I don’t wake up screaming anymore. I do not feel ill at the sight of blood. I do not flinch before firing a gun.
I will never again apologize for surviving.
I’m startled at once by the sound of a door slamming open. I silence a gasp, spin around, and, by force of habit, rest my hand on the hilt of a semiautomatic hung from a holster at my side.
“J, we’ve got a serious problem.”
Kenji is staring at me—eyes narrowed—his hands on his hips, T-shirt taut across his chest. This is angry Kenji. Worried Kenji. It’s been sixteen days since we took over Sector 45—since I crowned myself the supreme commander of The Reestablishment—and it’s been quiet. Unnervingly so. Every day I wake up, filled with half terror, half exhilaration, anxiously awaiting the inevitable missives from enemy nations who would challenge my authority and wage war against us—and now, finally, it seems that moment has arrived. So I take a deep breath, crack my neck, and look Kenji in the eye.
He presses his lips together. Looks up at the ceiling. “So, okay—the first thing you need to know is that this isn’t my fault, okay? I was just trying to help.”
I falter. Frown. “What?”
“I mean, I knew his punkass was a major drama queen, but this is just beyond ridiculous—”
“I’m sorry—what?” I take my hand off my gun; feel my body unclench. “Kenji, what are you talking about? This isn’t about the war?”
“The war? What? J, are you not paying attention? Your boyfriend is having a freaking conniption right now and you need to go handle his ass before I do.”
I exhale, irritated. “Are you serious? Again with this nonsense? Jesus, Kenji.” I unlatch the holster from my back and toss it on the bed behind me. “What did you do this time?” “See?” Kenji points at me.
“See—why are you so quick to judge, huh, princess? Why assume that I was the one who did something wrong? Why me?” He crosses his arms against his chest, lowers his voice. “And you know, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a while, actually, because I really feel that, as supreme commander, you can’t be showing preferential treatment like this, but clearly—”
Kenji goes suddenly still.
At the creak of the door Kenji’s eyebrows shoot up; a soft click and his eyes widen; a muted rustle of movement and suddenly the barrel of a gun is pressed against the back of his head. Kenji stares at me, his lips making no sound as he mouths the word psychopath over and over again.
The psychopath in question winks at me from where he’s standing, smiling like he couldn’t possibly be holding a gun to the head of our mutual friend. I manage to suppress a laugh.
“Go on,” Warner says, still smiling. “Please tell me exactly how she’s failed you as a leader.”
“Hey—” Kenji’s arms fly up in mock surrender. “I never said she failed at anything, okay? And you are clearly overreact—”
Warner knocks Kenji on the side of the head with the weapon. “Idiot.”
Kenji spins around. Yanks the gun out of Warner’s hand. “What the hell is wrong with you, man? I thought we were cool.”
“We were,” Warner says icily. “Until you touched my hair.”
“You asked me to give you a haircut—”
“I said nothing of the sort! I asked you to trim the edges!”
“And that’s what I did.”
“This,” Warner says, spinning around so I might inspect the damage, “is not trimming the edges, you incompetent moron—”
I gasp. The back of Warner’s head is a jagged mess of uneven hair; entire chunks have been buzzed off.
Kenji cringes as he looks over his handiwork. Clears his throat. “Well,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I mean—whatever, man, beauty is subjective—”
Warner aims another gun at him.
“Hey!” Kenji shouts. “I am not here for this abusive relationship, okay?” He points at Warner. “I did not sign up for this shit!”
Warner glares at him and Kenji retreats, backing out of the room before Warner has another chance to react; and then, just as I let out a sigh of relief, Kenji pops his head back into the doorway and says
“I think the cut looks cute, actually”
and Warner slams the door in his face.