~kieran~

My hands clenched in fists. I was completely confused. I had no idea what Eve was talking about. I only knew that I really didn’t like watching her kiss another guy.

I threw open the passenger side door of the car and got out, uncapping the power inside me as I moved. I focused on Cameron. I willed the entire force of my magic onto him. I wanted to destroy him.

Cameron saw me moving. He broke the kiss. To Eve, “Oh good. You brought Kieran.” He held up one hand, palm first and began muttering quick words underneath his breath.

Suddenly, I felt an icy punch to the stomach. It sucked all my power up inside me. It made me cough. I doubled over, clutching myself and hacking.

“What did you do to him?” Eve asked.

I fumbled for my power, mentally searching for the figurative container I kept it in. But when I found it, the power was tightly capped. I couldn’t release it. I struggled and struggled, panicking inside. But nothing worked. And within seconds, Cameron was at my side. He pounded me on the back while I still coughed.

“Doing all right there, buddy?” he asked.

I glared at him.

“I know it’s tough to find out Eve was playing you. She’s quite sweet girl, isn’t she? And very easy on the eyes as well,” Cameron said.

“Cameron, whatever you’re doing to him, don’t do it,” said Eve. She caught my gaze with her own. Her expression made it look like she still cared, anyway. But I didn’t know if I could believe it. After all, she’d told me that she’d been dating Cameron. That whatever had been between Eve and me had been part of one of Cameron’s plans. Eve didn’t seem particularly trustworthy at the moment.

Cameron pulled a length of rope out of his pocket. “Just keeping him from being dangerous, that’s all, sweetheart.” He started to tie my hands behind my back. “From the way you’re acting, I might almost think you’d taken our plan a little too seriously.”

Great. Tied up and with no powers. I was helpless. I was glad Chance wasn’t here, but I was worried for the little guy. Could I trust anyone in the coven? Azazel sure hadn’t been able to.

“Actually, Cameron,” said Eve. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe we shouldn’t—”

Cameron let go of me and put one finger over Eve’s lips, silencing her. “Don’t finish that thought, sweetheart. Let’s get you juiced up, and then we’ll see how you feel, okay?”

Eve shook her head.

Cameron took her by the arm and led her away from me. They were walking up over a field towards a makeshift stage. That was when I noticed that there were dead bodies everywhere. I looked from one mangled and silent form to the next. There had to be over a hundred dead people. And Cameron was stepping over the bodies as if it meant nothing. What had happened here? I hadn’t seen anything so destructive since—

I gulped. Since I’d incited the riot in D.C. on Lily’s orders. There had been more dead bodies then. And they’d all been my responsibility. But just because I was capable of violence worse than this didn’t mean that it was excusable. What had happened here? Why?

I felt a gun poke into the small of my back. From behind me, a voice said, “Move.”

I moved.

I walked over the field after Cameron and Eve. When we reached the stage, we stopped. That was when I saw her. Azazel. Tied up on stage, surrounded by armed men, and looking more terrified than I’d ever seen her. Of course, Jason was there too. He looked the same as ever, except scruffier. Guy could use a shave and trim if you asked me. I was sure Azazel would think he looked rugged and sexy. One thing was for sure. I’d never looked rugged to Azazel. Never once. And I knew, because I knew everything she knew.

Except right now. Right now, I didn’t know why she was on this stage with Jason. I didn’t know what Cameron wanted with us. And I had no idea what she was thinking.

I expected to feel more at the sight of her. I expected that there would be a rush of emotion. I knew I wanted to see her, but I’d wondered if I’d fall in love with her again if I did. I wondered if maybe I’d look into her eyes, remember how it felt to be her boyfriend, and then want her back badly. I’d also wondered if I would be so angry with her when I found her that I would try to kill her. Weirdly enough, I felt neither. I didn’t feel any real surge of feeling at all. I stared up at her, remembering everything we’d been through together, and I thought, I’m over you.

It wasn’t because of Eve, either. Because all evidence currently pointed to the idea that Eve was a two-faced traitor, and that she’d used me for some kind of scheme that Cameron had planned out. Even if she’d had a change of heart in the car when she’d tried to warn me, it kind of didn’t matter. Cameron was powerful enough to force my magic back inside me and keep me from getting at it. He was going to be able to do whatever he wanted.

I hadn’t noticed, because I’d been distracted by the fact that Eve was kissing Cameron and that there were bodies all over the ground, but the rest of the coven had parked their cars and made their way up to the makeshift stage behind us. I eyed them warily. Had they been in on this whole thing from the beginning? Was that why Eve had said that thing about an aphrodisiac in the ritual where they’d healed my gunshot wound? Oh God. The gunshot wound hadn’t been a set up, had it? I was so confused.

Cameron was up on the stage, beckoning to the coven members with one hand. The other hand was biting into Eve’s arm, holding her in place.

Jason was staring at Eve like he recognized her, but couldn’t place her.

“She’s Eve Newcomb,” I told him. “From Bramford.”

“Kieran,” said Jason, his face twisting in disgust.

I started to protest, but Cameron noticed me again and pointed. “You,” he said. “Up on the stage.”

The person with the gun in my back prodded me forward. It’s really hard to climb up on a stage when your arms are tied behind your back. Trust me on this. But I managed it eventually. Cameron steered me in the direction of Azazel. She looked up at me with wide, confused eyes. I felt sorry for her. And it was weird that she didn’t even recognize me.

Cameron addressed the coven, still holding Eve close. “First things first, everyone. We need to restore Azazel’s memories. But not her powers. Just her memories. I want her to know what’s going on when everything goes down.” He seemed excited.

The coven members formed a circle around the stage. They began to chant in the same weird language they’d chanted in during the ritual at Eve’s house.

Jason stood up. “Oh, come on. If you’re trying to give her back her powers, you’re not killing her.” He lunged at Cameron, knocking him face down on the stage.

Cameron made an umphing noise.

Jason rained down blows on Cameron, his fists cracking against Cameron’s neck and back.

Cameron screamed, “Lord of Chaos, I invoke thee!”

And Jason’s body flew through the air and collided with several metal chairs on the stage. Jason fought to get back to his feet.

Cameron glared at him.

Jason was pushed onto the floor and pinned there by some unseen force.

“Don’t mess with me when the entire coven is here, okay?” Cameron said, smiling.

Jason swore.

At that moment, I felt a strange tugging inside my skull, as if something was being pulled out of my brain. It didn’t hurt exactly, but it felt odd. I jerked involuntarily, the sensation was so foreign.

Cameron saw it. He strode over to me and pushed me against Azazel so that my arm was touching her shoulder. “You have to be touching for the transfer to work.”

The tugging intensified. I felt as if there were electric currents between Azazel and me, and that energy was flowing out of me into her.

The chanting of the coven got louder, as if their voices had been artificially amplified.

The sensation in my body grew even more intense. My entire body started to vibrate. My teeth chattered against each other. Searing energy flowed through me into Azazel, and I realized that all of her memories were fading, so that I was left only with my memories of her memories, if that made any sense.

Abruptly, the chanting stopped, and my body went limp. I fell to the floor of the stage in a heap.

Azazel made a gasping noise. Her eyes searched the area as if she had no idea where she was. Then they settled on me. She half-sobbed. “Oh, God. Kieran.”

***

~azazel~

It was too much to integrate all at once. I felt like I was two people colliding in one body. Everything I’d been in the past month crashed up against everything I’d been before I lost my memory. I felt like I was losing myself, like the identity I’d had without my memories was alien to my previous identity. Like all the things I’d felt and thought in the past were part of some different person. They were familiar, as if some soul-twin had done or thought those things, but they weren’t me.

There was so much to process. But the first person I saw was Kieran. I felt relief at seeing him at first. I wanted to run to him and throw myself into his arms. He’d always been so comforting to me. But then, I had to integrate everything I’d done while having lost my memory, including insisting on staying with Jason. Then, it crashed down on me that I’d been effectively cheating on Kieran. It wasn’t like I’d known what I was doing exactly, but I had been. It was funny, because Jason had always accused me of cheating, but I never had, until now. And when I did cheat, I didn’t cheat on Jason but with Jason, and—

I thought I would cry. The fact that my actions could hurt Kieran, would hurt him once he knew, made me feel sick with guilt. I never wanted to hurt Kieran. Kieran, of all people on earth, was simply good through and through. He was simple and sweet, and I wanted—

But I’d almost forgotten about what it had been like right before losing my memories. Hadn’t I been hurting Kieran then? Hadn’t I been deeply stuck inside the cocoon of my powers, where everything was destruction and blood? I’d barely been human, and that’s what he’d said to me before he’d used the grimoire to take my powers. My powers…

“The grimoire took my memory too,” I said to Kieran.

“Um, Zaza, I’m not sure that this is the time to piece things together, exactly,” said Kieran.

Right. Cameron. I turned to my foster brother, who was gazing at me with a smirk on his face. He looked awfully proud of himself. He didn’t look much different than he had when I’d left Bramford. A little bigger, maybe, but he was the same old Cameron.

“Cameron,” I said, feeling even closer to tears, “I’m so sorry about what happened to Mom and Dad.”

He shook his head. “No, you don’t get to play that card. It was your fault. You don’t get to pretend like it wasn’t.”

“If it’s any consolation, you wouldn’t have wanted to live with Grandma Hoyt like I had to. That woman was nuts and manipulative and kind of horrible.” Of course, I guessed my parents had been all those things too.

“She left you a lot of money.” Cameron glowered at me.

“Which is totally useless now that society has collapsed,” I pointed out.

Cameron glared at me. “You know what, Azazel? Shut up. Even if you apologized and begged for forgiveness it wouldn’t matter. I hate you, and I want you and Jason to see the new world I’m going to create.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, still reeling from the confusion of my memories trying to integrate with each other. New world? When had he said anything about that before? Cameron was on a revenge scheme, pure and simple, right? I fought to keep everything straight. He’d come to Jason and me and told us that he wanted to destroy our lives, the way we’d destroyed his. But he hadn’t said anything about creating a new world. What was he planning? Why did he take over the OF? I hadn’t given much thought to this before. Apparently, my Joan self was much more concerned with whether or not Jason was into me or not.

I shot a glance at Jason, who was still pinned down against the stage by Cameron’s power. Conflicted feelings shot through me.

I snapped my head away. I couldn’t afford to think about that right now. Not when Cameron was trying to kill me. Not when he was making noise about creating a new world. “You want to tell us a little about this new world?” I said to Cameron. I was hoping to stall him. I was hoping to get more information. I was hoping if I could figure out what was going on, I could stop him.

Cameron sneered. “You and Jason got it all wrong, you realize that? Your powers are supposed to work together, not against each other. But you two used your powers to screw up the entire world. How many people have you killed between the two of you? How many battles did you force people to fight? You don’t deserve those powers.”

Okay, this wasn’t helping. He was just talking about how much he didn’t like us. Big deal. No one ever liked us, anyway. I was used to it. As for the powers…well, I wasn’t sure I’d ever wanted them in the first place. “Okay, we’re bad people, Cameron. You want to kill us. And then there will be a great, new world because we’ll be gone.”

“Not just because you’ll be gone,” he said. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a book. The grimoire.

I flashed on my last memories as Azazel. Kieran was in my face holding the grimoire, telling me he was going to strip my powers. And…I didn’t have my powers right now? Did I? Kieran had them. So that was how it had worked. The grimoire hadn’t purged my powers. It had transferred them, along with my memories, to Kieran. And if Cameron had the grimoire…. “You’re going to steal my powers?”

“Technically,” said Cameron, “they’re Kieran’s powers now. I had to get this—” He gestured with the grimoire “—from the OF. It took me forever to figure out how Kieran did it. That Lily bitch didn’t want to talk. I had to torture her to death. See, right when it happened, we felt it in the coven. A disruption in the power of chaos. It was intense. And I had to know what happened. Eventually, after Kieran showed up in Cumberland and killed a bunch of my men, I figured it out. And then I needed to get to the OF to find out how he’d gotten the power.” Cameron grinned at Kieran. “But conveniently, they came and got me.”

Kieran was shaking his head, looking horrified. “You were never captured. Not really. You only wanted to use the OF’s power.”

Cameron jiggled the grimoire again, looking proud of himself.

Kieran looked at Eve Newcomb, who was being clutched by Cameron for some reason I couldn’t quite understand, and looked just as skanky as she had in high school. Seriously. Could she wear a lower cut top? “You knew about this?” Kieran asked Eve.

Eve didn’t answer him. She looked away.

“I needed you and Eve to have a connection,” said Cameron, “so that I could use her to reflect back your memories during the transfer. Because I’m not really into the idea of having Kieran bouncing around inside my head.”

Kieran grimaced. “You used me,” he whispered.

Wait. Connection? Kieran and Eve? Oh, no, no, no. “Kieran, please tell me that you have not been cheating on me with the skank who made my life in high school completely miserable.”

“Don’t call her a skank,” said Kieran.

My jaw dropped.

Cameron broke into peals of laughter.

“Besides, you can’t tell me that you and Jason have been living here like monks,” Kieran said.

“I had amnesia,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Kieran, “and I had all of your memories, so I knew exactly how you felt about me.”

What was that supposed to mean? “I loved you,” I said.

“I loved you too,” said Kieran. “But notice how we’re both using the past tense?”

“Because you’re both going to be dead in a few minutes,” said Cameron. “So shut up.” He pulled Eve close and kissed her neck. “Ladies first, darling.” He nudged her toward Jason.

Eve’s gaze darted from Kieran to Cameron. “Listen, Cameron, I’m not sure—”

“Of course you are,” said Cameron. He dragged her over to where Jason was pinned down and shoved her to her knees in front of Jason.

Jason’s face was red, and he was sweating from the effort he was using to fight against the power that kept him from moving. Apparently, he couldn’t speak either, because I could see him straining his jaw to open it, but his teeth were clamped shut.

Cameron beckoned to me. “I need you over here too.”

I didn’t move for a second.

Cameron muttered a few inaudible words under his breath.

I felt myself pulled forward by an unseen force. I couldn’t resist. Within a few seconds, I was kneeling on the stage next to Eve. I faced Jason. I didn’t even really know what Cameron was doing, but I felt powerless. It was strange, because Jason and I had never been powerless before. We’d always triumphed. There had always been a kiss, something that had fixed everything. But that, I knew, had been our powers. Powers I didn’t have now. And Jason’s powers were blocked. We were helpless.

Cameron put my hand in Jason’s. He put my other hand in Eve’s.

“Now, sis,” he said. “I need you to focus your thoughts on Jason. Reflect his memories back at him. Okay?”

His memories? Wait. What was Cameron…?

Cameron opened the grimoire.

Oh no. He was stealing Jason’s powers too. But why was Eve—

Cameron handed Eve the grimoire. “Read.”

He was giving Jason’s powers to Eve? But…why?

Eve looked at me over the book. She whispered something to me. Something I couldn’t really hear, but it looked like she mouthed, “Trust me.” And then Eve started to read.

Tiny strands of light began to pour out of Eve’s mouth. They writhed like tiny snakes, and they wrapped themselves around my arms and legs, winding around my limbs before traveling on to Jason.

I watched as the strands tangled themselves around Jason’s body, winding around his neck and biceps.

And Eve kept reading.

The strands dug into Jason’s skin, and I felt them tighten around mine. And then sensations began to rush through me, feelings of happiness and togetherness. Unity. Euphoria. It was the way I’d felt when Jason had been controlling my mind, and it was so good. I wanted to get lost in it. But then, images began to float through me as well.

Marlena. But she was a little girl, playing hopscotch outside an apartment building in the city.

A ratty hotel room, the TV blaring 90s cartoons.

The feel of a gun in my small hand. A man over me with a beard, explaining how to load it.

These were Jason’s memories! What had Cameron said? That he needed someone with a connection to reflect the memories back so that they wouldn’t be transferred? I had to stop the flow of Jason’s memories. I concentrated on them, on blocking them, on bouncing them back at Jason.

In the next second, the strands on my arms grew white hot. I cried out. They were burning me! Wisps of smoke were floating off the strands and the smell of burning flesh filled the air.

Suddenly, the entire world whited out, and there was a sound like a cross between a boom and crash.

When I could see and hear again, I was lying on my back on the stage. Jason was moving again. He was trying to stand up. I reached for him. “Are you okay?”

“I feel weak, Azazel,” he murmured. He tried to push himself up, but he lost his balance and sprawled on his backside on the stage. But he knew my name, which meant he still had his memories. So that was good. Now, we had to get his powers back from Eve.

Eve was on her feet, rolling her head around on her neck. She looked all around her, as if she was seeing everything for the first time. “Cameron,” she said. “This is amazing.”

I bet it was amazing. That bitch. She had no business with Jason’s powers. All of this was stupid anyway. We’d been vulnerable because Cameron had blocked Jason’s powers and then had used magic against us. If only we’d had time to eat that herb that Edgar had showed us earlier.

Wait. The herb. I had some in my pocket, didn’t I? I checked. Yes. Pulling it out, I snuck some of the leaf into my mouth. I handed the rest to Jason, checking to make sure Cameron and Eve weren’t watching. They weren’t.

“It’s just that I’m not really sure how I feel about you anymore, Cameron,” Eve was saying. “You’re really kind of controlling and mean.”

Geez, you think, Eve? I hated her. The plant tasted bitter as I chewed it in my mouth. Jason was chewing too and making a face. I guessed he didn’t like the taste either.

“Oh, please, Eve,” said Cameron. “I’ve given you the gift of these amazing powers, and you think I’m mean?”

“I only think,” said Eve, “that you’re maybe not the right person for these powers. That maybe it’s not supposed to be me and you as the lovers who rule the world.” She walked over to Kieran. “Maybe it’s supposed to be me and Kieran.” And then she kissed him.

I almost spit out the leaf in disgust. I couldn’t deal with the image of Kieran kissing Eve. Eve was so repulsive, and Kieran— Kieran was mine. Hadn’t he always been there for me? Comforted me? Supported me? Why had he turned against me with…her?

Cameron staggered backward as if something had zoomed into him and punched into his gut.

What had happened to him? That didn’t make any sense. I stood up. Jason was able to get to his feet too. We looked around. It seemed to be affecting everyone. All the members of the coven and the army men were doubled over. Jason and I were fine. We exchanged a wary glance. What was going on here?

Cameron straightened. A smile wreathed his face, but not one of the cruel smiles he’d worn before. Instead this smile illuminated his face, making him look young and carefree. He ambled over to Kieran and Eve, clapping both of them on the back as they continued to kiss.

They parted, turning to look at Cameron.

“I think you’re right,” said Cameron to Eve. “It is supposed to be you and Kieran.”

Eve smiled at both of them, looking radiant, like a bride on her wedding day. “I think so too. This just feels right.”

“It does,” echoed Kieran, making lovesick googly eyes at Eve.

I wanted to vomit.

“When you kissed,” Cameron said, “it was like this weight was taken off of my shoulders. I’d been harboring all this fear and anger and hatred, and somehow, your kiss washed it all away. Now everything’s just, well, great.” His bewildered grin got wider.

Now I realized that everyone around us had these creepy zombie grins on their faces. They all looked completely happy, totally fulfilled. Everyone was…beaming. I reached for Jason’s hand. This was really freaking me out.

Arm in arm, Kieran and Eve walked over to Jason and me.

Eve grabbed my free hand with both of her hands. “I know this has got to be confusing for you two, but you can see how much better everything is now, can’t you?”

I looked at Jason. I couldn’t. Could he? He gave me a skeptical look, so I could tell I wasn’t alone. No, whatever creepy thing had just happened seemed to affect everyone except us. And since we didn’t have any magic, that didn’t make any sense. We weren’t special anymore.

Kieran was talking. “Giving up your power to bring peace to the world is such a noble sacrifice. We can’t thank the two of you enough. And we promise we’ll do a better job than you guys were doing.”

What?

“Don’t you see?” said Eve. “Your powers were meant to be combined. They were meant to be possessed by two people who were in tune with each other. Not by people who wanted to use them to fight each other. Now that the powers reside in less volatile hands, a true era of peace and prosperity can happen.”

Wait. Edgar Weem had said that the people in England had longed for Jason after Jason and I had kissed last spring. I hadn’t remembered when he was talking about it. Not then. But now I knew that the big fluctuation that people had felt in Europe was the kiss Jason and I had shared. During that kiss, we’d been bigger than everything. The people of earth had been nothing more than insects. We could bend each of them to our will. We could do whatever we wanted. We, in the moment, had ruled the world.

I was aghast. “You stole our powers so that you could control the world?”

“We will heal the world,” said Kieran. “Together our powers will make a utopia for all living creatures. Don’t you feel it rushing through you now? The energy of togetherness and peace?”

“Honestly,” said Jason. “No. But we did just get finished ingesting a leaf that blocked magical powers.”

The leaf! He was right. We were immune from the crazy good vibes everyone was feeling because of the leaf. “Yeah, and I rejected this whole idea last year because it’s wrong to control people’s free will that way,” I said to Kieran. “You can’t do this.”

“What we do cannot be wrong,” said Kieran. “We are the guardians of the earth. We are the fused powers of chaos and order. We transcend right and wrong.” He said all of this with a tranquil look on his face. He’d gotten really weird, really fast.

“You see,” said Eve, “we are here to save humanity. You’ll understand when you see it. It will be perfect.”

Kieran and Eve gazed into each other’s eyes and started to drift away. They stepped off the stage and into the grass of the flood plain. Kieran turned back to me. “Oh, Azazel. You and Jason will need to look after Chance now. He’s waiting for you in Bramford.” They walked into the field slowly. Members of the coven and army men alike started to follow them, dreamy looks on their faces.

Cameron grinned at us. “Aren’t they a great couple?”

Jason shook his head. “This is really weird.”

“You’re not wrong,” I said.

Epilogue


~jason~

Before it was fall, the world was healed. Kieran and Eve installed themselves in Washington, D.C. They had no resistance from any of the Order of the Fly because all the people were completely taken with them. Everyone practically bowed down and worshiped Kieran and Eve. Within weeks, they had been able to mobilize a group of people eager to fix transformers up and down the coast. By late September, electricity had been restored almost everywhere.

There was no need for any kind of detailed government hierarchy anymore, because no one wanted to commit any kind of crime. Everyone was simply happy. They were so happy that they were eager to share with each other. People didn’t steal; they just asked. And everyone was happy to give.

Kieran and Eve established communication with other governments by the end of July. Everyone wanted to know when they could travel to America to see them. But Kieran and Eve told them not to worry. They would come visit them. And so, as summer faded, its last scorching days eking out across America, Kieran and Eve embarked on a world tour. They would visit each and every continent. Each and every country. And when they reported back, they would tell us how happy everyone was. How peaceful. How the world had become a paradise.

Azazel and I fought it at first. We were disturbed by the shiny, happy people everywhere. We kept a large quantity of the plant Edgar had showed us, and we chomped on it constantly. After we went to Bramford to collect Chance, we gave it to him too. There was something completely and totally screwed up about the entire thing. We were both sure of it.

At first, we were too consumed by cleaning up to do much thinking about it. We were staying in my old house in Jasontown, and we spent our days burying the dead. There were so many. Cameron’s OF army had destroyed them all. Jasontown was in ruins. First, I had practically sent it to hell and then Cameron had come in and finished the job.

I didn’t talk about it, but with every dead face that I gazed into as I shoveled dirt over it, I felt my responsibility more and more heavily. Azazel tried to get me to bond with Chance, but I couldn’t hold him close. I felt like putting my hands on that child would transfer something from me to him. I didn’t want him to have any of my darkness. I didn’t want to destroy him the way I’d destroyed the people of Jasontown. They’d had no choice. They’d come because I called, and they’d stayed because they believed in me, and I had let them all be slaughtered. A man who does that…well, what kind of father can he really be?

When the bodies were gone, it was early August. We set about trying save what we could of the crops. Some of them had been baked to death in the heat. Others had been eaten by insects and animals. Others had ripened and fallen to the ground. We harvested what we could. While we did, Azazel chattered to me about what we could do. We had to strip the powers from Kieran and Eve. We had to give back free will to the people. “If anyone can do it, it’s you and me,” she said.

But I knew that there was too much darkness in me to be the hero. I wouldn’t be the one to save the world. I wasn’t sure if anyone would really thank us if we took away their peace and happiness. But then, I realized, maybe it wasn’t about the people of the world for Azazel. Not really. Maybe it was about Kieran. He’d been taken from her. Maybe she wanted him back. So I agreed to help, because I’d meant what I’d said earlier. If I could give her a happy ending, I would.

We sketched maps of Washington, D.C. We hatched plans to dose the water supply with the plant we chewed to keep our wits about us. We didn’t know when we’d strike. We never seemed ready. One night in late August, after Chance was in bed, we were pouring over one of our plans again, looking for loopholes, looking for ideas. We were getting nowhere.

My mind was wandering. I said, “After we do this, I want you to take Chance again.”

She gave me a funny look. “Where are you going to be?”

“You and Kieran will be better parents than—”

“Hold on,” she said. “Who said anything about Kieran?”

I was confused. “I thought that was why you wanted to do this. I thought you wanted him back.”

She shook her head. She began gathering up the papers we’d spread out to look over our plan. “I’m doing it for the people in the world. I’m doing it to give them back their free will. I don’t give a damn about Kieran. He made his choice. He chose Eve.”

So, it wasn’t about Kieran. “Now that you remember him, I thought—”

“For God’s sake, Jason, everything on earth is not about which guy I pick.” She shoved the papers into a sloppy pile.

“Have you considered that the people in the world might not want their free will back?” I said. “Have you considered that they might like being happy?”

She stared at me like I’d gone crazy.

“I’m not cut out to save the world, Azazel. I only want to try and do what I can to make up for all the awful things I’ve done to you. That’s all.”

She looked away. “Maybe I don’t care about all of that anymore.”

“How could you not care? After everything I’ve done, how could you not care?”

She took a deep breath. “Before I lost my memory, I was out of control. I was sending people to die. I was obsessed and confused. And after I lost my memory, when I found you again, it was like…I found myself again. Even while you were controlling my head. Being with you made me remember who I was. You’re important to me. You help me be…me.”

I shook my head. “That’s crap, Azazel, and you know it. I did awful things to you. How could any of what you just said make up for that?”

She looked frustrated. Then she came to me and cupped my face in her hands. “Because I forgive you. Because I’m drawn to you. Because you’re Jason.”

She couldn’t do that. She’d done things like that before. She’d let me sweep it all under the rug. And look where it had gotten me. I thought of all the bodies we’d buried. No. I didn’t deserve to be forgiven. I needed to pay. I needed to suffer.

But she was walking to me, and then her arms were around me. Her lips were on mine. Her hands were under my shirt, pushing it up, pulling it over my head, and I was losing myself in her fiery kisses. It was too much not to hold her small, soft body against mine, to remember all the places she liked to be touched, to hear her breathe my name. She wasn’t Joan. She was herself. And for me and Azazel, it had been so long.

But in the morning, I couldn’t.

I left her sleeping there. I went outside to the place where we grew the plant that blunted the magic, and I ripped all of it out of the ground. I shoved it in bags. I would take it away. I would let her be happy. I would.

I went back into the house. She was still sleeping. I looked in on Chance. He was awake, but he wasn’t crying yet. He was sitting up in his crib, babbling to himself and playing with his stuffed animals. Mostly, he was saying baby nonsense words, but he threw in real words too. Anything he’d learned, which at this point encompassed a bunch of different animals, plus names for Azazel and me. (Zaza and Jay, respectively.)

I patted his head. He was growing a shock of carrot-red hair, just like his mother. Another person who was dead because of me.

“Not you, Chance,” I said to him. “I’m not going to ruin you.”

“Jay,” he said, followed by a string of babbling noises.

I kissed his forehead. “Jay go bye-bye.”

He recognized the word and raised a chubby hand to wave at me. “Bye-bye,” he said.

I nodded and waved back. “Bye-bye.” There was a tear leaking out of my eye. Irritated, I rubbed it away and backed out of his room. That was enough.

I took the plant and left both of them to feel happiness. They were better off that way. They were better off without me.

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