Endgame

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: Insomnia by Seraphic Flame (Thursday, June 23, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Despair by Seraphic Flame (Friday, July 01, 2005)

(posted Thursday, June 30, 2005)

It was the day; it was the hour. There were only two futures branching from this point; one stretched on into the light, and Seraphic Flame could see how it branched and tangled and merged only to branch again. She could, if she cared to concentrate on it, trace each and every thread and bend and twist.

And John Murdock was not in that future line. She did not care to concentrate on it, because if she did, she saw herself alone, an aching void in her heart, until at last she completed the last of the tasks set her--or did not--or failed and died a mortal death at the hands of the angel Xavier--but in all cases, did so alone, always shadowed with sorrow.

There was no similar path emanating from the other branch. There was only--a wall. A darkness, beyond which she could not see. And she feared, she who had never known fear. She doubted, she even despaired.

And yet--he had pledged, he had promised that he would somehow remember her. In the face of all she had been told, she trusted those vows. She had to. There was no other choice for her.

Last night, she had summoned him whose handmaiden she was, though she, as a Seraphim, was of a higher order than he. Michael Azir, Michael of the Fire, the Archangel. And he had asked her, as a matter of formality, was she still determined upon this course?

"Yes" she had said. And he had taken off his winged helm, and looked at her with a face full of secrets.

"And are you certain you will not have your memory purged of this love?" he had asked. "You may do this. It is permitted."

She could not read him. She could not tell if he was trying to tell her, "This would be wise," or "Do not hesitate; cling to this thing." So she had spoken as her heart, her half-mortal heart had dictated. "I will remember," she said. "I will have had love that passeth understanding." And he had bowed his head and donned his helm and vanished until she should call him again.

And now, now was the moment. Atop the prosaic roof of the Arena in Galaxy City where they had so often met. There it had begun; here it would--

Not end, she prayed. Not end--

They landed together, for she had finally, at last achieved flight in this, his last night as purely himself. And the act of flying, which should have been so joyous, was tinged with pain, his pain, as he struggled to breathe, struggled against a heart already failing.

And there they were--the friends, the Comrades, so many of those she had told the moment of this crisis. They stood, rank on rank, on the top of the Arena, in a small army of friendship. Not for this moment the powers ranged in enmity against a foe. No--this was an army of hope. Along with Flame, they too hoped that the friend they honored with their presence would come back to them--

John blinked in surprise. "Whoa...I really, didn't expect this..."

She smiled at his honest bewilderment. "John---how could you not? You are loved by more than just me." And that was nothing less than the truth, for there was love here as well as friendship. Oh these great-hearted heroes of Paragon City! How good they were--

Red Djinni chuckled. "We are all here, John, to pay our respects and to give you our support. And you've earned it my friend."

John shook his head, smothering coughs that kept bringing up more and more blood.
I...I don't know...I just really didn't think there'd be this many. It's just me, y'know."

One indomitable figure stepped forward out of the front of the crowd; their Commissar, Red Saviour II. "I recieved your summons, Comrade Flame," she said, looking puzzled. "I thought this illness was being irreversible. You will brief me, right now!"

John began, wearily, to give the explanation he had so many times. "It is irreversible...cellular degeneration, at the mitochondrial level..."

He stopped as she began to weep, hearing the question still in his voice. Would he take the two gifts offered, the gift of her powers and the Kheldian Home World's life? She clenched her fists at her sides, striving to regain control of herself, trying not to will him to a choice. The choice would be his, must be his--

Red Saviour raised an eyebrow at what, to her, was Flame's strange behavior. But throughout the crowd, it was beginning to dawn on some of their friends, at least, what had been mostly a secret. That she and John Murdock, Seraphim and mortal, were loved and beloved, now held by that most mortal of bonds, most fragile, most strong.

As the light of understanding dawned in a growing number of faces, Red Djinni held up a hand to forestall her. "I'll do it, Flame. A meld with a Kheldian will be attempted tonight. One of your own, Home World has offered his powers. All of his powers."

The pain in her heart was nigh unbearable, but bear it she must. John took her hand and held it, as gently as if the hand that had delivered so many evildoers to justice was as fragile as a butterfly. This was her failure. She had offered, been permitted, so many ways by which Home World would not have been brought to this pass. He had refused them all. Free choice---free will---and it ended in death and her failure. "Oh John, I thought--I thought this would be easier---" she choked.

Red Saviour was as astute as one would have thought. Horror dawned in her eyes. "Oh...govno! That leaves comrade Home World...dead?"

Flame wept disconsolately. Her failure, hers---

John Murdock placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, in the midst of his own pain, trying to give her support--

"This comes of his free will," Red Djinni said steadly. "But aye."

For a moment the silence hung leaden. Finally Red Saviour said the only thing that a Commander could say. This was the soldier, who knew that Comrades would fall. "I do nyet care to lose comrades....but is noble sacrifice."

Red Djinni grimaced. He too was a Commander, but he had not yet come to terms with losing---

And neither have you, Flame. Neither have you.

And he showed it in his next words. Despite what she had told him, over and over, his hope was wilder and less rational than hers. He hoped for more than a miracle and at no cost. "This melding... is risky. It may not work as planned. I understand Flame and John have taken... precautions."

She interrupted him with a gesture of despair. "It WILL not work as planned!" she cried, with the certain knowledge of the futures clamping about her like the jaws of a trap. "The futures have closed! There are only two courses now! He refuses the gift of my powers and dies, or he takes them and----and---"

Tears choked her words, as the onlookers stirred uneasily, unhappily. This was not what they had come to hear. They had come to see hope, to see the phoenyx arise from the ashes. But the ashes were bitter in Flame's mouth--

John tried to console her. "Flame---love...it's alright. Calm down..." He pulled his mask down, and his face was pale as paper, his mouth bracketed by lines of pain.

But she had to give them the truth, the truth as she knew it. They must know the truth, though they might not believe it. "And----and if he takes them---we lose him---" she said, hollowly, feeling the words as blows on her heart. "He will forget us. His friends---his Comrades---" she faltered and choked out the last. "---me---"

Red Saviour straightened her back, and faced the truth and accepted it, and offered her own sort of comfort. "Comrade....we are his friends regardless of his memories of us. Is true test."

And John, too, at last accepted it. She could see it in the droop of his shoulders. "Everything I've known as a hero; it'll be gone," he said with quiet resignation. "I'll only remember my days as a regular soldier."

Red Saviour shrugged, extracting her own sort of hope. "It could be worse."

Leaden silence again, and a moment of paralysis that was broken by a late arrival.

The Kheldian, Home World. Wounded near to death himself in his fight with the creature that he had brought to serve as John's originally intended meld-partner. Not obvious to most eyes, but Flame could see it, see the powers that had made him what he was, so vibrant, now faded, leaking, limping. He would die, no matter what, whether he melded or not. But this--this was wrong. It should not have come to this. And it was this flawed meld that would bring the loss of so much---so much---

John looked over his shoulder, his brow furrowed, to see Home World. "Home World..." His breathing was more labored by the moment. She heard the blood filling his lungs. Heard his heart beginning to enter the final stages of failure. There was no more time. She was held in the futures like a fly in amber.

"My love---it is time--" she said, enwrapped in grief too deep for tears. The choices were all gone but two. "Beloved, you grow too weak, it is now or not at all."

She was wrapped in pain; hers, his, Home World's. And yet there was so much more pain to follow--

Until the darkness, and the end of what she could see. "Do you accept this gift that Home World offers you?"

John gazed into her eyes; there was nothing there but pain and love. She took the pain, and gave him back the love and saw his pain ease, a little, a little.

Home World took a deep breath. It was clear that he had been considering these, which would be his last words, for a very long time. "John," he said, as the crowd held its breath. "I give you something; treasure it. I've taken for granted wonderful things around me, I've lived through books and never expirienced what was real, and now it is gone."

His words were breaking her heart. She wept silently for him now.

"Live your life to the fullest and take care of Bella for me," he said, his beautiful eyes reflecting his pain. "I give you this power: take it, use it, so that it may save you as it once saved me." Now Home World looked his last farewell to the crowd about him. "Farewell, my friends," he said. "I will see you again in time."

It was beautiful, this transfer of all that had been a wise and powerful Kheldian Peacebringer. Beauty to break the heart. Orbiting stars emerged from the being that was Home World and fused with John Mudock; lances of white light pierced him. He was surrounded by a glow of incandescence as Home World faded, faded, faded---

And was gone.

She felt what he felt; the linkage between love and beloved had never been more strong. She felt him being infused with...a presence...

And then he shuddered as it was abruptly torn away.

He screamed in agony, collapsing to his knees.

She ran to his side, but she could not, dared not touch him. Nothing must interfere now with his free choice. Nothing. Not even her love.

"John Murdock!" she cried in a voice that rang across the zone of Galaxy City. "Do you accept the gift I offer thee, my powers, for your life?"

He struggled, his body failing. He looked up at her. And managed a word.

"Yes---"

She invoked her Fires, and lifted her arms to the skies. Words had power here. These were Words of Summoning. There would be no turning back.

In a voice now like trumpets, she called on him who was both balm and bane, the end to all her hopes, the beginning---

---the beginning of something she could not see.

"By the faithful vows unbroken,
By the pledge of passion's token,
By the loss and by the gain,
By the love and by the pain,
Heart-fires call the need of thee.
Michael Azir come to me!"

In a flash of light and a wave of fire, the Archangel Michael appeared in midair. He was dressed in white and gold armor and carrying a flaming sword as tall as he was. His presence overwhelmed the Arena. It was enough to drive some to their knees.

There may have other reactions to him, but Flame had eyes only for him. She waited for the words of Binding, the words of her fate.

Her voice had been trumpets; his was thunder. "Seraphic Flame, do you by the Law of Equivalent Exchange offer up your nature and powers for the life of John Murdock?"

She felt the Words enclose her. She released them with her assent. "AYE! A THOUSAND TIMES!"

John Murdock looked up at her from where he lay at her feet, sweat dripping from his face. He struggled to speak. "Flame...I love you..."

With all of the love she felt for him in her voice, in her eyes, she held out her hands to him. "I love you!" she cried with passion and anguish. "I will always love you! Death will have no dominion!"

She felt Michael Azir Invoke, and the world became fire.

For the last time, she Invoked her own full powers, the powers of an immortal Seraphim. Michael Azir, the Guardian and Protector of the Innocent, the Archangel of Light and Seraphic Flame, one of the Company of the Seraphim, the Angels of Fire and Love--their powers met and joined with John Murdock in the middle and he burned and burned and the fires burned away his pain---

---his sorrow---

---himself---

And then, with an explosion of light, he was gone.

The fires died.

In all of Galaxy City there was not a sound, as Seraphic Flame faced her own fate.

She felt Michael's compassion, and his own grief for what he was about to do. He knew. She could not. This was the moment, when the futures became closed to her, The darkness was upon her.

He took his fiery sword in both hands, and spoke the words of Severing.

"So let it be written!"

She bowed her head to him, and spoke the words of Assent.

"So let it be done."

He leapt high into the air, spun, and brought his blade down on her.

She was driven to her knees; her fires went out.

And now---

It was not pain. It was worse than pain. It was---nothingness.

Always, always in her mind had been the Song of her siblings. From the beginning of Time, it had been a part of her. Always, in her heart had been the sure and certain knowledge of the Infinite, the surety that she was a part of it and it of her, from before Time itself.

Now---nothing.

Emptiness. A vast and aching void that echoed only pain.

And in anguish she cried out.

"----GONE!---gone---alone---"

Words failed her. She uttered a wordless wail of grief and loss fit to tear the soul and stab the heart. And then Michael gathered her to himself, and there was darkness.

%%%

Bella was not at the---gathering. She was afraid to see it. She didn't need to see to know what was going to happen, and frankly, at this point, John was in such deteriorating condition and Flame so torn up inside that they would never notice her absence.

She was minding the comm: minding the training zone known as Outbreak, which had monitors everywhere and video feed to keep an eye on the very baby heroes. Every new hero that entered it, she scrutinized until---

Bingo. There he was. Looking younger, immeasurably fitter. Call-sign, Blaze Phoenyx. Interesting.

She keyed him in and called him, as he stood looking uncertainly down the street. "Hello Mr. Phoenyx," she said quietly. "On behlaf of the CCCP I would like to welcome you to Paragon City."

In the monitor she saw him start as his comm came to life. "Uh...thanks, ma'am. If you don't mind my asking; have we met? I'm sorta new to this gig...lot of confusin' stuff happenin' lately...I'm still kinda fuzzy..."

She dared to hope. If he recognized her voice---"Why? Do I seem familiar?"

His brow furrowed. "Kinda. But, then again, I haven't really seen you yet...or have I? Like I said, I'm sorta mixed up right now. I guess."

He set off down the street on his first training mish. Instead of answering him directly, she tried a trick. Johnny had loved her singing, and this---this was his song and Flame's. If there was memory there, music might wake it. So while he learned how to conn targets, she sang, as if preoccupied, but in fact, trying to put every bit of memory of her own into the song.

"In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here,
From this dark, cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear.
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie.
You're in the arms of an angel,
May you find some comfort there...."

Anything? Nothing? She couldn't tell. "Ah, sorry," she said, as if she had just noticed that he was still there. "I was distracted. The CCCP has arranged accomodations and a unique orientation for you."

He peered around, smiling. "Naw, s'alright. Your voice, that song---kinda pretty, actually." She felt her heart fall; reminded herself that this was not exactly a series of pass/fail tests. "The CCCP? What's that, exactly? And how'd y'all know about me?"

Music didn't work; CCCP rang no bells. Carry on, Bella. "We hope that you will consider joining us when you are sufficiently sett;ed in."

He moved into the first combat zone in Outbreak. "So, you're all some sorta group, then?"

She watched him. Same moves, different powers... a grace and sureness to what he did, as if he was born to it that the old Johnny'd had. "It is what as known as a supergroup. There are many of them here but you have--a unique connection to this one."

He nodded. He'd already dispatched and tagged his first two plague victims. "Ah. Mutual protection, it makes sense."

She watched him move down the street. "Exactly, this is especially for young heroes such as yourself, new in their powers. Let us say---an old friend recommended that we keep an eye on you."

He took to the air, and suddenly--the grace and surety were gone.

He flew like an old sock, in fact. "Tell me 'bout it," he replied ruefully. "This flyin' gig is harder than it looks. Check that; landin' is harder than it looks."

He had Johnny's self-deprecating sense of humor. "Well, amy landing you can walk away from---" she said.

"--is a good landin'," he finished. "Learned that from my grandfather. Heh. Used to be a bomber pilot in WW2."

Keep steady, Bella. We don't want to freak him right now. "And it's as true today as it was then," she said.

Blaze nodded, regarding his next targets. "Yeah, guess you're right."

Try for another point of recognition. "I often serve as the unofficial comm officer for the CCCP."

None. "Well...nice to meet ya, ma'am. Still, CCCP is an acronym, right? What's it stand for?"

She couldn't remember what Johnny had said about his earlier, pre-Anarchist days. Most American soldiers didn't particularly care for communists. But---no going back now. "Coalistion of Communist Crusaders for the Proletariat, but a good half of us at least are American."

She could not read him. "Communists, huh?"

Didn't sound overtly hostile. "Socialists, actually. I hope this doesn't disturb you."

Ah. "Well, not really. Free country and all, right?"

Another little poke. "Your old s-friend was fairly sure you would fit in very well with us if you decided to join."

He paused in front of Coyote. "Who's this old friend of mine now? Still haven't filled me in on that, quite."

She took in a deep breath. "His name was John Murdock, and---he was one of my best friends."

Nothing. He proceeded to his next little mission without a start. "John Murdock? That's my name. Huh...well, I guess there was that kid back in elementary school, shared a name with him."

Disappointment clouded her eyes for a moment. "Sometimes the world is full of remarkable things," she said, stifling tears. "When you exit the training area there will be a map and a set of keys to an apartment in Atlas Park waiting for you. Our friend has arranged all that for you."

He considered the plague victims in front of him, standing on the staircase, too far to have noticed him yet. "Well...thanks. I really need to just rest and figure things out. Feel like I'm perpetually jet-lagged, or something."

She took a deep breath again, Perhaps it was only that it was a little too early. "Your transition here was not an easy one, Mr Phoenyx, I am familiar with the details."

He moved a little closer to the plague victims. "Huh? Ma'am, I'm an army man; you'll have to speak plainly for me."

A flying Army man with an inherent energy weapon. "Mr Phoenyx," she said, with irony, "I am sure you have noticed that you're not "just" an Army man anymore."

He paused. In fact, he froze for a moment. "I figure you're right. Do you know what the hell is goin' on here?"

There was no easy way to break this one. A look in the mirror would do it. "You are the product of what is called a Kheldian Fusion."

"The last thing I remember is bein' on patrol in South America, tryin' to find some cartel lord out in the jungle..." He went absolutely still. "Wait a sec. Kheldian? What's that?"

On patrol in South America. Now she knew his last memory. "You have lost a few years, Mr Phoenyx. It is now June of 2005."

He dropped absently one-shotted the plague victim and looked around himself a little wildly. "2005? How is that? Have I been in a coma?"

She sighed. "The situation is....complex. But we have made up a series of orientation recordings for you. Please watch them in order. Are you prepared for something of a shock, however? Or would you prefer to be oriented gradually?"

"Well...I guess I'd prefer to get it gradual, like. I'm still really messed up, and this last bit you've told me isn't helpin'." He looked so confused, her heart would have ached for him if she had already been aching for herself---for Flame.

"Believe me, Mr, Phoenyx, I understand," she managed. "When you have finished your training and checked in with Ms Liberty, please come to the opposite side of City Hall where we will help you complete some initial orientation." Maybe seeing people would click things over for him.

"Roger roger," he replied absently, as she shut things down in the comm romm and headed for Atlas Park. Maybe if he saw her---them---

Flame---

The same crowd that had seen him fall was here to see him rise again. And they looked to her---her---for some sort of clue. She hovered above the pavement feeling awkward and tongue-tied. There was no sign of Flame. None. She swallowed, and searched for something to say. "Friends, most of you do not know me but John Murdock was one of my dearest friends." Tell them, Bella. Tell them the truth. "He has lost six years of his life. He may not remember us, but we remember him, and when I last saw him, he asked us to help bring him back to what he was again." Murmurs of dismay, but more of assent. "His new name is Blaze Phoenix, which seems fitting for one who has come from the fires. I expect him to come from training at any moment. When he does, please help him. Be careful and gentle with him. Give him the little things first the larger will follow---"

And at just that moment, he flew in, eyes glowing with Kheldian energies, looking graceful again until he landed, stumbling as he did so. "Damnit! This whole flyin' thing is really gettin' annoyin'"

He suddenly noticed that he was the center of a circle of expectant faces. "---whoa...uh--hi folks."

Red Saviour stepped forward. "Zadrastvuitye, tovarisch Blaze Phoenyx! Kak delo?" She flushed. "Er...forget kak delo part..."

Bella landed beside him, lightly as a bit of down. "Hello Mr Phoenyx. Welcome home."

He was still staring at Red Saviour. "Um...hi? Russian, right. So I guess you're a part of the CCCP?"

Red Saviour nodded. "Da...and so were you. Is long story..." she handed him a flask of vodka. "And is no great rush to tell it."

He blinked, took a polite sip and handed it back, turning to Bella. "Hello, Ms.---er, Bella."

She felt her heart jump. She had not told him her name. "---John?" she faltered.

He whispered to her, looking very uncomfortable with all the attention. "What are all of these people doin' here?"

Red Djinni chuckled, but she only felt a sense of foreboding. He knew her name, but not her. This was not good. Not good at all.

And he could have picked it up subconsciously from the mutterings of the crowd.

"They're here to welcome you home, John," she said, simply. "We were all waiting for you."

He looked at the crowd, and although there were many people there who had known him, some well, there was still no sign he knew any of them "Oh...um...hi folks?" He whispered to her again. "They're ALL heroes?"

"Yes," she whispered back, her foreboding deepening.

Red Djinni: offered his hand. "Welcome... John."

Besieged by Kat Scratch, UltraTaxi and several others, he turned to Red Djinni, who certainly stood out among them all. "Oh, hello. Your name is?" he said politely, shaking his hand."

Red Djinni froze, stunned. The smile was gone from his eyes, as the reality of what Bella had just told them all sunk in. "Red Djinni. A... pleasure."

This the man who had said that fighting beside Red Djinni was like fighting beside a twin, who now only looked at him with polite, but bewildered interest. "Likewise."

As always, Red Saviour had little patience for niceties. "Comrade John Murdock, you have lost your memory. You worked for CCCP before doing so. Is your choice whether you wish to continue to fight for worker's collective."

Bella winced.

"Um...you say I was with y'all before, right? And that I've lost my memory?" He chewed his lower lip. "Ms---Bella?"

"Da. I have paperworks to prove it," the Commissar replied.

"Always with paperwork," Russian Battler muttered.

But Red Djinni, mercurial as always, laughed. "And I'm sure Bella can prove it with video."

She had to know. That was the second time he'd called her Bella. "How do you know my name?" she whispered. "Johnny---I---"

She called him Johnny. And he had no reaction.

In fact, he whispered back, as if it was completely inconsequential, "Dunno how I knew your name...odd I guess..."

And she, John's best friend and confident, stared in disbelief at his words.

Suddenly, she couldn't bear it. "I must go!" she cried, and launched herself into the air, tears falling as she flew off as fast as she can, thinking only one thing.

I must find Flame---if she comes here without warning---

---oh dear god.

%%%%

There was nothing inside her. She felt hollow; felt as if most of her had been amputated. She kept reaching for her siblings, for the Presence, and there was nothing there. Flight, which should have been a joyous thing was undertaken in numb need to get to Atlas Plaza, to find him---

And find him Seraphic Flame did, the center of a crowd of heroes almost overwhelming him. "We expect greatness from ya, Blaze Phoenyx." "Hello, Blaze Phoenyx." "Welcome back." "Welcome Blaze."

She hovered for a moment, trying to get her bearings, looking for some kind of hint of what she would find, searching also for Bella, her lifeline---

She recognized Shyft in the crowd, and recalled with a stab in the heart how she had told Shyft that all would be level with them when this came about---how Shyft would have as much chance to be John's choice as she---

"Is good to meet you again," Shyft was saying, as more heroes came to greet him.

She watched as he looked to each person, greeting each one. His eye lingered on Shyft for a moment as he moved through the procession. Just beneath her, someone she recognized as being named "Transit" whispered to Red Djinni, "He looks so much... *younger* now... almost unsure of himself..."

Seraphic Flame flew slowly down to land behind him. She trembled in every limb. She did not recognize herself---she felt utterly unlike herself. Even her costume had unaccountably changed from the gold of fire to the red of blood---"

The sensitive creature who had been such a comfort to her one day, called New Eve, saw her immediately, and touched John on the shoulder. "Behind you Comrade," the lovely purple giant said quietly.

He was still surrounded by greetings and babble. He did not see her. He did not sense her, he who had once known when she was anywhere near, and sought her as a compass-needle would seek the north.

He who could find her anywhere, near the end---

He did not know she was there.

Shaking with fear now, she whispered his name. "John---"

Nothing. He continued to greet the others, both those he had known and those he had not---and he seemed more comfortable among the strangers by the moment.

He did not hear her. He who once stirred out of deepest sleep at her slightest murmur.

She swallowed fear, swallowed desperation and tried again. "John---"

Not a sign. She might have been a lamp-post.

She tried a third time, her voice plangent with pleading. "John?"

Finally he turned. Finally he saw her. Her heart pounded so hard it shook her to her core, and her knees felt weak. She looked into his eyes--

"Hello," he said.

There was nothing there.

Vaguely she heard Shyft speaking. "Hey there Flame. Safe and sound..."

"You seem to know me already," he said, with a casual curiousity. "Your name is...?"

Suddenly the others pulled back a little and they became the center of a widening circle of silence.

She heard people holding their breath, whispering to one another, felt their eyes on her. She did not care. There was only one pair of eyes that could hold her attention, and---

---and there was nothing there. Not even a glimmer of recognition.

"Seraphic.....Flame," she said, slowly, feeling horror now as well as fear. He had promised! He had pledged her that he would remember! And she---

"Spark any memories?" New Eve asked quietly.

Shyft coughed. "I have Crey to smash. Or something," she said "Make sure he gets home safe."

The Commisar said, with uncharacteristic hesitation, "Surely you recognize your old...er...friend."

"Friend, or mmmmmm.....flame commisar?" Russian Battler asked, waggishly, then as his comment dropped into a silence that was growing increasingly uneasy, coughed.

He too, looked uneasy, and seemed to struggle with his words. "I---ah, this is all kinda fast for me..."

Michael Azir! Was this what you were trying to tell me? Oh---

She struggled too. "We too were friends," she managed, barely keeping herself from tears. "You and I."

"Oh." He held out his hand. For her to shake. Like anyone else here. Like no one special. "Well, I guess it's good to see, er meet you...again."

She felt one hand go to her throat, the other to her lips, as despair overwhelmed her. He did not know her.

"It is..." she said. He was already turning away.

"...oh god...." she whispered, and blindly turned and fled. She pushed her way through the crowd, tears blurring her sight.

Michael Azir, why did you not take my memories?

Some were beginning to understand that he did not recognize her at all. She