I open my eyes and sigh at the forlorn familiarity of my situation. As far as prisons go, this cage is more or less gilded. But a cage, however comfortable, is still just a cage. I wake here day after day, just as I have since Lilith took me from the Canadian outpost, my last memory that of having my neck snapped as the rebels stormed in. Despite Lilith’s numbers and thirst for power, for once something was more important to her than squashing the rebellion, and somehow I was that thing.
It’s an odd notion. It’s very like Lilith to put her desires above all other things, but it’s very unlike her for her desires to revolve around something other than power and manipulation, though I suspect that I have somehow landed in that category for her. Why I matter to her outside of wanting me dead for my betrayal I do not know, though she has, in our recent time together, tried to explain it to me. This is also a strange development. Every day, Lilith comes to me and we… talk, for lack of a better word.
I can only assume that she’s trying a different tactic to gain my trust and loyalty. Force hasn’t been working so well for her as far as I’m concerned, and so now it’s almost as if she’s trying to reason with me, though I doubt that reason is in any involved. Lilith can’t love. It’s beyond her, and so I can only assume that I am some sort of trophy for her. But it’s all just speculation on my part. For all that I know of her, this is one area that I can’t seem to puzzle out.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been here with her, but it has to have been at least two months, probably more. I’m not allowed to leave or see the sunlight. There aren’t even windows here. Well, there are, but they’re tightly enclosed by steel shutters that resemble a nuclear fallout shelter. Nothing and no one is getting in or out of this room but by one entrance, and that’s through a hatch in the ceiling.
I roll over and look up at the cursed object with abject disappointment and frustration. I have spent countless, fruitless hours trying to gain my freedom through that tiny hole, but it’s unmoved and unblemished, despite my attempts. I’ve even tried the walls and the floor, but wherever I am, this place was made for just this purpose. I have no way of escape.
I release a heavy breath and get out of bed. I have no reason to get up or bathe, or do any of those things that an individual does when they have a normal life. I used to be a psychopathic killer, my ex has kidnapped me, and the love of my life, someone who died nearly a year ago, still visits me. So no, I’m not normal, but I get up and pretend to be. I’ve decided that I want to try to live, despite everything. Maybe if I go through the motions enough, if I try hard enough, it will become true.
I make my way to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and stand under the spray. My most recent dream with Tina is still heavy in my heart and I wish, for a moment, that I could again feel physical extremes. Maybe then the cold water would shock me out of my thoughts. If I recall correctly, it was nice to wade in the cool stream during the summer. It was in those moments that I was able to almost forget that I was a slave. If that pleasant memory is from the tactile experiences or the company, I can’t be sure. But I’m fairly convinced that it was just Tina. Everything good was Tina.
The water does little to distract me from my memories, but I feel a little better after I’ve lathered, rinsed, and wrapped myself in a towel. It’s been a few days since I’ve fed, so I pad to the small wine cooler beneath the desk at the back of my studio and fill a mug from the bag inside. Just as I’m about to take a sip, I see Tina, non-corporeal and gorgeous, standing untouchable near the easel where her likeness is still drying.
I’ve suddenly lost my appetite, so I lean against the edge of the desk to stare down into the thick fluid. The thin froth along the edges begins to dissipate as the heaviness in my chest doubles.
‘This place isn’t so bad.’
That gained my attention. I look up at her incredulously and she laughs. ‘Oh, come on. Though the decorator might reconsider this piece.’
She gestures to the painting, eyes mischievous as she looks over at me from under pale lashes. My chest aches at the familiarity of her gaze and I try to numb the longing by taking a sip from my mug and turning my attention to the painting. I had thought that I’d captured Tina’s beauty, but when faced with the almost real woman, there is truly no comparison.
She starts to pace around my cage and I try to consider my surroundings as Tina does. Lilith has spared no expense in giving me a space where I can be comfortable. Well, as comfortable as one can be in captivity. It’s a single, open room, but it’s large. Aside from all of the modern conveniences and creature comforts, I have a full art studio with an impressive library and sound system.
When I’m not sleeping, arguing with Lilith, having hallucinations like the one now standing near the sofa or trying to find a way out, I’m listening to Samuel Barber’s adagios and painting. Mostly though, I just wait, for what, I’m not even certain.
I smile at her, unsure of what to say. A part of me wants to ask her to leave and never return because this almost relationship is torturous, but the bigger part of me can’t bear the thought of losing that torture.
Her smile fades and she approaches me, her eyes making me feel anxious even as I refuse to look into them. ‘Bette, even if you did ask me not to come anymore, I have no idea how I come in the first place. I wouldn’t know how to stop.’
I look up surprised. It’s one thing to think it but to hear her talk of leaving is unconscionable. ‘I don’t want you to stop coming, T. I don’t. I just…’
Her eyes shimmer with what should be tears and I hate myself for even thinking such a thing. She shakes her head. ‘No, it’s not your fault. I hate this too.’
I stare down into my cup again, a singularly dark thought blossoming in my mind. ‘There’s a way for us to be together, T.’
“You don’t mean that!” For someone who doesn’t actually have vocal chords, her voice is loud.
I sigh and nod. “You’re right. I know. I just…”
She draws closer and hovers her hand over my breast where my heart should be beating. ‘I know, baby. I know. I’ve thought about it too.’
I close my eyes and imagine that I can feel her haunting touch. It’s strange. Her touch radiates from the inside now, but at least it’s there. I can still feel it. It will never be enough, but it’s something and it’s warm and it’s Tina.
‘Nothing and no one lasts forever, Bette.’
I gaze down into her eyes. She’s right. Everything comes to an end, some ends are just harder to achieve than others. But as I look into her soul, I know that her words don’t apply to everything. “I’ll love you forever, T. That will never end.”
Her smile glows with warmth and I watch her eyes trace over every facet of my face as if she’s memorizing it. Her scrutiny is so intense that I can feel it more acutely than any touch. She’s always had that effect on me. With her, I feel everything. Colors are more vibrant and the inconsequential becomes intricate and life sustaining. She is life, even in death.
She becomes distracted, turning to look over her shoulder to someplace unknown, and I want to grab ahold of her and force her to stay, but it would do no good. She’s already faded into nothing, a murmured, ‘I love you,’ left in her wake.
‘I love you too, T…’
The thought dies away and I’m left alone in this place. This place that I’ve come to hate. I force myself to shake it off and focus. Immobility only makes my disparity worse. I down the rest of my meal, desperate for something to do, something tangible. Lilith will be here soon and I don’t know how I’m going to get through another day like this. It’s hard enough to be lost in my own mind, but to confined and alone with it for days on end is going to push me off of the deep end. Perhaps that’s Lilith’s plan.
I decide to try to push her a little when I see her today and consider leaving my painting of Tina out for her to find in spite. There are several already hidden beneath the bed and sofas and anywhere else large enough to accommodate them. Lilith saw the first one, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that incensed, and that’s saying something.
I was fortunate in the fact that she didn’t physically abuse me for it, but for days she would give me long descriptions of what she’d done to Tina in the last moments of her life. For all of Lilith’s recent attempts at civility, Tina is not a subject with which she can keep her manipulative sensabilities, unless of course the topic centers around Tina’s death.
She hates Tina more than she wants to enslave humanity, and even more than she wants to keep me. In fact, I have wondered if her hate for Tina is the crux of her desire for me. There would be no greater trophy or indignity to visit on Tina’s memory than to corrupt what she loved most. What I can’t understand is why it matters anymore. She’s already killed Tina. I can only assume that it’s icing for her.
I don’t want to anger her though, just reason with her if at all possible, so I decide to put the painting away. As soon as the painting is snug against the underside of the desk where it can continue to dry, I shrug off my towel and make my way back toward the bedroom area. I choose to dress simply but fully in case the opportunity for escape presents itself, though I doubt that it will.
I won’t quit trying, despite the fact that all of my attempts have been in vain. My only hope is to catch Lilith careless or unaware, or to somehow convince her to let me go, though both are doubtful. At this point, it’s a waiting game. Something will eventually have to change, and something tells me that Lilith knows this, is perhaps even preparing for this.
I walk back into the main area of the studio, settle my tee-shirt at my waist, and slip into my boots. This moment is the worst part. I’ve done what’s necessary and now it’s a tedious span of waiting and trying to entertain myself. I sigh heavily as I make my way to the sofa and sink into the soft cushions to listen for Lilith. She’ll come anytime now, so I force myself to ponder the cursed hatch for the millionth time in an attempt to avoid thinking of Tina.
Even if I did manage to escape, I have no idea where I am. I don’t believe that I’m underground. It’s muted by incredibly thick walls, but I can just faintly hear life bustling around somewhere beyond them. If I had to guess, I’d say we were hiding in plain sight in a city, and that thought is slightly more disturbing than my personal predicament. If we are in a city, the odds are that it has been infiltrated and owned by the Loyalists, set up as one of the major bowling pins in Lilith’s plan to overthrow humanity.
The world is shifting beneath my feet; and though I may not be able to see it, I can feel it. Even Lilith is different, more self-assured if that were possible, yet somehow exceedingly desperate at the same time. She’s stopped trying to brainwash me, and I’ll admit that if showing some modicum of kindness is just a ploy, she’s slightly successful. I will never understand her, and given any opportunity I’ll put her out of her misery, but it’s not to sate my own anger, at least not any more.
I have no anger left in me. Frustration and pain, yes, undoubtedly yes. But anger… no. It vanished with my pride. I only wish that she could feel what it means to love someone selflessly or find some kind of peace, but she’s just too far gone. Life, time, and power have stripped her of her humanity and her sanity, and I can’t help but wonder if any of it is just a defense mechanism against the intensity of emotion that rebirth brings. My own journey to allowing myself to feel was excruciating. Hers would most likely kill her. But I can’t help but question the validity of that argument. Something in me tells me that Lilith was never human, that she had no humanity to lose.
Either way, I hold no ill-fated hope for her. I am certain of one thing, and perhaps that’s what makes it so difficult to blindly hate her. The reality is that she’s lost, lonely, and emotionally crippled. I had never noticed it before because I was just like her. But the woman that I love taught me and showed me a better way, and now… now my eyes are open, along with my heart.
I guess that I should be thankful to Lilith yet again. Not only did her water torture solidify just how much I love Tina, but the new reincarnations of Lilith’s punishments have taught me to let Tina and the bitterness surrounding her death go. Now if I could only let go of the ghost and survive it… is that even possible?
I know that I will always love Tina and yes, the longing and loneliness are still a part of that. There is no amount of time or vivid hallucinations that will fix my need for her, but I’m not done here in this world yet. Fate, death, God, the universe, or what have you, obviously want me here. And I’m learning to want to be here, even while she’s not.
Mostly though, this time with Lilith has taught me that I want to be nothing like her. I want to embrace the gifts that Tina has given me and rise above it. Nothing in life has been fair and losing Tina is the greatest injustice of all, but at least I can honestly say that I’ve learned how to love and how to forgive. I’ve learned how to open myself to others and stop trying to stand alone. I’ve grown beneath the warmth of her love, even after it was snuffed out. And because of her, I choose to seek out the light where I can find it. Best of all, I make that choice of my own will. As much as I credit her as a reason, it is still my own victory.
The hatch opens and forces me from my thoughts. Lilith is standing in front of me and the opening is closed before I can even look up. I release a weary breath and prepare myself before acknowledging her. This is never the highlight of my day. She smiles warmly but it doesn’t reach her lifeless, cerulean eyes.
Her voice is kind and thoughtful as she breaks the silence. She’s always the first to speak. “I trust that you slept well?”
She sits next to me, tucking her legs under herself and turning so that she’s facing me. She’s very good at this… whatever it is – a game. She looks happy and relaxed, maybe even normal. But there’s little she can do to hide the one glaring omission of insincerity – her eyes. No, it’s a show. She’s devoid, and she always will be.
I don’t speak, not yet. I choose my words with her sparingly, knowing how any little innocuous statement can send her into a rage. She smiles again, and despite the emptiness so obvious in her, she does seem genuinely pleased about something.
“You were never a morning person…” Her grin turns sly and I want to roll my eyes. She’s relentless in this particular facet of our daily time together.
Her hand perches softly on my knee before she trails a digit gently up my thigh. “…unless of course there was something worth waking for.”
I take her hand before she can move it any further. Honestly, I find these attempts to seduce me revolting. I may not hate her, but the thought of her hands on me – the same hands that killed my beloved – is utterly repugnant.
I can tell that she’s properly spurned and she pulls her hand away. For a moment I think that she’s going to back-hand me, but I don’t care. Ultimately, if she wants something from me, she’s strong enough to take it. But taking isn’t what she wants. She feeds on devotion, even if it’s obtained through false means. Either way, I won’t cower or offer her things just to placate her. So I sit here, alert and still and waiting. She can throw a tantrum. I just can’t find it within myself to be fazed by it anymore.
She sighs and cocks her head to study me as she tries to calm herself, but her voice is still scathing. “I take it that you still haven’t come around yet, then?”
It’s always the same with her, even when she tries something new. She lacks imagination, and as such, winds up reinventing the same old tactics. She’s attempting to be civil, but the core of the beast is the same, even if it’s given a new face. No wonder she’s gone mad. She’s been on repeat for millennia and expecting different results.
Her pale eyes grow dark and I realize that my thoughts are bordering on insulting. Okay, no, they’re directly inside the boundaries of insulting. If I wanted to push her, I guess that I’ve succeeded. I suppose that it doesn’t really matter what I do. There’s always something that darkens her mood, some catalyst that sends her into anger. If something is going to set her off, an errant thought about her mental health might as well be today’s trigger. I’m just tired. I don’t want to play games. I just want some sort of resolution.
I can almost palpably feel the rage that’s coiling inside of her, even as she attempts to laugh it off. The dichotomy of the two emotions warring for supremacy makes her seem hysterical, maniacal even. I almost want to laugh with her. She’s trying so hard to be surprising, to be different, but she’s still missing the mark.
Her laughter dies away and I watch as her pique nearly doubles. It’s humorous to me that she continues to play this charade. She knows that I’m aware. She can hear every thought I have. Perhaps that’s why she’s trying so hard to fight it. But she has no self-control. She is a creature of habit and instant gratification. I believe that the modern terms would be manic depressive and bipolar.
She’s trembling with the effort to keep her anger contained at this point, and I decide that it’s now or never. “Lilith, we’ve been doing this every day for weeks. It doesn’t help anything or change anything. I’m not coming back to you. We aren’t going to be together. So why prolong this for either of us?”
I gesture to our surroundings. “This is the most you’ll ever have with me – just a slave.”
Her smile is so genuine that I’m taken aback. “No, Bette. I set that slave free once before, and in time, I will again. Time changes all things…”
She taps her temple playfully. “…especially the mind.”
She leans forward, her eyes scalding across my face wherever they track. The remnant of Tina’s gaze is still so fresh on my skin. It feels as though Lilith has defiled that touch with her own.
All of her pretenses drop with my thoughts on Tina, but today, she doesn’t fly off the handle. Instead, she puts her mask firmly in place and pushes forward. “Soon, very soon, you will see Tina’s dream go up in flames, just like the woman herself.”
Her shrug is nonchalant and, of course, an artifice. “And then, it’s up to you to decide how long it will take for you to accept who and what you are.”
I frown at her. I know that she plans to enslave humanity, but I still don’t understand why she’s so determined to have me. She leans forward, her eyes almost clouded with emotion, and again I’m at a loss. Something more is different, genuinely different, with her today.
She strokes the side of my face tenderly; her anger vanishing as quickly as it had arrived. “You are my most prized creation. Not once, in one hundred years, did I ever grow tired of you. You gave me so much during our time together, and I won’t let go of that…”
Her eyes harden and her voice cracks like ice. “…ever.”
I reach up and take her hand, pulling it away from my face. This is not something that I would expect from her, and I certainly don’t know the appropriate way to react or what I could possibly say to help her understand. How do you explain love to someone so bereft, someone so warped and twisted?
Her voice is clipped as she interrupts my thoughts. “This is not the first time that I’ve loved, Bette.”
I search her eyes and find that she believes what she is saying, and I can’t help but wonder at her. She’s never spoken of her past. That would require trust, and she trusts no one. More than that, how could someone know love and be so mutated?
She laughs and all that I can do is stare at her, helpless and completely out of my element in this conversation. She calms herself and brushes the curls from my eyes, her tone and demeanor wistful. “Oh, dear one, you are so naïve. It is… endearing.”
Her voice turns disbelieving. “What do you think makes a mind warped and twisted, as you so adeptly described it? Do you truly believe that in all of my time on this earth, that I’ve never known what it means to love? Have you not considered that perhaps I know it so well that I understand it more fully?”
She grins at my confusion. I had never considered that perhaps it was love that had made her this way, or at least her perception of what love is.
She titters at me. “No, no you misunderstand. Love is fleeting and weak. It’s a trick that nature plays to get humans to reproduce. It’s human, Bette, and we aren’t humans.”
Her touch grows soft and her voice alluring. “Love is beneath us. There is no bond as strong as that of a maker and progeny. My blood is inside of you. I made you. I own you. That is greater than love.”
There’s sincerity in her that I hadn’t fathomed but now that I’ve glimpsed it, I wish that I hadn’t. Perhaps that’s why she enjoyed preying on lovers so much, because to her they were weak and deserved to die for it. She smiles at me, encouraging me to believe in this reasoning, but I know that it’s not true. She has no conception of real love if she truly believes what she’s saying. Love is not ownership or blood, it’s a selfless choice; it’s sacrifice. But she is right about the sire bond. Even as much as I loathe to be near her, she is still my maker, and I can feel that closeness in some dark and innate part of me.
I can tell that she is enjoying my troubled thoughts and it angers me. I pull her hands from my face and gaze into her eyes, determined to somehow reach past all of the emptiness and condescension to find something stable inside of her. “Lilith, I am not your creation. I am a creation of my own making. If anyone has helped to shape me, it’s Tina.”
Her pique is back and I go for broke. “You are my maker, and yes, a part of me still feels that connection to you. But it’s dark, Lilith, dark and unforgiving and I don’t want to feel that way. I choose to be weak and less than what you tried to make me because then there’s room for hope and happiness and joy. You can’t own me and no amount of time will change that. I belong to me and I belong to Tina.”
I can tell that I haven’t reached her. Her gaze is so cold that the blue of her irises is almost black. Everything about Lilith is contradictory, and while I can see the void inside of her darken with fury, her voice is smooth as she says the only thing that can crush the hope, happiness, and joy that I speak of.
Her voice is high and condescending, though childishly sweet. “Dear one, Tina’s dead.”
It’s in these moments that I feel the most connected to Lilith because a small part of me dies every time that I’m confronted with the truth that Tina’s gone.
“I killed her and gave you her heart. Don’t you understand? You don’t have to hide your paintings or shroud the memories of her in your mind. I understand you better than anyone. What you feel for her, this love that you think is real, even if it is, it’s trivial.”
I feel frozen, as if my muscles have been locked into place as she leans forward and kisses me gently. The touch makes my soul twitch and my stomach churn.
She pulls back but keeps her face close as she whispers, “What we have is so much more, and tonight, you will realize it.”
She trails a finger across my jaw. “I had hoped that you would understand these things before I conquer humanity so that you may join in my victory, but maybe that’s what you need to see in order for you believe me.”
She grips my face hard and forces me to look at her. “Is that what you need… to see how the weakness you wallow in has kept you a slave?”
Those words reverberate within me and Lilith’s smug smile only furthers their dark reach. “That’s it, hold onto that darkness. It’s all that you’ll have after this evening. I’m all that you’ll have…”
She leans back and I barely have time to register what she’s said before my head is twisted with a grotesque snap and the world falls away.
I blink my eyes but everything is still black as pitch. I groan. I’m so fucking tired of having my neck snapped. I blink a few more times to help clear my vision, but there’s nothing. This causes me to panic. I can normally see in the darkness, but there’s nothing.
My stomach is fluttering and this doubles my tension. I know this feeling. It’s Tina, and she’s distressed. I snap up and search my surroundings, but I can’t feel anything. The smell of acrid smoke is thick on the air, and while it makes my nose twitch, I have no need to cough. I can hear the roar of a raging inferno and the muffled shouts of panic and fighting, but it’s one voice in particular that stands out.
“Dana, behind you!”
I get to my feet easily and run towards her voice. Within an instant my sight clears and I’m standing outside. The city street is crowded with vampyrs and humans alike. Police barricades litter the destroyed thoroughfares, sirens blare over the cacophony somewhere in the distance, lights dance along the debris in quick cadence, and gunshots crash loudly through the air. Vampyrs are feeding as humans try valiantly to beat them back. Oddly enough, the humans seem to be winning.
The buildings are in ruin and great pillars of dancing flames lick at the black sky even as heavy drops of rain cascade from the smoggy heavens. It’s surreal. All color is drained from the world. I look down to see the rain falling through me and wonder if I’m dead.
This time it’s Alice’s voice that pulls me back to into the situation, and it only barely reaches my ears before there’s an explosion behind me shakes the earth beneath my feet. I turn around just in time to see Tina propelled forward as another explosion collapses the building fully.
She lands hard against a police car, crushing in the hood, and I sprint over to her only to find that my hands pass through her. She dazed and she’s bleeding, but she’s alive. I can see my vision fill with tears that can’t fall as I look down on her. Blood is matted in her hair and mixing with the rain.
“T… are you okay?” It’s all that I can do, ask inane and helpless questions.
Her voice is scratchy as she grates out a reply that fills me with relief. “Bette…?”
“I’m here, T…”
Alice, Dana, and Shane come rushing up to her and ignore me completely.
I ignore them as well. “T, what’s going on…?”
“Bette… I’m coming…”
Just as she opens her eyes and begins to regain herself, a Loyalist comes barreling over the hood from the other side and tackles Shane, Alice, and Dana. They land hard in the rubble of the exploded building, the Loyalist screaming and flailing as he ignites like a human torch.
Those same flames claim Alice, but Shane and Dana are quick to help her. I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and turn back to Tina. Another Loyalist has jumped up onto the car, a stake poised in the air over Tina’s heart. I throw myself over her, remembering too late that it won’t help and go crashing to the ground. I pull myself back up just as he’s about to thrust down, but blood and flesh burst from his chest, leaving a gaping hole where his heart once was, and he goes tumbling to the ground where he explodes into red dust.
I look behind me to see Duffy standing there with a gun in her hand and a smile on her face. She lowers the weapon before turning to help a human who is about to be drained.
Tina staggers to her feet and I rush again to help her without thinking. She passes through me and for a moment this incredible surge of electricity ignites in my soul. Not only can I hear her thoughts, but I’m inside of her, truly inside of her. We’re one, for this moment. I know what she knows, feel what she feels. She’s hurt worse than she’s letting on. She’s coming to save me. She saw me in Serbia. She was real, not a ghost. She was alive…
The connection is broken and I open my eyes to find that she finally sees me. She has this bewildered look on her face. She’s crying, but her expression is radiant with laughter and I can’t help but join her. I want to go back to that place where she’s alive. She’s alive…
Shane approaches, a bedraggled Alice and Dana in tow, and puts her hand on Tina’s shoulder. Tina’s eyes don’t leave mine. I feel renewed and awed. Still nothing makes sense. But if she’s alive, I don’t need anything else, even if I’m dead…
Tina’s smile falters. ‘Bette… are you… are you dead…?’
Shane, Alice, and Dana follow Tina’s gaze to look right through me before they glance at each other knowingly.
Dana breaks the awkward moment. “Tina, who are you talking to?”
Tina’s expression doesn’t falter and I step closer to her. This all feels like a dream. It’s all gray and dreary. It’s all so convoluted and impossible to reconcile, but it feels so real. If nothing else can be certain, there is no mistaking how real she is. But nothing in this place makes sense. None of it is trustworthy, but Tina’s here and I find myself longing to touch her, to be inside of her again, whether it’s real or the fevered imagining of a faltering mind, even if I’m dead…
Tina stumbles a bit and Shane catches her. Alice is the one to voice our worry. “Tina, are you alright?”
Tina swipes the hair out of her face, her eyes never leaving mine. “Yeah, Al. I’m okay.”
Another explosion booms nearby and distracts us. We turn to watch as the middle section of a bridge at the end of the street goes crashing into the water below. This… war is raging out of control.
Shane’s voice is hurried. “We have to go… now, or Lilith could get away again.”
So much is happening and I feel like I’ve just been thrust into it with no understanding or even a way to affect change. It’s frustrating and even more so when Shane, Dana, and Alice start to pull Tina away from me. She looks at me over her shoulder, a determined expression replacing the sadness of before, even as I can feel her heart breaking.
I reach to stop her but my hand is unable to find purchase on her shoulder. “Tina… wait…! I don’t understand.”
Shane, Dana, and Alice take off at a sprint and she turns to me once more. “I don’t either, but I’m coming for you. Just… just be alive. I love you, Bette.”
She turns to leave and I finally find my feet and take a step to follow her, but something in the pit of my stomach starts to pull and suck me backwards. Before I can even reply everything’s swirled, as if the very earth has been shaken like a snow globe.
Rain is pelting me in the face and the smell of death and smoke make me gag. I try to curl in on myself, but my arms won’t obey my command to move, and I’m forced to stop trying as pain radiates out from my wrists.
I glance over to see my arm stretched and my wrist nailed to the wall behind me by a wooden stake. The wood sears against my flesh and I look to the other hand to see that it’s in the same condition. An incessant, blinding light blinks against my maladjusted eyes and disorients me. My head and stomach swim and I swallow thickly, forcing my body to calm so that I can get a grip on my surroundings.
The first thing that I notice is the source of the flashing light. The 2014 ball has dropped. It’s a new year in New York city, but the roar of the crowd below isn’t one of rejoicing. I’m on a building, someplace high but not a skyscraper.
The view would be spectacular if not for the great plumes of fire billowing from the decapitated head of the statue of liberty in the distance, the tiny island at her feet engulfed in flames. Skyscrapers are collapsed to the ground in great heaps of rubble. Explosions are erupting along the cityscape; screams and the distinct sounds of war hang in the air, and the aroma of ruined blood saturates the atmosphere. The morning sky glows orange against the black, as if nature herself is in mourning.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
I snap my attention to Lilith and the movement sends agony radiating through my limbs. I try to breathe but it’s so difficult. Lilith takes the deep, satisfying breathe that I can’t and spreads her arms out against the magnitude of destruction in the distance.
“Tina wasn’t wrong, you know. At least, not entirely.”
She drops her arms and gestures to her masterpiece. “This… was inspired by her.”
She grins at me over her shoulder before turning fully. “Vampyrs shouldn’t live in seclusion, but there were two major flaws in her plan.”
She tucks her hands behind her back and looks at the ground as she moves toward me slowly. “We would never lower ourselves to be their equals, and…”
She draws near and cocks her head to make sure that I can see her smile, the girlish tone of her voice offsetting her words in the most grotesque of ways. “…she thought that she was stronger than me.”
Lilith points at her chest and it’s deathly quiet for a moment before she shatters it with incredible volume. “ME!”
She laughs incredulously. “I made you… all of you. I am your mother and you have no respect!”
I want to look away from her, but for the first time I can see how broken she really is. She’s wearing it all over her face whether she means to or not.
I don’t know who she’s trying to convince, me or her… or maybe someone else, but she points to herself again, tears welling in her eyes. “I loved my mother. But she chose them… over me! She loved them… over me!”
She throws her head back again. “Do you hear me?! I loved you but you chose them!”
After a moment of utter silence she starts to laugh. The sound of it is sad and empty. “But…” She smiles. “…all children turn on their parents at some point. It’s the natural cycle. But you…”
She grabs my hair to lift my eyes. “…you tried, and you failed. You, unlike all the others just couldn’t find your humanity.”
She steps up closer to me and runs her finger across my jaw in a loving manner before gripping my face tightly. “I’m not like my mother. When my children turn away from me, they pay for it. Only the loyal will be allowed to live. You live because despite the fact that you were once human, you were able to become like me. I was never human, Bette. I was made vampyr. I never had humanity, and you are like me whether you admit it or not.”
She shoves my face away, the force of it nearly knocking me out as my head collides with the building behind me. My vision swims with black, but unfortunately, I’m still aware. I blink my eyes and find Lilith has placed her hand over my heart.
“You are dark. It comes so naturally for you. You fight it and try not to be what you are because you’re ashamed, but you shouldn’t feel that way.”
She’s not wrong. I know that I’m as dark and twisted as her, and yes, I try every day to be better than that. For a moment, I want to let it all go. Tina’s gone, the world is in ruin, and there’s truly no light left to snuff out. Everything is fundamentally changed on every level imaginable. For a moment, I can see what it would be like to be with Lilith again, to revel without guilt, to feel nothing: no pain, no sorrow, and no joy.
It would be… freeing, wouldn’t it? It would be so much easier not to care because caring is pain and I don’t want to hurt anymore. Maybe love is a farce, something forced into our minds from conception to give us hope when hope just isn’t a reality. It’s hopeless, and we’re all helpless. In the face of all of that, what good is hope?
For this moment, I see what she wants me to see, truly explore the darkness that she fostered for so many years. It’s like waking up to a brand new skyline. I can lick my wounds and mourn the dead, or I can swallow her story hook and sinker. I can forget it all. I can forget Tina…
No, no, I can’t, not in this moment or any moment. Even as an angry fire burns beneath Manhattan, still I breathe with broken lungs. I can act like none of this matters, but that’s not what I want, that’s not what I meant when I said that I never would forget.
I could never forget Tina. She could never not matter. Hope is real and alive. Nothing said, no dark urgings or weariness, could ever erase that feeling of knowing hope, of being loved. It’s real; I know it because I’ve felt it. I’ve lived it. I’ve sacrificed for it. No, I could never forget.
Lilith’s tears are genuine, her eyes wide and glassy, and for a moment, I get the smallest of glimpses at her humanity. “You… have broken my heart…”
I can’t help the tears that are streaming down my own face until a cry of pain stops them in their tracks. It’s with blurry vision that I look down into Lilith’s broken, distorted face as her hand clasps my heart to rip it from my chest. I’m ready. I’m ready to see Tina. If this is what Lilith wants, she can have it. My heart hasn’t beat in a very long time anyway.
My vision clears, my mind clears, and a gentle peace settles down over me. Yes, I get to see Tina, but mostly, there is much to be said for the calm of conviction. I’m no longer straddling fences or worried that anything will send me over the precipice and into an abyss. I know who I am. I am who I choose to be. And who I choose to be is no monster. I’m no slave, and I as worthy of love as any other.
There’s a loud shout and I feel my heart dislodged, though not entirely. The pain of it steals the breath from my lungs and I would collapse if not for the stakes pinning me to the wall.
“Bette…? Bette…? Please tell me that you’re alive…”
My mouth is covered and something thick and salty sweet starts to coat the back of my throat. I feel it fall into the hollow places in my chest, tugging on my heart to reseat it to its rightful place as life soaks into my muscles.
Sharp pains explode at my wrists but relief is instant to follow. I use my newfound freedom to grip the bag at my lips and drain every last revitalizing drop.
I take a deep breath and open my eyes to see Ana smiling at me. “I thought that we’d lost you there for a minute.”
I shake my head, a smile lighting my face as I place my hand on her shoulder. “Thank you.”
Ana’s smile melts from her face and I frown in confusion until we both track our eyes down to the heart suspended between us… her heart. She looks up at me, her eyes are wide and a trickle of blood bubbles before running down her chin. The hand and heart recede and she falls into my arms, forcing me to lay her down. Her unseeing eyes gaze up at me, and I hear another shout of intense pain.
I look over to see Liam fall to his knees with tears in his eyes. Lilith drops Ana’s heart at his feet, a terrible laugh cackles from her chest as she positions herself behind him and grabs his head.
“LIAM,” I shout, but it’s too late and he’s in too much shock.
The wet sound of tearing flesh splits across his neck and a potent tincture of anger and adrenaline surges through my system. I finally find the will to move and grab one of the bloody stakes at my feet. I lunge at Lilith, knocking her down and plunging the splinter into her heart.
She flails and shoves me off of her as she reaches to dislodge the object, but I’m quick to lift my foot and stomp the rest of it through her, even the handle. She crawls up to her knees, clawing at her back and I wonder if killing her is even possible. She’s still not dead but she can’t get a grip on the stake. She finally decides to just shove it through from the front and I realize that this is my only opening, and if I fail, then Anna and Liam died for nothing. Tina died for nothing…
I step up behind her, grab her neck in my hands, and start to pull. I can feel the bones trying to separate but I’m no match for her strength. She claws at me, tearing the flesh from my arms, and I use that pain to fuel me, pulling with all of the strength that I have.
I hear the skin start to separate. Blood oozes between my fingers and I almost lose my grip. Almost…
Lilith gazes up at me with a smile on her face. “See… we’re a-alike… you and I…”
I continue to pull, doing my best to ignore her, unwilling to accept that lie any longer. For a moment though, when I truly realize that she’s going to die, that I’m going to kill her, something in me wants to stop. This is my maker. It goes against everything natural for me to destroy my maker. There has to be consequences for this. She’s the mother of us all…
Her eyes are void as she laughs and I say the only thing that I can. “I’m not like you, Lilith, and I’m sorry…”
I lift my foot, place it between her shoulder blades, tighten my grip, and kick down hard. Her head comes free and sends me tumbling to the edge of the roof. An incredible pain stutters to life in my chest and I claw at it, trying to remove the object that’s shooting pain to my extremities. My hands curl in on themselves as the fire reaches my fingertips. Pain erupts in my gums as my teeth snap forward and the agony doubles.
I cry out, but there’s nothing, nothing but anguish and the steady beat of life thrumming in my breast. My heart… what’s happening to me? I gasp for air and grit my teeth, unable to make it stop. I have no choice but to wait it out and wish for death. It seems like it takes an eternity, but as time passes the pain dissipates and I’m able to finally catch my breath.
I roll onto my back and lie there staring up into the heavens as the rain trickles to a halt. I’m exhausted and my mind is in turmoil. It’s eerily quiet except for the sound of my beating heart. My beating heart…
I can’t wrap my head around it. I can’t find it within myself to move, and so I don’t. I lie there, unsure and despondent until the low hum in my stomach, that familiar hum, finally registers. I remember that there’s a war going on around me and that Lilith may not even be dead. I snap to my feet, feeling stronger than I ever have before, and walk over to Lilith. Her body is twitching on the ground and her head…
I look around but it’s nowhere to be seen. I walk back over to the edge where I fell and look down. A huge crowd has gathered at the foot of the building and they’re all looking up to one person who’s standing on a car. In her hands is Lilith’s head.
My stomach flips when she looks up at me. Hazel eyes, warm and alive suck me into them, and I take a frantic, careless step off of the roof and hesitate for a moment. My heart is beating so hard that I fear it will break through my ribs.
The crowd parts and she fills my vision. She’s all that I can see and I will this to be more than a dream. I sprint through the crowd and pull myself up onto the car. Now that I’m here, now that I can really see her, all I can do is stare at her in disbelief and search her face, her body, her soul, for any sign that she’s just a ghost.
She’s not as hesitant as I am, and before I know it, she’s solid and beautiful and real in my arms. I crush her to me, her mouth finding mine, and I revel in the smell and feel and texture of her. My mind is in a place of shock, my body operating on auto-pilot. I almost feel numb, but my soul… for the first time in so long, my soul feels light and whole.
There are so many questions that burn on my tongue, so many things that I have yet to make sense of, but none of it matters in this moment. I’ll ask my questions and get my answers later. For now, I will glory in this moment.
She pulls back, but doesn’t fully release me, choosing instead to take my face in her hands and kiss me again. It’s gentle and reverent. Her mind is beautiful and I feel like I’ve finally come home. And her heart…
I listen to the sound of it with wonder and awe. I have loved it from the first time that it was revealed to me, and to hear it… I can imagine no sweeter sound in the world.
She smiles through her tears and gazes up at me with adoration. “I-I don’t know. I don’t care. You’re here, alive…”
It’s difficult to stay standing just now, but I refuse to miss a moment of this, especially if this is all some sort of fantasy. It’s too real, even if I am forced to wake from it. I can’t help but rest my forehead to hers and shake with sobs that threaten to completely unravel me.
She strokes the curls from my face, kissing exposed skin with tangible promise. I catch my breath and kiss her again, taking my time to pour all of my loss and pain into her only to receive warmth and hope in return. I can’t believe that I considered forgetting this feeling, but in the end I made the choice to take the bad with the good. The last year, the last two hundred years, have been worth it if I only get to have this one moment with her.
I lean back and gaze into her eyes, stroking her cheeks with my thumbs and memorizing every inch of her. No, I could never forget her or the way she makes me feel. Her face is radiant, her eyes warm, her tears those of joy and we both laugh together.
There’s a riotous cheer from the crowd and we both tear our eyes from each other to look at them. Our friends… our family, are standing in the front. Humans and Loyalists are fleeing the area, but we don’t care. The war is over. Lilith is dead. Tina’s alive, and humanity is safe.
Shane has her back to us and she holds Lilith’s head high in the air. The cheers grow louder and she turns to us, her expression one of respect. I feel an unspoken kinship with her in this moment. Lilith was her mother as well and she feels the impact of what’s just happened as much as I do.
The cheering continues and I feel Tina take my hand. Our fingers interlace like they have a million times before, light and dark, small and large, but somehow perfectly matched in every way. She grins at me and I can’t help but offer her one in return as we lift our joined hands and let out a cry of victory. A new day is dawning amidst the ashes of so much pain and destruction, but there’s nothing that we can’t endure when we’re together.