The only sound in the bus was the quiet hum of the road noise. The gentle rocking of the seat was oddly comfortable and Tally blinked back into consciousness slowly, blissfully unaware of where she was.
As she blinked at the hard back of the seat bench in front of her, it all came flooding back. Her chest constricted tightly and she turned her gaze to the soft blanket gently tucked around her.
It was a comfort she didn’t deserve.
She ripped it from her and sprang up from the bench so quickly that she had to grab the pole next to her seat for support. Multiple pairs of eyes stared up at her from their respective seats as she clutched the soft material in her hand.
She wanted to set it on fire.
“How…” She swiped her tongue across her lips to combat the sudden dryness. “How did I fall asleep?”
“People tend to do that when they don’t sleep for days.”
Nicte’s voice carried easily from the driver’s seat and Tally turned her confused gaze that way.
“Or when someone decided enough is enough and Sleeps you.”
“You Slept me?”
She could feel the irrational fury building inside of her; could feel it bumping up against the all consuming guilt. She took two shaky steps, reaching out to swing herself forward on the subsequent metal railings.
Nicte merely spared her a glance in the rearview mirror.
“So you just decided what was best for me? You didn’t even bother to ask me what I wanted?”
Nicte didn’t even look back. “Pretty righteous coming from you.”
Tally stumbled back at the words, and stared hard at the mirror above Nicte’s head. Raelle reached out gently and took her sleeve in her fingers.
White hot anger rushed back in. Tally shook her grip free as she stopped and spared a furious glance down at her sister.
“No, Rae. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, that is her MO after all. I mean, it is what she did to Scylla, right?”
Nicte slammed the brakes suddenly and the bus lurched forward in the darkness. Tally was thrown into the railing beside her, but her boiling eyes were locked onto Nicte’s face in the rearview. When Nicte jerked the bus over to the side of the road and threw it into park, everyone was already wide awake. She had seen this rending coming; had known it wouldn’t take long before the gaping wound in Tally’s chest broke open, but she’d be damned if she played into it.
“You wanna yell at me? You can do it outside.”
She slammed the doors open with a hard clang of metal against metal and bounded down the stairs without a glance back.
Raelle and Scylla shared a tense look as Tally stood breathing hard and fast.
Quinn sighed but nodded with a soft, “Someone had to.”
The words caught her ears easily enough and Tally turned her gaze on each of them. They were weary, exhausted and smeared with dirt. When her gaze met each of her sisters, they dropped their sight from her. Voices whispered her failures in her head as she caught the too soft look of Scylla, the disappointed glace of Quinn, and Khalida’s serene one.
She turned back to the front of the bus and felt safe rage boil in her blood once more. Then she did what she did best.
She pushed forward.
She took the stairs in one large bound, eyes already finding Nicte a few yards away as her boots slammed into the gravel. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears and when Nicte disinterestedly looked around them, she felt the storm within her flare dangerously.
Thunder rolled overhead and Nicte raised a brow as she looked upwards.
“Now that’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?”
Tally’s lip curled of its own accord. This woman that she had given everything for – that she had torn everything down for – was taunting her.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, Nicte Batan!”
Nicte crossed her arms and sighed once as Tally advanced on her.
“Who the hell do you think you are to make decisions for me?”
When she pressed her finger hard into Nicte’s chest, she felt the other woman go stiff. Dark eyes found her own and did not release.
“I’m the only fucking person here who seems to think that letting you pout is a bad idea.”
Tally reeled back like someone had smacked her. Lightning flashed across the sky.
“Pout? You have no idea...”
Nicte’s face was infuriatingly unreadable as she nodded.
“I know exactly, Red. You made a choice and it wasn’t what you thought it’d be. Life spun out from there and now you’re blaming yourself. You think all of us can’t see that?”
Tally felt the wound in her chest maw at her words, felt emotions tear through her faster than she could name. When she felt the familiar tears prick at her eyes, she dug her fingernails into the palms of her balled up fists to keep them at bay.
Nicte shook her head and stepped forward.
“Bullshit. You wanna hate yourself? Fine. But you’re putting everyone here in jeopardy – not just yourself.”
Tally chanced a glance back at the bus. Raelle and Abigail’s faces were clearly visible, both staring out at the scene happening.
The ache in her chest flared again. She could feel her heartrate pound harder. When her breathing become shallow, she vaguely realized the panic she had tried to keep at bay was swelling. Distantly, she remembered Izadora giving tips about counting in moments like this.
Things you could see…
She tried to force a deep breath as Izadora’s clinical voice faded through her memory.
Nicte, however, wasn’t privy to the warring inside of her.
“You can’t keep your head up. Your reaction time is slowed down. Fuck, the old lady could take you in hand to hand. The kid could.”
Penelope’s smiling face.
Nicte took another step forward and the movement snapped Tally’s eyes back to her. Nicte’s gaze was dark as she dropped her voice for only the two of them to hear.
“You wanna get yourself killed, that’s on you. But you aren’t doing it on my watch. Stop being a selfish brat and look at what the hell is actually going on around here. We’re outnumbered, we’re on the run. Alder’s dead.”
Sarah’s watery gaze as she shakily took the bars from her chest.
Tally physically flinched. She shook her head hard to dispel the image, eyes squeezing shut against the memory of the way Sarah had glided past her without looking back.
Nicte’s grip was suddenly iron on her shoulders.
“Get your shit together or a hell of a lot more people are going to die.”
Tally shoved her hard, stumbled back two steps and took off towards the wood line. Nicte stared at her retreating form even as she heard answering footsteps thumping down the bus stairs.
Raelle slid to a halt on the gravel a few feet away, eyes following Nicte’s on Tally’s back. She looked like she wanted to run after her, but Scylla’s hand on her arm stopped her movement. Her voice was angry when she spun back towards the other woman.
“Why’d you say that?!”
“Because it needed to be said, and you know it.”
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and Raelle winced at the harshness of the truth. The part of Nicte’s brain that weaponized the reactions of others noted her facial expressions, her body stance, and her breathing pattern all signified an emotional button.
Her attention stayed, however, on the way that Scylla held fast to Raelle’s arm. With a sigh, she turned her gaze back towards the woods.
Guilt was a demon of many faces it seemed.
“It’s good for her to be pissed at me. She needs something else to feel besides grief and guilt.”
Raelle held her gaze, fire in her eyes and a challenge on the tip of her tongue. Nicte watched, however, as her eyes wavered and dropped.
“Give her a few minutes.” Scylla’s voice was soft as she ran her hand tenderly against Raelle’s sleeve.
She turned just as soft of a gaze upon Nicte.
Nicte almost flinched at the look from the young woman she had met so long ago. She swiped at her nose and stared hard the way Tally had gone.
“Peachy. I’m used to people hating me.”
The words hung heavy in the air until Abigail’s angry voice pushed the moment apart.
“Where the hell did Tally go?”
Raelle and Scylla watched as Nicte stalked wordlessly passed them, shoved by Abigail at the bottom of the stairs, and bounded back onto the bus without another glance.
Raelle merely sighed and caught her sister’s gaze.
“She just needs a minute.”