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It’s strange being in her head without being able to see her. I feel like she’s here, right in front of me. I feel like I now know her so intimately, so privately. I’m safe in the company of her thoughts; I feel welcome, somehow. Understood. So much so that some days I manage to forget that she’s the one who put this bullet hole in my arm.

I almost forget that she still hates me, despite how hard I’ve fallen for her.

And I’ve fallen.

So hard.

I’ve hit the ground. Gone right through it. Never in my life have I felt this. Nothing like this. I’ve felt shame and cowardice, weakness and strength. I’ve known terror and indifference, self-hate and general disgust. I’ve seen things that cannot be unseen.

And yet I’ve known nothing like this terrible, horrible, paralyzing feeling. I feel crippled. Desperate and out of control. And it keeps getting worse. Every day I feel sick. Empty and somehow aching.

Love is a heartless bastard.

I’m driving myself insane.

I fall backward onto my bed, fully dressed. Coat, boots, gloves. I’m too tired to take them off. These late-night shifts have left me very little time to sleep. I feel as though I’ve been existing in a constant state of exhaustion.

My head hits the pillow and I blink once. Twice.

I collapse.

Twenty-Two

“No,” I hear myself say. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

She’s sitting on my bed. She’s leaning back on her elbows, legs outstretched in front of her, crossed at the ankles. And while some part of me understands I must be dreaming, there’s another, overwhelmingly dominant part of me that refuses to accept this. Part of me wants to believe she’s really here, inches away from me, wearing this short, tight black dress that keeps slipping up her thighs. But everything about her looks different, oddly vibrant; the colors are all wrong. Her lips are a richer, deeper shade of pink; her eyes seem wider, darker. She’s wearing shoes I know she’d never wear. And strangest of all: she’s smiling at me.

“Hi,” she whispers.

It’s just one word, but my heart is already racing. I’m inching away from her, stumbling back and nearly slamming my skull against the headboard, when I realize my shoulder is no longer wounded. I look down at myself. My arms are both fully functional. I’m wearing nothing but a white T-shirt and my underwear.

She shifts positions in an instant, propping herself up on her knees before crawling over to me. She climbs onto my lap. She’s now straddling my waist. I’m suddenly breathing too fast.

Her lips are at my ear. Her words are so soft. “Kiss me,” she says.

“Juliette—”

“I came all the way here.” She’s still smiling at me. It’s a rare smile, the kind she’s never honored me with. But somehow, right now, she’s mine. She’s mine and she’s perfect and she wants me, and I’m not going to fight it.

I don’t want to.

Her hands are tugging at my shirt, pulling it up over my head. Tossing it to the floor. She leans forward and kisses my neck, just once, so slowly. My eyes fall closed.

There aren’t enough words in this world to describe what I’m feeling.

I feel her hands move down my chest, my stomach; her fingers run along the edge of my underwear. Her hair falls forward, grazing my skin, and I have to clench my fists to keep from pinning her to my bed.

Every nerve ending in my body is awake. I’ve never felt so alive or so desperate in my life, and I’m sure if she could hear what I’m thinking right now, she’d run out the door and never come back.

Because I want her.

Now.

Here.

Everywhere.

I want nothing between us.

I want her clothes off and the lights on and I want to study her. I want to unzip her out of this dress and take my time with every inch of her. I can’t help my need to just stare; to know her and her features: the slope of her nose, the curve of her lips, the line of her jaw. I want to run my fingertips across the soft skin of her neck and trace it all the way down. I want to feel the weight of her pressed against me, wrapped around me.

I can’t remember a reason why this can’t be right or real. I can’t focus on anything but the fact that she’s sitting on my lap, touching my chest, staring into my eyes like she might really love me.

I wonder if I’ve actually died.

But just as I lean in, she leans back, grinning before reaching behind her, never once breaking eye contact with me. “Don’t worry,” she whispers. “It’s almost over now.”

Her words seem so strange, so familiar. “What do you mean?”

“Just a little longer and I’ll leave.”

“No.” I’m blinking fast, reaching for her. “No, don’t go—where are you going—”

“You’ll be all right,” she says. “I promise.”

“No—”

But now she’s holding a gun.

And pointing it at my heart.

Twenty-Three

These letters are all I have left.

26 friends to tell my stories to.

26 letters are all I need. I can stitch them together to create oceans and ecosystems. I can fit them together to form planets and solar systems. I can use letters to construct skyscrapers and metropolitan cities populated by people, places, things, and ideas that are more real to me than these 4 walls.

I need nothing but letters to live. Without them I would not exist.

Because these words I write down are the only proof I have that I’m still alive.

It’s extraordinarily cold this morning.

I suggested we make a smaller, more low-key trip to the compounds earlier in the day today, just to see if any of the civilians seemed suspicious or out of place. I’m beginning to wonder if Kent and Kishimoto and all the others are living among the people in secret. They must, after all, have to have some source for food and water—something that ties them to society; I doubt they can grow anything underground. But of course, these are all assumptions. They might very well have a person who can grow food out of thin air.

I quickly address my men; instruct them to disperse and remain inconspicuous. Their job is to watch everyone today, and report their findings directly to me.

Once they’re gone, I’m left to look around and be alone with my thoughts. It’s a dangerous place to be.

God, she seemed so real in my dream.

I close my eyes, dragging a hand down my face; my fingers linger against my lips. I could feel her. I could really feel her. Even thinking about it now makes my heart race. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I keep having such intense dreams about her. I won’t be able to function at all.

I take a deep, steadying breath and focus. I allow my eyes to wander naturally, and I can’t help but be distracted by the children running around. They seem so spirited and carefree. In a strange way, it makes me sad that they’ve been able to find happiness in this life. They have no idea what they’ve missed; no idea what the world used to be like.

Something barrels into the backs of my legs.

I hear a strange, labored sort of panting; I turn around.

It’s a dog.

A tired, starving dog, so thin and frail it looks like it could be knocked over by the wind. But it’s staring at me. Unafraid. Mouth open. Tongue lolling.

I want to laugh out loud.

I glance around quickly before scooping the dog into my arms. I don’t need to give my father any more reasons to castrate me, and I don’t trust my soldiers not to report something like this.

That I would play with a dog.

I can already hear the things my father would say to me.

I carry the whimpering creature over to one of the recently vacated housing units—I just saw all three families leave for work—and duck down behind one of the fences. The dog seems smart enough to understand that now is not the time to bark.

I tug off my glove and reach into my pocket for the Danish I grabbed at breakfast this morning; I hadn’t had a chance to eat anything before our early start today. And though I haven’t the faintest idea what dogs eat, exactly, I offer the Danish anyway.

The dog practically bites off my hand.

It chokes down the Danish in two bites and starts licking my fingers, jumping against my chest in excitement, finally plowing into the warmth of my open coat. I can’t control the easy laughter that escapes my lips; I don’t want to. I haven’t felt like laughing in so long. And I can’t help but be amazed at the power such small, unassuming animals wield over us; they so easily break down our defenses.

I run my hand along its shabby fur, feeling its ribs jut out at sharp, uncomfortable angles. But the dog doesn’t seem to mind its starved state, at least not right now. Its tail is wagging hard, and it keeps pulling back from my coat to look me in the eye. I’m starting to wish I’d stuffed all the Danishes in my pocket this morning.

Something snaps.

I hear a gasp.

I spin around.

I jump up, alert, searching for the sound. It seemed close by. Someone saw me. Someone—

A civilian. She’s already darting away, her body pressed against the wall of a nearby unit.

“Hey!” I shout. “You there—”

She stops. Looks up.

I nearly collapse.

Juliette.

She’s staring at me. She’s actually here, staring at me, her eyes wide and panicked. My legs are suddenly made of lead. I’m rooted to the ground, unable to form words. I don’t even know where to start. There’s so much I want to say to her, so much I’ve never told her, and I’m just so happy to see her—God, I’m so relieved—

She’s disappeared.

I spin around, frantic, wondering whether I’ve actually begun to lose my grip on reality. My eyes land on the little dog still sitting there, waiting for me, and I stare at it, dumbfounded, wondering what on earth just happened. I keep looking back at the place I thought I saw her, but I see nothing.

Nothing.

I run a hand through my hair, so confused, so horrified and angry with myself that I’m tempted to rip it out of my head.

What is happening to me.

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