You were told they take the best of the best, but that you’re like him, that you proved yourself, and that’s enough. You think he’s wrong. You’re a fill in, just like him. A suit to line up in the absent void, and everything’s changing around that void that you’re not even sure how it was supposed to be.
You’re trained and the information is filed away in your mind with medical procedures. You learn and understand them more than you ever will your partner, and you think that’s okay until you don’t. Until you catch him staring up at the stars for stretches of time, unseeing, and then looks back at you like he’s expecting someone else.
And it’s not the first time.
You wonder why it should even matter. You both do your job. You catch skimmers and you make a name for yourselves and when Times Square is bleeding with violet-tinged oil, the only remnants of the invasion that pierced your eardrums, you think it shouldn’t matter. There’s too much else that does.
But you want to take a scalpel from the medics that respond to your call, peel away from their repairs on your ear canals, and just stab. Pierce through the back up his neck and drag upwards, find the secrets that he hides, the things he won’t tell you, the things that eat him alive until he’s crawling on the ground like the worms scattering through the street.
He’s a medical mystery, you decide. You only know how to interact with dead people he’d joked with you, but you don’t tell him that you think he’s dead inside.
You work, you work, you work. Months and maybe a year and he’s staring at stars and you have a hand inside your jacket, gripped tight around your neuralyzer, and you just want to reset him because why? Why aren’t you enough? You’ve done everything, you’ve become the best of the best, he knew you for almost the same amount of time so what’s different.
It’s maddening and when he looks at you he flinches and laughs it off and states you look like you want to dissect me and you do, you do and maybe he sees it in your eyes because there’s a thin veneer of caution that slips over his features and you viscously think good, it’s about damn time.
You tell him he’s not coming back for you when you’re shoulder to shoulder hunched in an alleyway and waiting for your lives to end. I know I wouldn’t and you might as well have killed him yourself, but you’re angry, and you’re so godawful tired that you can’t maintain the act anymore. He’s bent you into a new person more than any alien ever has. You’ve had mites in your skin and broken your arms and twisted your body to their own, but it’s her own partner that’s done the most damage.
I don’t know what you’re talking about and it’s the way his voice is mumbled that you know he’s lying.
You spit like hell anyway because you know it’ll jab in and you want to leave a mark before you’re gone, before you forget.
Your hands are clenched white against the silver of your gun, cradled between your knees. His position mirrors yours and it’s the closest you’ll ever get to being the same. You weren’t a good fit. You were never going to mesh with him, and it’s too late for you. Even if you went to Zed and demanded a new partner, you could never go back to the person you were before this, before you were bodily dragged up a ladder by a human-sized cockroach.
There’s only one way to do that, and you know it still won’t be the same. The mind may forget, but the body carries on those scars and you think you’ll look at them with cloudy eyes like your partner looks at the stars.
Do better next time, won’t you? But you laugh instead of plead with him, because if it’s one thing you’ve learned about him, it’s that he’s a self-destructing creature of habit. You remove a hand from your gun and pat it over his pocket, over his neuralyzer. I want to go home if we survive this.
And goddamn him, he doesn’t even look forlorn. You think you see a spark in his eyes for the first time since you met, and you want to punch him. You’d scream if it wouldn’t give away your position.
You reach out like a python and grab his wrist in your hand, tight. You hold it steady and the neuralyzer stops shaking. You’re both silent. You want to ask him, want to demand why, want to rail and shout, want to make him feel the way you do.
You lock it all down. It doesn’t matter. It won’t matter. You let it all empty out and know that it clings to him as it goes, and that’s enough. He’ll never be the same and neither will you, and for once, that’s balance. That’s their balance.
Pain and misery.
You smile. Do this for me, Jay. Let me leave you. Like he did, like you’re sure others will. His hand starts to shake again even in your grip, and the bitterness wells inside of you and before you can open your mouth again, there’s a dizzying, blinding white, and the emotions snap before they can coalesce, and you’re free.