I’ve been lying low this past week, just like Caper had told me to. It wasn’t hard, really. Leave my room to pick up my papers, go back to my room, and seclude myself for the rest of the day. Not like I have many friends here anyway. There’s Helios, but I’m not sure how comfortable I feel hanging out with a hitman. There’s Tempest, but she’s my boss and also a kid. There’s Rachael, but she’s about the only other person I know, meaning that my options are be lonely and sober at home or lonely and drunk in public. Neither sounds like a great option but at least the former takes less effort, keeps me lying lower, and saves me more money. At least I have some friends online I’m still in touch with. It’s not much, but it’s something.
That’s basically been the past week. An uneventful drag where the days are all the same. I needed something, anything, to break up the monotony. And then last night happened and I really wish it hadn’t.
Poe knocked on my door at about 5 AM, already dressed in one of those lacy black dresses she always wears for some reason.
“Hey,” I muttered, still half asleep. “You’re, uh…you guys are back. What’s up?”
“It’s Caper,” she said. “He wants to see you.”
I yawned. “Hey, I’m glad he’s back but, uh, can this wait until morning? Or…later in the morning, at least?”
“Messenger, I think that you should probably come right away.”
Looking back, I should have known something was wrong right away. My sleep-addled mind just didn’t pick up on what was off. First of all, why was she visiting at such an unreasonable hour? Secondly, why was she alone? Whenever I’d seen her in the past, she was always within arm’s reach of Caper.
But since I didn’t pick up on any of that, I followed her to their apartment. That’s when the next clue that something was wrong didn’t quite register: she kept fumbling with the keys. Once she got the door open she led me through the apartment to Caper’s room where
I really don’t want to write this.
Everything seemed normal at first. Sure, the room was a mess, but I didn’t expect Caper to be the tidiest guy. But it was more than just general messiness. Furniture was tipped over or broken and a pillow had been eviscerated, its feathery guts scattering down across the room. In the middle of the floor was Caper, who…well, he didn’t look good.
“Hey, Messi,” he croaked, barely able to get his voice above a whisper. His eyes kept unfocusing, as if he had to force himself to look at me rather than past me.
“What…what happened here?” I asked.
“Caper, don’t talk,” Poe said. “I’ll let him know.” She turned to me. “The assignment went well. We managed to find where our mark was hiding out. Then we get back, prepare to turn in our report, and Caper decides to destroy all our documentation on the mark. Obviously, the Highers weren’t happy about that, and, well….”
“She was just a kid,” Caper said. “She was…couldn’t have even been sixteen…had to…had to do something. Couldn’t let them…cute thing like her…I had…had to….”
“Caper,” Poe said quietly, “please don’t talk.”
“How long until the ambulance gets here?” I asked Poe.
She shook her head. “It’s not coming, Messenger. We can’t be traced back to the Filii.”
“Well we have medical staff, right? One of them is coming, right?”
“We do. They’re not coming either. He went against the wishes of him. The…well, you know who. And he…he showed up personally to…Messenger, it’s too late. Even if we can save him tonight, what next? All three of us know Caper’s already dead.”
“I’m still here, you know,” Caper groaned.
“Caper, I told you, don’t—”
“No, I need to…I need to say something. Messi. Messi, you’re here, right?”
“I…have a confession. The things…the things I told you were…they were lies.”
“I’m sorry. I…want to tell you. But I…can’t. I’m…bad friend. The mask. Wearing it too long. I can’t…can’t take it off….”
“Do you really think I care about that now, Caper? You’re dying. It’s…it’s not the time for apologies.”
“No,” he said, staring at the ceiling. “You’re right. Now it’s too late. I’m sorry.” He turned his head to look in Poe’s general direction. “Poe…there’s too much to say.”
Poe squeezed his hand, sniffing as she tried to keep the tears back. “You don’t need to say anything. I already know.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I…guess you’re right. Thanks. For everything. Couldn’t have found a better partner.”
She broke down then, sobbing as she reached down to hug him. “I’m sorry,” she said over and over through the tears. “I’m sorry. I’ll miss you so much.”
He smiled. “Poe,” he said, “Poe, I’m…I’m bleeding internally.”
She let go immediately, whispering hurried apologies as she grabbed his hand again. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“Cold,” he said. “No…no, warm. There’s…I can see a light. I should…go towards it. Probably time. It’s…yeah. It’s warm. It’s…no, it’s…it’s hot. It’s…oh, god, no! No, it’s the flames, it’s….” He made a gurgling sound that was probably supposed to be a scream, followed by an attempt to chuckle. He ended up coughing up blood instead.
“Caper,” Poe sobbed. “Caper, please, just shut up. Can you…can you please just stop trying to make jokes? Just for a bit? It’s…it’s not funny anymore.”
“I…I can’t,” he said. “If I don’t, I’m…I’m too scared.”
He turned to me. “Hey, Messi?” His voice was trembling. He sounded terrified. I’d never seen him like this. “Am I…am I a bad person?”
The question caught me off guard. I didn’t know how to answer. I should have told him no. Given him that bit of reassurance that he needed, even if I didn’t know if it was true or not. But I hesitated. I choked on the words as the light went out of his eyes.
I couldn’t answer. I looked into his eyes as he died, and I couldn’t give him his answer.