Legacy of Hope
Kim pulls no punches on this one, painful but cathartic. Just as it should be.--Maer
Her finger strayed over a knife, drawing the line of its hilt and she nodded politely at the vendor who caught her eye to see if she was a serious buyer. The eyes that met his were haunted, the emerald depths dark with pain, and though she forced a smile, a frown shadowed the man’s face before he looked away. She blinked, barely processing his reaction; she lived in a dual world now, her body healed but her mind and heart still broken by the events of a few long months ago. Most people that caught her eye looked away. Kiera emoted pain, her bright hair dulled, her skin pale and making darker, the dark circles under her eyes that her random and dearly bought sleep was not enough to erase.
No! It had been her keening cry as she had awakened in the hospital bed to find her father at her side and a strange man adjusting the tubes that ran into her body. Her eyes had opened to the doctor but he hadn’t been Arden with that bemused, sardonic smile, hadn’t been the man she had grown to love and respect. In those frantic, puzzled seconds as her mind fought to remember what had happened, it recoiled as fast as the memories came, full of blood and despair, searing pain and the deeper agony of heartbreak. When her father had touched her hand on her other side, she had started up from the bed, trying to awake from her nightmare. She had stared at JJ Sullivan for only a moment, taking in his face, lined with worry, before the child in her had started to wail and the incoherent grief had launched her weakly into his waiting arms. She had sobbed until she was too drained to even sit up, her wounds still sapping her despite the healing tank and the expertise of the doctors that took care of her.
No. It was the word on her lips as she had watched Arden die and slump at her side, the word on her lips as she had watched Rina sobbing brokenly as Joshua died. She had been too weak to say it, too weak to scream it as she had fainted, her body finally succumbing to the damage it had been dealt.
But that word had come when she had finally woken up and it was no more powerful to stop what had happened than it would have been then. It was too late. She had known it when Arden lied to her. She had helped research the cure. She had read Arden’s meticulous and careful notes. She understood the biology and chemistry that was at work in his creation. She had seen the scans. She knew he lied, knew that he knew that she realized it. It was too late for “no,” too late to argue with the tiny and impotent measures he took to keep the “cure” from killing him. Joshua had embraced it, his optimism his shield, breathing deep of the air that was his enemy. It didn’t change anything. The skin contact alone was enough.
And yet, she had wanted to believe them, believe Arden’s lie as he had looked her in the eyes, believe that the innocent joy that Joshua approached life with would be enough to protect them, make lie of what she knew was true. It hadn’t been. Old Kiera would have called their bluff, old Kiera would have thrown it all out in the open and shamed the men out of their heroic sacrifice.
Old Kiera wouldn’t have given a damn that they did it anyway, came her bitter thought. Old Kiera wouldn’t be here, would she? Lost and useless, running from pillar to post, trying to escape the inescapable fact that Arden and Joshua were dead.
A month at her father’s home had been all that she could take. She hadn’t protested when he just took her there, had gone without a thought to escape. What, she didn’t know. . .it was her head and heart that she needed to escape and they went with her. As before, she had been a stranger in a strange land, and she had left without much fanfare, leaving the guitar that Joshua had bought her gently leaning in a corner. She had cried herself dry every time she had touched it since the funeral, had not been able to sing since she had sung Joshua and Arden to their final resting places at their funerals. Joshua’s voice haunted her, the familiar sound of his voice weaving with hers as she had tried to sing their favorite songs sounded warm and familiar in her mind. She couldn’t take the sight of it finally, shuddering every time she longed to escape through its strings, her eyes wet as she realized she wasn’t strong enough to deal with the memories yet.
She had then tried to visit with Nika and Rina but that had not been better. Rina was barely beginning to show and she was happy for her, but in their faces, she could see that they were no better than she. She wanted to share in the happiness of the joy of a new child growing, take solace in the fact that in some way, at least Joshua carried on, but she couldn’t. He wouldn’t be there for his baby. He was gone. Arden couldn’t be the godfather, wouldn’t be there to help with the birth. The family was broken and so was she.
The excuses she had made to them were weak, but she left after only a month, not certain that they were hurt or grateful by her departure. But she couldn’t take it, had to be away. She hadn’t known where, but her father had not denied her money to go where she needed, still kept in contact with her. She had given the other women her wave address but she hadn’t checked it in weeks. Kiera knew she was running, but where she didn’t know. She knew she was killing herself, food and sleep things that she enjoyed only as her body demanded them of her. And if she died, then that was okay, she thought wearily. She had been the only one to make the fool’s gambit and walk away on the Ark.
And she couldn’t deal with it at all.
Ezekiel found himself troubled for reasons that he couldn't explain to himself. He did not feel this way very often, but when he did, it always was a portent of a job to be done. He never knew what it would be, but the Lord knew him better than he knew himself. The Lord would challenge him and he would hopefully rise to that challenge.
That said, as he looked around the marketplace, there did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. He had come out looking for blades but the selection was not up to his standards. Which was not surprising. Ezekiel knew more about blade smithing than most in the 'Verse, so it was rare for him to find something that surprised him. But he always made the effort; the day he stopped giving the Lord a chance to surprise him was the day he stopped serving Him.
He complimented the vendor on a particular technique even as he turned to walk away. As he turned his head, he saw a flash of red hair and against all odds, he *knew* it was her. He called out across the crowd, his voice ringing with conviction, drawing the ire of the shoppers near him, but they might as well not even been there. There was only her and him.
She froze as her name rang across the market. It was too clear to be a hallucination, too familiar to ignore. Her soul and heart knew before her mind did, both leaping with wild joy before she could get the strength to turn. He stood only a few booths down, a fire shining in the darkness, and she walked over to him and softly said his name like a prayer.
Oh, Kiera, the Lord set you a hard path to walk. She had the look of someone who had been through a war, and for all he knew, she *had*. And he knew looking at her why the Lord had sent him here and he gave a silent curse to Him for putting her through it and an equally silent prayer thanking him for sending her to him now that her job was done.
All those thoughts passed through his head in a second, but he said none of it. Instead, he took her into his arms and held her tight to him, letting her presence be enough in that first moment of reunion.
She hung limply in his arms before inhaling deep and long. She released it in whimper as she lay against him, her voice muffled against his chest. "It hurts," she whispered. "It hurts and I can't make it stop."
"Come with me," he said quietly as he took her by the hand. Ezekiel slowly walked away from the marketplace, Kiera holding on to him, like an autumn leaf clinging to the branch. He walked away from the crowds, limping the entire way but not letting it control him. They came to the small door of his one room apartment he had been renting while he had been doing research. He opened the door and walked in, almost having to drag Kiera behind him.
The room was cluttered with books and blades, all his research in his life quest scattered about. He swept it aside from the bed and eased Kiera on to it, slowly sitting beside her. "I'm here, Kiera. I'm here."
She turned dry eyes to him, long drained of tears, and shook her head. "How? How can you do something, knowing. . .knowing that it will kill you and yet it do it? How can anyone make that kind of sacrifice? They knew it would be their death. Why? We could have come up with something else." Her fist clenched impotently and she shuddered violently. "There had to be something else." A smile, wild and so very wrong for its parody of pleasantness, twisted her lips. "Rina was pregnant, did you know? Isn't that wonderful?"
A distant part of her mind laughed. Of course he didn't know. Didn't know any of them. Wouldn't know two of them, never have the chance ever again. She studied his face, looking for answers and watched the concern fill his eyes. I didn't love them like that, she screamed inside as Joshua and Arden's voices calmly answered, Yes you did.
She had lost someone, maybe one of those crew members she had talked about when he had first met her. His heart went out to her and he told her what came straight from his heart...from his soul. "Some people devote their life to something bigger than themselves, Kiera." He knew that more than most. "And if they sacrifice themselves for that, we are going to be sad. But they would never want you to suffer because of that."
"I know. I know. We were vastly outnumbered on the Ark by Anna and her monster, mutant creations. It was the best chance we had. What it did to Joshua and Arden, it did to their soldiers. It gave us a chance to save those people." Her voice grew firmer, more resolute. "We had to save those people on the Ark. We had to bring them home. And I know the cure worked. . .it did on me. But the price too high. Joshua and Arden died. The mutations that were done to make them a better human were fatal with the cure for the plague." She was silent for a while, her eyes closed, emotions flowing over her face finally in a furious tsunami of pain as she relived the last days on the Ark. At length, she opened them to his, tears finally leaking their way gently down her cheeks.
"I miss them," she stated plaintively. "They were my friends."
There was a whole story there that he was going to have to discover, he thought as he leaned into her and took her into his arms. "Of course you do, Kiera. No matter how amazing the cause, that doesn't make it any less painful for those of us left behind. If we didn't hurt for their loss, we wouldn't be human." He paused. "They must have been great people if you loved them that much."
"They were, Ezekiel. I just wish you could have met them." The ice was beginning to break; she melted into him, snuggling hard into his chest as she began to weep, soft and helpless. At length, her eyes red and swollen, she lifted her head to give him a watery smile. "What planet am I on? I stopped paying attention six planets back. I'm lost."
He chuckled. "Bernadette." He wiped tears away from her eyes. "Will you let me take you to dinner? You can tell me about your friends. The good times, the bad times, everything. I am a historian, after all, and history is nothing but stories that help us keep people alive in our hearts and minds."
Kiera nodded with a weak laugh. "Yeah. I think I can let you do that." Prying herself away from him, she rose slowly, carefully to her feet. "Oh, I'm a bit lightheaded anyway. Probably need to eat. I think I ate a few planets back." Her head tilted as she watched him get off the bed and she sighed. "You know, I'm constantly pouring my heart out to you and you're constantly feeding me. Or at least as constant as two chance meetings can be. And I don't even know your name beyond Ezekiel." She took a deep breath and willed her feet to move to the door to wait for him.
He leaned down to pick up his sword cane from the floor. "It's Drake. I always thought it was ironic that the Lord's dragonslayer was a dragon by birth." Ezekiel smiled as he stood up, only to have it disappear as he saw Kiera's face.
"What?" She stared at him as if seeing him the first time, frozen in place by shocked recognition. "Did you have a brother?" she finally breathed, her eyes wide.
"Not one I ever knew. My mother," and the word was weighted with complex emotions, "had big plans for him. After he turned three, I never saw Joshua agai..." He trailed off as his brain made the connection to the name of her friend. Coincidence? Of course it wasn't. Genetically modified? That had his mother written all over it. Something else to answer for, it seems, mother.
Her lips were parted as a litany of ohgodohgodohgod chanted through her brain as she blinked to clear her vision to better study him. The first time they had met, his voice. . .she had thought Joshua had chased her from the ship and trailed her to the bar before she had turned to see Ezekiel instead. And his face. She knew faces. She had reshaped faces. She could see where the face that Joshua had finally settled on was close to the unchanged one that his brother wore. His brother. The words staggered her and she abruptly knew them to be true to the core of her soul. She realized that she was holding her breath and swallowed with a soft gasp. "You're going to be an uncle," she stated and bit her lip. After a moment, she gave into fresh tears although she managed a sad smile. "Your brother was a wonderful man, Ezekiel. He lived and died a hero. I'll tell you everything I know about him at dinner. I've got a lot of stories. He was the most brave, charming, annoying, sweet, manipulative, and truly good man I've ever known. Optimistic son of a bitch said he'd survive the cure." She paused and then added softly, "Because he was awesome."
She broke down again with her last words, seeing in her mind's eye his face as he and Arden had looked at one another before Joshua had said something very close to that. With effort, she sniffled and wiped her eyes. "I thought I was done crying over them. I need to wave Rina, his wife. If you want to see her. And I know where your mother might be." Roughly, she wiped her eyes, swallowing back her grief. "Lord, I'm a sight. Do you mind if I go wash my face for vanities sake before you take me out?"
She had to give him time to process. Hell, she had to give herself time to process.
"I'm going to be an uncle." Ezekiel repeated the words, stunned by the idea. Lord, You do indeed work in mysterious ways and if I ever begin to think I can see the 'Verse in the way you do, let this serve as my humbling reminder.
He looked over at the redhead, beautiful even with the mark of grief upon her and he shook his head in amazement. "Kiera, every time you cross my path, you shake my world up. I guess the only way to prevent that is to make sure you never leave my side again." The words surprised him as he said them, but they felt right in a way that Ezekiel knew was the Lord tapping on his shoulder and making sure things locked into His plan.
Her lips twisted into a soggy, bemused smile. "Sure, I'm going to dinner with you." She brushed a lock of unruly hair from her eyes and took a step towards the bathroom before she froze and turned to him. A frown briefly furrowed her forehead as a flash of the old sparkle lit in her eyes.
"Am I understanding you right?" she asked with a wry raise of her eyebrow. "Always is a mighty long time."
"It is," he agreed calmly. "I've always imagined myself walking that always alone...until now."
She was still for a long time, regarding him with gentle wonder. Finally she seems to come to a decision, striding calmly to him and taking his face in her hands. "Time to re-imagine the story, Ezekiel Drake. I'm not leaving you again."
Ezekiel kissed her then, a long kiss full of the promise of two people sharing an always between them.
She swayed with the power of it, finally opening her eyes to his as his lips released hers. "So wave your new sister in law first?" she asked, stroking the line of his face with a curiosity born of a love so intense it nearly drowned her.
It occurred to her that she had no other thought than the here and now with him, had wandered, seeking him against all the odds with nothing but faith and hope. That was the legacy of her friends, she realized. They taught her to have hope again. She kissed him again and then added, "Or dinner?"
"Dinner, I think. Because rather than a wave, I think I would like to meet my brother's wife in person. To get to know my new family." He clasped her hand. "Is that something you can handle?"
"I think I can handle food and the unknown." She squeezed his hand gently with a wink. "You, though, I'm gonna have to pray a little for help with."
He smiled and kissed her briefly again. "Let's go wipe your face and go to dinner. I'm suddenly starving and suddenly have the feeling I'm going to need all that energy."
"Yeah, you will," she retorted and went to wash her face. The Universe is wide and wonderful place, Kiera-cat, she thought. Death came unwelcome and with sorrow. But Life fought back with a dogged tenacity. Thank you Lord, she thought with a smile. I needed the reminder.
Her fingers itched for the strings of her guitar abruptly. Yeah, I'll teach your kid to play, she told the images in her head, and I'll be a kinder doctor, Arden. Orphans, yeah got it.
With a deep breath, she took once last look in the mirror and stepped out into the future.