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By Guest on 12th March 2019 08:43:55 PM | Syntax: TEXT | Views: 1



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  1. In her short life, Isabel Vassallo had grown sure of a handful of certainties.
  2.  
  3.  
  4.  
  5. She had grown sure of her intellect, thinking herself leaps and bounds above her study partners. She had grown sure of her skill, as her appointment to the Newborns' ranks attested to.
  6.  
  7.  
  8.  
  9. In this moment, she was only certain that she hurt.
  10.  
  11.  
  12.  
  13. A dull, rhythmic clacking filled the empty air as she hobbled down the hall, a crutch propping her up as she stared at the floor. She was thankful for Deviant endurance, but such small comforts did little to dispel the cloud of fury churning behind her eyes.
  14.  
  15.  
  16.  
  17. Bitterness rose in her throat, like bile. She had seen the others before she had gone – seen Gregory and Amy, bedridden and immobile, in no shape to even consider taking to the field. Seen Danielle, pale, stitched and battered. At the time, Andrea was about the only other member of the Newborns who could stand, much less fight, and she tried to remain optimistic. Every time she spoke, Isabel could only hear strain, the deliberate reinforcement of a crumbling façade.
  18.  
  19.  
  20.  
  21. Even now, the stillness was palpable, almost oppressive. One by one they had returned, their bodies battered, their spirits shaken. The recovery was arduous – and still, they were not whole.
  22.  
  23.  
  24.  
  25. So Isabel stood alone, making her way through the pain and the silence. She craned her head upwards, searching, long blond hair trailing behind her as she walked, thankful for the fact that her head and neck were the parts of her that hurt the least.
  26.  
  27.  
  28.  
  29. Outside of a door, white and unblemished and imposing, she stopped. Glanced at the sign overhead, let her eyes fall.
  30.  
  31.  
  32.  
  33. Her hands opened and closed, cold skin meeting the cream fabric of her woolly jacket. Inhale, count to four, exhale. Hesitation would offer nothing, now.
  34.  
  35.  
  36.  
  37. Determined to bring home at least some measure of good news, she strode through the waiting portal.
  38.  
  39.  
  40.  
  41. Today, there was still one more left to see.
  42.  
  43. ---
  44.  
  45.  
  46.  
  47. Stepping in, the response was immediate.
  48.  
  49.  
  50.  
  51. "Hey, look who's up and at 'em. You good, Is?"
  52.  
  53.  
  54.  
  55. Isabel looked across the room as she entered, and in that instant she remembered the last time she saw the girl who called herself Split Second – unconscious, leg swollen, surrounded by a flock of surgeons and orderlies. As much as she found herself relaxing, a colossal burden lifting itself from her small shoulders, she found herself unable to restrain a wince. Toni Barber lay back on the room's sole hospital bed, her dusky skin still bruised, her left leg cocooned within a cast, ensconced amidst a host of medical equipment. Even now, she was still wearing her usual grin, rays of faint sunlight colouring her auburn hair.
  56.  
  57.  
  58.  
  59. Isabel stiffened, her countenance pale as she took up a seat by Toni’s bedside. "Certainly been better. I'm sorry that I couldn't be here sooner – we’ve been trying to take in what’s happened, and with me and Andrea being the first out, they wanted training done and they wanted…reports. Still do. Don't even know why they'd bother, but that's procedure for you."
  60.  
  61.  
  62.  
  63. "The guys in suits don't wait for an ass-kicking," Toni grunted, shifting her position as best she could, "and we're all in the same boat on that score, really. Docs say it won't be long until I'm out of here at least, but the others…"
  64.  
  65.  
  66.  
  67. It was rare to see Toni's expression falter, but it wavered for a moment, a fleeting ripple across her face. Even then, she smiled. Isabel noticed the strain.
  68.  
  69.  
  70.  
  71. "They doing any better?"
  72.  
  73.  
  74.  
  75. Isabel paused. She spoke slowly, thoughtfully, trying to navigate a minefield of eggshells.
  76.  
  77.  
  78.  
  79. "I tried to convince Andrea to come along, but she's still not quite up to it. Been pretty shaken up. Danielle's a bit of a mess and she's kept to herself, need to apologise to her for decking her in the face-”
  80.  
  81.  
  82.  
  83. Toni twitched, bemusement colouring her features. She snickered, despite herself.
  84.  
  85.  
  86.  
  87. “Wait, what?”
  88.  
  89.  
  90.  
  91. “Wasn’t really funny given the context of it.”
  92.  
  93.  
  94.  
  95. “I mean, I’m just a little floored”, Toni murmured, nonplussed. “First I’ve heard of this. Wanna tell me about that?”
  96.  
  97.  
  98.  
  99. Isabel merely shook her head, her posture deflating.
  100.  
  101.  
  102.  
  103. “Alright. Well, what about Greg?”, she pressed.
  104.  
  105.  
  106.  
  107.  “Greg’s spent most of his time cooped up as well. ‘Ruminating’, he says.”
  108.  
  109.  
  110.  
  111. “Figures. I’ve seen him, at least.”
  112.  
  113.  
  114.  
  115. “Really?” Isabel’s eyes widened in genuine surprise. “Really? He’s barely said a word since he got back with us. First I’ve heard of that. Then again,” she continued with a joyless  
  116.  
  117.  
  118.  
  119. A pause, pregnant and painful. Toni sat, digesting, as Isabel spoke again.
  120.  
  121.  
  122.  
  123. “How’s Amy?”
  124.  
  125.  
  126.  
  127. "Well," Toni said carefully, "she’s not doing so hot. She's woken up at least, I think, been hearing her sometimes from a few rooms down – unless our invisible friend beat me so bad that I'm imagining things."
  128.  
  129.  
  130.  
  131. Isabel allowed a smile to form, eyes alight with relief. "That's a welcome bit of good news."
  132.  
  133.  
  134.  
  135. "Yeah, well," Toni replied, her toothy grin gleaming with mischief as she rolled her eyes, "you say that when Amy's back in action. Knowing her, and If I'm not hearing things, she's probably gonna curse up a storm for days when she gets out of here."
  136.  
  137.  
  138.  
  139.  “If anything, I think it’ll liven up the place. It’s...” Isabel gripped the fabric of her leggings, tightly. “It’s quiet, now.”
  140.  
  141.  
  142.  
  143. Toni raised an eyebrow. “Figured you’d like it like that.”
  144.  
  145.  
  146.  
  147. Isabel’s smile immediately slackened. “I mean, sure – when we didn’t have to worry about getting humiliated by some Solid Snake wannabe. It’s - I don’t want to belabour a point, but between the two of us, it’s bad. We're nowhere right now, and we need to get our heads back in this. Right now...well. Nobody’s talking, at least not in any way that can be considered good.” Her eyes met Toni’s, her gaze firm and impenetrable. “We need Amy back. We need you back. More than anything. That’s...”
  148.  
  149.  
  150.  
  151. She found her gaze falling back to the floor, the lenses of her glasses shrouding her eyes as they reflected light seeping in from an adjacent window. Her voice was flat, low and distant, and she spoke as though she was addressing the air itself.
  152.  
  153.  
  154.  
  155. “That’s not the only thing, but...”
  156.  
  157.  
  158.  
  159. “But?”
  160.  
  161.  
  162.  
  163. Isabel shook her head, coming to, as though freeing herself from a stupor. “It’s nothing. Don’t mind it.”
  164.  
  165.  
  166.  
  167. "Hey, nothing is nothing," Toni said, craning forward. As she winced, Isabel suddenly jolted.
  168.  
  169.  
  170.  
  171. "Please, don't push yourself-"
  172.  
  173.  
  174.  
  175. "Don't worry," Toni murmured with a weak wave of her hand, "this is nothing. I’m fine – fine as I can be, anyway. You’re not. I’m here, and I’m listening."
  176.  
  177.  
  178.  
  179. Isabel hesitated, and Toni stretched out a hand, placing it atop her folded. “Is, please. Don’t hide this from me.”
  180.  
  181.  
  182.  
  183. Something caught in Isabel's throat as she averted her eyes, shifting in her seat as her hands clenched the fabric of her trousers ever tighter. "Well, it’s...a lot’s happened, and I came to apologise. For this."
  184.  
  185.  
  186.  
  187. Toni glanced down at herself, tried her best to shrug. "It's part of the job – at least that's what Tsunami drilled into us. Can't ever be a Deviant without getting the shit kicked out of you at least once."
  188.  
  189.  
  190.  
  191. "Everyone but Tsunami herself, it seems", Isabel muttered darkly. "Doesn't make what happened any better. Besides, that's not what I mean."
  192.  
  193.  
  194.  
  195. "Alright," Toni said, raising her hands in mock exasperation, "you and your little cryptic riddles. What do you mean?"
  196.  
  197.  
  198.  
  199. "I mean," Isabel said bitterly, "that this is my fault. I think it's only right to do this."
  200.  
  201.  
  202.  
  203. Toni blinked, uncomprehending. "Hey – the hell's that supposed to mean?"
  204.  
  205.  
  206.  
  207. Isabel looked squarely at her team mate, eyes hard. "What else do you think it means? Between worrying about all of you and analysing our engagement I've done almost nothing else. I was her first target, and I can think of at least a dozen different reasons why. If I'd been more careful…"
  208.  
  209.  
  210.  
  211. "Hey, c'mon, Is," Toni replied, mildly incredulous, "she straight up pulled some Casper shit on us. She could have gone after any one of us and it may have turned out the same - hell, I barely saw it coming. You're gonna beat yourself up over that?"
  212.  
  213.  
  214.  
  215. "I wouldn't put it so lightly."
  216.  
  217.  
  218.  
  219. Toni laughed, soft and short – and a hand crept over to her stomach soon after. "Ah, goddamnit. You never do put things lightly, do you?"
  220.  
  221.  
  222.  
  223. "Toni, please. Listen to me."
  224.  
  225.  
  226.  
  227. Toni locked eyes with her, expression level. "Never said I wasn't listening. You know me."
  228.  
  229.  
  230.  
  231. Isabel nodded, hesitantly, and linked her hands together, staring at the featureless floor beneath her. "I look back and – and I see nothing but mistakes, my mistakes. Fact is, I was out of position. Fact is, that led to our enemy capitalising on me being out of position, or vulnerable, or god knows what else. Now," she said, voice wavering almost imperceptibly, "we're here, battered, bruised, demoralised while they're still out there-"
  232.  
  233.  
  234.  
  235. "Alright," Toni interjected, encouragingly, "that's fine. Stay with me. Mistakes happen, you know? We’ve only done this for so long, something like this was bound to happen one day or another. We can work on it, can’t we? We’ve been given that chance."
  236.  
  237.  
  238.  
  239. "Mistakes are one thing," Isabel interjected, barreling on, "but when you're faced with a situation where you’re up against someone who’s actively attempting to kill you, the game changes, Toni. It’s not like an escort job or Greg shoving rubble into his magical timewarp bullshit dimension or whatever it is that he uses. Rubble doesn’t beat you black and blue with intent to kill, leaving you buried and bleeding and broken beneath a pile of benches-”
  240.  
  241.  
  242.  
  243. Toni held up her hands, placatingly. "Hey, Is, hear me out, okay? I get you, but walk it back a little and hold on a second. We can regroup, we can-"
  244.  
  245.  
  246.  
  247. "I didn't even use my powers," Is blurted, swiftly rising from her chair, her expression growing desperate, "and I – I know that would have wreaked havoc on our communication in such close quarters but maybe I could have caught them off guard, surprised them while they were talking to whoever that was on the radio and made an opening for you or Greg or Amy to exploit, something, anything-"
  248.  
  249.  
  250.  
  251. "Is, wait-"
  252.  
  253.  
  254.  
  255. "Instead," Isabel continued, gesticulating fiercely now as she closed the gap, "I – I just locked up half the time, scared halfway out of my mind after all the pep talks and training and everything else, and all the self-belief I have means jack shit in the face of someone taking us apart one by one, and it was only after half of us had been taken out that I even thought to do anything – I tried negotiating with them, Toni!” She laughed, mirthless and aghast. “Telling them to stand down politely while three of us were down for the count, helpless, after she tried to kill two of us-”
  256.  
  257.  
  258.  
  259. "Isabel-"
  260.  
  261.  
  262.  
  263. "Even now," Isabel commented, acidity burdening her every word as her hands tightened into fists, nails biting into flesh, "it's the same thing. I came here to do a single, simple thing, and now this is happening, and yet again, I'm just-"  
  264.  
  265.  
  266.  
  267. "Isabel!"
  268.  
  269.  
  270.  
  271. Toni mustered up the sternest tone she could manage, and instinctively Isabel straightened, stopping cold, her pale blue eyes widening behind the rims of her spectacles. Immediately she looked away, voice hoarse, pushing aside a stray lock of hair.
  272.  
  273.  
  274.  
  275. “Look at me. You’re rambling. What do you do when you’re rambling?”
  276.  
  277.  
  278.  
  279. "I didn’t mean to...” Isabel stopped, words dying in her throat stillborn. She cast her eyes askance. “Sorry."
  280.  
  281.  
  282.  
  283. Toni exhaled, slowly leaning forward. "Me too. Look, just…dial it back, Is. Please. I know it's heavy, but I don't want to see you like this, and you shouldn't either. We're a team. Even if we get our shit pushed in, we have each other's backs. No-one takes the fall on their own."
  284.  
  285.  
  286.  
  287. A pall of silence fell over the room, interrupted only by the mechanical ambiance of the machinery surrounding Toni. Isabel exhaled, ragged and rough, as she placed her hands on the side of Toni’s bed.
  288.  
  289.  
  290.  
  291. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for turning this into a me thing, but you say that, and I – I just didn't want to see you like this," she replied, voice hitching as she removed her glasses. "This was my first real chance, and I look back and I just think that I could have done – I don't know, something!", she exclaimed, thrusting her hands forward. "Anything, instead of leaving myself wide open, compromising our coordination and standing there, leaving us to..."
  292.  
  293.  
  294.  
  295. Isabel trailed off, a sharp intake and a whispered curse following as she swiftly snapped the temples of her glasses together, the noise obliterating the fleeting stillness in the confined space. Her body rattled, seething emotion raking her frame as she stood rooted to the spot, budding tears threatening to spill forth as she clamped her eyes shut. Apologies, fragile and raw, filled the empty air.
  296.  
  297.  
  298.  
  299. "Alright," Toni said, her voice level, her bed creaking beneath her as she summoned the strength to rise, "since you keep being stubborn, this is gonna take a little more than words."
  300.  
  301.  
  302.  
  303. "T-Toni? What are you-"
  304.  
  305.  
  306.  
  307. Awkwardly the dark-skinned girl hoisted herself up from her bedding, groaning in muted pain as she swung herself across. With deliberation she rose, using the frame for support.  
  308.  
  309.  
  310.  
  311. “H-Hey!”, Isabel sputtered, reaching. “Please, I told you not to-”
  312.  
  313.  
  314.  
  315. Neglecting the crutch propped up by her bedside, she limped forward a step, the dull thud of her cast echoing as it struck the floor. Toni stood, framed by the sun, as she spread her arms outwards.
  316.  
  317.  
  318.  
  319. "Come here."
  320.  
  321.  
  322.  
  323. Isabel blinked, perplexed. "What?"
  324.  
  325.  
  326.  
  327. "Is, please. I'm not gonna bite." She spread her arms as wide as she could manage, taking an unsteady step forward. "Come here. Bring it in."
  328.  
  329.  
  330.  
  331. Isabel took two halting steps forward, and abruptly sprang forward into Toni’s waiting arms. The taller girl tottered where she stood, struggling to keep from staggering backwards.  
  332.  
  333.  
  334.  
  335. “Woah! Go easy on me, alright? Still hurts, you know.”
  336.  
  337.  
  338.  
  339. Isabel said nothing, content to let her feeling escape from her as she was content to simply remain in her teammate’s arms. She shivered, burying her face in the crook of Toni’s neck as the tension coursing through her body gradually evaporated. Her voice was a frail whisper, delicate and cutting.
  340.  
  341.  
  342.  
  343. “I was just...scared, Toni. For me, for everyone else, for you. I could have done more, and I just – didn't. How...”
  344.  
  345.  
  346.  
  347. She pulled back, eyes desperate, looking up at Toni pleadingly. “How can we hope to do what we’re supposed to do if this happens again? What if we aren’t as lucky? What if I...what if we...”
  348.  
  349.  
  350.  
  351. Warmth blossomed on the left side of her face, and she found herself staggering forward as Toni pulled her back in.
  352.  
  353.  
  354.  
  355. "Hey. Look at me."
  356.  
  357.  
  358.  
  359. Isabel complied, and their eyes locked, brown meeting blue in a tender embrace. Toni carefully slid a hand over to the back of her friend's head, rhythmically running it through her mane of wild golden hair.
  360.  
  361.  
  362.  
  363. "Let’s put this to rest, alright? I. Don't. Blame you.” Toni’s voice was gentle, earnest. Isabel nodded, transfixed. “What about the others? You tried approaching them?”
  364.  
  365.  
  366.  
  367. Isabel shook her head, mutely.
  368.  
  369.  
  370.  
  371. “Well, I know for a fact that you can bet that none of the others do, either. It wasn't anything any of us could have anticipated. We all got surprised, we all got outplayed, we all got our asses kicked. Hell, she even stood and fought when Danielle did her thing. If anything, I…"
  372.  
  373.  
  374.  
  375. Toni cast her eyes askance, and for a fleeting moment her smirk twitched. Isabel drew back and laid a hand on her shoulder, probing.
  376.  
  377.  
  378.  
  379. "Toni?"
  380.  
  381.  
  382.  
  383. "I fucked up, Is. More than anybody." The grin was absent, now, her auburn eyes smoldering. "So much on my shoulders and I buckled – I'm meant to take the hits, Is, and the moment she jumped me I may as well have just not existed. Doesn't matter that I got a hit in, doesn't matter that…that this happened," she said, weakly gesturing to her disabled leg. "I clammed up when I shouldn't have. I could have kept us going, or at least given that ghost a little more of an ass-kicking, even if all I could do was...I dunno, bite her ankles. But…here I am. Here we are. I just know that I have to get stronger for it, and I will. We will.
  384.  
  385.  
  386.  
  387. "So please, Is," Toni said soothingly, cupping Isabel's cheek in her hand, "for your sake, for me, for the others, don't go down this road. At the end of the day, we're alive, aren't we?"
  388.  
  389.  
  390.  
  391. Isabel blinked, nodding almost imperceptibly as she hastily wiped the back of an arm across her eyes. "Yeah…we are."
  392.  
  393.  
  394.  
  395. Toni looked at her squarely, hands planted on her shoulders. "Then that just means we have a chance to bounce back – doesn't it?"
  396.  
  397.  
  398.  
  399. Isabel nodded once more, and Toni drew her into another short embrace.
  400.  
  401.  
  402.  
  403. "You bet it does.” She leaned down, kissing Isabel on her forehead. Her friend nuzzled in response, cat-like, as Toni guided her hand through her hair a final time.
  404.  
  405.  
  406.  
  407. “Besides," Toni offered as she stepped back, her trademark grin flashing devilishly, “just my hot take - if our ghost pal kicked my ass without saying a word, not sure if your fancy bubble would have made her throw you any less hard. Or stopped you from punching Dany in the face."
  408.  
  409.  
  410.  
  411. A laugh. Short, sharp, but genuine. Isabel smirked, sliding her glasses back on.
  412.  
  413.  
  414.  
  415. "Fuck you."
  416.  
  417.  
  418.  
  419. "Maybe later," Toni replied, trademark grin materialising once again. "Hard to move in this, still aching."
  420.  
  421.  
  422.  
  423. “Here I thought you were used to that sensation.”
  424.  
  425.  
  426.  
  427. Toni pulled a face, mock anger dissolving to give way to a playful and cattish smile as she weakly punched Isabel’s shoulder. "There you are, getting back into the swing of things. Don't worry about me," she said, beaming, "I'll be out before you know it. Tell the others, yeah? Remember the thing with Dany, too – and what happened there anyway? First I’ve heard about it.”
  428.  
  429.  
  430.  
  431. “Come on, you're still going to press me on this?”
  432.  
  433.  
  434.  
  435. “Don’t blame me – if anything, it’s on you for telling me.”
  436.  
  437.  
  438.  
  439. Isabel scowled, brows furrowed, and Toni laid a hand on her shoulder as she moved to sit down again.
  440.  
  441.  
  442.  
  443. “Hey, c’mon, you know I’m messing with you. Times like this we need to find humour somewhere, don’t we? Whatever you say, I’ll keep it between us.”
  444.  
  445.  
  446.  
  447. Isabel rolled her shoulders in acquiescence. “Oh, fine. Me and Danielle, we tried a pincer technique.”
  448.  
  449.  
  450.  
  451. “Uh-huh.” Toni craned herself forwards, eyes alight with wonder.
  452.  
  453.  
  454.  
  455. “Threw some punches, stabbed the ghost bitch with their own knife, I guess, but that was more them than me.”
  456.  
  457.  
  458.  
  459. “Yeah?” She learned further in even as her bones groaned in protest, a cat on the verge of pouncing.
  460.  
  461.  
  462.  
  463.  “Then,” Isabel muttered, embarrassment flaring within her as her neurons fired in rebellion, “I tried to punch that asshole square in the jaw, they ducked, and...well.”
  464.  
  465.  
  466.  
  467. Toni blinked, snorted audibly, then abruptly keeled forward then back, a paroxysm of laughter rebounding off the walls. Isabel promptly flushed crimson, concealing her eyes behind her glasses as she turned away.
  468.  
  469.  
  470.  
  471. “Knew it was a bad idea.”
  472.  
  473.  
  474.  
  475. “Oh, goddamn...! Ah! Hurts. Hurts to laugh.”
  476.  
  477.  
  478.  
  479. “Serves you right.”
  480.  
  481.  
  482.  
  483. Toni smirked, cradling her stomach. “Way to make a lasting impact on your effective debut, huh?”
  484.  
  485.  
  486.  
  487. Isabel stewed, silently.
  488.  
  489.  
  490.  
  491. “You say you haven’t apologised for that?”
  492.  
  493.  
  494.  
  495. “Should have”, Isabel confessed, bluntly. “We’ve all been licking our wounds, I thought it best to give everyone some space.”
  496.  
  497.  
  498.  
  499. “Fair enough, but I suggest you get on it. The inner machinations of her mind are an enigma. Who knows what dark and vengeful scheme she’s plotting?”
  500.  
  501.  
  502.  
  503. “Don’t go spreading ill omens. For all you know, she’s doing exactly that. If she's given me the evil eye, I certainly don’t know about it.”
  504.  
  505.  
  506.  
  507. “Well then, little miss face-puncher,” Toni said, stifling a giggle, “that just makes it even more important to get done, doesn’t it?”
  508.  
  509.  
  510.  
  511. “We’ll see who’s cracking up when I tell her you laughed at her misfortune. Uproariously, no less.”
  512.  
  513.  
  514.  
  515. “Hey,” Toni offered haltingly, a nervous twitch playing at the corners of her mouth, “don’t do me like that, you know?”
  516.  
  517.  
  518.  
  519. Isabel’s response was sly, slick as oil. “No promises.”
  520.  
  521.  
  522.  
  523. A silence swelled, thick and heavy, before being dispelled almost as soon as it arrived as both girls shared a laugh. For a moment, every burden the heroes shared dissipated, a tide of innocence submerging their worries.  
  524.  
  525.  
  526.  
  527. Toni looked squarely at her friend, beaming proudly. “There's the Is I know. Hey – thanks. I mean it. I’ll be back with you in no time at all, and don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”
  528.  
  529.  
  530.  
  531. “Thank you. Really.” Her voice was lighter, almost airy. “I’ll let the others know. Maybe...maybe we can finally start picking up the pieces.”
  532.  
  533.  
  534.  
  535. "Sure thing," Toni said back, turning towards her bed. Isabel was halfway to the door when she spoke up again.
  536.  
  537.  
  538.  
  539. "Hey, Is!"
  540.  
  541.  
  542.  
  543. Isabel stopped short, her mane of hair glowing in the light as she looked back. "Yeah?"
  544.  
  545.  
  546.  
  547. "If you do look back on this," Toni grunted, "think of it like…I dunno. A comic book."
  548.  
  549.  
  550.  
  551. Isabel arched an eyebrow, quizzical. "Sure?"
  552.  
  553.  
  554.  
  555. "Well, you know what I mean. Heroes get their asses kicked in those all the time, don't they? But you know what they do?"
  556.  
  557.  
  558.  
  559. Isabel shifted, pondering, and her response was a question of its own.
  560.  
  561.  
  562.  
  563. “They find the strength to rise again, something like that?”
  564.  
  565.  
  566.  
  567. “Close”, Toni said. Isabel turned, and Toni’s grin seemed to shine with burning confidence. In that moment, she could swear that her smile had never been wider.
  568.  
  569.  
  570.  
  571. “They kick their asses right back. You can bet that’s what we’ll do. It’s a chance we’ve been given – and we won’t waste it.”
  572.  
  573.  
  574.  
  575. Isabel Vassallo opened the door, crutch in hand, and allowed herself to smile.



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