(35) Game's End

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The lab upstairs is silent when we crash through its door like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. Ember is there. She's still okay. She's still okay. She's on her knees in the middle of the floor, her headlamp resting—still shining—on a nearby chair. Her head twitches up at our arrival, and I nearly collapse in relief before I realize she's holding Oreo.

I can't tell if he's breathing.

I circle around the two of them, not sure my heart is going to last the steps it takes. I don't want to see a dead body. I don't want to see another Vix. Except—Oreo's alive. He's awake, and no Sleeper has that kind of awareness, which means he's still got his own mind, too. He gives us a weak smile as all four of us drop to the ground. I didn't even think I cared about Oreo. I still don't, but I care about Ember, and Ember cares about him, so I guess I care by proxy. And I guess I probably underestimated him. Oh, the things you learn in hindsight when you came so close to never getting to speak to someone again.

"Are you..." begins Calico J, like he wants to say something but doesn't know what to say. He swallows hard. I feel that.

"Can't move my legs," says Oreo. His voice is hoarse, like the Redding tried to choke him again. Or like he's been screaming. "But hey, if you guys won, at least there's a chance I'll live to see the return of elevators."

He's minutes out of danger of actual, painful, permanent death, and he's already cracking wheelchair jokes. It's a coping mechanism. It has to be. Nobody who goes down the way he did comes out okay.

"You're insufferable," murmurs Ember. She's not okay either.

"Yet you continue to suffer me." He makes a show of peering up at her shadowed face. "Much more of this, and I'll start to wonder if you actually care."

Ember's watery chuckle tells me why she's letting her hair and the shadows hide her face. "We have some things to talk about when the world stops ending."

"Yes, we do. I want my wheelchair to have racing stripes."

"Oreo, stop." Ember's voice returns to a murmur. "Please."

He almost died on her. She's immune and he's not, but they've been working side by side since shortly after Red Thursday. They've watched everyone else in their group die. Been forced to kill many as the Redding took over. I get the distinct sense that Ember can't take much more of all that.

"Sorry," says Oreo softly, and returns to his resting position. After a long moment, he says, "So, do we finally get to know each other's names now?"

It's directed at Ember, then extended to all of us, and then our looks extend it to each other. My mind screams that it's too dangerous. The very thought of name-sharing activates the part of me that's helped keep us alive for most of two months, and we haven't confirmed yet that the Redding is gone, truly gone, and not just dormant and waiting for us to let down our guard. Never mind that I can't feel it anymore, and even the ache in my back has faded to little more than a memory. Though that might just be my adrenaline talking.

But before I can say anything, or put any more qualifiers on our success, Ember makes the decision for me.

"Rose," she says, and I hear the whole room catch its breath as we wait, seconds stretching like hours, for her to drop.

She doesn't drop. And, belatedly, I realize that maybe it was always safe for us, though we never knew it at the time. We're immune. Oreo dubiously so, but then he takes that leap, too, and says, "Sebastian."

His eyes close. My heart ricochets off my ribcage as his head drops to Ember's chest. A moment later, though, he opens his eyes again. He lifts one hand and turns it over, then back. "Looks like we're safe, then."

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