Illumination 6.4: Keeping Up With Natalie

Seth’s room, always artistically chaotic, was a disaster area. Everything he owned had been flung to the floor, and two shelves of his bookcase had been cracked. His desk was flipped over and close to the door, as if he’d used it as a barricade. His bed had been stripped of sheets and the sheets had been knotted together. Something shattered beyond recognition crunched under Jehane’s foot.

Seth bowed as she stepped into the room, like an old retainer. He wore jean shorts and no shirt, and his chest, arms and legs were covered in nicks and scratches. She was pretty sure he’d acquired most of those the day before, but some of the cuts looked nasty. She glanced around the room until she found the bandages he’d discarded in the debris on the floor.

Carefully she picked her way over to sit on his bed, trying not to step on anything. He closed the door behind her and leaned on it, looking at her with that twisted grin. She cast around for something to say.

“Your mom is worried about you.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Seth laughed like nothing was funny. “You think I want to see her? See her expression? Natalie, always paying the price for me, and now she’s gone and the irresponsible son is still here.”

Jehane sat paralyzed. Better to not say anything at all, she thought. Then, hopefully, maybe I just need to listen.

Seth slid down the door until he was sitting just as she’d visualized him before. One of his knives appeared in his hand again and he started passing it over his fingers. “Besides, it isn’t safe for them to be around me right now. Natalie was really an… inspiration to me. She really cared about this defending humanity thing. I was just in it for something to do. And because she was. Everything I ever did was to keep up with her. Couldn’t let her leave me behind.”

“Why are you talking like she’s dead? He wanted me to join him, why wouldn’t he want Natalie to do the same thing?”

The knife paused on the back of his hand, glittering, then vanished and reappeared in his grip. He looked at her like she was an idiot he’d already gotten tired of. “I can’t really hope my sister is being tortured instead of killed. Turned into something dead inside like Aya. I’d rather be dead inside. I wish I was.” The twisted grin returned. “Gotta keep up with my sister.”

Uncertainly, Jehane said, “I don’t think it works like that. Hatherly seemed to have… too much emotion.”

The knife started moving across his hands again. “I don’t see why not. Too much in one direction or another. They say it’s all about balance.” His voice became meditative. “I think you must hurt so much that you snap, and then you don’t ever hurt again.”

Jehane thought of Malachi and Aya. “I don’t. I think you hurt so much that you stop remembering a world without pain.”

“Ah, well, it’s all the same in the end, isn’t it?” The knife vanished again, and he flopped on his side, looking at her with eyes narrowed. “I bet Ajax feels great right now. If Hatherly’s hands had still been full of you, he wouldn’t have been able to grab Natalie.” Seth laughed. “He might just have killed her instead.”

Unfamiliar rage bubbled in the flood of cold dread. She didn’t want to go through it should have been you again. Hatherly had made a choice and it hadn’t been her, and it wasn’t irrevocable no matter what the others thought. Malachi wasn’t entirely Hatherly’s; Natalie didn’t have to be either.

But it hurt to hear it from Seth, all the same. “Do you feel that way?”

Suddenly Seth was crouched beside the bed, once again holding a knife. “I want to destroy everything, Jehane. Almost everything. I want this fucking cambion to be born so I can… stop existing. Stop thinking.”

“I promise you, that’s not what happens! Not to all of them, anyhow. You just get lost…” She thought of Malachi again. There had to be a way back. A string, a light, a guide.

Seth looked up at her, then brought his empty hand up to touch her face. One knuckle and his thumb, stroking along her cheek and down to her jaw, the touch so delicate it felt like a bird’s wing. His thumb stopped on her carotid artery. “You’re such a sweet kid. I wonder if I did something… really terrible… if I can get this over with.”

He was very close. Too close. She wondered if what he craved had already happened, if even now he was lost, chasing a dream of acquiring peace through …something terrible. But when she stood up, he didn’t stop her. She looked down at him, at the knife he still held in one hand, and her stomach turned. Shakily she pushed past him, and he still didn’t stop her. “I can’t help you, Seth. Not even that way.” She turned and hauled at the door.

Seth muttered, “I really suck,” but Jehane barely heard him, clawing at the door and failing to move it. Then the door opened from the other side, and Seth’s mother stood there, looking concerned. Jehane tried to speak, but only found tears. Instead she shook her head and rushed past Valeria, past Jake and the kids coming in the front door, and out into the depths of the Tower.

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