Chapter One: Wounds and Time
When her eyes were closed, she saw the scene clearly. She imagined running through a forest, enemies coming at her from all sides. In her mind, she could swing, slice and kill with no reservations. When she opened her eyes, it was different. She stared at the thin steel sword propped up on the weapons rack, her fingers tingling.
Come on, it's been a month already. I have to get over this, otherwise – what else am I good for?
Letting out a long breath, she stepped forward and lifted the blade gently. The cold steel felt smooth against the palm of her hand, while the weight of the hilt was like an old friend. She held it in position, her heart starting to race. On the other side of the room was an old wooden training dummy. She turned to face it, crouching slightly with her left foot forward. She imagined running at it and swinging her sword, ducking under its arm and striking it on the back. Her feet, however, stayed firmly planted on the ground.
She swore under her breath, gripping the hilt tightly. What good was she to the rebellion if she couldn't bring herself to fight? It was all she'd ever had, and it was fading.
"You still here?"
Samantha glanced over at the doorway. Carey was leaning against the frame, grinning at her.
"I - How long have you been there?" Samantha demanded.
"Just a second," said Carey, shrugging. "Look at you. You're been here for hours, and you're not even sweating. Wish I had your endurance."
Good. She doesn't seem to know. Samantha breathed out, her shoulders loosening. "Well, what do you want then?" she said haughtily. "I was just taking a break."
"I came to find you, silly," said Carey, still grinning. "It's – you've gotta come see. Hahana and Maui're back, and they brought a ship."
"Already?" Samantha frowned and hastily placed the sword back on the rack. She hurried after Carey. "But – Hahana said it could take months –"
"Well, they're here now," Carey interrupted, gesturing out the window. Samantha glanced through it briefly as she walked past. A large wooden ship was anchored out in the bay on the far side of the island, away from the wandering eyes of people on the mainland. It had one white and one pale blue sail, shining bright in the midmorning sun. A small rowboat was making its way towards the shore, only a few yards from the beach.
Carey led her through the corridors and out onto the rocky ledges. They climbed down quickly, and met their friends at the edge of the sea. Both Hahana and Maui looked thinner and more tired than Samantha remembered, but they both smiled warmly as their friends approached.
"I'm so glad you're here," Carey exclaimed as Hahana enveloped her in a tight hug. "I thought you'd take much longer."
"So did we," said Hahana as she let go and turned to Samantha. She reached out and hugged the other woman tightly. Samantha felt her cheeks reddening. Her arms were stuck at her sides, but she managed to awkwardly pat Hahana on the back.
"Good to see you," Samantha muttered. The other woman beamed. Maui took a step closer, adjusting his collar before he spoke.
"I… It is good, to see you," he said. Samantha nodded and took his outstretched hand, shaking it stiffly. His palm was oddly damp.
"I thought you wouldn't be back for ages," she said.
Maui nodded. "We… It was quicker, than we thought. We are lucky. Hana, she – "
"Ah, Janelle! You are here!" Hahana jumped between them and darted up the rocky steps. Samantha's chest tightened. She looked up and smiled as best as she could, very aware of the blush creeping up her neck. Her oldest friend was hurrying down to the beach, her red curls blowing across her face.
"You're here," Janelle said breathlessly, pushing her hair behind her ears. "That didn't take long."
"We were lucky," said Hahana, glancing at Samantha briefly as she and Janelle joined the group on the sand. "I knew we would have to wait until the right ship arrived at the port. And there is only one person I would trust to take us across the sea."
She gestured to the boat anchored out in the bay.
"This ship, its captain is a dear friend of my father. He helped Maui and I reach the Island, and I knew we would have to wait for him to return before we could leave."
She paused, turning around and beckoning at an unfamiliar middle-aged man who was tying the rowboat to a wooden post at the edge of the water. When the man was finished he looked up and saw Hahana waving at him. Smiling, he trudged over to them. He was tall, with greying blonde hair tied back in a small ponytail. His skin was tanned and leathery, and there was a large smattering of freckles across his broad nose.
"Good day to you," he said when he reached the group, taking Janelle's palm and clasping it tight with both his hands. She blinked, glancing at Hahana, who grinned and took a step forward.
"This is Bennius, the captain," she said. "He hid Maui and I on his ship many months ago, and – he and his crew will take us to Zeia."
"Oh," said Janelle, swallowing thickly. "Well, thank you, um… Bennius. You're doing us a big favour."
She said his name quietly, her voice hitching on the first syllable. Samantha stared at her, pursing her lips.
"There is no trouble," said Bennius. His voice was thick and a higher pitch than Samantha had expected. "We will leave soon, if this is working for you. Tomorrow morning."
Janelle glanced at Carey, who nodded slowly. She was staring at Bennius, her jaw clenched.
"Fine," she muttered. Hahana watched her, her large brown eyes unblinking. She turned to Bennius and tugged his torn sleeve.
"We will head inside now, to get ready for tomorrow," she said. "Thank you, matake. We will talk later."
He smiled at her, reaching out and clasping her fingers with both hands. When he let go he ruffled her hair and they both laughed. He bowed his head at Maui, who smiled and muttered something Samantha couldn't understand.
"Why is he taking us to Zeia?" said Carey when Bennius was out of earshot. She frowned, stroking the end of her chin. "He isn't like you, right? He doesn't look like you, I mean… He looks like he could be an Islander."
Hahana arched her eyebrows. "Well, I suppose he could be. He is Tarantian, Carey. His ancestors are shared with yours."
Carey blinked. "What?" she blurted out, leaning forward. "I – How could you bring him here? After what Victor –"
"Bennius is not Victor," said Hahana. She was smiling like she always did, but her lips were tight. "He is a kind man, more generous than you know. If your Leader or the Emperor's council were to find out what he has done, he would be killed. So please, do not compare him with that man."
Carey blushed, looking away at the ground. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish. Maui placed his hand on Hahana's shoulder, his brow knotting. She looked up at him and her smile softened.
"We should go, anyway. We need to prepare for tomorrow." She paused, glancing at Samantha. "Tell me, Sam, where is 805? We need to tell him the ship is ready."
Samantha shrugged. Her instinct was to snap back that she didn't know or care, but she steadied herself. "I… I don't know," she said eventually. "I haven't seen him today."
Hahana bowed her head. "Okay. We will go and look for him. If you do see him, can you let him know?"
Her throat tight, Samantha nodded. Hahana smiled and patted her lightly on the arm before turning back to Maui. They started up the stone steps together, making their way slowly towards the white stone building the rebels had made their home.
"I should go find Wesley," said Carey. Her cheeks were still red. She muttered a goodbye and took off after them, jumping up two or three steps at once. Samantha cleared her throat, glancing at Janelle, who looked away quickly.
"So… They're really going, then," said Janelle after a pause. She smiled tentatively and Samantha felt her stomach flip. "I can't believe it."
"Yeah," said Samantha, pressing her lips together. "Did you talk to Carey about it at all?"
"Yes. She's gonna see if she can convince them to send us some aid. I… I don't know if they will, but – we have to try, right? And even if they don't, if she finds out more about the Gifted or her own powers out there, that'll help us too."
When Janelle finished talking she sighed, glancing sideways at her friend. "So… how are you anyway? Is your recovery going okay?"
"Alright," Samantha lied. "All my bruises have faded, and – I've been practicing every day. I'm getting back to normal, slowly."
"Great. That's great." Janelle fiddled with the sleeve of her coat. "And – what about Thomas? I haven't seen him much, since… Well, you know."
Samantha hesitated, her lip quivering for a moment. "He… He's doing well. I mean, it's been an ordeal, but – he'll be okay."
Another lie. Janelle was watching her closely, her smile fading. She reached out for a moment, her fingers hovering above Samantha's wrist. A few seconds later she pulled her arm back, holding it stiffly at her side. Samantha looked away, folding her arms tightly across her chest.
She longed to tell Janelle everything. She wanted to tell her how worried she was for her brother. She wanted Janelle to know she had been struggling to fight even a training dummy, when swordplay was all she'd wanted to do since she was fifteen. A few months ago, she would have told Janelle everything with only a little hesitation. Janelle, in return, would have listened and encouraged her to talk. Instead, they stood stiffly next to each other, shivering in the cold winter air.
It's my fault. Even though I said we could forget about my feelings, I was kidding myself to think things could ever go back to normal.
"I should go now, anyway," Samantha heard herself say. "I told Tom I'd eat lunch with him."
"Yes, go," said Janelle quickly. "I should get going now too, actually. Evelyn and I have a few things to go over."
Samantha nodded, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ears. She startled for a moment when there was nothing there to tuck. Her stomach twisted and she swallowed thickly, flashing back to her time in Victor's cell. Her memories were vague and fuzzy, but she remembered the terror of it well enough.
"Are you okay?" said Janelle, her eyes widening. "Sam –"
"I'm fine," Samantha interrupted. "Really, don't worry. Go."
Janelle bit her lip, rubbing the back of her neck. She opened her mouth to speak, hesitating before she continued.
"Okay," she said eventually. "But – I am sorry, Sam. It's been so long since we've talked, and it's my fault. I've been so busy."
"I know," said Samantha. "I… I understand. It's not a big deal."
"Well, things are gonna start settling down soon, I hope. We'll talk then, okay? I promise."
Samantha nodded. "Okay. Thanks, that… That'll be nice."
Janelle smiled, her green eyes crinkling at the edges. Samantha's heart started to race and her palms tingled. She couldn't help but smile back. Muttering a goodbye, she watched her friend as she turned around and made her way back up to the stone building. Samantha stood alone on the beach, holding her hands tightly together.
I was kidding myself if I thought I could forget.
Swearing under her breath, Samantha trudged up the rocky steps, tears prickling behind her eyelids. Even after all that happened, a tiny part of her heart held onto hope that one day, Janelle would love her back. Samantha wished more than anything that she could ignore it and be happy with Janelle as her best friend. She had spent five years trying and failing to forget, and even now she knew without a doubt how Janelle felt, she still couldn't do it.
She can never know. I… I know how things have to be. If I want to stay her friend, I have to push my feelings as far down as they'll go. I'll never tell her or anyone else ever again.
Samantha took a deep breath, her shoulders shaking. She wiped her eyes hastily before she entered the rebel's hideout, making her way to men's dormitories as quickly as she could. She knew her eyes were still a little red, but she doubted Thomas would notice.
When she reached the door to the dormitory, she stopped and plastered a smile on her face. A couple of the men leaving the room stopped and raised their eyebrows at her. They stared at her for a moment, looking her up and down, their expressions changing. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Samantha pushed past them and hurried into the dormitory.
She strode as firmly as she could towards a bed right at the end of the large hall. Her brother sat in the middle of the sunken mattress, holding his arms in his lap. He was clean shaven and his bright red hair was growing back, but it was not yet long enough to form his usual curls. His blue eyes were dull and vacant, even when he looked up as she approached.
"Good morning," she said, the corners of her mouth starting to ache. "I know it's a bit early, but – wanna go to lunch?"
"Sure," he said. He stood up slowly, letting out a breath when he reached his full height. He shuffled forward, his back hunched, and Samantha couldn't help but imagine a man fifty years older than he in his place. Still smiling, she took his arm and led him back through the dormitory. She made him wait outside the dining room while she grabbed two bowls of soup from the attendee. Her stomach growled and she knew it wouldn't be enough to satisfy her, but their meals were strictly rationed. Many of the farmers who donated to the rebel group had refused to send any more produce after Caleb, Marina and the rest of their allies were killed or exiled.
Holding a bowl in each hand, Samantha hurried back to Thomas.
"I thought we could eat alone today," she said. "Would you like that?"
Thomas gave a small shrug. "I told you, I don't care if anyone sees you spoon-feeding me. But if you don't want anyone to see, then –"
"No, it's not that," said Samantha quickly, her cheeks reddening. "I just meant – whatever. We can eat here, it's fine."
She turned sharply, slopping a small volume of watery soup over the side of her bowl. Thomas followed her and they sat down at the end of the nearest table. Many nearby rebels glanced at them, doing a double take when they saw Thomas's arms. Samantha gave them her fiercest glare and they startled. Still blushing, she lifted the spoon from Thomas's bowl and held it in front of his mouth. He drank it carefully and when he was finished she loaded another spoon.
"So, how are you today?" Samantha asked, her voice high and cheery. Thomas swallowed his mouthful.
"Fine," he said. "And you don't have to talk like that. I'm not a child."
Samantha coughed, lowering her voice to its normal pitch before she continued. "Sorry."
She lifted another spoonful for him and they ate the rest of the meal in silence. She cursed herself under her breath. It had been over a month since they had been rescued from Victor's dungeon, but Thomas had made little progress, which worried her greatly. Sure, physically he was improving every day – he had gained weight and was getting better and better at managing without his hands. But he rarely spoke, and when he did it was short, non-committal sentences. Samantha had made sure to see him every day, to help him with every meal and everything else he needed done for him, but it was little use.
For the first couple of weeks, he had stayed with her while she recovered. He hadn't said much to her then, just sat steadily at her bedside. She had been out of hospital wing for two weeks, but nothing had changed in that regard. Samantha longed for him to talk to her, to tell her how he was struggling and what she could do to fix it.
We can't keep going like this. I'll have to do it. I'll take the first step. It's the only way.
"So how are you, anyway?" she said firmly, waving her hand when he opened to mouth to reply. "No. Don't say you're fine. I know you're not, Tom. Tell me what's wrong. I want to help you."
He shrugged. "Nothing."
"Don't say that," Samantha snapped. She swore under her breath and leaned back, taking a deep breath to steady herself. "I – I mean – Please, tell me what I can do. I want us to talk like we used to. You… You've changed so much, and I… I just want things to go back to normal."
Thomas pressed his lips together. "Maybe they can't," he said. "Come on, Sam. Of course I've changed. I spent years in that place."
"It wasn't years, Tom. Just a few months," she said, placing her hand over his elbow.
"Oh," said Thomas, blinking slowly. "Well, months then. It doesn't matter."
He paused, reaching up and placing his left arm against his forehead, frowning for a moment. Samantha swallowed, her fingers tightening against his skin.
"Stop," he said quietly, closing his eyes. "Please, just let it go. My life…. It doesn't have a purpose anymore. I've accepted like that. Why can't you?"
"I…" Samantha's voice trailed off. She leaned forward. "Of course your life has purpose, Tom. You can still –"
"Sam," he said sharply. "I told you. Just leave it."
"I can't," she said, and the words started spilling out of her before she could stop them. "You're my brother, Tom. I can't just ignore it and let you waste away here, not talking to anyone. You're the only family I've got, and I want to help you. I want to look after you, like I always have –"
"You didn't look after me," Thomas interrupted. He stood up, the vein in his neck throbbing. It was the most animated she had seen him in a long time. "You fussed and bothered around me, there's a difference. I knew after Mum died you thought it was your job to protect us, so I let you believe that. But it was to make you feel better. I just put up with it."
He stopped for a moment, his chest heaving. "I don't need you, Sam," he said when he'd caught his breath. "I never have. So for the last time, leave me alone. Whenever I'm with you, I just feel ten times worse."
Samantha swallowed, her hands shaking. "Well – if that's how you feel, then go," she said, with as much indifference as she could muster. He stared down at her, his eyebrows creasing. He opened his mouth and then closed it, giving her a short nod.
"Fine," he muttered. He hesitated for a moment, before turning away and hurrying from the room. Samantha's neck burned. She could feel the eyes of most of the rebels in the room on her as she stood up and made for the door.
Maybe he's right. I thought I'd been giving him space, but – maybe not. Maybe I do just fuss and bother him.
Swallowing, she blinked back tears and left the dining hall. She hurried along, pushing past rebels on their way to lunch, ignoring their irritated comments. She headed straight for the training rooms, her fingers twitching.
If I can't help Thomas, if I can't be Janelle's friend – then I have to fight. That's all I'm good for.
Most of the training rooms were in use, but when she glanced through the window in the door of the furthest room it looked empty. Still shaking, she opened the door and strode straight to the weapons rack. She grabbed a sword and turned to face the training dummy, determined to run and slice it to pieces.
Every time she tried to move, her feet refused to budge. It was no use. Nothing had changed. All she could think of was Victor's men. They filled her head, taunting her, their fists connecting with her face, her stomach, her legs. She had taken down a few of them, even though she had no weapon, but everywhere she turned she saw another one. Her memories of the rest were fuzzy but it was the terror, the inescapable terror, that she couldn't shake. She had fought so many Gifted in the past year, and killed a fair few of them, but never had she felt so helpless as she had that day.
Swearing blindly, she threw the sword down with a loud clatter. She turned to leave, her eyes blurring with tears, stopping only when she saw a figure standing at the other end of the room. She wiped her eyes hastily, her heart racing.
"What're you…" her voice trailed off as her vision came into focus. She resisted the urge to swear more when she saw 805 standing at the other end of the room, leaning against the wall. His hands were clasped around a large wooden box. His grey eyes met hers and she flushed, unable to look away. She swallowed thickly.
Of course it had to be him. Typical.
"When did you come in?" she snapped as harshly as she could manage. "What, you just saw me inside and thought, oh, now's a great time –"
"I was already here," said 805, nodding at the open door beside him. Samantha peered at it, frowning when she realised what it was – a storage closet.
"I was in there looking for some throwing knives to practice with," he explained, his voice even. "Then I heard you come in."
"Oh," said Samantha, pursing her lips. "Well… Okay. Um…"
Her voice trailed off. He waited patiently, his grey eyes unblinking, his eyebrows knotting slightly. Samantha clenched her fists. She hated that he was looking at her with such concern.
"Did you hear?" she blurted out quickly. "Hahana found a ship, so – you'll be leaving tomorrow. She told me to tell you if I saw you, and – well…"
He tilted his head slightly, his tongue clicking in his jaw. "Yes, I know," he said eventually. "She found me."
"Well… Don't you have to pack, or something?" she said huffily.
He shrugged. "I don't really have anything, other than clothes. I'll throw something together before we leave."
805 placed the box he was holding on the ground and strode closer to her. He sat down on the bench beside the weapons rack, a few feet away from her. She stayed standing, her fingers still clenched.
"Samantha…" he began, hesitating. "I know I agreed to go, but – I'm not going to stay there forever. I'll come back."
She shrugged, turning her chin haughtily. "Whatever. I don't care."
Is that another lie? I don't even know. She swallowed, glancing at him from the corner of her eye. He was sitting with his hands clasped in his lap, staring down at the sword she had thrown on the floor. He looked up at her with that same look of concern, the one she wished she could ignore. She had seen it many times, whenever he had visited her in hospital. He had stopped by at least once a day, and like Thomas he almost never said a word. He didn't need to.
Tell him to leave. It's the right thing to do. She swallowed, the words stuck in her throat. Instead, she found herself saying something else.
"I know what you're gonna say," she muttered. "And – look, I'm fine. I've never been better."
She paused, rolling her eyes at her own answer. As if he'll believe that. "Okay, maybe not fine. But I'm dealing with it, okay? I don't need you."
"I know," he said quietly. "But that doesn't mean I can't be of any help."
Samantha pressed her lips together. She turned to face him, holding her arms across her chest. She swallowed, hesitating before she spoke.
"Look, I…" she started. "I can't – I mean…"
Her voice trailed off. She took a deep breath before she continued.
"I can't just forgive you," she muttered, her fingers clenching against her elbows. "I… I can't just open up to you and forget everything that's happened. I know that's what you want. It's what everyone seems to think I should do, but – I can't. And I know – maybe it wasn't just your fault, but – Mum and I went through a lot because of what you did."
"I know," said 805. She blinked, leaning back and letting go of her arms.
"You – you do?"
"Of course I do," he said quietly. He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "I… I'm not asking you to forgive me, Sam. You don't have to, and maybe you shouldn't. I know that you suffered a lot because of my choices, even if they were the right ones to make. And… I know she did too."
Closing his eyes, he leaned back against the wall. Samantha's eyes watered and she bit her lip. Memories of her mother flooded her mind. She could picture her smile so clearly and her heart clenched.
"I miss her." The words left her mouth before she could stop them. 805 opened his eyes, looking up at her.
"Me too," he said quietly. Samantha swallowed and sat down on the furthest edge of the small bench, clasping her hands in her lap. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in memory.
Mum… What would you think, if you saw Thomas the way he is? You'd be devastated. You tried so hard to protect him, and – I tried to do that for you after you were gone. I wish you were here. You'd know what I should say.
She glanced cautiously at 805. Briefly, she considered telling him about Thomas, but the words got stuck in her throat. It didn't feel right. Not yet.
"I… I should go," she muttered. She had no idea where she would go, or what she would do, but she knew she couldn't stay. "See you tomorrow, I guess."
He nodded. His own eyes were wet.
"Have a good day," he said quietly. Taking a deep breath, Samantha swallowed and stood up quickly. She hurried over to the doorway glancing back at him briefly before she left. She ran back through the corridors, not really sure where she was heading. It was only later, when she lay awake in bed that night, that she realised he had called her Sam.
. . . .
Samantha stood alone on the beach, clenching her jaw as she watched her brother talking to Maui at the water's edge. Hahana, Maui, 805, Carey and Wesley were about to leave for Zeia at long last. Samantha had not seen Thomas since he'd left the dining room the night before. She had looked for him at breakfast, desperate to make amends, but she had not been able to find him. After at least half an hour of searching she gave up and made her way to the beach, only to find he was already there with Maui. To her disbelief, her brother was smiling, although it was only a brief, weary grin. She hadn't seen him smile for months.
"I didn't know they were friends," she said as Hahana trudged past, unable to hide the edge in her voice. The other woman stopped, glancing up at her.
"I do not know much about it," said Hahana with a shrug. "Maui wanted to talk to him last night, but he would not tell me why."
"Weird," Samantha muttered. Hahana tilted her head slightly. She glanced at Thomas, who looked sullen again while Maui helped Bennius pull a large rowboat to shore.
"He will get better, Sam," said Hahana softly. "I think time will help him most."
"Maybe," said Samantha, pursing her lips. "I mean… Sure, it might help a bit, but I don't think it's that simple."
Hahana nodded slowly. "Yes, that is true. You will help him too, I know it."
"I'll try," she said. Hahana reached out and took her hand, giving it a light squeeze.
"I believe in you," she said. Samantha looked down at her, clearing her throat.
"Thanks," she muttered. Hahana smiled brightly.
"I will miss you, too," said the Zeian woman. Her cheeks were a little pink. She let go of Samantha's hand and glanced back at the stone building. "I will miss everyone here."
"Will you come back?"
Hahana nodded firmly. "Yes, of course. I hope very much I will get a chance to visit again. This Island… It is my mother's home, so I would like to see more of it. And Maui, he – I think he would like to visit again too. But maybe not as soon as I will."
Samantha nodded, folding her arms as the soft thud of footsteps started above. Janelle was hurrying down to the beach, Wesley close behind. Samantha's stomach swooped and she looked away quickly, a blush creeping up her neck.
Remember, you have to forget. Or at least, not let it show.
Hahana drifted away and soon she was alone again. Within five minutes, 805, 256 and Carey arrived and Bennius was calling everyone over to the boat. Hahana and Maui got in first, waving goodbye. 805 was next, gingerly stepping inside the wooden structure. His eyes met Samantha's and she looked away quickly. Wesley clambered in afterwards, his skin even paler than normal. Carey was last, and she hugged Samantha, Janelle and Thomas in turn.
When she got to 256 she took his hand and muttered something under her breath, her cheeks turning red as she sheepishly glanced towards Samantha and Janelle. Samantha raised her eyebrows and caught Janelle's eye, who smirked.
"Hurry up," called Wesley from the boat. Carey rolled her eyes and hugged 256, so tightly he coughed. She let go and he gave her a small smile. Carey leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before hurrying towards the boat.
Once she was safely seated, Bennius pushed the rowboat into the ocean as far as he could before hopping in himself. He gave Samantha and Janelle a cheery wave and passed an oar to Wesley, who almost dropped it in the water. Slowly, they made their way across to the ship.
Samantha, Janelle, 256 and Thomas stayed on the shore. Janelle sat down on the sand and Samantha tentatively kneeled beside her. 256 did the same, holding his knees to his chest, his deep brown eyes shining in the morning sun. They sat silently, watching until the ship completely disappeared into the horizon.