"Tell me a story," Shudder says.
Cahya's hands are trembling where they were folded into her lap. She keeps staring at them, like they're the most fascinating thing she's seen. It's better than looking over to Shudder's body, the gaping wounds that are slowly closing up. "What?" she says, almost unaware she's speaking.
"Tell me a story," Shudder says, her voice wet and rattle-y. Cahya doesn't have to look up to know that it's because her lungs are almost laid bare, spilling blood into her throat.
"I can't," Cahya begins, and breaks off. "I can't think of any."
"Childhood story, then," Shudder says, and then she claws at the beach below them, arching in pain. "Please. Anything."
"Okay," Cahya says. "Okay. Um. Do you know the story of Nyai Roro Kidul? She was a princess once, a beautiful princess..." It's hard to keep her voice from shaking, but she does. And then the story of Loro Jonggrang, and by the end of that one Shudder is lying still, her body uninjured. Cahya can see her chest rise and fall with her breath, though its slow. "Hello?" Cahya says, cautiously touching Shudder's hand. The mask is long gone, torn to shreds by the maelstrom that had brought them here, to this random island somewhere off the East Coast of the United States.
Shudder coughs and sits up slowly, one hand to her chest.
"That hurt," she says weakly, but she's smiling, and Cahya flings herself forward and holds on as tight as she can.
"I thought you were dead!" she says. It's a little hysterical, but that's excusable given the state Shudder had been in when they got here.
"It takes a lot more than that to kill me," Shudder says. "Though my energy stores are pretty low now, and my costume is - well, nonexistent."
"You can have my cape," Cahya says, pulling back, shy again. "Here, I don't need it."
"Okay." Shudder takes it. "I’ll just have to keep moving at lightspeed to keep people from seeing my face. Ready to get back?"
"Back?" Cahya says. "I - I can't, I don't have anything to get me there."
"You're an empathic power borrower, Unity," Shudder says with a grin. "Borrow mine, now that your emotions are calm again. Speedsters can walk on water, remember?"
"Oh!" Cahya says, and blinks. "Right, of course." She concentrates, trying to acquire the feel for Shudder she needs.
"And Unity?" Shudder adds. "The distraction was good."
"I'm sorry it wasn't more." She’d been cowardly. Shaking and crying, a mess. Shudder might as well have been alone on this godforsaken island for all the help she’d been.
"You did more than enough," Shudder says. "And my friends call me Ivy." In the moment that Ivy smiles Cahya feels the bubbling warmth that means she's acquired the power.
“I’m Cahya,” she says. “Rock and roll?”
“That’s my motto,” Ivy says with a grin, and they take off.
"It's a perfect picnic spot," Ivy says as they skid to a halt. “No one around for miles, a beautiful beach – “
“Your blood stains still probably around here somewhere,” Cahya says. “You don’t find this creepy at all?”
“I almost die a lot,” Ivy says with a shrug.
“You know how much I hate it when you say that casually,” Cahya says, but she sets down the basket and spreads out a blanket underneath the one tree.
“If you hate black humor so much, I have to wonder why you stick around me.” Ivy’s tone is half serious. Cahya looks up.
“Does there have to be a reason?” she says.
“I don’t know,” Ivy says.
“I’m empathic.” Cahya returns her attention to the blanket, sitting down and neatly folding her legs under her. Ivy drops to the ground beside her, sprawling. “But not in – the right ways. I don’t know what you’re feeling, right now. It’s frustrating.”
“It’s called being human.” Ivy looks confused, like she doesn’t understand where this is going.
“But I’m not human,” Cahya says. “And our lives are more complicated than that. You scare me.”
“What?” She’s not saying anything right, Cahya knows. Ivy’s completely baffled.
She leans forward and kisses her gently. When she pulls away, Ivy laughs. It’s a beautiful sound, always has been, like the waves on the beach beside them. Like everything else about Ivy it’s made of warmth and open spaces and sunlight.
“Oh, Cahya,” Ivy says. “You get everything so tangled up in words sometimes.” Fondness laces her words like a strong drink, and Cahya feels everything inside of her come unraveled. And then Ivy pulls her down and kisses her, and she knows that this is right, that the humming noise deep in Ivy’s throat is saying just that. Saying yes like singing a hymn to the sunrise, and Cahya will sing this back to her.
It's funny what happens when you lose someone. Cahya sits on the island, hugging her knees to herself and watching the horizon.
The thing about Ivy was, always had been, that she had a way of filling up an entire space by herself. Just her and that smirk and that impossible speed, but she made everything full in a way Cahya with all her borrowed powers had never been able to replicate. And now everything feels empty.
Objectively, she knows that Ivy is gone. There was no body, but how often did they really get a body these days? One battle on top of another, Ivy running herself ragged back in New York and still coming when they needed her.
They’d kept looking, of course, but the cut off date had been two weeks ago and all they’d found was some blood of hers on the battlefield. If she’s alive, she’s somewhere none of them can find her, and if they can’t find her she’s not on earth.
So that’s it. Three years together, four years fighting by each other’s side, and now everything they had been and meant to each other is lost. It feels very final and quiet here on this island.
When she rises to go, she leaves Ivy’s goggles on top of the cairn she’s built. There’s been more significant memorials, ones attended by the superhero community, but this place meant something to them, amid all the chaos of their lives.
She teleports out, long since acquired from Wildcard. Empathic power borrowing means she has to think of how that person makes her feel in a controlled and concentrated way. She won’t be able to use her speedster powers again for a long time, if ever.
Shudder comes home on a rainy March day, bone-tired and weary. There’s stories and exclamations and she spends three weeks in the clinic recuperating and having tests run on her, but in the end it’s her.
Cahya’s off world. No one thinks to contact her for days, because they’d dated in their civilian identities only. It was Cahya and Ivy, never Unity and Shudder. Superheroes dating each other publicly only ever ended in tears.
Finally someone who had known both of them closely finds out through the grape vine and tells the clinic to call Unity immediately.
“You’re lying,” Cahya says automatically, but then they shift the screen to Ivy in bed and her hands fly to her mouth. She’s vaguely aware that she’s crying.
“I’m sorry,” Ivy says, and she’s alive, she’s alive, why is Ivy apologizing for that?
“I’ll be home in a day,” Cahya says. “I’m already packing.”
She keeps her word.
Ivy’s powerless, now. Sometime soon Cahya will care about that, she’s sure, care desperately because Ivy’s work had meant so much to her. For now, it just means carrying Ivy while she teleports them to the island as soon as the clinic grudgingly allows Ivy to leave.
“Solitude, huh?” Ivy says, and Cahya has cried enough over the past six months to last her a lifetime, so she just smiles as well as she can.
“I missed you,” she says, and holds her close. “Please don’t go again.”
“I won’t,” Ivy says. It’s an idle promise, of course. They never know what will happen, not in this sort of work.
But Cahya still feels better for it having been made, and for Ivy’s lips on her hair and her arms around her and the warmth of her body and her bony hips.
They stay there for a long time.