August is pretty sure Tommy's late.
The glass of her watchface is cracked, and the hands haven't moved in something like three years. The clock on the dash – and the CD player – has been busted even longer; he'd done that, slamming his fist into it during one of their particularly vicious arguments. He knew all that perfectly well, but he'd still leaned back into the car on his way out to tell her, deadly serious, "Give me fifteen minutes exactly. If I'm not back by then, leave without me."
She'd only snorted. He'd made a face at her and she'd had to lean over to shove him back out of the car before he could waste time starting a fight. He'd known it'd been a stupid thing to say, and she'd known he'd needed to say it anyway. They've been in this shit almost four years now, and he's still playing it like they're in the movies, running around trying to mimic Matt Damon or Tom Hardy. She guesses it's a better coping mechanism than a nervous breakdown, but she still thinks it makes him look like a fool.
Once she would have humored him, and herself, and the idea of leaving him behind. When they'd first started making these runs together, she'd still rolled her eyes at the drama of his goodbye, but she'd also faithfully counted Mississippi's in her head, getting antsier the closer she got to 900 seconds. Not that she ever let him know that - she'll take those moments with her to the grave. But each of these trips took just a little longer than the last, and then one day she'd hit 900 and just kept counting, because what else was she supposed to do?
She can't actually go back to J without him. It's not that J would blame her, it's just that she can picture the heartbroken look that would be on J's face, half genuine despair and half an act and wholly something August would find completely intolerable.
Even so, she's also not about to risk her own neck by going out after Tommy just because he's taking his sweet, stupid time. Making the trades is his responsibility, because he's "more diplomatic" as J likes to put it, gently, or "he's charming and she's a bitch" as everyone else likes to put it. Driving is hers, because for him growing up in the city had meant taking the subway for granted and never bothering to get behind the wheel of a car, and now they don't have the gas to waste on teaching him.
It's amazing, the way you really can get used to anything. Tommy's definitely late, but instead of worry, all August can feel is irritation. Theoretically, she knows the risks they're taking, venturing out of the safety of their trenches to meet up with J's shadowy contacts and trade root vegetables and mushrooms and moonshine for gasoline and acetone and kerosene. She knows that even if the day never comes J's contacts get a better offer for turning on them than they do for dealing with them, there are still plenty of other things going bump in the night out here above ground. She knows the open sky is not their friend. And still it startles her somehow, when the passenger door of the car is yanked open.
She's parked so close to a great pine the car's practically inside it, half because it really did grant them some cover and half because she knew it would irritate Tommy to have to climb around tree branches to get out. She spares half a regret for it now, as he awkwardly flings himself into the seat, covered in pine needles and breathlessly chanting "Drive, drive drivedrive"
He really doesn't need to be so dramatic. She's flooring it before he's even got his door closed, cutting it as hard as she can to peel away from the tree line. She glances in the rearview but doesn't see anything. It's entirely possible he heard something more or less harmless rustling around in the woods and freaked himself out. She knows he can only be bothered to be brave when he's got an audience. But it's also entirely possible he really did see something and it really is in pursuit, just hasn't made it out of the trees yet. It's not really worth finding out for herself.
He was in such a rush he didn't even bother to load the battered old suitcase he's clutching into the trunk. It's big, too big to really fit in the front with him, even as he adjusts his seat as far back as it will go. Big or not though, it's just one suitcase.
"Is that all you got, Tommy?" she asks, an edge in her voice. She knows he's never made them a bad deal, and if she's being honest with herself she knows he never will, but that doesn't mean she's above questioning him.
Tommy huffs. "Is this all I got?" he asks, his voice just as cutting as hers, "This was a fucking steal, January. This is the good stuff."
August checks the rearview again and doesn't dignify that with a response, because if that case really is full of the good stuff then he's right, it's a fucking steal. She feels the same spiteful little thrill she always does when he calls her the wrong name instead of nothing at all, because it means it still bothers him that she keeps using the nickname he went by when she met him, even though everyone else call him Thompson now, even J. She knows he thinks it sounds childish – which he's right about.
She can feel him getting antsy, waiting for her to ask about what he saw in the woods that spooked him. She wants to know, but she also doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of having her asking him anything. She's about to cave and do it anyway, but then she pulls a sharp left around a ditch and he has to catch himself on the center console to keep from crashing into her.
"Seatbelt," she snaps.
"What? Afraid you'll get a ticket?" he scoffs. "I'm not sure if you've noticed, April, but there aren't exactly any cops around anymore to-"
Tommy cuts himself off with a yell as August slams on the brakes and he has to catch himself to keep from bashing his head on the windshield. The car fishtails just a little, but she keeps it from really spinning out.
Tommy swears and gasps, "what-"
"Seatbelt," August repeats calmly.
She really does hate it when he won't put his seatbelt on. She also hates it when the tone of his voice starts to veer from genuinely antagonistic into the territory of semi-friendly teasing. Neither of them need to start blurring lines like that. Now he's well and truly pissed at her again, and their familiar equilibrium is restored.
"Are you serious?" he hisses.
She keeps her posture relaxed, her hands resting casual on the wheel, even as she watches out the rearview, ready to floor it again at the first sign of movement behind them. "Yes."
He smacks his hand down on the suitcase, which is probably a stupid thing to do, knocking around stuff that volatile, but he's always had a problem with his temper.
"You crazy bitch. August, we don't have time for this. Drive."
She can hear a distant whine now, feel the beginnings of a pop in her ears that means he wasn't being dramatic when he came flying out of the woods like that. She can also feel the dizzying high of the triumph she feels whenever she gets him to use her real name. He only does it when he's incredibly angry. Or incredibly scared.
She takes her eyes off the rearview to stare him down. "If we don't have time then stop wasting it and buckle up."
He cusses her out while he's doing it, but he still does it. As soon as she hears the buckle click she's got the car going again. She lets him finish swearing. Her little victory leaves her feeling magnanimous enough to admit she wants to hear what happened back there.
"Was it Furies?" she asks. August call the things Furies because that's what J calls them, and that's what J calls them because before she was whatever she is now, she was a mythology nerd. Tommy calls them "Cybirds" for "cyborg-birds" because that's what they actually are, more or less.
"Oh yeah," Tommy says, and his voice is almost jolly now, with a bitter current running through it. August feels her stomach twist even before he continues, "It's a shame we don't have anyone along for you to feed to them this time."
It's a low blow and it hits her in the gut. Sometimes August forgets how good Tommy can be at casual cruelty, and it catches her off-guard. She resists the urge to say that what happened to Leo wasn't her fault, because it's what Tommy wants her to say and they both know it isn't true.
They let the accusation hang heavy and poisonous in the car for a few dark miles, until Tommy finally relents and says, facing out the window, "It was a flock of them, but not a big one." She swallows. It's closer to an apology than anything she expected to get.
"Big enough to run from, though," she points out.
He shrugs in the corner of her eye. "The car can outrun them." Then he leans his head back and closes his eyes.
She lets quiet take the car.
They make it back to the trenches before dawn, which means August was driving considerably faster than she probably should've been. J's so delighted with the suitcase that Tommy doesn't even pretend not to preen. August makes a face at him behind J's back.
"This is so great," J says, gushing, "We can do so much with this." And August loves seeing her lit up like this but hates that the reason for it is a bunch of plastic explosives. Tommy's always been good at picking out presents for J, but he used to give her things like soft sweaters and chocolate flowers. That feels so long ago now, August doesn't even know why she bothers thinking about it.
"Where'd they even get this stuff?" August asks, not quite keeping the sneer out of her voice. "You'd think it all be used up by now. Are we even sure it's legit?"
Tommy glares at her, but it's J who speaks. "You know there are still people out there who know how to make things," she says, a hint of admonishment in her voice, because she hates watching August and Tommy pick fights with each other, even if its all they ever do. She reaches out to wrap an arm around August's shoulders as she says it, though. A reassurance. She really doesn't ever play favorites.
August wants to say something bitter about how "people who know how to make things" should be something they say about people making beeswax candles and quilting and building their own furniture from scrap wood, not people mixing whatever unholy chemicals you need for C-4. But she knows J doesn't want to hear that, so instead she says, "There are also still people around who knew who to shoot and what to steal and start hoarding before shit really hit the fan," which is still bitter but earns her a crooked little grin from J instead of an uncertain frown.
August has been on the receiving end of uncertain frowns from J more and more often lately. She wants to tell herself it started when they lost Leo, but she knows it was beginning even before that. It doesn't worry her, exactly, but she doesn't like it either. She feels like a dancer who missed a step somewhere, and now can't quite find her way back into the rhythm. She's always had more bad than good to say about the world and most of the people in it, but J used to agree with most of it. She knows the world changed, but it certainly didn't change for the better, and August doesn't feel like she has changed at all.
She knows she should've, but she was tired and angry and bitter before, when she was juggling shifts of two shit jobs with online classes, just waiting to get fired or flunk out as she tried and failed not to snap at the creeps who got handsy while she waitressed at the bar or said dumb pseudo-Freudian shit in pysch class. And she's tired and angry and bitter now, while she's living off carrots and potatoes in a trench, just waiting for one of the half-mechanical monsters above ground to find their hidey-hole and tear a few more of them to shreds before they can blow it up.
So yeah, in the last four years the world's fallen even farther apart than it already had, but August is the same irritable bitch she's always been. And Tommy's the same self-absorbed idiot he's always been.
J's the one whose changed.
J kisses them both on the cheek and tells them to get some rest before carting the case off. Tommy watches her go with a confused little frown on his face, because usually they go with J to stow whatever they've brought back in one of the walls of the least traveled parts of the trenches, all taking turns with the hatchet until J deems the crevasse they're making deep enough. August can't think of a reason J would go off alone to do it, except that she doesn't want August and Tommy to know where she's stashing this. August hates herself for thinking that, and hates Tommy even more for not only thinking it, but opening his stupid mouth like he's about to say it.
"You heard her," she snaps, cutting him off before he can even start talking. "Come on. She's right, you definitely need sleep. You look like shit."
"Oh, July, your concern is touching. Should we just put you in a coma, then, since you look like shit all the time?" he snipes back, and the easy familiarity of irritation is a comfort.
They trudge through the trenches to the pile of ragged blankets that passes for their bed, picking their way through the maze of other sleeping bodies in the dim light. Tommy nods at Clay where he's sitting up on sentry duty with the binoculars that have been duct taped back together twice now and the baseball bat that's got nails and thumbtacks glued onto it in random spots. August highly doubts that bat will do anyone any good if any of the things up there find them, but J told her to stop bringing that up because it's bad for morale. Clay lights up, because he's a nosy little chatterbox who can't wait to ask Tommy a million questions about the run they just did, and he's too stupid to understand that Tommy's polite to everyone and will screw anyone and doesn't care about any of them. Clay starts to speak, but all he manages is a quiet, "Oh Thompson, you're back!" with an overexaggerated eyelash flutter before August grabs Tommy by the wrist and drags him along. She doesn't even bother to acknowledge Clay.
"Come on Tommy, it's bedtime, remember?" She uses the condescending tone she knows he especially hates, because she especially hates watching all the newest additions to the ranks of their little avenging army simp all over him.
"Do you have to be rude to literally everyone?" he snaps.
"Yes. I have to toughen them up enough that they'll survive it when they realize you never gave a damn about them and it breaks their stupid hearts."
He actually has the gall to laugh at that, even though they both know she isn't really joking. She flings his wrist away in disgust since he hasn't bothered to shake her off yet.
They crawl into their blanket pile, leaving enough space between them for J, unlikely as it is that she'll actually bother to come to bed at all tonight. Tommy spreads out on his back, because he's a freak who sleeps in corpse position, and August curls herself up as tight as she can, facing him. He doesn't look at her as he extends a hand into the empty space between them, and she watches him carefully as she lays the back of her hand in his open palm. He wraps his fingers around her wrist, not gently, and digs his thumb uncomfortably into her pulse point. She knows he won't relax his grip in his sleep, that the only was his hand is going slack is in death. They came to unspoken agreement ages ago, that this is less embarrassing than either of them coming out of a nightmare and shaking the other awake in a panic to check they're still alive.
She's half asleep when Tommy speaks. "You care too much, November. And it's not doing anyone any good."
Her eyes snap open, because this isn't the kind of thing they're allowed to say to each other. He's still staring straight up, out of the trench.
She wants to ask if he's talking about Leo or Clay or J or him. She wants to tell him he's wrong, and she doesn't care, but they know each other too well for that. Sometimes she thinks they wouldn't hate each other so much if they weren't so good at seeing straight through each other. There's nothing worse in the world than having someone look at you and see every dark corner of your ugly little lump of a heart, except maybe having that person be someone you know can't live without you.
All she says is, "Go the fuck to sleep Tommy."
The world ends not with a bang, but with a long, drawn out, stuttering whimper.
August watches it happen in her dreams – the flashes of memories that pass for her dreams now – all over again, every night. Political unrest. Streets blocked off for chanting marchers. Shots fired from an unknown quarter. Riots. Efforts to quell them. The deployment of those things, as patrols, as hunters of insurgents. Birds with whirring gears in their chests and lenses for eyes and razor sharp talons that slowly take over the sky. Growling beats with metal skin radiate shimmering heat and take heaving breaths, prowling the sidewalk covered in blood they've drawn and blood that leaks from seams in their plating. The glittering metal seas of the car-choked roads heading out of cities becoming impassable and grinding to halts, evolving into either campsites or graveyards, depending on how quickly the people on that particular route learn to cooperate with each other.
There are people responsible for these things, as they happen. But they are grand networks of policymakers and bankrollers. There is no single supervillain. There is no single catastrophe. The world breaks and then goes on and breaks and goes on again, and everyone shakes their heads and frets and wishes out loud for things to go back to a "normal" that never existed the way they pretend it did, and then they all quietly adjust to the latest change. Every day for months the world becomes less tolerable and they all learn to tolerate it anyway. Unless they don't, and then they are either hunted or mourned.
J preaching and handing out pamphlets on street corners until August and Tommy drag her inside in a rare moment of agreement. J standing in front of the rallied crowds in abandoned subway tunnels. Marching behind her. Following. Trying to keep her safe.
August's own white knuckles on the steering wheel on the way out of the city, after they should've already been gone, but early enough they can still make it out at all. Tommy tap-tap-tapping his knuckles against his own knee, driving her crazy. J leaning forward from the backseat, bright-eyed.
First a rented farmhouse crammed full to bursting. Then a sprawling campsite of makeshift tents, curtains and sheets strung up and nailed to trees. Finally their blessed trenches, miserable in the rain but safer than walking on top of the earth, because the metal-fleshed creatures won't enter them, can't handle being walled in by dirt.
J staying bright-eyed through it all. J, making plans, leading charges. J, her best friend, her favorite person, the girl she loves. J, lit up with righteous fury. J, unrecognizable. J, smiling at her the same crooked way she always has, reassuring.
Tommy glancing at her behind J's back, raising his eyebrows or twisting his mouth, telling her things without words. Worry, wariness. His voice hissing his fears in her ear, and they're all her fears too. The burden of loving J and watching her become someone neither of them recognize and following her past a point of no return anyway a bridge between them, stronger than it's ever been, but no more welcome.
"You can't be serious," Tommy says, face uncharacteristically grave.
J's eyebrows go up, less surprised than indignant. Tommy's always smiling and affable when he's not talking to August, and when he's talking to J those smiles are even real. But not now. Now he's staring at her like she's a stranger, and he's taking her measure for the first time, and he's not sure he likes what he sees.
August feels the same way and it's making her sick. She thinks this is the first time she's ever felt grateful for something he said.
"I can be, actually," J says evenly. "And I am." Her eyes flick back and forth between the two of them. She's got the map spread out in front of her, one hand still resting lightly on the target. August stares holes into it.
"August," J asks, "thoughts?"
She can feel Tommy holding his breath beside her. She should weigh her words carefully, but she's never been good at that.
"That's a residential building. We're only supposed to hit factories."
J shoots her the – now familiar – disappointed frown. "Since when do you decide what we're supposed to do?"
"You're the one who's always said the three of us are in everything together," August says. She sounds petulant and accusatory and she doesn't even care, because it's better than sounding heartbroken. "You really think Tommy and I wouldn't have killed each other by now if you weren't always saying that shit?"
J sighs. "We are in this together. Which is why I trust the two of you with this. Don't you trust my judgement?" she asks, wide-eyed.
"Don't do that," August snaps, and hears Tommy's sharply indrawn breath. "You always do that, twist everything around. I don't care who lives in the penthouse, J, we aren't blowing up a building full of people. Arson's one thing, especially when you're burning down a slaughterhouse-turned-weapons factory. This is mass murder."
She expects J's face to go hard, the way it does when anyone else argues with her. The way it had when Leo had tried standing up to her. But it doesn't. Her eyes are still wide and understanding as she reaches out to take August's hand.
"I understand what you're saying. But sometimes we have to make necessary sacrifices. Our cause is bigger than one building. This is for the greater good."
She sounds so earnest. She really believes every word she's saying, every time, which is always the scariest part.
"J…" Tommy whispers, but that's all he says and it sounds like it's being punched out of him.
She smiles brightly. "You leave at zero 800 hours. I'm gonna go pull enough of the C-4 for you," she says, like they're not even in the middle of arguing about this, like they've agreed to anything. But when she stands and drops a kiss on each of their foreheads, neither of them stops her.
"What the fuck are we gonna do?" August hisses as soon as J's out of earshot.
She doesn't know what will happen if they refuse to leave at 800. Maybe J will just shove them both bodily into the car. Maybe she'll finally snap on them. Sometimes August wishes, horribly, that J would snap all the way, because at least that would set them free. As long as she's half herself, neither of them will ever be able to give up on her.
Tommy breathes a heavy sigh and crosses himself. "We ask god to forgive us our sins, I guess," he says, quiet and defeated.
August turns on him, incredulous, but he's smiling at her. It's a joyless thing, but the smile still brings her up short.
"We don't know how to tell her no, October," he says, his voice gentle with her for what might be the first time in their lives. "Neither of us would be out here sleeping in the mud if we did. We could keep trying to talk her down, but when's that ever worked." He actually shrugs. "We'll give in eventually We always do. No use fighting the inevitable."
August stares at him. Opens her mouth and snaps it shut. Knows he's right and hates him and herself both for it.
J's a cult of personality, and August knows she and Tommy are just as drawn in by it as everyone else here, if not more. They were both no one before J. There were aimless, drifting, broken things before she got her hands in them. August doesn't know anymore, what J was to her first: friend or guiding star or purpose. They followed J into these trenches and lit up the buildings she aimed them at. And what was one factory worker here or security guard there, going down in the flames? They were the bad guys. They had chosen to work where they did. It hadn't been easy to justify, but it had been possible.
And then there had been the mess with Leo. He'd questioned J too much, talked back, made the others doubt. But he'd also been one of the few people who bothered trying with August, who put in the hours it took to worm his way past all her sharp edges and earn the dubious privilege of counting himself among the small handful of people she actually liked. And that had mattered, of course it had, when they'd been out in the field running for their lives while a pack of Furies chased them.
J had been in the driver's seat, yelling at them to run faster, and Tommy'd leaped into the back of the pickup first and turned to pull August up after him, and then J had hit the gas before Leo was in the truck. He'd leaped for it and hadn't quite made it, but August had reached out and caught his hand even though it meant she lost her balance and Tommy had needed to grab her around the waist to keep Leo's weight from pulling her back into the dirt. But August had caught Leo and Tommy had caught her and she'd known that they were strong enough to pull Leo up into the truck together and no one needed to die. And then J had screamed at her to let go of Leo.
And it had mattered that he was a good person, that he was a person who August liked. It just hadn't mattered enough. She'd done as she was told. She let him go.
She and Tommy had both fallen back into the bed of the pickup, and he'd had to lock his arms around her to keep her from getting up and throwing herself after Leo, because the birds had already caught up to him and they could hear him screaming. Tommy had squeezed her hard enough to crack one of her ribs and she'd smashed the back of her head into his face hard enough to break his nose, and then the screaming had cut off and the fight had gone out of August and instead of holding her down Tommy had been holding her as she cried.
J had been so proud of August, for doing what needed to be done. She'd held August's face and kissed her and run her fingers through August's long hair, even though it had Tommy's dried blood in it. Then she'd kissed Tommy even though he had his dried blood on his face because he'd done good by saving August's stupid life and because what she did to one of them she did to the other. And then she'd gone off to tell everyone how sad she was to have to report that Leo had given his life to the cause, been lost in the line of fire, what a tragedy. August didn't know exactly what J had said about it because she'd been busy throwing up while Tommy watched.
If she'll kill a friend on J's orders, why not strangers?
August shrinks away from the memories. She stares at Tommy for another moment, and then she just covers her face with her hands.
When he slides his own hand up and down her back, she doesn't push him away.
"I know," he whispers. "I'm in it with you."
Tommy's the one who breaks first. They haven't even started to set the explosives up yet, have only just pulled them from the pack, when he breaks down. They're crouching in a hedge that goes around one side of the building, and August leans out a little to check the coast is clear, and when she looks back Tommy is clutching at his own head and hyperventilating. It's been years since he's had a panic attack, but she still remembers how J used to talk him through them.
She does not say any of the things J used to say.
Instead, she claps a hand over his mouth and nose and hisses, "Hold your breath," then counts to seven slowly. She pulls her hand down so she's only covering his mouth. She doesn't know when she grabbed his arm with her other hand but her fingers are there digging into him hard enough to bruise. "Breathe," she instructs, voice harsh, and starts counting off.
He comes back to himself as his breaths even out. He scrubs at his face and she looks away, down at the explosive that's been dropped on the ground between them.
"I'm fine," he manages, the rasp in his voice sort of ruining his attempt at sounding casual. "Just needed a moment. Let's get this over with."
"Really," she says, voice too flat for it sound like a question.
The pause is too long, so she already knows what's coming before he says it, voice barely a whisper. "No." He swallows and then adds, "I can't do it."
She closes her eyes. "Fuck."
He doesn't say anything. She can feel his eye on her.
"Do you think you can manage to sit here in this bush while I take care of it?"
"And I don't think you can do it either, August," he says quietly, and she's never wanted to hit him as badly as she does right then.
"Don't," she spits. "Do not tell me what I'm capable of."
She's shaking. So is he.
"Why shouldn't I?" he fires back. "Even if you manage to get it all set up and hit the button. It'll haunt you for the rest of your life. If you do this, it'll ruin you."
She wants to say she's already ruined. Has been for a long time. But he's supposed to know that.
She says, "You know the orders for this," because she's sure he does, and he goes still.
J had pulled August aside, before they left. She'd hugged her, a nice firm hug, and whispered in her ear. She'd said she was worried about Tommy's loyalty. She'd said she trusted August to do what was necessary. She'd pressed a switchblade into August's hands.
And what J does to one of them, she does to the other.
Tommy stares at August for a long moment. Then he nods, pulls out a pocket knife, flicks it open, and offers August the handle.
"What are you doing?" she asks, even as she takes the knife from him.
He closes his eyes and tips back his head, baring his throat. "If I'm going to be put down like a disobedient dog, then I guess there's no one I'd rather have deal the killing blow. Go ahead." He taps the spot on his neck where she knows his jugular runs just below the skin. He actually smiles, because he's the worst person she's ever met and something about this is somehow funny to him. "There's something poetic about it. I think. The idea of dying at the end of your knife, bleeding out in your arms."
She's so furious she really does press the blade against his skin, hard enough to make an indent but not hard enough to draw blood.
"You are such an unbelievably selfish prick, you know that?" she hisses at him. "How dare you get all sanctimonious on me, like you aren't the one trying to abandon me in this, you son of-" and that's as far as she gets, before she hears low, half-metallic growl behind them.
Tommy's eyes fly open, and he grabs her hand, slicing his thumb on the knife's blade as he does. Then they're up and running, flying out of the bush and down an alley. He's got her hand to pull her along, because he's faster than her and if he doesn't hold on she'll fall behind.
The thing chasing them used to be a doberman. J calls them hellhounds and Tommy calls them cydogs and August call them fucking tragedies because she loves dogs. There's no way they can outrun it, so she jerks Tommy towards the most rundown-looking buildings she sees, where the tenants are least likely to be snitches, and jumps for the rusted fire escape on the side. Even when they're half robot, dogs aren't much for climbing ladders.
She scrambles up to first landing and halfway up to second, before she hears a metallic groan that she knows isn't coming from the dog. She turns to see the rusted bolts holding the bottom ladder on giving out, before Tommy's quite reached the top. She lunges without thinking, throwing herself back across the landing on her stomach and grabbing for the arm he manages to get onto the metal grate floor of it just before the ladder falls out from under him.
He grunts, dangling for a moment. His hand is slick with his own blood and she knows he doesn't have a good enough grip on the fire escape, that it's just her weight pinning his arm down that's keeping him from falling. He reaches his other hand up and she grabs it by the wrist and he stops trying to flail his way onto the escape to look at her.
The dog is snarling below. She has her orders. She thinks she might be crying.
"Tommy," she says, still breathless from sprinting. "I need you to tell me that we can go back." She's definitely crying. "We'll go back and blow up the stupid building like J said to and go back to the trenches and carry on like we have been."
Tommy laughs, except he chokes on it. "I've never lied to you before, December, I don't know why you think I'm going to start now." He looks at her, eyes searching and jaw trembling, like he really isn't sure what she's going to do, like he doesn't know what she did last time she was in this situation, like she didn't just have a knife against his throat.
"Okay," she whispers, "okay." And then she lets go of his wrist.
But instead of getting up off his other arm and letting him slip away, she presses forward and reaches down to grab a fistful of the back of his jacket and pull up.
"Come on," she snaps, trying to ignore the tremor in her own voice. "I can't pull you up all by myself."
He lets his breath out in a whoosh and grabs the fire escape with the hand she just let go, and together they haul him up onto it. He almost knees her in the face by accident, and once he's up he pulls her back from the edge of it with her and then just lets himself collapse, half on top of her.
She gives them both about ten seconds of lying there shaking with relief and listening to the dog snarling below them before she says, "We have to go," even though she doesn't know where to.
They can't go back to J without taking out the target, and he can't take out the target, and she can't go back to J without him.
"Yeah," he agrees. "We do," and then he drags himself to his feet pulling her up with him. And he looks at her for a moment, standing there, uncertain, like he isn't sure where they're supposed to stand now.
"I hate you more than anyone I have ever met, Tommy," she says, because she really does.
He looks a little annoyed and a little relieved. "Right back at you, June." He sweeps an arm out at the fire escape. "You can lead the way, since climbing this death trap was your idea." She glances up, hoping they can find a way onto the roof from the top, instead of having to break into the building through one of the windows. That's as far ahead as she can afford to think right now.
She starts climbing, Tommy right behind her.