The text that appeared on my battered and abused flip phone was garbled. As I moved my eye from letter to letter, the prior letter seemed to change. The effect was that I was left trying to interpret a cipher.
I couldn’t read the name, but I could see the little bubbled picture by the name. The process of moving my eye to that picture brought the text into alignment. Dean, inviting me over.
The flight path I took felt natural in the moment, but as I thought about the way I’d come, I noticed inconsistencies, or alarm bells sounded. Streets didn’t line up, landmarks weren’t in the right order. There was a butcher chain that was labeled ‘It’s fucking meat’, instead of its proper name, a reference to a joke I’d made with my friends, that we’d held onto and repeated every time we’d passed the place. A bank labeled ‘Bank’ and nothing more. More signs with gibberish letters, or images that they couldn’t seem to decide on, despite the fact the signs weren’t digital.
The sky had changed as I flew into it. Dean’s place was a five minute flight away, from our house at the southwestern corner of the city to the Towers, the expensive part of downtown, but even though it had been afternoon when I left the Pelham’s lawn, it was evening when I arrived at the penthouse.
The message on my phone, still flirting with the idea of being gibberish, warned me the doorman was a snitch. Dean had found out when he’d tried to duck out to do an extra patrol. His parents had been called, they’d called the Youth Guard, and the Youth Guard had harangued the P.R.T., even though the patrol had been unsanctioned.
Easier to fly in. To float up to the balcony, quiet as anything, and reach below the railing, seizing his ankles.
He didn’t jump. Instead, he dropped down to a squat, then shifted position again, lying flat on his belly.
I was there, just the upper half of my head visible above the base of the balcony, fingers at the edge now, decorative metal lattice and panels of glass stretching between the railing and the balcony itself. He was there too, his face inches from mine.
“I can sense you, even if it’s dampened,” he said.
There was moisture in my eyes. “What if I love you really, really hard? Will it get through the dampening?”
“You could try.”
I scrunched up my face, concentrating. I concentrated on every moment. Tender, trusting, hopeful, angry, mournful. The details that had stuck with me, like the clown nose stain on white briefs, the moments spent studying. The moments we’d been young and shortsighted, feeling parental pressures, feeling alone, and the resulting moments that had been so sweet in their loneliness because we’d been lonely together.
Him and I feeling so distant from everything except each other.
I wanted that again, so desperately.
“Wow,” he said.
“Don’t you dare make a joke,” I told him.
“It’s so tempting.”
“Clockblocker is rubbing off on you.”
He reached through the railing, and put a hand on the side of my face. His thumb wiped at a bead of moisture.
“You really did look constipated, though,” he told me.
“Wow, Dean. Really?” I asked. “Here I am, I don’t think you could even comprehend the shit I went through in the course of getting here, and I really am tapping into some genuine feelings, to the point I’m teary eyed, you jerk, and that’s what you’ve got?”
“In my defense, I’m seventeen, and Clockblocker really is a bad influence.”
“Not a defense. Nope, my mom’s a lawyer, I know being a teenager isn’t a defense.”
“You look beautiful,” he told me.
“Too late,” I told him. I grabbed his ankle again, and I lifted it, transferring my grip between my hands so I could navigate the horizontal bars that extended along the decorative part of the balcony railing. He started off trying to keep himself vertical, then shifted his grip to trying to ensure he had something to hold onto.
After he was completely upside-down for a couple of seconds, I set him down. He gripped the railing not just with his hands, but both arms, hugging it, even after his feet touched the balcony.
It took him another second to laugh, quiet.
“You’re totally a teenager too,” he told me. “Whooooo.”
“I wouldn’t have let you fall,” I told him.
“I know. If I thought there was a chance, I would have screamed.”
I put a hand on the railing, and ‘vaulted’ over. My boots met the concrete pad of the balcony.
Dean, for his part, straightened up. Just a little taller than me, but ‘me’… I was only sixteen or so.
“I like the way your hair gets messy when you’ve been flying hard,” he told me. He reached over to the side of my head and plucked at a strand, repositioning it.
I reached up for his hand and pressed it against the side of my head, just to have it closer to me. Then, as an extension of the same thought, I drew a bit closer to him, covering half the distance before I hesitated.
He hugged me, tight, one hand now at the back of my head, fingers in my messy hair.
“What’s up with you?” he asked.
“It’s felt very lonely out there for a long time,” I mumbled the words.
“We can’t have that.”
I shook my head.
“Tough day?” he asked me.
“Fought two Endbringers. Dealt with the Slaughterhouse Nine. Um. Shopping trip with a girl I met in the hospital, an ex-Fallen, a dude that’s dating Vista, who might have you beat for looking good in armor-”
“-and a very troubled little girl who should not have been there. Then, you know, ran into the Undersiders and Skitter force-fed me spiders and centipedes at the bank…”
He pulled back from the hug so our faces were close together, and then he kissed me.
“You don’t have spider breath.”
“Oh, that’s good,” I told him.
“I was going to invite you to watch tv shows or a movie with me, but now I feel like I should take you to a therapy session.”
“TV show or movie sounds perfect,” I told him.
We stepped into the expansive, two-story penthouse apartment, and together, made our way to the couch. He seemed like he was going to take a seat at one end of the couch, expecting me to sit next to him, but I laid down, and he took my cue, lying down with his front to my back.
“The remote’s on the coffee table,” he said.
I reached for it, and found it too far. I willed for the Fragile-
No, not here.
I took hold of his arm and pulled it around my body, like I was pulling a blanket tight, my back pressed hard against him, to get as close to him as I could.
I’d rather stay put than move to get the remote. I was pretty sure the television wouldn’t be coherent, either.
“Where are your parents?” I asked.
“Having dinner with my father’s vice president.”
I twisted around, squirming a bit until I was facing him, him pressed between me and the back of the couch.
“You really are beautiful,” he said. He extricated an arm and used it to fix my hair, adjusting strands. “I miss you when you’re not around, you know. The world makes more sense when you’re in the room.”
“That’s a lie. The world doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe it just feels like it’s a kind of nonsense I can handle.”
“I’ve been trying to handle things for so long I think I’ve lost all objectivity.”
“Loneliness and a world you can’t make sense of, for what sounds like a long time. Did you get caught in a time warp?”
“Four and a half years passed just like that. Crazy time warp.”
“Do you think you could take off this sweater?” he asked. He touched the shoulder-less black sweater I was wearing, with wool that was a half-inch thick.
“Slippery slope there, Dean Stansfield.”
“We don’t have to do that. I just… want to touch more of you. Be closer to you.”
“That’s what that is, you dolt.”
“Not like you’re talking about.”
Our faces were close enough for us to kiss, but we didn’t. I searched his features.
“I need something first,” I told him.
“Whatever you need.”
“Tell me… how long did you know Amy wasn’t well?”
He exhaled slowly, broke eye contact.
“Tell me?” I asked. “I’m trying to figure things out.”
“I’m… I figured there was time. She hates me. I needed to reach out, I needed to get to her, past that initial wall. Give it a few weeks, or months…”
“But you knew, and you kept it from me?”
“Hurts. Um, and I’m not blaming you, but… I and a bunch of other people got really hurt by that.”
“I’m just a teenage guy, Victoria,” he told me. “I’m stumbling through so much of this. I do the best I can, I make mistakes, or I get overconfident. I thought maybe I could help her get a handle on her issues before they could ever come up.”
And then you die before you can.
“Do you love me?”
I leaned back, using flight to keep myself upright-ish so I could pull it off. I ran my fingers through my hair after. I still wore a black tank.
He touched my arm, fingers tracing from shoulder to elbow. “Feels like a weird leap to make. Talking about heavy stuff like your sister, people getting hurt, me fucking up, moving to this.”
“What do you think ‘this’ is?” I asked. “I thought it wasn’t going to be anything rude.”
“It’s still a weird leap.”
“I’ve got so many walls up. If you want me to take the barriers away, I need to know I can trust you.”
“You didn’t tell me you’re Cauldron.”
His eyes widened.
“Pretty big betrayal, keeping that from me. So many conversations we had where you implied, you lied…”
“Yeah. I feel like a shitheel saying it, but is this another thing? Another barrier that gets lifted?”
“That is a shitheel sort of thing to say, Dean.”
“I’m just wondering… what happens next?”
“You’re really thinking about sex, now?”
“I’m really thinking about us, and the future. If I give the right answers, admit to my faults, do you leave and never come back?”
“I’m…” I stopped, shaking my head, my head rubbing against the sofa cushion. “…I’m really, really hoping and praying that this is a visit and I don’t come back for decades. Sorry.”
“Then what is this?”
“Resolution. Figuring out where we stand. Whether eighty percent of me loves you and twenty percent of me resents you, or if it’s fifty-fifty, which it probably isn’t, or ninety-five and five.”
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “It’s one of the rules. If we say anything, they come after us, and take away what they gave.”
I searched his expression, and I saw the regret, the hurt. How very hard it had been.
Searching his expression, I saw him in a wholly new light. How clear his skin was, the proportions of his eyes. Even the smell of him, it was subtly different from someone like Anelace.
“You’re a teenager,” I said. “Mistakes happen.”
His finger traveled down my arm, shoulder to wrist. Then it reversed direction. It stopped at a scar, the one Mukade’s centipede had given me. It passed an abrasion, then reached another scar from Mukade, with skin that rippled around the scar, because the acid had burned and the burn had scarred.
His expression was sad.
He looked so very young, and it shook me, because somehow, in my mind, he had grown up with me. To see him now, he looked faintly smaller, he looked more like one of the students I would have taught in the Patrol than someone who would have been beside me.
There was insecurity in his eyes. Even the comments, the little details. The faint pushiness, that someone a few years older might have matured out of.
I leaned forward, and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
Then I sat up.
“You can stay,” he said.
I shook my head.
“If I end up staying, it’s because a tragedy happened. I should move on,” I told him.
“Did I do something wrong?”
I shook my head.
“Feels like I did.”
You’re perfect because you’re in the past. Unchanging. I can keep the best memories and gloss over the worst ones. But you’re a teenager and you’ll always be a teenager.
“I love you, Dean.”
“I love you too.”
I picked up my sweater, and I carried it to the balcony. Dean got up from the couch, and stepped out of view.
I could have flown off, but I wasn’t quite sure where to fly. Every place I could go had connotations. Fights had happened in most of those places. Or sparring, or patrols.
Instead, I stood there, looking out over Brockton Bay.
“I like your sweater.”
I turned my head.
Swansong leaned into the railing, black makeup smeared around her eyes, almost like a blindfold, her white hair was short, with bits of black, like she’d wiped her fingers clear of the makeup in it.
I held up the sweater. Black, of course she liked it.
I smiled. “Want it?”
She reached out and took it, before slinging it over one shoulder. I glanced past her, and saw the apartment we’d shared in Earth Gimel. No Dean. The ground was only two stories down, not twenty.
“Did you get what you needed?” she asked me.
“I expected something entirely different.”
“Oh, did you?” she asked me.
“Making up for lost time. I fought two fucking Endbringers in this dream before getting to the good parts. It would be really damn nice if I could just enjoy something simple.”
“Mmm hmm,” she murmured. “Seeing if a bit of vigorous rubbing might make your knight in shining armor shine brighter?”
“You’re fortunate, in a way,” she said.
“Part of your power comes from their analysis of emotion, sentiment. If it didn’t, that wouldn’t have felt so rich. If you wished, you could experience the most climactic of emotions, here, in memories and recordings where that emotion didn’t already exist.”
“Okay, hey. Let’s change the topic.”
“Must we? I’ve missed seeing you squirm, and if the name Damsel of Distress didn’t tip you off, I quite liked stories of knights and dames and evil sorceresses when I was small.”
“I didn’t expect you to show up in that hallway,” I said.
“You’re proving the likes of Tattletale right, when she says you’re a stereotypical brute. That wasn’t a graceful transition. That was blunt. For shame.”
“It was a shock,” I told her, ignoring her digressions. “Seeing you.”
She seemed amused. “The cretin tried to kill Kenzie. What she thought was Kenzie.”
“When she was talking about you taking her over, I thought it was metaphorical, not a literal wresting of control.”
“She fights me constantly, but the difference between us is that I grew,” Ashley said. “My idiot sister fights me by doing the opposite. If the screeching halfwit did anything else, anything at all, she wouldn’t be so vulnerable.”
“I think I’d rather not,” Ashley said. “I wouldn’t say I’m content, but I’ve always been a restless creature. A bird with twisted wings of annihilation.”
“If I wasn’t restless here, I wouldn’t be me, perhaps. I relive some of my greatest hits, I explore. I deal with them.”
I twisted around to look at where the fingernail, painted with white and black, was pointing. At first I thought it was the inside of the apartment. It was the window. In the four different panels of window that made up the access to the balcony, I could see five reflections of Ashley, all long-haired, some with clawed fingers.
“Are they a problem?”
“I had too many new experiences that they can’t relate to or reach. They linger behind, or at the fringes. I’m fine. I worry about Kenzie, and about you, and the others.”
“In that order?”
“Absolutely. Can we walk?”
I nodded. I floated down to the ground beneath the balcony. Ashley used a single burst of her power. The reality around us shuddered at the power use.
I thought about commenting on that, but it felt out of place.
“I can’t help but notice that Kenzie found her way here,” she said, one narrow eyebrow arched, her tone dangerously conversational.
“Whatever I do, if I include her, if I leave her behind, it feels like a damning wrong choice. If she was the one thing I focused on, I think I’d still get it wrong, but she’s not, and the end result feels like the worst of both worlds.”
“I talked to her. She found someone on her wavelength. A darkness manipulator.”
“Let them meet. She’s strong, she’s determined. She’ll find her way.”
“But I worry.”
“As do I, my friend.”
We walked through Hollow Point, past broken windows and empty streets and stores.
We stopped at a clothing store, and Ashley pointed at some articles that were still on the mannequin. I opened the door, wanting to get closer, but when I did, there was only darkness within.
More Damsels appeared in the glass, peering at us. One of them reached out to scrape the interior of the glass with clawed fingertips. Ashley seemed almost bored with it.
“Let’s keep walking,” she said.
When she walked past me, however, she was careful to skirt my shadow. I looked down, and I took a step back. When I did, the shadow remained on the sidewalk, while my own shadow followed me.
I stepped forward again, and I scuffed it with my toe. It came away, like a smudge on glass. Below the pavement was grass and a fallen plank, and the plank had yellow graffiti on it.
I remembered that graffiti.
“Your plan. It’s spreading faster.”
“Pollution. I was spreading it more intentionally during the ugly parts. Maybe it’ll make a difference. Or reduce the chances I’m stuck in here for hundreds of years, reliving those parts. It’d be nice if people like my uncle could hold onto memories of time with his son for another hundred years, while the bad stuff disappeared.”
“Let’s hope,” she said. She touched a window.
I looked through it. Inside was what could have been a bed and breakfast, or a hotel room.
In a chair was a body, head obliterated, the white carpet beneath the chair soaked with blood.
Not mine. Not my recollection or memory.
Ashley sighed, turning away in the same moment a lone Damsel stepped into the faint set of reflections in the glass.
I gave it a lingering look, then moved on.
“Have you seen the others?”
“Sveta is hard to reach. It’s an imperfect connection, distorted. I watched from a distance.”
For an instant, we were in the crystal landscape again. What had been red and black was so lit up with white flickers that it was luminescent.
Seeing Swansong amid it, it looked like it was entirely her element. Bright, chaotic, and intense.
“I saw Sveta and Rain earlier.”
“Rain’s managing. Supporting Love Lost and Colt, and being supported in turn.”
“You already mentioned Kenzie.”
“On the other side of a ravine. Talking was difficult, but we managed it.”
“And Tristan?” I asked her.
We were plunged into ruined city.
She shook her head.
“Too far to reach. Connections are broken, and you’re not the only one poisoning the paths. It makes it harder.”
“Which raises the question,” I said.
“Will this work? Does she realize she’s losing?”
“She’s realized. Why do you think we’re moving between scenes so fast?” she asked me.
“If this were water, it would be churning,” she said, looking out over the landscape of lightning in the shape of crystals. “Powerful people are being pulled out, one by one.”
I drew in a breath. I felt dizzy when I realized what she was saying.
“I suppose I’ll see you again one day. Perhaps my contrarian sister will cede all ground and I’ll give you a call, after. Perhaps she’ll find a middle ground, and accept some parts of me. Or maybe you’ll die, sixty years from now, and you’ll be recorded in the annals of this place.”
“It’s not Valhalla.”
“It’s not hell either, not quite. It’s a last test. A question mark, drawn out over hundreds or thousands of years.”
“I don’t… look, just in case there isn’t time-”
“Shit, look, you understand this place as well as anyone. There’s still unanswered questions.”
“Titan Fortuna was drilling. What was she drilling for? What was she doing, and why?”
“I don’t know, my dear. I know the person within the Titan found a kernel of strength, and she managed to send Valkyrie to where you needed her. Valkyrie used her power once, then returned to Fortuna’s side.”
“But the drilling.”
“I can’t see, I can’t go there. I do hope you find the answer.”
“Damn it,” I swore. “Shit.”
“Tarnation,” she told me. “Be happy. I do believe we won.”
I drew in a breath to respond.
I gasped for breath, and that gasp seemed to only fill my lungs to ten percent.
“Easy does it, easy.”
The woman who knelt beside me wore a winter jacket, and was middle aged. I was in an unfamiliar room- one I’d chosen. It was the most intact room in the building that we’d made our headquarters in.
My cell phone- I’d placed it over top of my chest, just to be sure the signal would reach. It slid from my chest and onto the bed as I tried to sit up.
“You’ve been in a kind of stasis for more than twelve hours,” the woman said. “Your heart rate was slowed, your breathing adjusted-”
“I know,” I said. The act of speaking made my chest kind of hurt. I felt like I’d been coughing a lot, or had a pressure on my chest that had been relieved, but that I hadn’t fully adjusted to. “I kind of defined the loose idea.”
“Oh,” she said. “You’re going to be groggy and dehydrated. Drink.”
She had a water bottle.
I had a million questions, but I put them aside. I drank. As I did, I swung my legs over the side of the bed.
“They recommend resting for twenty minutes before standing. Adjust, let your heart rate creep up to normal. Your legs will be shaky, and I can’t guarantee I can lift you back onto the bed if you fall.”
I eased myself to a standing position, relying on flight to get myself upright again.
“How many are awake?” I asked.
“A handful. We’re going in the same general order that was established before. The first people to accept the treatment will be the first to awaken.”
“Okay. Thank you,” I told her.
“You really shouldn’t stand, or…”
“Or fly?” I asked. “I’ll manage. I need to get on top of things. I need to make sure this went okay.”
“I’ll manage,” I told her. “Really. Thank you.”
Kenzie was a concern. There were others. Too many swords of damocles had been hanging in the sky, poised to drop on us.
“What about your things?”
I turned to look.
My stuff was sitting beside the bed. Costume top, crusty with blood. Armor. Decorations. I’d changed just before settling in.
“I could bring them with me,” the woman said. “I’ve got four more people to check on around here.”
I used flight to help me bend over, and the act of straightening still made all the blood rush to my head. Not something I was used to, when my power normally made me immune. I gathered it up in my arms.
“I got it. Thank you again,” I told her.
She smiled tightly, and then she nodded.
I paused, then turned. “Do you want any of this? Some of it’s bloody and gross, but like…”
I pulled the hood decoration free. The only decoration where none of the spikes had broken off.
She took it.
I opened the door, pulling on a spare coat I’d left behind in the headquarters, and I let myself into the hallway, where a cold wind breezed in through a part of wall that was missing.
I flew out through the hole, over the crack in reality. When I looked at the crystal below, I could see the flashes, the light and the darkness. But there was no red glow. No feeling of danger.
That was just… activity. Scrambling. Mess.
If they wanted us, they would have to start from scratch. Too much of the old data would be too hard to use or reuse, or extrapolate from.
Still floating over the crack, I let the costume fall, dropping from my arms to the chasm. The breastplate provided the weight that helped the bundle fly straight down, into the crevice where the water still flowed in from the ocean, frothing.
Too small to make out before it was even halfway gone. Then gone forever.
I wouldn’t be giving them any more of me, not like I had.
“You’re going-” I tried, before wincing. Breathing and speaking was still hard, and it had nothing to do with the fighting last night. Only the long and heavy ‘sleep’. “You’re going to have to work with me, Fragile One. I know powers that don’t get used can get cranky, but… I’ve kind of gone above and beyond on multiple fronts.”
Water crashed against a fallen building below me.
“Go easy on me, huh?” I asked. I was looking for fires. For cracks in reality. There were only the tears left behind from the old Teacher-assisted Fallen attack on the portal devices. Everything was deathly quiet, but for the sounds of wind and water.
As if to test, to give the Fragile One a chance to respond, I pushed out, letting my forcefield unfold.
It swept over my skin, extended over my clothes. It went no further.
No sudden movements, nothing involuntary, no apparent mind of its own.
I saw three cars on the road, in my long trip back to the headquarters. People roving about, following coordinates to meet and recover capes.
I had to fly low, to pass through a portal. I’d worn comfortable clothes to sleep and I wore a coat now, and I was glad for the forcefield, that had no extra wind resistance. With the rush and the fear, paradoxical as it was, I felt very much like I had on my very first flight.
On that flight, it had been all the possibilities ahead of me that had spooked me. I’d been hopeful, because there were so many promises, so many doors open to me.
Now I felt much the same. In a way, facing this, a possibility that things had worked out, I was more scared than I had been when I’d thought Chris had scuttled our very last option.
Past the portal, the old Cauldron facility loomed. Beaten, battered, possibly unrecoverable.
I flew in through a hole in the wall Dragon had made.
To see the rubble and the signs of battle, I felt more like twelve years had passed, not twelve hours.
I still had responsibilities.
In the event that this all worked out, my goal and plan had been to leave Kenzie in the care of the Wardens, and she would be my first stop when I arrived. She would know the particulars.
But Kenzie, I knew, had gone out of her way to dose herself.
I made my way to the right floor, then down the ‘mastermind’s hallway’. The area where we’d kept Dinah close to Tattletale and Riley, and all of our other planners.
Kenzie’s workshop was humming along. I passed by monitors, though I knew better than to touch tinker stuff, and bent down to look at lists and maps.
In the back room, I found the Chicken Tenders, Roman, Juliette, and Kenzie. Kenzie lay on a cot, separate from all the others. She could have curled up next to Chicken Little or Candy, but… if I remembered right, those people would have been knocked out already. Maybe it was good she hadn’t, lonely as it seemed.
I pulled a blanket over her.
I turned my head.
Tattletale had come from the little kitchen area with a cup of coffee in her hands. She wore civilian clothes, and her hair was tied up in a ponytail.
“I feel like saying they’re grounded literally for life, and that I will hire people to ensure it sticks… it still lacks impact.”
“I can’t take a belt to their asses because, well, illegal. And shitty. But how do you punish a gang of idiots like this?”
“I dunno,” I said. I looked over the sleeping kids. “Are they coming to wake them up?”
“Shortly. Next couple of hours. They’re going down lists to be sure they get everyone, even though we’ve got safety measures. Mostly everyone. They’re still debating about the monsters.”
I looked down at Kenzie, and thought of Ashley.
“You could cry,” I said. I gave Tattletale a look.
“Just like… actually show them how very upset you actually are. Might make the decent ones feel bad.”
“I’m not much of a crier,” she said.
“It’d really unnerve them, probably. For just that reason. But they’re resistant to bullshit, so you know…”
“I could really, actually cry,” Tattletale said, while looking down at Chicken Little. “Don’t worry about that.”
“Didn’t go under. Couldn’t.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You’ve been following what’s going on?”
“Actually, ” Tattletale said, “I’ve been going out of my way to not pay attention. For the first time in years… I don’t have the slightest fucking idea what’s going on when it comes to the Machine Army, Saint, the Titans- don’t give me a look that suggests you know anything. It’s lovely. My power needs information to put pieces together and I don’t know jack shit and it’s the first vacation I’ve had in five years.”
“And if you start asking questions or using me as your little exposition device, setting all that machinery prematurely into motion, I may actually murder you. Or I’ll sic the worst Heartbroken on you.”
“No need to worry about that. You did good, Tattletale,” I said. “You deserve a break.”
“Sure. You too, I hope.”
“Want to, like, grab a coffee in the cafeteria?” I asked her. “Might have to duck out as people start waking up or showing off, but…”
“We’re not friends, Vicky.”
“Sure,” I told her, rolling my eyes. “So as not-friends, do you want to dream up punishments for kids over coffee? I’m ravenous.”
She looked down at the cup she was already holding, then pitched it into the garbage. “Rachel kludged this together, and it’s so strong it makes my eyes hurt. Fine.”
“Fine,” I said, with a note of easy humor and a lack of guard I hadn’t let myself feel in a long, long time, like I could have laughed as I said it.