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Ashen Heart

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The first blade of air sliced Keith's chest open. The second gouged out the inside of his right thigh. The last cut his throat.

Wendy watched him fall. He tried to freeze his blood in the end, but it was just too late. He landed with his head flung back, still dripping life blood out on the floor. Wendy tried to feel something. Sadness, for the one person who had treated so many psychics like they were human. Anger, at the madman who had tried to pay for his new world with the blood of the old. Regret, for being unable to convince him to stand aside and let her see Burn.

Burn! He was somewhere around here, wasn't he? Keith had said. Wendy landed as best she could, grabbed the wall to steady herself, and limped to the door furthest away from where she had come in. If Burn was anywhere, he'd be in the deepest part of NOA. If Keith had really been keeping him here these two had to be as a prisoner. Wendy refused to face the possibility that Burn had joined Keith.

Unless Carlo had done something. Unless they'd done something like what the Army did to Emilio. Unless...

Burn wasn't in the first room she came across. Nor the second, or the third. NOA's internals were well-ordered and sterile, but they seemed to have a problem with labels. Keith had said Burn was here. He'd admitted it. So Burn had to be here, and not...thrown against the Army to be killed, like Regina? Thrown against the humans? Run away?

Wendy shook her head, but it didn't dislodge her increasingly worried thoughts. Emilio was dead by her own hand. Chris was dead and Wendy hadn't even known. Burn was all she had left. If he wasn't here...but was that better than him being in NOA, but not himself? Wendy couldn't decide. All she could do was hurry on, checking every likely corner.

At the end of a small, dark corridor, she caught a glimpse of light. Even if it wasn't Burn, maybe whoever was there would know something. The door was barely cracked open, as if someone had meant to shut it but not quite made it. Wendy pushed it open, carefully; just barely peeking behind it-

-until she saw what was in the room. It was Burn. It really was. Preserved in a glass casket, so Keith could...could...did it even matter? Everyone was dead. Emilio, Chris, and now Burn.

Wendy stumbled backward, unable to look away. It was exactly what she'd feared for two years now, that Burn really had died in the NOA explosion and all her searching was in vain. No one left. She was all alone.

The casket blurred with tears and she had to turn away. Even if he was...was...she still couldn't bring herself to break down right in front of Burn. She groped backward, making it through the door just before her knees gave out and dropped her on the ground.

She was sobbing now, desperate gasps as she wished Burn would just open his eyes, just this once, let someone not be dead. The gash in her side tore and ached, but Wendy couldn't pay attention to it now, not with everyone dead, not with Burn refusing to open his eyes and talk to her like he used to. She just couldn't face the world alone anymore.

Something brushed her head. Someone's hands were on her shoulders. Someone was talking to her. "Wendy? Wendy, what's wrong?"

She knew that voice. It was familiar, a voice of comfort and strength almost as good as her sister's. Burn was...alive?

He was, and Wendy flung herself on him without a second thought. He was real, perfectly warm and solid against her. She hugged him fiercely, trying to put every word she couldn't say about the last two years loneliness, searching, and sorrow into an embrace.

Burn stumbled back a bit, but managed to keep his balance. His arms came up to grasp her shoulders lightly, as if he wasn't quite sure why they were hugging, but he was still so wonderfully steady. He was saying something, still asking why she was crying. That wonderful idiot.

"Idiot! I'm're actually alive!"

"Yeah...don't know how. Last I remember is fighting Keith, and then an explosion...I tried to shield him, but I don't know what happened after that." Burn stiffened, like something had just occurred to him. "Keith! Is he all right? What happened to him?"

I killed him

No, she couldn't say that. Not to Burn, who had loved Keith no one else did. The only one who knew Keith as a man instead of a messiah. It would come out eventually, but she couldn't tell him just yet. Later, when they had mourned Emilio together and found somewhere safe.

"He survived and...well, he went right back to leading NOA." Burn's expression went dark, and Wendy contained like she hadn't noticed. "That's where we are, actually. We'd better get out of here."

Wendy pushed away, trying to smile brightly and not fall down. The trickle of blood down her side had dried, at least. The pain was still there. "Come on!"

Burn blinked, then jerked forward to offer an arm to support her. "Wendy, you're hurt! Did...who did this?"

"I got into a few fights on the way here. I'll be fine!" Wendy began to feel her lies twist around her in a suffocating tangle. It wasn't too bad yet, if she could just get Burn out of NOA. They had started walking, retracing her steps. That was the first step. The second was to figure a way out that didn't lead past Keith's corpse.

"We need to get you out of here, at least." He didn't look her in the eyes, almost distracted. "After that...if Keith's still leading NOA I have to stop him. And then...then we can all go home together."

Wendy didn't believe that, and she didn't think Burn did either. Keith would never accept living peacefully until all his enemies were dead or harmless. And Keith had made the entire world his enemy.

Tap tap. The endless corridors echoed only their footsteps back at them. Was it just that no one else was allowed back here, where they might find where Burn had been sleeping? Or had everyone been killed in the endless fighting? Tap tap. The base wasn't answering either way, and they were getting closer to the central hall. Where Keith was.

There weren't any paths that led outside. Sometimes Wendy would look down a hall, but none of them seemed to go the right way. And her side hurt so badly, and Burn stumbled from an inexplicable weakness, and they just couldn't justify exploring. Not like this.

Keith was at the end of the corridor. It was just a few feet more.

Burn was starting to frown. Wendy knew that distant look in his eyes. It always meant "Keith".

Just a few steps more. Short of pretending to faint, the only other option was to come clean now.

Burn, in this room...I killed Keith

She might throw up if she had to say that. Burn would try to understand. Burn might even forgive her. She just had to say something now. "Burn..."


She was falling, too used to leaning on Burn to adjust when he dashed ahead. He was flying, just that tiniest bit faster than running, and he was at Keith's side before she managed to get her limbs all sorted out.

"...ow." It wasn't anything compared to fighting, but Wendy held onto her side tightly as she got up again and it seemed to help against the pain.

Nothing helped seeing Burn cradle Keith in his arms, seeing him call softly for Keith, as if Keith could still hear. Nothing helped watching Burn crumple into himself.

She walked over as quietly as possible. Burn didn't look up. His face was pressed into Keith's shoulder, heedless of the smears of blood. His shoulders were shaking, though he made no noise. Wendy couldn't think of anything to say. The right thing, the correct thing, the honest thing would just make this worse.

If only she knew the right lie.


He didn't reply, but he did slowly pull away from Keith. The movement made Kei-the corpse's head shake and loll alarmingly, as if it was about to come off and roll across the floor. The glassy eyes stared out in accusation at no one in particular.

Neither living person could meet them.

"I shouldn't be surprised." Burn's desperation seemed to have run it's course, and only a blank acceptance was left. "Lots of people wanted him gone. He wouldn't have backed down. Even...even I..." He curled back into the corpse's chest, fingers holding onto the shoulder with a grip that would've been painful less than an hour ago. "...but...but still I wanted..."

He sighed, the sound almost lost in the great hall. "I at least wanted to see him first."

Wendy turned away. Was it better? Was finding out Chris died alone, long before Wendy even knew there was a problem, better than finding out what Emilio had turned into and being forced to end it herself? She could remember Chris' cheerful smile before she got on the plane, the last time Wendy would ever see her. Chris would always be her kind and gentle sister. Now she couldn't think of the kind boy Emilio had been without remembering the cold eyes that had stared at her without recognition, and the brutal attack that had left her with no choice but to strike back. Emilio would always be touched by the shadow of the future. least she had known what happened to him. At least she had been able to bring him peace. At least she had been able to bury him, to mourn when it was all still fresh.

There was no answer, and Wendy's stomach turned just trying to sort it out. It didn't matter in the end, did it? They were all still dead.

Tears were running down her nose. Wendy blinked and sniffled, surprised she even had some left. Surely she didn't have any left for herself or Keith.

"...hey, Wendy." Burn was calling her. Wendy gave her eyes a hasty rub to clear them and turned to look back at the pair. Burn had finally let Keith's body go and laid him out on the floor as best he could. Now Burn just stared at the body, one hand on Keith's forehead. "When you came by, was...was he already like this? Or..." Burn's head bowed, and were there sparks floating around him? "Did you see who did it? Are they still here?"

Those were sparks.

No, I didn't see him coming in, anyone could've killed him, let's get out of here

Yes, I killed him. I killed Emilio too. I had no choice!

Either answer choked her.

How could she lie to Burn? How could she admit to having killed the one person he wanted to save above all the rest? (And oh, that stabbed too, even though she'd known it ever since they left NOA.) Burn would be in pain either way. Even if he forgave her for killing Keith, he'd never be able to forget it. But if he blamed someone else, she'd never be able to keep him from seeking vengeance forever.

If she admitted to it, would Burn try to kill her? Wendy wanted to say no. They couldn't kill each other, or they'd each be all alone. But sparks were flowing around Burn now, and his eyes looked determined.

If she lied and he found out later, they'd be in the same spot. So it was better to admit it now and get it over with. She'd have to tell him about Emilio either way.

But Emilio hadn't been himself. That had all been Wong. Keith had walked his path by his own free will, and she hadn't even killed him for that. She'd killed him because he refused to stand down without a fight.

Burn would've tried to kill Keith himself if they'd fought, and Keith would've returned the favour. They'd proved that two years ago. That didn't make it any easier to look Burn in the eyes and tell him that she'd been the one to slice Keith apart.

But she couldn't lie to him. Not to Burn.

"I...came here and asked to see you." Her voice was trembling and quiet, no matter how she tried to sound calm but regretful. "He said the only way was through him. I went through him." Like a blade.

"Wendy..." There was emotion in Burn's voice, but for the life of her Wendy couldn't hear what it was. "You did this? You killed - " And that emotion was anger, coming out in a great burning rush. Anything else Burn would've said lost in the crackling flame that surrounded him like a halo.

"I asked him to stand aside! I asked, but...but he just wouldn't... I wouldn't have killed him if he hadn't fought me!"

And Burn's flames were gone as if they'd never existed, leaving just a few embers to fade out before hitting the floor. ", you wouldn't have. I know. If it had been me..." Burn stared at his hand, slowly relaxing from a fist and smeared with Keith's blood. "Sorry Wendy."

"I know." She couldn't blame him. He'd never really been able to accept that the labs had killed the Keith he knew, the Keith that only he knew. And if anyone else had killed Emilio...if she hadn't seen what had become of him with her own eyes...

Oh. Burn didn't know about Emilio yet. She'd have to tell him about that too, about how not only had she killed Keith, she'd failed their precious friend. If she'd stayed with Emilio when NOA fell instead of running back to look for survivors, if she'd managed to find him earlier, if she'd figured out a way to break whatever Wong had done, then maybe...

Burn had turned away, but he was still watching her out of the corner of his eye. Suspicion? Regret? It didn't matter. If she didn't speak up now, she'd have to tell him at Emilio's grave.

"Burn...there's more." Without looking at him, she continued, her voice still trembling. "I had to kill Emilio too. Wong did...something to him, and he didn't know me, or anyone else. All he wanted to do was hurt people. He attacked me, and he wouldn't stop...until I killed him." There. More guilt unburdened. "I tried to talk to him! I tried, but...but he didn't know me, no matter what I said."

In her mind she could still see the cool green monument, illuminated by torches and Emilio's light. It had been what drew her there, what had given her the tiny amount of hope before the new Emilio had spoken and it all came crashing down. After that was nothing but chill air and the smell of blood.

"Wendy..." There was a hand on her shoulder, but she still couldn't look up. "God, Wendy, I'm sorry." And at least, at least he didn't blame her for Emilio's death.

There was still too much death between them for an embrace, but Wendy rested her head on Burn's chest, and he kept a steady hand on her shoulder, and it was something.

Eventually Burn's hand tightened. Not hard, but with determination. "You said that Wong did something to Emilio. I knew that bastard was up to something. Where is he now? I'll take care of it now."

There was strength and determination in his voice, something to live for after losing nearly everything. A bitter food like vengeance could keep a person going for a long time.

Wendy knew that all too well.

"Burn..." She let her head rest against him, just for a bit longer. Just a moment longer. "I already took care of it. I made absolutely, completely sure Wong was dead. And..." Her own hands were clenching into fists now, as she raised her eyes to Burn's shocked face. "I don't regret it. I'll mourn Emilio for the rest of my life. I'll even bow my head for Keith. But no matter what, I'll never regret killing Wong. Never!"

Somewhere past her fury, Wendy could see that Burn looked sick and hurt. So what? Wong had deserved it. No one could say otherwise. Burn would've done the same thing, was planning to do the same thing. And that was fine. Blood on her hands was a small price to rid the world of that man.

"He killed my sister too. I only found out when I asked him about it, but he turned her into Sonia and killed her two years ago. I had plenty of reason. No one's going to mourn him."

Burn still looked pale, but his expression changed to a thin-lipped acceptance. "...yeah. I can't say I was going to be any better. But, Wendy...I don't...geez, I just don't want to see you get like this. Not like..." Like who? Like...what?

Slowly, she stepped away from Burn, eyes sliding from his face to the comfortably expressionless wall. Her cold fury, like a bladed storm, was fading to a numb realisation of what she'd actually said. "Sorry. It's over now. It won't happen again." If they could get out here, find new lives, forget all this madness and pain...

Burn nodded, still distant. "Yeah, it's over now." He turned and walked back to Keith's corpse on the floor. "It's finally just...over."

Wendy watched. He understood, hopefully. Even if he could never see her as anything but a killer ever again, as long as he understood, as long as he'd stand by her. As long as she didn't have to do this alone.

It might be cruel or unfair, but she wasn't going to be alone and she wasn't going to let Burn be alone either. They'd both come too far.

"Let's go. We'll see Emilio's..." And even after admitting to it, Wendy still couldn't say 'Emilio's grave'. Burn would know what she meant. "We'll see Emilio, and tell him what happened."

Burn nodded without looking up. He knelt beside Keith again and took a lock of white hair in his fingers. "...did you manage to...? All by yourself?"

"Y-yeah." She'd torn at the ground with a hurricane, the wind reacting to the storm in her heart. When not even the breeze would respond to her any more she'd fallen upon the earth with her bare hands, heedless of how they'd cracked and bled. Clawing at the ground for hours, lost in a haze of tears and misery...but in the end when all her tears ran out and she'd looked up, it was in a hole deep enough for a grave.

"Keith needs one too." Burn slipped his arms beneath the corpse and picked him up, stumbling and barely managing to stand back up again. Keith's head rolled back further than it ever could when he was alive, exposing the obscene gap in his throat. "I'm not leaving him here."

Wendy walked up and carefully nudged Keith's head against Burn's shoulder, cradled there as if he had just gone to sleep. Burn had shut his eyes at some point and he looked almost at peace. Wendy wished she could've known him before, known the boy Burn had kept in his heart all these years.

Burn noticed and smiled an awkward, painful smile at her. "Come on. When we're done, we'll go see Emilio. Then...I dunno, we'll figure out something."

Wendy smiled and nodded back, no less awkwardly. They were alone in a world that would never accept psychics, a world that no longer had the most important people in it. But they were still alive, and together they'd survive.