Frazee's sister had been abducted on her way home from school when she was ten years old. He barely remembered her, the way she had been in life; he'd been only two, a late baby, an afterthought. An accident. A surprise, his mother corrected, patting him on the back. She never kissed him. The best she could do was little soft pats on parts of his body that weren't too intimate, his back, his shoulder.
"What about your father?" Shan asked. She was sitting across from him in the booth at the diner, not eating, not touching her cup of tea.
"He doesn't talk. He just...sits."
"No. No drinking, no pills. Nothing like that. He's just silent." Frazee poked at his spinach omelet. "They're old now, you know. This was twenty years ago."
"I know when it was." Shan was older than Frazee, almost as old as his sister would have been if she had stayed human. She was a stocky woman, with short, choppy hair and perpetually nicked and scratched-up hands. She worked in a deli; the soft-custard machine was her mortal enemy. It bit her every time she had to clean out its innards. They'd known each other for eight months, and had been lovers for six.
Frazee remembered his parents taking him to Consolation Boulevard, to the second median before the Nice Place to Live and Shop sign that marked the northern border of the town. He must have been six or seven, and it had been exciting to be up so late, and outside. Later on, he figured out that his parents had taken him there at night because they'd thought there'd be fewer people around. They held his hands. They wouldn't relax their grips, even though he kept complaining that they were holding him too tight. They didn't go to the median itself; they stayed on the sidewalk. They'd been wrong about the people. There had been lots of people. Frazee hadn't understood what was going on. His excitement had turned to uneasiness, and then, when his mother started crying, to fear.
"Now, now," his father said. "Now, now." To his mother, not to him.
On the second median before the A Nice Place to Live and Shop sign, someone had put up a statue. It was a strange statue, a flat metal ribbon about a meter wide, curved into a sort of a double-ess shape. The people seemed to like the statue, though. They jostled each other to get close, to touch it, to press objects to it. The cars speeding down Consolation Boulevard slowed when they came to this section, patiently waiting for folks to get out of their way before proceeding. There was a police officer on the other side of the street, leaning against a tree, his arms folded, watching. Frazee thought the policeman looked a little bored. It was almost like a party, a street-fair type of thing, except there wasn't any music or food stalls or rides, and it was the middle of the night, and his mother was crying. And some of the people crowding the median and elbowing each other looked sad, too, or angry, or desperate.
Frazee told Shan this story.
"How did they explain it to you?"
"They didn't. After a while, my dad said, 'Say goodbye.' I didn't know he was talking to me, so I didn't say anything, and he up and slapped me."
"Fuck," Shan said, loud enough that the couple at the table next to them glanced over. Frazee had learned not to wince when Shan got loud in public. Now he just raised an eyebrow at her, which she pretended not to notice.
"It was the only time he ever hit me," Frazee said. "I started crying, of course. And mom, who was already crying, she turned to dad and said, 'How could you,' and all the time they were both squeezing my hands like they were trying to break all my fingers. Then we just went home."
"But they explained it to you later."
"No. They never talked about it. Not then, not ever. My babysitter told me part of the story, once. Actually, what happened was she started asking me questions about my sister, not in a nasty way, sort of sympathetically. But then she saw that I didn't know what she was talking about. She got scared then, like she thought she was going to get in trouble, and made me promise not to tell my parents. I swore, but only if she told me the whole story. She told me what she knew, which wasn't much, and pretty garbled, but it gave me a place to start. And at least then I understood why my parents had taken me to Consolation Boulevard that night."
"But kids at school. Given what little bastards children are, they must have brought it up."
"If they did, I didn't notice, or didn't get it. Not until later. I was pretty invisible in school. Nobody bothered me."
"Lucky you," Shan said.
"I guess. You going to eat that, or what?"
"Don't rush me."
They were going to Consolation Boulevard, together, after their two p.m. We Serve Breakfast 24-Hours a Day breakfast. Ordinarily Frazee loved spinach omelets, but he couldn't eat more than a quarter of his. Shan had gotten toast and some strange sour-fruit preserve stuff he could never remember the name of, and hadn't taken a bite.
Frazee had been back there only once after the experience with his parents, a couple of years ago, late one night, after several hours at a bar. It must have been past three in the morning when he reached the sidewalk across from the second median south of the sign. He'd walked the whole way, thinking, it's probably not as bad as I remember it. I was only a little kid then. But even at three in the morning, the median was choked with people; he could barely make out the shape of the statue that he knew, now, was not a statue. The people crowding around it were rougher, angrier, shabbier, than the people who'd been there the night his parents had brought him. Perhaps that was because it was three in the morning. Or perhaps it was because so many years had passed. Power faded. Probably only the truly desperate went to Consolation Boulevard now.
Frazee hadn't stayed. He'd wanted to see her, and when he got there, there was nothing to see. Not with all the people there. He'd gone home - he had his own place by then, the place he still had, two rooms in a half-empty building off Yote Street, hundred-year-old landlord, hundred-year-old pipes, wonky electricity. Shan had asked him to move in with her. She'd asked him twice. "I want to do this first," he said. "I need to do this."
He hadn't told his parents about his second visit to Consolation Boulevard. He'd told them about Shan, but vaguely, just that he'd met this woman, and they'd been going out. He hadn't told them how long they'd been together, or what she did, or who her mother had been, or what she was like. He would have (except the part about her mother), if either of them had asked him any questions. He had not brought Shan over to meet his parents. He talked to his parents once a week. He visited them as little as possible.
"You have to go in the afternoon," Shan had explained. "That's when there'll be less...traffic. Either that, or, like, ten in the morning. No, nine-thirty. People with jobs will be at them. People with kids will be recovering from the hassle of getting them off to school. People with households to run will be making shopping lists and cleaning things or sorting through the laundry."
Frazee knew that Shan was making sense, but he really couldn't face nine-thirty. Nine-thirty was a much too jagged time. Too sunny. Too normal.
They'd talked about it at Shan's place, the apartment she'd inherited after her mother died. She'd inherited all her mother's books, too, and...paraphernalia. "Don't give me that look," she'd said the first time she'd invited him in. "What was I supposed to do, chuck it all in the street? Anyway, my mother wasn't like that. She didn't do those sorts of things."
"Do you miss her?" Frazee had asked, then felt like an idiot.
"Sometimes," Shan said. "But I was pretty much a disappointment to her, you know? She tried not to show it, but I could tell. I told her once - we were having a fight - that she should have had more kids. Maybe one of them would've inherited her talent. Then she would have been happy. You know. The kind of thing you say when you're mad."
Frazee didn't know. He'd never had a fight with his parents. How could you fight with people who didn't talk? Oh, his mother talked, but only about funny items in the news, the television shows she watched with a regularity akin to duty, the state of her flower garden. His father just sat. Even when the television was on, he didn't look at it.
"Do you hate your parents?" Shan had asked, and Frazee found himself stuck for an answer. Yes. No. Yes. No. Neither one felt right. Both didn't feel right, either.
Finally he said, "They don't even have a photograph of her in the house. Anywhere. I looked, when they were out. In closets. In drawers. Under beds. In the back of cabinets. I searched every bloody room."
"People react to trauma in different ways," Shan said quietly. "Shutting down, that's not so uncommon. Not the best way to handle it, and it sucked for you, but - can you imagine losing a child? Can you imagine how that has to tear your world apart?"
The fury came on him suddenly. It wasn't a sensation he was accustomed to. He'd thrown a chair, he remembered. And it had felt good, for a second, until shame swept over him. Shan hadn't even blinked.
"They had another child," he said, when his heart slowed a bit, and his hands stopped shaking. They had me.
"They were afraid to get close to you in case they lost you, too," Shan said. "I'm not making excuses, all right? It's just that shit like that happens."
"They didn't even try to help her."
And that was the crux of the matter, really, or so he told himself. His sister had been taken, and turned to iron, and shaped into a conduit of power, and erected, set up, displayed, in a public place, and all his parents had done was...nothing. Cried. Taken him to say goodbye, and slapped him. They hadn't tried to free her. Hadn't hired matter-workers, energy-weavers, people like Shan's mother. Hadn't even protested, the way he'd seen some people do at a little fountain that had appeared one day on the rooftop of a shuttered firehouse. Yelling, waving signs, throwing shit at the people climbing up on the roof to use the fountain. That's my nephew, you bastards, Frazee had heard one woman scream, before he'd hurried away. Those people had come out for a nephew, a cousin, who knows, a neighbor, even. His parents had never organized anything like that. Not for their daughter. And they wouldn't have done it for him, either.
For years he'd had nightmares. He was drowning, and his parents were standing at the edge of the pool, just watching. He was falling, and his parents were standing, looking up, faces blank, their arms at their sides, not raised to catch him.
"My parents could have tried to save her," he said to Shan.
"It's not easy," she said. "It's expensive, and it doesn't always work. And how do you know they didn't, back when it first happened? You were two; you didn't know what was going on."
He shook his head. He remembered the police officers, a man and a woman, who had come to the house. He remembered that the woman police officer had done most of the talking, looked mostly at his mother. The man police officer had smiled at him and given him a mini-teddy bear dressed in a police uniform. They must have come more than once, first when his sister went missing, and at least one more time, when she had been found. And then nothing else. His parents had acted as though his sister was dead, the curved iron shape on the median her gravestone. Say goodbye. They could have gotten a worker to put protections on the house, to lay protections on him. Hadn't they thought, hadn't it occurred to them, that if one child had been taken and changed, the other one was at risk as well? The criminals who abducted children, to use them this way, to beat and batter and twist them, to rob them of their selves, to squeeze them and hollow them out, to force them into shapes that could be made into channels of power, for profit, all for money - how much had they been paid to put his sister on Consolation Boulevard, such an open, easily accessible location? - often scrutinized other children in the family. Some people were easier to use than others; the vulnerability was said to be partly genetic. But his parents hadn't even done that.
He was too old now to be taken. He was safe, at least from that. No thanks to mom and dad. No thanks to anything but sheer luck.
"The police came to talk to my mother once," Shan had told him, one day when they were sitting in Adams Park. Frazee didn't like Adams Park. Things happened there. But Shan had a fondness for squirrels. Said they made her laugh. So they'd gone, with some peanuts and stale pretzels, and sat on a bench and watched the squirrels race up and down the trees, dash out for a treat, scamper back to safety. A lot of the squirrels had bits of green fur on their heads, almost like stripes. You didn't see squirrels like that outside of Adams Park. Shan kissed him and told him not to worry about the green-stripe squirrels. Then a cop on a horse had cantered through, a male officer wearing a helmet and sunglasses, and Shan had gone silent. Frazee thought it was because mounted cops were rare.
Then she said, "The police came to talk to my mother once."
"When?" he asked.
"It must have been about the time your sister was taken."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"It's not a nice memory. My mother sent me out of the room, but I listened from the stairs. They were interrogating her, nasty questions, what did she know, who had she been with, how had she paid for her new car, when was the last time she'd done a working. They thought she was involved, or knew who was involved. She wasn't, and she didn't, I swear, Frazee. My mother didn't do things like that."
"I believe you," Frazee said. But he had seen Shan's mother's books. And her apparatus.
"The people who do that sort of thing, they're twisted."
"Evil," Frazee murmured.
The police never caught them, either. Once in a purple moon, maybe. And then would come the assertions of police error, the angry demonstrations claiming a miscarriage of justice. Of course defendants always protested their innocence. But it was also true that not everyone who was convicted was guilty.
Half the people in the city used the conduits of power fashioned from the warping and breaking, the rending and changing, the torture of small children. Maybe more than half. They used the channels of energy and force and stolen magic, trapped vitality, to power their charms, their luck-weavings, their revenge-spells, their blight-my-enemies curses, their prosper-my-business incantations, their give-me-health potions, their love concoctions, their apotropaic amulets, until eventually all the energy was used up. The city uprooted, dismantled, removed them, then, the empty shells of what once had been children. That was the only action they ever took. They didn't try to stop the people who flocked to exploit the conduits, claiming that that would only cause a greater disturbance, civil unrest, riots. Frazee thought they were probably right about that.
The police made a show of investigating abductions and transformations, the municipal authorities passed laws, issued press releases, instituted a curfew for youths under seventeen. The only changed children who were ever rescued were those whose parents, whose families, hired private workers to unpick, undo, untangle, unbend, untwist, unkink, unsnarl, the weavings and bindings and coils of the forced shapings.
"Evil," Shan had agreed, in the park.
In the diner now, Frazee said, "I'm glad you're coming with me."
Shan reached over and took his hand. "I'm glad you decided to do this. To say goodbye properly. You can't truly grieve until you've done that."
"Shan," Frazee said. He'd known what he planned to do for weeks now, but hadn't been able to tell her, to bring it up even glancingly, a hypothetical, a what do you imagine would happen if. "Shan," he said again, and swallowed. His mouth was dry.
"Oh, fuck," she said. She didn't let go of his hand. "Frazee. There's nothing else you can do. It's been too long. There's no way to get her back."
"You don't know that," he said.
"I know the only time rescues are ever successful is when they're carried out within a few months of the transformation. A few months at the most. And by successful, I mean the person is restored more or less the way he or she used to be. Not exactly. Never completely. They're never the same afterwards, Frazee, even if they've been trapped only for weeks. Trust me on this."
"I know she won't be the same. I know she might be very damaged. But she's still alive, Shan. She's still in there. People keep going to the statue, so there's energy remaining. And that means my sister isn't gone yet."
"She isn't human anymore. Not after twenty years. She can't be human again."
"She can be free," Frazee said.
"You haven't got the skill. You haven't got the knowledge. You wouldn't even know how to start. And no reputable worker would help you, not after this much time has passed. I thought you knew better than to go to charlatans." She pulled her hand back, then. "I thought you trusted me enough to let me know this shit was running through your head."
"I do trust you," Frazee said. "Shit? Shit?" He kept his voice calm. That was just Shan, the way she talked, the way she shaped herself for the world. "That's why I want you with me. I love you, Shan. I haven't been to see any dodgy workers. But I do possess one piece of knowledge." He hesitated. "At least, I think I do."
"Great. I can't wait to hear this."
Frazee's hand felt cold. He wished she'd put her own over it again. He felt very much alone. There had been times, lying in bed together, afterwards, always afterwards, when he'd thought, this must be what love is, when you can lie naked next to someone, about to fall asleep, and be sure, completely sure, that you are safe. That certainty had always faded within a few moments, slipped out of his grasp like dream-water, and he would fall asleep with the melancholy conviction that he would never be sure of anything, not love, not safety, not his own heart.
"I know her name," Frazee said. "I know my sister's full, true name."
Shan raised her eyebrows. "You talked to your parents?"
"No. Did a search at the Hall of Records."
Shan nodded, slowly. Frazee thought he knew what she was thinking. He hoped he knew what she was thinking. The full, true name. Not a nickname, or a use-name, or a school-name, or a family-circle name, or a work-name, though his sister hadn't been old enough to acquire one of those. Frazee was his use-name; he'd chosen it himself when he moved out of his parents' house. Shan was her family-and-close-friends name. Neither one of them knew the other's full true name. There were married couples who never shared that knowledge with each other.
He hoped she was thinking: That's really impressive. That's tremendously helpful. We could do a lot with that. That's the key to reaching your sister, trapped and suffering within the iron, and guiding her back to the human world.
Shan said, "How many people did you have to bribe?"
Frazee shoved his plate away from him, angrily. Cutlery rattled. Then he saw that she was smiling. Shan had a sneaky sort of smile, when she was teasing. You had to look close to see it.
"Told them my parents were dead, and I was executor of their estates. Had fake surrogate papers, that's all."
"I'm not going to ask where you got them."
"Underpass Market." He'd been proud of himself, for thinking of that, for knowing where to go, for not getting ripped off, for acquiring documents so well-fashioned they hadn't even drawn a second glance. He knew Shan understood what it had taken to get those documents. He looked at her closely. Was it there, that little glimmer of respect, behind the sarcasm? He thought he saw it, but maybe only because he wanted to.
"All right," Shan said. "All right. Let me see if I get it now. You want to go to Consolation Boulevard and you want to touch the statue. You want to see if it reacts to her full true name."
"You're setting yourself up for a disappointment, my love."
He murmured, "Well, what's one more?"
"Sometimes it's the last one that fucks you up the worst."
"You don't have to come," he said. "I can do this by myself."
"Don't be stupid."
"Don't call me stupid."
But she was smiling her tiny sneaky smile again. Frazee looked down at his placemat, and smiled, too. "Listen," Shan said. "I don't have my mother's skills, her training. But I wasn't her daughter for twenty-eight years without learning something."
"You've read her books."
"Yeah. And don't think I don't know that you have, too."
"Not all of them," Frazee said, guiltily. He thought she'd been asleep. He stayed over at her place, usually, when they were going to be together. Her place was much nicer than his two crappy rooms. He would he slip out of bed and pore over the books with just the light from the smallest lamp in the living room to illuminate the pages. And he'd been careful to put the books back in exactly the same places on the shelves he'd taken them from. Caught out, he put on a bold front. "It's been done. Even this late. There are case studies."
"Don't believe everything you read." Shan picked up her cup of tea, sipped it, and made a face. Must've been stone cold. "Even in peer-reviewed journals. Some of those academics, they exaggerate to boost their reputations. Or flat-out lie, to be blunt. And you'll have noticed there's not a lot of follow-up, even with the verified cases? Give you three guess why that should be."
"The authors got busy with other things?"
"The journals went out of business?"
"The long-term results weren't great."
"You got it. Not the long-term results, or the short-term results, either. The freed children had grown, but not grown up, if you know what I mean. Mentally, emotionally. Plus their brains were all screwed up. Amnesia, aphasia, catatonia, psychoses. And physically, they don't come back right. Their bodies don't work. They can't walk, or hold things, or wipe themselves after going to the toilet. They can't feed themselves. They scream a lot. They've got to be kept drugged up all the time, or else institutionalized. If not both. And they die. Within a few months, or a couple of years at the most. They die, Frazee."
"Not all of them. Not every single one." He'd read about recovery, not complete recovery, but the good-enough sort, the kind where the rescued children made lives for themselves, with support, therapy, assisted housing. Where they got jobs, and could take the bus by themselves, and even go to school. He'd read a lot about resilience. He liked the concept of resilience. It gave him a fierce, piercing optimism.
"No," Shan admitted. "But it's one shot in a thousand. Ten thousand."
"I need to do this," he said. "Your mother had friends, colleagues. Contacts. If my sister responds to her name, will you help me get in touch with someone who'd take on the job?"
"Even if you bring her back, she won't be the same. She won't be the sister you remember."
"I don't remember her, really. Just a couple of flashes. Images. A girl with long hair carrying me. Somebody playing blocks with me, which I think was her. And that's all."
"So what...what are you wishing for, here?"
"Three guesses, three wishes?"
"Just the one wish."
"To save her," he said, and even as he said it, he knew it wasn't true, wasn't complete. "To do what my parents should have done. To show her she wasn't forgotten. Abandoned. To let her know somebody cares. She's my sister." No, that still wasn't all of it. The part he left out was the excitement he felt, coiling like a spring in the pit of his stomach. His parents hadn't saved her, and wouldn't have saved him. He had never felt safe, never truly believed safety was possible. His reason told him that rescuing her wouldn't make him safe. His emotions spoke a different language.
He didn't say any of that to Shan, but when he looked up, he saw something in her eyes that made him wonder if she could read his heart. Molders of energy and power were able to do that, some of them. But then, it was said, so could true lovers. They'd met by chance, in the deli where Shan worked; he'd gone in for a candy bar. A dumb little thing like that. He'd wanted a candy bar. If he'd suppressed the desire, or even held it at bay for another block or two, he never would have seen her, never would have started chatting with her, never laughed when she'd made a joke about nutty bars and nut bars, never gone back two days later, acting so casually, to buy a can of soda. Never would have dropped the soda on the floor while he was trying to stuff his change into his pocket. Never would have turned around, his face hot as the sun, to apologize, to find her grinning at him and holding out a scrap of paper with her phone number on it.
A true love will tell you when you're wrong, he thought. Even if he or she knew it would hurt you to hear it.
"Am I wrong?" he asked.
"Are you prepared to take care of her, if she is restored? Even if it means changing her diapers, spoon-feeding her, or having to use a feeding tube? Even if she won't be able to speak to you, or make signs, or let you know if she's hungry, or wet, or in pain? Even if she lives for just a few weeks, a few months, confused, afraid, trapped in a useless body, her mind in fragments?"
"It doesn't have to be that way," he said.
"It usually is."
Frazee knew she was right. That was the most common result, when transformed children could be rescued at all. But there was a chance the outcome could be different. A miniscule chance, but a real one. "I'm prepared," he said.
"Do you think your sister would want to live like that?"
"I don't know. Do you think she wants to live the way she is now?"
"No," Shan said at once. "If there's one thing I'm sure of, that would be it." She put her hands flat on the table, one on either side of her plate. "So. If we're going, shouldn't we go?"
Frazee looked at the uneaten food, Shan's nearly full cup of tea, his own untouched juice. "If I'm wrong," he said, "I'll let it go. I promise you. A solemn promise. I'll never bring it up again. But if...if she responds to her name..."
"I know people," Shan said, sliding out of the booth. "More than one of them owed my mother favors. Major favors. The kinds that don't go away just because the person you owed them to has died."
They took a cab to Consolation Boulevard. Frazee didn't trust himself to drive, and Shan's car was in the shop. The taxi driver kept glancing at them in the rear-view mirror. He thinks we look dangerous, Frazee thought. Nervous. Edgy. Grim. He's probably scared we're going to rob him.
Shan told the driver to let them out a couple of blocks from their destination. "Better that way," she said to Frazee, once they were out of the cab. "We'll walk, take it slow, check out the scene from a distance, play it cool. Right?"
There were about a dozen people on the median where Frazee's sister lay in her arced, thin, double-ess iron shape. The closer they came, the slower Frazee walked. He could see the statue much more clearly now, in the afternoon light, even from a block away, even with folks standing around her, some of them carrying bags or pouches, a couple of them carrying children, one man with wild white hair pushing himself forward to slap both his hands down on the humped curve of the second ess. It sounded like someone slamming his palms against the hood of a car.
"Easy," Shan said. "Easy, all right?"
The statue had endured much in twenty years. Iron rusted, and rain and snow must have been responsible for some of the damage, but Frazee knew that not all of it could be attributed to two decades of weather. The hands, he thought. The hands, and the lips, and the tongues, drawing, licking, sucking the life out of her. The statue, which he had remembered as a smooth, flat ribbon of curved metal, was dented and pitted, and covered with wide swathes of corrosion, especially where the two esses dipped the lowest. She looked as if she would break apart into three pieces, or a dozen pieces, at any moment. Shan touched his arm. He had not been aware that he had stopped walking.
"That's what happens," she said, softly. "When the magic is sipped away, scraped off, nibbled a little here and a little there. It happens to all of them."
"If the statue...falls apart, disintegrates..."
"Then it's over. But that hasn't happened yet." She squeezed his arm. "It hasn't happened yet. Look. There are ten, eleven people there, still drawing from her."
"Draining her. Eating her up from the inside out and the outside in. Killing her."
"Yes. Fuck euphemisms. Come on."
Frazee had no idea what Shan was planning to do. He let her lead him forward, to the sidewalk across from the statue, and then over the blacktop to the median. He had never been this close to his sister before, not since he was two years old. A few of the people glanced at Shan and Frazee, but most of them ignored them. Until Shan let out an ear-splitting whistle that caused every head to jerk around.
"Clear off," she commanded. "Private function."
The crowd muttered and stirred, but not one of them met Shan's gaze. A woman wearing bright orange coveralls said, sort of to the air to the left of Shan's face, "Wait your turn like everybody else," but when Shan stepped toward her with her palm raised, the woman scuttled back, and as soon as she moved, the others surged after her, like a pack of dogs obeying an urgent signal for flight. The white-haired man jumped out into traffic. Shit, Frazee thought. But the drivers who took this route were accustomed to erratic pedestrians; the cars slowed to a crawl until all the people had made it across to the sidewalk. One of the children wailed, but nobody paid any attention to it.
"What did you do?" Frazee asked.
Shan showed him her hand. Around her middle finger was looped a thin, braided yellow cord, upon which hung a gray metal disk with a spirally symbol etched on it. Frazee had no idea what it was, and Shan must have seen that in his face. She grinned. "My mother's," she said. "It's sort of like an ID badge. It's been expired for years, but those idiots didn't know that."
"Amazing? Wonderful? Brilliant?"
"Full of surprises."
"I'll take that," she said. "All right. Your turn."
My turn, Frazee thought. He'd been trying not to look at the statue. Not to look at his sister, the rust all over her, the pigeon shit, the grime from car exhaust, the bits of iron that had already broken off, or been corroded away. He didn't want to touch her. It felt like it would be a violation, one more violation in twenty years of violations. He knew he had to. Shan couldn't do this for him. His parents wouldn't do it. There was only him.
He knelt next to the dip of the first ess. He had the idea that that was where her neck was, though he was probably wrong. There was no way of telling. But he had to touch her somewhere. Not on the dip; it was much too fragile, much too eroded. He put his hands on the rise of the curve. It could have been her head. It could have been her big toe, for all he knew. "It's me, it's Frazee. It's your brother," he whispered. "Can you hear me? Do you remember me?" Shan had stepped back, to give him some privacy. He wished she were beside him, touching his shoulder, stroking his hair. Again he felt very alone. He put his mouth to the cold, bitter iron, and whispered his sister's full true name.
And under his hands, under his lips, he felt the statue stir.
"She's there!" he cried. "She's there!" He had jerked up; quickly he put his lips to the same spot, and said her name again.
Shan was behind him now. He hadn't noticed her move. She didn't put her hand on his shoulder. She leaned over him and laid her palm on the statue. "Say her name one more time."
Frazee obeyed. The metal quivered. He felt it. He knew Shan had to have felt it, too. He looked up at her, his eyes stinging, hope and pain tearing at his heart. Shan was silent. Shan was silent so long he felt a stab of terror. A true love will tell you the truth, even if that truth will hurt you.
"What now?" Frazee said, when he couldn't stand the silence any longer.
Shan straightened up. "Now," she said, "you're going to stay here. You're going to keep everybody else away. Use this, if you need to." She slipped the metal disk off her finger, and handed it to him. "There's no power in it, but like I said, most of those idiots don't know that. Keep talking to her. Tell her about yourself. Keep telling her you're her brother, that's good. Too bad we didn't bring any sandwiches with us."
"It might take a while, for me to, well, make contact with my contacts."
"I'll stay here all day if I have to," Frazee said. "All night."
"You may have to."
"Then I will." He turned, awkwardly, so he could face her more directly. "So you're going to - you're..." He was going to cry now. His throat tightened.
"Yes. You're right, there's still a bit of her in there. I really hope you understand that whatever the people I know might be able to do, the outcome is not likely to be sunshine and daisies and fluffy bunnies. But however it turns out, I'll be there for you." She kissed the top of his head. "Are you going to tell your parents?"
"No," he said, instantly. Then thought. "Only if she wants me to. It'll be up to her."
Shan nodded. He waited for her to tell him he that he was deluding himself. That his sister would never be able to indicate if she was hungry, or cold, or needed to pee, much less whether she wanted to see her parents. Shan didn't.
"I love you," Frazee said.
"I love you, too, dumbass."
"Don't call me dumbass," Frazee said, and they smiled at each other.
When she'd gone, walking north because the closest bus stop was smack under the Nice Place to Live and Shop sign, Frazee leant his forehead against his sister. The iron didn't seem so cold anymore. "I'm Frazee," he said. "I'm your brother. Do you remember me?" The metal sighed, but it could have been, probably was, only the wind. No false hopes, he told himself. No fluffy bunnies. "I love you," he said, and he didn't feel like crying at all now. He was prepared, ready for whatever would happen next, ready to see it through to the end. Then he knew that the truth was, he wasn't. There was no way to be prepared. But it didn't matter. He would do anything, everything, he had to. "I love you," he said, and his sister grew warmer against his skin.