Chapter 1: This Will Be My Last Confession
When Dahra wakes up, it's supposed to be Elwood's shift.
She rolls out of the tiny, lumpy cot she's been using, because she needs to pee, and there he is, asleep. Dozed off in his chair, head lolling to the side. Dahra's insides clench a little--he promised he'd share watch with her. Promised he'd help her out with this. Somebody needs to be watching Cookie at all times, she'd told him. Just in case. You get me, Elwood?
I get you, he'd said.
And fallen asleep during his shift.
Dahra goes to pee, because she needs to. The flush wakes Cookie up. But not Elwood. The guy who's drugged sleeps lighter than the guy who isn't. She'd say that's ironic but she's pretty sure that isn't how you're supposed to use the term.
"Dahra?" he says quietly, when she slips back in.
"Right here." She sits on the edge of the cot, touches his knee. "Need something?"
Of course it does. That's all he's being saying, whenever he's been awake and the pills aren't working (which is most of the time). It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, give me more pills, Dahra, please. Please.
And she can't, because then she'll kill him.
(Sometimes she wonders if she should.)
(Like right now.)
(Actually, all the time.)
(This is nothing any fourteen-year-old should have to deal with.)
"I know," is what Dahra says, when she does say something. "I'm sorry, Cookie."
"Am I gonna die, Dahra?"
The question is so out of the blue, so unexpected--except maybe it isn't, maybe it shouldn't be. It's a perfectly reasonable question, when anyone who knows how fix him is gone and any numbers of nasty infections could set in or necrosis could take him, and damn that medical book for giving her those things to know. Dahra doesn't know how to answer. But he might take her silence as a yes, so she says, "I don't know, Cookie. Maybe."
It's the truest thing she could have said. Honesty does come out in the dark, after all. Like her mother always said. They're both quiet, and the silence stretches out around them, thick and oppressive. Finally, Cookie says, "I'm sorry."
Dahra isn't going to say anything, but then she realizes that this needs to have two sides. It's like Confession, almost.
"For?" she asks.
"Everything, I guess." He laughs, shaky and painful. "For that one time in fourth grade I said you had worms coming out of your head." Dahra raises a hand, runs a finger along one of her short dreads. Remembers. Not the first time, someone said that about her hair. Not the last. And his apology is too little, too late. Doesn't mean shit. But she doesn't say anything. No point, really. He wouldn't understand. White boys never do.
"When I tried to stick John Terrafino's head in the toilet when he was like seven, just 'cause. Um. For giving Stacie Lockhart a black eye last year." He doesn't stop there. Cookie goes on, a litany of sins, and it weaves itself between them like the curtain in a confessional. She thinks, what did I do to deserve this?
He falls asleep somewhere around dawn, but Dahra stays awake, holding her vigil because Elwood won't, until her watch says the sun has risen and washed all the things he told her away.
He doesn't die.
They don't talk about it again.
Chapter 2: Razor Blades Are Rusty
Cristina is not her first suicide.
There have been five, all told. Three who succeeded, because Lana was too slow. The guilt weighs on them both, hard and heavy, in the shape of a list of names--Tamora Rowling, Rodney Dresden, Derya Kelkelli. Good kids. Dead kids. The other two were just fine. Dahra doesn't remember their names. She's got space for her patients and the dead and occasionally Elwood, and that's all.
Goddamn, this is her life now?
The day Cristina comes in she hasn't eaten. Hasn't had time, what with all the kids who think their little booboo is so specially awful Dahra just has to have a look at it. Her and Lana share that, too--an endless long list of loose teeth, stubbed toes, scraped knees, purpling bruises. Hasn't had any water yet, either. The supply's running low. Again.
Dahra's looking forward to maybe getting some time off her feet. Reading her medical book, or maybe even something for fun. A book by Meg Cabot. Or JK Rowling. She hears those are supposed to be good. But just as she's straightening up, and ignoring her stomach's insistent want-food-now signals, a girl stumbles in, supporting a boy (there are actually two girls, but because of the short hair and the baggy clothing and the shadow of a beard Dahra assumes Cristina is a boy, which is incorrect, and she needs to train herself to stop doing that, she knows). They are both covered in blood.
Dahra instantly goes into what she's come to call "nurse mode", rushing towards them, taking the other side, listening to the girl babble about Cristina trying to slit her wrists at the sink, with an old razor blade that used to be her father's when she was supposed to be shaving, but she only got one and a half, and please, Dahra had to help her. She reassures her, sends off one of her interchangeable one-day volunteers (she doesn't bother to learn their names, because hardly any of them ever come back more than once) for bandages. There's a long slash down the patient's left wrist, and a smaller, more ragged one on the right. The skin of her arms (almost as dark as Dahra's own, but not quite) is slick with blood.
"How long since he did this?" Dahra asks, taking a roll of bandages and a mostly-clean rag from the volunteer--infection doesn't matter, Lana'll snuff it out--and pressing it to the left-wrist cut and winding the bandage over it, and the girl, suddenly angry, snaps, "Since she," and Dahra says, "I'm sorry, now just answer the question."
"It took us ten minutes to get here and five minutes for me to get her out of the house so that's fifteen, give or take." The girl looks terrified. "Please tell me you can save her."
"I can keep her alive until the Healer gets here," Dahra says. She's done it before, with people much worse off than this. It's not really a lie. Even though everything from this point on is a crapshoot. "Go get Brianna. Or Taylor. Tell them I need Lana now." The girl nods, and heads out of the hospital at a run.
Dekka finishes the right-wrist bandage, and hopes to the God she's not sure she still believes in that it holds the blood in.
Lana does come in time. She's gentle with Cristina--she always is, with suicides, even though she's always bitching about how she shouldn't have to heal them. The girl who came in with Cristina has introduced herself as Georgia Chun. Dahra remembers her: fifth-period math. With Miss Alvarez. Georgia sat behind her. She's pretty: short, with light brown skin and big brown eyes. Or she was, anyway, before she hacked all her hair off (to keep from getting lice, probably, Dahra's held out so far) and got as skinny as the rest of them. So skinny Dahra could probably count all her vertebrae if Georgia lifted up her shirt.
"Thank you," Georgia says. "I don't know what I would have done if--I mean, I love her so much, I think I'd probably have--" She takes a deep breath, and seems to calm down. "Sorry."
"It's fine," says Dahra. It is. Georgia's not the first person to nearly lose it in front of her and she damn well won't be the last. This kind of thing happens in hospitals all the time. She almost understands how her mother was able to put up with it. "You did good, getting her here as fast as you did."
"I should have known she was going to do that," says Georgia. Dahra knows exactly how she's feeling--god only knows she's had to deal with it enough times. It's wrong, too. Not that that helps much.
But even a little bit is enough.
"No," says Dahra. "You can't always know what someone's going to do, Georgia. Go talk to her, okay? I think if there's anybody she'd like to see right now, it's her girlfriend."
Chapter 3: A Kick To The Teeth Is Good For Some
This chapter took me forever and ever to write, and it's also the longest to date, because I was doing my level best to be very, very, very careful and respectful with this topic. If anyone feels I have erred in any way, please do not hesitate to message me or leave it in a review, and I will do my best to fix it.
These bruises were definitely inflicted by somebody else.
Dahra knows the look, after all this time. There's no way he got that bruise on his arm from walking into a door, and there's no way the bruise on his chest is from tripping and falling, and she wasn't even going to get into the black eye. Something, obviously, is wrong.
Ty is a good kid. He's skinny, was even before the FAYZ crash diet (a joke Dahra picked up from Howard), dark-skinned, with fuzzy hair that spreads out in a cloud around his head. He's also kind of a bad liar (or maybe he just doesn't want to be believed). "Okay," she says eventually. "Look. I know you got those because someone hit you, alright? You don't have to lie to me." She's got two ideas about why he is, and neither of them are good--either whoever hit him is really damn scary, or he likes them and is afraid they'll get in trouble.
Dahra really hopes it's not the second one. At least with the first one the emotional baggage that's going to come crashing down on the poor kid's head like a ton of bricks will be limited and not consist of mostly guilt. The second one…would be nasty. To be mild. Not to mention the only things she knows about handling domestic violence come from her mother (oh god, her mother; her stomach automatically pinches) venting about the days she spent at the crisis shelter and how angry she was at the people who hurt her patients. "I can't just tell them to leave," she'd say, "That's dangerous. They need someplace to go after they do, and some way to get there, and so many days we don't have those because of funding cuts. Damn politicians don't think we matter." And the FAYZ is so small, and at the same time way too big. Kids are slipping through the cracks all the time. If this is someone he loves, there's no way to be sure whoever it is won't come after him again. And even if it isn't…
God. Sometimes she hates her job.
"Look," Ty says, and he looks terribly uncomfortable, "I--"
"You don't have to tell me who it is," says Dahra. Forcing it won't change anything. She wants to find out who it is, so she can go punch them, but making him tell her won't get her anywhere. She has to be careful. So very, very careful. This could explode. "But if you need somewhere to stay? I've got room down here." She does. Elwood's gone, now. She got fed up with him, and he got fed up with her, and it was over. Their relationship just wasn't built for the pressure. "And if you do tell me, I won't tell anyone unless you want me to." That's going to be hard, because whoever did this is somebody who deserves to be shoved off a cliff in her opinion. But patient confidentiality and mutual respect are important. That's what her mother taught her. And Dahra refuses to let her mother down.
So she waits. And she doesn't press him.
Eventually he says, "It's fine. It won't happen again."
She doesn't believe it. Ty doesn't either--but he wants to, which makes all the difference. After so long working with people, she can tell.
"And Dahra?" he says on his way out of the door. "Thanks."
In all these months, he's the first person who's said that to her.
Isn't it so sad that the person who finally thanks her is the person she hasn't done shit for?
Dahra asks around. Just in case. Who does Ty hang out with, who does he live with. People will tell her things. It's Cristina who tells her that he has a boyfriend--there's kind of a community on Third Avenue, of trans* and gay kids (from the way Cristina tells it, those two sections are slightly separated, and it's never been a surprise to her), and that's where Ty lives. And Jameson, the guy he lives with. White guy, really tall, really lanky, used to play basketball way back before the wall came down. (Dahra thinks she can kind of remember him; she went to enough of Elwood's games that she can at least go "hey, I know that guy" about most of the Perdido team). She says some other kid named Maxie saw him with skinned knuckles the other day.
Dahra thanks her, and they both end the conversation frustrated, because they both know Dahra's not going to do anything. Because Ty hasn't asked her to, and she needs him to ask, or things could get very bad. She wants to help. But help has to come on Ty's terms.
Either that, or when he gets beaten up so bad he can't give terms
She sincerely hopes it's going to be the first one.
Weeks go by. She hears tell of the Prophetess and her minder (and dreams of green, when she's seen Lana enough, and tells no one). She hears various rumors about Mary, and goes to check them out. What she finds isn't pretty. But there isn't enough medicine. There never was. Maybe if Mary hadn't been almost out of pills when the wall went up…but she was. There's no changing that. She needs medicine, and Dahra is swiftly running out of things to give her.
She thinks maybe about asking Sam if she can give Mary a mandatory vacation. It wouldn't look like one, of course. They can't have it look like one, or it would make things even worse. And it can't be as long as it needs to be--Dahra's no expert, but she'd say Mary needs months at the least to return to where she was before the eating disorder and the depression. She worries, too, about psychosis. What if the FAYZ is making Mary's disorder worse, and she's going to start having breaks soon? Mary would never willingly hurt one of the children, but what if she does something by accident?
So many ways to go, and none of them right.
Then it happens.
Here is a timeline, as best as Georgia gives it:
Someone heard Jameson and Ty fighting, someone heard it get violent. Someone intervened, or tried to. Someone started to get owned, and Ty ran away, and Georgia grabbed him before he could get very far and he broke down in her arms. Georgia was there, she explains, because the whole neighborhood (which was small, no more than a dozen houses) had heard what was happening and practically stormed the house to stop it. (The things you miss when you spend your life in a basement.)
Someone's name turns out to be Aly Borden. She's a pretty girl, tiny with short little dreads on half of her head and stubble on the other half, and she's not hurt that bad. Just a couple of bruises, nothing to call down Lana over. Ty is alright, too--another black eye
Jameson got his nuts kicked pretty good--Aly used to take dance, apparently--but otherwise, he's fine. Dahra kind of wishes he'd gotten his nose broken or something, and isn't sorry. She can't actually break his nose. But she can give him verbal hell, which he deserves so much she doesn't even have words for it.
He's standing outside, with his arms folded. He looks almost bored.
"You're Jameson?" she says, more for a starter than anything else.
"Yeah. Dahra, right? Elwood's girl."
"Elwood's ex," she says coolly. "Just like, may I make very clear, you are now Ty's ex. You aren't going to touch him, you aren't going to talk to him, you aren't going to pass messages to him. You are going to move into a different house. Or he can, if he prefers. I'll tell you when I know. Do you understand?"
"You can't tell me what to do." It's defiant, and posturing, and she can tell he's trying to intimidate her. She wonders how many times he's pulled this trick with Ty--standing taller and then leaning over her slightly, glaring, fists clench, every part of his body geared to say I can hurt you, you insignificant little worm, so DON'T. PUSH. ME. The answer is probably a lot. That just pisses her off more.
"Actually, I can," she says. Her voice is hard and sharp, sharper than she thought it would be. Whatever. He deserves it. "See, me and the Healer, we're friends. And if I ask her to keep her hands off you? She will. You're not immortal, Jameson. Some day you'll get hurt. And unless you want do die or maybe be crippled, you'll do what I tell you when it comes to Ty." For a moment she's terrified that it didn't work and that he's going to hit her, because he just keeps looming, but then he turns on his heel and stalks away.
Maybe it worked, and maybe it didn't and she'll end up having to leave him to die. But for now she's just glad he's gone.
Dahra takes a deep breath and goes back inside. Ty's sitting up against the wall, next to Ellen, who has her arm around him and is saying something nonsensical and comforting.
"You okay?" Dahra says.
"No," he says. "Not yet."
Chapter 4: His Veins Stretched Tight Over His Skull
Why yes, Cristina and co are totally going to keep showing up. Just in case you were wondering.
It's 2 am when Benny kicks it.
Dahra's half-asleep in her chair, well on the way to actually dozing off, and suddenly: kraaafffff!. She sits bolt upright, looking around. The sickly light of the Sammy Suns hovering over her desk shows her the silhouette of a boy sitting up, back arched. Coughing.
Oh god, oh god.
"Ellen!" But Ellen, good, dependable Ellen, is already up on her feet and beside Dahra. They have their hands under his arms, and it feels like he's burning from the inside, because, well, he is. They half-carry him and half-drag him outside, almost dropping him every time he coughs, both of them trying not to breath in or get splattered with pieces of his lungs and throat, just like they did with all the others. They bring him down to the beach and dunk him in the water because it's the closest thing there is to an ice bath, which is what a fever like this really needs, and then they watch him break his own back.
And Benny is dead.
Just like all the others before him.
Dahra's had about three hours of sleep and seven hours of being on her feet by the time the little girl comes around. She wanders in right after Lana, and for a second Dahra wonders if she's one of those island kids. Fairy, or something? But no, Lana would never let a little kid tag along. She barely lets Sanjit tag along (which Dahra doesn't like to think about). The girl's small, probably smaller than she should be. (Dahra would've guessed three or four back when everything was normal, but now she thinks maybe five.) Her cornrows are coming out, and her pink dress, which was probably nice once, is stained and missing a sleeve. She just wanders among the rows of beds, and Dahra eventually gets up and tugs her away before she can bother Lana or catch the SCD.
"Do you need something?" she asks, as much because she wants the kid to get out and stop being one more thing she has to deal with as because she feels sorry for her.
"Have you seen my brother?"
"I don't know," says Dahra. "Can you tell me what he looks like?"
The kid describes Benny. The kid describes Benny. She's had to tell kids that people they know are dead before, but…
Never anyone as young as this. Will she even understand?
"Listen," says Dahra. "What's your name?"
"Come over here, okay, Molly?" Dahra leads her behind the desk and sits her in the chair. (She's so thin and light under her hands, her bones like a bird's, and if she squeezes too hard maybe the kid will break.) "Listen. This is…I've got some very, very bad news for you. It's not going to be nice, okay?"
Molly hesitates, then nods. "Okay."
"Okay. Is he gonna be gone for a long time?"
"Molly…he's going to be gone forever."
Molly frowns. "But he can't be gone forever. We're all stuck in here. He has to come home sometime."
"He can't come home. He's dead." She takes Molly's hands. Her own are shaking slightly, but she does her best to still them. "He's gone, and he can't come back. Ever. Not because he doesn't want to, because he can't. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Molly shakes her head so hard her braids are a blur. "It's not fair!"
"No," says Dahra, "It's not fair. Lots of things aren't. I'm really sorry, Molly." The kid stuck her lower lip out.
"You can't say sorry if you didn't do it! It's not fair!"
"I know," says Dahra. "I know."
Molly bursts into tears, and Dahra holds her, and rocks her, and wishes with all her heart that she could bring Benny back to life.
Molly ends up sleeping in Dahra's bed, and Dahra ends up not sleeping at all, because she's working on The Chart. The Chart, which messily tracks the progress of the disease. The Chart, which shows her all her failures. The Chart, which makes less and less sense every day.
The Chart, which does absolutely jack shit, but which she can't stop working on because she needs to feel like she's doing something other than watch people die. Not everyone is dying, which is good, which makes her think maybe there's a cowpox/smallpox sort of thing going on, but she has no way of telling (no equipment and no way to use it even if she had any because she's fourteen years old and not trained in anything except the fine art of not getting groped). She just really, really wishes this was something Lana could fix.
After the fifth time she dozes off halfway and accidentally draws on herself with the marker, Lana says, "You should really go to sleep, you know," and Dahra almost jumps all the way out of her skin.
"You're still here?" she asks.
"What about your boyfriend?"
"He's not my boyfriend. I told him to go back and look after his little brothers and sisters because I was going to be here for a while. Had to get Virtue to convince him to leave me."
"I'll take him if you don't want him," Dahra says, and she's pretty sure this is going to turn into a running joke when Lana cracks a smile.
Dahra yawns, and Lana eyes her pointedly, and she holds up her hands and says, "Okay, okay, I'll go to bed. You going to bother walking all the way back up?"
Lana shrugged. "No. I'll need to be back here tomorrow, right? No point. I'd ask you if you've got someplace I can crash but I figure Molly's got the space filled."
"Pretty much," said Dahra. "It's the floor for us."
"Right," says Lana. "Fun."
They end up sleeping next to each other, despite the fact there's more than enough room behind the desk for them to not touch if they don't want to. They don't talk before they go to sleep, not like girls used to do at sleepovers. But Lana's fingers end up hooked to Dahra's, somehow, and they're still that way when Dahra wakes up.
Molly ends up living with Aly, who is actually really good with kids despite her propensity to get into fights. By extension, this means she lives with Cristina and Georgia and Luka and Ty and Mackie, who are all great. They're not exactly qualified parents, ranging in age from eleven (Mackie), to fifteen and a half (Ty), but that's everybody in the FAYZ and Molly seems to like them. They can't screw up the kid too bad, is basically what Dahra thinks.
And she can't have a little girl on her hands. She has a disease to fight.
No rest for the wicked, and less for the just.