“WHAT -- THE -- FRICK -- DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” Sophie screams in my face as Dean sprints away from us.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry... Please don’t be mad, Sophie--” I plead.
“Please don’t be mad? Please don’t be MAD? Are you fricking kidding me, Saket?” she hollers.
“Listen, I didn’t mean it that way; I didn’t realize Dean would see it like that!” I say.
Just as quickly as it came, Sophie’s anger subsides. “You’re right,” she says quietly. “There’s no use being mad anymore. What’s done is already done.”
The horrible feeling in my gut intensifies with guilt.
“It doesn’t matter,” she continues. “The way I see it, there’s no point in anything anymore -- no point in life. So don’t be sorry.”
Then, before I can say anything else, she turns and walks off.
I find Dean in an alley next to our school, repeatedly stabbing the old, worn walls with a stick. He’s attacking the walls with a vengeance, each stab chipping off a tiny piece of clay. The thumps vibrate through my body, making me feel like he’s pounding a fist straight into my heart.
I take a deep breath, then walk up to confront him.
“Dean?” I ask, every muscle tense with apprehension.
“Yeah?” His tone is light and casual, as if everything between us is a-okay.
“I know you’re mad about that whole thing with Saket--”
“Yeah, well, I’m not.”
I stop in my tracks. “Uh, you’re... not mad?”
“You can’t exactly control your feelings, can you?” he says, finally turning to face me. “You can’t force yourself to love me.”
“No, I do love you,” I insist. “Saket and I -- I don’t even know what happened! You can ask him yourself!”
“Sophie, I don’t care who you love,” Dean says with a sigh. “You ever heard the saying that love is about appreciation, not possession? Well, I figured that I don’t need you to love me back or whatever crap. I’ll just let myself love you, and that’s enough for me.”
My eyes start filling with tears. “D-Dean... I love you, I promise.”
He shrugs. “That would be a bonus if it was true.”
I backtrack down the alley and race away from Dean, determined not to let him see me cry.
“Suchet!” I shout, chasing after the figure darting through the streets. “How can you just abandon them like that?”
He stops, letting me catch up to him, then says, “I had no other choice.”
“You didn’t leave because they insulted you,” I accuse. “You just don’t want to be a part of the attack.”
“I’m trying to make sure that I don’t die,” he responds. “Do you have no survival instinct whatsoever?”
“You’re just letting them die for you!” I shout. “A leader’s supposed to protect his people!”
“What’re you trying to say?”
I sigh. “Did you send Leo to the Cosmo Prison just to get him out of your way after he tried to kick you out?”
His face is an unfathomable mask. “No. And so what if I did?”
“You’re being an incredibly selfish leader,” I fulminate, shaking my head.
“I’m not going to let you guilt trip me into doing something I don’t want to do,” Suchet snaps angrily.
“No problem. If you won’t change your ways, I’m taking you out of my life.” I say, turning my back on him. My feet carry me away from him as if they’ve been waiting to do this their whole lives.
“Fine, then!” Suchet shouts after me. “Go ahead, I never needed you anyways!”
I come to a dead stop.
“You’re the one who needed me; people only liked you because of me,” he continues. “You’re just a burden to me, and nothing more.”
I whirl around, then advance towards him until we’re almost nose to nose. “You didn’t mean that,” I say quietly.
I can see that he’s realized the horror of what he’s just said and how much it hurt me, but he refuses to concede. I’d expected as much, knowing that he would never be able to swallow his pride.
“Did you ever really love me?” I ask, stepping away from him slightly.
“Of course I did, Ramya, I--”
“And what about Saket and Dean? Your two best friends?”
“They’re my friends; how can I not?” His voice is rough and terse; in no way do they match the words he has uttered.
“Yet you let Dean go on that mission into the Cosmo Prison, straight to his death,” I snap. “It’s only pure luck that he came back from the dead. And now, you’re going to let both of them go off on yet another dangerous mission? It’s so obvious that you don’t care about any of them! And as for me? You had the power to utterly destroy me, and you used it just now! Is that your sick definition of ‘love?’”
His eyes are devoid of feeling. The only emotion I see in them is my own pain reflected back at me, and nothing more.
“You never really loved us. Any of us,” I whisper.
“That’s not true,” Suchet pleads, but I can see the lie in his expression.
“You know how I figured that out?” I'm about to explode, barely able to contain the sudden onset of my fury. “Because people don’t destroy the people they love! You were the leader; you were supposed to protect us from dangers like the one that killed Debbie and Dean. But you didn’t -- and you took advantage of everything we did for you!”
My voice drops to a soft but dangerous tone. "I devoted myself to you. I was loyal to you and only you, even when no one else followed you. I trusted you. I supported you, defended you, I cared about you. Every word I spoke, every action I committed... it was all for you. For you and something I thought we had together. For something that --- it turns out -- never even existed. Whenever you were cold or distant, I thought you were just donning your armor to protect yourself -- I knew you were afraid of getting hurt. I thought that, underneath all of it, you still loved me. I thought I understood you. I was wrong... so, so wrong.”
I watch him, wishing with every ounce of my being that I had never unravelled his true self, that I had stayed in my state of blissful ignorance."But now I know. You never had that armor; you had no soul, no emotions, nothing to protect. And you never really cared about me. I gave you my everything and you ran off with it. You were a feelingless monster from the very start."