Sounds of seagulls and waves were not the sound she thought would be waking her up. For a moment, she thought the scientists had drugged her and left her outside to die but the memories returned as her eyes fluttered open.
Winny sat up slowly, pressing a hand to her forehead as the ache faded. Avia, their doors springing open, fighting against the scientists, rebellion everywhere and Tucker touching her forehead before everything went black; it all flashed by like a surreal movie. But one thing became increasingly more important.
Tucker was not anywhere in sight.
“Oh! Ryker, she’s awake.” A soft voice spoke up from a few feet away and Winny turned to try and find the source. She assumed that whoever these people were, they were talking about her. A hand dropped on her shoulder and a shadow fell over her that made her freeze for a moment. She hadn’t had much physical contact in the last few years that hadn’t hurt.
“Sorry,” the male behind the voice drew his hand back immediately and moved to kneel beside her, “but don’t try to move so quickly. You’ve been out for a few hours now and I don’t know if you’ve recovered from your concussion.”
Winny’s eyes widened as she took in the male and she drew back from him as what he said registered. No one besides the scientists was supposed to know about that. She hadn’t even told Tucker about her concussion because he’d try to heal it. “Who are you?”
“The name’s Ryker, and don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” His eyes twinkled with a spark that Winny barely recognized as friendliness. It’d been far too long since she saw that look on anyone. “Hurting you would defeat the purpose of freeing you, now wouldn’t it?”
It was a tease, that much she could gather, but his words had a different effect than that he probably intended. She was filled with a wariness that she couldn’t explain, eyes darting around the deck of the ship at all of the other people on board. It was so much to take in and Winny was beginning to feel like a skittish animal the more people she counted.
“Breathe Winny,” her eyes returned to Ryker and she could see the genuine worry there. No doubt she looked more panicked than a recently freed girl should. “You’re broadcasting your thoughts loudly there, Win; if you breathe and try to calm down I can fill you in on what happened.”
“So that’s your power,” she whispered, bringing her knees to her chest. It made sense. He knew things that not even Tuck did. Thinking about him brought back up her initial panic though. “Where is Tucker? He was with me when we got out.”
The change on Ryker’s expression told her things that she couldn’t believe. He had to be somewhere. She had promised him that she wouldn’t leave him, that she wouldn’t let him be alone anymore. Tucker couldn’t be gone.
But a part of her knew that if he was nearby, he wouldn’t have left her to deal with all these people alone. It wasn’t much but she knew that they were at least friends after everything that they went through. He wouldn’t leave her.
“No.” Winny threw the blanket off of her and into Ryker’s face. Ignoring the voice of the blue haired girl that had been hovering behind Ryker, she darted for the edge of the deck. Her eyes were watering before she reached the railing but the tears didn’t fall until she couldn’t find the island.
If it weren’t for all the debris floating around, most of it some ways away from the boats, she would have thought they were miles away from the island. But Avia was gone. The debris was the only sign that there had been any sort of facility there to begin with and even that was being destroyed by people on the other boat.
But she couldn’t see anything that hinted at someone floating among the wreckage. Nothing that pointed to her friend or anything that could hint at his survival, all she could see was water and strangers from the same hell she had suffered.
Choking back a sob, she sunk down to her knees and flinched away from Ryker when he tried to take her back to her previous seat.
“He told me to keep you from getting involved,” Ryker’s voice was soft, comforting even if she wasn’t in the middle of grieving for the guy who had become her best friend. “We waited for him as long as we could but the longer we stayed the higher the chance of someone calling in reinforcements. Besides, we’re still pulling survivors from the water. He could be there.”
She knew he was right. Knew what choices that Ryker probably had to make. That didn’t make it any easier for her but she clung to the hope that he’d be there when the last rescues came in. Curling in on herself, she let herself cry. “I promised that we’d get out of here together. He wasn’t the monster everyone called him and he deserved freedom more…” More than I did.
“I don’t think he’d want you thinking like that. You both suffered in ways most of us couldn’t even begin to imagine. He wanted you safe.” Footsteps interrupted whatever else Ryker was going to say and the same woman from before spoke softly; her words making Winny’s blood run cold.
“Ry, we need to calm her down. She’s starting to give some of the kids a headache.”
Immediately Winny’s hand went to her throat, where the collar still sat. It had been the only good thing about that damned island. The collar had kept her powers in check enough that she could speak, laugh, and even cry freely without the fear of harming someone. For the escape to have worked, the collars would have had to be deactivated, which meant she was no longer safe for others to be around. She would return to the life of silence that she lived before.
“I’m so sorry.” She kept her voice low, barely above a whisper but it was the loudest she could talk that she knew for sure wouldn’t hurt anyone. Mindlessly, her hands reached around her neck and unclipped the collar. It was useless now anyway so there was no need to pretend. Her whole body felt numb as she sucked in her feelings.
As upset as she was that Tucker was left behind, she didn’t have it in her to harm the innocent people on board the ship.
Even though she was reaching out to hand over the collar, Winny drew within herself. Just like she had forced herself to do growing up so that she wouldn’t harm anyone with her voice, she pressed her lips together in a tiny, hopefully reassuring, smile and pushed herself to her feet.
Winny didn’t stop moving until she found a small space as far from the others as she could truly get on the boat. Only once she was sure that she would do minimal damage with her voice on the off chance she couldn’t keep it together did she let the tears fall again. This time, they came silently as she stared through the bars at the water.
If this was the price of freedom, she didn’t want it anymore.
“Hey,” Ryker’s voice broke through her haze for a split second before she returned to ignoring the world around her, “Winny, Tucker wouldn’t want you to do this to yourself. It’s not your fault.”
With each mention of Tucker’s name, there was a flurry of whispering from the people around them. Each with different stories about the infamous Magpie, and each story told more horrific than the last; he was a monster to both scientists and prisoners alike. But he’d never been a monster to her, just a misunderstood kid who only knew suffering. Tucker believed he was a monster too, had even mentioned it once or twice.
All she had ever wanted to do was to prove to him that he wasn’t, that he was more than the weapon that the horrors of Avia bred him to be. He deserved so much more than what he’d gotten his whole life and all she had wanted to do was to show him the better side of the world.
“I’m sorry Winny,” the other girl this time, she’d introduce herself as Ani, the only bit of information that Winny really stored from that one sided conversation, “I didn’t mean to upset you more. No one blames you, y’know.”
But she blamed herself. She didn’t think, had become too accustomed to the safety net that the collar had put around her.
The longer she sat there, the more Ryker and Ani seemed to try. Their tactics went from kind attempts at comforting, to horrid attempts at guilt tripping, and even worse attempt at empty threatening. They weren’t very convincing in the last two tactics. Eventually they stopped trying and merely stayed close by.
There were plenty of others that wanted to talk to Ryker and Ani. It didn’t take long for Winny to paint herself a mental image of what happened and how the whole rebellion had been planned. It was brilliant and she’d have to commend them on the plan later, maybe when everyone else was asleep.
One day, it was all the time they would spend searching for anymore survivors before they returned to the States. Which, if she was remembering her own transport clearly enough, would take two more days.
Three days and Avia would truly be nothing but a memory. The torture and pain would be only memorialized in the scars on her skin but the rare good would be only a thought. Would it eventually fade? She hoped not, she wanted to remember the few good moments that she had had.
Winny lifted her head from her knees when things got eerily quiet. It set off the alarm bells in her head and she braced herself for the worst when she looked around. Ryker’s gaze caught hers and his smile caught her completely off guard. While she was still trying to process that, water droplets fell onto her arm and her eyes drifted away from Ryker and the others to the soaking wet form of her best friend.
Tucker must have found some actual clothes because he wasn’t wearing the Avia-issued clothing anymore. Pants and a t-shirt, probably stolen from the storage where they kept personal belongings of every subject that came in. But it wasn’t really his clothing she was focused on.
He was very much alive and very much unhurt if her quick glance over was right. That and he was glaring at just about anyone who dared look in their direction the wrong way. All the emotions that had been raging within her calmed only long enough for her to reach out to him before spilling over again in a fresh wave of tears and silent sobs.
She was overwhelmed by the relief that filled her that she didn’t care that they were making a scene. Almost as soon as she reached for him, he sat down and drew her into his lap. It was the first time that they had really touched more than a hand on the arm or shoulder to shoulder and Winny took the comfort as he gave it. She buried her face in his neck and wrapped her arms around him as if he would disappear from her sight again. Tucker wasn’t big on physical contact but he still wrapped his arms around her and let her cry.
It was beyond sweet and she’d look back on this later and probably blush. Winny could admit that much to herself.
“You scared me.” The softness of the words surprised even her and she tightened her arms around him. She had been terrified that she lost him. In the months since they had become friends, she’d come to rely on him for a strength that she didn’t possess herself and just the thought of losing him tore her in two. “I thought you’d died.”
“I’m sorry for that.” And just like that, things eased between them. Not that she moved from her spot or Tucker stopped, but they were on the same page again. Winny soaked up his presence and relaxed in his hold, exhausted all over again from the emotional roller coaster. Even her fears of hurting the others faded away for the time being. All that mattered that her worst fears had been shattered.
The island, the many scientists, guards, and personnel of the island didn’t matter; they tortured children and used them as weapons. They all got what they deserved by visiting the bottom of the ocean. How many of the Birds were lost in the rebellion, she didn’t know and she didn’t want to think about, not now that she had him back.