It hurt then and it hurts now: the pain, shame, regret, and entrapment…
I just want it all to be over.
It was foolish to think that Tina and I could have a life at all, let alone together. But the nagging insistence of hope is something that no living creature can seem to avoid. It’s as deeply engrained as the will to survive, because, let’s face it – the two are bound up in each other.
I’m in pain, drowning all over again, reliving a life of regret, and trapped in a space that tortures me physically and emotionally. I scoff at the water around me.
But it occurs to me that not all of my life has been terrible because there was hope. I did eventually grow into who I was supposed to be – who I wanted to be. I finally found the strength to face the truth of who I had become and own my responsibility for it. I finally learned the most important of lessons, and that’s when I found the home that Tina and I had spoke of all those years ago on a muggy summer day, beneath a magnolia tree.
My home was Tina.
I decide to focus on her. If I’m going to be tormented and trapped, at least I can recall her face with perfect clarity and remember the best of me. She was where my life really began. She was where I got my first real taste of life, love, happiness, and freedom.
It’s strange that the very best time of my life was a time that I was constantly on the run and trying to avoid Lilith at every turn. But life is ironic that way, and I had Tina, so I had hope.
I may have been foolish and impossibly difficult, and my time with Tina far too fleeting, but it was all worth it. I smile into the dark, wet confines that are stealing my lucidity and the last of my breath, thinking one last thing before I’m lost to death: Tina, my home, my hope… was worth it…
I jerked up rigidly and pulled in stuttered gulps of air as my body completed the healing process. I would need blood, but as I looked around me and remembered what had happened, that was the least of my worries.
I released one last strangled breath as I started to calm and regain my focus.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around the space I was lying in. The cot beneath me squeaked as I threw my legs over the edge and took in the small space that was barely large enough for me to stretch out on the ground.
The walls were comprised of packed earth and slightly smoothed stone, with small fissures woven throughout the surface, as if it had been dug out of a rock face.
And I closed my eyes as I breathed in the rich, cool earthiness of moss and dirt, the smell soothing despite my claustrophobic conditions.
Gnarled roots were hanging from the low earthen ceiling, and I had to brush them away from my face as I stood.
Wherever I was, I was somewhere deep underground.
I couldn’t puzzle out what mattered more, who mattered more. I loved Lilith, truly, and would do anything for her, except kill Tina…
I needed to get out of here. I needed to get to Tina…
My thoughts started to catch up with my body and my senses started to register again. The annoying drip of water was echoing somewhere close by, and when I pushed further, I heard the chaotic flow of an underground river somewhere slightly further away. There were also murmured voices and the soft steps of light feet, but there wasn’t a heartbeat among them.
I turned in the direction of the sound of water with a small smile. If the water could escape, so could I, despite the vampyrs holding me here. But I’d have to get out of this hole first.
The wall to my left was thick concrete, with what looked like a grid of sturdy rebar laid into it, and an arched metal door was situated in its center. The only opening in the room was a small hole in the top of the door that was lined with metal bars. I could see out, and as my luck would have it… someone could see in.
This was all so foolish. I should have just let Tina die all those years ago. Lilith was my maker and she’d shown me nothing but kindness. I resolved to myself to just kill Tina when I found her and hoped that Lilith would take her life, the one life that inexplicably meant so much to me, as penance.
I closed my eyes as a strange panic settled over me, and pulled up the memory of Lilith’s reaction to my betrayal.
Why had I done this to her?
The question was answered but it sat on my tongue, unable to fall into reality. There just wasn’t an answer, at least not one that I could allow myself to admit.
I approached the door cautiously and pressed my face against the bars to peer out. There was a narrow tunnel just on the other side of the door with a low-hanging string of exposed lights zigzagging along the supports that lined the ceiling.
I looked both ways, but I didn’t have enough leverage to see what was at either end. The light was low and flickered in inconsistent patterns, and I wondered who had captured me.
Surely it was Lilith. We had stayed in many places just like this over the course of our years together, and she was the only person that I really knew.
I kicked the door hard, frustrated with my past and my choices, and began to pace.
Tina was probably either dead or waiting in a cell just like this one. Something gnawed at my guts and I felt restless, like I needed to fidget or hit something, but resolved that I was just weak and hungry, and terminally bewildered…
A foreboding sense of urgency, that I couldn’t explain, tensed my muscles, and I began to frantically search my confines for any sort of weakness. There just wasn’t one.
I examined the door again. There wasn’t a handle on this side, so I squeezed my hands into the opening at the top and gripped the bars to pull at it roughly. It didn’t budge. I jarred it as hard as I could, but it didn’t even groan with the movement so I kicked it again, harder this time, and it was still wholly unaffected.
I blew out a frustrated breath.
I stepped to the right and felt along the wall with hurried fingers as I studied the surface, and each side of my brain started a tiresome game of tug-o-war with the other. All of this… the situation, my thoughts, my panic, the strangeness – they were Tina’s fault. She’d always made me feel this way… so completely unraveled.
My urgency was beginning to turn into anger. What was it about her that made me fuck up my life for her? Why couldn’t I just hate her, even after all that she’d done?
I couldn’t help the exasperated cry that escaped my lips as I found no weak point in the wall. No, the only weakness in this room was me.
What did she matter to me? She didn’t matter to me, damn it, and yet…
For the first time in a long time, the anger that I felt was genuine, not just indignant injustice. I lashed out hard against the wall, screaming in frustration as the bones of my fist broke against the surface with each frantic slam. It hurt, immensely, but the pain almost felt good, at least until I realized that I was having little to no effect on the thick, reinforced barrier.
I gave all that I had into tearing the wall apart, my mind apart, my hand apart, but I accomplished nothing as my prison shook with the echoing sounds of my wrath, roots and dust sifting down around me.
It was truly no use. Lilith knew our kind well.
I pushed back angrily and flexed my hand as it started to mend. My fist was covered in blood and dust, and the soreness dissipated as I watched the last of my knuckles snap back into place with a painful crunch.
I winced, but pain was something that I was used to, and it almost felt comforting to have something familiar in all of this mental chaos. I cleaned it on my dirty jeans, though it was little help, and ran my other hand through my hair.
A feminine and slightly whiny voice called out from behind the door, and I snapped my attention to the blonde head at the bars.
“Calm the fuck down already! You’ll bring the whole place down around us…”
I sped up to the door and recognized her as one of the women that had been pulling Tina away in Times Square.
Where was Lilith?
Where was Tina?
Where was I?
The blonde peered back at me, her expression one of extreme annoyance.
I grabbed the two outermost bars of the peep-hole and spoke in a low voice.
“Let me out.”
She snorted, and if I could have, I’d have reached through the peep-hole and torn out her throat for wasting my time. Instead, I could only grip the bars tighter and grit useless threats out through my teeth.
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
She shrugged and her voice was sarcastic. “I don’t care who you are.” She gestured to my cage with a sardonic smile. “You’re in there and I’m out here. That’s all that matters to me.”
I seethed out, “You’ll care when I tear out your fangs for your insolence.”
Her brows lifted high up onto her forehead and her mouth fell open.
She studied me unaffected for a moment before saying, “Sheesh, someone’s grumpy…”
My urgency to get to Lilith and Tina went to the wayside as my resolve to kill this girl in a horrendously painful and eternal way went right up to the top of my list of priorities.
She rolled her eyes and held a small, closed tube of blood up to the bars. I stared at it incredulously for a moment before looking back at her. I was weak and I needed it, but it was so small of an amount, that it could only mean one thing: they, whoever they were, wanted me weak but alive.
They wanted to be sure that I couldn’t fight, couldn’t run, couldn’t have a choice… couldn’t have freedom.
I wasn’t that stupid or even marginally inclined to give them what they wanted.
I swallowed hard and shook off the gnawing hunger in the pit of my stomach that the small bit of blood had inspired, knowing that I couldn’t trust anything that she might offer anyway.
Whoever she was, she had to be joking.
She obviously wasn’t as she pushed the vial further into the hole and shook it impatiently. “Come on! I don’t have all day.”
What the fuck was this? She wasn’t with Lilith. I had met the few vampyrs that Lilith kept contact with over the course of our time together. I wouldn’t call them her friends, persay. They were too… regimented and overtly respectful to be friends. No, this smugly irritating little girl would have been dead if she’d met Lilith.
She had to be with Tina. And that meant that both of them were insane. Lilith, the creator of our kind, the strongest and oldest among us, was coming. I knew it as well as I knew her, and I knew her better than I knew myself.
And yet, Tina and her friends wanted to play a rousing game of poke the caged animal with a stick?
I felt my anger peak and settle low in my chest as I grabbed this foolish girl’s hand and pulled her arm through the tiny opening.
She screamed before her face slammed hard into the surface of the door. The impact dazed her as the narrow bars tore away the skin of her bicep, stripping it nearly to the bone.
She dropped the container and it clattered to packed dirt at my feet as I waited patiently for her to regain herself enough to look me in the eye. And when she did, her indignity was almost comical when offset by the broken nose that was already popping back into place. She pulled back with all of her weight to retrieve her hand, but I tightened my grip.
She shouted, “What the fuck is wrong with you?! Let me go!”
I bent her arm to an unnatural angle, and as it began to crunch against the bar, she screamed so shrilly that it echoed down the corridor.
That should bring someone to open the door.
I smiled and met her gaze. “What the fuck’s wrong with me?” I scoffed disbelievingly. “What the fuck’s wrong with me?!”
She went to reach her other hand through the hole to pry my fingers loose, but thought better of it when she looked at my face.
I leaned forward, clenching my teeth as I hissed the words out through them. “You break my neck, kidnap me, and imprison me… and you expect me to play your foolish little games?”
I snapped her arm against the bar, nearly tearing it in half, and her bellowing cries gave me a moment of intense relief.
“Don’t you understand that Lilith is coming for me… for Tina? You think this is bad?”
I rapped her exposed bone against the bars with an eerily hollow thud. “Do you know nothing of our creator?”
She couldn’t stop screaming long enough to focus on my words, so I held the torn piece that was still in my hand against her arm to let it mend.
She whimpered and began to jump up and down on the balls of her feet as relief flooded through her. “Tina’s the one who’s organizing this little coup, right?”
She finally seemed to realize what I was saying and focused past the pain to pay better attention. Her realization sparked one of my own: Tina had come to make me pay for what I’d done to her – just one final indignity added to the list that she’d already visited upon me.
Well, her hatred could wait, because, “We’re sitting fucking ducks!”
With that I pushed her hard and released her. She stumbled back against the wall on the inside of the tunnel, breathing hard and leaning heavily as she cradled her now healing but blood-soaked arm.
I picked up the tube from the floor and stared at it longingly before my frustration propelled my arm forward. The vial sailed through the opening and exploded on the wall above the blonde’s head.
Blood splattered on her face and tiny shards of glass imbedded themselves in her skin as she crouched and cowered in reflex. I felt a little better knowing that I’d scared her and made a lasting impression.
“Now let me the fuck out of here!”
She looked at me and seemed to stew in her rage for a moment before finally snapping forward to attack me. What she thought she could accomplish through the barrier between us, I wasn’t sure, but I was hopeful she’d open the door and we could end this.
She didn’t get very far before someone caught her by her collar, and I heard a low voice that I’ll never forget wash over me.
I felt a flood of relief and… excited panic. “It’s okay, Al. I’ll take over from here. Go find Dana.”
I wasn’t ready for this, and yet I’d given up everything to have it. I wasn’t even sure why. I hated Tina. I had planned to kill her. Maybe I just needed to remind myself of that so that I could get all of this cleared up and be on my way.
But Lilith would never forgive me, and she would kill Tina…
If I had a soul, it would have been writhing in pain at that thought, and I couldn’t convince myself that it was weakness or hunger, or anything else that it should have been, not this time.
I wanted to scream. I couldn’t even resolve to just to leave Tina to her doom, even after everything that she’d done and was going to do.
Maybe I should just sit down and let it all play out – let Lilith have her fun. I had betrayed her and I deserved what was coming. More importantly, I wouldn’t care if I were dead. I just wasn’t… not yet… but I felt exhausted with life…
The irritating blonde that Tina had called ‘Al’ huffed away after giving me a scathing expression, and I cracked a grin at her in parting.
I would kill her.
I ran a hand through my hair and an eerie calm settled thickly on the air as I realized that Tina was here, and she hated me just as much as I hated her. I wouldn’t have cared if not for the fact that I was on the wrong side of this door… would I?
No matter what happened from this point on, I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of my torment any more than I’d given it to her father.
I straightened my posture, crossed my arms over my chest, and mustered up all of my bravado, only to nearly crumple to my knees when Tina’s warm, open, and beautiful face came into view.
She was radiant, and seemed genuinely happy to see me.
A mantra started repeating in my head like a broken record to help counteract the strangeness of it: she hates you, you hate her, you love Lilith…
I felt my lips tighten and I almost couldn’t look into her eyes. My mantra couldn’t defeat what I was seeing. There was no hatred or judgment in her glassy orbs, and I had no idea what to think, let alone how to string words together. My mouth felt like it had been packed with cotton and my breath became labored.
I tensed my muscles to hide my uncharacteristic emotions and carefully forced whatever was flooding through my system into the background. It was still there, but if I could compartmentalize it like I had always done, I would get through this.
Unfortunately, with Tina near, it was so much more difficult. But difficult didn’t mean impossible, especially for someone as practiced as I was.
It started to work, but then she broke the silence. “Bette, I–”
Her voice was choked and I wondered at her. What was going on here? For a moment, I thought that I heard her very thoughts, and I couldn’t believe what they were relaying, but her mouth moved a moment later, echoing them. “I’m so sorry, Bette.”
She was sorry? What did that matter? We were going to die here…
She seemed to get exasperated and ran her hands through her hair before breaking our gaze and pacing in front of the door. I breathed a sigh of relief at having been released from the intensity of her stare. I decided to just put this, whatever it was, to rest.
“Whatever you have planned won’t work, Tin–”
She met my eyes again and I swallowed hard. It felt awkward and unnatural to even speak her name.
“I mean, Chriss–”
Her eyes hardened and I sighed, having had enough of this. She made me feel so… I don’t know… out of control.
I finally found a way to carefully separate my emotions and lock them firmly away until I looked into her eyes. I couldn’t stop myself. All of my grief, anger, and frustration come out, just like I had always done when I was cornered. And just like always, I said the wrong things at the right time.
“Tina, Chrissy, Christina, Miss Kennard, Mrs. Wentworth…” I sneered as I spat out one final insult. “…Mistress…”
Ah, there, that did it. I could deal with anger and resentment, and I’d tapped into hers with one well-placed barb. Good. It would make all of this go so much easier if I had something solid and understandable to work with.
I made my voice as menacing as I could, trying my best to take advantage of my newfound leverage as my own fury burned brighter.
“…I don’t really care what you are. I don’t need your apologies and you sure as hell won’t get any from me. Open the door now and I’ll try to convince Lilith to let you live.”
I nearly shook with something that I couldn’t understand, and I tightened my grip on my chest. Just a little more force would break my ribs but even that would be worth hiding my emotions, or at least the ones that I wasn’t prepared to deal with.
It was all I could do to keep myself contained as she lowered her head, and something that I couldn’t even give a name to, let alone comprehend, happened: she exhaled heavily, and when she looked back up, the ire that I’d inspired was gone with her breath. But what was truly puzzling, was that it had been replaced with an intense sadness and overwhelming compassion.
These things I refused to acknowledge filled her hazel eyes to the point that I thought for sure that I’d caught a glimpse of her heart and her very soul – the most broken and vulnerable parts of her.
How? How had she managed to survive as a whole person after what she’d been through? And how had she managed to look at me with compassion, maybe even love, after my involvement?
What I found in her eyes was becoming far too uncomfortable for me. I couldn’t bear to look on such things. If it were possible, I’d have started to sweat. I didn’t want to think about these things. I didn’t want to think that maybe, just maybe, I’d not only wasted my first chance at life, but I’d wasted my afterlife.
And what was worse, is that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to anymore. I’d lived long enough to know that mulligans weren’t possible, but chances, chances required hope, and three would be far too much to ask, especially for me.
No, I couldn’t think on such things. But the thoughts were already there, and she’d put them there like she had always done.
Not this time. I wouldn’t see hope, I had no chance, no matter how much I wanted it and needed it. If there was one thing that I knew, it was that hope would only further destroy me when it was ripped from my grasp.
She’d done it once, she’d do it again, and based on the cell and the meager serving of blood, it would happen at any moment.
Was this her justice? If so, I had to give her credit. What better way to take me down than to give me hope and destroy it all over again?
If that was the case, I’d not only underestimated her, but she truly knew me, and knew me well.
I snapped out of my thoughts to realize that she’d been watching me as I had processed, and I was terrified that I’d spoken all of that aloud. She smiled sadly and I wanted to hit something, but I was on to her. She wouldn’t best me in this.
“Bette, I’ve never been your mistress, but if you want to lower yourself to the station of a slave, I won’t stop you, any more than I plan to let you go.”
I felt my blood harden in my veins, and it only got worse as she continued. “I’m sorry–”
I snorted out a short, incredulous laugh and felt my lip twitch as I snarled, “Oh, you haven’t begun to be sorry.”
She crossed her arms over her chest as she listened with a smugly patient demeanor.
“So you snapped my neck and brought me here. It’s irrelevant. But you will release me or regret it when I get out… one way or another.”
She shook her head ruefully. “I wasn’t apologizing for snapping your neck and bringing you here. I’m not sorry about that at all…”
I furrowed my brows at her and she smiled so disconcertingly that I felt light-headed. I couldn’t get a real grip on anything at that moment, and to my everlasting disbelief, things were getting worse. Her face and voice were soft and honest as she said, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t there that night. I know that you won’t believe me, not yet, but I wanted to be there, and I would have been if I could have.”
I ran a hand through my hair before again tightening my arms over my chest. The force snapped one of my ribs, giving me a much-needed distraction.
I couldn’t, wouldn’t, hear or believe this. It would make the culmination of entire life, human and vampyr, a lie.
No, she was the lie and while it’s a terrible pun, once bitten, twice shy…
I wet my lips and clenched my jaw. “Well, you’re right about that; I don’t believe you.”
She smiled again and I felt a chill run down my spine. My thoughts were a mess, and apparently she wasn’t going to stop making it worse, something that she was obviously very talented at.
“That’s fine…” She nodded with finality. “…for now. It doesn’t change anything. I may have failed to be there for you before, but I won’t now. That’s why you’re here.”
I snapped another of my ribs but it didn’t work that time. I couldn’t contain myself as I shouted, “What do you want from me?!”
Her voice was small and almost felt like a warm embrace as she replied gently, “I don’t want anything from you.”
I threw my hands up in frustration. “No, you just want to play games! Well, we don’t have time! Lilith is coming… what part of that don’t you understand?! Let me out of here… now!”
She lowered her eyes, pursed her lips, and frowned as she shook her head sadly. “I can’t… I won’t…”
She met my gaze and my stomach dropped into my toes as she said, “Because I owe it to you…”
She just didn’t seem to understand. “You don’t owe me anything, and even if you did, I don’t want anything from you! We need to go… now!”
Her own voice rose as she yelled, “NO!”
“WHY, DAMN IT?!”
“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!”
I was… stunned… to such a severe point that I felt like I had devolved into a drooling Neanderthal. The world narrowed in on her and I listened with something entirely metaphysical, and entirely involuntary.
Her heart spoke her thoughts as she repeated the words almost desperately. ‘I love you…’
I closed my eyes, trying to stop her, trying to shut her out, but she wouldn’t go away, and I couldn’t seem to raise my barriers. I was just too discombobulated and unfocused, and a part of me was maybe just unwilling.
‘I love you…’
I reached up and gripped the sides of my head, focusing my effort, but she was insistent and I just couldn’t manage it.
‘I love you, Bette… I left you once, but I won’t do it again. I’m so sorry… I-I just can’t leave you this way, not this time…’
And that’s when images began to barrage my mind:
Tina sneaking out of the mansion to come meet me as planned…
Tina being caught by her father…
Tina arguing with him about me…
Her father accusing her of being a queer…
Tina being knocked unconscious by a swift swing of his fist…
Tina waking at the Wentworths’…
Tina being beaten, repeatedly…
Tina being raped, repeatedly…
Tina trying to protect her children, but only sometimes successful…
Tina waking with no idea what she was…
Tina finding Deke barely alive as he was eating himself…
Tina finding her children murdered…
Tina spending years trying to kill herself but failing…
Al finding Tina…
Al helping Tina, explaining things to her, helping her to find purpose and strength…
Tina regretting leaving me…
Tina and Al looking all over the world for me…
Al only going along with Tina to find Lilith…
Tina and Al finding the brunette, Dana…
And Lilith… so much on Lilith that I had never known…
“STOP! JUST STOP IT!”
I started to hyperventilate as my walls snapped back into place and blocked her thoughts. It was relief, but it was too late. I had seen it all there in her mind. I knew the truth. It’s impossible to fake that kind of clarity with the unconsciously honest connection between a maker and her progeny, and I both loved and hated her for showing me. I couldn’t do this. I just couldn’t.
No, no hope. It would just mean more pain. So I did the only thing that I could do – I shut down.
My voice was as detached as the rest of me as I replied, “No. Kill me or leave me here for Lilith. I just don’t care anymore. Either way, just leave me be…”
Her voice was pleading. “Bette, please…”
I snapped my head up and reached a hand through the bars to grab her but she dodged it. I hated myself when I saw the pain and hurt on her face, but I couldn’t feel it, I wouldn’t. My entire life had been a lie. I was a joke, a pawn, a slave – I always had been, and I always would be.
“Leave. Me. Alone…”
She lingered still, looking down at her hands and fidgeting with her fingers before finally walking away. I grabbed the bars to catch myself as I started to fall, and managed to turn as I slunk down to the floor.
I let myself go catatonic as all of this information flooded through me. Death was the only hope and peace to be found in this world, and like before, it would be a waiting game.
I would wait, and death – Lilith – would find me.
I heard the creaking scrape of the door as it was opened, but just as I had done for the last two months, I didn’t look up. I knew who it was. I could feel her before she even reached me, and most times I could hear her thoughts, though not today.
Lilith hadn’t come, not yet, and I was beginning to think that she never would. Maybe she knew of my fate and had abandoned me?
I couldn’t reason it out, and it didn’t really matter, even if it had been Lilith stepping into the room. But it wasn’t. No, it was worse than Lilith; it was Tina.
She shut the door behind her, the lock clicking with a resounding snap, and I took a deep breath to ready myself. She came to me every day with a vial of blood and a book. She’d offer the blood to me, just like she was about to, and I’d reject it, just like I was about to.
I had managed not to drink since my arrival in this place of despair, and I was desiccating. I knew it was only a matter of time, but Tina wouldn’t allow me to fade away. No, she’d wait until I was so weak that I couldn’t fight her, and then she’d force blood down my throat.
But we hadn’t gotten there yet, and it would be a long time before we did. More importantly, I would fight her until the bitter end. I just wished that the end would be soon.
My muscles and bones ached and I felt chilled. Well, as close as I could remember to the feeling. It had been a long time, and I couldn’t recall how it felt to be cold exactly, but there were new experiences to add to my extensive repertoire.
I hurt… everywhere. My muscles prickled with pain, as if millions of tiny bugs were pinching and crawling their way through the meat beneath my skin. My chest felt impossibly tight with each and every breath, and I had a pounding headache.
Even my fangs were sore, but I was thankful that Tina was shielding her thoughts. I was too weak and my pain too great to focus on my own walls, and I couldn’t abide the images and feelings when I wasn’t in agony, let alone when I was.
I wondered at her as she approached. Did she know that her thoughts caused me pain? Why else would she hide them so carefully?
She crouched down in front of me and brushed the dark, lack-luster curls from my face, single hairs still clinging to her hand as she pulled it away. Normally I wouldn’t have allowed her to touch me, let alone in such a familiar way, but I couldn’t muster the will to care, let alone move.
She sighed as she pulled back and popped the stopper on the tube in her hands. The rich smell of blood flooded the room and my nostrils flared. I wanted it; I needed, it… so badly. I felt like a common street urchin waiting for her next fix, but unable to afford it.
A deeper, more primal part of me jerked me forward on instinct, my body not willing to sacrifice itself on the alter of my pride, and I shook almost violently with the struggle to stop myself. No, I wouldn’t accept it. How could I? It would mean giving her what she wanted, and that, in and of itself, was reason enough to suffer.
She held the vial out before me, dangling it in front of my face like a carrot, and I had to squeeze my arm over my chest to hold myself back. She pushed it closer when I didn’t respond and I turned my face away from it… nearly insane with thirst.
Her voice was pleading and exasperated. “Bette, please don’t do this to yourself…”
I looked at the tube, angry and unyielding to her reasonable request. No, I wouldn’t give up my pride or the last bit of control that I had in this situation. I would wait for Lilith, for death. I was determined this time. But if the temptation of it wasn’t removed soon, I would surely take it.
I snapped a hand forward and swatted it away, my body angry at the motion and my mouth watering as I watched it hit the door, its rich contents spilling to the ground to soak into the earth.
Tina sighed and sat next to me, shaking her head as she opened the book to continue where she’d left off the previous day.
It was always the same. I’m not sure if she just lacked imagination, or if she knew no other way to stage this intervention.
Part of me considered that maybe she took this tack because it just felt right, but I wouldn’t choose to believe that, even if I could be sure of it.
The fact remained that there was little difference at this moment from our early time together. She ignored my petulance and I chose not to speak.
But unlike before, speaking wasn’t a matter of pride, so I decided to try and stop this, stop her, thinking that maybe I could reason with her if I couldn’t wait her out. And waiting her out was obviously something that I’d never be able to do.
She was far too patient…
“Leave me alone.”
She almost smiled as she realized that I had spoken to her.
“Nope. Sorry, but you’re stuck with me.” She chuckled as she continued. “I enjoy your company too much.”
Her laugh was warm and hauntingly familiar, and I hated her for it. There had to be a way to get rid of her, but I knew that it would take something unforgiveable.
I searched my memories, looking for that something to use against her. All I could remember was our time together in the magnolia groves, cooling our feet in the stream as we’d read, and learn, and wistfully plan our escape – an escape that I’d accusingly and wrongfully hated her for.
My pain seemed to intensify as my memories buffeted my carefully built armor, but I couldn’t tell if it was just my haggard body, or maybe something more. Even if it was, I wouldn’t allow myself to see it any differently.
My thoughts faded away as I focused on the darker parts of me, the darker parts of her.
“I think your time with Deke may have ruined your mind.”
She was wholly unaffected as she rolled her eyes, and I searched my darkness for another weakness, finding a magnificent mess to force her to wallow in.
Why hadn’t I just realized it sooner? “Just like he ruined your daughters.”
She became rigidly still and I smirked. Now we were getting somewhere.
“You know, death was a kindness. They just weren’t salvageable, not after what he’d done to them… the same things he did to you.”
I lethargically shook my head, the cold, hard stone of the wall behind me reminding me of where I was and why I was there. I was a prisoner, always.
I glanced over at the cot in the corner, still made up and covered in dust at my refusal to use it. She’d trapped me but given me some comforts, just like before, and that realization made me all the more venomous.
Why did my captors always think that they could buy my compliance with meaningless gestures?
“They were there while he was beating and raping you.” I continued. “They saw it all, and after that, well…”
I glanced over at her. “Did you see what he did to them, or did he beat you within an inch of your life before he took their innocence?”
Her chest was heaving and I gloried in it as I hated myself more. I had nothing to lose at this point, and a little more hate wouldn’t kill me.
She turned to look at me and I could tell that she was on the verge of… something, so I decided to push her a little further, my desire for her to snap at me swinging to a morbid curiosity of just how much she could take.
“They were beautiful… your little girls, especially in death.” I sighed wistfully. “I’ve become quite the artist since I transitioned. What you found when you woke was a tribute to you, and one of my very best pieces of living art. I should thank you for inspiring me so…”
I watched her clench her hands into fists and realized that it would take even more for her to snap, though I wasn’t sure what more I could say to incite her.
A stray thought struck me then. Everything about her was desirable, but for all of her brains, compassion, hope, and true freedom… she may have been more stubborn than I was, and somehow, it made her seem even more beautiful, just like her daughters.
It felt strange to go there, to speak lies, but it was hurtful, therefore it was useful in my endeavor to push her away.
“I killed them, you know, but they died quickly if that’s any comfort to you.”
Her hands shook and I watched transfixed as intense grief rolled through her. I was in awe. Most people would have snapped by now. I could tell that she wanted to, and for a moment, when she finally gazed back over at me, I thought for sure that she was going to disembowel me where I sat, but she didn’t.
Apparently, I’d have to take it a step further, but that was the worst that I knew of her life, and the worst that I could do to her. She just needed to focus on her anger, allow herself to hate me.
“How do you love me now, Tina?”
The anguish on her face touched something in me and I realized what I’d just said, what I’d just done – precisely what I wanted to, only it had precisely the opposite effect. She could barely say the words and I could barely believe them, but they were perfectly audible.
“I see what you’re doing, Bette. And I still love you.”
I clenched my jaw in frustration. How much worse could I harm her? How could she love me after that? What did love even mean?
No, no love didn’t exist, and I said as much.
“Love’s a trick of the brain to convince people to procreate. Let’s be honest. You think that you owe me something and you’ve confused yourself into believing that it’s love. You don’t, it’s not, and there’s no reason to go through this anymore.”
She closed her eyes and scrubbed at her face as her shoulders hunched. It took long moments before she finally looked back over at me and smiled sadly, just like she used to.
God, had nothing changed in a century?
I swallowed hard. Apparently some things never changed. “Love means sacrifice, Bette. I don’t want to do this with you every day either. Even if I don’t owe you, I do love you, and that means I can’t abandon you, even if it hurts.”
She looked down at the book in her lap and played with the corner of the cover absently, her voice broken as she concluded, “Even if you hurt me, it means I still have to try.”
I had seen right into her mind. I knew her darkest and most hopeful thoughts. I’d seen the depravity that she’d suffered, and yet… I would obviously never understand her.
“You don’t know what’s best for me or right for me. If you love me, if such a thing is possible, why don’t you honor my wishes and just leave me here… leave me alone?”
She leaned her weary head against the dirt wall behind her and gazed right into my eyes. I knew what she said was the truth because she dropped her mental filters and the banging in my skull increased when I heard her thoughts and words echo each other.
“If I hadn’t failed to be there that night, you wouldn’t be this way…”
I felt piqued. Had she finally decided that she wasn’t my peer, but my superior? My tone was clipped. This conversation wasn’t going how I’d imagined it at all.
“Be what way, exactly?”
She didn’t speak, but she didn’t have to. Even through the fog of pain in my head, I clearly heard the thoughts: cold, sadistic, uncaring, and cruel…
I wanted to hit something wet and living, to feel bones break in my hands at her thoughts of me, to unwittingly make them true, but all I had at that moment were words.
“You don’t know me. You never did. Who are you to presume that you’re better than me because you choose to be weak and overly emotional?”
The corner of her mouth quirked unrepentantly, and I snapped out harshly, “You’re pathetic…”
She shook her head dejectedly, her voice soft.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t see the value in life, you don’t even believe in love. You have no hope…”
She snapped forward, a fire sparking to life in her eyes, and as they gleamed, I wanted to shrink back from the intensity of her determined gaze and words.
“Don’t you get it yet? You’re how old?”
She snorted disbelievingly and her voice took on a condescending pitch. “You’ve been a slave your whole life and it’s like you don’t even realize it!”
I wasn’t sure what to say to her. I wasn’t often rendered speechless, but somehow, it felt different. I was a very capable conversationalist, and even better debater. The humans that I tortured would attest to that if they were still alive. But this time, I had no witty comeback or retort. I was left with nothing when faced with her declaration, nothing but a desire for the things that I’d never have, just like it had always been with her.
I was beginning to see an incessantly irritating pattern. Would I never be able to stamp any of it out or control my reaction to her words, her heart, her… just her?
The fire in her dissipated and I had to stop myself from releasing the breath that I hadn’t meant to hold.
She seemed defeated as she said, “I couldn’t free you before, but I can now… if you’ll let me.”
I snorted out a laugh at that. “You think you can save me?” I looked at her like she’d grown a second head. “Are you God now?”
I couldn’t even fathom her hubris so I mocked her. “You’re insane…”
She exhaled heavily and chuckled to spite herself, glancing at me from beneath long lashes. “Maybe I am, but madness and brilliance are two sides of the same coin.”
She laughed the laugh of someone truly carefree and I felt a pang of intense longing shoot through my still heart. I struggled to stamp it down. That’s all that I had ever wanted – freedom. She had it, and it was genuine despite her past. But I’d never know such a thing…
Her voice was low and serious as she continued, “I know I can’t save you, Bette. I don’t think that highly of myself. But, just like before, I believe that if I show you hope, you’ll be able to free yourself.”
She was so frustrating. I was powerless to incite her and she had me cornered, but I wasn’t going to give in. I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t.
“Only death will free me, Tina.”
She grinned disconcertingly and I felt my eye twitch as the incessant banging in my head increased.
“We’ll see,” is all she said before turning back to the book and continuing where she’d left off.
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
I snorted out a sardonically weary laugh that caused Tina to sigh and stop reading.
Hope… so absurd.
I licked my dry lips as I stared at the fresh blood by the door. I had swiped the life-giving fluid to the floor countless times, more times than I could even keep track of in my increasingly deteriorating state. And now the ground was permanently stained and the room permanently saturated with the glorious smell of it.
It completely filled the tiny space that seemed to be closing in on me with each passing day. My stubbornness had smote me again, and now I had to live with the consequence.
Every day Tina and I would have our little pep talks, and every day I’d deny her, but I was so weighted in my thoughts that I couldn’t even sleep anymore. My mind just kept reeling, replaying her words like a broken record. I would be lying if I said that she wasn’t affecting me.
I wanted to believe her when she said that I could be free, but it just felt unrealistic. Even freedom had owned me under the rule of Lilith, and a part of me was scared.
If I hoped, if I achieved freedom, what on earth would I do with it?
At least with Lilith I had a purpose. It was dark, but it was still something. But with Tina… it would just be… too real… too personal… too life-altering…
I studied her as she shut the book and placed it on the ground next to her. During the night, I had come to accept the fact that I cared for her. It would be delusional to think otherwise. If I hadn’t, none of this would have happened.
I may have been a lot of things, but unrealistic wasn’t one of them.
Tina picked at some imaginary lint on her jeans and I remembered how her hands had helped me, how she’d used them to teach me and guide me. She had delicate hands, small and warm, and I remembered how her touch used to excite me in strange ways.
It couldn’t be love that I felt for her. Such a thing didn’t exist, but I was wiser now. Lilith had shown me a side of myself that I hadn’t even been aware of, and if nothing else, I knew that I found her entirely pleasing.
Tina had always been extremely attractive. Lilith was beautiful in a deceivingly innocent way, but Tina had a wisdom about her, a glow that was offset by an erotic undercurrent of sexuality. Lilith was blatant in her sexual prowess, but Tina… she carried herself in an understated way.
The difference between them was night and day, both were angels of opposing celestial realms, but neither could ever share the same space.
And I had to admit, if only to myself, that while Tina was more infuriating, I preferred her light to Lilith’s dark.
She glanced at me shyly and I couldn’t tell if I wanted to run or stay. It was almost as if Tina had bewitched me. I had never believed in the voodoo that some of the slaves I’d known practiced, but now that I had become unnatural, I knew that such things must exist.
But that was the problem, wasn’t it? I had spent my entire life just existing. I was more than one hundred years old and I’d never die, but in all actuality I’d never lived and I never really would…
It wasn’t a possibility… not for me. Tina seemed to become sadder as the silence drew out. Her barriers were up today but I could tell that she was more pensive than usual. She had always been a thoughtful person, but something about her demeanor seemed off.
Even as the uncharacteristic silence pervaded the room, I felt comfortable with her at least. Well, as comfortable as I could be in my current physical state. Several torments had been added to those I had previously succumbed to. My stomach was roiling, my body failing, and I couldn’t remember why any of this was happening. I was convinced that Lilith wasn’t coming, and as such, death would never find me.
So, my panic swung away from Lilith and focused on the fact that any day now, Tina would force me to drink. I was just too weak to stop her, and she knew it, at least to some degree.
She didn’t even shut the door behind her anymore. I would have been insulted, but a nagging part of me wanted her to keep trying, even when I knew that I’d never change. That’s what terrified me the most: I was losing my grip on my resolve. She just wouldn’t be ignored; she was far too irritating.
She chuckled a little bit and I blinked my eyes at her, my voice hoarse as I asked, “What’s so funny?”
I had used the last of my strength to try and position myself in such a way that Tina wouldn’t know that I couldn’t move very well, at least I hoped she didn’t.
I could still sort of move, but it took ages, almost as if I were a sloth. So at night, while I couldn’t sleep, I’d move just enough to make sure that I wasn’t exactly the same as the previous day. She looked up at me, almost as if I’d interrupted her, and released a heavy breath as she scooted forward to settle herself in front of me.
She eyed me warily as she reached forward and I watched in frustration as she shoved me. I slumped over and shut my eyes against the indignity of my situation. When I opened them, Tina gestured to me with her hand.
“Bette, you’re lying to yourself, about so many things.”
I rolled my eyes, or at least I tried to, and she shook her head sadly. “You can hear my thoughts, because you’re my maker, right?”
I had expected some meaningless platitude to fall from her full lips and couldn’t help but be curious at her line of questioning.
I croaked out, “Yes…”
She glanced up at me from her lap. “Have you ever heard of a progeny hearing her maker’s thoughts?”
If my heart were beating, it would have stopped. I closed my eyes as the desire to flee settled into my paralyzed body. My stubbornness had smote me again, but I wouldn’t believe it.
“That’s not possible, Tina.”
She ducked her head in front of my face and met my gaze. “I haven’t heard someone refer to ‘smiting’ for over a half of a century, Bette, and he was six hundred years old. You’re just being stubborn, and you think it all the time…”
I felt my breathing increase as panic washed through me. Lilith had told me that the connection only worked one way, and I’d never heard her thoughts, not once, in our entire time together.
This wasn’t possible.
“T-that’s not possible…”
She braced her arms behind her with a smug smile and said, “Try me.”
I felt flushed at the innuendo in her words, the preternatural gleam in her eyes, and way she’d contorted her body in repose. Her tee-shirt pulled tight over her full breasts, she had one leg extended, and the other was bent and waving from side-to-side in a beckoning fashion.
My eyes travelled the length of her as my panic shifted to that of another sort, and when I met her gaze, she grinned unabashedly.
I felt myself grow cold, colder than I’d ever known, and her grin melted away as she sat forward.
“It’s okay, Be-“
My voice reflected my anger as I cut her off.
Her head dipped and her eyes turned pleading.
“Bette, it’s okay to feel-”
I used every last ounce of strength I had in me to shout, though it only came out as little more than a garbled whisper.
She didn’t move for a moment, and the expression on her face was devastating, not only because I’d hurt her, but because she knew that I didn’t want to hurt her.
This wasn’t fair. I had always had these thoughts with her, and while I wasn’t aware at the time what they meant, they were at least safe.
Was nothing sacred with her?
She had full control of my situation, but was that not enough? Did she have to own everything, even my thoughts?
She pulled up to her feet dejectedly and left the room, hesitating at the door. I closed my eyes against the shame I felt inside. At least then, years ago, my thoughts had been a safe place that was entirely my own. At least then I could care without the weakness of it.
“I still love you, Bette.”
Her words echoed in my head as I watched her leave, the door wide open behind her where I was trapped in both my body and my mind, though neither place safe.
“Bette… Bette, wake up…”
I tried to snap my eyes open as I awoke startled, but they wouldn’t move. It felt as if my eyelids were sandpaper and glued shut. They grated slowly over the dry orbs in my sockets, scratching and pulling at the surface. I hadn’t started to mummify yet, that was still several months off, but I was so desiccated that I no longer felt my limbs, and my thoughts were unfocused and mostly inactive.
Maybe this would be a pseudo death. My mind would just shut down. I wouldn’t die, but I wouldn’t know that I wasn’t dead. It wouldn’t be ideal, but nothing in my life had been. Why should death have been any different?
I felt small hands settle gently beneath my neck as my body was raised up stiffly, like a chunk of metal being bent in the middle. Wonderful, I was posable. It seemed fitting. My whole life had been this way. I was just a thing. Nothing had ever been by my choice or for my benefit.
We are all either kings or pawns… emporers or fools…
At least I could sink into a silent oblivion; I had that much control.
A scream sounded shrilly from somewhere nearby, and my eyes had finally had enough time to open as my other senses started to grow receptive.
Tina’s face was worried as she held a large cup of blood up to my lips and hurried words fell from her mouth.
My mind wanted to struggle with my body as the distant sounds of another struggle waged around me. The distinctly chaotic sounds of war came into focus, but I couldn’t distinguish if it was real or just the hum of deterioration in my ears.
My body wanted the blood in front of me so desperately that it may have won the fight had it not been so riddled with rigor.
But ultimately, it didn’t matter. I had no choice in anything anymore. All I could do was stare at Tina as she took away the last of the personal control that I had left. No one would let me just die.
Why? Why couldn’t they just be done with me… why couldn’t life?
The answer struck me and I had no idea what to do with it. Life actually hadn’t been that cruel. I’d had a choice once, one that was mine and mine alone to make, and I’d made it. I didn’t have to try to save Tina; I didn’t have to betray Lilith. I just did, of my own freewill.
The cup’s motion to my mouth stopped and I looked up into the broken face of the one person on this earth that I had built my entire life around, and I hadn’t even known it.
Why? Why was it that when I finally had one small, insignificant choice that was truly my own, that I chose to give it away for Tina?
Her eyes were warm but frightened and tearful, and it took a moment for her to put the cup down, returning her hand to my face to stroke it tenderly. My skin didn’t really register the touch, but somehow I was comforted to know that it had happened.
“You’re right, Bette.” She sniffed. “This was wrong of me. I wanted to help you; I thought I was, but-”
She didn’t have to finish her sentence or even her open thought. I knew what she was trying to tell me.
Thick tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled me in her arms, her voice rumbling through her chest and vibrating against my weariness in a comforting way that I wanted to reject but just couldn’t. Her voice was so small that I might have wept if I hadn’t been so parched.
As much as I hated her, I hated hurting her more.
“If you really want me to let you go, I won’t fight you. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it. It’s your choice…”
She tilted her head forward to lay a soft cheek against my hair as she started to rock me, and I couldn’t seem to get a grasp on all of the things that were going on in her mind. It was all so frightened and discombobulated, but I did get the image of Lilith, and I knew why Tina was so scared.
As if to punctuate the moment, I heard another scream and knew that it wasn’t just my lack of sensational control. Lilith was here, attacking, and Tina and I were her focus.
Tina looked down at me, and for some inexplicable reason, I wanted to brush her tears away just like I had wanted to all those years ago under our tree. But unlike then, in these final moments, I would have had the courage to do it.
How ironic that I couldn’t just lift a single hand to the task. She laughed through her tears as she heard my thoughts and began to rock me with such honest desperation that I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Her voice was broken as she choked on her sobs. “I don’t want to let you to go.”
She swiped at her pale cheeks in frustration before returning her gaze to mine with a serious expression and determinedly set jaw.
“But I will… if you want me to.”
Someone ran by the open door and she jerked her head to the opening, her mind fluttering between fear and anguish. The heavy footsteps receded down the tunnel and she asked,
“Do you… do you want me to?”
I considered her long and hard, barely able to get a grip on my own thoughts or emotions, or any number of the things that were flooding my terminally confused and hopeless mind.
Did I really want to die?
I’d wanted it my whole life, and this was finally my chance. My answer couldn’t have changed, because I didn’t want it to… did I?
Lighter footsteps came rushing up to the door before Al came skidding to a halt at the threshold. She was breathing heavily, blood spattered in strange patterns over her face, arms, and chest, and she braced her arms on the doorframe as she leaned in and spoke hurriedly.
“We need to leave… now!”
Dana came rushing up behind her and grabbed her hand, looking to Tina and then me. She rolled her eyes and released Al to come in and start to pull me from Tina’s grasp.
“She’ll slow us down like this, but we can do it.”
Dana snaked her hand under my back and curled it around my waist to pull me up but Tina stopped her with a hand on her forearm. She gave Tina a questioning look before releasing me and standing with her arms crossed over her chest. She watched with a defiant and impatient air as Tina looked back to me, her eyes filled in yearning question.
I felt as if I should know the answer to the question I saw burning there. I wanted to die. I always had. That just wouldn’t change…?
Tina started to cry harder before nodding once reluctantly, and leaning in slowly to place a warm, wet kiss to my dry lips. She tasted like warm mint and sunlight, and maybe a tinge of hope. And it was by far the sweetest taste punctuated by the sweetest intentions I’d ever know.
I felt as if this had been my first real kiss, and it was also to be my last.
She laid me down, and brushed the curls from my forehead, leaning in to kiss my hairline.
I heard her thoughts just barely whisper, “I’m sorry that I failed you…”
Dana tugged on her arm and started to pull her from the room and I began to panic.
What if Lilith found me?
Would she kill me, or would she leave me alive and hideously disfigured?
Would I ever see Tina again, read a book, paint, draw, see a sunrise, have a kiss just like that one, and be able to really feel it?
But most importantly, if I could, would I accept those gifts?
My thoughts were swinging so violently that I thought I might get vertigo but she stopped dead in her tracks.
Dana nearly stumbled over her and I could tell she was getting angry as she said, “We have to go! Now!”
The cavern began to shake and I knew that Lilith was close. I could feel the connection inspired by her blood in my veins as it began to hum like a resonating crystal and call out to her. At this range, I was like a homing beacon, and only distance would deter her.
Tina made a step toward me, her frantic need to move warring with her inability to leave me, but Dana grabbed her arm and started pulling her away.
My own war was raging and I called to her again, out of desire or sheer survival instinct, I could only speculate.
‘Tina… I’ll go with you…’
She pulled herself roughly from her friend’s grasp and dropped to her knees at my side. Dust sifted down around us as violence echoed throughout the cavern, and I finally realized what all of this was, why Lilith hadn’t come until now.
Tina lifted my head, nearly dropping the cup in her haste to bring it to my mouth.
It was fresh, warm, thick, rich, and sweet… so many wonderful things that I’d almost forgotten even existed as it ran over my tongue, down my throat, and started to fill my body with life. My senses snapped back into focus and strength thrilled in my muscles. I grasped the cup tightly in both hands and started to pull from it greedily.
It wasn’t nearly enough to satiate me as I tilted my head back to gather every last drop in my mouth, but it was enough to give me the strength to be useful. I set the cup aside and Tina tried to help me to my feet, but I shrugged her off.
I looked at her, annoyed and embarrassed, but unable to do anything about it. My defenses had been so destroyed because of my weakness, and she’d heard the truth of my mind, though how I couldn’t understand.
It was unheard of, at least as far as I was aware. Either way, I could never take what she’d already heard back from her, but I could finally shut her down, and I did so instantly.
My mind closed itself off as I met her sad gaze and said, “I’ll live and I’ll help you, but that’s all.”
She smiled, albeit sadly, and I sighed in exasperation as I made my way to the door with every intention of running, only to have to turn back and grab her arm. I wouldn’t leave her to any doom so long as I lived… so long as I chose to live.
Al scowled at my proprietary hold on her before saying, “Can we go now that your deep, dark, dyke drama is over?” She threw her hands in the air. “Please…”
I pulled Tina with me and bumped into the irritating blonde’s shoulder as we passed. I may still kill her, Tina be damned, but not just now.
I stopped in the tunnel and my mind instantly took in my surroundings. At the far end to my right was an opening to the surface, but there was a bloody and violent fight ensuing. Vampyrs were tearing each other apart, limbs torn and flying through the air as pointed teeth glinted dangerously. To my left was a maze of options, and that was the way that I was determined to go.
I pulled Tina behind me with a strong grip but she dug her heels in to stop me as she said, “You’re going the wrong way. We’ll have to fight our way out.”
I turned to her and looked over her shoulder into the chaotic mess. I met her gaze and she seemed genuinely happy despite our circumstances.
No, I would never understand her.
“That way is death because that’s where Lilith is. I know we can escape this way. I’m sure of it.”
Dana scoffed. “You’ll get us trapped and killed if we listen to you. I’ve searched every inch of this place many times. There is definitely no way out further into the tunnels.”
I shrugged but didn’t release Tina. She hadn’t given me many choices, and I wasn’t going to give her one now. I held Tina’s gaze to make this clear, even as I addressed Dana.
“We’re going this way.”
I waited a few moments but Tina didn’t argue. I wanted to smile, but instead focused on the issue at hand. I gave Dana a sidelong glance.
“You two can do what you want.”
Tina considered me for a moment before raising a delicate eyebrow. I didn’t waste another moment standing around. I started the winding trek towards the sound of water, my grip still tight on her arm.
She reached her other hand up as we continued and pulled at my fingers, and I allowed her to loosen my grip. She smiled shyly at me as she settled her hand firmly in my own and linked our fingers.
I realized that I was in trouble, and it had nothing to do with Lilith.
Al shouted out from behind us, “Hey, wait for us,” and I responded under my breath, ”Wonderful…,” as Tina and I wound our way into a large antechamber at the heart of this mountain.
Tina chuckled at me and I eyed her seriously, finding it difficult to focus with her so near. Within seconds we were in a dark and cavernous chamber, and a rippling river ran through the middle before it plunged into darkness at the far end. I had no idea where it went, but it was a way out.
I smiled devilishly at Tina as I saw her wide eyes , a squawk escaping her as I unceremoniously picked her up and threw her into the water.
Al and Dana caught up to us and Dana pushed me as she shouted, “What the hell are you doing?!”
I turned to her and picked her up by her throat. I wasn’t one-hundred percent yet, but she was young. I could smell it on her.
Tina’s thoughts weren’t frightened by my behavior at all as she spoke to me. ‘Bette, please don’t hurt her. She’s just trying to protect me.’
I clenched my jaw as I gazed into Dana’s eyes and breathed out, “I’m saving our lives. Don’t touch me again, do you understand?”
She nodded and I dropped her, Al giving me a murderous look that didn’t affect me as she collected Dana. I grinned at her before I turned and dove in after Tina.
She was waiting for me and she smiled sadly as she said, “Thank you.”
I shrugged and brushed her words off, though it was strange to be thanked for anything. Lilith never thanked me. It was more like a dog getting a pat on the head or a juicy steak for good behavior. I filed away my thoughts of Lilith, at least for the moment. I had to survive her right now, and being sympathetic to her wouldn’t increase our chances of escape.
I watched Tina swim a little ahead of me, her apprehension at going over the edge of the water clear in her mind. I had no idea why I was doing this. I didn’t even like Tina, and I could barely tolerate her friends. And while I couldn’t lie about my deeper feelings for her, whatever they were, I wouldn’t play into them.
She reached behind her and took my hand and we started swimming towards the edge and a freedom that would most likely be far too fleeting. But this time, I wasn’t alone. This time, Tina had showed up, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see how it might have been if we’d made it the first time.
We stopped at the edge of the most turbulent point of the water, holding on to the jagged edges of the pool as the water rushed around us.
Tina looked over at me and I squeezed her hand in an automatic gesture of comfort, though I had no idea why I’d done it. She nodded and we both let go, letting the current swallow us up and dump us down into a free-falling oblivion.