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Mirna

Zach did one thing, before he left the hospital, before he even left the dream of the drugs. He wasn’t supposed to leave his secured room, but in silence and darkness, he slid a card under the door to Mirna’s. His email address.

She holds it now in the pocket of her cardigan, running one thumb over the edge as a counselor talks to her about shock and the aftermath of trauma. Mirna nods.

And then somehow her substitute teacher is Sara.

“All of you have great potential,” she says, meeting Mirna’s eyes. “I’ll be watching to see you fulfill it.”

Zach

Zach is only just off morphine when they deport him.

In a fugue and handcuffs, he nods in response to dour questions in Hungarian. He spends sixteen hours in a cell, touching the bandages lightly. He thinks about Sara.

On the plane, the Vulpine Phalanger sits down next to him.

“Oh,” he says.

“Hey,” she says. He’s never seen her in civilian clothes; she seems younger. “I know a little about scars. Want me to take a look?”

He shrugs.

She peels back the gauze, and she is kind. She purses her lips.

“Those,” she says, “are going to look badass.”

Zach

Instead, Hidebound steps forward and picks up Zach by the throat. Sara scrambles to her feet. Hidebound shoots her in the knee. She goes down again, screaming between her teeth, but no one in the hospital wants to hear. Shouldn’t the nurses handle that?

Hidebound grinds Zach’s face into shattered fruit bowl on the floor. It’s glass. Zach’s screaming too, until Hidebound finally pulls him upright with the silencer to his cheek.

Vode, molim,” mumbles Zach through bloody lips.

“What?” says Hidebound.

The little girl sweeps aside the curtain, snarling Croatian curses, and pulls Zach’s stolen gun from between her pillows.

Zach

“Everything that’s happened was my fault,” says Sara.

“No,” says Zach, “it’s mine,” and feels a dizzying tilt to the world with that admission. He leans over to steady himself on the bedfoot, which is why Hidebound’s bullet burns his ear in passing on its way to spiderweb the window. The zweep of his silencer is somehow inappropriate.

Zach, for once, doesn’t scream.

Sara spins with the nearest available weapon, a fruit bowl, which shatters on Hidebound’s head. He shakes off blood and throws her at Zach, who sort of catches her. They fall.

Hidebound resists mightily the urge to monologue.

Zach

Zach pulls the curtain back between their beds and turns around and Sara’s there in a hoodie, tired and smiling, her face not so different from the photo he first saw in the dossier.

The beeping pulse monitor on his finger takes a long pause, then restarts in triple time.

Sara glances over at it in startlement; Zach yanks it off. “Uh, hi,” he says. He’s suddenly very aware of his brief white gown. Did he last see her a day ago? Did they only meet the day before?

“Hi,” says Sara, whose eyes, she knows, must be full of guilt.

Zach

“This thing seems busted, huh?” says Zach, clicking the call button. “Man, Europe.”

The girl finishes her water and hands him the glass. “Ti si nježan idiot,” she says agreeably.

“You’re welcome,” says Zach, unsure about that last word. She puts one hand on her pillow, one beneath it, like a child in a picture book.

Sara steps into the hall from the stairs, pocketing lockpicks. Visiting hours are definitely over, but there’s no one here to catch her. Odd.

Yards away, Hidebound finishes strangling the second of the on-call nurses. Room 503 has been buzzing. He decides to attend.

Zach

Night, and the demonstrations in Budapest have peaked and begun to decline. The summit leaders will be gone by morning, in private jets and motorcades; the kids in black are straggling home.

Sara’s agents have tracked down Zach. She leaves István to his grief and comforts. Nasser is on a jet of his own, but he’s left Hidebound with a new sense of purpose. The bleeding has stopped and he’s got a fresh clean high.

Sara and Hidebound set out in the dusk, hooded and alone, in converging directions.

They are going to the hospital.

They are going to say goodbye.

The Vulpine Phalanger

This guy Iakob has had a bad day: the girl’s enforcer crippled him and dragged off his boss in a dynamite undershirt, and Hidebound must have followed to torture said boss’s whereabouts from him. This would explain why the Vulpine Phalanger finds him huddled over the toilet, choking and snorting.

“You know why I’m here, right?” she says gently.

He shudders and nods, but something’s wrong: a chink of metal on porcelain. He’s cuffed here. A reflection, in the bowl, of something white and doughy wired into his mouth.

Three steps; the blast hits. The Vulpine Phalanger tastes blood and darkness.

Sara

Upon the gears. Upon the levers.

Sara hasn’t slept in long enough that, she notices, she’s not prioritizing well. She’s indulged her baser urges plenty this week, yet she can’t keep herself from sending a squad of bright young terrors out on the hunt for that idiot boy. She can’t spare them. She can rely on so few of these people. But she does it, and gets back to work.

Zach isn’t allowed to sleep because of his head, which hurts a lot by the way, and also they took away his bulletproof vest because this hospital is full of dicks.

Sara

“You’re right,” says Sara, tossing the hammer behind her. “I’m not going to hit you.”

“You could have saved us some time, dear,” says Nasser, regarding the ruins, “and me some money.”

Hogy a mellény.

István grins and leaves. Nasser frowns.

“I do speak a little Hungarian, you know,” he says, “but I fail to see what ‘vest’–”

“It’s time you knew how it feels,” she says, “to be the one manipulated.”

“We all manipulate each other, Sara,” he says, but with an unusual sobriety. “Every one of us.”

“Not every one,” says Sara.

Meanwhile, Zach shoots an eight-year-old.

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