She was admitted into the base's hospital a few days later, weeks earlier than she thought she'd be.
We visited a lot, talking, joking, playing cards, but I wanted to do something special for her, something she'd remember at night when the pain was unbearable and she was alone.
"Where are we going?" Megan asked. We were sitting in my car, a few minutes away from the hospital.
"We're going to get Sara some food," I said, pulling into In-N-Out's drive-thru.
"How can I help you?" the cashier said.
"Hi, I'd like a Flying Dutchman with Animal Style onions, a Neapolitan shake, fries well done, and an Arnold Palmer mixed with Fonz…"
Sara died, of course. There was no way she could have survived. Towards the end, she stayed in her bed all the time; she was too weak to move around and in too much pain to want to move around in the first place. Taking the painkillers made her groggy and disoriented, so she only took them when it was absolutely necessary.
I watched Gabriel and Megan lean on each other more and more through the ordeal. They were getting closer because of it, and so were Samantha and Joe and Shannon and me.
But Twist sat by her bed alone, murmuring softly to her. I eavesdropped. I couldn't help it.
"Twist, you have to find someone else," she whispered.
"I'm not going to leave you now," he said.
"When I'm gone, I mean," Sara said.
He studied his hands without answering. She shifted her hand and nudged his chin. She didn't have the strength to lift his face, but she could convey what she wanted. He looked up.
"Twist, I'm serious. You have to live for me."
"You've lived too," Twist said.
"Live and get old," she said, rolling her eyes. "Stop trying to argue with me, Twist. You know I'm perfectly right."
"No I don't," he muttered rebelliously. She laughed weakly.
"I heard that. But don't let yourself get bitter, Twist. We've all lost so much, and we've still stuck it through. Don't give up now."
"We've always been together before," Twist said. "Now Samantha is with Joe, Damien and Ann are gone, and you're leaving too."
"Shannon is here," she said.
"She's with Tim."
"Tim is here, too," she said. "He wants to help. He's going to replace me, Twist. He's not going to marry Shannon. He's just there to help her through. We've drawn him in. He can't forget the adrenaline and the rush of success now, God help him."
She knew me very well.
"The Talisman is going to come after him," she said. "He isn't nearly trained enough. Are you and Samantha still working out?"
"A little," he said.
"Work out more," she said. "They're coming, and you must be ready."
"I know, Sara. I've been in this as long as you have."
"But you're not thinking straight," she said. "You're worried about me. Don't worry. Concentrate."
"We've never done anything without you."
"There's a first time for everything," she said. "Samantha's not going to abandon you, Twist, just because she loves Joe. She loves you too, you know. You must know that."
"I do," Twist said. "I'm just—"
"Probably not as jealous as you," he said.
"Let's not compare vices," she said dryly. She sighed a little. "Promise me you'll live, Twist? Really live. Don't go crazy." And she drifted to sleep.
"I promise," Twist whispered, and kissed her forehead.
She went into a coma that night. She never woke up again.
It was strange. I didn't feel like an outsider, even though I was. I stood beside Shannon and Twist, who had an arm around his sister's shoulders, and Samantha and Joe.
Nobody but Megan was crying, and I didn't find that unusual at all. It was a small funeral, and most of the people there were all too familiar with death. We all knew death was preferable to years of pain, and that was what Sara would have suffered from if she lived.
Sara hated soggy funerals, so she'd forbidden eulogies and hymns. We sang contemporary songs and wore bright colors.
And then the doors burst open, and the short, staccato spatter of automatic gunfire rattled through the room.
"Get down!" I shouted in Shannon's ear, pushing her down roughly. There was no time for gentleness. I heard Sara's father hoarsely cursing at them.
"Couldn't you give us a day of peace? A day to grieve?" he screamed. "She was my daughter! My daughter!"
Goosebumps crawled up and down my arms, and I spotted the gunman, sweeping his rifle over to where Sara's father stood, swearing at them in an unleased fury of pure and potent rage. "Uncle Oliver," I shouted, and took a running dive. I pushed him down as a bullet pinged up where his head had been a few moments ago.
He looked up at me, angry tears streaming down his face. He wrested away from my grasp violently.
"Uncle Oliver," I repeated. "Don't do this! Come on, man! Think!"
He snarled at me and moved to get up again. I slapped him across the face.
"Do you really think your family can stand to lose another member?" I said desperately. "Wake up! They're depending on you to get them through, and you can't do that if you're dead!"
He stared at me for a long minute, until his face began to relax. "Thank you, son," he said quietly. "I lost my mind for a moment." He sighed and calmed himself. The anger returned, but it was carefully controlled, it was channeled, and it was deadly.
"I've always wanted to save someone like that," I said cheerfully. "Come on."
"You're happy," he said, as we crawled through the wreckage.
"Of course I am," I said. "This is my element. This is why the Talisman recruited me in the first place."
I looked up at Sara's urn, sitting quietly on a table on the low stage. I grinned, leapt up, and grabbed it before sinking back down to the ground. The shooters fired away and missed.
A hand clamped on my ankle.
"Don't kick me in the face, Tim," Twist said in a low voice.
"Oh, it's you," I said.
He stared at my wide smile and shook his head. His eyes, which had looked haunted just seconds before, sparked to subdued life. "You're just like Sara," he said. "You like the rush. You're an adrenaline junkie."
"I managed to forget what it was like," I said. I patted the urn. "Sara said I'm replacing her."
He didn't seem surprised that I'd overheard.
"Well, if you'll be replacing her," Samantha said, coming up beside us. She was crawling underneath the pews too. Dust marred her features.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Then we'd better go to ground and train a little more," she said. "C'mon. I know all the escape routes."
"What about Joe?" I said.
"Joe's fine. Now are you coming or not, Sara's replacement?"
"I'm coming," I said.
And we ran.