38. Delayed Departure

“…I’m going to help her escape.”

“Bracken,” Jaz began, shaking her head.

Bracken persisted. “Do you know how much this place is wearing her down? She can’t even remember what’s in her own basement or what she did last month. She has projects down there she probably doesn’t even remember starting. All just to keep herself sane, because she knows she might never leave. Sadie knew it, too. That’s why she stayed. It’s what friends do.”

“How many friends do you think Athamas and I have?” Corrine had pulled a napkin to her and was doodling on it with a pen she’d produced from somewhere. She paused to glance over at Bracken. “Everyone we interact with except for Jaz is dead or dying. Not much potential for relationships there.”

“Athamas, please. Don’t take him,” Jaz said quietly.

Athamas faced her, his expression mingled sternness and sympathy. “Even if I don’t today, he will still eventually die. Like Sadie. The one after him will die too, and the next. You are setting yourself up for an even more painful cycle.”

Jaz bowed her head and leaned her forehead against his chest. “I know he’ll have to go sometime. Just…don’t take him now.”

“You ask much of me.”

She raised her eyes, and a look passed between them, the same as when they’d last seen each other. Fondness. Hunger. Longing. She wanted death as much as Death wanted to claim her.

Corrine tapped the counter with her knuckles and held the napkin with her doodling up to Athmas.

He took it and frowned. “Et tu, Corrine?”

Corrine shrugged. “It’s not like we have a bunch of other people to talk with for any length of time.”

“…I will make a deal,” Athamas said slowly. “Jaz’s case can allow for some…exceptions. I will allow Bracken to live. With the understanding that if he begins to pose a threat to the expiration dates of others he will be terminated immediately, and this will be his fate.” He held up the napkin to Bracken. Corrine had sketched a scenario that, to Bracken, was the worst way imaginable to die. He stared at it, a chill streaking through his body.

“I know it’s a bit extreme, but this is what you ask for,” Athamas said.

Bracken had to swallow a dry spot growing in his throat. “I’ll be careful.”

“You agree to the terms?”

“I agree.”

Jaz sighed softly, the tension going out of her.

“Very well.” Athmas folded the napkin and put it in his pocket. He looked from Jaz to Corrine. “Are you ladies happy now?”

“Thank you,” Jaz said softly.

Corrine simply shrugged, but Bracken thought he saw a pleased quirk on her lips.

“Then we should go,” Athamas said. “There’s a death match tournament starting in Makamit.”

Jaz watched them leave, then looked at Bracken. But now it was he who couldn’t make eye contact.

He turned away from her and went downstairs. He knew who would be in his room, waiting, but he was still startled at the sight of Janus sitting on the cot.

“That was a lucky escape.” Janus crossed one leg over the other, resting his hands on his knee. “Death doesn’t make an exception for just anyone.”

Bracken stopped in the doorway, watching him. “Do you ever intervene for anyone, just because? Or does someone always have to make a deal with you first?”

“Whatever happens in these worlds has no bearing on what happens to me. To try and right every wrong would be madness.”

“It’s not your problem, you mean.” Bracken went to the cot and retrieved the picture book from atop his pillow, taking several steps back as soon as he had it.

Janus leaned forward and set his hands on either side of him on the mattress. “Think what good will come of us working together. You could be with your aunt again and help Jaz be freed from this place. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.”

Bracken shook his head. “I can’t make a deal with you, Janus.”

Janus’ expression did not change, but something about him suddenly felt tense. “No?”

“I already made a deal with Athamas. I have to behave myself, which means I can’t do anything that would put another world in danger. Setting you free, for example.” Bracken raised his shoulders and hands in a ‘what can you do’ gesture.

Janus went very still. He resembled a statue more than a living person. But something…dark radiated from his eyes. Not a color, exactly, and not an emotion. Just a feeling. Black rage. “You’ll change your mind. After time. When you’re desperate enough. Even Jaz finally broke down, over you.”

Bracken pushed down a rising chill at those words and continued. “I’m going to find the doorway generator that Sadie was looking for. When I do, I’m setting Jaz free.”

Bracken turned his back, closing the door behind him as he walked out of the room. Even through the closed door, he could feel the Lumenatra’s eyes watching him.

Jaz was sitting on the bottom of the basement stairs, her hands covering her mouth almost prayerfully. Their eyes met, and he knew she had been listening to the conversation.

She lowered her hands slowly. Some light filtered down from the door above, making her blue hair glow faintly. “What made you change your mind?”

Bracken shrugged, rubbing his neck as he glanced away. “I guess I realized you’re right. Sadie was one of a kind. No one could replace her. And staying here with you was the best thing she could have done with her life. She believed that, and so do I.”

Jaz smiled slowly. She stood and, putting her hands on his shoulders, leaned in and kissed his cheek.

He pulled back and rubbed at the spot. “C’mon, Jaz. Your boyfriends will get mad at me.”

“Boyfriends?” She stepped back, making a face.

“Sean and Athamas.”

“Athamas is not my boyfriend.” Jaz turned and started back upstairs.

Bracken followed her. “He totally is…”

——-

Hey y’all! Sorry for the late post, I was sick the past few days and didn’t even know what day it was until this morning. ^^; Hope this makes up for it! 

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