She shook her head. But she had to admit, the pain she was feeling . . . That was something the nanites would have fixed. “Can’t be,” she said.
“Want proof?” He reached to the bedside table that held the cup, pitcher, and straw, and picked up a hand mirror. “Look.”
She was a mess. Bruised. Her nose had been broken and reset, and was braced with tape and a metal band over the bridge. Her face had healing scratches, and she remembered Riley clawing at her in desperation, trying to live.
When she touched them, the bruises ached. So did her nose, with a constant dull throb.
Healing, but healing slowly. At a human rate.
And something else. A dull ache farther down, low in her torso. Familiar, but something she’d forgotten until now.
“I’m bleeding,” she said, and pointed down. For some reason, it made him smile. Sure. He wasn’t the one menstruating.
“Yes,” he said. “Because you’re alive, Bryn. That’s the real proof.”
Pain was proof. Pain and discomfort and messy, inconvenient life.
Bryn caught her breath on a sob. All those things she’d given up, however unwillingly—love, family, children, home—was all there again. All alive, like her, with possibilities.
“Annie?” she asked. Patrick’s smile faded, and she felt tears catch fire in her throat. “Oh, no. No.”
“We couldn’t bring her back. I’m sorry, we tried. It was—I don’t know. Riley was too badly hurt, we couldn’t save her, but Annie . . . Annie should have come back.”
Maybe she hadn’t wanted to, Bryn thought. Maybe, for Annie, she’d found what she wanted out there in the darkness beyond. Maybe she’d found Sharon.
“Home with Kylie and the kids,” Patrick said. “It’s over, Bryn. Most of the deaths were disconnected—rich men dying of heart attacks all over the world, or car crashes, or strokes. The Fountain Group’s gone, and they’re not coming back.”
“Pentagon briefing went down yesterday. The deaths are going to be covered up; most of it was still in volunteer trials. They’ve destroyed whatever samples survived. It’s useless, since not only do we have the kill switch, we shared it with hackers all over the world. They can’t find all of us, and it’s lost its strategic advantage.” His hand rested warm on her forehead for a moment, and it felt so good. So real. “You went into a coma for five days. We didn’t know if you were planning on coming back to us.”
“We?” She smiled a little. “You and who else?”
“Well, Manny and Pansy and Liam, but mainly . . .” He bent over and picked up Mr. French, and the bulldog stretched out on her, staring at her with soulful eyes. He whimpered a little and licked her hand. She petted him, and he wiggled happily. “Mainly this little guy. He slept next to you the whole time.”
“And so did you,” she said.
He smiled, and that was enough of an answer. He stood up, stretched, and said, “I’ll let everybody know you’re awake. Get ready for a stampede. Kylie wants to bring the kids to see you when you’re well enough.”
“Not yet,” she said, and took his hand. “Just you right now. Just you.”
“Just us,” he corrected, and kissed her.
It felt like life.
Short or long, happy or unhappy . . . it was hers.