into the empty room. The words felt heavy, like they were pried from her clutches, or forced out of her like a statue from marble. Her eyes opened to a blurry, concrete ceiling filled with cracked and dangling wires.
“I miss your voice,” she repeated, voice stronger. Her thumb stroked against the paper, smearing flecks of charcoal across his jaw. “I had all these voices in my head.” At that she closed her eyes again, slippery tears sliding down to her ears, soaking into her hair. “And they’re all gone.”
The noise in her mind was there, like a tsunami she was holding back with nothing but a fragile door. Her heart sped up, the weight of his knife growing heavier by the second. She grabbed it and sat up. The image of him was blurred by the gloss over her eyes. The hilt of the knife was warm in her palm.
“But yours is the only one I can’t live without.”
Deacon was never Otter Eyes. James Cole quieted the voices just a little. Deacon never did that. He said fuck the voices and talked to Jennifer. It was a different kind of feeling when Deacon spoke to her or talked about her. She knew, but did he?
He didn’t really ever say anything about how he was feeling. And she wasn’t prone to making much sense when she talked, so who knew what happened from her end.
All she knew is that she missed him, and the thought that she would never hear his voice again hurt desperately, in some deep part of her she didn’t know she had until now. How could losing someone feel like this?
He was never coming back, which wasn’t something Jennifer was used to. But she would grow past this. She kept telling herself that, but it was hard to face, even now.
Taking the knife, Jennifer left the drawing there on the now rumpled sheets and shuffled into the hallway. She was a ghost, a spirit, numbed and buzzy and she had a blade. It was a dangerous combination. She didn’t know what to do so she walked, staring at the floor, holding Deacon’s knife, stunned out of the ability to cry away the weight in her chest.
She nearly walked into herself.
“That’s the thing about time travel,” old Jennifer said, a sad look in her eye and an equally sad twitch of a smile on her face. “Everything old is new again.”
Jennifer let out a shaky breath, on the brink of falling apart right there. “Did you know this was gonna happen?”
She couldn’t blame herself, could she? There was no animosity here. She just needed to know if she would make it through this.
“No,” the older her said, which hurt almost too much. It meant this was wrong , it was all wrong. But then...the knife, identical to the one in her hands. “And then, yes.”
And that did it. That broke the door and let the tsunami out because it meant she’d never see him again. Time was broken, and not even she could fix it this time.
It was almost a relief to let go. Grief wasn’t something to be locked up inside. If you did, it turned into something else.