The server Meenah fled through is a distant speck now. You look back, and can’t even see it anymore. In fact, you’re not even sure you’re looking in the right direction. You are utterly adrift, continuing your lazy orbit around the black hole. The only thing you are sure of is the fact that your Ring of Life is freshly pilfered from your not-so-fresh-looking hoodie.

It doesn’t really bother you, though. It’s not like you had any plans for it. Taking it from Aranea was, like, a bonus as far as you were concerned. Extra life ring? Nice, maybe it’ll come in handy someday. Scratch that now. The young Condesce has it, and is probably hatching bold new plans as we speak. Not that those plans will ever have anything to do with you.

Hours and hours slip by. Your eyes starts to hurt, and the wound in your chest starts feeling numb. It’s a disconcerting combination of sensations.

After a while you think about tending to your wound. There must be something in your dad’s wallet that you could use to bandage the gash. You eye the wallet and try to imagine what could possibly be inside it that would be of any use on a medical basis. A straight razor? You’d probably fuck yourself up even more if you tried to perform surgery.

You notice you can’t seem to make yourself care about healing yourself long enough to continue entertaining ways to MacGyver your body back to health using nothing but the contents of a wallet belonging to a middle-aged, shaving-obsessed pipe enthusiast. You put the wallet back in your pocket.

A glint of red catches your eye, just ahead. Then it’s gone. No... there it is again, another glint. It’s flickering or sparkling in some way. What it that? You drift toward it without urgency, worried that it’s exactly what you think it might be.

You get close enough to confirm. Two small red slippers, coated in tiny gemstones.

Jade’s empty shoes are a depressing sight, but you feel a sense of duty to retrieve them. Might as well. You secure them in the wallet, along with whatever other junk is in there.

Your wound is starting to throb again. You can hear your blood in your ears. The rush of your pulse is so loud that it almost sounds like the engine of a rocket sputtering to a stop.

Wait. It sounds exactly like the engine of a rocket sputtering to a stop.

It can’t be. It’s impossible, you think. But why would it be impossible? Isn’t this what you were out here looking for, even if you couldn’t admit it to yourself? What’s the point in denying it now?

You turn around...

There she is, with her flaming-red rocket wings. She hovers in place, looking not a whole lot different from when you last saw her years ago. Her arms are crossed over her chest, making knifelike angles where her elbows jut out. She is giving you a look of absolute disregard. It’s an expression of exasperation so performative and habitual, it sends bolts of aching nostalgia and fondness through your heart.

Dumbly, you raise your hand and give her a dorky little wave. It does not adequately communicate whatever it is you’re feeling right now. But then, nothing else would, you suppose.

She waves back. But hearing her voice is what makes it real.


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