by Lise

Chapter Seven

It was colder than anyone really remembered having felt before.

Franklin immediately felt dizzy, and laid his head on the wall, face completely white. Bobby helped him into a prone position on the bed -- what was left of the bed -- muttering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--"

Franklin held up a hand, and Bobby ceased.

There was a quiet second, and then into it, Domino snarled, "That was one fucking fabulous idea." She managed to get it all out before her teeth started chattering again, jarring her whole jaw, but even tucking her arms up against her sides and doubling over wouldn't keep the shivering at bay. Even so, cheeks tingling from cold and breath chilling her lungs, she added, "Yes, this was a fine idea."

Kitty huddled closer to her, each muscle in her body taut, tense, quivering with the strain of preventing the chills. She answered, "It beats being blown through two holes in the shield wall into a fucking ocean, Dom. And I didn't see you coming up with anything else, so fuck--"

Franklin raised his hand gently from where he was laying under a thin blanket. His skin had goosebumps. "Dom. Kitty. Can we just get a minute of peace?"

The two of them snapped their jaws shut immediately, and he felt weariness settle into his veins. The pounding in his head was keeping a steady rhythm with the incessant banging. Off to his right, Domino hissed, "Would someone please secure that shutter!"

He heard someone jump up and mutter as they tied down the offensive bit of plywood more securely. Without opening his eyes, he murmured, "All right. Who is in here with us, and where is everyone else?"

Kitty took his hand, and even that heat was welcome. Domino answered, "Bobby, you, Kitty, Patrick, and I are accounted for." Franklin knew that Patrick was the one that closed the shutter just now. "Nate said that Ilsa, Alex, Nur, and whoever else, are all in the house."

On hearing Alex's name, Franklin heard Bobby say uncertainly, "He'll be okay?"

Franklin could see nothing, eyes closed and an arm slung over his face, but he could hear and feel the chaos outside their walls. Even with the water frozen in place, people were still desperate, the holes in the shields still gaping open like the jaws of hell looking in on them. He could feel them in his mind, slippery and evasive. Refusing to close. Like trickster gods-- the holes had a foot in their door and were refusing to leave.

Domino said impatiently, "Alex is fine. Ilsa was checking on him when it hit."

"But, with the flooding--"

"It's not a damned flood, okay! It's just--"

Franklin squeezed his eyes shut tighter. The hand holding Kitty's clenched. Every bit of force in his mind clamped down on their homes, their sanctuary... he begged whatever was listening for just a little extra energy. Just enough to push himself this once more. Just--

It slipped away from him. Lost.

He sat up, awkwardly, and gazed at Kitty. By now his cheeks were numb, his fingers tingling. "I don't think I can close the holes."

She stared back at him, eyes level and full of alarm... face calm, impassive. Patrick watched the two of them, and out of the corner of his eye, Franklin saw him cross himself.

He hadn't known Patrick was Catholic.

#Nate,# Domino shouted mentally. #Nate, you flonqing bastard, are you guys okay?#

#Fine,# and he grumbled. She could feel the shaking in his knees. #Why the hell is it freezing?#

She slid down the wall of Bobby's teeny hut, solid wood comforting, and immediately her muscles relaxed. Which led to them seizing up again in violent shivering, but it was better than worrying about Nate. #Bobby froze the water.#

#Bobby froze the -- whose idea was that?# Domino glanced at Kitty, but didn't answer. Nate changed tactics, saying, #Dom, there was water for hundreds of miles. I couldn't see the edge of it. I couldn't sense the edge of it.#

Through the link, she could feel his disbelief. #I know.#

#No Bobby I knew could ever have done that much damage.# And there was respect in his tone. A lot of respect. #But, so there's no more flood. Why hasn't Franklin closed the walls around us yet?#

And now there was fear in his mental tone, a shiver up his spine. Domino glanced over at Kitty and Franklin -- the boy looked so pale. Bobby was sitting cross-legged in a corner, eyes wide and scared and confused. Patrick was solid as ever, and she was grateful that he'd happened to jump into their shelter. #He-- he says he can't.#

#Why not?# Real alarm. #No more storm... what else is stopping him? He said that it was the onslaught from the outside that was blocking up his concentration.#

#I... I don't know.# Truthfully, she'd been loathe to ask him, looking so frail, laying in a dirty blanket and on hard concrete. #He hasn't improved much.#

Through Nate's eyes, she could see most of the denizens of the Oasis huddled in their kitchen and in their living room, crowding together for warmth. He answered, #We need him.#

#I know.# She drew her knees to her chest more tightly. #Fuck, it's cold. I can't even move around. God knows what it feels like outside with the wind.#

#This isn't good, Dom.#

She glanced back at Franklin. His eyes were closed again. Kitty looked up at her, lips drawn in a tight line to keep her teeth from chattering. Little icicles glistened in her hair. #I know it's not good, Nate. We'd better do something fast.#

Domino stood up, keeping a tight reign on her limbs to stop them from shaking. Neither of them said, 'before we all freeze to death.'

"You can't fix things?"

"Kitty," and his voice was tired even to his own ears -- and it was strange to be talking to Kitty like that -- "It's not quite that simple. Things, when everything is normal around here, are easy to maintain. But we're talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of kilos of extra mass. Solid mass."

She nodded. "I remember some of my physics classes. What if Bobby raises the temperature..."

He shook his head, and coughed. "No, that won't work either."

Kitty squeezed his hand in reassurance, but her face fell. "You're right. Things would just start gushing again, and we'd be awash in water, not ice. And there's water for thousands of miles. We're surrounded by an ocean -- there might even be water above our sky for all we know." She chewed on her lip, which was going a little blue. She added thoughtfully, "What if we evaporated it all?"

Domino squatted by them both, and raised an eyebrow, having heard the last line of their conversation. "Evaporate it? How do you propose to do that?" Kitty blinked, face tense, and kept chewing her lip. Domino's eyes widened a little, but she called out to Nate, #How's Alex holding up?#

Nate paused to ask Ilsa out loud, and answered, #Not good. She thinks that the cancer is spreading.#

#Do you think he'd be able to be any use to us?#

#Yes,# he answered immediately, #As a member of the Twelve. You can't be thinking what--#

#It might work. We can't all fucking freeze. Franklin said we need the water gone.#

Domino could feel his gaze, taking in Alex and his injuries, sizing him up. She heard him think, #He's Franklin's age.#

She stared down at Franklin. "Franklin. What if Alex evaporated the ice with his powers?"

His eyes were closed. Franklin felt the storms outside, hammering to get in. It was taking all his concentration to keep more little cracks from opening -- concentrating the whole break into two holes at opposite ends of the Oasis, even, was getting to be too much. If any more cracks appeared, water might start pouring in again from somewhere else, on top of their ice. He could feel the hungry worlds, just trying to flow in.

Domino waited. It might have been her imagination, but a vein at Franklin's temple was throbbing. She said, "Then we build an ark. If Alex could do it, could you close the shields?"

Franklin felt his head pound, and the rest of his body slowly going numb. There wasn't really any other way; he could feel something -- someone? -- his mind whispered rebelliously, but no, that was just Nate's paranoia. It would be madness to even try.

But he nodded.

"You can't seriously think that we're going to risk Franklin outside with those lines still unstable--"

"Domino!" Franklin bit his lip. "I'm fine. We're going to have to get everyone in the same place, and if we wait too long..." He trailed off, and beside him, Bobby rasped, his breathing shallow.

Domino looked at Patrick, and answered curtly, "Fine. You, Patrick, Bobby and Kitty go straight to the house; I'll see if anyone's still outside, and join you."

He was quiet. "Don't take too long."

She chuckled, which ended up in a cough. "Don't worry. I don't intend to."

Domino looked up, and could see the line on that side of the wall, the frozen telltale high water mark where one ocean stopped and their Oasis began. Bobby had done a good job -- even without shields at all, the water wasn't budging. The foam of waves had frozen in place. She followed the graceful line of rushing liquid, frozen, and could see exactly how the water had pushed its way through Franklin's protection, had found a dry place, and rushed in.

It was a waterfall, frozen in place; only the rock face behind their flow was just more water, more rushing water. Water running over the edge of a bucket, without the bucket.

Domino turned away. Along near the beehives, at the other end of the Oasis, the water was much lower. She tread carefully down the slope of ice, and looked down. At the other end, it was less than a foot thick before she spied ground; this hole led onto some ocean that dipped sharply away, a cliff of ice, and where their ground sat, there was only empty space. She looked down, and thought about touching the side of the ground, to see whether the layer of dirt and the layer of ice met.

It was probably too cold to touch, anyway. She didn't.

The rest of the shields, where there were any, were transparent, sickly thin. Domino wandered slowly back towards the house, which had sustained most of the damage, and carefully avoided stepping on any of the debris. Here and there, things stuck out of the ice, blue-sheened prison holding them in place like tacky paper-weights, like epoxy and glue. Rich's spear was trapped under the awning of the house, and Domino's chest tightened to see it.

The ridge of the awning stuck up, and she poked at it with her toe-- it didn't budge. Trapped.

She didn't go into the gardens. There wasn't anything there, anyway, nothing left to see. Against the skyline in the distance, the horizon visible through Franklin's shields, she could see the beginnings of sunrise, to the left of her, and black night to the right. It didn't seem right, but then, nothing did.

Franklin held the mug of hot water in his hands, breathing on his fingers. They were all huddled together, trying to keep warm, but it wasn't working. Nate was hovering over him, eyes cloudy. Domino finally came back, and she said in a grim voice. "Have to be soon, kids."

Nate's face fell. Franklin stared out the window, and then rubbed his head self-consciously.

Domino was talking quietly to Nate. Franklin didn't care.

Alex had to take a look at things for himself. He stepped out of the house, and onto the porch. Surveying the surrounding area, the icy-blue calm of everything around them, the stillness and the glittering ice, he shivered. At least a foot of chill blue was beneath them, possibly two. He couldn't see the ground through the thickness.

"A little like glass."

He turned to stare at Amy -- hunter, if he remembered correctly. A swimmer in high school, Nate had said, and smiled. Alex replied, "A bit."

She added, "I used to think ice bergs were beautiful."

Alex looked around again. There was a table, its legs disappearing into the ice. He was reminded of a paperweight that his foster father used to keep on his desk at home, with a few bees trapped in an orange haze of amber.

He'd thought it neat as a boy, once. He didn't anymore. But there was nothing to see out here, and Amy's gentle hand on his arm was pulling him back inside. He hopped, awkwardly, back to where everyone else was gathered. They looked up as he entered.

Nate, carefully neutral in his tone, said, "Alex, we need to talk..."

Alex nodded, and then felt foolish. He answered, "I know what you need, Nate."

And he stood up, a determined look on his face. Amy tilted her head, and then grasped his arm. He said, "Amy, what--"

"You need help." She smiled. "I'm going to give it."

He searched her eyes -- they were clear. He nodded again, and they stood up together, Amy supporting his frame. Nate stood also, looking a bit alarmed. "Alex, are you sure--"

"Hey," and his voice didn't crack. "No one gets to be immortal."

Amy examined his face carefully... and nodded.

Lorna came in, just then, and whimpered, hand pressed to her lips. Bishop took her by the arm and led her out.

"Is she going to be okay?" Bobby asked.

Kitty pursed her lips. "No."

And no one else said anything, because Alex deserved the chance to be a hero, if he could, since none of the rest of them could do anything. No one moved, until Bobby wrapped his skinny arms around Alex's neck and started to cry. Bobby held on tight, murmuring things in Alex's ear that no one could hear, tears streaming down and warming up Alex's skin. Alex kissed the top of Bobby's head, and said quietly, "It's not your fault, no, it's not. It's not." Bobby held on tighter.

It hit a nerve, and soon everyone was sniffling, except Kitty, who stared off at the jagged horizon, penning them in for thousands of miles, and Franklin, who was too tired to get up the energy for tears.

It was almost peaceful out amongst the frozen wastelands. Alex watched his breath puff out in little curls, sharp, quiet. His throat was painfully raw.

Nothing was moving for what looked like a thousand miles. Amy stood beside him, one arm wrapped around his waist firmly, unobtrusively supporting his body so he didn't collapse. It wasn't that it was that hard walking over the slippery surface. It was just so miserably cold. His lungs felt tight with it. The cancer was the only thing that felt hot in his entire body; that couldn't be normal, had to be some fuzzy side effect from their surroundings. From the energy.

He couldn't see the Oasis anymore, not even an indistinct blob of shimmer on the faint horizon. They'd been walking for about an hour, maybe two. He let another puff of breath out.

Somehow it felt like a hunting trip, or a fishing trip. The calm expanse of frozen sea looked a little like Alaska, maybe, if Alaska shifted slightly into a nightmare, transforming from a simply hostile climate, impenetrable, cold, thick... to this, this climate that so obviously went on for-fucking-ever.

Amy squeezed his waist gently. "Are you feeling all right?"

He sucked a breath in around the scarves they'd bundled around his neck, felt it bite his lungs, nip, deep in his chest. "I'm fine, but I don't think I can go on much longer." Stick to the facts, the truth, the practicality of the situation. This was going to be it.

Amy nodded. Her eyes had sympathy. "I think we're far enough away from -- everyone, right here. It should be all right."

He nodded faintly, and pulled away from her. His hands were wrapped up in harsh wool, too, woolen mittens. His feet stumbled a little as he made one full circle, swiveling his head this way and that, getting a little dizzy at the lack of reference points. They'd had to pick the dimmest, flattest terrain. --Not even terrain. Lack of terrain.

Amy watched him. He looked at her, hair glittering with the little chunks of ice in it. She didn't seem to mind the cold. Alex nodded to himself. "Okay. Okay, this is it, then, if we're far enough away."

Amy's eyes widened a bit, and swallowed. She answered, "Do you need me, to..." She waved a hand, indicating his clothing, his jacket.

He started pulling his gloves off clumsily, cursing under his breath as the material stuck, finally ripping it off with his teeth and exposing his lips to the biting cold. "Jesus," he muttered. "Bobby must have just about reached zero Kelvin, here."

Amy grinned a little. "He's very powerful."

Alex's teeth chattered a bit. "Yeah." He looked up at Amy. "I'm okay, here, now that I have my fingers... you, um." He tried to pull his scarf off, fingers already going numb. "You'd better get out of here, if you can. I have to do this quickly, before I get too cold."

She touched his shoulder, quick, and said, "Good luck."

He watched her take off in a run. He could imagine her boots, that long stride crunching the smooth glassy surface. Alex was glad he could look down at his shoes, and not see any fish, nothing but more and more and more water.

His cheeks hurt, breathing hurt. Alex muttered, "Okay, time to get going, Summers." He ripped off the jacket, and tossed it to the ground, and then the layers underneath it, exposing the armor underneath. He rubbed his hands together, closed his eyes, and prayed. His lips were cracked and bleeding from the harsh air swirling around him.

Amy barely felt the breath pounding into her, out of her. The skin on her arms was standing straight up; she could feel something stirring in her bones. The Change, and Amy grunted. Kept running.

She'd lived this long; they weren't going to give up on her now.

Nate closed his eyes. He could feel, in his bones, the heat approaching, slowly at first, but then with more force. Domino had his hand clutched in her own, and she asked privately, #Are you sure you can protect us?#

#Probably. We Summers' are immune to each other, at least I hope.#

She grimaced. #That's not very reassuring.#

He tightened his shields, expanded them to the breaking point all around the house and what of the Oasis he could manage. If that wouldn't work, guilt would keep him going. He wasn't going to fuck this up. #It's as good as I can do.#

He wasn't going to fuck this up any more, he amended mentally. Domino squeezed his hand.

People were looking around at each other, hearing the rush of pure plasma approaching. Nate gritted his teeth--- shoring up his mental defenses, tightening the protection around the house. He heard Bobby's little intake of breath, didn't look at him. Nate shored up his mental defenses again, extended his mind. He could sense Domino's fear, and Bobby's ragged pain. Nate winced. He could feel the whole Oasis holding its breath.

And out there, miles away, he could feel Alex Summers' intense need -- for warmth.


concluded >>

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