Chapter 4 – Are you here? I want to see you. Let me see you.

Tina’s hardening muscle was proving exceedingly difficult to penetrate with an IV needle. And even when I’d manage to get the needle inside, tapping into one of the elusive, shrinking veins within was like trying to kill a fruit fly with a hatchet at one hundred yards.

If you’ve never tried that, let me assure you that it’s exceedingly difficult, and even harder when you’ve been drinking and Alice is taunting you. But I’m off topic here. Ultimately, my issue was the sheer, unyielding strength of her desiccated limb. It kept breaking the needle before I could successfully maneuver it into her vein, and so I had to resort to desperate measures.

Several large shots of blood pushed straight into her heart allowed some moisture to return to her limbs. I hadn’t been sure that it would work, but to my everlasting relief, it did. Once her muscles started to absorb and become pliant, her veins plumped up.

They were still small and hard to hit, but it was at least enough to get the needle embedded and set up with a steady flow. Since then at least two gallons of blood has already been dumped into her system, and while her color is definitely improved, she’s not yet awakened. In fact, her progress seems to have plateaued, but it’s still too early to tell.

So… I wait.

Her mind is still illusive to me, and her hands are still unnaturally cold, even as I chafe one of them delicately between my own. I’m unwilling to leave her except to bring more blood. Blood… It doesn’t fix everything, not by a longshot, but I can’t help but be grateful for this one triumph. My foray into human sadism didn’t give me the cache that I had hoped for, but it would seem that nature did us one better.

We have found ourselves with what appears to be an inexhaustible supply, and it couldn’t have been at a better time. The lights in the tunnel have been flickering on and off ever since the explosion in the lab, with several long outages. What little that was left in the fridge spoiled. I suppose that we could have made due with the two scientists for a time, but without a way to feed them, that wouldn’t have lasted but a few days. Fortunately, we have the root. Alice said that she followed it to the source as far as she could, but she’d have to go topside, and we considered that to be an unnecessary risk.

We did find that the roots are spiderwebbed throughout the dirt above the tunnel. One quick hole in the ceiling later, and we’re capturing blood by the bucket full. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen: thick and black, the stalky skin rough and rigid, with what appears to be a protective exoskeleton woven throughout its surface. A new species of plant, it would seem, and right at a time when it’s needed the most.

I had been concerned about the changes that had taken place in nature with Lilith’s death, but now… given the evidence of how these changes truly affect our lives, I cannot help but consider that this is a good thing. It is evolution, adaptation… and ultimately, survival.

The scientific community has long debated which came first, the chicken or the egg. But it is a fact that creatures adapt to their physical environment. Why wouldn’t it then make sense that the environment might change to support that life as well?

It takes time, lots of time, but put a living organism in the most extreme of environments, and eventually, you will see it thrive one way or the other. It may be immediate or it may take generations, but more often than not, the innate will to survive wins out over circumstance. I think that is what makes vampyrs so unique.

We’ve always needed darkness. Even those who undergo the daywalking ritual find themselves slightly out of sorts in the sunlight. It’s harshly bright, affecting the clarity of vision sometimes to the point of distraction. It’s not unbearable when ignored, but it’s always there.

And if that’s not enough, there’s a low undercurrent that prickles the skin, almost as if something is crawling beneath the surface. It’s a warning, built in to give us the tools needed to know and avoid danger. And what these warnings tell us is to seek shelter from a hostile environment.

And now, daywalker or not, our environment is no longer a threat. Even more than that, it seems to have chosen to suit vampyr needs instead of the humans. The gray light makes our vision sharper than ever. Additionally, there is no longer the slight irritability that comes with exposure. Truly, it is no longer our enemy.

But then there’s also this root. Not only are we now given free roam of the earth, but we have a food source that supersedes humanity. No more dilemmas on whether it’s right or wrong; no more exchanging one life for another; no more guilt or worry or shame, and most importantly, no more reason for the humans to fear us. It’s just… in a word, better, in more ways than one.

Human blood is delicious, but this blood… it’s as if it’s been perfectly engineered for us by the skillful hand of our very creator. I’ve not had more than that first pull, but I don’t need more. I feel stronger, more aware, more vibrant, and healthier. And the taste… it’s better than any human blood I’ve ever had, and I’d know. I was once, to put it mildly, a connoisseur; to put it harshly, a glutton.

Despite my own misgivings on how insane it all sounds, all of these changes can only lead me to believe one thing: the earth is now ours. Humanity is no longer the favored son, and I cannot help but wonder what will happen to humans, or maybe, what is already happening to them.

I’m not sure if it’s just an idea that I have concocted to attempt to explain away what I’ve seen or if I am genuinely intuitive, but I truly want to believe that their actions are born of panic and fear. No explanation will ever excuse what they’ve done, what they are doing, but it at least it’s a reason – something understandable – and maybe, maybe it’s even fixable.

I’ve not had the opportunity to speak with the good doctor at great length. Regardless of what I saw, Tina is my priority, and as such, she is his priority. I immediately instructed him to begin his testing while I catered to her need for blood. He did as he said he would: a physical exam and instead of a blood sample, he took tissue. There simply wasn’t enough blood in her system to gather.

The physical exam yielded nothing of interest or curiosity, outside of a nearly non-existent heartbeat. As for the tissue sample, at this moment he is four doors down in his makeshift lab looking for any reason or cause for her struggle. So again, all I can do is wait.

I lift one of my hands to brush the hair from her forehead. I miss her. It feels like I’ve spent the whole of my life missing her. The future that I once thought was certain is so obscured, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe someday, if there is a someday, I’ll know what it means to be with her without all of the pain and suffering threatening us from every direction.

Even in those years that we spent together in this very city, it was never without worry. There was always that nagging ‘what if’ that turned out to be our downfall. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be carefree… to feel safe and just be… with her.

I hear the footsteps approach before the slight tap on our door, and reluctantly release her hand so that I can get up to answer it. Alice’s eyes are wide and there’s a strange smile on her face, almost as if she received some good news that she can’t quite reconcile. The doctor is with her, his expression much like Alice’s, but his is contorted in horror.

They must have found something.

I open the door hastily, and step away from them to return to my vigil and hear this news. Alice shuts the door and I again take Tina’s had, whether to comfort her or myself, I can’t be certain. It’s quiet, all but the steady drip of blood draining into Tina’s veins, and they both stare at her as if she’s some sort of… anomaly.

It upsets me. She’s a person, not an experiment. She’s the love of my life and she deserves utmost respect. More than that, whatever it is, I’m not sure if I want to know, even as much as I have no choice but to face it. “Well? What did you find?”

They both focus on me, and Alice nudges the doctor’s shoulder with a slight smile. “Go ahead. Tell her what you told me, Doc.”

He looks back to Tina, his brow furrowed, and his voice is incredulous. “She’s pregnant.”

He said it almost as if it’s a question, only without the subsequent inflection or insecurity. The words hang in the air and my brain tries to grab at them, but it can’t find purchase on this… mistake?

So, I try again. “Excuse me?”

He gestures to her, his voice solemn. “She’s pregnant.”

Again, my mind gropes at nothing. That’s not just impossible, it’s absurd.

I can’t keep the weary breath from escaping me as I turn accusing eyes on Alice. “Did you put him up to this? Compel him as some sort of joke?”

She crosses her arms over her chest against the accusation. “I resent that, Bette.”

I laugh sardonically. “Well…”

“Well, I’d never make a joke about that, especially not right now.”

She stares down on Tina, her worry evident, and I realize that I’m being unfair. I shake my head as if that will somehow magically clear it.

It doesn’t.

For some reason I’m still trying. “Okay, let’s start with the facts: she’s a vampyr; vampyrs can’t have children; and even if she were human, she hasn’t had relations with a man since Deke.”

I wait a moment. “More than two hundred years ago.”

The doctor glances over at me. “Did she have relations with a woman?”

I glower at him. “Why does that matter?”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head despondently. I watch as he scrubs at his face and stares at her with a strange expression of confounded awe and disdain. When he realizes that I’m scrutinizing him, he gets nervous, more so than expected.

He’s panicking…

He quickly changes the subject. “Anyway… I was able to extract a small sample of blood from her tissue. The hCG levels are conclusive. I’ve run them four times.” He’s incredulous. “Same result.”

He shakes his head. “It would also explain the elevated white blood cell count and the early onset of desiccation. The fetus is seen as a foreign object, an intruder, because it’s sapping all of the blood from her already overtaxed system.”

He laughs a little hysterically. “I can’t believe what I’m saying… but it’s true.” He clasps a hand to his face nervously. “Things are worse than we’d anticipated.”

My mind finally gets a hold of some of the elusive information that he’s still blurting out, but it’s slippery at best. I feel like I’ve been sucked into an alternate universe. In fact, that’s precisely what’s happening. And now that I know, I want to reject it, try to force it back out and shove it away from me. There are too many implications.

First, it’s just not possible. But then, nothing in recent events is. And second, even if he’s right, if it is now possible, even if maybe this is another change of nature, I know that Tina hasn’t been with anyone but me. I’ve seen everything in her thoughts… everything. At least, I think I have. It is possible for her to withhold. But she wouldn’t do that. She told me as much in that dream… where she was pregnant.

I feel like I’m going to collapse, and I would have if I hadn’t already been sitting beside her. I glance over at her, the whole of my life lying motionless, and feel a soul-deep pang. This is… unbelievable…

A child.

I can’t help the smile that stretches my face even as my vision becomes murky. It may be unbelievable, but it’s wonderful, isn’t it?

My smile falters. If our circumstances were different, it could be. But they’re not. Given everything going on around us, it seems unfair to bring a child into this world – this flawed, terrifying, and cruel world.

“My God,” is all I can breathe out.

If the humans got wind of this…

I snap my attention back to the doctor, a deep and abiding fear lancing through my guts and twisting them with an anger that I can’t even describe as his last words finally penetrate. “What do you mean it’s worse than you anticipated?”

He backs away from me, nearly tumbling over Alice in his haste. “I-I didn’t mean… anything.”

He knows something. He won’t look up at me and that may as well be a confession. He… they… must have done this…

I find myself gripping his neck as I force him against the door and stare into his eyes. I may have compelled him to do what he was told, but I’d not compelled any information out of him yet. Well, that is about to change.

I pull all of the power within me up to the fore and force it into him. It’s an immense struggle not to eviscerate his soul as I yank it forward and command its attention. “You’re going to tell me everything – from what you meant just now to what you were doing to those women and children in the lab. And you’re going to tell me now.”

I watch his pupils dilate and wait for him to obey, but he’s still not speaking. I feel a hand on my shoulder, and it’s only then that I realize that I’m still choking him. I release his throat with a jerk and he slides down to his knees, clutching at his neck and gagging on the air.

He obviously needs a minute to collect himself, but he’s not going to get it. I haul him up by the lapels of his coat and shake him. “Tell me, now! What did you do?!”

Again, Alice puts her hand on my shoulder, only this time her grip is tight enough to force me back. She puts herself between us and a retraining hand on my chest. He’s lucky. If not for Alice, he would be dead right now. Or maybe I’m lucky. If I kill him, I’ll be hard-pressed to get these answers from another source. Either way, I relent and step back.

He manages to swallow and finally looks up. He wants to struggle against the compulsion, to keep his secrets. I can see the hatred in his eyes, the anger welling like venom in his mouth as he gives it all away against his will. “I don’t know everything; I only know what they hired me to do.”

To do…

“I’m a pediatrician, and I was on the board of directors for Shriner’s hospital in lower Manhattan. When the vampyr assault hit, our facility was still intact, and so we started taking in the wounded while the military secured the building.”

He stops for a moment, his eyes burning into mine. “I’d never seen anything like it. We were flooded with the dead and dying, their injuries horrific, meant to prolong suffering.” His voice takes on a far-away quality. “Women and children… they weren’t just being killed… they were being toyed with, tortured to death…”

Ah, so he blames us all for the actions of some. It doesn’t matter that there was a large number of us fighting with the humans… for the humans.

“The first week was hell, but then things seemed to settle down. The vampyr threat had been contained and the worst of it seemed to be over. But then there was an epidemic. Children, they began to turn…”

He’s shaking in his anger as he points to me. “…becoming like you! They had no idea what they were doing when they attacked and murdered their own families in a fit of bloodlust. And the babies…”

His eyes gloss over with angry tears, his face reddening. “Babies began to unwittingly brutalize their mothers from inside the womb, having no clue that they were breaking bones and shredding organs to cause a slow and painful death. Dozens of them… it was like… nature had been corrupted… had been tainted… had become abominable.”

I close my eyes against his words. That explains the children in the tunnel and the humans in his lab. It also explains the testing with a focus on the abdomen, or more succinctly, the uterus or accessory organs. But most importantly, it explains why they’re so terrified of us. There is no preternatural force in heaven or earth as strong as that of the need to protect one’s children. And somehow, they’re losing theirs.

I sit on the edge of the cot and reach over to take Tina’s hand to try to ground myself, my heart pounding with both grief at what others are enduring and perverse joy as my own need to protect Tina and her child settles over me like family. Is it wrong to want this when it’s hurting others, when it could hurt the ones that I care most about?

The doctor swipes at his eyes and sniffs, breaking me from my ruminations. “It was my job to diagnose and cure this atrocity, to find a way to stop it before it spread, but it wasn’t something that we could cure. We studied those afflicted, but their reproductive organs were… changed. They were no longer male or female, they were capable of both. And I’m not talking about intersex. Their external organs were still one or the other, but the inside…”

He grips the hair at his temples and rumples his graying hair. “It wasn’t an abnormality; it was just happening… naturally.”

I stare at him in shock but he doesn’t notice. He’s too deep in his frustration, choosing instead to laugh mirthlessly and continue his tirade. “Nothing was causing it! It was just natural development, and that’s why it was happening to children. They’re still growing so quickly… Human adults are fine, but this is no virus, no illness. It was just… happening… naturally.”

His eyes bore into mine almost pleadingly. “How do you fight nature, or convince her to go back and change her mind… to be what she used to be?!”

He shakes his head. “It’s not possible. There was no reason. These children weren’t sick and they weren’t turnedThey were changing on a chromosomal level. It’s like we’re witnessing evolution, or de-evolution… as it’s happening.”

There’s a long moment of silence before he reveals the most damning of the information he’s provided yet. “The only thing left to do is to destroy all who are afflicted.”

Alice breaks in. “Wait… you want to destroy humans?”

He glares at her condescendingly. “No, destroy vampyrs.”

“What? Why vampyrs? If this is occurring naturally, then it’s not our fault.”

He snorts. “The reproductive changes are in association with transition. If you don’t transition, you’ll stay human and your reproductive system isn’t altered. It’s Vampyrism that’s causing this. There’s just nothing causing the vampyrism.”

He scrubs at his face again, his tone defeated. “But now, it’s worse than that. We can’t have children and you can, and you don’t need a male and a female. It’s like the whole planet is conspiring against us, against humanity. Either way, it’s a moot point. Next month, my peers will be meeting with General Masters to convince him to begin sanitizing the population. Your kind are not long for this world, and because of you, ours may not be either.”

Alice and I meet eyes in quiet understanding. We have more to think about before we attempt to leave the city. Survival is so much more than blood or hiding now. We’re going to have to take up the offensive and find a way to stop this meeting, a meeting to casually discuss the fate of all sentient life on earth as if it means little more than the outcome of a football game, and all because they just don’t like us.

Pique races through me. Us and them…? His kind and my kind. Right, we’re so different from them because of our diets and now, apparently, extra reproductive capabilities. Never mind the fact that we bleed; we love; we reason; we feel pain… we feel regret. Humans, the self-proclaimed master race, will see us all killed, completely wiped from the earth, if they can’t be at the top of the food chain, including… no especially, Tina and the child within her.

My child…

My God… this is our child…

I reach out a shaking hand to touch her stomach, to feel something that will prove that this is real, that this is true.

I feel nothing. “Is the baby okay?”

He scoffs. “Oh, I’m sure it’s just fine. Its mother can handle its development because she’s a vampyr, and vampyrs can’t die naturally; they can only desiccate, and even then they can be revived, unfortunately.”

Unfortunately?

I glance up at him. His posture is defiant. Yes, he’s angry. I can understand that on some levels. But no one’s going to hurt Tina or our child, not while I still draw breath. I get to my feet, ready to start this culling and permanently silence him, but Alice steps in the way. He grimaces at me from over her shoulder and feel the darkness in me thrill at the sight of him cowering.

Alice’s voice is strong and commanding. “Bette, that’s enough for now.”

I don’t take my eyes off of him. “You can kill me, Alice, but you can’t tell me what to do.”

Her eyes are hard as she ignores me and points to the dwindling blood that feeds into Tina’s vein. “She… they… need more blood. You take care of them, and I’ll take care of him. Okay?”

I feel my heart lurch as I look over at Tina. Alice sighs and steps closer, her voice only just barely audible as she leans in. “We may still need him, and they need you. Just… let it go. Killing him solves nothing.”

She steps back and I close my eyes. I know that she’s right, but who is he to be so… blasé, to make life and death decisions with nonchalance? But, maybe that’s just it. He’s no one really. Smart, but no one, just like Masters, the President, and every other sentient life-form on the earth. In the grand scheme of it all, no matter what actions the ants take to make a home in the sand, the ocean can and will wash up on the shore to destroy the colony within. He can’t fight nature. No one can…

I nod once, reluctantly, and watch as she drags him from the room, leaving me to collapse again onto the cot. My mind is in turmoil, my thoughts painting terrible images on the backs of my eyelids.

I feel like I’m vibrating with the sheer force of it all, and I can’t sit still. I have to be doing something, something tangible. I have to find a way to shove the swirling mess of my emotions away. Tina needs me; my family needs me.

Family…

It’s not a foreign term as of the last few decades, but this is a whole other level, and I can’t determine if I’m ready to feel the way I feel. But there’s no going back and the better part of me wouldn’t want to. Somehow, I need them, like air and blood…

Given what the doctor has said, she’s going to need more than ever. It’s with a dazed clarity that I rise to my feet and exit our room to find another IV and retrieve more blood. The lights flicker into dark like an ominous omen, but fortunately, my vision is still sharp in the dark. Maybe if I double up the dosage, it’ll be enough for her to come to full awareness. And hopefully, she and the baby will be okay, maybe even start to thrive. I have to focus on them right now. The rest we’ll have to figure out as we go.


 

I hear Alice and Dana approach, and this time they don’t stop to knock, choosing instead to step into the room and close the door behind them.

Alice gets to work putting more blood in the large bottles that we’re using in lieu of IV bags, and Dana steps up behind me, her gentle touch to my shoulder startling me with its reassuring squeeze.

“She’s getting better.”

She said it as a statement not a question, and I nod. Tina’s been hooked up to an extra IV for a long while now, and her system is being, quite literally, drowned in blood. It appears to be working… though slowly – excruciatingly slow.

Her color and skin texture are nearly normal now, and while I haven’t heard thoughts or seen any dreams, I did feel the moment, the distinct sensation of awareness, when her mind reawakened – reopened – to me. Nothing there was coherent. It was more like a realization, a feeling that I know all-too-well because it is so completely wrapped up in her.

Peace.

It stole over me like a gentle wave and I am still wading in its soothing tide. It’s giving hope to my own desiccated soul, and a reason to continue to try. I’m just not sure what to try for. The need to get us out of this city is greater with each passing second, if what the doctor said is true. But that means that I only have a few weeks more to figure it out.

And even if we did find a way past the barriers, walls, and nearly invincible foot soldiers, Tina can’t travel in her condition. There are truly no options. We will be trapped here until the baby is born, if we can survive until then.

But then… what?

“Has she stirred at all?”

It takes me a moment to realize that Dana’s said something. “…What? Oh… no. But, I can feel her mind.”

She squeezes my shoulder again, and I kiss the delicate hand that I’ve been clasping to my chin a little tighter.

“That’s good,” she says.

I nod again. I just don’t have words right now. All I have are peace and worry… both at war inside of me and leaving confusion in their wake.

“Have you tried to talk to her?”

I feel a frown tug at my mouth. “Actually, no… I guess I’ve just been so lost in my thoughts that I haven’t really tried to reach out to her.”

Alice finishes with the bottles and waits by the door.

I feel Dana’s hand slide from my shoulder. “Why don’t you lay down with her?”

I sigh and kiss Tina’s hand again. “I can’t rest, Dane.”

I hear the ruffle of fabric as she shrugs. “What can it hurt to try? Neither of you are going anywhere.”

I guess… it can’t hurt. I get wearily to my feet and walk to the other side of the cot, careful of the tubes that are feeding life into her arms as I crawl up next to her. I reach over and turn her face towards me, brushing the hair from her brow and gazing at her in the flickering light. I hear the door close, and with a huge breath, I settle against the pillow facing her.

The room is now empty just like her mind, but even still it’s the most peaceful place I’ll ever know. I close my eyes and chase my thoughts away as I burrow down into her soul to find the truth of her, the comfort of her. It may be emptiness, but it’s not barren. It just lacks that touch… that defining flare that is so indicative of Tina.

Tina is warm and bright, so much so that standing in her presence is like being freed from a prison and feeling the sun on your face for the first time in a lifetime. And her mind is as open and clear as a bright, blue sky, a realm where the possibilities are boundless and as infinite as time itself. You have no choice but to turn your face up in wonder and awe to gaze into its fathomless beauty.

Her soul… it’s rich and fertile like a deep blanket of spring grass where you want to remove your shoes and run through it just to feel like you’re part of it. But the truest, most incredible part of her is her heart. It’s strong and brimming with compassion, like a tree that digs its roots so deep that anything in their path is broken up and moved away so that it can feed life and then give it meaning.

Everything about her is a sanctuary with no locks on the doors and no shutters on the windows. Why? Because it’s safe. Nothing can touch it. There is no need to hold anything out, and nothing within would ever want to leave. It’s home, our home…

I can see it and I can feel it because I’m there right now. It’s vivid and real, more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced. There is only one thing missing as I look out on the gentle rolling hills toward our tree: Tina herself.

But then, maybe…

I raise a hand to my brow to shelter my eyes against the gentle light and search the base of the tree with my eyes. Yes, she’s there, waiting for me in the shade, my goddess in white like a beacon of promise. Like so many times before, I get to my feet to go to her, but this time there is no urgency or desperation. Something within, something greater, something stronger, it knows that there is no end to this place, and it’s safe in that knowledge.

I take my time coming to her, my leisurely pace allowing me to indulge in the cool tickle of the grass beneath my bare feet and the clean smell of the air as it easily fills my lungs.  I’ve never felt so free, and I can’t help but smile as I watch her come walking out toward me.

It doesn’t take too long, but then, I’m in no hurry and neither is she. And once we’re in the middle of our meadow, it’s without fear or trepidation that I take her in my arms and feel her smaller ones encircle my waist.

‘Can we just stay here,’ she asks.

I grin into her hair, pulling in the sweet, earthy scent of her. ‘I think that we’ve been here this entire time, T.’

She leans back and gazes up into my eyes. I can’t help but chuckle at her adorably confused expression and try to explain. ‘I think that this place is always with us.’

I rest my hand to her breast where the soothingly strong thump of her heartbeat presses up against it. ‘It’s in here.’

She smiles at me, the most wondrous thing I’ve ever seen, even as I’ve seen it countless times. She raises her own hand and mirrors my touch.

‘And here,’ she says.

I close my eyes and nod. She’s right. As much as this is a part of her, it’s a part of me as well. Somehow, my home is beautiful and safe. I feel the soft touch of her lips as they brush against my own.

‘Open your eyes,’ she says.

I do, and I have to blink a couple of times. We’re back in our room on the train car, the crimson strings still linked to both of her arms like thin, liquid ribbons, but her eyes are open and gazing at me with life and light. She smiles and I return it.

‘Thank you,’ she says.

I shake my head at her. ‘Don’t thank me for loving you. It’s my privilege.’

Her face is radiant as she promises, ‘When all of this settles down, I’m going to marry you.’

The realistic part of me wants to rear its ugly head and spoil this moment with her, but I won’t let it. I choose to believe that we will find that place, that moment in time, and indulge in the hope that it’s not fantasy, but the inevitable.

She grins at me, my thoughts instilling a deep happiness in her heart. I could never ask for more. That’s all I’ve ever wanted: for her to be happy. What an honor it is to be a part of that for her.

Her eyes gloss over. ‘You’re going to make me cry.’

I chuckle. ‘That’s okay. I’ll still marry you, tears and all.’

She laughs through her tears, and I close my eyes at the tinkling sound of it before leaning in to seal my own promise with a kiss. She rolls stiffly to her side to resettle closer to me, and that’s when she notices the IVs.

‘How long have I been out of it?’

I sigh. ‘A little over four days.’

‘What did I miss?’

‘T, I don’t want to distress you.’

She smiles, carefully reaching up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind my ear. ‘It’s okay, Bette.’

Is it? I frown. I don’t want to ruin this moment with her, but she’s determined. I can feel her probing into my mind and I don’t try to stop her. She finds everything there, all the terrible things that have transpired, all of the answers to questions that we didn’t even know to ask.

‘So I am pregnant.’

I nod compliantly… and then the meaning of her words finally settles. ‘You knew?’

She exhales. ‘I thought so…’

My frown deepens in confusion and she strokes my cheek. ‘Don’t frown.’

She takes my hand and places it over her stomach, her thoughts disbelieving. ‘This baby is yours, truly yours.’

I stoke this phantom child that I’m still not fully convinced of. ‘No, this baby is ours.

If I could only believe that it’s true.

She smiles again. ‘Didn’t you say that anything is possible?’

‘Easy on the riddles, T. I’m too tired to keep up with you right now.’ She chuckles. ‘T, you still didn’t say how you knew.’

She sighs contentedly. ‘I felt it, Bette. That’s how I knew.’

I link our fingers over her stomach. ‘What do you mean?’

‘The last time that we made love. It was so different… It…’ I can tell that she’s struggling with the words. Are there words? Soul rending… scary… ‘It’s like we made love with our minds and it manifested itself physically.’

That describes it perfectly.

She strokes my face again. ‘But, mostly, I’ve been pregnant before. My body has gone through changes, lots of them since then… and I realize that it’s been over two centuries, but this is still my body, and I still listen when it tells me something. I knew it when I was human, and I felt that same way after that night together.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

Her tone is apologetic. ‘I didn’t trust my instincts, and how would I have explained it to you? And then add my inability to keep any blood down, I just wasn’t entirely certain and I didn’t have the energy to really think about.’ She breathes deeply. ‘And, maybe I wasn’t prepared to accept it… not until just now.’

I sigh. ‘I still don’t see how it can be mine.’

She grins again. ‘It’s like the doctor said; things have changed. Everything’s adapted to the current needs of life. I think this is just one of those changes, and I think it’s a good one.’

Our fingers begin to absently dance together in a tender, soul stirring caress, and I watch them mesmerized as I consider her words. The doctor did say that the new vampyr is intersex, which is just a nice way of saying hermaphroditic. I grimace. Am I still technically a woman? Is Tina?

Tina laughs and draws my attention to her smiling eyes as she runs her hand up my arm, traces a gentle path down my side, across the protrusion of my hip, and runs her fingers against the warmth between my legs. ‘I don’t think anything like that has changed.’

She pulls it back up to spread her now almost warm palm low on my stomach. ‘Just the inside.’

I smile playfully at her. ‘Would you still love me if it had changed?’

For a moment her thoughts grow dark, and I realize my mistake as she’s reminded of what she endured at the hands of the men in her young, innocent, human life. Yes, she’d still love me. That much of her thoughts is obvious, but it might be difficult for her to reconcile that love with a body that represents so much of the pain that was visited on her.

I lift her arm and crawl into her to hold her close. ‘I’m so sorry, T. I didn’t mean-‘

‘It’s okay, Bette.’ She interrupts gently. ‘You didn’t do anything wrong. We’ve both been living with this long enough to have moved past it. I haven’t thought of it in decades. Besides, I’m the one who abandoned you to my father, and for that I’m so sorry…’

It takes a moment for what she’s said to settle in, and that’s when I realize that she’s not supposed to know about her father. I never told her, and while she knows my mind better than anyone, this is one thing that I’ve fought to keep from her. Besides, thoughts have to be recalled in order to be heard. Like her, I haven’t thought of her father for more years than I can even recall.

I lift my head so that I can look into her eyes. ‘When…?’

She strokes my cheek sweetly, her eyes glistening with tears. ‘The daywalking ritual.’

I close my eyes, remembering how distraught she’d been upon the ritual’s completion. ‘I didn’t want you to carry that burden, T. I-‘

She interrupts me. ‘Bette…?’

She waits for me to look at her again, and with a deep breath I find the courage. ‘None of that was your fault. I only wish I’d made it out to you that night so that we both might have both avoided that kind of pain.’

It’s my turn to reassure her. ‘You tried, sweetheart.’ I smile at her with more confidence than I was even aware I had. ‘Besides, you did come to me; you saved me, and you love me. Nothing else matters.’

She closes her eyes and nods her head once, and I reach up to clear away a stray tear from the corner of her eye before leaving a gentle kiss in its place. ‘I love you, T.’

She sighs, her arms tightening weakly around me as the car is plunged into darkness. ‘I love you, too, Bette.’


 

‘Bette…?’

I feel a gentle stroke to my cheek and sigh contentedly. ‘Hm…’

‘Babe, we’re going to need a refill soon.’

I open my eyes as her words start to penetrate the fogginess of exhausted sleep. The bottles above her are running very low indeed, and I turn my attention back to her, sweeping the mussed blonde tresses from her eyes.

‘Do you feel any better,’ I ask.

She stifles a yawn. ‘Yeah, but I’m still really weak and so tired.’

I nod as I sit up and stretch, looking over at Tina worriedly. Those catheters can’t be comfortable, but I’m not sure how else to help her. ‘Do you want to try to drink some and see what happens?’

She shrugs. ‘I suppose it can’t hurt to try, but I don’t see why it would suddenly work.’

She’s not wrong, but if we’re going to have to dig in and wait the baby out, I want her to be as comfortable as possible. ‘Let me check with Shapiro real quick and see if he has any theories. I’d hate to see you bed-ridden and strapped to those tubes for the next however many months. Besides, if something was to happen and we are forced to move…’

Fuck, I hate even thinking that, but it can’t be ignored. There are a lot of problems that can’t be ignored, even as I’m trying so hard to do just that. I’m just so overwhelmed. There’s so much to do, too much…

Tina reaches over and takes my hand. ‘We’ll figure it out.’

I nod, leaning in to kiss her tenderly before getting to my feet. ‘Okay, blood coming right up.’

She pulls my pillow closer to her chest and gets comfortable. ‘Thanks,’ fluttering sweetly from her lips as she closes her eyes.

I make my way to the door only to stop and smile over at her as curiosity strikes me. It’s ridiculous and far beyond anything that I should even care about right now, but I can’t help myself. ‘T, when you were pregnant before, what did you crave?’

She opens sleepy eyes and grins adoringly. ‘Biscuits and chocolate gravy.’

Ugh… that sounds repugnant. But I guess you can’t argue with hormones.

My feelings must show on my face because she laughs. ‘Actually, that was one of my favorite foods before I got pregnant. The pregnancy just made it worse.’

I can feel my face scrunch up. ‘Do you want us to take a run out into hell and see if we can get you some biscuits to go with your blood?’

She considers me for a moment before her nose crinkles.

It’s my turn to laugh and we find ourselves chorusing, ‘Nah,’ together.

She sighs wearily, her smile genuine. ‘Hurry back.’

I can’t help but grin as I step out of our room. I think my procrastination is working. I almost feel hopeful, maybe even happy. I shut the door and notice that the train car is silent and empty, no one is even keeping watch. All of the doors down the hall are shut except for Carmen and Shane’s, and that’s when I hear muffled laughter filter in from outside of the car.

I look through one of the side windows and see the two buckets sitting on a large portion of concrete. One thick vine is hanging from the small opening that Alice made in the ceiling, its snapped end bleeding thinly into a nearly full bucket while the other sits empty and ready to take its place once it’s full.

I don’t see anyone out there either. For a moment I’m worried, but then I hear the quiet laughter again. Opening the door at the front, I peek out and hear Shane’s unmistakably low voice. “It’s not that funny.”

“Oh, come on, Shane! It’s hysterical! You… in a dress…?!”

Carmen’s trying not to giggle, but failing miserably, and I hear the rumbling flutter of shuffling cards before a hollow thud.

Shane’s annoyed. “Just deal, already.”

Carmen clears her throat but giggles again before trying one last time and adopting a serious tone. “Okay, okay. You’re right; it’s not funny.”

There’s a long moment of awkward silence. “I may have my favorite pair of Cha Cha heels in my duffel bag. You know, if you want try ’em on…”

Another silence follows, this one seeming heavier before it’s broken by a chopped succession of snorts that turn into a guffaw.

“Yeah, yeah, yuck it up. Go ahead, get it all out,” Shane says teasingly. Teasily? Shane? When did that happen?

Carmen can’t stop laughing, and she keeps apologizing for it.

“You know,” Shane says when Carmen’s laughter subsides into giggles. “I think I have some hair clippers in my duffel, and we both know that you sleep like the dead.” Pause. “No pun intended, of course.”

Carmen’s laughter dies away, her playful tone turning incredulous. “You wouldn’t…”

This time Shane laughs, though it’s less good-natured. “Try me.”

There’s another pause, a rumbling shuffle, and cards start to fall from the roof and flutter to the ground in front of me.

Shane sighs and I hear movement on the roof. “What’d you go and do that for?” Carmen’s still giggling. “Come on. Help me pick up your mess.”

Shane drops down in front of me and starts picking up the cards while shaking her head. She hasn’t noticed me yet, and I’d swear, even from this angle, I see a smile quirking the corner of her mouth. Carmen lands behind her and, given an opportunity too good to pass up, plants her foot on Shane’s recently lifted ass and sends her stumbling forward.

I duck behind the wall and watch as Shane stands and turns, a shocked expression on her face. Carmen doubles in on herself, gripping her sides as peals of breathless laughter erupt from her. She swipes up one of the cards at her feet and holds it out to Shane who snatches it from her hand and points it at her. “When you least expect it.”

Carmen waves her hand dismissively and bends to start collecting cards only to find herself seated roughly on her ass. She lets out a high-pitched squawk and this time, Shane’s laughing.

Carmen scrambles to her feet, her eyes slitted, deadly weapons, and just as she’s about to launch herself at Shane, I step back into the doorway and clear my throat. They both drop the cards and turn, looking very much like two children who’ve just been caught doing something naughty – though I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not the truth.

Never have I seen Shane act so… playful… fun-loving – even now she’s straightening her posture and locking into her usual brooding, indifferent persona. Carmen notices and rolls her eyes before collecting herself and smiling warmly at me. “Bette, hey, did we wake you? We were being kind of loud.”

I smile and step out of the car. “No, you two are fine. Amusing… but fine.” I point to the blood. “I just came for a refill for Tina.” I walk over to the bucket and swap them out.

“How’s she doing,” Shane asks.

I can’t help but smile. “She’s awake.” I lift the bucket. “I think she’ll be okay if we can keep her and the baby fed.”

Both of them release a relieved sigh and I realize that I fell asleep and neglected to tell everyone that Tina woke up.

“That’s great,” Carmen says before clapping her hands, her grin and eyes wide. “And, a baby… I can’t wait!”

I squeeze her shoulder. “Thank you. I’m excited too.” I think. “Well, I better get this to her. I have to stop and talk to Shapiro. You two can continue with…” I gesture between them with a sly grin. “…whatever this is.”

Carmen smirks and tries to hide her chagrin and Shane looks annoyed. “Just try to be quieter and remember that you’re keeping watch. We don’t want to draw attention and I snuck up on you too easily.”

Shane nods severely and Carmen looks at her with exasperation before addressing me. “Can we stop in and check on Tina a little later?”

I turn in the doorway to the car and nod. “Yeah, that should be fine. I’m sure she’d be delighted to lend Shane a dress to go with those cha cha heels…”

Shane starts to hastily retrieve cards and curses me under her breath, and Carmen winks at me as she helps. But, I’m not about to let Carmen have all the fun. “And I think you’d look very… pretty, with a buzz-cut, Carmen.”

Shane has a huge smile on her face, though she tries to hide it by focusing on the mess of scattered cards. Carmen points at me and narrows her eyes. “This is war.”

Great, just what we need: more war. I lift my hand and shake my head. “This is between you two. I’m just a spectator.”

Carmen goes back to helping Shane, whose smile hasn’t relented, and all I can do is smile curiously. Shane has always been so stoic, never actually getting close to anyone, though the depth of her attachments is evident in her actions. It’s good to see her smiling, especially in the midst of so much to be depressed about.

I snort at my own thoughts. For all of our differences, she and I are oddly alike.

They begin to argue again, quietly, and I return to Tina. She’s fallen asleep, and I quickly refill the bottles, kissing her temple before making my way down to the room that is now acting as a holding cell. When I open the door, I’m surprised to find both men awake and standing quietly at the small table set into the corner.

“Doctor Shapiro?”

He stops and turns to me, a large smile lighting his face as she steps forward and takes my hand in warm greeting. My eyes widen in surprise as he says, “Bette, it’s so good to see you!”

He shakes my hand so eagerly that my whole body is jostled and I have to pry myself from his grip. “Um, good to see you, too?”

This is… surreal. I gesture to the table where the guard is scrolling through something on one of the touchpads. “What are you guys up to?”

He glances at the guard with an almost dreamy expression. “Pooky bear over there is pouring over one of the restricted archives for information on the barrier beams.”

Pooky bear…? He holds his hands to his chest in a decidedly flamboyant manner as he beams a smile at me. “And I’m doing what I can to try and improve Tina’s condition.” He sighs sadly. “Such a terrible shame, what’s she going through, you know?”

I have to stifle a cough as I nod my agreement. Wow, Alice. I have to hand it to her. She’s really outdone herself. This isn’t just surreal, it’s compulsion. I’m not sure if she did this to him just to have a good laugh or because it would now be impossible for me to kill this fluffy, rainbow-colored kitten in cold blood. But either way, his attitude is markedly improved and she wins.

“So…” He starts. “What can I do you for?”

“Actually, I came to talk about Tina. She’s awake, and-”

He holds a hand to his forehead and nearly collapses against the wall with an overdramatic sigh. “Thank God! I’ve been so worried!”

 

Okay, Alice may have gone a little overboard… “Yes, well, she’s awake. But I was hoping that we could do something to remedy the vomiting so that she can drink and be more comfortable.”

He holds up a single finger as if indicating that he needs a moment, and then uses the time to collect himself, swipe away a tear from beneath his eye, and take two huge breaths. Once he’s done, he drops his hand and smiles at me. “Alice filled me in on what happened and so I’ve run some other tests on her blood. I’m just utterly convinced that it’s a bad case of morning sickness.”

He claps his hands together. “Now, in the lab, those ladies were suffering from severe morning sickness as well, some vomiting so hard they’d break a rib” He shakes his head sadly. “I was using MethylprednisoloneI to help with the vomiting. I wouldn’t normally suggest this particular treatment because it has some severe side effects, including potential birth defects…”

Okay, that’s all I need to hear; the answer’s no, but he puts up a hand to forestall me. “But, since those side effects are only capable of occurring in human physiology, I don’t foresee any problems with using it on a vampyr. Any deformity or illness will right itself automatically so long as both of them are getting enough blood, which, I’m delighted to say, the root is perfectly safe for you to be consuming.”

Safe? I hadn’t even considered that it wouldn’t be… “What do you mean?”

His eyes go wide with excitement. “Oh, that’s right! I haven’t told you yet!”

He claps his hands and does a little happy dance, and I debate whether or not to have Alice fix some of his over exuberance. It’s too irritating once the initial hilarity has worn off. “I did some tests on that root, and well, you won’t believe this, but that blood isn’t actually blood at all. It’s more like sap in composition and entirely organic. It has everything a growing immortal body needs.”

He chuckles at his own joke, his is eyes shining with joy, and I release a heavy breath as I realize how foolish I’d been to start giving that… sap, to Tina. If it hadn’t been safe, I could have killed her… and the baby.

“Thank you for checking it out. Look, Tina’s asleep right now, but I’ll come and get you when she wakes up again so that you can have a look at her. We’ll decide then if we want to use the medication.”

He nods jovially. “It’ll be so good to see her.”

“Uh… yes, I’m sure. Any ideas on how we can get out of the city?”

He sighs and noticeably deflates. “Not yet, but we’re working on it.”

I try to grin but I’m certain that it comes out as more of a grimace. “Alright, well… keep up the good work and we’ll talk later.”

His sunny disposition is back in blinding intensity as he grabs me around the neck with his one good arm and squeezes me in a tight hug. “Don’t you worry about a thing, honey. You girls are gonna be just fine. You leave it up to me.”

I’m stiff and uncomfortable and try to pry him off without breaking his last good arm, but his grip is surprisingly tight. Fortunately, he releases me and I can immediately put a more comfortable distance between us.

“Okay then.” I want to run from the room, and almost do, but stop just as I’m about to shut the door to watch Shapiro slap Pooky Bear the Guard on the ass and get a deep kiss as a reward before they return to the task at hand.

I close the door quickly and shake my head. Alice…

I make my way down the hall and knock on her door. It takes a moment, but Dana finally answers in nothing but a robe that she’s still trying at the waist. Alice is sitting in the cot, the sheet pulled up to cover herself and the air inside thick with the smell of sex.

Yikes. “Bette… is Tina okay?”

“Um, I’ll just… come back later.”

She grabs my arm and I can see the fear in her eyes. I study that fear for a moment, mainly because a naked Alice is scrambling from the cot to put on her own robe and I really don’t want to see that.

“Bette, what’s going on?”

I sigh and find a reassuring smile. “Tina’s just fine. That’s why I… woke, you. I just wanted to let you know that she woke up earlier.”

Alice closes her eyes in relief and finishes tying her robe. “Thank God…,” she breathes.

Alice is now fully covered. Thank God indeed. “Anyway, I thought that I should tell you. I have Shapiro working on something to help with the vomiting. He thinks it’s morning sickness.” I glance at Alice. “He seems pretty dapper.”

She grins and all three of us chuckle. “He’s flaming, Al.”

“I know,” she says, far too proud of herself.

I shake my head. “Anyway, Tina’s resting right now but I’ll come get you guys when she’s awake. We need to talk… all of us… figure some things out. I know that I’ve been pretty distracted, and for that I’m sorry.”

Dana slips her arm around Alice’s shoulders in a knowing, proprietary manner, and Alice returns the embrace. I feel relieved when I realize that this is their way of letting me know that they at least understand.

“We were just about to relieve Shane and Carmen for watch, anyway.” Dana says. “By then Helena and Dylan should be up. So just come get us when you’re ready.”

I frown and drop my voice. “What’s up with those two, anyway?”

Dana cocks her head. “Helena and Dylan?”

I shake my head and Alice snorts. “You’re about to have a baby, and you don’t know?”

Dana looks at her partner in exasperation. “We don’t know that, Al.”

She shrugs. “If they haven’t already, it’s imminent.”

Well… I suppose stranger things have happened with all things considered.

“Alright then,” I say slowly. This conversation is getting more and more awkward and it must show on my face because they both chuckle at me, which leads them to nuzzle each other, which then leads to giggles.

I run a hand through my hair and turn to leave, ready to forget this entire encounter happened when a thought occurs to me. I turn back to them just as they’re about to shut the door and lean my head inside the narrowing opening.

“You guys might want to be careful,” I whisper. “I doubt that Shapiro has had a chance to develop a contraceptive yet.”

It takes just a moment for their faces to blanch and a reflexively widening gap to form between them. I grin and duck out, leaving them standing there as I move back to my room, where my doomed family is resting. And while that should scare me into paralysis, instead I feel more determined than ever to find a way through this mess. Not just to survive, but to carve out a real life far removed from all that’s happened.


 

Shapiro pulls the stethoscope from his ears and smiles as he situates himself comfortably at the foot of the cot and crosses one leg over the other. “I can’t find a single thing wrong with you or your little one.”

I feel some of my anxiousness drain away and Tina squeezes my hand. “I know that you’re going to have a billion questions about how long you’ll be pregnant and the development of the baby,” He continues. “But I’ll just tell you now that I don’t know. This is the first pregnancy of its kind, at least as far as I’m aware. I’ll monitor your progress as best I can with what we have here and we’ll find out together.”

I frown. “What about the delivery?”

He shrugs. “I would assume that it’ll be much like that of a human delivery, given that everything else seems to be functioning that way, but again, I won’t know what’s on the other side of that bridge until we cross it. In the meantime, I’ll treat this like any other high risk pregnancy and watch its development carefully. Right now, what we’re doing seems to be working, so let’s stick with it.”

He smiles warmly. “Now, did you two talk about the morning sickness?”

I meet Tina’s eyes. She woke up with a churning stomach, but at least she’s not vomiting. “Yes, we did,” she says.

She looks over at him. “We don’t want to take any chances, so I’m going to stay on the IVs and start to try to drink. We just don’t want to risk it.”

“I understand,” he says sweetly and I cringe. It’s almost worst to see him so kind when I know he doesn’t mean it. But then again, at least I’m not trying to kill him. If he insulted Tina to her face, that might not be the case.

He stands and starts jotting notes on his touchpad and again I cringe. It makes me nervous to let him use it, but with it he has access to vital internal information that we need, and this isn’t the stuff I’ve been locating on the web. It’s reliable.

I just have to keep reminding myself that Alice made sure that he wouldn’t do anything to alert his friends on the scarier side of the tunnel. That was another reason for his loving disposition towards us. While fake, it hinders any desire he may have had of escaping or causing us trouble.

Still, I feel like we’re asking for trouble having not destroyed it. “You’re not logging in to any government software under your own credentials, are you?”

He shakes his head at me in exasperation. “I most certainly am not, even though access to some of my files might give us more answers. I wouldn’t do anything that they could trace back to us.”

I release a long breath and nod. Us…, no us and them. I guess it doesn’t hurt that both he and Pooky Bear the Guard are now both vampyrs.

“There,” he says, swiping his stylus over the screen with a flourish and tucking it in its holder at the top. He then produces a piece of paper from his pocket and holds it out to me. “I documented everything that I know about the meeting with Masters as you requested. Since I can’t access my internal email, I can’t confirm that it’s not been changed, but this was the last I knew of it.”

I accept the paper and he grins. “Okay, well, for now we wait. We’ll keep working on escape possibilities in the meantime.”

I nod. “Doc, I still have one more question.”

He crosses his hands in front of himself and waits patiently. “You said that the internal organs are intersex. Do you understand how this happened, what actually occurred on a physical level?”

He smiles. “Well, from what I’ve studied of vampyrs in the lab, either person could act in either role. I assume that it’s dependent upon need. It would take more testing to know for sure how that need actually activates the appropriate role, but once the role is determined…” He shrugs. “…everything works much the same way. Mucus membrane contact, the sharing of DNA, and…” He throws his hands up. “Voila, pregnancy.”

I nod. It makes sense, truthfully. The only difference between how it used to be and how it is now is that there is no gender role. Either can carry or father the child. And Tina and I use that particular mutual activity often. We enjoy the intimacy of it.

I glance at her to see her eyes sparkling and can’t help but wink. Shapiro lays a gentle hand on Tina’s ankle. “If that’s all, this one should get some rest, and either of you come see me if you need anything.”

With that he leaves the room, and I turn back to Tina. She may feel terrible, but she looks wonderful… healthy even. But I can tell just how terribly uncomfortable she still is. ‘So, do you want to try to drink?’

She swallows thickly but nods bravely, and I can’t help but lean forward and kiss her in appreciation. I retrieve the mug from the stand by the cot and hold it out to her. ‘Go slow.’

She takes the mug, raises it to her lips, takes a deep breath, and tentatively takes a sip. Her eyes roll back in her head and she groans as she swallows.

It usually only took a few moments for her to be sick, but she doesn’t wait long enough to see before she’s taking a deep draft of the mug. I want to stop her, but I know that she’s been ravenously hungry, and honestly, her appetite is a good sign.

She licks her lips and leans her head back. ‘Wow… that’s incredible.’

‘Isn’t it?’

She moves to drink more and I have to take the cup from her hands. ‘Slow, T. If it makes you sick you’ll regret it.’

She exhales with a small pout and I chuckle as I set it on the night stand, ready to help her if she overdid it. ‘How do you feel?’

She frowns for a moment and my fingers twitch to get the bucket as she considers my question. ‘Better… actually.’

I pick up her hand and kiss it gently. ‘Let’s wait half an hour and try again?’

She nods, readjusting the pillow behind her. ‘Do you think you’re up for a discussion with everyone? I think we need to put together a game plan.’

‘That’s fine. I’m feeling much better.’ I close my eyes. It’s such a relief to hear that. She tugs on me, her strength a little surprising for both of us, and I lean in to give her another kiss before getting to my feet to retrieve our group. It’ll be a tight fit to hold it in our room, but Tina doesn’t have a choice.

I round everyone up and they pack into the room, taking positions on the wall, floor, and even the end of the cot. I resume my perch next to Tina, and let them get the initial questions out of the way. After the shock of it wears off, after they realize that they too can have children, everything starts to become joyful and light-hearted.

It’s a welcome relief, at least until I take a little razzing for my obviously superior sexual prowess.

“She’s got to be the first lesbian on earth to accomplish that,” Dana says and everyone laughs.

To my own dismay, I flush with chagrin and they laugh harder. It doesn’t happen often, but what can I say to that? They each seem glad to see Tina awake and getting healthier by the second, or more poignantly, by the ounce. But I hadn’t realized how much of a relief it would be to find them excited about her pregnancy.

I had worried for a moment that they might resent her, and me, for further complicating our already fucked up situation, but it appears to have had the opposite effect. They seem hopeful. I suppose new life, even in dire circumstances, is just that: new life. It’s like a breath of fresh air, and fresh air is in short supply these days. Maybe, despite my misgivings about bringing a child into this toxic environment, that’s precisely what’s needed.

The light banter goes on this way for nearly a half and hour, Tina patient, gracious, and loving as she fields the teasing and questions. She answers both with equal wit and casual ease, and as the conversation progresses, I’m delighted to see her retrieve the mug and sip from it casually, all signs of sickness abated, though I’m not sure why or how. Perhaps it’s the sap? Either way, she’s truly getting better, which makes me feel better.

As I watch her, I can almost palpably see how much she cares for these people, our friends and ultimately, our extended family. She must have been a tremendous mother when she was a human, but now… she’s going to be extraordinary. And while children can never be replaced, maybe this child will help to mend some of those old wounds. This time she’ll have the support that she needs to give our child the life it deserves, that is if we can find a place in this world to build it.

She glances over at me, her heart on her sleeve and brimming with love for me. She’s hopeful for the same, but ultimately, just hopeful at all. That’s truly all that matters. She smiles at me, and it’s then that I realize that while I hate to kill the pleasantness of this discussion, they need to know what’s happening.

So, I wait for a lull in the conversation and steel my nerves as I explain everything in detail, from what was found in labs to Shapiro’s explanations and ultimately, the plan to cleanse the population. The silence that follows after that is thick and quiet, a collective, pensive blanket overtaking each individual’s thoughts.

I have no idea what to do about it, short of busting in on the little political party, which, given Shapiro’s notes, is impossible. The scientists will be leaving the city and meeting Masters on one of the large floating aircraft carriers resting in the East River. That location is beyond the perimeter.

From there, I’m certain that all humans in the city will be evacuated and then what remains will be razed to the ground, unless the government wants something more from their lab rats. Even then, they’d only need to retain a few. And as I look around me, I know that everyone here is aware of the inevitable outcome as well.

It’s Dana who gives it voice. “So we can’t stop the meeting, and we’re confident that Masters will raze the city to the ground.”

Again, pensive silence.

“Well, I think it’s obvious what we should do,” Shane says. We all turn our attention to her. “We need to get out of the city immediately.” She gestures to Tina. “Especially before she becomes so pregnant that she can’t travel at all.”

I shake my head. That doesn’t fix the problem. “She can’t travel with the IVs anyway, and it won’t stop with this city. You’ve all seen the news reports online. They’ve effectively rounded up all vampyrs around the globe. There may be a few that stayed away from the war, but we’re talking single digits. Letting this happen could mean genocide.”

“Not if nature is turning them, too. And it sounds like it is. We’d just need to lay low for a few decades and let it run its course,” she rejoins.

I shake my head again. “It’s not a bad idea, but there’s a problem: Shapiro made it clear that if humanity is going to fall, it’s not going to be to vampyrism. They’d rather die altogether than become like us.”

Helena pipes in. “Surely the majority of the population doesn’t feel that way.”

I sigh. “No, I’m sure that the majority doesn’t feel that way. But the majority isn’t in charge. Ultimately, it’s the President and by proxy, Masters. If they decide that they won’t abide it, the majority won’t matter.”

Carmen is nonplussed. “They’d rather die than live forever in a stronger, healthier, and evolved body?”

I frown. “No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think that they’d rather die than lose power.” I look to everyone. “If people are strong and no longer need to depend on the government for food, protection, health care… just survival… then where does that leave the government? What’s happening is going to put the power in the people’s hands, and I think that the government officials know that. I think that they’ll do anything to keep a flawed system for the sake of being able to control it.”

Again it’s quiet as everyone digests this information. I know that I’m going on assumption here, but it’s an assumption based on history and of course, Doctor Shapiro’s own words. The government has proven this time and again. And while I hope that I’m wrong, we only have one choice: we plan for the worst case scenario.

I say as much. “Ultimately, whether I’m right or wrong, we have no choice but to operate under the worst case scenario because in the end, that’s what’s going to keep us safe. We have to assume that the government will destroy anyone who opposes them, and try to find a way to circumvent it.”

“Okay,” Dana says. “So then it really comes down to removing political leaders. No leaders with power, no power struggle, right?”

Tina’s low voice breaks through. “Remove the head of the serpent, and the body dies.”

I nod. It’s a solemn goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless and in the end, it’s going to save lives. Now how do we accomplish it? We can’t even leave the city, and Tina… the baby… this goal is supremely complicated in execution.

I guess to start off we’re going to need specific targets. “I think that President Wischnia and Masters are our first priorities.”

“Wait,” Tina interjects. “You guys, I know that there’s a lot at stake, but we’re talking about assassinating people, here… in front of the entire population.”

I stroke her hand and turn to face her. Her compassion… I adore her for it, but just like the injured, we have to ignore it. “T, we don’t have a choice. They’re making all of these decisions, and we’re not in a position to threaten them into submission. They have all of the resources.”

Her delicate brow furrows and she goes to take another sip of the sap only to find the mug empty. I take it from her and stare into it. She drank it all, and she’s fine… she’s better than fine.

“More,” I ask over anxiously. This is fantastic news if she can continue to drink.

She nods and Carmen offers to retrieve it. “I’ll go get it. I think I need a moment anyway.”

I smile my thanks and again we’re plunged into silence. Tina brings my hand to her lips and I look over at her. She doesn’t want to kill anyone – neither do I. But how can we win this war without killing our enemies? I don’t see any other answer. At least this way we’re doing the best thing possible and limiting the number of deaths to just those who perpetuate it. Shouldn’t those who want to bring about destruction be destroyed first?

Carmen returns and Tina nearly drains the mug in one pull. Once she’s sated she addresses the group. “I know that I’ve made some terrible mistakes, and because of that, I’ve little less than put us in this position.”

The silence continues and I can’t help but consider it an omission of agreement. And while I see some of the truth in it, I don’t think she should shoulder all of the blame. “T, that’s not entirely fair-”

She glances at me with a sad smile, her thoughts begging me to be quiet and let her get this out. “And now,” She continues. “I’ve made it worse by becoming a liability. There’s really no reason for you to listen to me, but I’m going to say it anyway…”

Everyone gives her their attention, and for a moment I remember the leader that she was and still could be… the leader that she still is. “I can’t apologize for making the choices that I made, not even the unexpected ones.” She runs her free hand over her stomach lovingly. “Because it would be a lie. I’m not sorry that I tried to get Bette back, and I’m never going to be.”

They seem almost shocked, Helena a little angry, and Shane slightly disapproving. Curious… if they felt that way, why did they choose to come with us? “But I was wrong in how I did it. I am sorry for how my choices affected everyone else, the pain, suffering, and death that they caused… that I caused. I know it fixes nothing, and means even less, but I didn’t mean for things to go this way. I was just… desperate.”

They seem to soften and I release a heavy breath as she continues. “And for what little it’s worth, I think that this plan, while in the vein of the right idea, is the wrong execution.”

Execution being the operative word.

“I truly believe that this course of action will make coexistence impossible, even if we do happen to win. But that’s just it, there are no winners here. Choosing the genocide of one over another is no choice at all. We need to find another way, a way that’s compassionate and shows good faith.”

“Tina,” Helena starts. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that you’re a good leader, and I think that’s the case for all of us.” There’s a round of quiet nods. “So forgive me for saying this, but why now? Is it because you have Bette back? Because not all of us have a Bette, or a child, or a family.”

She looks down at her lap and Dylan puts a comforting hand on her back as she murmurs, “Not anymore…” She swipes at her eyes and looks up at Tina imploringly. “Are we not desperate now?”

Tina finishes her mug and sets it on the stand, readjusting herself to sit forward. I can tell that she’s still stiff, but just that small action says so much about how far she’s come in the last few days.

She thinks for a moment about Helena’s words before she nods her agreement. “I think that we are desperate, especially now. And no, this isn’t about the fact that I have what I want.” She reaches over and takes my hand. “The reason that I feel we have to make better choices is because I’m just realizing something…” She shakes her head. “Or maybe I knew it all along, but hadn’t actually been aware of it.”

She sits up straight and meets everyone’s eyes, her conviction evident. “When I lost Bette, I felt… cold… soulless, and my actions reflected that. I could have handled what I needed differently, but I just didn’t care and I couldn’t wait. I lost myself to my grief and anger, and we all paid too heavy a price for it. Yes, I would go after Bette again if in the same situation, but knowing what I know now, I hope that I’d do it right, not just for me, but for everyone.”

Okay, even I’m confused and I can tell that everyone else is as well, so she explains. “Why are we surviving? Is it because we just don’t want to die or because we want to preserve something? I truly believe, that if we don’t do the right thing, preserve our ability to be compassionate, hold onto our souls, then yes, we’ll survive, but at what cost? Look around you. Is surviving living?” She waits for her words to sink in. “Is it not clear that we can’t just go off half-cocked? Do my mistakes mean nothing?”

I run my thumb gently over her knuckles, all of her words making sense. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, not even in the face of so much to remind me of it. “What good is it to a person to gain the whole world and in the process lose their own soul? If they want to be kings of a graveyard, then let them try. We’re better than that.”

This silence is so thick that it feels like we’re sitting in a vacuum.

“Okay, Tina,” Dana says. “But what more can we do? What’s the right way?”

Tina furrows her brow, completely at a loss of how to achieve the goal without sacrificing the reason for the cause. I just don’t know, but then, I recall my own words and realize that they’re true, now more than ever: Tina is the only person and her compassion is the only thing that’s going to get us through this not just alive, but still human.

Drowning and war are both art forms. It’s being calm in the storm that determines the strength of one’s character. And this… being human… despite it all… may very well be the tried and true test of a master painter for one simple reason: if not for drowning in overwhelming odds, if not for fighting the wars we find ourselves in with grace, we wouldn’t know what being human really means. And once we stop knowing, stop trying, all the reasons to be here will stop existing altogether.

Tina’s eyes gleam with unshed tears and adoration as she looks over to me, and I squeeze her hand. She’s been doing that a lot lately. I know that she’s right, or as close to right as there is in all of the gray. There is a way; we just have to find it.

“Maybe,” I clear my throat. “Maybe instead of killing the politicians, we can change their minds.”

A soft, sardonic chuckle echoes lowly throughout the small room. I smile. It did sound naïve. But… “Now hear me out. I’m not suggesting a peace summit, I’m suggesting rehabilitation.”

They look at me like I’ve grown a second head and again, I realize that I sound just like the humans. Despite my ineloquence with words, understanding finally dawns. “It’s not the perfect solution, and definitely a far cry from their ideas on what rehabilitation means, but it will remove them from power until such a time that the power isn’t even there anymore.”

I shrug. “Then we can release them to their freewill. They’ll either go with the majority, or they won’t thrive. It’s really that simple.”

“Isn’t brainwashing just as bad,” Carmen asks.

I furrow my brows and nod. “I suppose that it’s not really fair, but it preserves life. It’s a dirty tactic, but it’s better than bloodshed. And, we’ll release them from it once they stop this nonsense.”

I look to each face. I can tell that they’re all apprehensive maybe, but I’m unable to determine if they’re in agreement. “Let’s take a vote?”

Everyone nods. “All those in favor of killing the threat?”

No one raises their hand.

“All those in favor of compelling the threat away?”

They each raise their hand and I can’t help but grin at Tina.

‘Thank you,’ she says.

I lean forward and kiss her sweetly before picking up her cup and heading to the door. I stop and turn back to them. “Alright, it’s unanimous. And I think I know how we can do it, but only if we can get past the barrier beam.”

The lights flicker and Dylan raises her hand. “I have an idea for that.”

I hold up a finger. “Hold that thought.” I raise the mug and smile at Tina. “I’ll be right back.”


Continued in Chapter 5 – I can’t see you, but I know you’re there.

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