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20. Intensive Care

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Marco Marek didn’t survive the crash that night. With his death, the Wicked dissolved, and the balance of power shifted.

Daminao Morrow also didn’t survive that night. Her body was discovered, mangled and battered, in a ditch the next day. Her siblings, themselves city police officers, made it their personal mission to find the one responsible.

In wake of the accident, Angyl Hunter disappeared yet again. Nobody knew her identity, save myself, and I thought it was best forgotten if I wanted to continue breathing. Caine’s place on the Wicked was only known to the other three, all of which were now missing or dead. Following the events of that fateful night, Seven also disappeared, never to be heard from again. Did Angyl find a kindred spirit in another outcast, or had she abandoned Seven at the first turn? Only they knew for sure.

I was questioned by the Officers Morrow, twins – Jerome and Janus, repeatedly, about the events of the race and thereafter. There were witnesses that put me at the scene of the crime moments before it occurred. I gave nothing away. I would not be the downfall of those angels of vengeance. Call it selfish, but I couldn’t risk the safety of my family. The Morrow twins’ anguish knew no bounds, and they pursued the case furiously. They seemed to be more interested in Hyde, despite my questionable past, and I was glad for the distraction.

Caine was returned to his humdrum life of guitar gigs and bartending with me. He seemed content with it now that I was back in town. I let him play around on his bike from time to time, but he did his best to be careful. He blamed himself for my retreat to the city, though there were many factors he had yet to understand. Factors that I was still devising ways of explaining to him.

I was forced into taking a break from work immediately upon my return, by Caine’s insistence. He worked his shifts and mine, with an eager smile, desperately trying to make things right. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t mad, that it was all a farce and I had no intent to hurt him, but there were bigger cards to deal with at the moment.

I lost track of how long it took the cuts to heal and most of the bruises to fade away. My ribs never entirely recovered, always holding a sort of tenderness. I was able to return to work before long, which gave me something to keep my mind occupied. I had barely gotten back into the swing of things when a new family moved into the neighborhood, settling not far from where Caine and I decided to reside.

The Lazarus family.

Jekt had picked out a rather nice house, small and quaint. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, which would serve its inhabitants perfectly. Dacien came by the bar to remind me of her presence and to meet Caine formally. Though he’d played at the bar in the city several times, they’d never truly had the pleasure of face-to-face conversation. He seemed glad to meet her on such polite and civil grounds.

So things began to take on a new tone – calm. A concept previously beyond our reach, we found ourselves secure in the monotony of it. Coming home from a typical day at work to spend a typical night with my boyfriend may have bored some, but it was a life I had longed for and finally received. When things had become routine enough, I told Caine that we were going to have a family.

His reaction was a combination of silence and disbelief. I tried to gauge his initial reaction, since that would be the most important, but it was shielded by incredulousness. Whether he was disappointed or not didn’t show, pure amazement and surprise took over his entire being. He hugged me in the tightest bear hug imaginable, realizing after the fact that he might’ve been putting pressure on the baby. He frowned for a second, the smile returning just as fast as he spun around like a child.

“If you don’t act your age, I might need a babysitter for the pair of you,” I joked, leaning forward to kiss him. He seemed pleased with himself.

“A baby, our baby? Like…do you know what it is yet, when you’re due, like, wow, Dad’s going to be stoked.” There was a gleam in his eyes I’d never known, despite all our long days and nights together. I laughed at his excitement, holding him close.

“One thing at a time, tiger.”

And I gave him as much information as possible. He’ d be coming with me to every doctor’s appointment from here on in, and we decided to hit his father with the news after we announced our plans to be married, which was as much a shock to me as it was to Caine as he said it.

For a moment, I was going to accuse him of proposing out of desperation, trying to do what was right by proper Christian law. But when he pulled a ring out, his words calculated and rehearsed, I realized what he’d been spending his nights on in my absence. It was my turn to beam and tear up a little, grasping him harder than anyone I’d ever known in my life.

The concept of marriage was something that people like me seldom got to consider, even in the most remote sense. People bred of pain and madness don’t really get the chance to settle down, to find peace and salvation in someone else. The possibility, its near reality, had startled me. Arrangements would be made quietly, with only a small congregation in attendance. What was left of my family, and Caine’s father.

I know it seems like I’m skipping around a lot here, but life was less chaotic along the way as my child grew and my marriage to Caine loomed closer. I had invited my siblings, only half expecting them to care. Dacien would be bringing her family, as I expected her to. But I didn’t have my hopes too high. Such events were few and far between in the Burton history and I wasn’t looking for any sort of special attention. I was nearing the halfway point of my pregnancy, the marriage a mere week away, when an attack of guilt struck.

I had never explained to Caine about my first child, the child I abandoned in the city to a foreign life. I wanted to be honest with him all the time, hold nothing back, but I was terrified of his reaction. That he might abandon me, realizing his mistake, and leave me at point zero. Despite all my efforts, despite my great strides of improvement, I was still fragile at the seams and I wasn’t too proud to admit it. Too much stress, too much abuse, and I’d collapse to the train wreck I’d been at the start. I’d come too far to go back now, and I refused to allow those demons to tear at me any longer. But was it worth the risk?

It’s a Catholic tradition before a wedding to confess your sins. I think this arrangement should be mandatory, despite your faith, but that’s my belief. I think it’s only fair that both parties fully understand what they’re getting themselves into. And such was my decision with a mere 48 hours before the big day. I sat Caine down, as simply and plainly as I could, and I recounted the tale. I explained to him every violent detail I could dare stomach, giving him a broad image of Linkon as I knew him, the man I’d once loved, the man who had strangled my soul and sanity. I explained the rape and my revenge. And when all was said and done, I gave him the story of it, written painstaking over the course of events, in case I had selfishly neglected any details.

He sat there in silence for an immeasurable amount of time, taking it all in. After a small eternity, he blinked, setting the bound story on the table next to him and turning to face me. I braced myself for the worst, as I’d already been to Hell and back in my short years.

“Do you feel better now?” His voice was a whisper, severe but human. I nodded slowly, never breaking eye contact. He leaned over and hugged me close to his chest.

“Next time, just tell me. I could tell this’ been bothering you for a while, but trust me, if you can. There’s nothing you can say or do to me that will make me think any less of you. You’ve forgiven me for my deceit, and I forgave you long ago.”

I raised an eyebrow curiously. “Long ago?”

He smiled slightly, nodding. “You’re not the only one with connections you know.”

I laughed despite myself, feeling suddenly foolish for thinking him so naïve. Of course he had connections, he was a traveler and a vagabond like myself, his entire life open to interpretation. We never spoke of the issue after that, aside from a few random times he asked whether I’d consider trying to get my child back. I decided it was best to allow her to enjoy her life uninterrupted. Over time, the topic would mostly fade to black.

On the big day, we all met up to go to the church, knowing it would be largely empty. Every so often, Caine had his religious quirks, and I was fine with whatever sort of wedding he preferred as long as it was done. It was outside, waiting to start the ceremony, that I received my first of many surprises.

“You look a bit lonely, Deacon.”

I whirled around to find Roger standing there, his usual smug grin twisted sideways a bit. Everyone else was waiting inside while I paced the lobby for a few more frantic moments. He stepped forward, reaching for my hand.

“Rog…”

He shook his head. “Not the time or place. What’s done is done, Deacon. I wanted to introduce you to the newest member of my family.” He stood aside slowly, reaching to attract the attention of a child set up to be my flower girl. I recognized Doryn instantly.

“But how?”

He pushed her slightly towards the doors to the aisle, whispering slightly in her ear. She took off with a skip and a bounce, just as excited as before. I kept my eyes locked to his, despite the tears welling within.

“You honestly think my baby sister could give up a child in my town without my knowing about it? And come on, with a name like Ransom, you had to know it’d raise some red flags. She belongs with her family, you know that.”

“Rog…I want her to have a chance.”

He rested his arm on my shoulder, softly, brotherly, for the first time in our lives. “And she will. Trust me for once.”

The irony of the phrase made me laugh, loud and long. I had heard the words, “Trust me” three times in the past few months, and from some very ironic sources. I didn’t allow it to get me down though, nodding firmly in response to him. Things couldn’t have worked out more ideally, and I was all the better for it.

“Alright. You fuck up though…”

He laughed. “Yeah, I know. She’ll be all right. Deac. Now come on, there’s an aisle I’m aiming to walk you down, if you’ll have me.”

I crooked my arm slightly, which he took, and we started on like the old friends we’d never been.

Dacien had brought her new small town family, sitting neatly in the front row. With them was Caine’s father Gus, himself beaming and proud. Caine’s best man was Hyde, who still remained free despite the police inquiry. My maid of honor was Riley, who kept shooting glances to Dusk. The Officers Morrow had presented themselves as well, sitting curiously in the back taking a mental log of everyone present. Even Irish had been dragged away from the bar with some old faces in tow. I recognized Saint Crowe in his signature layers of black, applied to a respectable suit for the occasion.

For a split second, my suspicions raged and I worried about some sort of brawl or a wild gunfight in the middle of the ceremony. But once I got to Caine, my fears were assuaged and my mind at peace. This was the happiest day of my life, or at least up to this point, and I couldn’t allow myself to ruin it with suspicions and paranoia. I would enjoy every last moment of it, no matter the possibilities.

Such was the fairy tale state of my world from then on. The pain, the madness, the memories, they never stopped, and I would wake up amidst many a restless night plagued by them. Try as I might, couldn’t forget the horrible things I’d survived, things I’d said and done to others. Perhaps that is the way it was supposed to work. But I had a family to keep me sane, to keep me stable, and that was most important.

Was it easy? No. Would it be? Never. But I had to keep putting one foot ahead of another. For my daughter. For my husband. For myself. We all must struggle to achieve something worth preserving; we must bleed for our causes. And I would suffer endlessly if I had to in order to keep those two things sacred. My life had a new point and purpose, which was perfectly fine with me.

Such was the end of wars, the calm close to conflict, and the existence we would come to hold near and dear. When asked if I would trade any of my experiences for something better, if there’s anything I could change, my answer is simple.

Yes. There is something I would have changed.

I would have poisoned Linkon Ransom to death instead.

You can take the pain out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of the pain. And despite my fairy tale ending, despite my newfound optimism, there was still that slight part of me that longed to inflict pain, that required carnage to survive, and thirsted for blood. There was that side of me that just wanted to watch the world burn.

And I was okay with that.

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