Chapter 38 — The Very Long Night of Hailey Aurora Elizabeth Winscombe
”Winscombe, time to move.”
Hailey lifted her head. Everything felt so heavy. Even the air itself, which had always been her friend and companion, turned against her. She was totally, utterly alone once again—and she welcomed it.
She put her feet onto the floor of the office where they’d been keeping her. At first, they’d all stood a dozen feet away, hands on their guns, afraid she might make a move. Hailey didn’t blame them for that. If she were in their position, she’d be doing the same. I can’t be trusted not to get people killed.
Wordlessly, Hailey followed the agent’s instructions. She was led through the corridors of the office building, past a dozen other agents who stopped everything to watch her pass by. Always the center of attention… Why didn’t I ever realize how much this sucks? The agent leading her ignored everyone. Hailey realized there was a tailing duo of armored officers following them through the place, making sure she could be brought down.
I don’t think they could, though. Just three guys isn’t enough. They need more.
Hailey had been there for a day now. She’d walked off the plane before anyone else the day before and given herself up. It was the right thing to do. She’d committed crimes. It was all her fault. She deserved to be punished. That’s how the system was supposed to work.
They’d treated her pretty well, all things considered. After the initial extreme caution wore off, and she’d shown them she’d be a model—if mostly silent and disconnected—prisoner, they brought her some food and water, gave her somewhere to lie down, even let her take a hot shower in their gym. For all intents and purposes, besides the handcuffs on her wrists, she might as well not even have been a prisoner.
Hailey went through the motions without feeling any of it.
The agents herded her into a conference room with tall, comfortable chairs and a wide window overlooking the city. They took the handcuffs off, and one of the agents started talking to her. It took a few tries before she finally started understanding what they were saying.
”Miss Winscombe, you’re being charged with thirty-six counts of assault, fifteen counts of malicious destruction of property, ten…” He kept listing things. Hailey tuned him out. She didn’t care. Eventually, the agent had to get her attention again. “We’ve called your lawyer from the last meeting. He’ll be here in just a few minutes.”
”I waive my right to an attorney,” said Hailey in a glum, indifferent voice.
”…Talk to your guy,” said the agent. “Seriously.”
”I don’t need to. I’m pleading guilty.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t hear that just now. Talk to your attorney, figure out what you’re going to do. He’ll be here in a few minutes. We’ll be just outside.” The guy glanced at the window. “You aren’t gonna do anything stupid, right?”
Hailey glared at him. No, I’m not going to do anything. What would I do? I voluntarily put myself here. I deserve to be here. I’m staying right here. He winced and nodded, retreating from the room—leaving Hailey alone with her thoughts once more.
A face swam through her mind—the old man in the bar back in Tacoma, his eyes pleading with her to be saved. She’d been so close, but she couldn’t do it. She’d saved him from the leader with the shotgun, but… she’d rushed into the backroom. She hadn’t cleared the hallway. The guy at the door came back, and the old man died. One bullet in the face. That’s all it took.
Hailey had never learned his name. She was too afraid.
The door to the conference room swung open. “Miss Winscombe,” said Jefferson Baux, ambling in with a full tray of four coffees and a bundle of papers tight to his chest. He awkwardly got everything onto the table, closing the conference room door tightly behind him. “We do seem to meet under the most extraordinary circumstances.”
”…Hi,” said Hailey finally, after it became clear he wouldn’t continue until she said something.
”I’ve been asked to pass along that your mother and two of your friends will arrive in town tonight,” he added, sliding the coffee tray over. Somehow, he produced a fifth for himself and took a deep sip. “Pardon me, but I’ve just come straight from Seattle and the flight was a bit rough. I wasn’t sure how you took yours, so I picked up a wide range.”
Hailey shrugged. “I don’t want any.”
Jefferson hesitated, then nodded. “Have you spoken to anyone yet?”
”…Not… not really. They told me what I’m being charged with.”
”Right.” Jefferson looked over the long list in his folder. “Well, I won’t make you suffer through that again. If it means anything, I passed quite a few protestors on my way into the building. You’ve got a lot of supporters out there,” he added with a smile.
”And a lot of people who hate me,” Hailey replied bitterly.
”Ah… well, you can’t be famous without having those,” Jefferson said conciliatorily. “You’ll be pleased to know that your previous agreement with the FBI holds firm, and they aren’t trying to charge you with anything prior to the last couple of days. This seems to be entirely based on crimes committed internationally, which gives us a lot of room to maneuver.”
”Who are the two friends?”
”With my mom,” said Hailey. “You said two friends are coming.”
Jefferson opened his phone and checked something. “Mr… Rupert Roche and Mr. Weston Davis.”
Both of them… Huh. “You can tell them to stay home.”
”…Miss Winscombe, I think you may want to think about—”
”I’m pleading guilty.”
Jefferson opened and closed his mouth a few times, obviously shocked. Hailey turned to stare back out the window again, watching the cars go by in the street.
”Miss Winscombe, you really aren’t guilty of most of this. At best, I’d agree you should probably pay some fines for property damage, but you shouldn’t be going to jail. Certainly not for as long as you might. There will be quite a lot of pressure to make an example of you as the first trial to involved an awakened individual, particularly one of your status and fame.”
”Sounds good to me.”
He frowned, and began to pull out more sheets of paper from his folders. “I haven’t had much time to do background research on your case, though my firm is working on it as fast as we can. It’s unlikely you’d be sentenced consecutively, so you aren’t looking at anything close to life. However, twenty to thirty years isn’t out of the picture either. This case could go a lot of ways, Miss Winscombe.”
Hailey nodded. “Twenty years is what I deserve.”
”It’s worth noting this is pretty preliminary too. There’s no specific attorney signed yet—many of these may be dropped as they decide what they think they can actually stick. I expect we’ll be able to waive a lot of this, under pretense of self-defense and your cooperation agreement with the FBI.” He glanced down at a page. “We could swing the timeline to imply that you were intending to travel with Agent Makaio to London and work with him on a legitimate investigation, and events outside your control led to the illegal entry.”
”Miss Winscombe, you have quite a few people on your side here. Agent Makaio is already in touch with us, and Special Agent Ashe has also volunteered to testify on your behalf. Even Special Agent Aderholt, as unpleasant as that man might be, is willing to pitch in.” Jefferson flipped over another page, showing a long list of supporters. “You’ve got Sir Thomas Laushire for God’s sake. Everyone is in your court here. Nobody thinks you deserve to go to jail. Even the prosecution doesn’t think you do. This entire trial is a show.”
”They need to prove to people that the government’s still in control,” said Jefferson. “That’s all this is. You go through the motions, you get accused, you get cleared. No jury is going to convict you. Not with your story, and with who you’re up against.”
”I deserve it,” Hailey shouted, and a rumble echoed through the room. Her wings had involuntarily swung wide. Windows shuddered, chairs slid away. An agent appeared at the window, but after seeing no real danger, he stepped away again.
Jefferson took a long time to respond, and when he did, his voice was far more subdued. “Is there no way I’m going to persuade you otherwise?”
He sighed. “They’re going to move you into DC Central Detention today. They want to show they’re treating you like anyone else.” Gathering up his things, he left the coffee on the table. “I’ll be in town the rest of the week. My husband wants to do some sightseeing, and we’ve been meaning to come to D.C. for years anyway. I really hope you change your mind, but if you don’t, I recommend you retain the services of another law firm. I cannot in good conscience support your decision.”
”Thanks,” said Hailey, as he started to leave. He paused, looking over his shoulder. “You were a really good lawyer.”
”One of the best, Miss Winscombe,” said Jefferson. He gave her a respectful nod. “It’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you around.”
Hailey never touched the coffee Jefferson brought her. She felt sick to her stomach—not in the immediate sense, but a gnawing, lingering form. Everything smelled rotten, everything tasted awful. Food was like ash in her mouth. She hadn’t eaten all day, and she barely forced herself to drink some water from the cooler in the room. They left her alone in there for hours and hours, nothing to do, just watching the cars go by on the street below.
The cars… and the people. There were so many people.
They filled the street. News cameras had followed Hailey every step of the way from the plane to the FBI offices, and the crowds had followed. Hailey couldn’t really make out any of them from this high up. Many carried signs, and they were moving around like an ant colony, constantly active. If she wanted, she could have used a spell on her eyes, spied on them like a hawk.
Just a little. Won’t hurt anyone. Just so you know what they’re doing, what they’re saying.
Hailey sat back in the chair and turned away from the window. No magic, that was her decision. She couldn’t get rid of her wings, but she wasn’t going to use them either. They’d be the sole remaining link to her old life—a gift from Jessica that she’d hold for the rest of time.
Jess… please. I can’t do this without you.
A knock at the door. More agents, and the handcuffs were back. “Time to go,” said one of them, looking sympathetic.
Hailey got to her feet, a dull echo in her ears. “Where?” she asked.
”DC Correctional Treatment Facility,” said one agent. “We can’t hold you here in the offices anymore, so you’re being moved there.”
”My lawyer said the Detention place,” said Hailey slowly. Are they putting me in a psych ward or something?
”Same thing, but Detention is a male-only prison. The Correctional Treatment Facility is right next to it.” The agent glanced at her curiously. “Does it matter?”
She shrugged. “I guess not.”
They put the handcuffs around her wrists again, loose so as to keep from chafing her skin. Hailey appreciated that. She was led into the elevator and escorted back to the front of the building, where a veritable army of riot-geared officers waited to escort her.
Hailey winced. I could do this for them. Just put up a wall of force on both sides, keep anybody from approaching. It’d be way safer and none of these guys would be putting their lives at risk for me. But she didn’t do anything. They surrounded her and walked her out into the shouting, screaming crowds.
The lines were split very evenly. On one side, Hailey saw her supporters. Some were just fans—screaming about how unfair this was. Many were chanting some vague message of support for her taking down the rich and supporting the common people, or something like that. Hailey didn’t really catch much of it, because the other half held her whole attention.
They hated her. So many people, screaming about the dead, the lost, the fallen. Pictures of victims—from Rallsburg and from Lakewood—were plastered on huge picket signs. Hailey couldn’t tear her eyes away, even with the setting sun burning into her eyes. She hadn’t seen some of those faces from Rallsburg in so long. She saw Gordon Merrill, the old journalist. Both Mason Rhistler and his uncle Rowan, the mayor. More and more, faces upon faces, mixed in with her own memories.
She’d last seen Rowan from above, running from the burning home of John Bell, a golem in pursuit. Hailey had tried to distract it, but she and Jessica were too exhausted by then. They’d flown by, keeping up their strength just to stay in the air and out of reach. He died behind them. Hailey hadn’t seen how. She hadn’t wanted to.
I could have saved him. I had more gems in my pocket. I didn’t use them.
She saw the old man from the bar in Tacoma. Hailey’s eyes teared up. He looked so happy in the photo, surrounded by his grandkids, standing on a beach somewhere. She had to look away. Her eyes fell to the ground, and finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she was at the armored convoy. They hurried her into the car, and the unintelligible howling of the crowd finally died away. The two agents in the rear with her looked sympathetic, but Hailey didn’t feel any of it.
She was even further away now, lost in her own memories, trying to hide from herself, but all she could see were the faces of the dead.
They took away her phone, they took away her bag. After a great deal of confusion, Hailey had to briefly explain to them what it was and some idea of how it worked. With some consideration, they decided to keep it near her cell so it would remain intact. Freshly dressed in a scratchy orange uniform, she was marched through the many steel gates and into the cell block.
I could break out of here so easily.
To her vague surprise, there wasn’t much noise from the rest of the inmates on her arrival. At first, Hailey thought that they might not know who she was, but after a few minutes, it was obvious—they all knew exactly who she was, and they were either too scared or too uncertain of her to make any approach. It didn’t stop the staring though.
Every eye was on her. Hailey couldn’t take a single step without the entire prison watching her, guards and inmates alike. She could feel it on every side, closing in, holding her down tight. Her wings flexed involuntarily again, brushing a few of the nearest inmates.
They looked up with shock. Hailey kept her eyes straight ahead, trying to avoid any confrontation. The guard led her to her cell, where she set down the few things they’d given her. She closed the door, sat down on the bed, and stared at the wall—hoping beyond hope that she could finally be alone.
Even without the faces of the victims to haunt her, even with the quiet, Hailey couldn’t escape her memories. Flashes returned to her, but now they were more personal. Instead of victims she couldn’t save, guilt produced a new monster for her. Hailey’s mind crashed backward into the worst possible memories, twisting what she loved most into horrible visions.
A burning building, where Jessica was caught in the flames, howling in agony, trying to beg for help but without words to speak.
A street in Rallsburg, Hailey dropping Jessica to the ground and watching her get torn apart by waiting faceless golems.
Lakewood, in the arms of a man with a gun to her head, where Jessica’s body twitched from the shots before becoming far, far too still.
Hailey curled up on the bed, trying to block out her own mind. She knew it wasn’t real, knew that they weren’t even memories anymore. Her mind was conjuring up new versions of events to torment her even further, driving herself away from the world, away from any hope and any joy and love she ever might have felt. Jessica, a part of her own heart, now represented the worst moments of her life, and Hailey couldn’t get away. Every step she took only brought more pain, to herself and to everyone around her. There was nowhere she could go without making things worse. Alone was the only path left, the only way she could stop from causing any more hurt.
In that cold cell, alone and broken, Hailey Winscombe cried, but there was no one left to hear her.
”You’ve got a visitor,” said the guard, tapping at her door.
Hailey looked up. She hadn’t heard them come in, and nobody shared her cell. Someone intruding on this little space felt wrong. Hailey was supposed to be in here alone, tormented by her memories. Nobody else should be here.
”Come on. First day visits aren’t usually allowed. Take it while you can, kid.”
Reluctantly, Hailey got to her feet. She had no idea who it would be. She had no idea how long she’d been there already. Had it been long enough that her mother would be in town yet? Hailey wasn’t prepared to face her. She felt like she might not ever be ready.
As she walked through the jail once again, everyone stopped talking. They watched every step she took. Good. Keep an eye on me. I’m dangerous. I might hurt you. I don’t want to, but that hasn’t helped anyone else. Hailey was barely aware of them, though. She kept her eyes low, watching the floor, following the little stripe on the ground telling her where to go.
She was led into a small, private room—not the wall of bulletproof glass boxes with phones, or even a general public visiting room she might have expected. The guard cuffed her to the table, then left her alone again. Hailey tried to mentally prepare herself for whoever might come through the opposite door. Jefferson again? Her mother? Weston and Rupert? Cinza, somehow?
The door swung open.
”…the fuck are you doing in here, Hailey?”
Jeremy walked in, looking as tired as she felt. He fell into the steel chair on the other side of the table, rubbing at his brow.
Hailey didn’t answer. Her eyes fell back to the table.
”Look, I get it,” said Jeremy, more aggressive than the last time they’d spoken. “You feel like you fucked up. I’ve been there. You know how many times I’ve fucked up?”
”I did a lot more than that,” Hailey whispered.
”People got killed,” said Jeremy, nodding slightly. “There was a case once with Jackie. It’s actually how she got all those fuckin’ holes on the back of her cruiser.”
Hailey looked up, despite herself. She liked Jackie Nossinger—everybody did. For a small-town sheriff, she was extremely laid back and genuine. Even when she’d come around to break up parties Hailey often hosted, it was practically in good fun—giving the party a feeling of rebellion and college-town action without any real threat or consequences. Hailey had always gotten on well with her.
”That case. That fuckin’ case.” Jeremy sighed. “See, Maddie was just gettin’ into politics. I hated the idea, and nobody liked a rebel politician who refused to play by the damn rules. But hey, she started getting big, so the fuck did I know? Only, she got too big too fast. Started thinking she was way better at it than she really was, and put herself into the middle of some crazy shit.”
He leaned back in his chair with a long sigh. “Really fucked up hostage situation one day. I won’t get into it, but they were holed up tight with a fuck-ton of guns and food. Could’ve stayed there for months, maybe years. Maddie decides she’s going to be the big hero, negotiate out of it. Runs right in with the police yellin’ at her to stop, gets herself tossed in with the rest of them.” Jeremy grinned. “Stupid as it might be, I kinda love her for it. Stole her move for that shit back in Tacoma.”
He took a drink from the bottled water he’d brought in with him. “Anyway, point is, she got herself stuck, and Jackie and I happened to be nearby. They told me what was going on, I got involved. I was young too, and just as fuckin’ headstrong. I was a homicide detective, I had no business doin’ a hostage negotiation, but there I was. Shit got fucked up real quick. So Jackie decides to back up the car straight into the place. We take fire from behind, but those cruisers are thick in the back.”
Jeremy’s face fell. “I rolled out, got behind cover, started firing. I wasn’t thinking, and some of the hostages got shot. By my bullets. My bad move.”
Hailey winced. She knew where he was trying to go with this, and she was sympathetic, but it was completely different.
”Jackie’s the reason we got Maddie out of there. I owe her everything, Maddie owes her everything. All I did was get some innocent people killed. That shit fucked us up. They cleared me to go back to work, but I couldn’t do it. Year later, neither of us were in Seattle anymore. I went to the FBI, Jackie bounced around a bit until ending up in Rallsburg.”
”I’m sorry,” Hailey murmured.
Jeremy shook his head. “It ain’t on you. That’s my point here. I’m not sayin’ you should keep doing what you were doing. God Almighty knows I couldn’t. I had to make a change, and you probably do too. But that doesn’t mean you’re to blame. You were doin’ the job, same as me. It fucks you up, and I can’t tell you it’s ever gonna feel much better. But you gotta get past it. You gotta keep going.”
”How many times?” asked Hailey.
”You had that whole thing,” she went on, feeling awful with every word. “But how many times did you screw up that bad?” Jeremy opened his mouth to answer, but she kept going. “Because I’ve screwed up more times than I can remember. I got people killed. People died because I couldn’t save them, because I made stupid mistakes. I could have done more, but I didn’t.”
”It’s my fault she died, Jeremy, in more ways than one.”
”It’s Malton’s fault, and Viper’s fault, and the fuckin’ asshole on the street who shot her. It ain’t on you.”
”Except she shouldn’t have been there.”
”Not with us,” said Hailey impatiently. “I mean out on the street, where she got grabbed. She went because she didn’t understand what I was trying to tell her. Because she couldn’t understand.”
Jeremy frowned. “I thought that was ’cause of somethin’ she did back when—”
”It was my fault,” Hailey continued, tears forming in her eyes. “She ended up that way because of me. I was angry, and I was yelling at Weston, and she ran away to go do the ritual. If I hadn’t lost it, if Weston and I hadn’t been fighting, maybe her ritual doesn’t get interrupted, and she doesn’t—”
”Hailey, she was a grown-ass woman, same as you!” Jeremy shot back, visibly angry. “You’re talkin’ about her like she was a child and you were her mom or some shit!”
”I was her best friend!” Hailey cried. “Her parents hated her! She was too scared to even leave the house! She had nowhere else to go in the whole world, and there I was, making her last safe place horrible!” The tears were flowing free now, and Hailey curled up on her chair as best she could, despite the handcuffs. “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault. I drove everyone away. All my friends, one by one, and the only one left was crippled because I can’t control myself.”
She shook her head. “I can’t, Jeremy. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
Jeremy kept talking, but Hailey didn’t hear another word. The memories were back. Now it was Weston and Ian and Hugo, while Jessica stood in front of them, her mouth and her ears missing, a grotesque figure with tears in her eyes while the other three stared at her. Accusing her. Blaming her.
Hailey welcomed it.
The lights flickered off. It was night now. Hailey had been moved to a different cell, out in the receiving block, far away from the general population. They’d decided she was too much of a disruption to the main block, but the official reason was “processing”. Hailey hadn’t been processed properly, and had to go through the official procedure.
Right. Just procedure. They didn’t stick me out here in the completely empty block far away from everyone because I’m dangerous and unpredictable. No, they stuck me out here because they did the wrong paperwork. Obviously.
At least there was a window here, across the hall from her cell through the bars. Hailey could see out into the sky, to the vaguest glimmer of a star off in the distance. Night was setting in full, and even though there was so much more light pollution here in the middle of the city compared to the Greywood or Rallsburg, it gave her a little bit of peace.
She still loved the sky, even if she’d resolved never to fly again.
Can I really do that? Give up flying?
It would be so easy, if Hailey really wanted to. Even in the deepest part of the prison, Hailey had no doubt she could break out. She’d blasted her way through thick walls back in London, when she was going after Rook and Lily.
She could manipulate the very elements, move objects with her mind, make herself stronger than a runaway train, fly, change her appearance at will. The only limit was her own imagination, and the pile of gemstones in the bag sitting across from her cell.
All she had to do was summon it across the twenty-foot gap and between the bars. It was practically effortless.
There it was—Hailey admitted it to herself. She could break out. The only thing holding her back was her own will, a will that was weakening with every passing hour. If Hailey wanted to be free, wanted to feel the wind through her wings, the pure sun above the clouds on her face, the pure joy of diving through the open air, all she needed to do was try.
I belong here.
Hailey curled up in the corner of the cell. Not on the bed, not even on the chair, but far into the solid brick corner, where she could feel the cold wall on her face.
A quiet, hesitant voice. Hailey thought she’d imagined it at first, until the voice repeated her name again. Slowly, she looked over, into the darkness of the empty cell, and saw a pair of pale, grey eyes staring back at her.
”Hi,” Hailey whispered.
”What are you doing? Why are you in here?” asked Beverly.
Hailey didn’t answer. She looked back out at the sky again, picking a star to focus on. She liked to do that when she flew, pick a star and fly toward it. Not because she had any notion she could actually reach it, but it gave her a sense of adventure.
She’d miss that.
”Hailey, you’re really scaring me.”
She almost laughed. You’re the most powerful person in the world, and I’m scaring you. That makes so much sense. I’m terrifying. I’m a monster. I hurt people. You don’t. You help everyone. You don’t ever ask questions. You never screw up, not even once.
Hailey had actually asked her about that—if Beverly ever missed an awakening. Not even once, apparently. Beverly had been there for the very first one after the book was destroyed, and realized how to save them (Josh Miller, of all people) in time. After that, she’d set up the rituals that allowed her to sense any awakening, anywhere in the world.
Not even once. Beverly didn’t make mistakes. Not like Hailey.
”Sorry,” Hailey finally said blandly. She didn’t look away from the star in the sky, just kept watching it, thinking about flying toward it. Maybe I should just try to go into space. That’d be an adventure, and it’d keep me away from everyone. I’d probably break a satellite though, send it crashing back, hitting something or someone.
Beverly sat down next to her on the floor. For a brief, happy moment in the darkness, Hailey felt like it were Jessica sitting there so close—but Beverly was cold. Jessica was never cold. The moment was gone, and Hailey burst into tears.
”What?” Beverly asked in alarm.
”Nothing,” Hailey choked.
Beverly disappeared—off to awaken someone else, most likely. Hailey couldn’t stop crying though, and still was by the time Beverly reappeared, in the exact same spot. There was no warmth, no embrace like she might have gotten from Jessica. Just cold. Just a void.
”I’m sorry,” Beverly whispered. “I think there’s gonna be a lot of them tonight. These new copies are making it really hard to keep up.”
Hailey winced. So many more awakened. So many things that can go wrong. “It’s okay.”
”You’re not okay, though,” said Beverly. “I want to be here for you.”
”Nothing’s gonna make me okay.”
Beverly hesitated. She tentatively put an arm around Hailey’s shoulders, but Hailey shrugged it off. It wasn’t like Beverly, and Hailey didn’t want to feel like she was forcing herself.
”Don’t, please,” Hailey whispered. “I can’t.”
”Why are you in here?” Beverly asked again. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Hailey didn’t want to go over the whole thing again. Not after Jeremy. She could barely get the words out, while in her head, she was assailed endlessly by guilt-ridden visions of the people she’d hurt, the people she’d failed, the damage and tragedy she’d caused.
”I…” Beverly trailed off. She vanished again.
Hailey curled up tighter, pulling her legs to her chest. She didn’t want Beverly to come back, but she knew it was hopeless. Beverly was coming back. They were best friends, after all—at least, in Beverly’s mind. She remembered a relationship that Hailey didn’t. Beverly had erased it.
In that moment, Hailey felt like she should be mad at Beverly. After all, wasn’t it Beverly’s fault any of them awakened in the first place? She was the one who left the page of the book on her desk and disappeared that night. She was the one who’d let them discover magic, then erased herself from the picture and allowed them to experiment.
Hailey couldn’t be mad at her. Beverly was too good, too noble. She had dedicated everything to saving people, and sacrificed any hope of having a life of her own in return. She made difficult choices to get there, and lost the man she loved in the process, but she still did it. She never gave up.
I can’t do that. I gave up. I’m in here. I’m not like her. The only thing keeping me going was…
”Bring her back,” Hailey whispered, when Beverly next reappeared.
Hailey could barely force the words through her lips, so terrified was she of the answer she already knew she’d receive. “Bring Jessica back. You can do anything. Find a way. Reverse it.”
”I… I can—”
She grabbed Beverly’s hands, held them tight. Energy began to course down through every fingertip, rushing forward. Hailey put everything on offer. She threw her whole mystical being forward, desperate, pained, knowing what would happen if Beverly took it.
”Take everything. Use me. Just bring Jess back. Please. I’ll do anything.”
Beverly’s eyes were glistening, even in the darkness of the cell. “It can’t be done. She’s—”
”Please,” Hailey begged, voice thick, barely able to see.
”She’s gone, Hailey.”
Grief overcame her completely. Hailey broke her vice grip on Beverly’s hands. She fell against the cell wall, weeping. Beverly stayed for a few more minutes, without speaking a word, but eventually she disappeared once again, not to return.
Hailey woke up a few hours later.
It was still the middle of the night—of course it was still the same night—and they were waiting for her. In her cell, surrounding her where she could not escape, they had come.
Hugo Rodriguez, eyes glowing with fear and betrayal, angry and terrified of what she’d become. Their friendship was long-forgotten. She barely remembered what had ever brought them together. All she knew was this man, this hateful figure who represented everything she had thrown away. Her past, before magic, when she was surrounded by joy and laughter and friendship.
She replayed the moment in her mind, again and again—visiting Ian’s home. Seeing Hugo walk in, how loathing filled every inch of his face. The way his body tensed and prepared for a fight simply at the sight of her. Hugo would have killed her, and her cell that night, all alone and stricken by grief, Hailey would have welcomed it openly.
But Hugo was not there to kill her. Hugo was there to accuse her, and he was not alone.
Aleida Nelson joined him. She was surrounded by vague ghosts of her children. Her eyes, thick with grief, accused Hailey for failing to protect her son. For failing to protect the people of Rallsburg. With all her power, with her abilities and her intelligence, Hailey had failed them. How many Aleidas were there, mourning their children who’d died when Hailey might have saved them?
Aleida condemned her, again and again in her home, where Hailey did not belong. Where Hailey had intruded and brought fresh pain to a grieving mother, a woman whose son had died senselessly in a town besotted with magic and greed. Hailey was selfish, just like the rest of them. Hailey didn’t deserve the label of hero she’d so casually taken. She was culpable.
Beside Aleida, Trevor Halliday. He stood beside Elissa, beside Russell Wallace, with a horde of faceless protestors behind them. His eyes, full of disgust, disappointed with the person she had failed to be. Hailey, who could have done great things, but was too self-centered, holding herself as the ultimate authority. She had the power and the potential, yet she had failed.
He denounced her, again and again, in Elissa’s apartment as she refused to awaken them. Trevor called out her recklessness, her foolishness. He laid plain how she saw the world, how she refused to believe she could be at fault. Trevor decried her arrogance. Who was Hailey to believe herself above the world? To call them ‘humans’ as though she were somehow better than them, different than them?
Jessica’s parents. Beth and Malcolm Silverdale, in the old abandoned church they’d found for the funeral. They stood in front of the portrait of their daughter, with a casket wreathed in smoke behind them. Their eyes, laden with grief and anger. They blamed Hailey for the death of their daughter. They had put their trust in someone who could not be trusted. They had given over responsibility to Hailey, and she had failed them.
They convicted her, again and again, in the church, blaming her openly for Jessica’s death. Beth was raging and screaming, Malcolm was weeping, and Hailey cowered before them. They showed the world how she had failed, how Hailey had let the most important person in their lives die due to her own carelessness and stupidity, her arrogance and recklessness, how Hailey was responsible for her condition in the first place, how Hailey had utterly destroyed a bright and beautiful soul.
The specters of her guilt and her pain wrapped up around her, choking her, chilling her to the bone. Hailey curled up again and closed her eyes, trying to keep them away.
In the dark of her mind, Hailey saw Jessica, on the street in Lakewood, eyes wide with fear—begging.
Hailey eyes popped back open, and the ghosts were there again. She could not escape.
A thump down the hall. Hailey hadn’t slept a moment since Beverly left. Shuffling footsteps. She looked up, and in front of her, barely visible in the darkness as he moved into the next cell, was Alden Bensen.
Hailey looked away. She didn’t need to see a vision of Alden in the bar, crushed and broken, moments from death. She’d had enough already.
”Hailey?” Alden’s voice echoed around the corner of the cell wall, as soon as the guards had gone.
”No…” Hailey groaned. Not this. I’m so hungry and cold, I’m actually hallucinating now.
”Go away. I’ve had enough. Please.”
”…Hailey, what’s going on?”
”You’re not real. Please. Leave me alone.”
A long pause. “…Hailey, I’m real. I’m actually here.”
Hailey shook her head, though of course he couldn’t see it from the other cell. “You’re just another one of them.”
”People I’ve failed. Stuff I’ve screwed up.”
”What?” Alden sounded genuinely confused. “…Hailey, you saved my life. More than once.”
”I just make everything worse.”
”I’m seriously here,” said Alden. “And you don’t.”
”…You can’t be here,” said Hailey, though doubt was beginning to edge into her mind. Maybe… maybe he really is here? But how?
Alden laughed a little. “It’s a crazy story, but yeah, I’m here. I got arrested with Rika. They brought us here. They’re holding everybody awakened here for now, until they figure it out.”
”They think she killed some people, she didn’t. She’s awakened, so they’re making a big deal of it.”
Hailey frowned. “Oh…”
”Hailey, I’m really here. What’s going on?”
Well, real or not, he’s being a whole lot better than everything else my messed up head imagined. “I screwed up, Alden. A lot.”
”I nearly got a lot of people killed. I did get some people killed. I got…” Hailey choked up. “I got Jessica killed.”
Alden didn’t answer for a long time. Hailey finally uncurled from the floor and inched across to the bars. To her surprise, Alden wasn’t actually in the cell next to hers, but across and diagonally a bit. They could actually see each other.
”I’m sorry,” said Hailey quietly.
”The bar. You almost… you almost died in there.”
”That’s not your fault,” said Alden.
”No,” he said, more forcefully. “We got betrayed. Harold tipped them off. He thought they’d let him go.”
Pieces clicked into place in Hailey’s mind—the strange way Harold had slipped into the building without them noticing, how the men had moved toward him as if they already knew him before taking the place, Harold’s sigh of relief in the back room as the leader appeared to clear him. He’d been acting strangely that whole time. How had she missed it?
Of course I missed it. I’m terrible at this. I should never have been trying to be a hero. I just screw everything up.
”You saved my life, and everything else you’ve done made my life better, Hailey,” said Alden. He smiled. “I’m sure Jess would have said the same.”
Hailey shook her head, her hair flying wildly. “I got her killed.”
”I don’t know anything about that,” said Alden. “But I do know that no matter what, Jess wouldn’t want this. You sitting in a cage blaming yourself for everything is the exact opposite of what Jess loved.”
”I don’t know why she loved me,” whispered Hailey. “I didn’t deserve it.”
”Sure you did,” said Alden. “Doesn’t matter though. Jess made her choices. Sometimes she chose right, sometimes she chose wrong, but she made them. I mean, you know she tricked you when she moved in, right?”
He grinned. “She told me the whole story that night you guys stayed over ’cause you were too tired to fly home. Took like an hour, but she figured out how. Anyway. She was kicked out of her house way before you two moved in. She’d been living with Ian the whole time, even though the dorm didn’t allow girls.”
”Jess was too ashamed to tell you,” said Alden. “She wanted you to think she was worth loving. So she never did. She just started living with you, from zero to one hundred instantly. She said it was her ‘Hailey’ moment.”
Hailey laughed weakly, the first time in what felt like forever.
Alden grinned. “Brave, no hesitation, reaching for the stars. That’s what she loved about you. That’s what I like about you too, you know.”
”But I got people hurt that way,” said Hailey, her brief moment of mirth deflating faster than a popped balloon. “I’ve screwed up really bad. I don’t know if I can get past that.”
Alden shook his head. “I don’t think you ever can.”
Hailey’s eyes widened a little. That wasn’t what she expected to hear.
He smiled, much sadder than before, but in a mature, hard-earned way that Hailey had never seen from him.
”I’m not saying it doesn’t get better. I’ve gotten better. But it still hurts more than anything, you know?” He sighed, relaxing against the bars of his cell. “It was insane, going off on my own. I still hadn’t slept a single night without Meg shaking me awake to stop the screaming. Probably stupid, but I learned something out there on my own.”
”You never get past anything.” Alden’s smile faded. “It just becomes a part of you. Always will be. I’m still going to feel it every time I see a gun, or every time I’m anywhere near Rallsburg, or every time I see a golem. It’s still there. But… I’m dealing with it, you know? I’m… adjusting.”
”I don’t know how to do that,” whispered Hailey.
He shrugged. “I didn’t either. It took a long time, and a lot of talking.” Alden smiled. “Natalie was actually the one who helped the most, I think, in a weird way. I ran into her yesterday with her friends.”
”How’s… how’s she doing?” Hailey asked. She’d last seen the girl at the funeral, and Natalie had seemed even more broken than Hailey at the time.
”A lot better. She’s been through hell, and she’s way too mature for her age, but she’s got friends and a place to live and people who look out for her.” Alden grinned. “She’s even got a boyfriend.”
Hailey choked out another laugh.
”We’ve been through some really insane stuff too,” Alden went on. “You and me and Jess. Don’t forget that you’ve got hindsight and it’s really screwing with you. We did the best we could at the time. I don’t think Jess would regret any of it. I don’t, and I don’t think you should either.” Hailey opened her mouth to speak, but Alden kept going. “Yeah, we could’ve done things better. We still screwed up. But we can’t think like that, or we wouldn’t have done any good. Things would be even worse than they are.”
”Would they?” asked Hailey.
”If you and I hadn’t tried to do anything, we’d probably all be dead. We were up against so much.” Alden sighed. “Me and Rachel got him, and I don’t think that happens if you hadn’t saved so many lives. You saved mine, don’t forget.”
Hailey winced. “But we still lost so many.”
”Better the few we saved than none at all, right?”
Hailey swallowed. She took a deep breath, and looked up at the star through the window again. It was still so dark outside, but that star, that twinkling little star, reminded her of something.
It looked a little like the twinkle of pure joy in Jessica’s eyes, the very first time she’d flown.
”…Yeah,” said Hailey. “It’s better.”
Alden nodded. “And you’re gonna get better too.”
”…Yeah. Okay.” Hailey nodded. It didn’t feel better yet. She didn’t expect it to. But it didn’t feel quite so oppressive anymore. She could function, at least. She could do something.
She wasn’t alone.
Alden spent the rest of the early hours catching her up on what he’d been doing. She smiled a few times, even laughed a little more at the ridiculous antics of Julian Black and Josh and Rika. It reminded her what she’d been missing out on, and what she’d be missing if she ended up staying in prison.
The guards returned as the sky began to brighten in the window. Alden got to his feet, as did Hailey. Hailey held out her hands, expecting to be moved yet again, but to her surprise they walked right past.
”You’re being released, Bensen,” one guard said gruffly.
”They’re letting you go. Nothin’ to hold you on.” One guard shrugged. “Guess they don’t care about you.”
Alden nodded. He looked over at Hailey. “Can I have a minute?”
”Only if you want to stay in here another night,” said the guard, annoyed. “Come on, kid.”
”Go,” said Hailey, smiling for real finally. It almost felt foreign on her face, but it was a good feeling nonetheless. She could feel a bit of warmth returning, and even if that was actually just the sunlight coming in, it still helped in more ways than she could describe.
”I’ll be back to visit as soon as I can,” Alden promised as they walked away.
”Go chase your girl, Alden,” Hailey called, now with a full grin on her face. “I’ll be okay. Good luck!”
”You too!” he shouted back, right before they turned the corner and disappeared.
She sat back in her cell and looked at the little mirror over the sink—at her face and her hair, still utterly perfect and practically glowing thanks to the rituals she’d performed so long ago. All thanks to Jess. She figured this stuff out first. I was the one along for the ride.
Hailey had one more vision that night as the dawn broke and the city emerged once again into the light. Jessica, standing next to her in the mirror, blue-brown hair ruffled and half-covering her face, with a vague smile and a contented look in her eyes. Hailey nodded to her, and she nodded in return.
No words. Never any words. Just a simple, pure understanding.
Hailey closed her eyes and concentrated. She focused on her hair again, picking out the spots she wanted. It had to be perfect. It had to be exactly what she would have wanted.
She opened her eyes again, and her hair had a few new streaks of blue—Jessica’s favorite color, the deep blue open sky, the freedom and joy that they’d both craved so much their whole lives.
I can’t stay here. Not in a prison. Not trapped in like this. Jess wouldn’t want that. And besides, I still owe Alden that drink.
Hailey smiled. The guard came back through again a minute later, and Hailey was waiting at the cell bars for him. He raised an eyebrow at the sudden color change, but before he could say a word, Hailey was already talking.
”I need to talk to my lawyer. Jefferson Baux of Hanford and Jenkins. He should still be in town.”
”…Yeah, sure,” said the guard, a little dazed at her tone. Hailey realized she’d gone full-business, just like her mom. She smiled a little. Her mom was in town, and suddenly Hailey was actually looking forward to seeing her again. The guard hurried back the way came. Hailey gazed up into the sunlight, right as it began to stream in earnest through the window, and basked in the warm glow.
A moment later, the feeling faded. I’m doing it again. That’s the old me. I’m not that person anymore. That’s the person who got Jessica hurt.
I’ll do better, Jess, Hailey promised her, and herself. No more insane heroism. No more recklessness and stupid anger that doesn’t do anything for anyone. I’ll stay quiet, like Beverly. I’ll just… help people. Charity work. Simple things. I’ll figure it out.
Like Alden said, it wasn’t gone. Hailey still felt real, deep pain within her, and it wasn’t going to fade any time soon. She missed Jessica with every fiber of her being, and it hurt. But… she took it in. Hailey accepted it. Made it a part of herself. Made Jess a part of herself, keeping her close. Even if she might be gone forever, Hailey would still hold her inside her heart.
Thank you, Jess. I miss you, I love you, and I’ll do better.