In hindsight, Alix should have seen that things would go horribly wrong.
The first problem was Svelen’s job— cracking a safe on his own. He ducked out of the room through a big grey door. Alix felt twitchy and unsafe without him— he was her best friend, he trusted her, and he knew what he was doing. She didn’t.
There was no use worrying. She tucked her hair behind her ears and turned her attention to the rest of the room.
It was more deck than she’d expect from a Hero Of The Revolution. His whole house was vexing gaudy, sure, but she’d half-thought it would be plain inside, as bare as the houses she’d hidden in. But the bed against the left-hand wall was big enough to fit a whole family, if they liked each other enough. A curtain sagged over it in dusty beige velvet, and there was a duvet the same colour, but less dusty.
Taxasho was tangled in it like braided seaweed bread. For a second, she didn’t even recognize him, because he wasn’t wearing his aviator’s helmet. But that was his face- gaunt and angular, with pinched pale lips. It was strange to see someone she’d only seen in formal photographs asleep- with one foot sticking out of the blankets and a face squashed against a pillow. He clung to the blankets and muttered something she couldn’t understand.
Vashe knelt at the side of the bed, and Nvara crouched next to him. She stuck the electrodes to his temples; a strange hospital smell filled the room. Alix crossed her fingers and cracked the door open.
She stared down the hall. Time slowed. Every breath sounded too loud in her ears. The dark hallway was full of shadows. The shadow of a tree’s branches wagged from a window.
Something jumped at the edge of her vision. She flinched towards it, ready to hit. Then she realized it was her own shadow, and breathed out, slow and shaky.
Gods and vexing monsters. She needed to be more careful; someone could have seen her. She tucked herself behind the doorframe as much as she could while looking out.
For a long, long, long moment- thirty, fourty heartbeats- nothing happened. She heard Nvara breathing, and Vashe’s faint movements as he turned his head or raised his hand.
Then Vashe whimpered.
Alix looked back over her shoulder. Nvara shook her head, and stabbed her hand towards the door. Then Vashe cried out.
Nvara shoved her hand over his mouth and clamped down hard. Alix’s gaze flicked from the bed to the door, but nothing moved, and Taxasho didn’t stir. No one had heard them— yet.
Vashe’s arm curled in on itself. it twitched and spasmed like a dying animal. His face was queasy-grey, and sweat beaded on his forehead.
“Vashe-” Nvara said. “Vashe, talk to me.”
His eyes bugged, and he gagged against Nvara’s hand.
She ripped the electrodes off his head. For a long moment, he gaped like a dying fish. Alix bit her lip, and glanced back at the door- but the only thing outside was the tree’s shadow.
Nvara’s arms wrapped around Vashe. He slid the gloves off, slow and shaky.
“You living?” she muttered.
He nodded. His mouth still hung slack; he swallowed, hard, and and closed it.
“…..Can’t do it,” he finally said.
“What?” Alix’s hands clenched into fists.
“It’s- his head’s…” Vashe rubbed his temple. “It’s all up in the air. No ground. I panicked. Fell down. We gotta go.”
Nvara clenched her teeth.
“Fuck,” she said. “I’ll go–”
“Can’t-” Vashe retched, but nothing came out. He balanced himself on Nvara’s shoulders. “Can’t spot you. You’d be on your own.”
“Wire me,” Alix said.
“What?” Nvara blinked.
“I ain’t scared of heights,” she said. “Vashe can keep an eye on the door. You can spot.”
“You’ve never-” Nvara began.
“You want the vexing lio?”
Alix’s voice came out louder than she’d planned. She looked over her shoulder, and then back at the bed.
Taxasho stirred. For one horrible second, Alix thought she’d woken him. But he rolled over, eyes still closed. His arm dangled off the bed.
Her thumbnail bit into her knuckle.
“…Fine. C’mere,” Nvara said.
Vashe let go of her. He cradled his arm, like he’d broken it- but as far as Alix could tell, it was fine. He dragged himself over to the door and sat beside it.
Nvara stuck the electrodes to Alix’s temples, so quickly that she must have done it a hundred times. Alix pulled the gloves on and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, it was to Taxasho’s nightmare.
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