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Once More Without Feeling

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Alex stirred, breathing the filtered air piped into her old quarters. They could clean the air as much as they wanted but she could still smell the dirt, not the fresh after a rainstorm scent, but a suffocating odor, more befitting to a buried coffin. Her eyes were raw, swollen from crying. She could still taste the acidic sting of salt on her lips. Her vision blurred like a psychedelic Monet, only without color, because she was in a Division recruit room—and the only color Division cared about was red. Blood red, hidden under all the cold metallic grays.

She heard the screech of a chair in front of her bed. Her pulse jumped, her heart hammering as she quickly sat up.

“Evening, Alex.”

Alex blinked and stared at the man standing in front of her. She remembered the last time she woke up like this—she thought those days were finally over. Instead, she was here once more. But she was young and she learned very quickly. This particular lesson wouldn’t be forgotten.

Alex continued to observe Sean with maddening quiet. He squared his jaw and added not unkindly, “Time to rejoin the living. Amanda says you haven’t been out of your room.”

Alex responded with more of the silent treatment, and Sean all but rolled his eyes until she abruptly rose. Sean watched with an approving quirk of his lips as Alex squared her shoulders and pulled her jacket close. In her eyes burned a brilliant blue flame—the color of fire with the most searing heat. The gray room was ashes to her as she approached him, a conflagration of resolve and determination.

“Last person who stood where you are isn’t here anymore,” Alex said, breaking into a secret smile.

Sean’s brows furrowed slightly, as if he didn’t quite know what to make of her words. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

“I’m not. He didn’t see me anyway. Not really. I was her shadow,” Alex mused.

His frown grew pronounced at her seemingly nonsensical words. “Alex, are you okay?”

She moved up to him, closer than what was polite. “You see me, don’t you?” she queried softly, gazing into his concerned countenance.

“At the moment, it’s hard not to,” Sean gritted dryly, making no move to back down.

Alex grinned widely, her lashes fluttering with marked amusement. It startled him, his pupils suddenly went wide with an instinctive appreciation that was all male.

Sean drew back the same time she did, his step a bit unsteady. He opened his mouth to speak, but whatever words he had planned to say died as he registered his missing sidearm and said gun in her hands. His face turned thunderous.

“Amanda took my guns,” Alex explained, her voice deliberately small, “You don’t mind, do you, Sean?”

He flinched at the sound of his name. He was still angry as hell, and Alex knew he could throw her across the room and get his gun back. But he didn’t, and she had to make sure he wouldn’t.

She felt the fire within her crackling as she pushed, “Sean?”

“Keep it,” he snapped, before slamming the door on his way out. The walls shook with the vehemence of his abrupt exit.

“I think I made a lasting impression,” Alex murmured to the gun in her hand, still warm from his body and her hands. Her eyes flickered to the sandwich on the desk next to the door. It wasn’t there before. She smiled knowingly, “Like a cancer.”