Book 4, Chapter 10

Sasha was amazed. At first, when the newscast had interrupted his show at a very inopportune time, he’d been prepared to make several loud, creatively worded comments about whatever was so important it couldn’t wait for the break. The image behind the anchor woman’s shoulder and the words scrolling across the marquee put a halt to that before he’d had a chance to start.

Thousands dead. Unknown creatures, presumed to be alien. Lower level, west Core considered ground zero. Government warns citizens to stay indoors.

Sasha felt a chill rush over his body, raising goosebumps on his arms. As much as he wanted to believe that what he was seeing and hearing wasn’t real, the part of him that was the Witness was less than surprised. That part of him was in a constant state of déjà vu; the only time he knew that he knew something was when it was already happening. History had themes; it followed patterns that led to the same conclusions. It was a useless and maddening part of his power, but at least he had the consolation that everything made sense one way or another.

The creatures were demons, not aliens. They knew that, and their knowledge was his, and somehow, they knew that these things were supposed to be here now. Demons didn’t just break out from their realm: they had to be called, invited, and only ancient beings like gods had the kind of knowledge it took to do that. If the gods wanted the monsters to kill off the human population, who was Sasha to argue?

He loathed the sense of lazy acceptance his awareness left him with. How could he be okay with such a large-scale massacre? The victims were faceless strangers, sure, but it still meant that Sasha was going to die, too. Julian was going to die. So why was it hard to care?

He shook his head hard, trying to shake loose the fatalism that was starting to become habitual. Only the Oracle knew what would happen: he was just the Witness and could only make educated assumptions. It didn’t take a Shard to see that they were pretty much screwed, though. Sasha didn’t want to die. Life sucked, but he wasn’t done yet.

“You going to be okay?”

From where he was laying on the couch, Sasha tilted his head back to look upside-down at his lover: strong, sure and annoyingly confident Julian, looking at him with all-too-familiar worry and wearing several weapons strapped to his body. Sasha sat up straight and turned to stare at them right-side-up. There were two handguns holstered at his breast, a larger one on his left thigh, and a long barreled shotgun slung across his back.

“Aren’t you a little over dressed for sitting around the house?”

“I can’t stay.”

“What do you mean you can’t stay?” Sasha was off the couch and in his face in an instant.

Julian stood his ground, looking tired but as stubborn as ever. “Sasha, I’m a reserve officer of the military police. They’ve already called me in. I have to go.”

“Tell them no.”

“It doesn’t work like--”

“Tell them no!” Sasha grabbed him by the shoulders, not sure what he was hoping to accomplish. If they called Julian, he probably knew more about the situation than Sasha did, but somehow it still felt like he hadn’t quite grasped the seriousness of it. “Have you seen the news, Julian? This isn’t something you can fight. You’ll die out there, especially if you’re following those idiots’ orders. Fuck, they’re calling demons ‘aliens’. They don’t even know what the fuck they’re fighting.”

“Alien is as good a term as any.”

“So’s dead.” Sasha shook his head, not sure how to make headway with someone who could be as stubborn as Julian. Pouting sometimes worked when what he wanted wasn’t a large inconvenience, like a soda from the fridge when Julian was already up. Pouting probably wasn’t going to be enough to get him to go AWOL, though, and denying sex was at best an empty threat and at worst pointless since there was no guarantee either of them was going to live through the night.

The phantoms in the room were intent on their conversation. The ones he recognized from their subtle voices in the back of his mind had mixed expressions from indifference to delight. Greg seemed to think it would be a great idea to shoot Julian in the head; he’d probably live, but would certainly be unconscious long enough to find a way to make him stay where death was less of an inevitability. It was tempting, but Sasha dismissed it just based on the fact that it was Greg who had suggested it. Besides, shooting the man you love in the head wasn’t exactly the best way to win his affection. Though, considering the men who had managed to garner Julian’s attention so far, it might have actually worked in his favor; nothing said ‘I’m an asshole with an attitude’ better than a bullet in the brain. He still doubted that Julian would find it romantic, though.

At least Julian wasn’t rushing out the door; he was giving Sasha a chance to say or do what he needed to do before he went off to blow holes in things. It wasn’t very encouraging. It meant that was well aware that he might never see Sasha again.

He scratched at the growing hair on his head, eyes looking off to the side to avoid Sasha’s stare. His face looked more angular without the waves of hair around it, but the softness of his eyes was more pronounced without it. He was beautiful and, for the time being, he was Sasha’s. He wasn’t about to let him go.

“I’m coming with you.”

It was hardly what Julian had expected to hear judging by the way his head snapped back towards Sasha. “You can’t. You’re a civilian. You’re to remain indoors.”

“The government also says I should say no to drugs, but you know as well as I do just how seriously I take that suggestion.” Sasha didn’t pause long enough to give Julian room to take the argument off track. He hadn’t done any drugs since he’d become the Witness, but the point remained valid. “Unlike you, I don’t feel like I have to do what I’m told. And I’m saying that if it’s safe enough for you to go out there, then it’s safe enough for me to go, too.”

“But it’s not safe.”

“Well, then, we’ll die together. I’m okay with that. Maybe then, you’ll believe me when I say I love you.” Even Sasha had to admit the last bit was a little over the top. Julian winced though, as predicted. As serious as the situation felt, Sasha didn’t feel too bad about using every piece of ammunition he had.

Julian was silent for a moment, probably doing exactly what Sasha had and searching for a way to detain him. Sasha hoped that shooting him didn’t to mind for him, too. He wasn’t entirely sure Julian wouldn’t shoot him in the foot or something if it meant Sasha he was likely to stay put. It was kind of sweet; it meant Julian cared, but Sasha had as much tolerance for lovers shooting him as he imagined Julian did. Maybe less, since it wouldn’t be the first time.

The sudden influx of phantoms caught Sasha off guard. The apparitions of the others inhabiting his mind and those that Julian carried with him over his shoulder had become household decoration to him. Suddenly, though, there were more than ten strangers charging through the walls into their apartment, crowding the living room. While that alone would have been enough to alarm Sasha, the sound of screams and a rumbling under his feet set his senses on fire.

Julian felt and heard it, too, though he couldn’t see the crowd. He ran to the window, walking through a young couple looking at each other in terror. Sasha recognized them. He’d ridden the elevator with them once or twice. These weren’t the normal phantoms that came from people’s own imaginations: these were ghosts.

The floor shook violently. Something was close.

Sasha was beside Julian in a few long strides, not willing to let him escape. Julian was already running back to his room. He took hold of Sasha’s hand and pulled him along, slamming the door behind them and hurrying towards the dresser. Catching on, Sasha went to his side and helped push the dresser in front of the door.

It wouldn’t be enough and he was sure Julian knew that, too. It was the imagined sense of security that was important. They’d done as much as they could physically do.

“Don’t think about anything,” Sasha muttered, trying to keep his voice calm and even. “They can’t read minds but they can read hearts. Don’t think about what’s going to happen, don’t be scared, don’t be angry, and don’t be sad. Just try and be totally blank. If they can’t pick up on our emotions, they may not know we’re here.”

Julian nodded as he fussed with the bedding, throwing it to the floor. Sasha couldn’t imagine how much good putting the mattress against the dresser was going to do them.

The whole room shook violently, the trickle of rubble raining down in the other room reverberating against the neighboring walls. Sasha held his breath, trying to remember his own warning. He had to forget fear, had to abandon whatever worry he had about their well-being.

It was much harder than he’d anticipated. Even without seeing them, the mere presence of the demons carried its own culture of negativity looking to germinate on receptive hearts. Sasha swallowed hard, imagining rainbow-colored bunnies instead, as he felt Julian press something into his hand. He looked down at the handgun cradled in his palm. Was he expecting a standoff? Sasha shook his head. Of course he was. Julian never gave up without a fight. Sasha adjusted his grip, not quite sure how well human weaponry was going to do against things as old and powerful as demons.

When the wall gave way, he was far from pleased to have the chance to find out.

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