"Sh-shade?" Felicity voiced abruptly, her voice wavering. The four with her looked at her in astonishment- she who had refused to speak to or apologize to Shade beyond being forced to was now doing so voluntarily, had left the safety of the back of the closet- left it alone- to stand near the door that was so close to Shade- she wanted to speak to him?

"Shade- I- I know I was a bitch to you. We were all bitches, Kelly and T-tru and me, the others. We were cruel. The things we said, the times we made fun of you, the way we acted… we-we were wrong, I see that now, I see… I'm sorry," she said again, her voice quiet. "I didn't want to have this happen, none of this."

When Shade at last spoke, his voice was much softer than they'd heard previously. It was almost inaudible through the heavy door, and it shook slightly, as though he were trying to contain some emotion- anger? Or sadness?

"Why did you have to be like that? Why couldn't you just leave me alone? How come everyone either wants to make my life miserable or just doesn't care enough to even fucking try?"

"I'm sorry," Felicity nearly whispered, and she looked back from the door. Avery and Caleb noticed a shimmer in her eyes, unshed tears. Avery hesitated, then carefully squeezed her shoulder, face still carefully blank. Felicity glanced at her in surprise, the tears brimming threateningly as she tensed, but her shoulders slumped slightly, and she accepted Avery's hand, even seemed to welcome it. Watching them, Caleb thought to himself in half wonder how such a thing, like so many other things, would have never occurred just a few hours ago.

"I didn't want to do it," Shade said, and it was obvious now from his voice that he too was attempting to force back rising tears. "I didn't want to hurt anyone. Well, I did, but not, at the same time. I didn't want to kill you guys right away. All I wanted was to be left alone, to get through a fucking detention without being messed with. Why was that not fucking possible? How come you had to… I didn't even mind detention, better that then staying home. I would have liked school, loved it, if it weren't for all of you that never left me alone… I didn't want to kill you, I didn't. But she- he-"

He cut himself off, breathing faster and more chokedly than before. An occasional harsh, gutteral noise told the others he was now crying, or having less success in trying not to. They looked at each other with mingled emotions of relief, guilt, triumph- and hope. If he could cry… was he changing his mind? Would he let them go?

"Uh- Shade?" KC spoke up slowly, hesitantly, his voice jerky. "I-I'm sorry too. I'm not good with this… but we- we're assholes too. I mean, I'm an asshole to everyone… but I shouldn't be. I'm sorry. Can- please- if- I guess- I'm saying- will you think about it- will you- will you let us -" he shook his head in frustration at his own inability to express himself.

"Yes," Felicity said, and her stuffed up voice made it clear she too was crying. Avery squeezed her shoulder. Both seemed awkward, unsure of this gesture, but then Felicity leaned into her awkwardly, sniffing.

"Please Shade… please…"

The choking noises on the other side of the door continued, and then with a particularly harsh gulp, came to a stop. Another silence stretched between the six students for at least another few minutes.

"I don't... there aren't any left," came Shade's voice suddenly, unsteady, louder pitched than normal. "I don't think there's any left, I mean, bullets. I couldn't have killed you... I just-"

The others stared at each other, dumbfounded, as his words trailed off. No bullets- Shade didn't have any bullets? He'd shot them all? All this time, they'd been safer than they'd thought- they might even have been able to leave.

It had been a bluff- the whole time they'd spoken to him, all the time he'd shouted and screamed his intentions of killing, he'd known all along he couldn't...

It dawned on Caleb first the full meaning of Shade's confession. Looking at the others in a tremorous anticipation, he said haltingly, "You- are you going to let us out, Shade- Shane? Will you- will you give yourself up?"

The others looked at Caleb sharply, then held their breaths, anxiously awaiting Shade's reply.

"Yeah," he said hoarsely, his voice cracking. "yeah..."

A flurry of excitement, adrenalized relief, swept through the closet's perimeter, and the five inside relaxed visibly, shoulders sagging, strangely wide smiles coming across their faces. Even Avery's lips curved into a small, pleased smile, though it did not show her teeth, and she released Felicity abruptly, holding herself by the elbows. Caleb smiled at her, and she smiled wider, almost a grin for Avery.

They were getting out... they were going to live, he wasn't going to kill them. He couldn't kill them...

Until that moment, none of them had fully comprehended just how afraid they had been. Now that their fear had dissipated, they felt light, airy, almost giddy with their magnified relief.

"Thank you," Felicity breathed out in a rushing sigh. "Thank you, Shade..."

"Shade- you're going to give yourself up? You'll call the police?" India pressed, barely able to believe it.

"Yeah..." he mumbled. "yeah, I have to, it's- that's all I can do..." his voice still cracked, reflecting at last the inner turmoil that had gathered so long inside him. The heart-wrenching tone of his voice was so different from the viscious screams he had issued before, Caleb thought...

"Thank you," India said softly, her voice stiff, strange, as though the words tasted funny in her mouth. Avery and Caleb, then KC, quickly echoed her.

"You won't be sorry, Shade- SHANE. You're doing the right thing... we won't forget that."

I doubt we'll forget any of this, Caleb thought, but he said nothing, just listened along with the others to the pathetic noises on the other side of the door as Shade's control broke.

"Shade," India said at last, speaking in a louder voice than normal. "To be blunt, can you call them now? The cops, or the ambulance?"

The others shot her glances that mixed fierce admonishment with their hesitant agreement. They wanted out of the closet, of course, but they were also afraid that too much pushing would make Shade change his mind.

"Yeah," Shade said again, his voice muffled. "Yeah... but I don't have a phone."

"T-Tru had one," Felicity spoke up, and her voice shook noticeably. "In her purse... I-I saw her checking her calls. It-it's the white one with the stars on it..." she pressed her lips together tightly, not seeming to trust herself to continue. The others looked away, giving her space, although Felicity felt KC's body brush gently against hers in a way she was pretty sure was not accidental.

"Okay," Shade muttered, and they could barely hear him now. "Okay..."

They could hear the sound of him walking, his baggy zippered pants swishing together with each step, heard him seeming to get further away. They were very still and quiet in the closet, all straining to hear his every movement, to know what he was doing. Each could hear the slightly irregular breathing of the others, felt distantly their bodies pressing against theirs. All four no longer had doubts about Avery's body shape- each had felt it at some point through her baggy layers that she was curvy but not fat, a body seeming strong and solid.

They heard the faint noise of a zipper and realized that Shade must be opening Tru's purse- or maybe the zipper of his pants, one of them. They waited, scarcely daring to think that this ordeal might soon be coming to an end...

"I have the phone," Shade said, trying to toughen his voice and failing. "I'm calling- I'm calling them."

"That's good," Avery said quietly, and the flatness had left her voice, replaced with something akin to understanding. "That's good, Shade."

"I'm... right now. I'm doing it now. Are you happy?"

"No," Avery told him. "We're not, Shade. I don't think any of us can be for a while. But we're glad. And we do appreciate what doing this would mean to you."

Silence... and then- "Okay," Shade repeated, exhaling unsteadily. "Now. I'm doing it now-"

It struck India then that the boy who had killed a girl was now using the girl's cell phone to give himself up. From the conflicted expression on Felicity's face, it was hitting her as well...

And then Shade was speaking, into the phone, they presumed... they listened even more attentively, holding themselves rigidly.

"Hello?" he said, his voice trembling worse than before, ragged and uneven. "Yes, I guess I have an emergency... I mean, I guess I do, I don't know..." he inhaled harshly, seeming to be sucking air straight into his abdomen rather than his lungs. "Yes, I have an emergency," he decided, his voic cracking still. "I-I'm Shade- I mean Shane, my name is Shane, Shane Sevillen. I'm at the high school- I mean, Lincoln High School, in Mr.-Mr. Leighton's class."

And then Shade was crying, the others could hear him gasping in painful, choking sobs that surely shook his body nearly as much as his voice. They were unable to move, stuck there in their hunched positions, listening with great ambivalence as Shade broke down.

"I-I killed them," he gulped into the phone, not seeming to be listening to whatever the person on the other line might have been saying. "I killed them... I killed them! My teacher, those girls, the stupid guys that never- I killed them, I killed them all! Oh shit, what have I done? What the fuck have I DONE?"

It seemed that the conversation had ended, because all the others heard Shade say through his crying next was "Okay. Okay..." before his words gave out entirely. The others could only stand at the doorway, hearing him cry, not daring to speak or move. Listening to Shade's pain made Caleb's stomach twist... how could he feel sorry for him when he had killed five people? But how could he not in light of his misery?

"Maybe- maybe we should go out of here," Caleb said hesitantly to the others. "Of the closet. Talk to him in person..."

"No!" India said in a hissing whisper, cutting him off. "no, stay here, the cops will be here soon, we can get out then."

"But he's upset..."

"We can't risk it," Avery elaborated, turning to regard Caleb with eyes as floundering as he felt. She appeared to feel as torn as he did, but she agreed with India. "if there's even a small chance he's psyching us out, and since we can't see him, there's a small chance, then we can't be stupid and go out before help comes."

"He's not psyching us out," KC whispered, although he sounded unsure. "No guy could fake cry like that."

"We can't," India repeated grimly. "we have to stay. Just trust me on this."

They fell silent once more, listening to the sound of Shade's tortured weeping and completely lost as to what they should say to him.

"Listen," Shade said after what seemed a long time to them, his voice horribly clogged. He snuffled, cleared his throat. "I-I was lying before... about the bullet. I mean, not having any left... there's a least two in here, I think. One definitely, maybe two. There's still a bullet left..."

The five in the closet froze at his words, their blood icing over... their hearts beat erratically.

What was he saying, what did this mean?

"What?" KC whispered hoarsely, afraid, and Felicity echoed in a louder, no less tremulous voice, "What do you mean, Shade? Why- what are you saying?"

"I'm saying," Shade repeated, and now his voice sounded less distorted, more dreamy, far away, "that there is still one or two bullets left... I hear it, rattling around, almost..."

"Shade, put the gun down," India said immediately, urgently. "Don't do something you'll regret. Don't blow your chances in court- don't you remember what I told you? Don't you-"

"Shade, shoot at the ceiling," Caleb said, his voice shaking. "Get rid of them-"

"One more bullet," Shade repeated, and his voice sounded decidedly more dazed than it had before...

"Shade- please!"

"Shade!"

But it was Avery who knew first.

"Don't, Shade," she called to him, her voice a whispered plea- one too soft to reach his ears...

But a moment later, a gunshot went off... as they cried out, clinging to each other wildly and instinctively, Avery stood very still, her pale face rigid with understanding.

It took them a while to notice... not until they called Shade's name repeatedly, and nothing but silence greeted them, did they realize...

***************************************************************************************

When the three police officers broke into the locked classroom, they at first could not tell which of the six dead people on the floor had been their confessing caller. It became clear to them, however, when their eyes came to rest on the thin boy in black by the closet door, his long brown hair halfway blown away from the gunshot wound to his head. The gun by his side seemed to underline the chilling scene.

They didn't hear at first, the noises coming from the closet door. But as the three spoke on walky-talkys, beginning to search the crime scene for evidence, gradually they realized they could hear faint crying.

With weapons drawn, they traced it as coming from the closet door and asked for the person behind it to open it. But several moments passed, with the barked police instructions growing more insistent, before finally the door swung open, revealing a small, thin teenaged boy standing before them, his face pale, his body trembling from head to toe.

Behind him sat four other teenagers on the closet floor, in various stages of shock and hysteria. An athletic-looking dark-haired boy around 18 was holding two teenaged girls, a small blonde and a tall brunette around 15 or 16 in his arms clumsily. Both girls were weeping, the small blonde more steadily than the brunette, clinging to him with her face pressed against his neck. The boy holding them and the brunette girl slumped in his awkward arms were crying more slowly, tears trickling down pale cheeks.

Sitting close to the brunette girl sat a girl in black, like the boy dead just outside the closet door. Her black and blue-streaked hair concealed partly a still, expressionless face drained of all color. She stared straight ahead, seeming utterly unaware of her surroundings.

As the officers stared, momentarily stunned, the boy who had opened the door looked back at them, his expression nearly identical to the black-haired girl's behind them. He turned and slowly sank down onto his haunches beside her, rejoining them.

As the officers began to react at last, speaking to the shellshocked teenagers gently, assuring them of their safety, they exchanged grim glances over their witnesses' heads. This was a scene they would never forget, let alone that these students would... they knew without asking that something had passed between the five of them in the past few hours that only they would understand- something, in all the deaths, that would unhappily unite them all their lives...

the end