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 did 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,” Moreau said, a terse precursor to what was to be an imminent dismissal. His voice was chilly, and Sabin wondered if he knew more than he seemed- if he’d had time in his bustling return to realize that a number of ‘malfunctions’ had blacked out almost whole days of surveillance tapes, or if one of the staff had murmured something to him about an illicit liaison. Many such doubts whipped through Sabin’s mind, and he was nearly as eager to leave the birthing chamber as Moreau was to have him gone- for whatever reasons. Neither man would get their wish, however, as Aubrey’s labor shifted into high gear with an intense scream. No one in the room- or anywhere within fifty feet of it, it seemed, could focus on anything else but her. Both Sabin and Moreau remained in the room, Moreau rushing to his fiancés side and holding her hand as the nurse’s loud commands for her to ‘push’ echoed and coincided with Sabin’s sudden, pulsing headache and fear.
The scent of blood and a striking fear so powerful, then, that Sabin almost wondered if somehow he was injured- the smell was close enough to his nose that maybe it was his own. He didn’t take his eyes off Aubrey, though his vision blurred behind the smell of blood and impending birth. Every object, every sight and smell and feeling seemed as if it, too, were only being born and existing for the first time, coming out of a bloody fog and then dying, disappearing into a hazy mist. Finally, through it all, something else was born- a new, squalling cry that didn’t belong to the nurse or Aubrey.
“It’s a boy. And he’s healthy.” Sabin didn’t see the face of the nurse who made the proclamation- even the voice seemed to come from behind a curtain. He found himself focusing on his own breath- sharp in, and gentle out, as if it were he that had just given birth. The nurses who had been in the room left to make their reports of the live birth, and as they passed Dr. Duvert, one swayed in close to him, as if to see how he was. She was afraid that the man was queasy from the sight of blood, but left not knowing that he was instead drunk from the smell of it.
“He’s magnificent, Aubrey. Perfect in every way.” His voice was meant to sound soft, a gentle thank you to his wife-to-be for what she had been through, but to Sabin, it took on a false humility that only reminded him how the infant became so ‘perfect’. He wondered then, why he was still in the room… or if he was still there at all. No one seemed to notice him, swaying there just inside the door- no further than the spot Aubrey had limited him to earlier, but in his state of mind, he half-wondered if any of it was real. Aubrey had no similar control over her fiancé’s position, and he was directly at her side, his hands smoothing down the wet hair on her arm. He reached for the infant, and Aubrey resisted, tucking the boy closer to her chest. Moreau’s expression went taut, pulled as tightly and uncompromisingly as a steel garter. She was crying- a soft, braying thing, and of all the things to suddenly become worried about, Sabin dreaded that there was something wrong with the infant. Regardless of the outcome of the birth, Sabin still couldn’t shake the fear that something had gone 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 this and more plagued his mind, so much so that he wasn’t prepared for the sight of Aubrey lowering the infant into her lap, then reaching into the folds of the blanket tucked into the bed closest to Sabin and pulled out a gun.
“What the hell,” Moreau’s voice was thin, sitting on the taut wire between warning and surprise. He backed up from Aubrey’s bedside, but found his back hit the wall too soon, and then the true surprise hit his face.
“Aubrey, what are you doing?” It was Moreau’s voice, but Sabin realized that the words could very well have been his.
Desperation is a dangerous thing, but it can also be a beautiful one- as is anything that can infuse you with power and decision, but also strain you to the point of breaking. It was this beautiful danger that drew long lines of tears out of Aubrey’s eyes, and gave an underlying steadiness to her hand as it held the gun only inches above her newborn son. She was covered in sweat and her jaw shivered, but not for that, or for the exertion of her recent ordeal.
“Nick… I am…,” she stopped, and Sabin thought he heard a crack in her voice, “I love you. I am so sorry.”
Moreau’s lips went wide, as if to say- or shout- something, and at the last second Sabin saw her quiver as if to drop the gun. But instead, she pulled the trigger.
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. The flash from the barrel was so shocking it was almost blinding. Aubrey’s baby screamed, and Sabin found himself clapping his hands over his ears and falling to his knees on the floor.
The bullet had a short journey from the gun barrel to its destination through Nicholas Moreau’s throat. It entered, and at such a close range, blasted apart the flesh and bone, leaving behind a wide crimson flower with its fleshy, bleeding petals spread across what was left of the man’s neck and face. The last expression on his face was a shocked one, and his eyes went wide and glassy with whatever his last thought was… before the bullet drove through his neck, pinning him to the wall momentarily with force. He was already dead when his ruined body slumped down the wall, drawing a stripe down the hospital wallpaper. Sabin looked back to Aubrey, his eyes wide and his mouth partially open, as if to breathe in the overwhelming scent of death.
Aubrey lay on the newly bloodstained sheet, her screaming still in her lap. She was the first to speak, although he opened his mouth wider to try and croak out something. Anything. He didn’t know what he would say.
“Please don’t come any closer, Sabin,” she said. Her voice rocked with emotion, but it held an eerie calm.
“Why Aubrey? Why?” He wasn’t asking why she didn’t want him to come nearer. They both knew what he was asking.
“I had to, Sabin.”
“Aubrey, I’m so sorry…” His voice was fevered. 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. He tried to step forward again, but the hand that held the gun shook, and Sabin realized for the first time that she’d trained the gun on him. When had she done that? He tried to separate the clouds in his mind to find the answer, but none revealed itself to him, and he planted his feet- not willing to come any closer to her in this state.
“Where did you get a gun?” The words breathed out as if on their own volition. How could he ask her- his friend, his lover, why she had a gun trained on him? He refrained from thinking on it too deeply- lest his guilty conscience find an answer he didn’t want, and worse yet, that he could agree with.
“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 towards 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. There was one loophole, of sorts- a raw chance that Aubrey had leapt at. If the chip were destroyed before the information on Moreau’s vitals could reach it, there was a chance that the islanders would be safe. The bullet had torn through the chip- rather directly- but Aubrey couldn’t know from her birthing bed whether it had worked or not. She only knew that her action had either caused dozens of deaths, or prevented them. She also knew how ironic and horrible it all was. No one was- or 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.
“What are you?” She said it again, her voice harder. The coarseness in her voice pained Sabin.
“I’m… me.” He put his hands up as her eyes hardened. He was sick to his stomach at the thought of what she must be thinking- and, although he wouldn’t admit it- what he was thinking about himself. “There are parts of myself that I’ve hidden from you, but I’m still who you think I am. You just know the part of me that I’m comfortable sharing. The part of me that the world is the most comfortable with.”
“What did Moreau do to you?”
He closed his eyes. It didn’t keep out any of memories, or any of the hurt. The way he used to hate what he was, what he had become- it could still live there, in the dark behind his eyelids and the hole where his whole heart used to be. The tone of her voice, fearful and sickened, told him that she thought he was a monster. He didn’t know how to tell her that it wasn’t true. Not now, when he wasn’t wholly sure… that he wasn’t. There had been a period in his life when he’d embraced who he was, and what his dual nature meant. But after his time on the island- after Samantha had died- what he had become except a regression to something hateful? He no longer clung to his humanity because, he felt, with the experiments and the lies, it had become as corrupt as any other part of his nature. Surely, he was no longer a divided man. But what good did that do him- when the sum of his parts… was worth so much hurt and wrong?
“Moreau didn’t…do anything to me. At least, I’m not what I am because of him. He never knew- although I’m sure he had his suspicions that something wasn’t right.” The latter was almost an afterthought. How many times had Sabin wondered how much Moreau had known? There were too many coincidences, too many close calls. But now he would never know; all that was left of the man still slumped in a red heap against the wall. He would share a date on his tombstone- with the one his son would one day have.
“For gods sake, Sabin…what are you!” It wasn’t a question. There was no hint of a lilting wonder at the end of her scream, only the cracking hoarseness of a woman weak of exertion and dehydration- and heartbroken one too many times. Sabin’s heart ached, and despite the rolling ire deep in the back of his psyche, the small desire his darker side had that wished to rise to her anger- he could only put his hands up and wish that he were touching her, comforting her. If only his stomach could cease its tumble, and his feet find the ability to move.
“I was born in a small village in the French Alps- human. It was…1854.” He closed his eyes then, not willing to see the way she looked at him. He wouldn’t see the disbelief, then the anger that clouded her expression, mingling with the sweat that stained her cheeks to make her suddenly ugly with hurt. Too much had happened to her that day. She was marked with the makeup of loss.
“I was a normal boy, very curious, adventurous and headstrong. I did things I wasn’t supposed to do, went into dangers I’d been warned about but couldn’t comprehend. I would be dead today- have lived and died as a normal child, then a normal man, but I walked into these dangers. When I was young- I was possessed by a creature called an Anju. It almost destroyed me.” He opened his eyes, and swallowed, even though his mouth was exceedingly dry. The look on her face was unreadable, and he was struck with how much he loathed what was happening. The few times in his life he’d had to tell his story- to explain his true nature- awful things had happened, and people had gotten hurt. He also felt the flame of self-disgust reignite. It was a vicious little kernel that hid itself in his psyche through the years, resurfacing in those times when life dealt Sabin Duvert an awful blow. Samantha’s death had been one of them, his isolation to the island and regression into his darker side. This was another.
“I know it’s impossible to believe, Aubrey, but you saw it- what I became. We were fused- forced to live together in a manifestation of man and nightmare. After all this time with…” he couldn’t say the man’s name. Not when he was so soon dead, and at her own hands. So he stopped short and swallowed. “In all your time here. You have to know that there are things- miraculous things- that can’t be explained.”
“But they can be explained. They weren’t miracles. It was science. You’re telling me that you were possessed?” Aubrey talked low, even though her child had begun to cry again. Sabin could pick her voice from the amidst the din.
“I’m not asking you to believe me. You want to know what I am. So I’m telling you. I’m… me. I’m just more than what you thought I was.” He considered showing her his true form, letting the hair lick back away from his face and melt into shadows, the slitted red eyes coming out to play, or to jump quicksilver into the shadows. But what good would that do? How would that make her feel any easier about what she had done, and whatever it was she was still planning on doing.
“I don’t know you anymore.”
“Don’t say that, Aubrey. You know all the best parts of me.” He said it, and it felt like a lie. But the words were rushing out like a sickness. “I don’t want you to hate me. I don’t want you to think that the way I feel about you has been a lie. I was just so afraid to tell you because the only people who have known in my lifetime have been hurt. They would have been better off without me.” Sabin paused, struck dumb by the possibility of that. He’d said it as a tumble of words, something to say to assure her- but he was injured that he might have inadvertently told the truth. The next thought he spoke aloud- blankly. “The people in my life would have been better off without me. The people I’ve loved.”
“I don’t know if I would have been better off without you.” She said. The infant still cried, and Sabin found it harder to hold onto the veneers of his more human illusion. There was so much tension and blood in the air, that coupled with the strongest wave of self-revulsion he’d had in years, he was losing control.
“Where do we go now, Aubrey? What do we do?”
Aubrey was crying. He didn’t know when that had started, either. He was watching the world through a clouded piece of glass. She shook her head- a soft, muted gesture from behind Sabin’s muffled world. “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 knees, 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.”
The gun rang out a second time.