I Love You

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  Her mother was dead. It repeated like a gruesome bell in her mind: she was gone, she was gone, she was gone.

Surreal didn't describe it. Cruel was too soft a word. Shock throttled her like a noose. She was turning to ice from the inside out, organs and muscles freezing while her heartbeat wildly to keep her alive. If not for the constant forward motion, Lee would have disintegrated.

A black hole hung where her mother's consciousness once resided. Like losing a limb, her mind drifted to the amputation, expecting something to be there, only to be met with dead space she couldn't mentally compute.

Her mother was dead, and it was her fault.

That understanding made her weak. Made her slow to react and even slower to care what became of her body because what world did she have now? Em was gone too, along with Goliath. Would it be so bad to join her decimated family?

Unconsciously, her hand slipped from its hard press at her side, letting the blood flow faster.

"...almost there. Stay with me."

The voice came from afar, pulling Lee back from the brink of whatever madness she teetered on. A hand was holding hers, tight as a lifeline, the fingers slender and familiar with a band around one of them. Lee's eyes traveled up the accompanying arm and shoulder, slowly taking in Alex's silhouette against a grim backdrop.

Alex.

She was still here.

The knowledge jump-started Lee's heart and brought the centrifugal spin of gravity back to a livable speed.

"I...I don't know where we are," Alex admitted, making a slow rotation in place. She thought they were heading lower, but the coloring was different. Cooler. Indicating they were going up rather than down. How had she managed that?

That way. Lee pointed down the shaft. My lab...we're close to it.

"We can't go back to your house. The Norths are crawling everywhere."

Lee shook her head, making the dizziness worse. I rigged a security door outside my lab. It was one of the first to fall. We'll be safe there for a little while.

"How will we get in?"

Backdoor.

Lee was moving before Alex could comment, one hand trailing along the pipe to help maintain her balance while her eyes fixed on the prize. Her lab meant safety. Familiarity. A chance to breathe and compute and stop.

It didn't take them long to thread their way into a tight chamber only big enough to stand in if they stood chest to chest. Iron staples climbed the vertical cement tube, leading to a hatch some feet above.

I'll go first, Lee volunteered, barely able to wrangle the strength to climb let alone twist open the hatch. There was a spike of morbid worry deep in the recesses of her mind that maybe the lab had been overtaken. Maybe the moment she entered the lab there would be gunshots that would snuff out her life as thoroughly as the bullet had snuffed out her mother. But nothing like that happened. For all the mayhem and bloodshed taking place in Lee's kingdom, her lab remained untouched, and the sense of relief was as potent as their grief.

Shutting the hatch and locking it once Alex was safely up, Lee shuffled around to the side of her hydroelectric machine, looking for what, she couldn't say. Something to help with grounding and keep her mind from slipping further into darkness. This was her home, and while she had been good at keeping personal effects out of her workplace, there were still reminders of what she lost.

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