I’m not sure how long I was dead because my watch had been broken during the fall, but as we swam out of the safety of the cave and reached the water’s surface, I knew that enough time had passed to change the very course of history.
The carnage on the shoreline spoke volumes to just how quickly life can be snuffed out. Duffy’s fallen troops saturated the dock in red sand and gore. Human guards worked diligently to shift the remains into a pile like common garbage while their own fallen comrades were laid respectfully to the side and covered.
The humans charged with this task were jubilant – glorying in the destruction of their enemy and the knowledge that they’d won. But they hadn’t just won this battle. They’d won the war altogether.
There was no council that was going to take place. This was a ruze – bait. We’d been caught hook, line, and sinker. And now it was as if an unseen domino had been toppled and everything was crashing down around us.
Military forces were swarming the city, helicopters hovering in the air like giant metal locusts as flame throwers were shot from their sides, their blades chopping the plumes of smoke rising against the horizon as the city was culled.
We stopped and treaded water, the intense feeling of defeat trying to suck our bodies down with our thoughts as silver-orange reflected on the glassy surface we were buoyed in and screams rang hollowly in the air.
We hid along the blunt edges of the shoreline and watched on in silence, giving those of us no longer living a small portion of the consideration that they deserved as our minds tried to process the unspoken truth of what we were witnessing.
I looked around to the others, the distinct feeling that this was the end descending upon me like the angel of death, himself. We were it, all that remained of the rebellion. The resignation written on Duffy’s expression confirmed this for me. And as I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps those now dead had wished for it, given up in one last blaze of glory. If it was true, part of me couldn’t blame them. It was all or nothing, and that’s precisely what they’d given, and what they’d become.
I allowed myself to feel the intense grief of this moment, realizing that I would be bringing a child into this world, a child whom would be hated for simply existing. We would be hunted to the ends of the earth and into complete extinction.
Where could possibly be safe?
Again looking around me, I knew that safety was an illusion. The humans would kill us all so easily now and then wipe themselves out to avoid the change.
Why? Just, why…?
I forced us to move, my need to get to Tina that much more desperate and my understanding of our situation that much less clear. But I pushed us carefully across the channel to the woods and through the perimeter. I no longer considered anything as simple as doing what was right or even just surviving. We needed something… more.
The trip back to the tunnel was relatively easy, and that made it all the more frightening. The rehabilitated vampyrs were the focus of the culling. Gaunt faces and empty eyes adorned those being drug out into the streets and lined up. One quick trigger pull and the arc of a barrel burst people into sand with an angry echo lingering in the atmosphere.
And they just stood there and faced it, almost as if they’d given up and accepted this fate.
Some of the guards had grown bored with them, so they began to beat them brutally, some doing it to expend their anger and others just trying to get a rise out of them for sport. It didn’t work. Even then they didn’t move. They remained fixed, unflinching. But no matter the reason for these actions, the end was always the same: the true death.
They just didn’t care to live anymore.
And part of me wanted to join them. What happened to the preternatural pull to survive? What happened to that instinct that drove them to surrender in the first place? That’s why they’d surrendered, right – to live by any means necessary?
Again, nothing was simple. The mind and heart have always existed in the gray, in the space between, but now… it was even further convoluted. Instinct, will, right, wrong, they were destroyed. There were no walls anymore, no boundaries, no sanctuary.
Nothing was sacred anymore.
As we pulled closer to Grand Central, I was overwhelmed with the understanding that as complicated as it was, the reason was still simple: what good is life when there’s no reason to live it? What good is eternity when you’re always looking over your shoulder and searching every shadow?
It was then that I realized that I couldn’t live in a world like this, and more importantly, I couldn’t condemn my family to this fate either. They had to survive, of course, but they deserved more than that. They deserved to know what it means to laugh. They deserved to know what it means to dance. They deserved to know what it means to love, to show compassion, to find fulfillment, to be happy…
And there was only one way to make that happen…
I couldn’t even speak it, but I knew it… deep in my bones.
I tried to reject it as we moved quickly and quietly, the military’s lack of focus and hubris giving us plenty of distraction to slink through undetected, but it was impossible to ignore. Piles of vampyr torches illuminated the truth as they illuminated the city.
Lilith had done this.
The humans had done this.
But that’s not fair. We had all had a hand to play. The only justice is that we would all feel the consequences. I knew what I was seeing. I knew why they were here and why they were working so quickly and thoroughly to kill, dismantle, and evacuate.
The culling would end in razing the city to the ground.
What’s worse is that we were all just puppets and we didn’t even know it. I supposed that it made sense. If Lilith couldn’t have dominion over either race, then she’d destroy both by pitting them against each other.
We’re all either kings or pawns… emperors or fools.
Something had to be done, but helplessness was heavy with the stench of death and hopelessness was clogging the air.
As we re-entered the tunnel, Tina met me at the avalanche wall, hugging me to her with a bruising grip. I held her back, hating myself for the words that would be passing my lips this night. But words weren’t needed, my mind said it all, and her face reflected the anguish of it right back to me like a ghastly apparition in a mirror.
It was then that she pulled me into our room and shut the door. It was a strange practice in control as we sat calmly on the bed that we shared together, the very place that we’d rediscovered one another and created life from our love, the place that we’d done the unbelievable, the miraculous.
And now, we’d have to protect it.
But that was the problem. There were some things that we wouldn’t be able to do together, not this time. There were no words as she held my hand in her lap, gently playing with my fingers. We both stared mesmerized at the contrast of light and dark skin in quiet contemplation. We sat this way for a long time because time really had no meaning, even as much as we needed to be moving.
And we still sit here now, unmoved and unwilling to say what we both know.
It’s at least a productive silence. Tina is searching her mind and her heart, trying to find a way around what we both know is going to happen. I had expected her to fight, to argue, to yell, to be angry… but she isn’t. No, she’s trying with all that she has to find an alternative. But every path her mind takes is leading her to one conclusion, the same one that I’ve already arrived at: we must do any and everything to keep our child safe.
I don’t interrupt her, though I recount everything that she needs to know as questions arise. I want to hate Lilith and hate the humans and hate the unfairness of it all, but I just can’t. Every time I try to, Tina strokes her thumb across my knuckles and I realize that I just don’t have it in me anymore. There is no room inside of me for hate.
My insides smile, even when they shouldn’t. And that peacefulness almost feels perverse.
As she continues in vain, I listen to the conversation taking place in the front of the train car. Questions are being asked and answered, rifts repaired, and a trip to the top put into motion. Duffy and a few others are going to check for any survivors and bring them here. And then, now that they have help and endless sustenance, they will seek to sabotage what’s already been set in motion.
Duffy and I are of the same mind, though I am more focused.
I’ll be going straight for Lilith.
Tina finally looks up at me, tears shining in her eyes as she gives up, and I pull her forward. She sobs into my neck and I bury my face in her hair, holding onto her for dear life.
I want to tell her that I’m sorry for all the bad, but I can’t because it led me to her.
I want to tell her that it’s going to be okay, but I can’t because I just don’t know.
I want to tell her that I’ll see her in the new world, but I can’t because the new world may not have room for me, for her, for vampyrs.
I know only two things with certainty: I will give our family a real life or I will die trying. And either way, new world or not, she will survive far removed from this situation, because that’s what it’s going to take to protect our child from what’s coming.
She finally breaks the silence. ‘Where will I go?’
She pulls back and looks up into my eyes. ‘How will I leave you here?’
She shakes her head and closes her eyes, tears still running heavily over her lashes. ‘You said that we wouldn’t have to go through this again…’
Her words aren’t accusatory, but the weight of a broken promise settles over my already aching heart. ‘It’s different now, T. We only had us to think about. We weren’t parents then.’
She grips my shoulders almost desperately. ‘And this baby needs us both, Bette.’
I pull her forehead to my own and close my eyes. ‘I know…’ And I do, but… ‘We’re all that’s left, T. If those who can, don’t, then there’s really no hope…’
‘We don’t know that it’ll be any better out there.’
I sigh and wipe her tears with my thumbs. ‘No, we don’t, but your chances will be better if you keep moving.’
I feel my guts wrench as she shakes her head, her mind rejecting the truth. ‘T, you have to, baby…’
She shakes her head more forcefully, her emotions pouring forth so violently that she’s unable to focus. It kills a small part of my soul, but I shake her slightly and try to reason with her. ‘Look, you just need to stay alive. Do you hear me?’
She’s not listening to me. I shake her again. ‘Just stay alive and I’ll come for you, both of you…’
She can’t listen and I physically force her to look into my eyes. ‘T… you can do this. We can do this, baby. We have to…’
I place my hand over her stomach and she finally nods reluctantly.
Her thoughts plead with me to survive and I press my forehead to her neck, smoothing my thumb over our child. I will try, and I want to tell her that, to offer some small amount of reassurance, but my mind and mouth fail me.
It would be an empty promise.
And I can’t bear to make another if I might break it.
I’ve spent most of my life without her for one reason or another, but I had no way of fixing that issue in any of those situations. This time, against everything inside of me, I am purposefully sending her away. The only common factor in each separation is that not once did we really have a choice. It’s no different now. As parents we have no choice but to do what will protect our child first.
I will all of the love that I have inside of me out through my palm. If I can’t be present every day of this young life, then my love should be felt anyway. And if I never meet this child, if I never get to lend a shoulder, to wipe away a tear, to guide and love and protect…
Tina grips my hand and I close my eyes as my guts bleed out into my aching chest. I can’t cry. I want to, but it just won’t come, so I shake instead. It’s violent, this need to be strong while collapsing in weakness.
Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the compromise? Where’s the justice?
Panic grips me as I finally realize what we’re about to do. I’m about to send her out there to hide far away from this situation while I risk myself. I won’t know where they are or if they’re okay. Phones will be useless as deep underground as she’ll have to go, and who knows how long it will be before I could answer anyway.
No, I won’t have the strength of her conviction or the comfort of her presence to pull me through. I may not see my child born, if I live at all.
I want to wrap my arms around her waist and beg her not to go.
I want to let my selfishness stop this from happening.
But I need for her and our baby to live, no matter what.
And I need to end this, one way or the other.
‘Come with me,’ she pleads.
I gaze into her murky hazel eyes, resenting the pain that I’m causing her. I want to go. I don’t want to face this, but I have to. I started this with Lilith. I mean something to her. I can’t run away; she’ll just follow and my family will pay the price. I’m the one who has to stop her… the only one.
I hear a mournful wail constrict in my chest. The struggling tears finally come unbidden and uncontrollable. Everything that I need overwhelms my senses as I’m immersed in Tina’s arms. We cling to each other, sobbing so wretchedly that we can barely breathe.
My mind searches for hers with frantic fingers and I crawl inside, sheltered and loved and so very broken. Somewhere from within I can feel the heat of a warm mouth and the touch of anxious hands.
Somewhere within I know that I’m clawing at her, taking her, possessing her inside and out.
Somewhere within I know that I’m emptying myself into her.
I push deeper inside of her mind and feel the pain drain away from my soul as my body reconnects with consciousness. We are one person, but somehow we exist in two realms. Our hands and hips slow, and fluttering lids unveil determined souls.
Every touch is felt in both the physical and metaphysical as we fall to our sides, tasting and imprinting the indescribable intimacies of one another into our memories as we’re mutually devoured. Our bodies churn, rocking up onto the shore of each other’s heart only to suck back out and again gush forth.
We hold on tight, forcing our mind’s to keep our connection while we straddle the line between the two. Now that I know what it means to be this close to her, losing any ground in that connection would leave anything feeling shallow, hollow. It would be loss, and we’ve lost enough.
The foundations of body and soul shake, our bodies writhing, our minds vibrating until the walls between the two start to crumble around us. We should be terrified, but we’re not. As everything is destroyed, we find ourselves freed.
It’s boundless, our love.
It’s eternal, our connection.
It cannot be contained as we cry out in anguished ecstasy. Our determination, our willingness to sacrifice anything, one for the other, is irrepressible.
Our tongues probe further, our muscles spasm, and we hold ourselves for an eternity just past the pinnacle. I gasp as it all goes white. Everything falls away and I’m hurled up into the heavens, the two of us so irrevocably entwined that we are the same person, our nerves and souls singing out in terrified rapture until we’re subdued and extinguished by the very power that gives us life.
It gives, and it takes away.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head. Shakespeare’s words reverberate idly through my addled brain as their meaning grips my heart with unwanted understanding.
The dawn signifies hope; it’s rebirth, the promise of a fresh start. But sometimes sorrow is so overwhelming that there is no hope; there is no rebirth; there is no fresh start. Sometimes, when the sun rises, it’s the beginning of the end.
The sun doesn’t mean what it used to, but it endures for seemingly no reason. I watch as Tina zips up her duffel bag with a sense of finality, the tearing sound mirroring the shredding of my heart.
Today I will be escorting her and Shane to the perimeter and now that she’s done packing, there is no time to waste. It had been a tense conversation when Duffy returned with a few survivors, partly because we couldn’t agree on the appropriate course of action, but mostly because the military had begun to pull out.
We were out of time. I had to catch Lilith before she left the city.
In the end, we decided that those who could fight, should. And ultimately, Tina would be able to move more efficiently with as small an entourage as possible. Shane has kept her safe for centuries. Her age and devotion to Tina are excellent reasons for her to step in during my absence, but mostly, I just trust her.
With my whole world.
Tina looks over at me, a sad smile on her face but confidence in her movements as she approaches and holds out her hands. I blow out a breath and take them in my own to stand. Her smile seems to brighten as the starts to back out of the room, pulling me with her, and I marvel at the strength of her character.
I need her strength now more than ever.
And I’m sending it away.
How can doing what I know is right feel so wrong?
I follow her out into the tunnel, past the lesser known faces of a small, bedraggled army and toward the familiar faces of our family. All but Helena are there waiting for us.
Helena… she never made it back and Duffy didn’t find her. I can’t help but assume the worst. But there’s nothing we can do about it, not until Tina’s on her way to a safety that we don’t even know exists.
Tina stops and faces me, gazing warmly into my eyes. ‘I need you to do something for me, Bette.’
She blinks slowly, as if savoring the fact that one simple word can hold so much conviction. She drops my hands and reaches into her back pocket, pulling out a set of simple wedding bands and holding them out to me in heartfelt offering.
I close my eyes and fight back my emotions. “I need you to marry me, right here… right now…”
It takes a moment for me to realize what’s happening. I’ve wanted this for ages, lifetimes, but now? I look deeply into her eyes, calling up her soul and opening my own to try and understand this action.
Life as we know it is lost.
We may never see each other again.
There is no legality in this marriage.
There is no minister or license…
There may be no future…
But there is love.
And profound devotion that supersedes all things temporary and hopeless.
How long I’ve wanted these things. How I’ve longed to take this leap, regretting all of the lost opportunities because something always got in the way. I smile, a single tear escaping my eye. I feel emboldened as I realize that right here, right now, not even the end of the world is going to stop us.
I take the smaller of the two rings. They don’t even match and they look like they’ve survived about as well as we have: just barely. But despite their scuffs, scratches, and scorch marks, they’re strong, they’re weathered, and they’ve endured.
She lifts my left hand, this symbol of no beginning and no end settling permanently on my finger and taking physical ownership of my heart before she leans down and burns it into my skin with a kiss.
She looks up at me, wiping the salty track off of my cheek as she says, “When you despair and forget, and I can’t be there to remind you, I want you to remember what’s important, Bette.”
I reach up and press the warmth of her hand to my face, branding myself with her touch and she continues. “If you must work, work to leave some part of you on this earth. If you must fight, don’t fight with yourself or your thoughts in the night.”
She stops, her voice strangling out the rest of her words. “And if you must die… remember your life, because you’re life was my life’s best part.”
I pull her hands to my lips, her thoughts echoing, “But, you must live.”
I nod and swipe at my face, trying to gather myself to endure this, to face her, to take this last bit of joy that I’ve wanted since the moment my life began.
I know that I need to say something, but if I were to tell her what she means to me, all of the joys that she’s brought to my life – how she’s loved me, changed me, given me life… the whole of eternity wouldn’t nearly be long enough.
I lift her hand and place the small ring on her tapered finger, my tongue feeling dry and thick in my inarticulate mouth. “You are…”
I shake my head, fumbling with my heart as I try to get this out right. “There… there is no way for me to despair or forget, T, because you will always be here…” I place her hand over my heart. “…to remind me.”
I take her face in my hands, running my thumb over her delicate features and studying her. Her beauty is endless, her mind knowing, and her heart passionate.
“I know what’s important, T,” I mumble before glancing up into her glossy eyes. “You are.”
Something in me grows desperate. ‘Just live, T… live and I’ll find you.’
She trembles as she holds in her own desperation, and I don’t release her. This is too important. I search her eyes. ‘Just live, and I’ll find you. Just live…’
I close the distance between us and kiss her, threading my hands in her hair and pouring all of the promise that I can find within myself into her. I may not be able to promise that it will all work out. But I can promise that no matter where I am or which way the tide turns, I will love her with every breath that I take until my lungs give out.
As soon as the promise is made, I release her. I release her from my grasp and I release her into the unknown so that she can live, so that our child can live, no matter the outcome.
For a moment, I feel so alone already.
I miss her already.
I mourn her loss… already.
Dana steps forward and puts her hand on my shoulder, holding out Tina’s duffel. Her eyes are apologetic and I know that it’s time. Tina takes the duffel and exchanges hugs with our witnesses. There’s not a dry eye as she makes the rounds to those she knows, even hugging a surprised Duffy.
When she gets to Alice, I can’t help but smile as Alice wipes at her eyes and grins at Tina. “I didn’t know that shotgun weddings could be so romantic.”
Tina chuckles and I close my eyes to savor the sound of it. It’s indescribably precious. Tina hugs Alice one last time and turns to me. She holds out her free hand and I take it solemnly, following her to the avalanche in a dazed state as Shane leads the way.
We work our way up to the station proper and out into what’s left of the city. Funeral pyres are still smoldering and the city appears to be abandoned. I feel a sucking anxiety twist in my guts and push us faster, knowing that each step takes us further and further away from one another and her away from this grave.
That’s the only thing that makes this bearable. She’s getting our child to safety.
All too quickly we reach the perimeter. Shane is hesitant as she steps through, but safely makes it to the other side. She walks a few yards away to give us a moment and I find myself shaking as I take Tina’s hands. She trembling just as violently and I can barely see her face through the murky tears swimming over my eyes.
Somehow, I manage to smile. ‘No regrets, T. Not anymore…’
She chokes out a laugh, ‘No… no more regrets.’
I kiss her tenderly, breathing her in for a last, short moment before stepping back several paces.
‘Go,’ I say determinedly.
She stays rooted to the spot and I can hear her resolve crumbling, but she can do this. She has to.
‘Go, now. Live and I’ll find you.’
I keep walking, forcing myself back but it’s sluggish, as if I’m moving in slow motion. Shane comes up behind her and takes her elbow, tugging her, but she is unmoved as her eyes and heart plead with me.
She takes a step toward me and I put up a hand to stop her. ‘No, T.’
I’m unable to move backwards, and I have to hold myself in place so that I don’t rush to her side. “I’ll find you. Now go. I love you… but you have to go.”
She’s sobbing so hard that I have to tear my heart from my chest just to disconnect my body from the need to run to her.
Shane pulls again, wrapping her arms around Tina’s shoulders to drag her away. I feel a spear plunge through my chest and nail me to the ground as I watch my very life walk away and take my heart with it. Shane looks at me over her shoulder, her piercing, determined eyes giving me the only reassurance available.
It’s a cold comfort, but I cling to it as Tina’s sobs wash over me, her heart calling out to me as I stand there helplessly and watch them shrink into the distance. Even when I can no longer see them, I can’t seem to move. The vibration in my stomach lessens and lessens until it fades completely, and I fall to my knees when I realize that she’s really gone.
The anguish that I’ve been holding back overwhelms me and I heave it onto the tracks. I stay there, letting it all pour out into a world that doesn’t care until I’m oddly calm. I know that the sooner that I get back, the sooner that I’ll be able to end this and go to Tina.
But I’m utterly paralyzed.
A haunting shriek fills the air and I look up to see a coyote has injured itself at the perimeter. It’s writhing on the ground in agony and I find my limbs pushing me up, my feet taking me to it.
She’s panting heavily, life draining away quickly because of the exposed ribs in her side where a portion of her body grazed the barrier. Blood is oozing from her nostrils and her eyes are glazing over. She’s beautiful, or she would be if she weren’t suffering without reason.
I put a hand to the silvery-gray coat between her ears in an attempt to comfort as I try to find the will within me to silence her gurgling whimpers, but I can’t strike to ease her suffering. Instead I find myself crying out in anger.
“I’m sorry,” I choke out.
I stroke her and weep, shaking as I wish that I could be stronger. I could stop this, but I just can’t bring myself to kill her. Maybe that’s the price for caring: you’re useless. Everything has a price.
And that’s when it hits me: I have to be willing to sacrifice something.
That’s what it’s all about, right? That’s why these things happen. Why life is just… life. It’s not easy and it never will be. There is no utopia. It’s all too flawed for that. But sacrifice, love, it gives you a reason to try.
I don’t know if it will work, but I bite into the flesh of my wrist and squeeze my arm over her wound.
The skin starts to close and I laugh through my tears as she gets to her feet dazedly and bumbles to the bushes that line the tracks. I slump lethargically as two cubs greet her from the shrub and she turns to look at me, her eyes glowing with eerie understanding.
After a moment, they disappear into the foliage and I scrub at my face before looking around me. So many emotions swirl through me that I feel utterly lost, but I’m determined to leave my shattered soul right here on these tracks and try.
I have a family, and losing them is the price I pay for caring, but I’ll make any sacrifice to give them a life that’s safe and free, all of those things that no one cared to give me.
I look down to where I last saw Tina… my wife… and stand.
‘Just live, T. Just live, and I’ll find you.’
I turn and make my way back into the station. It’s time for Duffy and the rest of us to get moving. We have a lot to do.