War and Peace: Chapter 52

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Chapter 52

Casey was the first to move. She sprang off the couch and knelt at Kanade's side, putting an arm around her shoulder. She glanced up at James, reproachful.

"I don't get it, but kinda seems like ... gotta be your fault, Prez."

James opened his mouth and nothing came out. He tried to squeeze the explanation into a few sentences in his head, but it was like tapping out the Bible in Morse code.

"Isn't..." Kanade said, not looking up, breath hitching. "Not James. It's ... me. My fault."

Part of James wanted to agree; deeply and dark, something was slithering that might have been anger. But a bigger part of him knew the blame couldn't be laid so easily elsewhere.

How did I never see it?

All the signs had been there, passing in front of his eyes and through his ears and between the fingers of his outstretched hands.

Kanade disliked violence, yet she had vowed not to forgive Nicosia for siphoning energy from the virtual trees ... because to Kanade, that was no different than bulldozing the rainforest. Those trees were as real as she was.

August's scrapbook: Sara the Scythe had a three-line bio. There was no information, because Sara had only just been born. But there was another person in that scrapbook with a one-paragraph CV that James had skimmed right over at the time.

Aizawa Kanade.

The way she could never attend any real-world gatherings; the way she had hacked his home computer right from inside the game; the way she immediately fled the room when he said that his mentalism could detect NPCs. Why had he never detected that she was one herself?

Because she was so human.

And because he didn't want to know.

Though nothing would have changed the final outcome, anyway.

"It was a good dream while it lasted," James said, unaware of saying it until it was out.

Kanade started shaking with the force of her tears.

"What's goin on?" Casey asked, rubbing her friend's back, a stricken look on her face. "Someone explain for me ... please?"

"She's not human," Alicia said, voice devoid of inflection, face as blank as Sara the Scythe. "That's all."

James wanted to burst into a torrent of mad laughter.

Right. That's all.

"Huh?" Casey looked at Alicia, then at James, then down at Kanade. "I don't ... oh," she said. "Oh." Her hand stopped moving on Kanade's back. For a long few seconds, the only sound was soft humming from the transformer, and low, painfully human sobs.

Then Casey's hand started again in slow, gentle circles, and she said, "Oh. Well, who cares about that anyhow?"

Kanade slowly brought her breathing under control. After a few moments, she looked up at Casey and smiled. "Best friends are pretty handy."

"Right?" Casey said. "Dang though, we're both pretty sad, cryin all the time. Come on! All good now."

Kanade nodded and pushed to her feet, slow but steady. Her expression had completely changed.

"Thanks," she said. "I needed that. Well, I guess it's time."

"Huh?"

"To do what I came to do," Kanade said, and reached out a hand, catching hold of one of Casey's brilliant golden locks, running it through her fingers. "Fight for what I believe."

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