It wasn’t easy. I had been holding everything in for so long, only giving out very vague and tiny scraps of information. And even that was done incredibly seldomly, with Pack and That-A-Way, just to explain the part about the Ministry. Telling anyone the actual truth, all of it, was completely new. And hard. The words just kept… not coming. I would fall silent in mid-sentence, staring at the floor or at the wall while telling myself to keep going, to spit out the next word.
Not helping, of course, was the fact that I felt cold. It was weird. The temperature of the house was always perfect. Especially in our individual rooms. The air was set exactly the way I liked it in here. And yet, from the moment I started to explain everything that had happened, all that I’d found out since that night I stowed away in the back of Royal Thunder, I felt progressively colder and more uncomfortable. The more I spoke, the worse it got. I drew my knees to my chest, hugging my legs as I forced myself to keep going, to keep explaining all of it.
I was terrified. Not really of Izzy… exactly. I was pretty sure I could trust her, just–just not positive. And I was afraid of where this would go after I took this kind of leap. Up until this point, I’d had full control of what happened to my secrets, the really important ones. As long as I was the only one who knew, I was the only one who could betray me, even accidentally. But now? Now I was doubling the risk. Izzy. I was telling her my secrets. I was telling her all of it. My family were the bad guys. I was Paintball (though she already knew that part). All the stuff with my memory being erased, with Tomas’s father, with Paige, with my confusion over who the good and bad guys in the city really were given everything I knew, all of it. I was giving her all of it.
It could go bad. It could go so, so fucking bad. If she messed up, if she said the wrong thing at the wrong time, if she even reacted emotionally to something my parents did or said, that could be it. That could be the end of everything, and I wouldn’t be able to stop it. I couldn’t control her. I couldn’t be there every second of every day just to make sure she didn’t say the wrong thing.
I had to trust her. There was no choice. I had to believe that she could handle it. I had to tell her the truth, tell her everything I knew, and just… trust that it wouldn’t end in my parents finding out. Because if they did, I didn’t… I didn’t know what they would do. I was afraid to consider it.
Yeah, fear. That was a running theme at the moment. My throat was dry, my voice shaky, cracking repeatedly as I pushed on through the story. I tried to keep it in as close to chronological order as I could, though I had to go back and clarify things now and then. Especially when it got to the parts with Paige and Anthony. Even though I still didn’t remember the boy exactly, just talking about what my younger self had apparently experienced was almost impossible. My voice shook even more through that part, and I just… I felt terrified. More so than through the rest of it. I felt like I could remember being that little girl seeing all those dead people even though I couldn’t. It was almost like the emotions were almost there even if I couldn’t access the actual memory. I couldn’t imagine what the real thing was like.
Through it all, Izzy didn’t interrupt. She didn’t ask questions, aside from one or two when my stammering was too confusing to interpret, or to clarify something. For the most part, she stayed completely silent, sitting there a few feet away as she listened to me spilling all of this for the first time. I didn’t look at her. I couldn’t tell how she was taking it. I was too afraid of how she would react, of what would happen if she reacted poorly. Afraid of the disgust I would see when she knew exactly what my family really was, and what they were actually capable of.
Only when I was pretty sure that I’d said as much as I could, that Izzy had as much of the full story as possible, did I look up. A sigh escaped me. “And that’s basically all of it,” I murmured softly. “That’s how I ended up here, doing this. Pretty fucked up, huh?”
For her part, Izzy didn’t respond right away. I had the feeling she needed a little more time to absorb all of that. Which was fair, given the enormity of what I was dumping on her. It was a lot.
I had no idea how long we sat there like that. Probably not very long, though it felt like forever. The seconds dragged on like minutes while the two of us just stared at one another. Izzy’s mouth opened once or twice, but she didn’t say anything. Not at first. Finally, she tried again, and words finally came out. “Your– your dad. He’s Silversmith. He–he’s…” She trailed off, slumping back as an expression of warring emotions crossed her face. That, of course, I understood completely.
“He saved me.” Izzy’s voice was soft and quiet, somehow making her seem even smaller than she was. She looked away from me, staring off into the distance. “He saved my life. I mean–he stopped… he saved me. Silversmith, your dad, he… he’s a… he’s a hero. He was my hero.”
“He was my hero too,” I agreed, my own voice no louder than hers. “Both of them. Both of him, I mean. My dad and Silversmith. He was–they were… Silversmith was my favorite hero. And my dad–I loved him. I mean, I love him. He’s just… he’s always been my hero. In every way.”
The other girl looked back to me finally, our eyes meeting. I saw the realization there, the understanding. “You’ve been dealing with that all this time. Sitting at meals, living in the same house, talking to him, hugging them?”
“I still love them.” The admission was, in some ways, the hardest thing I’d said so far. It made me cringe with shame. “I know it’s wrong. I know it’s stupid. I just–I love them. They’re my family. My mom, my dad, my brother. I love them. I want–I don’t want it to be this way.”
Izzy shook her head, hesitating before reaching out to barely touch my hand. “It’s not stupid,” she insisted in a quiet, yet firm voice. “They’re your family. It’s not… it’s not easy to just stop feeling those kinds of feelings. My–” She cut herself off, biting her lip before clearly forcing herself to push on. “My mom. She tried to…” Glancing away briefly, the girl steadied herself. “She tried to sell me to Oscuro. She did sell me to Oscuro.” There was an emptiness to her voice, a terrible sadness that had always been there. I’d even noticed it repeatedly. But now she was finally telling me where that sadness came from.
Over the next few minutes, haltingly and shakily, Izzy told me about how her mother had struck the deal with Oscuro, how that Handler guy had shown up and started using his power to force her obedience, and how she had escaped. Well, mostly escaped. She told me how just before she would have been captured again after everything she’d gone through to get away, my father had swooped in as Silversmith to save her. He dealt with the bad guys and protected her.
No wonder she saw him as a hero, even more than anyone else. Because he’d literally saved her from a life of torture and slavery, from being a mindwashed little puppet for Oscuro. He protected her. Then, though unknown to her at the time, he literally took her into his house. He told her that my dad was just a close friend, someone he trusted to protect her. My dad, Silversmith, they both took care of Izzy at a time when she was most vulnerable. Mom too. They protected her, showed her care and affection after her own mother had betrayed her so thoroughly.
And now, after all of that, after all that Izzy had gone through, I was telling her that my family were bad guys. I was telling her that the man who had saved her from slavery, and his wife, who had taken her in and cared for her, were actually supervillains. Not just normal supervillains, but billionaire supervillains who controlled and directed most of the crime in Detroit, if not all of Michigan.
God, no wonder she was having a hard time with the whole thing. I was surprised this wasn’t going worse, honestly.
Once the other girl finally finished telling me her own story, I slumped back a bit to digest all of that. My mind was spinning. My… well, basically everything was spinning. This whole thing really filled in a lot of confusing gaps in what I had known. It explained why Izzy was here. She was an incredibly powerful and young Touched. So my parents wanted to raise her, teach her to be on their side. They wanted to mold her into someone who would be part of their organization. Of course they did, because how often did an opportunity this enticing come along?
Finally, my head shook as I quietly murmured, “Boy, our lives have been pretty fucked up recently, huh?” Raising my gaze from the floor, I looked to her. “I know it’s complicated, but I’m glad my dad stopped those Oscuro guys from taking you. For whatever it’s worth, I think… I think you’re better off here than with them.” Offering a weak shrug, I added, “Low bar and all.”
Izzy, in turn, flinched a bit before setting her chin to meet my eyes. “Low,” she agreed, “but you’re right. Whatever your family is, they–they’re better than that. As long as you’re not someone who could cause trouble for them that they can’t control.” Her voice was flat as she added, “You said they would’ve had you killed if they could. I mean, without knowing who you are. They would’ve killed a kid to protect their secrets. How many people do you think they’ve killed already just to get this far, and to hold onto their power? How many people have died because your dad quietly pushed Touched to other areas so that the criminals who paid the Ministry’s fee could do their thing without being interrupted? I– wh-what about Pencil? He–”
“He’s not part of it,” I quickly insisted. “None of the Scions are, believe me. I just–I know they’re not. Everything I’ve heard, the way they talk, it’s not… they’re outliers. They don’t follow the Ministry rules, and Pencil is just one of the few who can get away with it. Believe me, my parents want the Scions stopped as much as anyone. I mean, after all, the shit they do is bad for business.” It felt gross saying it like that, but it was the truth. “And… and I know my parents aren’t that bad. They’re not like Pencil. It’s not just about business and money. I know that makes me sound like a naive little kid, but it’s true. They have done bad things. But they don’t torture and kill people just for the hell of it. They don’t slaughter innocents just to have a fun time. That’s not–it’s not who they are. It’s more complicated than that.” Letting out a breath, I stared intently at the girl. “They’re still bad, they’re just not… not that kind of monster.”
After a very slight pause, Izzy gave a short nod. “You’re right. Not all bad guys are created the same. Your parents–your family has a lot of power. They do a lot of bad things. But not things like Pencil does. They’re not that kind of monster.”
For a minute or two, we both sat there silently contemplating that. There was more I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure how, or what exactly. It just felt like I should be talking, should be explaining, or justifying, or planning, or… or something. Instead, I sat there in silence, staring off at my clock wall while utterly failing to find the right thing to say.
Finally, it was Izzy who spoke. “You’re still trying to find out more about how the whole thing works? I mean, you’re still digging into it. You said there was that thing about the mall…”
Quickly, I nodded. “Yeah, we’re gonna try to find a way to get in that secret base. We–I mean Pack and That-A-Way and me. Like I said, they’ve been helping. They know… some of it. Not about me. Not about my family. But some of it. The basics about the Ministry and that Silversmith is involved.”
Izzy frowned thoughtfully, face twisting a bit. “No wonder Way was–” Then her eyes widened as she quickly looked at me. “Wait, you don’t know what–” Cutting herself off abruptly, she looked uncertain.
I stared at her, confused by that strange reaction. “I don’t know what?”
After a brief pause, her head shook. “It’s… it’s not my… I can’t say. Not yet.” Hurriedly, she looked back to me, explaining, “I can’t tell other people’s secrets. I can’t just–”
“It’s okay,” I assured her. “Believe me, I know all about needing to juggle secrets. I won’t push you on it.” I was curious about what that was all about, of course, but seriously. Pushing her to reveal more than she was ready to would’ve been the absolute height of hypocrisy.
“I want to help.” Izzy had pushed herself to her feet with that announcement, arms folded against her stomach as she stared at me. “Whatever happens, whatever your family is really into and how bad it is, I want to help you find out. Like that mall thing.”
Wincing, I shook my head. “It’s not that easy. I mean, think about it, if you use your powers, my parents are going to know that you know about the Ministry. So, best case scenario, they’ll be watching you really closely. Worst case, they’ll do something about it. They’ll either figure out that I know more than I should, or separate us somehow to try and make sure I don’t.”
For a moment, it looked like the other girl wanted to argue with that. But she stopped, sighing. “Right. Kinda hard to contribute and not give away who I am, I guess. And if you tell That-A-Way that I know the truth, it’ll give away who you are. Which, I guess you’re not ready to do?”
Swallowing at that, I shook my head quickly. “Not yet. I mean, I know we can basically trust them. Both of them, for the most part. I just–I’m not ready for that. You’re the first– no… the second person who knows who I am, aside from Paige. You and her are the only people who know everything I do. Even Paige might not know the whole thing. We didn’t exactly have time to talk about it. And now she’s…” I trailed off, swallowing hard at the thought of what was going on with that girl.
“You really haven’t had anybody to talk to about… any of this?” Izzy was staring at me. “All this time, I mean, you just barely had that thing with Paige, so you haven’t had anyone to talk to?”
Flushing a little uncomfortably, I pushed myself to my feet and shook my head. “It’s not that bad. I mean, lots of people have worse things to worry about.”
“You’re wrong,” Izzy insisted before correcting herself. “I mean, you’re right, lots of people have worse things to deal with right now. But you still…” Trailing off, her eyes widened. “I can help.” The words came thoughtfully before she quickly looked up, meeting my gaze. “I can’t go with you without exposing who I am, you’re right. But I can still help. I can talk to you about all this stuff. I can… I can cover for you here. I can help hide what you know, what we know. And I can just be here so you can talk to somebody about it. I can still help.”
Hesitating uncertainly, I slowly asked, “Are you sure you wanna do something like that? You really want to sit here and listen to me babble about my issues?”
“I want to help,” the other girl replied firmly. “Whatever I can do. Even just talking and covering for you. And… and being there if you get in trouble. Cuz if something happens, I’m gonna find a way to help, cover or no cover.” Her voice was pretty well determined for someone that young.
Thinking about that, I slowly turned and walked over to my bed to sit on it. My own voice was far more hesitant and uncertain. I sounded (and felt) small. “I guess it would be nice to have someone to talk to about this stuff.”
Izzy moved over to sit on the bed next to me. Her hand found its way to my back. “I’ll listen,” she promised in a gentle voice that made her sound far older than she actually was. “Whatever you need to talk about. Whatever you want to say. I promise, I’ll listen.”
The two of us sat there together like that for a minute before she added a quiet, “I do have a question. That… Paige, she’s really like a… a cyborg?”
Coughing despite myself, I heaved a sigh. “I don’t think cyborg is exactly the right word. It’s…” Glancing over to the other girl, I found myself smiling just a little. “Let me tell you everything I know about her.”
So I did. And I talked about other things too, more in depth than I had in my quick runthrough before. I talked, and talked, and talked. And she listened.
In the end, we both fell asleep there in my bed. And to be honest, it was one of the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time.