“Take us home, Summer,” he said, and she nodded, love in her eyes. It was done, and there was no pain, just a euphoric rising of success.
For an instant, the universe seemed to pause, assessing what Summer had done. And then . . . quietly, and quite decisively, the universe balanced its books.
Silas gasped as time slid sideways through a billion ticks of electrons in the space of one. His head thundered and he hit the floor, his hands clenching the colorful rug. “Summer?” he moaned, trying to find himself. It hurt. Summer was beside him, her thin nightgown a whisper of sound as she clenched into a ball and shook under the coffee table. “Oh, God. Summer. I can’t believe you did that.”
Wiping the sweat from his face, he put a hand on her back, feeling her shake. “Summer?”
She didn’t respond.
“Summer!” He yanked her to him, wrapping himself around her to try to ground her. He knew the signs. She was in full overdraft, and if he didn’t destroy the extra timelines, she would go insane trying to reconcile them.
But it felt as if there were hundreds instead of the usual one, and he couldn’t find her under them.
“Listen to my voice. Focus on my voice. Let me in,” he said, his tone calm but his mind frantic as he fumbled for her, gasping when she found the presence to reach out to him like a drowning victim.
His early training as an anchor took over, and as he held her body to his, he wrapped his mind around hers, trying to pull her from the chaotic slurry of memory as if he might draw her from a raging white-water river. But it was too strong, and as one, Silas and Summer fell back into her mind.
They screamed as a hundred choices begetting a thousand realities cascaded from her to him. He floundered as never-realized timelines raced through him, not as red-smeared shadows, but as fully realized memories, each of them right, each real. Not knowing what to keep or what to destroy, he began burning them all, erasing everything of that night in the dance club, be it the first memory, the last, or the thousand in between.
The rapid staccato of his heart was a thunderous roar, and as Summer shook in his arms, he felt his body begin to shut down. Still he struggled, but for every timeline he erased, a hundred more lay under it, vibrating through her, shaking her memory to a homogeneous slurry of everything all at once.
It might have been better to not even try.
With a sudden realization, he knew there was no way out. They were both going to die.
His anger rose hot: anger that he had failed her, anger that the thing they’d thought would save them would instead betray them. It burned everything until, for a single moment, there was peace.
I love you, he whispered, their thoughts mingling as one.
And in that perfect moment of clarity, she shoved him out.
Jerking violently, he found himself on the floor of their apartment.
“Summer,” he rasped, gasping as he realized she lay in his arms, deathly still, her face still holding the pain of cheating the universe.
“Summer! No!” he cried, but she was gone, and he could do nothing but hold her, grief shaking him as he howled great racking sobs, seeing all and unable to change anything.
His suit fit perfectly. It was lightweight and breathed well, and it didn’t ride up his shoulders when he reached to shake everyone’s proffered hand. He’d bought it to wear to his graduation, but when this afternoon was over, he was going to give it to Goodwill, even if it was probably the most expensive outfit in the visitation room full of the academy’s finest down to the lunch lady. Summer was well liked.
Had been well liked, he thought, immediately knowing it had been a mistake.
It was still raw in him, and his hand clenched. But the cut-crystal glass with the weak red punch in it didn’t shatter. Not like his world. Not like everything that had given his life meaning. Fragile. For all their strength, they were so fragile.
“Almost done, Silas,” Allen said from beside him, awkward in his flat-black suit. Peri was on his other side in a classy black dress cut high about her neck. Her hazel eyes were solemn with an eerie understanding he was afraid to ask her about, and she wobbled slightly, her heels too high. Maybe she was trying to look not-so-small beside him.
“I’m done now,” Silas said, and he set the tiny goblet on the side table to undo his tie. It was a whisper of silk in his hands, and it reminded him of her hair.
Silas’s fingers faltered. His body froze, and he struggled to breathe. Thank God there was no casket. He couldn’t bear to look at her again.
Peri pushed into his space, motions rough as she slapped his hands away and reknotted the tie. “Don’t give them the satisfaction,” she said, flicking her eyes to where Professor Milo and Professor Woo stood with the rest of the department heads.
Across the room, Karen, Heidi, Ethan, and Beth clustered, gossiping with the other newly graduated agents. Their punishment had been revoked in light of the situation. It was only Allen and Silas who would be required to repeat their entire last year, a reprimand for Summer dying and making the news. At this point, Silas couldn’t care less what they did to him.
Silas’s eyes bored into Professor Milo as the man turned to look at him. His chest hurt, and he swore when Professor Milo touched the shoulder of Professor Woo and they started his way.
“Easy, Silas,” Peri said, reading him correctly.
“Dr. Denier,” Professor Milo said, an odd, solemn nervousness about him as they scuffed to a halt. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Summer will be missed.”