Sophia is Shadow Stalker.
I sit on the bed with Taylor-me, holding her hand as my thoughts pinwheel, spiraling like ribbons on a maypole.
"We're not joining the Wards," I murmur, and she nods, leaning into me.
"Just... god, why," she whispers, and all I can do is hold her tight and rub her back and lie to her about how it's going to be all right because I'm the only soft thing in this hard-metal cell.
I don't know how long it is, but the cell door finally opens; We look up as a figure enters- as Dad comes in, and Taylor-me is up off the bed like a shot, lunging at him and hugging him so tight my arms ache in sympathy.
I get up after her, but slow, then stop when I realize she's hugging him... but he's not hugging her back, arms loosely encircling her like she's a spun-glass ornament.
She looks up at him. "Dad?" she asks, her voice almost too soft to hear; I can hear her voice though, hear the quaver in it.
His eyes meet hers, his face softening in the sight of something precious as he brings up one hand and brushes trembling fingers over her hair.
"You're. You're my Taylor? You're the real one?"
He doesn't- he doesn't even look up at me, and my eyes start to blur with tears.
"...yeah," I hear her whisper, and I wipe my eyes clear in time to see his arms close around her like once-broken machinery in the tentative hands of a novice, pressing against her and then tightening when he realizes she's not going to shatter under his touch.
She hugs him; he clings to her, desperate as a drowning man, and the sight of them blurs again as he holds her and all I can do is stand there and watch because there's no opening for me.
"I talked to Dauntless. Armsmaster, too."
I blink away the sea and realize he's looking up at me, and the nameless emotion I can see in his eyes makes me want to curl up and hide.
"They told me what you can do. How you make copies, switch places with them."
His voice is soft, firm; he says it like a statement of fact but the way he looks at me makes it feel like an accusation.
Taylor looks up at him, follows his gaze to me as I wilt under his eyes.
"Dad." She pulls an arm free of her embrace, pushes at his chest. "Dad, no. It's not her fault- she's me, blame me."
Dad looks down at her, his eyes shining. "I could never blame you." His voice thick with emotion. "You're all I have now. I just-" He cuts off, closes his eyes, swallows as tears run down his face.
"I need you to be where I know you're safe."
He sniffs, nostrils flaring. "Armsmaster, he said- it's dangerous out there for someone with powers, that the gangs are always hungry for new blood. And you can't defend yourself, Taylor... and I can't protect you anymore." His words unspool like rote, calm but tinged with sorrow.
"That's why you're joining the Wards."
I feel my gut twist, see the other me stiffen in his arms. "Dad, no-"
"Taylor, I can't protect you." His words are heavy stones in his mouth. "The Wards can."
"Dad, no." He looks over at me and I swallow. "I'm not joining them. Sophia's a Ward. She's... she's Shadow Stalker."
He looks down at Taylor again, and his eyes are so, so sorry.
"I know," he says, and the world flinches around me and I'm in Dad's arms, looking into eyes that shine with the sorrow of his sacrifice.
My words slap against the dull-metal walls, and I push away from him, trying to free myself from his grasp.
The words come out bitter, twisted as brambles. "Her and Emma and Madison have been making my life hell for a year, and all you can say is 'you know'?"
He lets go and I recoil from him, fingers biting into my palms, my shoulders set like concrete and rebar.
"Taylor-" He looks at me, sitting across the bunk now that I've refused his arms, and the look in his eyes is something I don't ever want to understand. "I talked to Armsmaster, he agrees that what happened was- was unconscionable. He wants to get to the bottom of this, he wants to do what's right-"
"I thought you were on my side." I look over at Taylor-as-Emma, how she's hugging herself with Emma's arms, and then his words hit me and I turn back to him, something hot flaring inside me.
"What's right?" I sound like Dad in Blackwell's office as the words come out, my lip curling until it feels like it's about to cramp. "Right would be me not wanting to throw up every day before school. Right would- would be teachers who- who gave a shit about students who aren't capes."
"You have to believe me, Sophia's not going to get away with this-"
"I don't." I can feel my face squinching up, whitecaps salt-burning my sinuses. "God, Dad. I want it to stop. I want it to stop, I want to get out of the fucking hole that my life's turned into and all you want to do is bury me-"
I take a shuddering breath as my tempest washes over Dad and he doesn't move, he doesn't change in the face of my words.
"Taylor." He sounds like he did right after Mom died, and I look up at him, tears hot and liquid on my cheeks.
"I don't expect... this is what's best, little owl, and... and I hope you'll understand that someday."
The heaviness of his words sat upon me, suffocating. "Get out."
Saltwater pools on my glasses and Dad's a blurred mirage when I look up at him.
"Get out!" The last word is almost a scream, tearing at my throat like something primal trying to free itself.
He says something I don't care about and the cell door opens and closes and then I'm alone, hunched with my knees up, pressing against the ache in my chest that finally has a chance to come free.
The bed creaks as someone sits down next to me. A warm hand frees mine from where it's clamped onto my leg. Squeezes it so tightly it hurts as we sit on the bed together, sharing our tears and our rage.
But I'm not alone. We're not alone.