Hailey handed her mother a glass of water across the kitchen bar. Elise still lie in the training room, catatonic. She’d collapsed there. Hailey offered to stay, but Yaz sent her away. Even now she cradled Elise, awaiting news of Rachel’s injuries. Both Miller and Valerie tended to Rachel in a vacant bedroom they’d converted for triage. The extent of the damage, and the length of time for her recovery, was anyone’s guess.
Personally, Hailey was more consumed by issues she could actually address. Fearing for Rachel was inevitable. Grieving for Elise equally so, but she could do nothing productive in either of those instances.
Her mother took the cup of water with a quiet, “thank you.” Hailey sought the best way to explain. Her mother sipped. Her father stared, utterly lost. Hailey sympathized. So much had happened so fast, it was hard not to be lost. Her training was the only thing keeping her on an even-keel. In light of that, she mustered her wits and courage.
“I know you have questions. But listen now. I want you to know why I disappeared. Anything I don’t cover, ask when I’m done, okay?”
Her parents eyed her. Their skepticism said there was nothing to make sense of the chaos they’d seen. The confusion they felt. Most of all, how Hailey had seemingly already processed it all.
She sighed, knowing the look. She’d received it the first time she’d been caught with a joint. It said “Explain yourself,” simultaneously admitting there was way to.
Still, she had to try. She cleared her throat. “It started with a book. A couple weeks ago.”
With that, Hailey began to explain everything that had happened. Her parents’ disbelief was obvious. It was understandable. Hailey saw the insanity in it too. Their daughter had disappeared without a trace for weeks. Then, suddenly showed up dressed like a soldier, toting a gun, and forcing them to uproot without explanation. It warranted some incredulity.
But the chaos should’ve have imparted the dire reality of things.
She hoped they were still in shock. After all, four people had just died in front of them. Two were people they knew well. Between Elise’s parents and the Hunters, enough blood had been spilled that the truth should’ve been obvious.
It wasn’t. While they hadn’t learned or felt what Hailey and Elise had, reconciling their lack of faith was difficult. Hailey had learned that somethings needed to be taken on faith. Apart from being truths difficult to understand, they were also less satisfying.
Hailey finished, bracing against the sink to await questions. Her father sank back in his seat, pressing his temples, as was usual when mentally taxed. Likewise, her mother’s shoulders sank.
“This is insane,” her father finally said.
“No.” He slid from his stool, pacing the room. He whipped ’round across it. “Don’t you see what’s going on here? Our daughter’s been brain-wash–”
“By this… cult! They’ve trained her to kill, and they’re–”
“Alex, stop!” She shouted, verging on tears.
“Dad. Seriously.” Hailey was both disgusted and disappointed. He was ready to argue, but she cut him off. “These people saved my life. If it weren’t for Yasmine and Bryce, Elise and I would’ve been killed– or worse! They were protecting me. Now they’re protecting you!”
“Protection? You think that’s what this is?” He scoffed. “The only people protecting you are your mother and I– how d’you know they didn’t send those people after you?”
“Why would they send people after me then kill them?” She asked with a harsh discordance.
The empathic projection hit his chest like a bolt of ice. It spread through his veins. Froze his blood. Staggered him. He swallowed hard, instantly terrified.
Hailey clenched her jaw, eyes seemingly afire. “You can’t protect me from them, Dad. I’m sorry that hurts your ego, but we have bigger problems. All of us. You cannot leave this place. Whether you make the best of it or not’s your choice. But you are. Not. Leaving.”
His mouth wished to squirm in anger, but the ice wouldn’t allow it. Instead, her mother cut in, “Hailey, try to see this from our perspective.”
She sighed, hand to her forehead. “I have, Mom. But you have to accept there are things bigger than you going on. And I’m involved. Whether we like it or not.” She glanced between her parents, “This place… it isn’t so bad. And these are good people. Friends. They’re as much forced to be here as us. Their lives are in danger simply because they exist.”
“But why are we here?” Dad asked, trying for calm for fear of another ice-bolt. “We’re not… Seers, or whatever. Right?”
She took his calm as a peace offering, matched it. “No. You’re not. But you are the parents of a Seer. You’re valuable. A bargaining chip. If the Hunters had gotten to you before us, you’d have been used as bait to draw the rest of us in.”
“Why? What do they want?” Her mother asked, doing her best to mediate the situation.
Hailey explained as best she could, “The power I have makes me immune to using it. Other people, normal people, can have the power too but it’s like a drug for them. They become addicted. Hollow. They’re mindless husks with no free-will. Seers aren’t like that. The Hunters want us alive. To study, experiment on. But they’ll kill us if we fight back hard enough. But they can’t do that if we’re in hiding. You were targeted to draw us out. Elise’s parents too.”
Her dad threw his head into a disbelieving shake but her mother remained passive. “So Elise is… not a Seer?” Hailey affirmed with a look. “And they want her because she knows you are?”
“Yes. They would’ve hoped going after Elise’s parents would draw us both out.”
“But now they’re…”
“Dead.” Hailey’s heart sank. She hesitated with a breath, then, “Look, the point is, you’re not safe anywhere else. You have to be here. For all of our sakes. If you’re caught, the Hunters will use you to get to me.” She looked explicitly to her father, “Even if you don’t believe this, you have to trust me. Being here is the right thing to do.”
“What about the police or–”
“There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to handle these people,” Hailey said sincerely. “Besides, if they even believed us, keeping a low profile is important unless more groups decide to come after us. The fewer people aware of Seers, the better. We can’t exactly follow the law. And I don’t even want to think about a witch hunt.”
Her mother and father exchanged a look. The former spoke. “So, what are we supposed to do? Just sit here? Honey, we have jobs, and bills, and–”
Hailey took a breath, they still weren’t getting it. “This is more important, Mom. This is life or death. Those things can be fixed later. You can’t fix being dead.”
The words echoed in Hailey’s head longer than she liked. Her body and mind were running on pure adrenaline. Her patience was waning. She’d been exhausted before Yaz had torn her from bed. Now, she’d passed the point where sleep might be possible, much less restful. The entire night had been a clusterfuck. Rachel was wounded. Elise’s parents were dead. Hers were in shock. And everything felt like her fault. She couldn’t handle it. Not if forced to coddle her parents too.
She pinched the corners of her eyes, “Just relax, okay? Too much has happened to figure everything out now. I’ll get you a room and we’ll talk tomorrow. I need to see Elise.”
With that she strolled away, unwilling to allow any further arguments. A definite paradigm shift had occurred. She suddenly understood parenthood better. The pseudo-parental figure she’d been forced to become required she watch her parents as if infants. In a way, they were. Overgrown children, more stubborn and combative than infants could ever dream of. Ultimately each child knew, their parents were the overlords. Parents too, knew children were their charges. The family “chain of command” put them at the top.
That chain was now broken, re-fused, Hailey at its apex. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize how difficult the shift could make things. Hailey couldn’t help but think of Yaz, her seemingly effortless sway over her subordinates. The chain was reversed for her too. The difference was, the people below recognized her authority.
That must’ve been nice.
She found the training room door half-open, peered in. Elise sat against a wall, staring into unreality with wet eyes. Her face remained as empty as in the truck. Grief poured from her in an invisible geyser formed within that burst continuously. Its contents became tidal waves that drowned reality, stung Hailey’s heart. Needles stabbed her throat and extremities. Valerie was right; genuine grief ran deep, yet this went even deeper.
She entered the room as quietly as possible. Yaz knelt beside Elise, a hand on her shoulder. Hailey ambled over, lost for words or action. She’d never been good with grief. Never even experienced a distant relative’s death. Even as a Seer, proper sentiment was beyond her. Thus, she stood before Elise, head hung and hands wrung with guilt. She felt Elise’s pain, and beneath it, her own sympathy.
“I’m sorry… about your parents. Elise, I didn’t… I didn’t see the Hunters ‘til it was too late. Everything happened so fast.” Elise’s empty eyes rose to meet hers. A vague twitch in one’s corner forced Hailey’s head to hang again. “I know there’s nothing to say to… I just want you to know, I’m here. It probably doesn’t help, but…”
She trailed off. Her eyes wandered up again– caught Elise lunging. Time slowed. Her muscles engaged. They were too late. She was on the floor. Elise straddled her chest. Her newly strengthened hands clasped Hailey’s throat. They squeezed like hydraulic vises.
“I’ll kill you!” Elise screamed. Yaz was up, moving. “I’ll kill you, bitch!”
Yaz’s tiny figure pried Elise off in a yank. She locked Elise in a full-nelson. Hailey skittered away, coughing and writhing with renewed air.
Elise rasped in fury, deranged. “I’ll cut your fucking heart out. You bitch! You did this! It’s your fault! You–”
Yaz covered her mouth with a hand, threw her around. In a flash, she had Elise against a wall, forearm at her throat. Elise’s throat scratched for air. Her face was beet-read. Purple veins bulged around her neck and temples.
“This isn’t helping!” Yaz barked at nose-length.
Hailey drug herself toward the opposite wall, catching only bits of air. Elise kicked and struggled, a rabid animal chained to a post.
“What the fuck’re you thinking!?” She slammed Elise against the wall, stunned her, released her to a dazed heap. “Never use what I teach you on one of us. I don’t give a fuck if she just stabbed you in the gut. You. Don’t. Fight.” She shoved Elise’s torso back with a foot, fixed their eyes together. “I am God here. Almighty Zeus. My word is law! Violation means death. No matter how good of friends we are, this isn’t a fucking fight club. Act like a rabid dog, I put you down. Got it?”
Elise’s daze was wearing thin, but still thick enough that she could only half-nod in reply.
“Good.” Yaz stepped toward Hailey, who’d balled up across the room. “And you–” Hailey looked up, her coughs beginning to subside. “Are you injured?”
“I don’t… think so,” Hailey said, drawing sharp breaths.
“Then get lost, I don’t need you.”
Hailey rasped a breath, “I came to–”
Yaz’s eyes were fire again. “I don’t care if you came with a million fucking dollars. Get. Lost!”
Hailey fought her way up, then staggered from the room. The door shut. Yasmine put a hand to her forehead that fell back to her side with a shoulder-slumping defeat. She stared forward, hand on her hip, trying to work out what the hell’d just happened– and whether or not she would have to put Elise down.
Elise’s voice crackled, wet and rasping. “It’s her fault, Yaz. None of this… It wouldn’t have happened if she’d stayed away. If she’d’ve kept her stupid mouth shut–”
Yaz snapped, “You’re wrong, Elise. You know that. Inside.”
“Hailey’s power started all of it.”
Yaz’s irritation seeped through, “And you know damned well the moment you learned it, you were as fucked as she was.”
“Shut up!” She about-faced, planted firm steps toward Elise with a stiff spine. “I swear to you, Elise, if you ever pull that kind of shit again on anyone here, I won’t hesitate. I don’t care who’s just died, or who’s at fault, you never use what I’ve taught you on one of us. Never. Am I clear?”
Elise nodded silently, eyes averted in shame. Yaz sighed and softened. She sank beside Elise to sit on the floor, her back against a wall. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but…”
“It’s okay,” Elise moused, wincing. “I earned it.”
She held Elise’s hand in both of hers, eyed her with sympathy. “No, it isn’t. None of it is. It’s not okay we were too late. It’s not okay the Hunters got the drop. It’s not okay your parents are dead. It’s not okay we’re losing this war. None of this is okay.” Elise was about to speak. Yaz stayed her. “If anyone is to blame, Elise, it’s me. Not Hailey. She may be the only reason we’re alive. If she hadn’t sensed those Hunters, we might all be dead.”
“What’re you trying to say?”
Yaz looked at their hands, searching for proper words to explain her thoughts. She gave up, went with her gut, “Hailey is as much a victim as you are. More even. The Seers are just… products of Human evolution. Hunters force them into hiding simply for existing. In the meantime, they threaten them. Everyone they love. Everyone they care about. And if they have the chance, they use or kill them.
“You’re part of that. But Hailey, the others, they shoulder the greatest burden. Fearing for their lives simply by existing. Fearing for, and remaining the cause of, so many others’ suffering.
“But it doesn’t make it their fault, Elise. None of it. Being angry at Hailey isn’t going to help. In the end, it hurts more than you or her. If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s that you shouldn’t blame anyone for what happens. Instead, cherish them all the more because they could be gone in a heart-beat.”
Her words rang into silence with a soft breath.
Elise knew she was right, but found it difficult to put aside her own feelings. Blaming Hailey was a defense mechanism. A result of being so lost. Maybe it was rightful in some ways. Maybe it was completely and totally unfair and childish. Neither case changed her parents death. Then again, her wounds couldn’t heal overnight, if ever fully. At the very least, she knew Yaz was right, however unwilling she was to accept it yet.
She sank against Yaz’s shoulder, utterly dejected and defeated, body long exhausted by grief and pain. With a resignation to let things rest for the night, she nuzzled Yaz’s shoulder and tightened her fingers around Yaz’s hand.