"Come back to the land of the living, Kate," Erin whispered into her ear. Katelyn wished that she had escaped into sleep or death; she had woken after a few haunting minutes of sleep. Katelyn wished that she had escaped to the land of the dead or unconscious.
For one guilty second, she wished that Lucy had stayed there.
Katelyn groaned into Erin's neck.
"Come on back here with me," Erin said softly, shaking her shoulders gently. Katelyn thought about how much she needed Erin right beside her. Erin was the one thing that fit into her life. Erin was the one that had seen her at her worst. Erin had suddenly become the thing that mattered most in her life.
"I love you," she whispered.
Erin smiled that soft smile that meant her heart was breaking. Katelyn wished she was still in the dark about what that desperate look meant.
"Don't say that right now, okay? Not when you're upset. I'll still be here, as long as you want me,” she whispered, her breath brushing against Katelyn’s cheek while she brushed her blonde hair behind her ears.
Katelyn clung on tighter to Erin's waist. They laid there in the darkness for a few more moments, Erin trailing her fingers down the length of Katelyn's spine.
Finally, Erin climbed out of the bed, peeling her arms off of Katelyn. "Let's go. I'll make coffee and we'll talk." She offered one hand to Katelyn, sort of like a babysitter might offer to a scared child after falling asleep on the couch and having a nightmare. Erin was always trying to ferry her to someplace better to rest than she had originally decided to lay her body.
"Coffee? At Night?" Katelyn said, sitting up and quirking an eyebrow. "For real?"
"Just on this one special occasion,” she laughed, forcing herself to find something happy and easy in a time like this.
Katelyn sat at the kitchen table, feeling numb and staring out of the window while Erin putzed around with the coffee maker. She babbled on about how she should have bought that French press and how French roast wasn't her favorite blend.
Katelyn tried to stop her muscles from shivering.
"You're never going to sleep tonight," Erin chattered when she brought the coffee over.
Katelyn's voice was hollow when she spoke, "I really don't think the coffee is going to be the problem."
"Right," Erin said with a gulp.
Katelyn couldn't stand the nerves and the guilt in Erin's voice. Erin shouldn't have to be hurt by this too.
"I'm so sorry," she said, lowering her head into her hands and watching the steam roll up in curls.
Erin grabbed her wrists, forcing Katelyn to look her in the eye. "Hey, none of that. Don't be sorry."
“Why shouldn’t I be? I should never have dragged you into this.”
“Would you stop that?” Erin asked, her voice verging on vicious. Katelyn wasn’t sure where the sharp edge came from or what it meant. "No, you stop it. We will get through this and everything will be okay again. You're not going to sink down into that place again. Okay?"
Katelyn squirmed in her seat, looking down at the light grain of the shabby kitchen table that had been left in the little bungalow when they had moved into it. She couldn't look up at Erin, because she knew that there would be a fierceness in her brown eyes that she just couldn't face; it would be like looking into the sun. Sometimes Katelyn just couldn't handle the fire in Erin's heart-- that fire that she knew would be mimicking its blaze in the tips of Erin's hair.
"Okay?" Erin repeated, her voice losing just a bit of the courage that it had contained.
"Okay," Katelyn whispered.
"Kate," Erin said, her voice melting and rippling around her slender fingers as she brought them to her face to rub at her brows, "don't. Oh. Please don't look at me like that. I just," she said, clasping onto her hand, "I don't want to lose you."
She looked out the window, keeping her hold on Katelyn's hand tight. Her voice dropped to a whisper as she spoke, "At least, not like this." She moved her fingers softly in circles around the chap of Katelyn's knuckle. She took a deep breath and let it out in a ragged sigh, her mouth curving into small, hopeful smile. She slunk off of her chair and came to stand next to Katelyn, pulling her chin up to look into her face. "Hold on to me, Kate. I'll keep you here safe with me."
Katelyn pulled Erin down to her, kissing her lips firmly, taking the anchor that Erin offered, because it was the only thing keeping her from slipping under water and drowning in the deep blue sea.
Erin sucked in breath through her nose and pulled back, whispering softly, "Please don't leave."
"Do I have anywhere else to go?" laughing despite wanting to be sick, and despite the sheer terror in her stomach, and despite everything, trying to make that worried look wipe itself off of Erin's face.
Erin sank down into her chair with a thud. "I don't know," she sighed. "Maybe. Lucy is back, after all."
"Don't act like I could just go with her after all of this," Katelyn said, staring her in the face and slamming one fist onto the table. "Don't act like I would ever do that-- like I would ever go back with that horrible, evil--"
Erin winced. "Stop. Just stop." She raised her hands by her head, like Katelyn was beating her instead of promising to stay with her.
"Katelyn, you have to listen to everything before you make a snap judgment. You did this with me too, if you remember."
Her eyebrows knitted as she spoke, "Don't say that."
"It's not the same at all," she said, slamming her palm down against the table, sending the coffee in her mug rippling in concentric circles. "Don't ever say that you and she are the same. You would never do something like this."
Erin rolled her eyes, "Katelyn, you don't even know what she did. I'm not comparing me to her; I'm comparing your past to your present. I'm saying that you are judging what she did without knowing all of the facts about what happened. As much as you would like her to be the devil for what she did to you..." She trailed off, looking deep into Erin's eyes, "As much as I would like to hate her for hurting you, I just don't know if I can. And I just don't think you should have such blind hatred when you don't know all of the facts about her."
"What facts?" she spit.
Katelyn wished that she didn't know for sure that Erin knew that she was terrified and hiding behind a wall of anger so big that it could topple her over in a single breath. But Erin had understood her motives from the day they met. Erin had understood Katelyn's emotions like they were some ancient language Katelyn had forgotten in her sleep, ever since she first held onto her tight in that pretty office and Katelyn hadn't noticed that there were tears flowing down her face.
“She didn’t want you to think she was dead. She was just hiding out. She said,” she sighed, “she said that she was sending you signs. She said she was sure that you knew she was okay. She didn’t believe me when I said that you didn’t know. She looked so hurt that you and I are… whatever we are.”
There was something silent that echoed around the peeling paint of the room—that hung like cobwebs from the ceiling fan that whirred, breaking up the eeriness of the night of that day that brought your lovers back from the dead. It was something that sounded like “what we were.” It was something that sounded like everything had changed in the rising and sinking of the sun.
“What did she think I’d—How did she think that I would…” Katelyn sputtered on, working the cogs and gears of her mind clear of the wrenches that had been stuck in them time after time. “What on…”
She slapped her fingers over her mouth, remembering the interference she used to hear over her intercom at night when she was lying awake from nightmares. It sounded like an ancient lullaby that her mother used to sing before Katelyn had been taken from her home. Lucy had been humming it when they met, and whispering it under her breath the first time they had ever promised anything to each other.
“Oh my god,” she whispered, closing her eyes against impact of the thought, like she was speeding into a brick wall. Her voice shook as she spoke, “Where did she say she was?”
Erin spoke slowly, like she was walking on thin, cracked ice, and about to send them both plunging into an icy ravine, “Remember that opposition group that they told us about? The Rebels that they kept talking about over the intercom?” She picked at a nail, pausing to let everything seep into Katelyn’s head.
“Oh. Oh no,” she whispered, her head dipping into her hands.
“Kate, I’m so sorry. I am so… I wish I could change this.”
Katelyn lowered her head onto the table. She couldn’t believe the situation. She couldn’t believe that Lucy had come back to life and Katelyn was essentially in charge of making her dead as quickly and silently as possible.
“I have to kill her. I’m going to have to kill her,” she groaned.
“Katelyn, don’t talk like that. You don’t—you don’t have to do that at all.”
“Really? Because the last time I avoided orders, someone I loved got killed. Or did you miss that little fact? You could get killed if I don’t take out the girl I used to love. Do you realize that they are literally pitting my love for you versus my love for her,” she paused, feeling her fingers tremble a little around the handle of her coffee mug. “And I have to pick you, Sanders. Which means I have to kill Lucy.”
Erin let a tiny sigh laugh escape her lips while she smirked. Had Katelyn not felt a little like dying, she would have wiped that smirk off of Erin’s lips. There was something in that girl that had to be as antagonistic as possible every hour of the day.
“Kate, I don’t want to break up this horrifyingly large melodrama that you appear to be having about your Sophie’s Choice problems, but you do realize that you don’t actually have to kill her, right?”
“Do you want me to let you die? Just like they killed…” she trailed off, thinking about smacking herself in the head.
“Exactly. We don’t know what they would do if you just refused to do anything to her. We have no idea.”
Katelyn didn’t let herself buy into the hope in Erin’s voice. There was nothing about a Polyanna attitude that would save them. It might not be as dire as she thought, but she doubted that she could blatantly ignore orders and hope to be given a ceremony in the high circles of The Council.
“I don’t think it would be pleasant. They did threaten to drop me off into the abyss last time I was home. I don’t know if they would kill me or you, but I know that there would be consequences.” She sighed, “There are always consequences with them.”
“And there are other options than answering to them,” Erin said, tilting her chin down and staring Katelyn in the eye. “Lucy,” she blinked, keeping her eyes shut a second longer than she should have normally, “she wants you to go with her. I mean—The Rebellion wants you, Kate. They want you to be a leader.”
Katelyn’s voice was quiet when she spoke, and she couldn’t find the confidence inside of her to make it strong and sure. “What? No. No, they’re the enemy. We’ve been fighting our whole lives against people like them. They want to kill us and destroy the world. We have been fighting against this our whole lives.”
“That’s not what they’re after, according to Lucy. They still want to protect the universe, just like The Agency always has. They are just trying to take back some of the original principles. The rules they’re claiming are so old that I didn’t think they were real; I had to go into my history books to find them.”
“They certainly are real. Or they were. They just want to end the secrecy. You would be able to be yourself—be out in the open about everything that you are.”
“What do you mean ‘you?’ Don’t you mean we?” she said, trying to smile but panicking a little.
“No. They don’t want me, Kate,” she said, smiling softly, her eyes filling up with tears. “You’d have to go this one alone.”
“Do you know what would happen to you if you went back to The Agency while I joined The Rebellion? Erin, that’s just… No. I’m not leaving you.”
“The Rebels would fake your death just like they did with Lucy. I’d never be hurt. They’d think it was a simple accident.”
Katelyn found her strength again, “No. I’m not going any where without you.”
“Katelyn, just—think about it. You could be free.”
She narrowed her eyes and gnashed her teeth, “Erin, I said no. I’m staying with you. That’s final. It’s the last thing I’m going to say on the subject, okay?”
“Kate, I don’t think you’re thinking this through…”
Katelyn was a second from losing her temper, and splattering her relationship on the wall. “Do you want me to leave, Erin? Is that it?”
“Katelyn, would you stop it? Don’t you think that I want you to stay and be with me?” she said, her voice cracking around the edges. “Don’t you think that I want to be with you? I just don’t want you to be here and hate me because I made you chose between two evils. I don’t want to make you chose. I don’t want you to hate me,” she said, lowering her head into her hands. Her shoulders shook softly, and she was too silent to not be trying to conceal tears.
Katelyn got out of her chair and walked to Erin, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her tightly into body. Erin's tears started to seep through Katelyn’s shirt.
“Hey, come on now. Don’t cry. We’ll figure this out, the two of us.”
“Are you sure?” she sobbed.
Katelyn wasn’t sure of much. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen Erin so unraveled. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever felt so conflicted. But she’d never been so sure of something as she was about how much she needed Erin in her life, something tangible and real and solid. She was never so sure that Erin needed her, and that they thrived on each other like mountains need valleys and sunshine needs rain.
“Of course I’m sure. I love you. I’m not saying it because I’m scared, all right? I do. I love you. And we’ve gotten through so much already. We’ll find a way to make this work. We’ll be safe and happy together somehow. I promise.”
“I don’t know, Sanders. But there’s always a third option. Something that we just don’t see yet.”
Erin looked up at her, eyes red and puffy, but drying up around the smears of stage makeup she had worn through the day.
“We don’t have to go anywhere,” she said, looking a little surprised as the words came out of her mouth.
“I mean, we have to go somewhere. But we don’t have to fight anymore. We don’t have to be a part of their struggle.”
Katelyn worked the idea through her head, trying to understand what her life would be like if she stopped working—if she stopped risking her neck every day for no reason she could see. “But... won’t they come after us?”
“You remember my friend Stephen that works up there? He… I called him after Lucy came. He told me that there is some upheaval up there. There are huge arguments between Schneider and… well, everyone else. He’s this close to being thrown out of The Council. According to Stephen, Fellows has something on him that could lend him in jail. We could just… we could wait it out and see what happens.
As uncomfortable as not being proactive made Katelyn, the waiting game was their only option. It was the only thing that didn’t end with her hurting someone she loved. “And after that? If The Council dissolves? If we don’t go back to The Agency after Fellows is in charge?”
“We’re together. We stop fighting in this war. We’ve been working for them for long enough.” Erin nodded sadly.
“And if Schneider is still in charge?”
“We die,” Erin said with a sick laugh.
They slid down onto the floor together, leaning against the wall and holding each other tightly.
Katelyn whispered into Erin’s ear, “Soon, everything will be over. It will just be you and me.”