Nelly burst into Carrick's room, where I'd been staying since the Marie incident. I hated it. Carrick insisted that I sleep in his bed and he on the floor, which was just wrong since it was his room, after all. Of course, neither of us got much sleep, anyway. Even after the talking died out late into the night, there was a buzzing current between us both that made it impossible to relax. I could feel his every breath, his heart's every beat.

"What's wrong?" Carrick asked Nelly, who was pale and panicky. His eyes were incredulously wide open, and I really thought he might pass out at any moment. He opened his mouth, shut it. After repeating the motion several times, I decided to take pity on him.

"Here, sweetheart, you don't have to talk about it just yet," I muttered soothingly, taking Nelly's hand and leading him to the bed. He sat down in a jerky, frozen motion. I stroked his hair and shot a worried look over to Carrick, who seemed just as concerned. He frowned for a second before striding over to us and smacking Nelly across the face in one loud blow.

Nelly froze up again before saying hollowly, "Thanks, man. I needed that." He looked around the room, seeming confused as to where he was. When he saw me and looked down at my arm that was around his shoulders, he turned a furious bright pink. He tried to wriggle away, but I wouldn't let him. He was obviously distressed, and this was the only way I could think of to comfort him for now.

"What is it?" Carrick pressed. I could see from the look in his eyes that he was seriously worried. Frankly, I was, too. There wasn't much that could make a strong guy like Nelly look like this.

"It's… Waldine!" Nelly cried, and he shuttered violently. "Those bastards killed her!" I exchanged a look with Carrick, who quickly turned his head so that Nelly couldn't see his amusement.

"All this is about a truck?" Carrick asked dryly.

"A truck? Is that all she was to you?" Nelly asked, hysterical. He leaned against me as though he didn't have the strength even to sit up anymore.

"Shh, shh, it's alright. It'll be okay. You'll find another truck to dote on. Waldine had a long and healthy life, and not every…one can live forever." I had a feeling calling Waldine a thing wouldn't go over so well, so I refrained.

"She had years left in her! Years! And they went and smashed her. I can't even salvage a steering wheel!"

"Why would they do that?" I asked.

"Because," Carrick answered, "Nelly killed one of their own. It was revenge. Besides, Marie probably thought it would be funny." His eyes darted to Nelly. "No offense."

"No, no. I'll bet she got a big kick out of this one. I hope she dies, do you know that? She's not good for anything. All she does is hurt you over and over again, Carrick, and endanger Jade." I watched Carrick's face carefully. He didn't talk about it, but I knew he was still really torn up about Marie's death. I knew that he blamed himself, and I wished I knew what to say to him, where to even begin trying to convince him of the truth; the only person responsible for Marie's death was herself. Her own poor choices had led to her downfall. Carrick squeezed his eyes shut and a deep tremor passed through him. When he opened his eyes and met mine, they were full of demons.

Look at us, I thought. We were a sorry pack, to be sure. Damaged goods, all of us. But at least we had each other. I held Nelly even closer.

Later that day, Carrick drove Nelly to a car dealership and I tagged along for support. Carrick did his best to be supportive and understanding, but I knew he'd never been able to take Nelly's attachment to his truck very seriously.

We both followed Nelly as he strolled dejectedly through the rows of cars and trucks. I did my best to get him to even consider any of them, but Nelly refused. "What about that one?" I asked for the umpteenth time.

"Too shiny," Nelly muttered, looking back to his sneakers.

"Okay… so how about that car over there? The electric blue one? I can totally see you in it."

"Its front bumper sticks out too far."

I barely held back a frustrated sigh, instead looking around the lot for something that Nelly might like. Jackpot. There in the corner was a car the same bubblegum pink that Waldine had been. It must have been fate. "Look, Nelly! Just look at that one!"

"It's too pink," Nelly said after a split-second glance.

"Too pink!" Carrick objected. "Waldine was pink. You like pink cars, remember?" At the sound of Waldine's name, Nelly slouched even further. I shook my head at Carrick behind Nelly's back.

"What?" he asked innocently.

"This is going nowhere," I said. "Let's get out of here. If we leave now and traffic's not too bad, we won't miss afternoon training." A little perspective was all that was needed here, I thought. After all, it was a miracle that my biggest problem now was that Nelly was a little depressed. The Coalition hadn't made another move since the incident with Marie, and everyone had been surprisingly understanding about Carrick's bad decision, since it all worked out in the end.

After we settled Nelly down for an afternoon nap, Carrick and I decided to go for a drive. We didn't get very much alone time together, not since my protective detail had been enhanced- again. It was a rare gift, being able to sneak away for an afternoon.

We were mostly silent for a good long time, but it was a comfortable silence. I caught him watching me more and more often. I didn't ask where we were going, nor did I care to. It didn't really matter, after all. I was with him.

Eventually, though, the car slowed and pulled off at an exit I was sure I recognized. But where from?

"It's been a long time since the last time I took you here," Carrick began somewhat awkwardly. "A lot has changed since then."

"That beach!" I exclaimed, remembering. How sweet of him, taking me back here. it was one of my last good memories of my old life, the one where I was just another normal teenager, living a completely ordinary life. "I'm happy," I realized aloud. "I'm glad I found the necklace that night." Carrick looked over at me, seeming pleased but just as surprised by this revelation as I was.

"Really? Why?"

I thought about it for a minute. "Well, for starters, I'm not the same as everyone else anymore. That matters, for some silly reason. I've always wanted to be set apart, somehow, because everyone else's lives are so… mundane. It's always the same for them, you know? Nothing ever changes because they follow the same tracks their whole life. I don't want that for myself. And…" I trailed off. The rest didn't need voiced, especially to him.

"And what?" Carrick asked, pulling the car into park and staring at me expectantly.

I never had been able to resist spilling my guts whenever he gave me that look. "And… it led to meeting you. That's something I'll never regret." I knew I was blushing, but I didn't care. Carrick understood me, I told myself. He would understand this, too.

Carrick reached up and hesitantly put his hand on my cheek. "I'm glad we met, too. I can't imagine life without you now. Besides, who would have helped Nelly through his Waldine crisis?" He laughed softly and I joined him, our laughter harmonizing pleasingly.

And suddenly, we were both leaning in and our faces were only an inch apart. Carrick sucked in a quick breath. "Jade, if you have any objection to me kissing you, you'd better say so now," he muttered, but before I could even begin to think of an answer to that, his lips were on mine. I could feel his touch in every forgotten corner of my body.

It was almost too much for me, the torrent of sensations. I pulled away and grinned at him. "Took you long enough." Carrick laughed breathlessly and shut his eyes, leaning back against his seat and breathing, just breathing. I did the same.

"Jade-"

"Carrick-" I began at the exact same instant. We both snapped our mouths shut and the atmosphere tipped over into the awkward regions. "Yeah?" I asked hesitantly.

"I… Let's get out of here. The beach is calling." He scrambled to unbuckle his seatbelt and got swiftly out of the car. I did the same, but slower. What did this mean for us, I wondered? God, don't let things get weird. I didn't know how to be weird around Carrick.

I walked slowly over to where Carrick was standing at the edge of the sea and slipped my hand into his. He jolted and looked over at me with comically wide eyes.

"What now?" I asked quietly. He looked down at me and held my eyes with a solid, penetrating look.

"What do you mean? In a literal way, we're going to spend the day at the beach. Probably, I'll have to leave halfway through to get you ice cream or lunch, but that shouldn't take long. If you meant that in a more specific, what's going to happen between us kind of a way, then I really don't know how to answer that. I know what I want, but… Well, you're not exactly making this easy for me. And if you meant that in a figurative way, then the answer is that things are going to keep on going like they have. We can't beat them, you know. Or, we couldn't before we had you. We'll keep fighting the Coalition, and there will be more losses. But it's all going to be worth it." I stared at him for a solid minute before breaking out in hysterical laughter.

Oh, how we must have looked, the two of us then. I still like to imagine it sometimes. The young couple, in love but not quite willing to confess it just yet. The best of friends who understood each other in ways that no one else, including themselves, ever could. The way the sun shone one the waves, making them glisten and dance. The way it illuminated the stark contrast between the girl's hair, dark as night, and the boy's, lighter than snow. This is an image I keep close to my heart, one of many others that have passed and one of many more that are still to come.

XXX

And that, my friends, was the final chapter. You can expect a short story about Nelly out within a month or so, though, so keep your eyes peeled. I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading.

-Cait