It was a veritable cornucopia of creatures spun from fantasy and created at the doctor’s whim. Wolves and dogs walked on their hind legs and smiled great toothy grins of welcome, while alongside them in the soft greens of the trees paraded a menagerie of fellow beasts: cats, birds, fish, and even a giraffe, poking its smiling face through the canopy. There were fountains that gushed watercolor waves, and a sky that would forever be untouched by rain. Sun and smiles were the gift of this animal paradise created at Moreau’s behest.
A hand rested on the wall, nearly covering a beaming purple hippo that walked on its hind legs and clutched its great belly in mirth. The figure that stood at the window- she, too, clung to a protruding stomach with her other hand, though the look on her face was anything but giddy or mirthful. She stared out the window, but did not seem to see. Near her head, a mobile hung, its pastel hued double helix twirling with the assistance of the little air circulation in the room. It was one of a collection of happy décor that bedecked the space- stuffed animals, from the size of a small, button-eyed mouse, to a soft gorilla nearly the size of a man, to a myriad of mobiles and dangling toys. Besides the swinging helix, the nearest decoration to the silent woman was a toy helicopter; its bulbous body painted in bright primary colors and hung high enough to be out of reach of a little one. It would only be a blur of red and blue to an infant, but one day it would be defined enough to be an object of desire and destination. Aubrey didn’t like the toy- it bothered her just enough to make her feel disquieted when she saw it, but not enough to remind her to have someone take it down. There was just something about it that put her ill at ease… although those days, it was rare that she didn’t feel that way.
She shifted her hand on the wall, her body realizing even if her attention had wandered into a nebulous state of anxious repose that her fingers were tingling from a lack of blood supply. The animal menagerie mural was unchanged, and smiled steadily at her even as she moved away from the hippo and onto a swatch of brightly painted grass. The fingers on her hands were swollen, and one bore the ringed mark of a once precious thing that had become a burden- discarded… but not forgotten.
“It’s a beautiful room.”
She turned, surprised at the intrusion into her thoughts almost more than into the nursery itself. She’d been subconsciously keeping the man from her thoughts as she’d mused.
“I didn’t design it.” She’d pulled the hand from the wall on her turn, and now they both rested on the unapologetic bulge that was the future denizen of the nursery’s first home.
The man was already well into the room- having effectively quieted in behind her without her noticing- and he pulled a hand out of a dark vest pocket to indicate a blue dinosaur mobile that nearly brushed against his long, white hair.
“I assumed as much. Nonetheless…” it was an unfinished sentence, but not an unfinished thought.
“…Thank you.” Aubrey looked then at the large space as if seeing it for the first time, chewing it with her eyes. “I chose the stuffed animals. And the nets.” Her eyes went to the high corners of the room where green rope had been strung into vine-like nets, a canopy cage for a myriad of animals that seemed as happy as their painted 2-D counterparts. “I used to have plushie nets when I was little. I don’t remember when they came down… but when I saw the nursery, I remembered that I’d had my own.” She paused, and her voice was resolute- even stubborn. “So I wanted them.”
Sabin digested the situation, having tasted the almost imperceptible shades of symbolism and control in this small stance. The tone of her voice and the even set of her lips were not lost on him. Control- and power- even in the infinitesimal- were exciting and necessary to him for a full, rich existence. Sabin knew that Aubrey did not often present her cards as being very powerful ones- in fact; more often than not they lost their worth when emotion trumped her hand- but now, and in this, she was beginning to show the ire of a woman with a foothold. The issue of the objects in the nursery was inconsequential. The small territory that Aubrey had staked out in this, her child’s future room- could not be more (or less) important if the size of that conquest were increased. The issue, and the importance of her resolution, was in the nature of it- the invisible cords of power- of manipulation, control, and of the bonds that connected people together in a web of ever-changing hierarchies and shifts in balance. Sabin Duvert was no stranger to the study of the hierarchy of animals, of their natural struggle for balance and evolution within their ranks- but nothing could match the endless, almost intangible fascination he had for the convoluted chains of dominance and control between the members of those two-legged members of the animal kingdom: Homo Sapiens.
“I remember putting up nets for my children when they were young, too. They weren’t as nice as these, though. These are… charming.” It took him a measure to think of a word that was appropriate for the description of a piece of childish décor, but that would still be able to attach some weight to his response to Aubrey- to validate some of her silent assertions.
“I always forget that you have children, Sabin.” She leaned her back against the wall, supporting her changed center of gravity with a shift and a deep sigh that pulled free of her lips almost involuntarily. She continued to hold onto her stomach, an absent yet altogether possessive gesture.
“Mm. It’s perfectly alright. I don’t talk about them much.” He wasn’t willing to admit how little he’d thought about them, as well.
“How old are they, now?”
He clicked his tongue for a few moments, an almost noncommittal sound as his mind dug for information it knew- but had shelved. “Twenty-eight.”
Aubrey’s eyes went wide. “Twenty-eight? I know they’re mentioned in your personnel file, but I didn’t remember seeing their ages. I didn’t realize.” She didn’t have to explain what she’d not realized. His children were the same age as she was.
“We were very young when we had them. I was... 16?” He resisted the urge to look out the window as she had done only minutes before, knowing that all he’d see was the wide expanse of sea that was cruel and beautiful, an easy view from their high mansion vantage point. He realized that he’d been holding his fingers taut at his side, and wondered how long they’d been so aggravated, as it took a surprising mounting of conscious effort to relax them to a faux ease.
Aubrey wasn’t surprised that his answer took the form of a near-question, though she misconstrued the reason. She thought the memory was distant for him- after all, she knew as well as anyone how long ago childhood could seem. Her own teenage years- though not quite as distant a past as Sabin’s- were already blurring over in her memory as a surreal period of time in which she wasn’t entirely herself. She’d compartmentalized it, boxing away the sweet times, the hard ones, the embarrassment of growing up, the dreams and the nostalgia- all labeled and stored away, shelved with that unique brand of bitter joy that is characteristic of a woman who has found their way into adulthood- not realizing until it all seemed very far away… that they weren’t children anymore.
In a way, the only thing about Aubrey Lockheart that had ever been young was her dogged adoration for Nicholas Moreau. It had started as a crush, a sweet, innocent veneration of an older boy who had given her the first meaningful compliment of her life- one that spoke to more than just the generic loving things that parents would say, but something that actually spoke to who she was. She’d been a bit of a sage little child, for despite her enthusiasm for the world around her- she’d been aged by a starving lack of validation and appreciation. Her aptitude for science and logic were not the banners of accomplishment that she would have wished they would be for her parents, and in school she’d been victim to a system that asked only for mediocrity- those who exceeded the standard, though encouraged in a secondhand sort of way, were left to their own devices. In Aubrey’s eyes, there had been no one to love her but Moreau. That first compliment he’d given her that day in Chemistry class now so long ago- it hadn’t been love, then… but it had been the first taste of what Aubrey had always craved, always searched for. She’d decided then what she’d wanted was him- or, at least- that path of love, and had pursued it with a childlike abandon of hope and determination. She didn’t look like that young girl, now. Now she looked tired- and, if not old, then at least matured past the point of being truly, naively happy.
“Do you miss them? …What? What’s that look on your face?”
“Nothing- I’m just surprised you’d ask.”
Her eyes went narrow, more for the sake of curiosity than any form of anger or annoyance. It gave her freckles the appearance of practically bouncing on her cheeks beneath the black frame of her glasses. “Why is that?”
“You’ve never asked before.” He stepped nearer to her, a little smile casting a strange emphasis on his angular features.
“We’ve never been so… close before.”
His smile stretched beyond its suggestive curvature and he took the opportunity to step forward again until the space between their shoes was wide enough only to accommodate a hand’s width. Aubrey wrinkled her nose. Even though his smile was born at the least innocent of the two meanings, it had still been unintended.
“But do you?”
“Do I what?” His head dipped to the side in a soft, liquid gesture, and the look on his face was still one of a teasing double-entendre, but he came no closer.
He did not drop the smile, but even so, the meaning was drained from it, and his eyes, which had been playful and suggestive, fell flat into two walls that protected whatever memory that had wrenched itself into Sabin’s mind at her words. Aubrey expected a rote, dry answer then- she recognized that wall from very personal experience- so she was surprised at the candid nature of Sabin’s eventual response.
“I think that the less I think about them, the more I’ve convinced myself that I don’t miss them. I suppose that the more… subterfuge I use, the more that means I actually do. Otherwise I wouldn’t have to tell myself… that I don’t.” His words were careful and precise, and his level voice betrayed more of the lilting French accent than was usually discernable in his speech, but there was nothing in what he’d said to suggest to Aubrey that he’d told her anything but the perfect truth.
Aubrey wanted to ask where they were, or how long it had been since he’d seen them, but at the sight of his face- that seemingly flawless wall that had somehow delivered such a painful truth- she held her tongue. She wouldn’t have been able to put words to it- but if she’d been of the mind to be able to focus her attention on the complicated state of her feelings and try to reconcile them, she might have realized that her returned curiosity for Sabin’s children had less to do with him, and more with a growing (in more ways than one) maternal instinct.
“If you wanted, you could invite them to the island at any time.”
Sabin was surprised- less by the words than at the distinct tilt of her jaw, and how she’d set it to a defiance that said she still had power on the island, and still had a say in her own life. Sabin thought it was beautiful- if misguided.
“You look lovely.”
Her resolute expression softened into something between appreciation and flushed confusion. Sabin smiled at her fluster, knowing that she’d not expected the compliment, even with their recent… history.
“I don’t feel lovely.”
Sabin quirked an eyebrow. This was the woman who had given herself over to the abandon of new lover’s touch at nearly five months pregnant. Even after the passion had quelled, her inhibition had not, keeping her from covering herself when he’d come across her in the shower the morning after the encounter. What he didn’t realize was that her self-esteem and modesty sprang from two different places- and that one was far more fragile than the other. It was an ironic twist of truth that Dr. Duvert, though exquisitely attuned to the intricacies of the power struggle and manipulations of the human race- was virtually blind to some of the more delicate workings of the human heart, of self worth, and of deep-set emotions.
“They say that women have a certain glow when they’re pregnant.” He was still very near her.
“It’s a lie cooked up by men who realized they had to say something to keep their hormone-crazed wives from killing them.”
“I don’t know. I’d say there’s some truth to it.” He reached out and gently pulled a hand free from its protective clutch of her pregnant belly. She gave a little breath to find that his hands were as cold as they were pale, but when he turned hers palm up and used two long, thin thumbs to massage the rounds of flesh at the butt of her palms, the breath she gave was more akin to one of pleasure than surprise. She found herself leaning into it, and her fingers pulsed with the warm circulation that was being stimulated by his touch. She closed her eyes for a moment, giving herself over to the feeling, then opened them and traced the long arm up to the face that was unreadable, ambiguous. Not unlike his morals. She almost reminded him of the cameras, or of the intercom system that Nicholas had had installed into the room- but of course they were alone, and in his absence, they had complete control of the system. They could erase whole hours, days- veritable chapters of their lives with the push of a button. At least as far as Moreau was concerned, ‘they’ had never happened.
There was too much on her mind, too many doubts and fears and ugly truths that stared up at her through the chewed veneer of what had once been love and innocence. She couldn’t read Sabin anymore than she could read Moreau- in fact, she understood far less about the cavalier mystery than she ever did about her fiancé. Sometimes she wished she still was in the dark about Nicholas, and other times, she wished not for that reverse in time, but instead… that she might be able to feel the way about him that she did about Sabin. She cared for the white-haired man before her, and thought of him as a friend and now something more, something burgeoning and ripe with an almost intangible possibility. She thought that one day, if it was ever given the chance to grow, it might be love. Might be- but she didn’t know, and didn’t feel the need to force it into something, or to throw herself into an abandon of passion and infatuation. She was lonely and frightened, and knew that she had turned to him out of a desire to be loved and understood- but there had been nothing needful about it. If that night had gone the way of simply a suggestive and even confusing camaraderie, Aubrey would not have been heartbroken or embarrassed- nor would she have sought out another encounter with the hopes of having a different, more passionate conclusion. As it was, what had happened was unpredictable and good in a way she couldn’t hope to describe. Maybe it was the reason she looked at the picture of her fiancé on her office desk- and wished that she could look at him with the same sort of detachment and knowledge of what he was. Once, she had wanted to be loved with a fierce abandon, to belong to him and to have him in return. Now… she just wanted her freedom, and to be loved.
“You know… I have no idea what’s going on in your mind.” She said it softly, a whisper divided into a quiet, somewhat higher pitched tone than her regular voice, and its raspy underbelly of a breath.
Sabin had been bent over her hand as she spoke, placing a kiss on the warm face of her palm. He stood tall at her words, but didn’t release her hand. Instead, he used it to draw her nearer to him and wrapped it over his shoulder. Her other arm followed without the prompting, and Sabin felt the swell of her still-growing stomach between them. It gave him a twinge that he wasn’t willing to think about, and he pushed the niggling guilt out of his mind as he had done for the past month.
“It’s just as well,” he answered, easing his hand into her hair. Before she could ask him what he meant, she was drawn into a kiss. It was sweet and uncalled for, and wholly non-possessive in nature- she knew she could pull away at any time without the dark flash of anger in a pair of orangish-brown eyes, and the desperate need of a madman to be loved. It made her fall into the embrace all the deeper, and it was a long time before the two would pull away from their clandestine connection.
* * *
Sabin pulled away from the kiss and found that he didn’t want to release the curly mass of hair that he’d gently wound up in his fingers. It felt so soft and inviting. It was all he could do to pull the woman in close again and kiss her- but she put her hands on his chest and gently shoved him away.
“Stop that, you. You’re going to distract me. It’s almost time.” She turned her head to the ever-darkening sky, as the dark shape continued to inch its way in front of the sun. Her words seemed irritated, but the tone in which they were uttered was sweet, and even a little low. That slightly deeper cast of her voice seemed headily suggestive, and Sabin didn’t let the shove budge him.
“I’ll let you go before then. …Or maybe I’m just lying. Maybe I’ll never let you go.” He ran his hands down her neck and was stopped again before he’d managed to delve as deeply as he would have liked.
“Sabin…” she rolled her eyes, her tone a gentle admonishment.
“Samantha…” he whispered back, for his mouth was at her ear and the word became a tantalizing suggestion and demand, followed by a volley of nearly-ravenous kisses on her neck.
Her green eyes flashed up at the darkening sky, and she found herself biting her bottom lip to suppress a smile as well as any further, ill-meant protests to her husband’s advances. His excitement had been so thick that day that it was almost palpable, and she’d suspected it might come to this. It didn’t hurt that she was fairly invigorated as well- it had been the first time in a long while that they’d given themselves over to any sort of adventure. And although a trip into the depths of the Canadian woods was somewhat tame compared to the outlandish escapades that had become fixtures in their tumultuous lives, there was still something exciting about being all alone, high on a hilled clearing in the middle of the woods. It made Sabin think they had gone back in time, back before all the complications and trappings of modern life, and of this world that was hard to wholly embrace. They were young again, in danger and falling in love- unpredictably- yet predestined. Sabin had planned the excursion for months, wanting to see the total solar eclipse with his usual passion for the fantastical and mystical, but he’d not expected to feel such a wave of nostalgia.
“Does this remind you of anything?” He freed her briefly, letting her go only as long as it took to circle around behind her to brush a brown tendril off her shoulder.
“Hmm,” she said, amused and focused on him all at the same time. “Many things. These woods are beautiful.”
“And you’re causing a spectacle.” She leaned back, though, and rested against him as he brushed the back of his fingers against her neck.
“And whom, might I ask, would see us now?” His voice was a heady whisper-
thready and deep.
“Hunters. Birdwatchers. …Fellow adventurers who traveled two hours through the woods to find a good viewing point. Are we going to actually try and get a view, or are we just going to…” she trailed off, but there was no mistaking what was had been omitted.
“Look, the umbra!” He said suddenly, turning his eyes to the sky. Samantha did as well, smiling when she felt his hand trail down her arm, then lift it up to point at the spot where the moon’s umbra was entering the position where it would cover the earth. They stood there, unnatural denizens of the northern woods, a pair of hands each pointing to the spectacular sight, hearts and eyes upturned. They were silent, then, as the shadow of the moon inched over the sun. The totality began with a diamond ring effect, in which that last flash of sunlight was visible and sparkling. It was a breathtaking phenomenon, and they were in the proportionally thin track of land where the full eclipse would be visible. Only the faint hum of the corona was visible around the ring of the moon’s outline- and then the land was bathed in a beautiful, unnatural darkness.
“It’s gorgeous,” she breathed.
“Do you see those sparkles along the edge- those points that look like…diamonds, or luminescent pearls?” He used her hand to point, again, then held her shoulders as he looked up at the sight. She nodded, and he smiled.
“They’re called Baily’s beads. Right now, as the moon is grazing past that last… tiny little slice…” he traced a pattern on the bare portion of her shoulder as he spoke, almost without realizing it, and it sent a shiver down her spine. “The photosphere is shining past those lunar dips and valleys, and makes the outer ring… uneven- beaded, into these beautiful little flashes of light. You won’t be able to see them much longer… see, even now…”
The effect only lasted for a minute or so as the diamond ring disappeared, giving the pair only a few seconds to see the bright and bloody crimson chromosphere- slivers of dying light around the impossibly dark blot on the sun, and then, the eclipse was in full, and the full glory of the solar corona was visible.
“It’s almost as bright as the moon,” Samantha said, referring to the emanating blue glow around the shadowed corona.
“It’s always visible, but during the daytime with the blue sky, it goes… unnoticed.” He was almost giddy with the excitement of it all, and more than one side of his nature delighted in the sight. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Mm. But it got so dark so quickly. I hadn’t expected it to happen like that. If I hadn’t known any better, it might have scared me.” She turned her back on the occlusion to show her husband her sweet smile. It was unlikely that even such an unnatural occurrence would have frightened her unduly- she had seen many magical and terrifying things in her long life, none the least of which were experienced with the man she now stood with in the deep woods, loving him and sharing a beautiful sight with him. It had been mostly for him that she’d made the trek- for although there was certainly a love for any manner of adventure deep in her soul- this mystical and rare phenomena was the sort of thing that gave Sabin Duvert purpose, and she loved to see him light up with that passionate glow. His pale, luminous smile wasn’t unlike that eclipsing corona, and she resisted the urge to reach up and kiss it, to pull herself into him- she didn’t want him to miss this event.
“People have been astounded and terrified by the phenomena for centuries,” he said. “It’s been looked upon as being anything from… a God showing his displeasure with the world, and blotting out life-giving light, to the day of the dead, giving all those once living a chance to rise up while the earth is in shadow. Mostly… it was a time of reckoning. People would fall to their knees and pray, beg for forgiveness, and let the knowledge that they were sinned, flawed creatures come to the surface. It’s a beautiful instance, that sort of righteous fear in the face of something so miraculous.”
His eyes flashed almost to the hue of that blooded crimson chromospheric sliver that had preceded the final glow of the corona, and Sam felt a swift shiver- a cold bite to the back of her spine that reminded her of days far gone past, back in the foundation years of their marriage. It was a spike of something… simpler than fear, more primal, and even needful. She had never tried to control the dual creature that was her husband- that dark secret that was so intrinsic to his nature of the man she loved- but instead embraced it, and allowed herself the chance to fear it when it was needed. It was this loving acceptance, without trying to suppress her own natural reaction to fear, that gave her the control she did have over him. It was because she had never tried to turn him into something he wasn’t- or even tried to pretend that there was no fear in her heart- that kept him loving her so strong. Sabin didn’t wholly realize it- though a part of him had always known, and would know all too painfully well in future years- but Samantha was the closest tether to humanity that he had ever known, and to a true love. She allowed him the beauty in his nature, his fascination with the mystical and magical and his childlike, curious insatiability for knowledge about everything around him, and she also accepted his ugliness, the manipulative side of his nature and the fearful depths of his unplumbed soul- the blooded macabre and chilly lapses in control. Sabin Duvert was a creature of the night, something primal and fearful, a blended thing of an impish, curious man and a living nightmare. He was capable of great things, and despite what he was, his nature was one of a man- trying not to get hurt. At the start, once he could become comfortable with someone, he was one to become almost irrevocably bonded- trusting enough to put his own life in danger- a thing that had happened several times in his long life. Samantha knew that there was a period in his life where his cynical outlook had spread beyond the people around him, to taint all of humanity- a race he both envied and hated, due to the dual aspects of his nature. His guilt had run deep, as well- too often the people he’d come close to had been hurt because of him, or had betrayed him. For a long time there had been a deep bitterness that had plunged him into a deep anger and instability.
But despite everything… Samantha had a strong notion that the man she loved didn’t, by his very nature, want to see people get hurt. It was that which had prevented him from leaving his humanity behind forever. Samantha touched his long, angular jaw, and the brownish red runes that were forever imprinted on the skin of her wrist were a sharp contrast to his pale, almost beautiful appearance in the bluish glow of almost supernatural light. She knew him. She knew that, more than anything else, he feared being alone, of being without those people who could accept him and love him not despite of what he was, but because of it.
The touch of her skin electrified him, and his already peaked sense of excitement was turned into a fever of possibility. They wouldn’t have been able to put words to it, to explain the exquisite sensations that were overcoming them, but it would have been impossible to not realize that there was something about this eclipse that was special. They wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint how it spoke to their individual natures, and then, combined them for a night of compatibility and perfection that would be unparalleled by any other time. The mysticism and darkness pulled the two halves of Sabin together, connected them, and drew them to the slight, sweet fear that had swirled from the humanity of his wife, drawing him to her, as well. Samantha, with her communion with nature, her soft love and proud self-possession of her soul, was in tune with the quiet, dark nature around them, and even, too, by the fear that was caused by such an occurrence. Hers was a life touched and guided by the force of life magic, of the gentle existence of everything around her. Few could understand as well as she that the nature of the world is so frail and precious- the existence of fear and reckoning only made her appreciate all the more the glory that was the world… and this love. They had always been meant for each other, these two- but that night, there was something more that made them compatible, and in a way that would change their lives.
“I love you so much.” She felt the life in him, the dark blood coursing through his veins and the love that he couldn’t hide, and she breathed in the dark daylight with an ecstatic fever and a chill fear of losing it all. It was that combination of love, colored with the sweet, metallic smell of fear, that incited Sabin beyond all reason.
He growled- a human sound propagated by something deeper and very inhuman. As the shadow passed over the earth, it was that duplicity, that deep, inherent part of Sabin Duvert- that knew that it was not enough just to kiss her- to touch his lips to hers and feel their warmth and the touch of moisture that promised through their parted depths. He could stop at nothing less than devouring her, holding her so tight that the claw-like sharpness of his nails bit into her shoulders and back, licking his lips and biting hers, plunging into the depths of her mouth and feeling her warmth, the pulse of her blood in her throat and the heat in her touch. She collapsed against him, giving herself to her love and fear- trusting him completely, and feeling a dark shadow caress her and lick against her. A shuddered breath became a moan, and her head tipped back as hands traversed her body, rough and gentle need all in one. She was lifted, and then laid back against the grass- her body responding to the natural surroundings as keenly as to the supernatural touch of her husband.
Sabin Duvert was not human. He was simultaneously less, and more than, that fragile existence. He had been human, once- over a hundred years before. What had changed were the inclusion of the supernatural and the cruel- a living nightmare that had possessed the soul of a young man too curious and wanton for his own good. There is magic in this world, though it is ancient, and often fearful, and today the last remnants of these nearly-forgotten pieces of our history exist in the form of those who still live with their tainted souls- like that of Sabin Duvert, a young man who might have died in France some hundred years before, but who instead had been infested with the living manifestation of his mortal fear- an anju. He had been controlled, and taken over with the attempt to give the Fear of Being Controlled- Creante- access to a world where magic was only beginning to die out, to hide its face and spurn our realm. It was a powerful possession, and yet, a whispered spell had not killed the boy, but instead bonded him with the creature. It was an unhealthy union, and an irrevocable one.
For a long while, Sabin had undergone the torturous existence of two forms in one body- one a frightened man and the other a maddened, bitter creature of the darkness. Even through the horror of what he had become, Sabin still found himself almost morbidly fascinated with what his body had unwillingly given shelter to, and he struggled to understand what the nature of it was, more than simply how to dispel it. It was likely this fascination which saved him from going mad, or to giving up what was left of his human soul to the ever-struggling Creante aspect of his nature. He did not go so far as to accept the anju, and yet over time the bitter, introspective pair began to grow together- too unable to spite their own existence by struggling against the other. They became not two entities fighting for the possession of a body- or even two cohabitating it, but rather, a manifestation of the other’s characteristics. Later still, their souls would be as one- bonded with a tepid notion that they would both agree to strive towards what would be a painful and nearly soul-sucking merging process. It was a long while before the Anju and Sabin became a whole entity, after the treacherous, long, winding road that had been studded in complications and self-discovery.
Samantha knew what her husband was, and she loved him unconditionally despite the horrible things that his dual-natured past had driven him to. She too, was special- infused with a life magic and given the gift of a mage’s long life and communion with nature. She was the life-force to his darkness, the pure light of the natural world to the shadows of his otherworld- they were matched, in that they were so unalike by what sustained them, but alike in their love of adventure, their curiosity, and the deep, over brimming love that they had for one another. Their relationship was one that could not exist entirely on a fathomable, human plane- the breadth of its force, its spirit, drew Samantha in, as her soul was bound in the power of life. Because of the unique nature of what she herself was, Samantha understood, perhaps better than anyone ever could, what the relationship meant.
The Anju despised that it had been trapped, and it feared being controlled, becoming all the more human as its initial hold on the other plane slipped away. It didn’t used to be afraid, unbound- but existing as and with Sabin, it changed, becoming more human as they blended. Even in the wake of such newborn emotions, the Anju still found itself craving fear… and therein lay a puzzling paradox that would pave the way for the closest thing Sabin could ever come to a real life. The Anju aspect of his nature had no choice but to drench itself in those choices that would make it the most afraid- including being more human- so that fear… could continue to exist. As they were one existence, no longer could Creante draw forth from Sabin that nourishment of terror it subsisted on- it, instead, found an introspective well of fear that had been born upon their merge. What had initially been an attraction to Samantha for the sake of teasing and ploying… grew into a kind of love, and then something deeper, more needful, as the human aspect of Sabin clung to how human she made him. And so, as the years went on, the Anju side of his nature loved Samantha more every day, vulnerable and confused, yet nourished and sustained by the realization of its fears. And for the sake of the existence of that fear… it became all the more human, beginning the cycle again, ‘trapped’ in loving her with all it had become… because it couldn’t possibly stop.
The dual creature that was Sabin Duvert made love to his wife there on the hilled knoll as the shadows of the sun cast their rare light down upon them. The force of his control waned in the heat of passion, and more often than not, Samantha looked into the glowing red eyes of a creature that needed her almost as much as the man did- and felt the long, sharp claws on his fingers as they slid from their retracted state and caressed fine, swift lines into her skin. They healed quickly, and were not deep to begin with- certainly not deep enough to distract her from the feelings that washed over as they moved together in the grass. Neither attended to the shadowed tracers that followed his passionate movements, nor did the fact that the tips of his hair had faded into a shadow that was almost substantial enough to be a solid, licking the air and whispering up at the moon-like sun. They were together, and nothing parted them as they called up, passionate and alive as the shadows on the earth made way for new, almost impossible life to be made.
* * *
The naked woman in his arms shifted against him, moving her thigh over his leg and arching her back to accommodate for a long stretch. They were bathed in a nearly complete darkness, and the sweet, heady smell of sex clung to them as a brother to the salty beaded sweat upon their skin. Sabin breathed in the scent of her, and found his fingers trailing along the flesh of her arm where it lay, flung almost absently across his chest. She hadn’t moved in long enough that he believed her to be asleep- so when she suddenly spoke, he was surprised.
“Did you feel that?” He felt the vibration of her voice through her cheek where she’d pressed it against his chest.
“I can’t tell if the baby kicked or not.”
Sabin put his hand along the side of Aubrey’s belly- she’d pressed the front to his side in her half-embrace of his naked body- but felt nothing stirring beneath the bulge.
“No, I don’t.”
“Hmm,” she said, a noncommittal reply, followed by a sizeable pause. “Doesn’t mean it couldn’t have, though. Some people say they can feel kicks as early as the second month. …Or that the baby’s moving constantly after a certain point, we just don’t always feel it.” Her arm abandoned his chest, and instead returned to the self-cradling position that she’d had when he’d come across her earlier that day in the nursery.
“I’m sure the baby’s healthy, Aubrey. There was nothing…” his words trailed off as he realized what he was going to say. He waited for a response, but she hadn’t seemed to have connected what he had meant by the trail-off, for when she tipped her head back up to his, her brown eyes were clear of accusation or suspicion.
“It’s so dark still. I didn’t think it would last this long.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the full umbra has already passed. It just still seems dark. Perhaps the gods are giving us some beautiful dark privacy.” He smiled and leaned in to kiss her. She accepted the gesture, and gave a soft sigh.
“It’s probably just that the clouds are out, blocking the stars.” She turned on her back with a soft groan. It was getting more difficult all the time to be comfortable with the growing child inside her.
Sabin wasn’t surprised that she’d been unwilling to play his hypothetical game of magical what if. She was of the real world, tangible and resolute, and not given over to whims of fancy and make-believe. From the start, her aptitude had been to the nature of how the things around her worked, and she had been gifted by an innate understanding of logic that had aided and perfected her goal to become a researcher and a doctor. She had never given herself over to religious folly or wanton belief- what had been a mere apathy on her parents part had twisted into something almost anti-religious in their science-minded daughter. Although Aubrey had known to play the sweet, nonsense games of romance, recent events had turned her away from even that. Her heart simply wasn’t in it anymore.
Sabin, on the other hand, could not possibly give up his sense of almost childish wonder about the world, or the flights of fancy that caused him to forever go in search of the new wonder. He knew that there was magic in the world, that the mysterious and wonderful existed. Had he lived the life of an ordinary man, it could very well be that he would have one day given up his passion and imagination, were it not fed with any sort of proof or continued purpose to the wondering. But that was not even very likely, for it was innate to Sabin’s nature. Had he never whispered those words that had damned him to a life of eternal connection to a creature of the nightmare realm, Sabin Duvert still could have never given up his hope that the magical and wonderful existed. He would have lived his life with an imaginative abandonment and a thirst for whatever shreds of the magical, intangible world he could get his hands on- whether they be lore or fanciful stories to non-believed accounts that others could give of their encounters with the unknown. Even after his possession, it was that fascination with even that which terrified him that saved his soul, and made the merging of their two so disparate natures possible.
Sabin lay in the dark and imagined even then. He imagined what it would be like if it was not the round, soft body of Aubrey Lockheart in his arms- if the pale, good flesh had belonged to that of Samantha. Had she been in his arms, she would have loved to try and top his suggestion of what the darkened sky was truly, tying in the mysticism of the earth and spinning a tale of adventure and possibility out of the air. She had been another storyteller- he still had notebooks filled with her writing, as well as his, stashed away in a storage compartment on the mainland. He didn’t know if he’d ever be able to bear to see them again. With them were most of the treasured things that they had borne away from them when they focused on their new identities and lives. There were so many things he wondered if he would ever be able to bear seeing again. It was too painful to think on- even for his curious nature- and he shoved the thoughts to the back of his mind where they had only the option to fester away in darkness.
“Would you like to go to the window again and see?”
“No, I don’t think I could move if I tried.” She sighed, letting her fingers caress the fullness of her stomach. They had already spent time together at the large double windows that stretched across one wall of the room she and Moreau had shared, staring up at the lunar eclipse as it cast an already darkened earth into further shadow. Sabin had been silent at the viewing, his heart tugging at a now so distant memory, and his head refusing to relate the two as similar. They had come from the bed to see the phenomenon, standing naked to view the Saturday night Moon as it turned a shade of rusted copper red, and as the shadow of the Earth blotted out all but a tiny sliver of refracted solar light. The event was, for all its similarities… not alike at all to that day nearly 29 years before. He insisted upon it- if only for the sake of his heart.
Instead, Sabin focused on the now. He watched as Aubrey absently stroked her stomach, the house of new life, and wondered if she even realized how maternal and possessive her gestures towards the bulge had become in the weeks past. What had initially been a hand on her growing abdomen every few days was now an almost constant clutch- but whether it was a joyful touch or one of wondering fear, Sabin did not know.
“Hm?” Her humming response echoed in the dark room.
“Are you going to marry him?”
The pause was ominously pregnant, burst only by the sharp birth of a sigh. “I thought we already talked about this.”
“Was anything settled?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew the answer.
“Nothing is ever settled between us.”
He didn’t want to know whether the ‘us’ referred to them… or to Aubrey and Moreau. He was silent, not knowing what else to say. He didn’t have to worry- it wasn’t long before her sighs punctuated the room and acted as a precursor to what was on her mind.
“I just don’t know where I’m going to go from here. What he did… what he was going to do. I don’t think I can love a man who would do that to a child.”
“You don’t love him.” He’d meant to say it as a question, and was surprised to hear the words leap from his mouth, a fully formed, almost determined statement. Aubrey turned her eyes up to him, and he felt the warmth of her breath transported from his chest to the tip of his chin.
“Did I say love?”
He blinked. “Yes.”
“Oh. …I didn’t mean to. I meant to say I don’t think I can marry a man who would do that to a child.”
“So you do love him.”
She closed her eyes and clutched at herself so tightly it almost looked as if she were trying to make the prominence of her pregnancy disappear. Sabin suddenly feared that she might cry- he had no wits about him when a woman cried- especially for the sake of something he had said or done.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, Aubrey…but I… I just want the best for you.” he started delicately. And it was true- he didn’t want the woman to cry regardless of what else was on his mind- but the fact of the matter was, weeks had slipped by since he’d told her of Moreau’s plan to change her baby’s sex if it had shown itself to be female in the ultrasound- and she had done nothing but sink into a confused depression. He cared about her feelings, and what happened to her- but there was almost more at stake, now. Her discontent could have a higher purpose. Time was running out, every day more, as Moreau’s return- and the baby’s arrival- drew nearer. Sabin had woven a very dangerous and delicate web, and without Aubrey, it would unravel itself, destroying forever the chance that the ‘fly’ that was Moreau would never be caught.
“I know you do, Sabin.” She didn’t answer until she had control of her voice, and even then, its ragged edges spoke to a suppression of her emotions. “I still don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t marry him. I’ve got so much more to think about, now. There’s the baby. My little boy.”
Sabin’s hand clenched into a self-admonishing fist at his side, and sharp fingernails dug into his skin for a painful moment before he closed his eyes and forced an easing breath to release them. There was no time to give himself over to guilt, he rationalized, but it panged him all the same.
“Moreau could manipulate…him until he’s not your son anymore. Especially if he ever finds out that you knew, or that he thinks you’re a threat.”
“He would never hurt me.” It was spoken with defiance, but Sabin wondered if he was mistaken in being able to hear a tinge of uncertainty, and maybe even a lilt of a question at the end of the sentence. But he couldn’t tell.
“He’s already hurt you. More deeply than a physical wound could ever manage.”
He reached down to rub her arms, wondering when he did… when the downy hair on them had sprung to such a standing attention. He hoped that it was the slight breezes upon her sweat-moistened skin that had caused the chill… and not any sake of fear. Aubrey didn’t act as if she noticed his comforting, repetitive gesture- her eyes glared into the dark nothingness of the far wall beyond Sabin.
“I don’t know what I want anymore.”
“Yes you do, Aubrey. I hate to say it, but you don’t want to admit it to yourself.”
“But what I want…”
“What?” He prompted, asking her to fill the gap. “What is it?”
“What I want isn’t ever going to come true. I want to be free, and I want him to love me. But I can’t ever have both. I never thought that I’d be…” she buried her head in his chest, and turned again so that her stomach was against his side, her leg wrapped over his as if to keep him from letting her go.
“You’re not alone, Aubrey.”
“No. But it’d be easier if I was.”
He had no words- only unasked questions. She filled the subsequent pause with the answer to only one of them.
“I don’t mean you, Sabin. I mean… if this weren’t… if it hadn’t happened, I’d be able to go on as normal.” She rubbed her stomach one last time, and then clung to Sabin, instead, releasing the bump with a fierce abandon that almost caused the man to shift in the bed. “I’ve always known what he was. Even in the beginning, I think I knew. I just didn’t care. I loved him so much, and wanted… oh, Sabin, does that make me a terrible person? That I let it blind me?”
“I can’t give you that answer. I couldn’t possibly pass judgment on your morals, Aubrey.” It panged him to see a whisper of what was in his own heart, but he pushed it aside. So many things he let fester within him, more every day.
“But if I could just go on like it was…”
He was saved once again from the opportunity to see the truth inside himself- drawn to the possibilities of her statement with a sudden fear and realization.
“Aubrey, you’re not thinking of going back to him? Not after all we talked about- decided was best.” He feared their plan- his plan- was unraveling before his eyes, tearing itself to shreds in the dark by a woman’s desperate need to love, and to be loved in return.
“Sabin… I never left him. How can I go back to him… if I never left him?” She didn’t bother to add that what he suggested hadn’t been what she’d meant. It was enough to realize this fact, and let it burn inside her. Her turmoil tore Sabin up inside- but for different reasons
“Aubrey, please don’t do this. Think rationally. What he did to you… what he was going to do to you, to your unborn child, it’s an abomination.” His stomach churned with the whey of his words.
She seemed irritated, but still focused- and her words, though angry, were encouraging. “I know we’re doing the right thing. I’m not fool enough to sabotage myself again. It’s just that it doesn’t get any easier. This- none of this makes sense. I’m going to betray him like he betrayed me.”
“What we’re doing isn’t betrayal. We’re just making him think that he’s gotten his way. We’re… injecting the truth into his lie. It’s not our crime. …It’s not our crime.”
“You don’t understand. I am going to betray him, Sabin.”
“It only feels that way… because you’re a good woman. You see the good in things. Even a man like Moreau.”
“He does have good in him. But god, how I hate him.”
He waited for the inevitable.
“And love him,” she whispered. “Oh god, and hate him.” It was finally too much. She broke into tears, and the righteous and horrible waterfall of sobs rained upon him as he clutched her even closer to him. The cool sweat of their ardor had since outlived its welcome as a thing which brought down their fevered temperatures, so Sabin pulled a blanket over their two bodies, tucking it around Aubrey’s shoulder with a sweet care as she sobbed into him.
He murmured only nonsensical hums and hushes to calm her through her emotion- no words would suit here in this sentimental maelstrom. He swallowed deeply between the sounds, and tried to convince himself that what he had done was for the best. For all that was wrong with what he had done, it had been his only choice. It was unforgivable. But at least now he was helping her. He had convinced himself, in the depths of his mind, that what he was doing was as much for her own good, as it was for his. He knew that Moreau would never change. There would be no compromising in this issue- or really, any other. If Aubrey ever seriously displeased him, she would be punished- unless the transgression was one that caused him to fear that she was slipping away from him. Then, Sabin knew, he would give her what she had always craved- his love, his attention, showing her the barest glimmer of how much he needed her. The anger and fear that had begun to drive her away in the first place would vanish, buried beneath the surface of her emotions, waiting for the inevitable occurrence that it would return in full force on the face of his transgressions. He did need her- but in a dark, uncompromising way. It was not her soul that he needed- not her happiness and her communion with him, but rather, he wanted all of her, to possess her. Nicholas Moreau loved her in the only way he knew how- like a man willing to destroy what he could not have. If all he had was her body and her will, he would settle to kill her spirit, and that unique, beautiful soul that had made her what she was.
Sabin did not hold any fondness for the man who was his superior on the island. If he had known so many years before that their association would be so firmly tainted, he never would have let it go beyond that initial, very promising beginning. They had met several years before at Harvard, and their initial interactions had given Sabin hope for the young man. Almost all men were ‘young’ to Sabin, but there was a certain childish genius to this troubled scientist. His projects had caused a near panic amongst some of the other faculty members who whispered behind closed doors of the inhuman possibilities in some of the prodigy’s research proposals. Moreau’d had the ear of no man- save Sabin Duvert, who had been fascinated by the rumors. What was seemingly a one-time collaboration- an offer for funding for the young man, and an encouraging response- became a more permanent offer when Moreau returned, years later, the head of a billion dollar corporation and the heir to a legacy of secret and possibility. Sabin’s last few years at Harvard had been fraught with depression and avoidance- so there was a chance he would have taken any offer to leave the place of so many memories. …Too many memories. It was seemingly perfect luck that such a fascinating redirection of his life- and distraction, for that matter- had presented itself. Sabin Duvert had not felt alive for many years, and he had hoped that Moreau and his island of wonders would return to him at least a shred of those feelings he ached for the loss of.
There was one thing that he had surmised correctly about Moreau’s island- it had proved a fascinating and horrifyingly unique distraction. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such marvels that Moreau had been able to manufacture in his genius, and to have a hand in creating a myriad of faux-mythical creatures. There was a belonging there that he hadn’t expected, finding himself in the midst of a world filled with dual creatures in which he was a secret member. In a way, he was their king- one of them, and yet, above them- he was the possessor of two things that he adored: the control, and the knowledge. Being on the island may have been enough to save him…or damn him… if not for the slow realization of what Moreau was, and what he himself was becoming in his shadow.
Moreau was not a man to make friends with. He was, at the best, a genius, but a
possessive, domineering one that demanded the fear and respect of all those whom
he considered to be beneath him. It wasn’t long before Sabin realized… that
there was no one that he did not see
as beneath him. Sabin was certainly no exception- if anything, Moreau made a
greater show of trying to cow the man whose ear he had once graciously had, and
whose support he had relished- than he did for any, perhaps save Aubrey
herself, whose miniscule aberrations from what he saw as the perfect worship
were seen as major transgressions. The
difference was, he saw her as belonging to him. Sabin was just a pawn- but one
he felt the desperate, almost furious need to ‘put in his place’. There would be no reining ‘king’ on the
Moreau’s temper had often flared up in the face of the white haired doctor- denouncing him for his personal projects that had been, according to him, a waste of resources and a grave transgression within the hierarchy of his precious lab. He was domineering, distrustful, and infinitely cruel in ways that Sabin was only beginning to appreciate. Even Sabin’s malicious streak did not rival the omni-prescient coldness that was Moreau’s need to have everything- and everyone- in his power. The very things that had drawn Sabin to the man in the first place- his genius and his ability to control and manipulate- were what inevitably soured and curdled him towards the redheaded madman. It was something that Aubrey shared with the man she had so recently taken as her lover: for the very thing that she had once adored about him- the way that he could make her feel like he would love her, own her, and need her above all others- was what had killed them. She couldn’t go on living a mockery of a life, a love made sour by inequality and doubt. For every step they’d made in the right direction, she couldn’t shake the feeling that every one was in the direction of damnation. She did not believe in hell- her very nature precluded it. But that didn’t stop her from realizing that the moral road upon which she walked was growing shakier and uglier all the time. There are some people who walk a road of morality… for other reasons than what destination it might lead you to.
For all the power games and manipulations that Moreau played with, he and Sabin were not alike creatures. The half-anju man was subtle in his ploys, gentle, and even painstaking in his procedures of fine manipulation and power. He carefully cultivated reactions, and when his gestures were grand, they were planned to have the maximum impact for the smallest, most devious action. Sabin’s particular brand of manipulation was likened to a man injecting something into another- the impact, though strong, was ideally brought about by the tiniest prick of pain, the barest insertion of the ‘cause’ into his life. Moreau was likened more to a man throwing punches- any form of control, all manners of power he sought, and from everyone in his path. His manipulations were not subtle, and although some were impeccably planned- especially for those that affected the people closest to him- many were broad and heavily thrown. For every ten things that Moreau managed to inflict upon the islanders he had turned into unwilling test subjects, as horrible as many of his contriving were, only a few would have the devastating, and highly cultivated response that Sabin would have cultured- and anticipated- from his actions. Sabin contrived to know his ‘victim’ inside and out, regardless of the form of his manipulation- for he knew better than any that the mind is a rich playground for an anju psyche to play with. There would be no ham-handed mimicking of Moreau’s brand of manipulation. For all his magnificent brilliance, Sabin would never seek to become the man that Moreau was. It incensed him that he had spent so much time believing that he needed Moreau to still function as he had on the island. Of course he still believed it- there was no way he could hold in his mind the things that Moreau had discovered- but the time had come, and he could no more bear the man’s tyranny than he could change what he had become so many years ago. For a man who was made up of the very essence of the Fear to Be Controlled… could not bear the ministrations of one Nicholas Moreau. There would be a day of reckoning. Sabin felt it draw ever nearer, and he wondered with a morbid curiosity as he cradled a woman miserable with the possibilities of what was to come in his arms… what form it might take.
* * *
“How about Simon?”
His eyes narrowed, and he dropped a book into the box.
“Okay, how about not.”
She shook her head. “I like it… but it’s not right for… us.” She shrugged, shuffling through the pile of things she’d stacked on the rug.
“Alright, how about…George?”
Samantha smiled at the name, even though the memory it invoked was not a very happy one. She gave her husband an appreciative beam of her beautiful smile, a silent thank you for the thought. “George… I’ll keep that one in mind. What about this?” She held up the object at the top of the pile.
“You can’t keep everything.”
knooooow,” she said, drawing the word out with a petulant hum, “it’s just so
much harder than I’d thought. …I got it in
Sabin shrugged from his station in front of one of the many bookcases in the house. “Well, you can keep it if you want. If anyone ever asked, you could say it belonged to a relative. Or that you had it engraved with your initials later. …Flora?”
sighed, and then shook her head. “No, and no. ...I’ve already kept too much. Besides, it’s not like we’re getting rid of
everything. And I don’t really need
Despite the dreary minimalism of it all, and the hard-to-make decisions of stowing away those treasures which linked them to their fantastical past, there was a breathless excitement between the couple. Sabin himself was ecstatic with a glee he’d never before felt- nothing he’d ever expected to come at the same time in his life when he was planning on hiding what he was, of pretending to be ‘normal’, and of throwing into storage everything they had previously been. He could think of no better reason to make such a change, and despite the difficulty in trying to imagine what their lives would be like, and whether or not it would be successful, the very idea of it made him burst with joy. Even the Creante side of his nature was happy, for beneath it all, there was a fear to feed off, to appreciate. What, he had asked himself since that moment she’d told him, if I can’t do it? What if I can’t control myself, and our cover is useless? Will we ever be able to live ‘normal’ lives? …Can I ever offer them normal, happy existences? He didn’t give himself over to the fears, but they were there, even through the giddiness that accompanied their steady packing.
It was late in the afternoon, and they had since separated into different rooms of the house. It fell to Samantha to make decisions about the furniture in the bedroom, and she was on her knees looking at their bureau, peering in drawers to see if there was anything she’d left in the back corners when her husband appeared in the doorway smiling, a text in his hands.
up into as full a posture as she could manage on her knees when she saw him,
placing her hands where her two jeaned thighs touched. “How about
He held it out to her. “I just thought you’d like to see it.” He walked into the room and settled next to her, easing into a sitting position on the rug at her side before handing the very old copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to her with both hands. The edition had actually been one that they’d purchased only twenty or so years before, but it was a second edition, and the pages were beginning to crease and yellow despite the beautifully printed words and elegant images that depicted stories that would be considered terribly frightening by today’s standards. But in the eyes of these old-fashioned two, there was nothing better, and with the sweet, almost childish moods they had both been in, Samantha could think of nothing better than to relish in the appearance of the beautiful old book.
“Ohh,” she breathed, and ran her fingers across the aging cover. “I’d forgotten we had this.” She closed her eyes and hugged it to her chest, as if she didn’t dare open either. Only after she felt a soft whisper of a word in her ear, and a kiss on her neck did she release the book to her lap once more and open her eyes to see Sabin smiling at her.
“Eric,” she said, repeating the name he’d whispered into her ear. “I do think I like that one.”
“I thought you might.” He smiled so wide she thought his mouth might ache for the exertion, and it struck her how surreal it all was. It had only been a few months since that night of the eclipse, and only two weeks since her pregnancy had been surprisingly- almost impossibly- confirmed. The two had never thought they would be able to have children- not with their incompatibility. She hadn’t even been sure that Sabin would be able to have children at all, let alone with her… and she had her doubts about herself as well, regardless of her affinity for life magic. They still didn’t understand what had happened, but were happy to chalk it up to the very special day they had shared, and the untold magic of the day the sun met a temporary doom. It was a dream come true.
She lifted the cover and turned to a page at random.
“Happily Ever After,” she said, giving each word the emphasis it deserved. She smiled, touching the delicate fingers on one hand to the slight protuberance of her soft stomach. The other hand she placed over his heart. “We’ve got our happily ever after, Sabin.”
* * *
“Happily Ever After.”
He read the words above the door, but resisted the urge to say anything else. The very sight of them made his stomach churn a little, somewhat for the sake of a now distant memory, but also for what he saw as a hideously inappropriate placement above the pale door of the nursery that had been made with care to hold Moreau’s future progeny. He wondered why he hadn’t seen them before, but more than that- his mind roiled to think that Moreau could ever think of the words as fitting. Besides, he thought as he wryly ran his tongue along the protuberance of his sharp canines, he was surprised that someone as… immorally manufactured as Moreau seemed to be could even be aware of anything that would come out of a fairy tale. He seemed as ill-disposed to “Happily Ever Afters” and “Once upon a Times” as he did to daisy chains and overnight camping trips with marshmallows held over a roaring fire.
The imagery amused him, and he barked a laugh, effectively startling someone who had come down the hallway behind him. Sabin turned at the sudden spike of watered-down fear, minutely interested as Carver, a senior member of his team, scurried off down the hall after his sudden startle with the eccentric Dr. Duvert.
the man go with a soft, almost absentminded interest, following after a few
moments. In the months since Moreau’s
departure, despite his overt plotting and seemingly constantly two-mindedness
about what had been occurring, Sabin had found no reason to stop the
experiments that had drawn him to the island in the first place. If anything, without Moreau’s oppressive eye
and fitful temper, there had been a joy in his projects that he’d not felt in a
long while- not since those early days on the island when everything was fresh
and new. If anything, this sojourn from
Moreau’s constant, watchful eye had rejuvenated him, and cemented further his
desire to rearrange the hierarchy of Moreau’s
Sabin followed Carver down the long hallway until it led him to those smaller labs that had been given over to his control. His team was already gathered there, at least, all those who were needed for this purpose- he had earlier in the week assigned a number of them to stabilizer research and had seen little of them since- spotting their bleary eyes and shuffling gaits late into the night when they surfaced only for a cup of coffee before disappearing again. Sabin was known for working his team hard, and for expecting a great deal of commitment from them; more often than not, a transfer to the eccentric, white haired doctor’s team would elicit a lab technician’s previous team members to send them off with jokes that they’d never see them again, or that they hoped they had enjoyed the sleep they’d gotten up to that point in their lives, because it was unlikely they’d ever get another chance at it.
For all his forceful drive to steer them towards the goals he had set, however, he was also known as a fair and enthusiastic supervisor. Barring the lack of sleep, the lab workers beneath him had seldom an opportunity to complain. Sabin was particular about who was on his staff, and though his allotment changed depending on Moreau’s current opinion of him, he had generally retained the same specialists he had requested at the start, sans that near-half of his team that had been given to Fergusson during his less than illustrious, one-time demotion.
For those team members that had been with him from the start, however, they had gotten the chance to know Sabin, or at least his moods. The more permanent of his staff (and observant) had noted that what was a fundamentally excitable and friendly man, prone to bouts of deep curiosity and impish experimentation, tended to care little about what the people around him thought about him. He would have almost been a severe mismatch for the island, if not for the sake of his ever-growing streak of manipulation and thinning morality. After time, his sarcasm bit down harder, and what had been a previous fascination with the islanders and their transformations became an almost frightening passion for making the transitions crueler, and the days between more miserable for the highly individual tortures he would inflict. Some had learned to stay away from the man, and to avoid at all costs those tactless arguments that he could draw one into- those biting, crass things that would make a man come free the other side, wondering what they could have possibly done to deserve such confusion and self-doubt.
For all the sake of his ever-deepening cruelty towards the islanders, he was still considered to be a choice supervisor. After all, it was no secret that Feral Labs was not a happy-go-lucky place. Many of the non-test subject denizens had come to the island knowing quite what it was, having signed their lives over to the purpose of such revolutionary, even miraculous discoveries. Sabin would have never believed the wide number of people there were in the world for whom the end easily justified the means- if not for the existence of the people he worked with every day of his life.
There were a few on his team that had come to the island blindsided- in fact, the early portion of his team was just that- those fresh out of medical school lab technicians and chemistry majors who had staffed the early incarnations of Feral Labs. As time went on, and they were replaced by more experienced, willing personnel, their positions had been outmoded and their duties subject to serious downgrading. The four that he’d been assigned from this unfortunate pool were in fact his special cadre of ‘lackies’ whose jobs it were to settle the details of his meticulous “observation experiments” and the “acts of discipline” that were essentially payback and/or his desire to see a reaction. Someone had to manage the grunt work of sealing thousands of bugs into a duplex, for example, or to deliver clothing that would disintegrate upon touching the water. Other times, Sabin would take pity on them and have them sit in on the meetings he held for the rest of his team, making the grand point of asking their opinions. For a man who loved control as much as he did, he felt no pride or accomplishment in lording over those who weren’t in ‘the game’. The islanders- they were in the game, as were Aubrey and certainly Moreau (he was the self-proclaimed king, after all). The game was that elaborate, ever-challenging concoction that whispered in his ear at night and wove a web of possibility over interactions and the possibilities of the hierarchy he was a begrudging part of. The people on his team- they were his aides. Not his toys. By the very sake of what they were, they had earned a professional courtesy that went along with their demanding job.
By the time Sabin had reached his labs- which were on the same floor as his office, though not adjunctive- he saw that Carver had needed little time to regain his bearings, for the man had already activated a blood tumbler and was waiting for the sample to spin out. The others were all occupied, as well- and he stood to watch them for a few minutes as they shot him curious and sometimes nervous glances out of the corner of their eyes. Finally, he adjusted the routine of a few, then chose a few at random to thank before walking satisfied down to his office.
Entering the decent-sized room was like stepping into a place far away from Moreau and his sterile white walls and chrome accents, and into something warmer and altogether darker. Sabin’d had it specially designed when Moreau had offered him the space he’d need for an office- ordering in large pieces of wood furniture that had taken a small fleet of unhappy guards hours to carry through the lab hallways to reach their final destination, and choosing a dark, yet comforting color for the walls. The desk at which he sat was made of an antique cherry wood, and even yet he imagined it gave off a distinctly sweet smell when he sat behind its immense contours. The bookshelves were littered with tomes that ran the gamut from mythical to science, spanning languages and cultures, as well as a few shelves dedicated to a collection of D&D books that had always amused him and peaked his curiosity and imagination. The age of the books varied, as did their notoriety and their condition- some had made fairly long treks with the practically ancient doctor- and others rather new additions to an impressive library.
From amidst the books, and along the planks of the dark wooden furniture, a multitude of eccentric knick knacks peered at the white haired man as he entered the room. Some were priceless- ceramic figurines and pottery that would be the heartbreak of a thousand ancestors if ever they were to fall to the floor- and others the almost alien, out-of-place dragon figurines that were obviously worth more in entertainment than they were in true value. A massive golden globe sat in a wooden perch next to his desk, the points where he had visited in his travels touched with a drop of red ink. He was pleased to see, as he always was, that there were several large areas that appeared to have been the hosts of a rather bloody war- so thick were they with the red that suggested he had been a one-time addition to their demographic. Once he’d thought of going back with drops of green ink and cover those places where Samantha had also been. But before he could ever bear to touch the quill to the point where Chesmire had once been, he’d replaced it in its pot and pushed the massive globe away. For some things, he just didn’t need the reminder.
He sat behind his desk and toyed for a minute with the quill he’d left there the night before. It was a long, black and grey eagle feather, a beautiful thing that he absently stroked with his long fingers as he mused about how wonderful it would be to have a quill pen made from the feather of a griffin. He didn’t have to wonder on it long, for a mischievous idea sprung to mind. It would obviously not be the feather of a true griffin, but regardless, the principle enough would be enough to delight him. He used the eagle feather quill to make a series of notes. One he wrote to himself- a reminder that he would need to access the chip system- another to his team outlining what he had in mind, and a final note to the guard who would be stationed in the tape room- reminding him to catch the bit of film and send it to his office at his request. He would have more fun with his new toy, he reckoned, if he watched ‘the harvest’ of it.
While he had his memo sheet out, he wondered back to if there was anything else he’d had a mind to do. There were several issues with the surveillance cameras that he would have to take care of- he and Aubrey had been spending even more time together than he had initially thought would happen- even after that first unexpected night of passion- and if they weren’t careful, Moreau would become suspicious of the large number of tapes that had been destroyed at his order. It was not a pressing fear- Moreau had been gone so frequently that Sabin doubted he would have the desire or the ability to track down the whereabouts of thousands of hours of tape, even if an inordinate number were missing. Even still, he thought, staring vaguely past the crystalline red geode that sat at the corner of his desk, it might be worth looking into to manage some sort of minor sabotage of the tape room. There could be a malfunction with the drawdeck, or maybe a sort of recurring loop issue that would appear in smaller, seemingly natural occurrences on other tapes, as well…
“Am I interrupting anything?”
Sabin looked up and blinked his eyes back into focus. Aubrey’s figure came into distinct view- rounder now than ever before.
“No. Not at all. Come in.” He put the quill back on his desk, ignoring the half-written notes he’d been making to himself. “Would you like to sit down?” He made a gesture as if to indicate one of the large leather chairs that sat in various places in his office- but then, just as quickly, realized that he’d piled papers and books upon them, and hurried to jump to his feet and clear one of them. Aubrey tried to wave him away as she walked gingerly into the room.
“Don’t bother. No, really, it’s okay- if I sit down in one of those I’m never going to get up again. These days it’s more comfortable to stand.” Her hands rested in reverse on her hips, causing her elbows to jut somewhat out behind her. The general posture was that of a woman constantly shouldered with a niggling back pain.
Sabin would hear none of it, though, and moved so quickly around his desk to empty the nearest chair that Aubrey could almost swear she saw his shadow disconnect from him for a second- as if it had a mind of its own or were struggling to keep up. It would have made her smile, but Sabin offered her his arm and the surprise both kept her from the spontaneous gesture of mirth, and had her take his proffered hand before realizing what it would mean.
Once he had her hand, he took the other off her hip without waiting for it to be offered. Then he pulled her in closer to him- Aubrey wondered if for a kiss or embrace, but the latter was only somewhat the case, for he wrapped one arm around her ever-expanding middle and then, one hand still on her arm, lowered her gently down into the deep leather folds of the wingback.
“And don’t worry about trying to get up. If it comes to it, I’ll push you around in the chair.” He smiled impishly, and her overdue planned smile came back, coupled with a sweet little laugh that was short but pleasing to hear.
“Heck, if it comes down to it, I’ll give birth in the chair. It’s so comfortable.” She snuggled down into it, surprised that the leather could be so soft and inviting, and half forgot why she’d come in the first place.
Sabin knelt down by the arm, his hand outstretched onto her knee. It was nice to see her from this vantage point- he was close enough to smell the faint coconut and strawberry essence that came from her shampoo- a scent that he had grown familiar with and fond of- and to see the flush of her cheeks beneath her peppering of dusty brown freckles from the sake of her exertion. Even though she’d only walked from the downstairs labs, these days, nearly everything was an exertion.
“Beastie’s fond of it,” he said, referring to the chair.
“Where is the little mutant?” She said, sitting up slightly to peer over the large block of a desk, as if to see a flash of tentacles or extra paws hiding there.
“I don’t know. I’ve been giving him some free reign recently. With Moreau not around, I’m not afraid he’ll never turn up again.”
She nodded, agreeing with him in a sage and silent motion. Sabin rejoiced- the meaning behind her silent agreement meant a major victory.
What he had said was not anything that he would have dared to suggest to Aubrey a year- or even a few months- before. Even though they both knew that what he implied was true- that if he’d let the strange pet he’d created roam the hallways, it would only infuriate the one who had never wanted him to exist in the first place… even that he wouldn’t have said to Aubrey, for fear that, despite the truth, she would have reacted with anger and indignance at his saying anything negative about her fiancé. Even when she knew he was wrong, she defended him by finding soluble reasons for his actions within her love for him, and in her need and trust. Now, as the bonds weakened and her need to be loved was overcome by her maternal need to protect her unborn child- and to somehow free herself- Sabin found that even in small ways such as this, her defenses for him were wearing thin. No longer would she protect him. Now she had the welfare of something infinitely more important to be concerned about.
Sabin still hadn’t forgotten the terrible day when Moreau had sentenced his ‘extracurricular creatures’ to death, or that Aubrey had effectively pardoned his favorite, his little Beastie. The sleek little black animal had been ‘blessed’ by a purposeful set of mutations: one pair of legs too many, sandwiched between those he had been born with, as well as a pair of squidly tentacles that stemmed from his shoulder blades, waving in the air not unlike a pair of bizarrely misplaced antennae. He was not a beautiful little thing, but for whatever reason, he was content, and hardly burdened by his unnatural additions- a veritable little cornball for attention and as loving and sweet a cat as Sabin had ever seen.
The very fact that Beastie existed- and his fated cohabitants of Sabin’s once happily populated experimental animal lab- had been enough to condemn them to death. For not asking his permission to create the creatures, Sabin had unwittingly played a dangerous card against Moreau- one that suggested that he did not fear the man, nor did he bow to his childlike self-proclamation of kingdom. It was an unwise move, if even an unintentional one, and the result had been a deeper wedge between the two men for whom power was a measurable commodity for a game in which He who held the most- was the undeniable winner. Sabin had lost the round that involved his beloved animals, but the reprieve that had come from Aubrey for the lovable little mutant cat had been a small victory of its own. Whenever Sabin had the chance to pit the woman who Moreau needed the most in the world against the madman, he felt powerful- he felt like he was winning. Sabin Duvert was not too proud a manipulator to spend years driving slivers of doubt and betrayal into a man before bringing him down. After all, he had all the time in the world, and nothing was worse than spoiling a delicious win… with being brutish about it. A good victory had to be delicately balanced, cultivated, and reaped with a savory appreciation of the work that had gone into it. The day that he would finally bring Moreau to his knees, see him crumble, he wanted to be able to see in the man’s eyes that he knew that he had been had- slowly, tantalizingly betrayed and overcome until there was nothing left but the realization… that Sabin had won. The reaction alone would be worth all the work he had put into it, all the planning. If only it could conquer his self-doubt.
“So, Aubrey,” he said, cheered by what he saw a choice morsel of victory, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She traced the leather along the arm of the chair with the tip of a slightly swollen finger- they were better these recent weeks than they had been, though she couldn’t hope to say the same about the state of her ankles- and spoke as the gesture continued in a forgetful, infinity ‘8’.
“I’ve been thinking.”
She raised her eyebrows at him- and it seemed to him a gentle admonishment for what had almost been an interruption on his part. He didn’t apologize, but his smile was as contrite as it was amused, and so the brown shapely eyebrow dropped back into place and she nodded, accepting his unspoken and un-offered apology.
His smile remained. “How strange! When you came in, that was just what I’d been thinking about too. I’d even made some notes…” he rose to his feet and went back to the massive desk, shuffling through his scribbles to see if he’d written anything nigh on the coherent, when she continued.
“I was thinking that when Nick comes home, he might want to see the tape of you changing the sex. If we’re still going to play that you changed it… there would be some evidence.”
He dropped the note he’d just gotten a hand on back onto the desk. “Oh.” The word was quiet and dark.
“If you’re right, and the…change puts you in his favor, then he might want some verification before he just gives you what you want. You wouldn’t be a very effective double agent if he’s suspicious of you. He has to really believe that you would have… done it.”
He’d said it musingly, toying with the word as if it were a wound in his mouth that he couldn’t quit tonguing to let heal- but Aubrey must have mistook his tone, for she answered, “Well, a regular one, then. One for me. For us.”
Sabin had walked unwittingly into a Medusa’s world, where a wrong glance could confound him as well as trap him in a state of cold hardness that, had he the ability to fully feel his emotions in this disconnected state, he would have feared he’d never be able to escape from. As it were, he was lucky to have realized that Aubrey had stopped talking, and turned to her, wondering through his quick fire thoughts of what to do with what she had said.
“Oh… I’m sorry.” Her fingers stopped their repetitive trace. Sabin still didn’t think she realized she’d been doing it. “It sounded weird to say ‘us’, didn’t it? I didn’t mean to say that. It just came out.”
He waved his hand. “No, no, it was fine. I was just… brainstorming, is all. Trying to think of what the best thing to do was.”
“You said you had some notes? Some thoughts?” She pointed at the desk when he gave her another look of surprise, as if he had so soon forgotten what he’d earlier pointed out to her. In a way he had- and when she drew his attention to the eagle-quill written scribbles, it came back to him again the possibility of what she’d suggested.
“Oh these? No, no these are just… well, they’re not good. It’s all just shorthand nonsense. Nothing decent.” He opened a desk drawer and brushed the entire collection into it with a flat palm that rubbed against the cherry wood with a barely audible squark.
“So what should we do? Could we… recreate it, somehow? Would that even be possible, now that I’m so far along? We could splice old footage, maybe…” but her voice seemed doubtful.
His head was buzzing. “No, I don’t think that’d be the best idea. Maybe now we should just destroy a section of tape from a certain night- I… I have one in mind, a date that would have been before your first ultrasound, which would probably work. That way, at least if he asks to see it, I can say that I destroyed it so you wouldn’t find it.”
She frowned, considering, but eventually nodded. “That might be the best we can do. So you can take care of that.”
“Yes. I can certainly take care of it.” The stuffed feeling in his mouth was beginning to soften, melt as if it were cotton candy rather than its previous cottony sensation. He even went so far as to venture a soft smile.
“I want to see the serum, Sabin.”
His smile died, and the cotton feeling re-solidified, drying out his mouth. He was amazed how quickly his head could feel warm and packed, as if someone had warmed cloth and forced it inside until it lined his cheeks and pushed out at his forehead.
“Why not? I can see it if I want to. It was meant for me, after all.” It was a vicious turn of logic, but, Sabin had to admit, a true one.
“I don’t mean that. I know it was… well, you just can’t.”
“Why would you try and keep it from me? What aren’t you telling me?” She tried to get up out of the chair and struggled with the imbalance of her weight. Sabin hurried to calm her as well as settle her back into the chair.
“I only mean that you can’t as in… can’t. There isn’t any more.” She stilled, the look on her face incomprehensible, her eyes peering up past the point where her glasses had slipped to her nose.
“What happened to it?”
He knelt at her side. “I destroyed it. That was the first thing I did after we made our decision. If he comes back and sees it wasn’t used, then he’ll know.”
“Oh. Yes, of course he’d know. Why didn’t I think of it?” She looked at Sabin as if for the first time. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to get so emotional. It must be these hormones. They’re running amuck with my mind. Thank you, Sabin.” She put a hand over his and squeezed it gently. He felt another burst of warmth with the gesture- not a pleasant sort, but rather, a mimic of that pulsing heat that he’d felt bombarding his skull only moments before.
“You’re thanking me? What for?”
“For thinking of it. For taking care of it. You’re doing all this, and you’re putting yourself through all this for me. I’ve been too…confused to really think to mention it, but I am grateful to you.” Then she gave him a smile. He thought perhaps that was the worst part of it all.
“Please, don’t thank me, Aubrey.”
“But I want to. I didn’t know who to trust for a while, there- hearing about everything. It was just too much. I think, in a way…”
“It still is.” He finished her thought.
“Yeah. We’re not safe yet, are we?”
“No. But this is the best chance we have.”
She laced her fingers together over her middle, and looked down at the ever-growing infant whose future was the linchpin of everything. He was their greatest chance- and their greatest downfall.
“Ironic, isn’t it?”
“That he,” she patted her stomach to indicate which ‘he’ she meant, “was supposed to give me some control, give me some say over my life. But Nick’s been doing all this planning, taking me out of the picture entirely. Sometimes I wonder if he just sees me as an… heir producer, now, and that after it’s all over he’ll not have any use for me.” She sighed, and the look on her face was the same tenacious sadness that she’d worn that night when she told him she was going to betray the man she loved. Her words had been so resolved, even then, that Sabin half-wondered if they meant more than the symbolism he assumed she’d intended for them.
He put his hand on her knee, patting her reassuringly. “Despite the horrible things he’s done,” he said, starting gently, “Though of course they can’t be put aside in the grand picture… in this you should see that he really does need you. That’s why this is going to work.”
“Maybe.” He didn’t know whether she referred to their plan, or to Moreau’s needing her, and it unsettled him, somewhat.
“He needs your loyalty. That’s the reason he hates that you’re close with some of the islanders, that you take care of them and shelter them. Because it kills him that there could be anyone in the world that you’re close to but him.”
“That’s not real love.”
“No, it’s not. But it’s the closest thing he’s capable of.”
“You know, he sees it as a weakness. The way I treat the islanders, I mean.”
“That’s because he doesn’t understand it.’
“Kindness isn’t a weakness.” She
said it defiantly, and Sabin nodded as she continued. “I would think that a
weakness would imply that it would be the easiest thing to do- the path that
most people would take by default. It
would be more common. It would be
easier.” She looked into Sabin’s eyes-
those grayish blue things that told her nothing, but his hand on hers was
gentle again. Sabin knew that her time
on the island had been hard. In a way,
it had been for all of them, but the observant Frenchman who spent most of his
time observing the reactions of others (particularly under stress), knew how
tied to a ticking time bomb Aubrey Lockheart truly was. The way she treated the islanders, as if they
were human that still deserved her basic respect and dignity (if some
professional distance), had obsessed Moreau, who didn’t want to see her loyalty
divided amongst anyone but him. Sabin
had watched her rise to a
“I know, Aubrey. I know.” Better than anyone, he knew. Something eventually had to give.
“Sometimes I think the islanders want to hate me. Nothing I do makes any difference. If I’m good to them, they betray me, but if I try to put my foot down on something that’s wrong, they treat me like I’m cruel. I hate that there’s no pleasing them.”
“You have to stop trying to please everyone. It won’t do any good.”
“But how about someone? Anyone? Sometimes it seems like I’m not good enough for anyone.”
“You’re more than good enough for me, Aubrey. I think you’re… wonderful.”
She smiled at him, but didn’t bother to thank him. “Life is strange, isn’t it, Sabin?”
“How so?” He squeezed her hand.
“I was in love with a man… he was my world. And I didn’t trust myself. And you… I didn’t trust you much, either, Sabin. Or, maybe it’s just that I didn’t understand you. Now I’m falling in…” the pause was audible, though she never broke her gaze, and her expression was unreadable and unabashed, “well, things are different.”
“And you trust me now?”
“Mm. But I still don’t think I understand you, all the time. But I guess that’s alright.” Then she said it again, as if the realization had just hit her. “It is alright, isn’t it? It’s very different than Nick. I don’t want to say he was an obsession, but…”
“But he was an obsession.” She laughed, but was cut short by the feeling of his lips against hers. He’d leaned into her, not letting go of her hand as he tasted her, feeling her soft breath and touching her face, teasing her earlobe with a gentle tug. It wasn’t until after they pulled apart, her eyes closed and her lips softly parted as if expectant of more, that he swallowed deep.
“Why did you want to see the serum?”
Her eyes fluttered open. “…I don’t know. Morbid curiosity, I guess.” She put her hand on top of his where it sat, sheltering hers, and gave it an assuring squeeze. “I do believe you. I guess it’s just harder to get out of… ‘that’ mode. He was everything for so long, that sometimes it feels that by letting him go, I’m finding a whole new me under here. Where are you going?”
As she’d talked, a whole other train of thought skipped a station in his mind. Sabin thought of the serum and where it had eventually ended up, and there was something cloying in Aubrey’s gentle trust and changing attitude about what had previously been a huge part of her life. There was also a swift, biting inner need to prove something to her- and to keep something from her, as well. He’d let her go, and walked back around to his desk where his computer waited, another almost out-of-place modernity amongst the room’s overall atmosphere of antiquity. He turned on the screen and opened his email file, then selected a very particular one and clicked on the voice file attached to it. He checked the audio on his speakers, then sat back and steepled his fingers into almost clawed points as a very familiar voice echoed into the room with the fuzzy buzz of a recording.
"A final note, one I will only say once, so listen carefully.” Aubrey’s eyes went wide at the familiar, almost aristocratic voice, but Sabin’s expression was grim and he gave no indication of explaining, so she went dumb once again, her hands subconsciously hovering at the ends of the wingback’s long leather arms. The recording continued, uninterrupted by their inclusion.
“This is a way for you to make everything up to me, and for me to clear just about whatever actions you care to take while I am gone. I have left supplies and instructions with you, if it turns out that Aubrey's child is female... I need you to assure that it will be born male.” That it was said so plainly, without indication that he either understood or cared how monstrous his statement was, added to the coldness, and Sabin could see that Aubrey’s hands had gone taut, and she had all but shifted her weight to the edge of her seat. There was a painful expression on her face, as if it were the first time she had ever heard of the plan.
“I have left everything you'll need to take care of this without leaving any signs of tampering. If you fail me in this, or if Aubrey gets wind of this, you'll find yourself working for Delia. Good day Sabin, I wish you luck."
The empty hum of the recording lingered for only a split second before it was clicked off- as if Moreau was willing to waste even that fraction of a second. The result was an ominous finality, one that had left no room for doubting in Sabin’s mind when he’d first heard it. There were no threats in the recording, so much as there were indelible promises. It was yet another example of Moreau’s brand of blatant, almost ham-handed version of manipulation and control. Sabin had little respect for his methodology- but more than that, he despised that, despite its lack of subtlety, it worked. His own actions had been evidence of that, as was the bleak look on the face of the woman who carried his child.
“I wish I’d never gotten pregnant.”
“I’m sorry, Aubrey.”
“No, I’m glad you had me listen to it. …You know, as much as I wanted a daughter, now I can only think- thank god I’m having a son.”
He didn’t bother to clarify that he wasn’t necessarily apologizing for that.
“I’m glad I heard it,” she continued. “It’s not that I didn’t believe you, but still. There’s always that part of you that wants to doubt. That wants to believe that… well, that everything’s still going to be okay. That the fairy tale can still exist.” She moved then, an involuntary thing caused by a cramp in her lower back. She moaned, not realizing how tightly wound her muscles had become in the short period of time she’d been in Sabin’s office. He moved to help her out of the chair, and once she was standing, wrapped an idle arm around her expanded middle. She smiled and thought how surreal it was, standing in the arms of someone she ever would have expected, the bulge between them the unborn child of another man.
“Happily Ever After,” he said cryptically. Aubrey smiled as he ran a finger across her jaw line and brushed a piece of her hair out of her eyes. Then he gently let her go and watched her as she left. Only then did he sink into the chair behind his desk. Long after she had gone, he huffed a sound of disbelief and regret, and opened the right drawer of his desk Inside, a single surveillance tape waited- the true testament to what had happened that night when Aubrey’s child had revealed itself on the ultrasound… to be a girl.
“Happily Ever After.” He’d once had one. …Once.
* * *
“No. …How about Eric?”
She shrugged. “I think it would look cuter on Alex, but just pick one.” Samantha smiled, the two infants kicking their legs up in the air from their safe and warm position in their mother’s arms.
Sabin grinned, an almost manic thing that was one of the many indications of how happy the man was. “I think that the little griffin will suit my big handsome boy.” He was kneeling over them, and gave the brown headed little boy’s furry crown a soft kiss before slipping the tiny green scrap of a hat on him, turning it so that the embroidered griffin on the front was shown to the best advantage.
“And that leaves my sweet, wonderful girl to have the dragon.”
“Rawr.” Samantha laughed as her husband slipped the little white dragon cap on their little girl. He’d been so delighted to find the two in the store that she’d not had the heart to remind him that their budget was tight, and that they had plenty enough baby clothes from thrift markets and used sales. They had sold a few choice pieces from their personal collections that kept them out of harm’s way as far as the house and Sabin’s schooling was concerned, but it was better to be safe than sorry, and Samantha didn’t much relish selling more of their heirlooms. It was well worth it, however, to see that look on Sabin’s face.
“You’re so sweet,” she said to her husband as she hugged the two infants closer to her. She wished that she could hold all three of them together. “You’re really wonderful. I hope you know that.”
He put one hand on her knee, and the other on the bundle that was somewhat calmer, less anxious than his sister, and he was struck- not for the first time- that he didn’t know how he could deserve this. It was all and more than he’d ever dreamed of, something that they’d given up on ever happening.
“I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve the three of you, but I love you so much. I’ll never let you go.”
“Well, I should say not, Mr. Duvert,” she said, tossing her head with a mock defiance that flipped her hair over her shoulder, “you’ve got a big family to take care of now. You’d better be good to us.”
He beamed. “And I think I know just the way to start. My little lad and lovely lady have gotten their gifts…” he punctuated by giving them each separate, quick kisses, “And now one for the matron herself.” He grinned at her confusion as he took the infants from her and moved them to their crib, and then he crawled up onto the couch with her and took from his vest pocket a golden piece of jewelry that he didn’t let her see until it was already fastened around her neck.
“A locket?” She breathed, looking down to the golden heart that hung between the fullness of her nursing breasts. She looked to her husband, but he nodded, encouraging her to open it.
Samantha edged her nail into the crease of the tiny slip of gold and separated the two halves until the upside-down images that smiled back at her were revealed as the beautiful, smiling infant faces of her newborn children. Even though they were right there with her in the room, and had been in her sight almost constantly since their birth three weeks before, the sight of them there, close to her heart, made her almost weep. She had never felt closer to anything than those two wonderful extensions of her and Sabin’s souls- and now they were with her forever, close to her.
“I love it, Sabin. It’s perfect.”
She shook her head. “I’m not perfect.” She held the locket in one hand, clutching it as if it might disappear.
Sabin’s sweet, loving tone took on a graver cast, and his features spoke to a seriousness that Samantha hadn’t seen for a long while- not since those early days in which he’d blamed himself for the danger his duplicitous nature had caused for them.
“You are for me. I don’t know what I would have done without you. I wouldn’t be here; I wouldn’t be as whole as I am. You’ve always known how hard it’s been, but you’ve always stood by me. You keep me stable; you bring out the best qualities in me- the human qualities. The Creante side- it hates that, but it loves you, all the same. I love you, and I hope you know that… I’d never hurt you.”
Samantha squeezed his hand and tipped her head down onto his chest. He held her like she’d grasped the locket- as if afraid that the lack of her touch would cause her to disappear forever. She knew the pain that he’d undergone, the fear and the changes in his soul. She knew that his grasp on reality could falter without her, but she didn’t realize how much he really needed her, and how she was his living conscience. It was true that, to the core of him, he didn’t like to see people get hurt. But without Samantha, the core of him would be rarely exposed, and he would be unable to get close enough to the people around him to feel sympathy or connection to them. He would, in essence, cut himself off from the realities of human nature, and to the suffering of those around him. She didn’t realize how much her love was a gift for him, and that the lack of it… could be a curse.
* * *
“I have a gift for you.”
Sabin was surprised to hear the voice- even more so than he usually was to be interrupted in the middle of work. It was easy for him to become engrossed in what he was doing, especially when he’d given himself over to the childlike enthusiasm of a good challenge. He had been working on finding good examples of dragon lore- to see if there were any behavioral changes he could make to align with legend- alterations for his very favorite, pet project- but that hadn’t been the source of his shock at seeing Aubrey at the doorway to his office. Instead, it was that he’d not seen her for almost a week and a half, and didn’t expect to see her again so soon.
“Aubrey. I didn’t think to see you this week.”
“He’s left again already.” There was a twinge of something there- something between relief and guilt, and perhaps even a little angry- but Sabin couldn’t begin to decipher it.
“I’m surprised he didn’t stop in to see me. I’d thought he’d want to talk about… well.” He felt uneasy talking about it, even now- but it was obvious that Aubrey understood.
“I’m sure he will at some point. He wasn’t intending on staying very long, and besides, his mind seems somewhere else. Whatever’s going on with the board must be causing him grief.” She edged into the room, walking wide around those pieces of massive furniture that dotted the antiqued office’s existence, and eased herself into the chair that he’d unconsciously kept free of debris since the last time she’d visited him there.
“Does it bother you that you don’t know what exactly is happening on the mainland?”
“You mean with the company? No. …It is his baby, after all.” She frowned, suddenly, not pleased with the double meaning- or the reminder. “I don’t think he ever really considered me a full colleague. He never understood that this is my life’s work, too. I was never just ‘following him around’.”
“I know you weren’t. You had passion for the ideals of this place. I think you still do.” It wasn’t the time to segue into what he was truly thinking- that although the begrudging fact was that they would need Moreau’s brilliance to make the island truly flourish, or to make new subjects, there was no reason why the two of them with their teams couldn’t continue the research that had already started, and work without the oppression of Moreau. When it was all over, and he and Aubrey had won, they could run the island without him- he was sure of it. He’d just have to ease her into agreeing. Then it would all be won. The thought was as delicious and as rancid as forbidden fruit, and he slithered around the morality of it all like a snake. Even his voice had dropped some of its accent, and purred in an almost seductive, manipulative hum.
“I missed you this week.”
He smiled, a genuine thing despite the coercive thoughts that ran rampant through his mind. “I missed you, too.” The strange of it all was, he actually had. When Moreau had sent his message that he would be arriving on the island for a time, it had filled Sabin with a sort of hopeful and wondering anxiety, and made him wonder how Aubrey would handle herself under the pressure of Moreau’s scrutiny. Sabin hadn’t realized until he imagined Aubrey and Moreau alone how much time he and Aubrey had spent together in the man’s absence, and how often their conversations had turned to the matter of sabotage and overthrow of Moreau’s tyranny, with him subtly steering Aubrey’s thoughts to that of anger and distrust of her fiancé. He didn’t know how she would acquit herself, and how Moreau would react were he to suspect the change in the woman. He’d told Aubrey that he was surprised that Moreau hadn’t come to see him- which was true, he’d not expected the man to come back from the mainland without personally seeing that his orders had been carried out- but he didn’t add that he’d been avoiding the mad doctor since the moment his helicopter had landed. The only news he’d managed to hear about Aubrey or Moreau had been through a grapevine of lab assistants and workers that were connected to both of their teams. It was only after he found himself piecing together the information that he’d realized how much he missed Aubrey’s company. She was too far along in her pregnancy- for surely, she was due in no more than a few weeks at most- for the two of them to share the clandestine affair they had been perpetrating since earlier in the season- but even still, the times that they would talk late into the night and fall asleep were sweet and only somewhat tainted by the perpetual undercurrent of “Moreau”.
Aubrey smiled at his response, glad that she hadn’t been alone in the strange feelings that had overtaken her the past week. She wondered if he had heard- for she was sure it had been spread liberally around the labs- that she had been wracked with a flurry of hormonal tears and outbursts since Moreau’s return. Thankfully, none of those lapses in judgment had included a tirade at her fiancé about what he had done to her- that she kept silent. But from that first moment that she saw him, and the baby within her had given a kick as if recognizing its father, she’d fell to pieces in a hormonal storm that even Moreau, for all his chilliness, could not wholly ignore. Truth be told, though his exterior had been calm and rational, the outbursts had unsettled him, and it was more than for the sake of his pressing mainland business that he’d kept his visit short. It seemed whenever he tried to touch Aubrey, or to refer to their child as Nicholas Jr., she’d burst into tears, falling to whatever bed or chair was nearest in a somewhat less-than-graceful pregnant heap. He’d had half a mind to have Sabin look into the emotional disturbances, to see if there was anything that could be done to improve her general mood. He likely would have, had he been planning on staying on the island longer, for nothing unsettled him as much as an outpouring of emotion, but since he was intending to be absent, anyway, he didn’t bother with any modifications and left early, instead, promising her that he would return for the baby’s birth.
“Anyway,” Aubrey said, handing out a small package to Sabin. “I have a gift for you.”
He took the wrapped bundle with more than a small measure of surprise. The square box wrapped in red paper wasn’t very large, and she hadn’t tied any bow or ribbon in it, nor taken a pen to it to write his name. He turned it over in his hand and looked at it as if he didn’t know what to do with it.
“Thank you, Aubrey.”
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” She was visibly excited, and Sabin was struck by how out of tune he was with this- with normalcy and excitement- of having something so innocent and caring as a gift set someone into a flurry of happiness just for the sake of giving or receiving it. It had been a long time since he’d had anything akin to a normal ‘life’, and it touched him in a way that was more painful than he would have expected… how much he missed it.
He scratched away at a piece of the tape with one of his sharp nails and peeled a section of the paper up. He was methodical about it, though a part of him wanted to tear the rest to pieces, strip the paper off and fling it to a corner of the room. The box lid came free easily, and he saw her smiling out of the corner of his eye as he lifted the round circle of red leather out of the box. Before he could have a chance to examine it, to decipher what it was, Aubrey called out in excitement.
“It’s for Beastie!” Were she not humbled by her expanding girth, she might have rushed over and taken it in her hands to show him all the details of it, but she sufficed with a pointed finger and eager air. “See, the little gold tag in the front is engraved with his name, and I thought the little black studs would look good with his fur. And my favorite part of all- see the little dangling charms?”
He turned the collar over, struck by the enthusiastic delivery as much as for the sake of the gift itself. It was obvious which charms she’d meant- for on the either side of the gold plate which had been engraved with the cat’s name, hung a little gold squid-like tentacle- no longer than an inch, that jingled slightly when they brushed against the plate. The appropriateness of how bizarre it was made him laugh.
“It’s perfect, Aubrey. I wish he were here, we’d see how it looks on him.”
“So you like it?”
“I love it. What made you think of it, though?”
She sighed, and he could tell by the way she set her jaw and settled her form deep into the seat that her mind was filled with a million things. He wasn’t surprised when what came from her lips was an almost rambling explanation. “I just saw Beastie in the hallway the other day, and was reminded of what had happened back then, when Nick didn’t want you to keep him. And I was thinking of what Nick’s been doing, and how misogynistic it was to try and change the sex of our child. Then I thought about you, and how you’re the only one these days that I trust. So I just wanted to do something to thank you.” She smiled as if she’d said no more than just the last sentence. “So I’m glad you like it.”
Sabin turned the small collar over again in his hand, and in his mind. His thoughts tasted her words, deciphered them, as well as their underlying meaning, and decided that they tasted sweet with victory. She had been with Moreau, isolated from him, and still, at the end, had come free with a gift for him, and none of the blind devotion for Moreau that she had once had coloring her eyes for the reality of what he planned to do. Moreau’s power hinged on having Aubrey’s loyalty- unwavering, ever faithful. He fed off her love and devotion like a man starved- and without it, Sabin didn’t know how long he would be able to shrug off the diabolical and subtle responses of Sabin’s own brand of manipulation and control. More than just the sake of the gift, as well, it was worth it to take into account that the gift had been one that spoke to Aubrey’s appreciation of his work- a beast he had created, and without Moreau’s approval. He was reminded, too, of that early defiance of hers, in standing up for Sabin and his creature and allowing it to live. The collar was all that it was- a simple, sweet gesture of appreciation, but the idea behind the collar- that was a pure and unadulterated triumph. Sabin felt powerful and vindicated, and a swift laugh of appreciation came bubbling from his lips.
He leapt up and helped her to her feet with a strength that was not wholly human, then wrapped his arms about her and kissed her neck as if ravenous for the taste of her. She laughed and pushed him away, held him at arm’s length.
“I think that’s the best thank you I’ve ever gotten. …Now you just have to say you’re welcome.”
He dropped his head to the side- an almost owlish gesture of curiosity. “For what?”
“Because I’m about to thank you.” She sighed, a freeing sound, rather than the burdened breaths she’d been the bearer of so frequently in the past few months. “I’m so glad that you’re here. These past few months- well, I’ve not talked with anyone like I have with you. Not even with Nick. You’re very easy to talk to, and you always want to hear what I have to say.”
“Aubrey, you don’t have to thank me for that. I enjoy your company as well, and our conversations.”
“But it’s more than that. You tell me the truth. The perfect truth, and no one else does. I’m surrounded in these ugly lies.”
His mind swam, and a darkness inside him growled and screamed that he was no longer reveling in the throes of victory, but rather, cast into this pit of self-doubt and memories swollen with ugliness and sadness. He found himself saying things that he’d not meant to externalize- rambling as sure as she had done, before, but his eyes were distant, unseeing, and his voice unsure.
“People say the strangest things. Have you ever stopped to really think about it? …I don’t know why people call it the “perfect truth”. That would say that…perfection is pretty, or easy, and truth is, too. So often, the truth is something ugly and unbearable- it’s… it’s vicious and warped with the pressure to keep it silent. I think that’s why there are so many lies, why they propagate and flourish while the truth is buried like some sort of ancient fossils- lines in the earth, hidden away by time and preserved forever with…pressure.
‘I think it’s the lies that are pretty; they’re the ones that are coated with sweetness to make them easier to digest. When you say lies are ugly things- maybe you should say betrayal. It’s not the easy-to-digest candy coated lie that is inherently ….hideous, it’s the very knowledge that you have been lied to. The truth. And that’s the part that’s so much harder to swallow. The ugly truth, wrapped in the bitterness of betrayal- that’s what’s wrong. Lies themselves have gotten a cruel reputation. If anything, they’re the most innocent things of all.”
It wasn’t until he felt her pull away from him that he realized he’d stopped speaking, and that his mind had become as dry as his lips. Sabin looked at her, and hated to see that look of confusion on her face. He wondered if he were imagining the suspicion in her eyes.
“Forgive me.” He flashed her a self-deprecating smile. “I’m not very gracious at receiving compliments or gifts. My wife always said so.”
Surprisingly enough, she seemed almost placated, surprised almost more of his mention of Mrs. Duvert than of his peculiar, troubling monologue about truth. It was so seldom that he ever spoke of her, that Aubrey felt a certain measure of respect was being given to her, that he was beginning to let her into his past. It was a sort of a gift in itself, and she was satisfied with it.
* * *
“Sir… this is for you. I thought you might like to have it now, before we moved her.”
A piece of jewelry was dropped into Sabin’s hand. He felt the cool weight of it, knowing what it was before ever looking down into his shaking hand. The locket was mangled, though the beautiful gold chain that held it was as unmarred as it had been the day he’d placed it around his wife’s neck.
“There has to be a mistake. She can’t be… she can’t have.” His previous screams of doubt and mourning had given way to this mumbling, fearful denial.
The nurse bit his bottom lip, an apologetic gesture in the face of something he had often experienced- raw, intangible grief. “Mr. Duvert, if you want the doctor to speak to you again, I’m sure she’d be happy to explain. But I’m sorry; there really wasn’t anything more we could do. The car…”
“Yes, I know, the crash,” he said, frantic, “but you have to be mistaken. She can’t have died. She can heal herself. She’s not like you, or even me. She can’t die.” He said it again and again, as if one more repetition would make it true. The nurse didn’t take his words to heart, of course- this was a grieving man who had just lost his wife. He reached out to put his hand on the man’s arm- his white sleeve a contrast the scholarly garb of the Harvard professor.
Sabin jerked back away from the touch as if it burned him, and something inside him snapped. He roared- a horribly primal noise that was perpetrated through his human vocal chords, but heightened by an otherworldly, haunting hiss of a creature that, in its own way, was grieving as much as those parts of Sabin Duvert that were human. The nurse was terrified and didn’t even know why, though he would have sworn later that slits of blooded red had torn open on the man’s face, peering as though they were eyes into his soul. The hair on the nape of his own neck had stood at a horribly frightened attention at the sight of the man's hair- it seemed to have licked away from his neck as if blown by a cursed wind. There was a moment then, where the nurse saw into his own soul and feared that he would lose himself to a primal darkness. Everything around him swirled with the taint of fear, and a nauseating liquid flushed into his mouth and his vision blurred. He knew then, that he was going to die, and he waited to fall to his knees, giving himself over to what was inevitable with stupor filled calm.
But then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over, and the world swirled back into focus for the man now shaky on his legs. At his feet, the sobbing man had fallen to the floor, his hands pounding weakly on the sterile hospital tile and his cries echoing up to the ceiling in a tormented- but human way. The nurse wouldn’t know- not then, and not ever- what exactly had happened that day, but one thing had been painfully clear. Something… irretrievable… had been lost.
* * *
In the precious few weeks before Aubrey gave birth to her son, Sabin found himself drawn to the wilds of the expansive outdoors. The island, for all his distaste for Moreau’s supreme oppression of it, was a fond place for Sabin. The anju aspect of his nature reveled in the deep, dark scenery of the jungles fraught with impossible beasts as much as his human side did. The long walks in the heart of the dark underbrush spoke to the essence of his dualistic nature, and it soothed the tremors that had been in Sabin’s mind recently. He’d had the dream again, more times in the past few weeks than he’d had in years, and it was getting to the point where he dreaded to go to sleep, fearful that his own predilection towards the nightmarish would once upon shove on him the memories of that fateful day when Samantha had been killed. It was a terrible enough thing to go through once, and the recent fearful repetitions of it had done nothing to soothe his troubled soul.
He didn’t understand why the dream had come back in such a full force. Perhaps, he rationalized on those many long walks, it’s because I’m starting to be happy again- even slightly, for the first time in a long time. It wasn’t lost on him that the excitement and passion he had for his projects on the island hadn’t been happiness, but rather, something to throw himself into, something he’d hoped would abandon his bad memories and give him something else to focus on. He wasn’t so blind or naïve to imagine that he was content to be without anyone who really understood him, someone to talk to. Samantha had been the one person in his life to fill that void, and ground him to a humanity he would have otherwise never known. Even his children, for all the joy and wonder they brought to his life, were disconnected from him- shadows from a previous life that he felt would be tainted by his inclusion. Alexandra, for one, had made that all but clear, and though she had since come to terms with what she was, the fearful birthright she had so openly despised, the reconciliation she and her father had made after her mother’s death had been tepid, at best. Sabin had only ever wanted the best for her and her brother- and if that included giving her the chance to try and pick up the pieces of her life without the father she’d never understood, then he would stay clear of the two beings he loved more than life itself. It was painfully difficult, and as the years went on, he’d pushed the memory of his beloved children further and further from his consciousness. It was an irony that the very nature of what he was- man and anju- reviled against being controlled, and held down… but could and did become unbearably lonely- even lost- without someone to understand and love him.
The time he had spent on the island- nearly two years now, though it seemed to have flown by- was an escape. It had only ever been something to try and infuse some life back into his existence, to give him a purpose besides the shadowy memories that caused him pain. It had distracted him, for a time, but inevitably, he fell to that truth- that ugly, perfect truth, that there was not to be an escape from what was a fundamentally lonely soul. Even the most manipulative ministrations of his beloved projects, his experiments and coups for power- could not take the place of the one thing he craved: someone who understood.
In Aubrey, he’d found the first person since Sam who made him happy. They would lie in bed, talking until the early hours of the morning, touching each other without fear or pretense, reveling in their similarities and differences. She was a grounded, logical woman- so different from Samantha in all her love of the wonderful and magical- but for all that, there was something that was essentially the same about them in their honesty and their innocence, their strength and resolve. Samantha had loved and taken care of him, forever his champion who believed that he could and would rise above what he was and what he had done in the past. He felt the same thing in Aubrey, that love and protection of the underdog, the need to put things right. It was why she gravitated towards a field that would give her the opportunity to heal and create. She was a wonderful woman, and Sabin was beginning to realize how deeply he really did care for her.
Guilt walked alongside him during his trips into the woods. Guilt was a creature that walked on many legs, so that if any were ever cut out from underneath it with righteousness or denial, there would always be more waiting to propel it along. Sabin had long since collared the beast with his own thick muzzle of justification.
It wasn’t beyond him to realize what he had been doing to Aubrey. He’d long justified his actions by telling himself that he’d only done what choice was available to him, and that there would have been no benefit for either of them, were he to have left Aubrey’s unborn child female. It was regrettable that he’d had to use Aubrey as he had, turning her ever more against Moreau and telling her the lies that would protect her and their plan- but, he reasoned, she was the linchpin- she was Moreau’s weakness, and there could be no better way to get to him than through the woman he himself ployed to manipulate. The justification often proved enough to quell his inner demons- but sometimes they fought back, and he lost a little more of the self control he fought so hard to maintain without the help of someone who could ground him. It had never been so hard to suppress the features of his true form- not since before Samantha.
Once, it went too far. He had been wandering about the jungle and had come across the fresh scent of fear and blood. It was likely no more than an animal nearby (and, for the sake of his sense of smell, ‘nearby’ could have been anywhere within the large surrounding area) that had come upon one of the many predators on the island. Sabin imagined it was some terrified prey that had deposited into the air their primal, terrible fear before adding the postmortem ingredient of it’s own blood to the recipe. Sabin likely would have gone along his way, walking wide around the carnage, or returning to the labs before one of the subjects could come across him in a feral state- if not for the already dark ideas that had been the focus of his thoughts. He had been questioning himself and his motives, and adding into the mix a vicious hatred for the fixed hierarchy of Moreau. A message had been left earlier that day- Moreau would return in a matter of days, just to make sure that he was on hand for the anticipation of the birth. The idea of stepping back into the shadows again incensed him. He’d enjoyed the power and freedom he’d had for the past few months- even more so than those infrequent periods before when Moreau would leave him the reigns. Even the joy of the lockout had been just that- a joy, but never had he allowed himself to think that he had any measure of real power. Now that he had embraced it, claimed it- he was possessive of it, and didn’t want to hand it back. All these things and more culminated to make Sabin Duvert more- and less than- what he was, and in the woods that day, he had given himself over to the anju aspect of his nature, going beyond what was his true form and into the shadowy existence that was Creante. He slipped into a measure of altered time, and didn’t realize how long- or short- a time he had been that way, but as the last remnants of the animal’s fear saturated into the air, he came to his senses and found himself about a half a mile from where he had started out. He walked back, turning up his Victorian collar with an air of almost palpable nervousness, wondering what- if anything- had happened, and how long he had lost himself in the temptation of the sweet, heady smell of fear.
The liability of what he’d done was far from lost on him, and so he made no distractions about the first place he went after returning- the surveillance room. The most he expected to fine- worst case scenario, as it were, was a cowering guard wondering what it could have been that he saw, having made the improbable sweep of the jungle with one of the new roving cams that had been installed with the hope of capturing one of the two fugitive islanders who had thus far eluded capture. In that case, he intended to spin some sort of tale, or blame the apparition on one of the islanders, and so the slight anxiety he felt as he pressed through the swinging doors of the surveillance room was minimal at best.
“Hello Sabin.” Aubrey said, seeing him the moment he came in.
He realized at once that he’d underestimated the worst case scenario.
“Aubrey! …What are you doing in here?” His six foot, well-filled out frame suddenly felt small.
“Just taking care of some islander issues. Some of them have been… out of hand since Nicholas’ recent departure.”
The easy, unaffected tone of her voice gave Sabin pause to sigh with relief, and he eased visibly, coming into the many-screened room that was otherwise kept rather dark. Aubrey looked serene in the sepia light that came from the monitors, and if it hadn’t been for the silent, somewhat edgy tech that seemed to be trying hard not to look in their direction, he might have kissed her.
“Islander issues? Anything in particular?”
“Hm,” she said, a noncommittal noise. “Just some things that need to be taken care of. One of them’s found something.”
He noticed for the first time that she had a tape in her hand, and pointed at it, curious. She waved her other hand dismissively. “Just a corridor thing. One we missed.” He nodded his understanding. She was referring to, of course, one of the many encounters they’d had in a hallway or otherwise taped area that involved a kiss or an embrace that would have incensed Moreau, were he ever to go back through the tapes. One night they had decided together while they lay in his bed, touching and kissing gently with the unborn child between them, that there were those final things that needed to be taken care of before Moreau returned- possibly for a long period of time- for the birth of his child. Sabin wasn’t looking forward to the birth for that reason… and a few others.
“Do you need any help with the islander issue?”
“Not at all.” She gave him a cryptic smile that he could have sworn was half a grimace, as well. “I know what needs to be done.” With that, she left him in the company of the shaky guard.
* * *
Nicholas Moreau returned to the island as promised, and within a matter of days, Aubrey Lockheart was deep in labor with their son. Her contractions began at noon one day in early July, and continued throughout that day and past the midnight hour. Sabin knew that it wasn’t uncommon for first-time mothers to be in labor for a longer period of time- Samantha had suffered over the birth of their twins for almost a full day before they’d finally made their entrance into the world. It was obviously different now, though- whereas the birth of the twins had been an ecstatic, happily nervous event for which he’d been constantly at Samantha’s side, he was informed about Aubrey’s progress only through that same tepid grapevine that connected their teams. He’d not seen much of her at all since Moreau had returned- they’d both decided that would be best- but it was nerve-wracking to be away from her, and his curiosity eventually got the better of him. He made an excuse to be working in the main portion of the labs, and found himself wandering the corridors around her birthing suite.
Her cries grew louder as the labor progressed, though at times they all but died into whimpering moans that asked, wordlessly, why it wasn’t over yet. She was allowed an epidural, and Sabin was glad, for each cry had peaked a part of him that was altogether intrigued and horrified- a feeling he was not overly fond of. If he’d thought on it, he shouldn’t have been surprised that Moreau of all people wouldn’t begrudge someone the benefit of altering medication- but with the way he had been thinking about the man recently, casting any doubt he’d had about his own motives into a transference upon the redheaded doctor, it was surprising he didn’t half expect Moreau to devour the child upon its birth.
Sabin’d had to content himself with hovering around the suite, putting his ear to the walls as casually as he could manage with the bustle of lab technicians and other personnel hurrying through the hallway. No one said so much about it, but there wasn’t anyone in the labs who didn’t know what was happening, and Sabin noticed with a keen scent that the anxiety level was riding almost impossibly high. It put him on an edge, as well, and as her piteous cries changed to screams, and he heard Moreau furiously barking orders, he had a deep sense of foreboding. Something was going to go terribly wrong.
It wasn’t until well after one in the morning that Sabin finally had a chance to see her. He’d been pacing in a hallway near her suite, having given up the pretense of finding something meaningful to do hours before, when he came face to face with the last man he wanted to see.
“Moreau.” He stepped over his shock. “How is she?”
“Doing better. One of the nurses,” he said the term with a cold derision, “made a mistake with the pain medication. It’s been fixed now.”
“Is she doing… alright? I mean, I know she had the scar tissue from the attack…”
Moreau cut him off in mid sentence. “She’s doing just fine. The baby will be born very soon; she’s almost completely dilated. I just have to run off for a moment.” The words weren’t an excuse, nor were they an explanation. It was almost, Sabin boiled, a sort of ‘favor’ that he deemed to bestow upon his underling, giving him information that he didn’t need. Sabin resented it, and found that his anxiety over the impending birth was temporarily curdled in the face of this aggravation.
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” Sabin said, a minute jab of superiority into the lithe, redheaded man’s face. Moreau didn’t seem to notice.
“You did excellent work. I meant to speak with you the last time I was here, but there were other things that needed to be attended to.” It was said without a preamble, as if the pleasantries of conversation were an unnecessary waste of his time. “But we’ll have time to talk about this later.”
“Mm.” It was all he could do not to snarl at the man. Sabin practically pushed past him, down the hallway into the birthing suite so he could see Aubrey while Moreau was off doing whatever imminent business he for some reason thought was more important than being with the woman who was on the verge of giving birth to his son. Even Moreau noticed the brusque way that Sabin had stalked off, and cracked his knuckles with a chilly self-promise before gliding down the hallway in his own direction. Sabin was unaware of this quick reaction, however, as he was already in the doorway to the birthing room; his hands spread out on either side of the doorframe and his eyes an anxious concern.
“That’s me,” she said weakly, her voice creased with the narrow, dual-toned hum of a person who has either spent a day doubled up in wracking coughs… or screams. The entirety of the labs could attest to the fact that hers had been the latter.
“You don’t look well.”
Despite herself, she laughed. “That’s not a nice thing to say to a woman.” But she beckoned him a little closer, regardless. Once he’d traversed half of the distance, she put up her hand to pause him. “It’s a little… wet over here.”
For the first time, he looked down to notice a red, watery tint on the floor around her bed- and that the lower half of the sheet she rested uncomfortably on was also colored with the same color of ugly red. Were he completely human, he might have paled, or even fainted. As it were, he just felt a cloying in his throat and the thin metallic scent permeated his nostrils.
“Moreau said… that you were okay.”
“I am.” Her voice cracked, but it was clear that she was not standing at death’s door. “A nurse spilled one of my medications.” She pointed, her arm a sweaty tangle that didn’t come completely free from the sheets, up to an empty IV pole. Next to it, on the bedside table, a ripped bag with traces of a red liquid still sat, oozing droplets of its viscous stuff.
But Sabin could smell the metallics on the air, and he looked at the woman with sympathy. “How much of it is your blood?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “You ask too many questions.”
“Mind if I ask another one?”
She sighed, settling down. She’d been waiting for the nurse to return with her fresh sheets for several minutes- a few more amidst the wet would hardly do her any harm. She was already soaked with her own sweat- she’d had to take her glasses off hours before because they kept sliding off her nose for the sake of the slick.
“One more won’t hurt.”
“Are you… scared?” He could smell none of her anxiety on the air, and that alone worried him. Even Samantha, with all her life-giving magic and ability to heal herself, had sat in an aura of faint terror during the birth of their children. He would never be able to forget- it had been contagious.
She took a long time to answer- longer than he would have thought it would take for Moreau to return. A contraction came, a thick, stabbing massage of her muscles and a crunch of her bones that made her clamp her teeth down so hard her vision blurred. She seemed to be suppressing a scream, but when Sabin tried to come nearer to her, she put both her hands up in a very obvious gesture that she didn’t want him to come any closer. She bore down on the pressure with a groan and a screech, and then fell back, exhausted, her knees unable to connect from their wide-open limbo in this late stage of the labor.
“I really wanted to push on that one. I think the next one will be time. …So that’s it, then. It’s almost time.” She said it, breathless and somehow regretful, then pivoted her head on her sweat-soaked hair to look at the man standing near her. “And can I ask you a question?”
He nodded, realizing keenly that she’d not yet answered his.
“What do you know about… reckoning?”
“Reckoning? In… in what context?”
She tapped on the side of the bed impatiently, her eyes blurry with sweat and her head pounding. She didn’t have much time before the last contraction, she knew. “Mythology. Society.”
He searched his brain, wondering why she’d want to know, but before he could come to a decision, the ‘professor’ kicked in, and he gave her the best off-the-cuff answer that he could, digging into ancient texts near-memorized by his passion for lore.
“Well, there’s something Persian Mythology… and even some in Egyptian. They used to believe that at the end of your life, there’s a reckoning- a summation of what you’ve been. You stand on a scale where the good and the bad in your life is weighed out.” He waited, but she seemed to want more, so he continued, finding himself turning to the bright lights of the delivery room as he did so. “It’s a mythos to give an explanation to those who see injustice and ugliness in their world. It gives them a reason why it has to occur- so that there has to be a balance in things. But more than that, it gives them comfort to know that people have to account for what they do. Otherwise, it’s said, the world would be a wanton place of ugliness and raw cruelty- an overburdening existence to those few who walk a road of morality for reasons other than the sake of the possible destination.”
Her eyes had closed, and she nodded, satisfied. “No sympathy for the devil.”
His eyebrows curved upwards, and he didn’t bother to tell her he didn’t understand, or to try to swallow the extreme sense of disaster that permeated the air as sure as the scent of the blood, hiding in the medication but not overpowered by it. Before he had a chance to come to terms with anything that had just happened, a nurse came rushing back in with the sheets and what little cleanup crew Moreau would allow in the room while his heir was being born- and behind them, the father himself, glancing over the scene as if a landlord purveying his property. Sabin didn’t need the cue to leave- he went out into the hallway and found himself pacing along the sterile tile while Aubrey’s screams echoed out to him.
His fear mounted as her cries coincided with the nurse’s loud commands for her to ‘push’! The scent of blood and a striking fear so powerful he wondered if it was his own filled the air, and then finally, the squalling cry that didn’t belong to the nurse or Aubrey.
“It’s a boy. And he’s healthy.” The voices were muffled after that, and soon Sabin saw the nurse and the few others who had been in the room with the newborn’s parents leave, headed off down to make their reports of the live birth. The voices after that were so soft; Sabin couldn’t discern them through the thick doors even with the increased force of his hearing. He did think he heard Aubrey crying- a soft, braying thing, and wondered if Moreau had taken to comforting her, or if the man was standing at her side, musing as t when she would calm herself. Sabin wondered who was holding the boy, and whether or not there were any imperfections in him… particularly in his gender. Regardless of the outcome of the birth, Sabin still couldn’t shake the fear that something would go wrong, Moreau would find something wrong with the infant, imperfect and ugly, and do something terrible, or require more from Sabin than he was willing to give. All these thoughts and more curdled his thoughts and occupied him with a furious sense of wonder- that he couldn’t have been more surprised when the gunshot went off.
It was an abrupt booming sound, and much like Moreau’s earlier conversation with Sabin in the hallway, without preamble or decencies. The sound echoed for only a moment, though it seemed so much louder to Sabin’s elongated, overly sensitive ears. He waited only a split second, long enough to hear the squalling cry of an infant, before he dove into the room.
Aubrey lay on the newly bloodstained sheet, her crying infant in the crook of one of her arms. She was painfully still and the spatter of red across her cheek gave Sabin a deep, stabbing pain until he realized that the spray had come from the man whose torso slumped against the wall, his limbs a bloodied akimbo on the once sterile floor. A pouring wound in the middle of his neck, wide for the sake of its close shot, permanently slumped his head into a nauseatingly unnatural angle. In Aubrey’s left hand- the one that had once held a beautiful engagement ring- was a gun. Nicholas Moreau was dead.
“Aubrey…” he breathed, stunned and sick to his stomach.
“Please don’t come any closer, Sabin,” she said, her voice shaky with emotion but still possessive of an eerie calm, while the infant at her breast cried for the sudden startle. A wet smear of dark hair was plastered to its head- hair that Sabin suspected would be a tawny brown or red, once it had the opportunity to dry.
“Where did you get a gun, Aubrey?” His voice was fevered, and he found it hard to stay steady on his feet. He was surprised a multitude of guards and nurses hadn’t descended upon him- he didn’t realize that it had only been a handful of seconds since the gunshot had gone off. It seemed like a million years.
“One of the islanders found it buried in the woods. I confiscated it, and destroyed the tape. The roving cams picked up a lot in the woods that day.” Her voice quavered.
“Aubrey…” he put his hands out, and started to come nearer to her.
“Please, Sabin. Don’t. I don’t know what Moreau did to you, or what you did to yourself, but I can’t… I can’t help you, now. I have to worry about my son. I have to take care of him. I know that, now I had to do it. I had to betray him. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, until the gun was found. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to. I don’t want to hurt you, too, but I will if you make me. Stay away from me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you, Aubrey.”
She acted as if he hadn’t spoken. “He would have done terrible things to my child.” Her eyes were blurred again, and Sabin doubted it was with sweat, “We were never going to be free. I loved him so much, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t…” sobs overtook her voice, but not her resolution, and her jaw quivered as if she wanted to say something more.
At that moment, the wave of guards and nurses that Sabin had expected came flooding into the room, and were quickly turned dumb at the sight of the crumpled body that leaned against the wall as if struggling to sit straight. Nicholas Moreau was never a man to them. He had been a figure- an oppression, a boss, the forefront of a company and the perpetrator of the impossible, black miracles that were his greatest achievement. He was as a god, untouchable and intangible, but perhaps a deity of the underworld, or something else that was soiled and fearful, for there was no loving worship for him- save one, and she had been the instrument of his destruction.
Moreau had held a great deal of power- he was the great puppet master, a genius and a paragon of something that no one else had ever truly attempted. Not even his grandfather had managed what he had- to make such majesty out of something impossible, forbidden. But now the puppet master revealed himself to have strings of his own, invisible and frail. And they had been cut. None knew- not even Sabin- but Aubrey’s choice of where to murder her husband had been carefully chosen, a terrible deed that was a tremendous favor to the islanders whose existence were Moreau’s legacy. For Moreau had a chip of sorts of his own. It monitored his vitals so that, were they ever gravely- or fatally- disturbed, the unique bit of would trigger an effect of the bioimplant chip system that was irreversible. Were Moreau ever gravely wounded, everyone on the island with a chip… would die. None had been as fluent in the language of retribution as Nicholas Moreau, but even he had missed the subtext. He never would have imagined that the one to destroy him… would be the one who loved him most in the world.
The result was one of a stunned chaos. The sight of the dead man, coupled with his armed wife, had the guards in a nebulous grey buzz of what to do. None had ever truly aligned with the principles of the now blood-soaked man, and had only continued their service on the island as their consciences were routinely stifled and their choices limited. Without the man whose dream had been this terror, they were lost- and a faint whisper of regret and pain filtered up into their consciousnesses.
“Go away,” Aubrey said, her emotion stained, hoarsely creased voice the last straw for their already weakening resolve. The nurses left first, hands pressed to their mouths and shocked tears in their eyes. Even the guards, as they slowly lost their resolve- for who among them could possibly bring themselves to shoot Dr. Lockheart?- even among them, there were a few eyes that didn’t remain dry. It wasn’t long before Sabin was left with Aubrey again. He fell to his knees with the exertion of it all.
“I never meant for you to find out this way.”
“What are you, Sabin?” The gun was limp in her hand. Sabin wondered if there were any bullets left in it- or if it had been destined to have only one victim. “And tell me the truth. The ugly, perfect truth.” Silent tears ripped from her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks, merging with the beads of sweat that still clung to her freckled skin.
“I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you all of it. Just know that I won’t hurt you. Oh, Aubrey… I’m so sorry. I can’t begin to… I can’t believe you did it.” He hadn’t meant to say it, but the smell of blood was overpowering, and he was dizzy for the shock of it all. By now, Aubrey was crying heavily, and the babe in her arms had quieted, calmed somehow amidst the chaos around it.
“Where do we go now, Sabin? What do we do? I meant it when I said I… I might be falling in love with you. I just don’t know what’s going to happen next.” She sobbed, and Sabin found himself falling to his hands, all the most terrible things about himself rising to the surface and eddying into deep courses of self-doubt. “Sabin?”
He shook his head. It was too much. But her voice floated down to where he’d pinned his eyes to the floor.
“Sabin…” her voice had been shredded by her emotion- it quaked and bubbled as sobs overtook her, “Was my baby a girl?”
It was the time of reckoning. In front of Sabin Duvert loomed many facets of the ugly, perfect truth. One was the corpse itself- a man torn by the bullet of the only one who had ever deemed to understand him and to love him unconditionally. And it was unconditional, for even through it all, even at this last moment where he lay, never again to move or breath, and after all he’d done- she still loved him. It had not been enough to keep him alive, but he would live on anyway- in the force of her love and in the baby he had left behind. Also before him were the possibilities of the truth, that ugly truth that was what he had done, and his choices. He didn’t know if he believed in an afterlife, and whether or not he would ever be with Samantha again if there were. He believed in his soul, but knew that the taints on it were many, and that there was more to his existence than right and wrong. He was, at the heart of him, a creature of duplicity, a shadowmancer with a burden too intangible to describe or hold onto. He’d once had the love of a woman, and it had not saved her- nor had it saved him. He looked at Aubrey… he cared for her, deeply, and knew that it could be love. He could have again that feeling of acceptance and love; he could have the power and the belonging, but he knew that he had used her, traded on her need for love as a leech, needing something in return. Like her, he didn’t know where they might go from here. But a few, very powerful things were painfully and irrevocably clear. He could no longer choose for her, no longer plot what might happen, or to try and hold her from the truth. It was her decision now. Sabin Duvert- the ultimate creature that needed control- knew that the only thing he had left was to return it to her. He didn’t know how she would ever respond to it- but he knew that it had to be done. It saddened, infuriated, and freed him, all at once- and he felt the vicious, untamed bite of the un-muzzled creature known as Guilt.
To each what they deserve. It was engraved on the scales of reckoning. And Sabin knew that all he could give was that perfect, ugly truth: exactly what he deserved.
It took all he could manage to tear his eyes from the floor and look at her.
“Yes, Aubrey. …She was.”