Tom was just standing there, gazing out at the great expanse of water. He didn't hear Russell's call and only turned when he heard Mariel; she might be in danger. She wasn't though; and when Russell asked him what had happened he couldn't get the words out. What had he done? Larkin had been pregnant. What the hell had he done?
"What happened?" This time it was Mariel. He has to answer her.
"She… I couldn't… I can't… I didn't know what to do!"
He can see something in Russell's eyes. He knows. There's that kind of deadness in them that only comes associated with grief.
"No," Russell choked out. "She…"
"I'm sorry. I had to Russ."
Mariel still hadn't figured it out. She glanced between the two men, uncertain. "What did you do Tom?"
Tom turned back to look at the water. "I threw Larkin in."
"You bastard." Russell spat the words, but he was so calm. It was a technique that Tom had used to intimidate hundreds of people, but he had never seen just how terrifying it was. To see the collected hate in a man's eyes but not having him springing towards you, trying to rip your throat out. Fighting he could handle, but this? This was like seeing himself in the mirror.
Tom took a step back.
"No." Mariel positioned herself between Tom and Russell. "No, Russell. Nothing is going to happen!"
"After what he did to you?" Now Russell shouted and Tom felt himself relax. It was as if he knew that Russell was no longer a threat. "And now he's done it to Larkin!" He directed his next words at Tom. "What? You decided one wife wasn't enough for you? You thought: who would I like to hurt the most? And of course whoever I pick has to be human. Wouldn't want any of your lot to be angry with you! So you picked Larkin! You…"
"She'd been shot Russell." Tom saw the anger drain out of Russell's eyes and he found it strangely comforting that Russell didn't for one second think that he'd shot Larkin.
"What?" Mariel cut in. Russell didn't seem to be there any more. He just looked defeated. First he'd lost his ex-wife, almost lost his children and now he'd lost Larkin and his baby. Tom had to feel sorry for him. He knew just how Russell felt.
"What happened?" Mariel asked. And there's that same question again, Tom thought. He couldn't answer it though. He couldn't tell them that a school kid had shot Larkin with his gun.
"These guys broke into our house," he told Mariel. "They had guns and threatened to hurt the kids if I didn't give them mine. There was a struggle and a gun went off and…" Tom faltered, glancing at Russell. Whilst he'd been talking to Mariel, Russell had taken three steps, three exact steps, closer to them.
"Why did they pick your house Tom?"
"I don't know."
"What were they looking for?" Mariel had taken a step back and was staring at Tom with a knowing look in her eyes. She placed her hand on his arm and Tom felt suddenly lighter. She didn't blame him.
But Russell hadn't finished. "Who were they looking for Tom?"
"So it is your fault. If you weren't what you are then none of this would have happened!"
"No, it wouldn't." Tom was angry now. After everything he'd done over the past 24 hours. After everything, Russell still said it was his fault. The man was grief-stricken but Tom couldn't see that right now. "You just don't get it do you?" This time it was Russell who took a step back. But the anger in his eyes remained and Tom wasn't going to stop. "You just don't get it! If I wasn't what I am, this town would have been overrun by now. People would be killing themselves and their children. We'd have an army of hybrids right now turning all humans and killing the ones who won't. What you don't get is that I was the one who saved you all! I've given up everything for the human race because I thought we should be able to co-exist but after everything… After everything you still think I'm the bad guy because I'm the hybrid. You're no better then Szura because all you want is to get rid of us!"
"That's not true! It's…"
"No, it's exactly true." Tom glared at Russell, taking in the man's shoulders slumping again.
Mariel stepped forward. "Tom… stop."
"Oh, you're on his side now?" Tom was beyond caring. He wrenched his arm away from Mariel and backed away.
"No, I'm not. It's just… look Tom." She pointed at Russell. He was kneeling in the sand, silent tears coursing down his cheeks. Tom froze. He looked out into the water where Russell was staring. Lights were shimmering everywhere. None were close to the shore because they were of no interest. Two hybrids and a human weren't worth going for. Tom took a deep breath and glanced down at the sand at his feet.
"Tom!" He was cut off by a scream from Mariel. His head shot up but she was fine. She was staring out at the water and… Russell wasn't kneeling on the sand anymore. "Tom!" Another scream and this time he ran to her. She pointed. Up to his knees in water, Russell was wading out. He turned to look back at them and Tom met his eyes.
"No." The utter certainty in his own voice gave Tom strength. He threw Mariel back on the sand so she wouldn't follow him and then dove into the water.
He knew the lights wouldn't hurt him but he could see them heading towards Russell. One human in the water was a whole lot different from one human standing on the beach. The new lights that had been thrown down in the hurricane had had their food source taken away and they were fighting to get to Russell, not caring about making another hybrid, just caring about feeding.
"Russell," Tom shouted. "Just stop." He was physically exhausted but he pushed his body further. What's the use of this 'upgrade' if it doesn't do things that humans can't? He could see the first two of the lights roaring towards Russell but the man didn't stop. If anything Russ was swimming towards them. No! "Russell. You aren't…" a wave washed over him, drowning out his words. He just held his breath till it passed by and kept on swimming.
He was about ten metres away from Russell when they reached him. They pulled him under together but Tom knew they wouldn't share. He dived under the water, not even pausing to take a breath. He knew his limits and he knew he didn't need air.
Russell was screaming and thrashing in the water as the two orange creatures fought around him. At this rate he'd be dead before they got to him. Tom swam with ease over to him and tried to untwist him from the two orange arms that held him tight. He felt something connect with the side of his face but under the water it held no real force. He glanced up and saw it was Russell's fist. What the hell?
"Get away!" That would have been what Russell shouted if he could be heard under water. Tom saw him mouth the words and lash out again. This time Tom caught his fist and pushed it gently back towards Russell's body. He knew he could cause Russell real damage, especially under the water, but he wasn't going to let that happen. He was meant to be saving him, not killing him.
He saw something change in Russell's eyes as he continued to tug at the orange arms. He had about a second to turn his head before both of the orange monsters smashed into him. Pulling him down further into the lake they wrapped their arms around him so he couldn't move. Russell was released and Tom saw him struggling towards the surface before a third and a fourth of the creatures leapt onto Russell's back and the man tried in vain to take a breath.
He felt one of the suckers that the creatures carried on the ends of their arms puncture his skin. He had truly believed that they wouldn't hurt him. But he was just one of many, especially now. They didn't need him. No honour among thieves. Just like Robin Hood.
Mariel was distraught. She had seen first Russell go under and then Tom. She knew that Tom wouldn't need to breathe, but Russell would. Two of the creatures had pulled Russell down, and after a while, two more had joined them. She wanted to go and help her husband rescue Russell, but every time she got near the water another orange light would appear in front of her and she knew that if she went into the water she would be attacked.
Suddenly the water didn't look so inviting. Before she had been drawn to it, hypnotized by it, like something out of a dream you never want to let go of. But now it was full of dangers. Something inside her was telling her to leave the beach, to run away; to leave Tom and Russell and save herself. But she wouldn't do that; she couldn't. She wouldn't be the woman running away whilst the men take care of everything. She was more than that.
She stepped into the water.
Tom was being pulled further and further down into the dark depths that these creatures inhabited; where their light couldn't reach the surface. There were hundreds of them, thousands even, swimming everywhere; their tails flowing out behind them like a mantra. They were hypnotizing him almost as badly as the water had during those first few months after his plane crash. He had wanted to be near and in the water all the time and it had only gotten worse.
But one day it had just stopped. That was what he was talking about when he said that Mariel had kept him alive, because the water had been the thing that had helped him and no one else but Mariel was there. She had been his hope when the water had betrayed him and he would be hers when it did the same.
He would be hers!
Russell struggled, but he was getting weaker. The two new monsters were fighting around him like the previous two had. He didn't know why but he knew Tom had tried to save him. But he didn't want to be saved. He wanted to be with Larkin again and if that meant giving up his humanity then that was a small price to pay.
He had seen Tom being dragged down into the water and fighting his captors. Why had that happened? Weren't the monsters and Tom on the same side? Weren't they the same thing?
He could feel the arm of the third monster getting looser whilst the fourth's arm tightened. They were fighting over him, he realized. He was becoming more and more confused. Why didn't they just turn him? Why would they care who made him into a hybrid?
Mariel felt something clamp down on her leg. When she glanced back she saw it was one of the creatures. It tugged at her and she felt it saying that she shouldn't go into the water; that it wasn't safe. She pulled her leg from its grasp and kept swimming. A second later she felt both her legs being pulled to a stop. It was the same one but this time four of its arms were holding her back.
She heard the voice resonate again, saying that she was too important to risk. "Why?" She shouted, or rather gulped as the water surrounded her. The creature seemed to turn its head but that was impossible. It didn't have a head! Then it turned its body and, with her legs still held tight in its grasp, headed back to shore.
Tom was fighting like a shark. He tore at the limbs that were attaching themselves to him and puncturing his skin. He even bit a few and found that they retracted at once. But he was surrounded by the creatures, and as soon as one of them fell away from him another two joined in.
*Why do you fight us?*
Tom froze, which gave the little bastards time to latch onto his free arm. He started to struggle again.
The shout was so loud it made his head ring and his vision fuzzy. He would have shaken his head but they were clamped everywhere. He relaxed, automatically following his instinct as he'd learned to do. The creature on his head suddenly wasn't there any more. He twisted round and saw it slowly retreating back into the dancing orange lights that surrounded him.
Next one of his legs was free and then an arm. He looked upwards, searching for a way out of the water, a way to Mariel and Russell. There was none. He couldn't even see the light of the sun.
"No!" Mariel screamed as she was thrown onto the beach. She looked up in time to see the orange creature slithering off into the water. Why wouldn't they let her help? Why was she too precious to risk?
She stood and gazed out over the bright expanse of water. It was alive with orange lights and she saw the one that had pulled her back to shore join the others, becoming one among many. She couldn't see Russell or Tom. They were gone; all she could see were the lights and they shone of danger.
Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't Russell have waited? She understood though. He wanted to protect his wife and baby. Tom would have done the same for her. Only… he didn't did he? He was standing at her side the night the water took her and he did nothing. No, he didn't do nothing, but he didn't help her. He didn't stop this from happening. But she still loved him. She had fallen in love with the changed man that had come out of the water, and he had stayed by her side whilst she changed and others were leaving their loved ones all around them. He may have understood what was happening to her but he had stuck around. She had been his hope, and the moment when she'd seen the rose in his locked room she had known. They'd be together forever.
All of the creatures had retreated but Tom was scared to swim upwards. That was when he heard Mariel scream. "No!" And that was all he needed. And maybe it was the fact that he was swimming towards the shore and not Russell that made the creatures leave him alone. They parted for him, twisting and turning; showing him the way. He knew that if he tried to break through their ranks or swim back to Russell they wouldn't think twice about attacking him again and holding him down here for good.
But swimming back to Russell never even crossed his mind. All he wanted was to save Mariel, to see that she was ok. That was all he wanted.
Russell couldn't see Tom anymore. All he could see were the lights, and the third monster had all but released him. A great howling broke through the water. It must have been truly loud if he could hear it under the water so clearly. The third monster, or it could have been the fourth; they all looked the same, released him and fell through the water to the light below. The other moved closer, and Russell suddenly was terrified. Had he really swum out here wanting to save Larkin? Or to become one of these things? It was too late to save his wife, but if he could be like her everything would be alright. The monster wrapped another arm around him and turned him so he was facing away. It seemed to know he didn't want to get away and he suddenly lost the need to breath. The ache in his chest vanished and the fogginess around the edge of his vision receded. He could clearly see the monster now that would soon turn him into a hybrid. He probably wouldn't remember what it looked like. He hoped he wouldn't remember his feeling when Tom had said that Larkin was in the water. He really hoped that much.
As Tom emerged from the water dripping wet, he saw Mariel sitting on the beach, her knees drawn up to her chest, quietly sobbing.
She was ok. She was running across the sand towards him and he recognized the look in her eyes. It was exactly the same look he had had and felt when he'd seen her unconscious and naked after the lights had taken her. One of utter fear and relief. Without even knowing how it had happened he met her half way up the beach and was hugging her. She was crying into his shoulder and he was on the verge of tears himself.
"Are you ok?" he whispered.
"Yeah, I tried to go in after you but they wouldn't let me."
He nodded, pulling her closer. "I know. I know. It's all going to be ok."
She pulled away from him so she could look him in the eyes and noticed the puncture marks in his neck. "Oh my god, Tom, what happened?"
"They stopped me too."
She nodded and glanced out at the water. "Do you know what happened?"
Again there was that question. "No, I don't. I didn't see but they wanted him. They were hungry."
Mariel put her hand over her mouth as she glanced back up at him.
"I'm sorry Mare." The first tears slid down his face.
"It's all right. Come here."
Tom fell against her shoulder and fainted from blood loss. The darkness, when it came, was a blessed release.