Disclaimer: Twilight and the characters created therein are the property of Stephanie Meyer and are used herein in a derivative use. No copyright infringement is intended. The poem quoted in at the beginning of this piece is from T.S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land. This story was originally written for the Season of Our Discontent Angst Contest – there are some beautifully written entries there, though few HEAs.

This is the Way the World Ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot

Tomorrow, he'll walk out the gates at twilight. He's not afraid of dying for her. But he is afraid of what's out there. And what he may become.

The door to the room creaks, and he stares up at her face. She looks tired and drawn, the way they all do, but she's still the most beautiful thing in the world to him. He wonders again if he's doing the right thing, if there's a better call, but stops himself. His leaving buys her a little more time. Time that may make all the difference. He prays it will.

She comes over to the window where he's been staring out into the night sky, bright with stars, and shifts onto the sill with a little half-hitch of her hip. Leaning against him, she asks, "Where have you been? I missed you."

He's been with Jasper, crouching over the small ham radio, the one they can only use sparingly for fear the battery will give out, severing their last link to whoever's still out there. Jasper sends out a message every day, and at first, there were a few voices replying back, to far to help, even if they'd known a way. One by one, they've all fallen silent. Until today. Today, they heard a message that caused them both to catch their breaths.

There were troops moving in their direction. Rescue personnel with food and medicine. Salvation.

He'd almost whooped aloud, stumbling up to his feet to race and tell her, when Jasper caught his sleeve, brought him back to his knees with a sober expression. Through the pop and hisses that laced the transmission, he'd listened harder, straining to piece together the words until they began to sink in.

The earliest any help will reach them is next week. If then. And the cans of fuel that they've tried to stretch as far as possible are almost empty. Enough to run the generator three or four nights at the most. Without the lights, they won't all make it. Maybe none of them will.

He shifts back to his present, the only thing he has to hold on to now, for at least a few hours more, and smiles at her. He's been in love with her for as long as he can remember. She's his everything. Her father had laughed when he'd shared that too earnestly - was it only a few months ago he'd had that embarrassing conversation? When there had still been a future, the prospect of graduation and college and marriage to her? The chance for a life, a family, and two rocking chairs on a front porch at the end of their long life together.

That world is gone now.

"Hey, what's going on, Edward?" She touches his face gently. "Did something happen? You promised you'd tell me if you heard something."

He catches her fingers, presses his lips against her palm. Her skin is hot against his face that has been pressed against the cold glass, and he lets himself bask in the warmth for a minute, trying to work up his nerve. Is it selfish, what he's about to do?

"Bella, will you stay with me?"

She issued that same invitation to him, so many weeks ago now. The night everything changed.

. . .

She was full of grins and giggles. She'd had one wine cooler at the party they'd hit after the game, but he doubted that was the reason for the way she kept peeking at him behind the waterfall of dark hair she was always tucking behind her ears. But he didn't care. It was a beautiful evening, he'd scored the winning run in the last game of the season, and he had the girl he loved by his side. Nothing could make the night better.

Until she leaned over the gearshift, her lips almost brushing against his ear. "Want to stay the night?"

He inhaled, turning to face her, their lips aligned in an almost kiss. "But your dad-"

"Took the night shift to cover for one of the deputies who has a sick kid."

His heart was beating more rapidly and he tried to think if the condom he'd been carrying in his wallet for months now was still there. Still usable. If that's what she was asking.

Was that what she was asking? Maybe she just didn't want to be alone with her dad gone for the night. Chief Swan never worked the night shift.

"Are you . . . are you sure?" His voice cracked a little, and he cleared his throat. The thought of being with her, having her in his arms all night, made him feel flushed and chilled at the same time. It was what he wanted, for one night, for every night, forever, though he'd been afraid to tell her that. They were seniors, bound for college in a few short months, and though they'd dated for almost a year now, and he'd wanted her as his girlfriend for even longer, he was afraid she would laugh if he told her she was it for him.

But she was, and he knew it, and that was why he hesitated. He wanted to be with her, to have more than stolen make out sessions in cold cars, fumbling with fingers and lips to bring pleasure beneath layers of clothes. He'd known for awhile that she'd say yes if he asked, but he always stopped himself, even when it seemed like both of them would combust from their longing, because she deserved more. They'd learned their way together so far, and he wanted to make this last step with her as perfect as he could. Not some cramped, awkward tumble in the back of his mother's Volvo, but somewhere private, with soft sheets and time for them to explore, to get things right.

But between her vigilant gun-carrying father, and his ever present parents, it had never been an option, at least not one he'd been willing to take in the few stolen hours he'd managed to sneak into her room from time to time. Until now.

"I'm sure, Edward." Her lips brushed his, and he felt his reservations slipping away.

"He won't be home tonight?"

"He's working the 12 to 8," she replied. "I have to call him, let him know I'm home in just a minute. Tell your parents you're staying with Emmett." Her hand touched his face, forcing him to meet her eyes in the slight illumination of the front porch light. "Please. I want this, Edward. I know you want things to be perfect, but don't you see? This-" she gestured from his heart to hers, "this is perfect. Just us."

He nodded, pulling his phone from his pocket and dialing his parents with shaking hands as he left a message that he was crashing at Emmett's house, followed by a quick text to Emmett to cover for him if anyone called to check. She slid out of the car, pulling out her key to open the door for them.

"I'm just going to call my dad," she said. "You can go on upstairs if you want."

. . .

"Of course I'll stay," she replies.

"Jasper said we could have the room in the attic today. We just need to be sure the blankets are secured before the sun comes up."

She nods, her eyes concerned. "Is something wrong, Edward?"

He understands her suspicion. Since they've been here, almost a month now, everyone's stayed together, huddled in the larger rooms of the lower floors or in the shelter below, blankets, pillows, and mattresses dragged to form pallets. He doubts there's really safety in numbers, but no one seems to want to be alone. Not during the day or night.

He hesitates to tell her, but he knows the elation he felt when he heard the message. "You can't tell anyone, alright? We heard something on the radio today. A message from a military unit. They're moving this way. Should be here, maybe in a week. They have food, supplies, weapons."

"Really?" Her face brightens, the first smile he's seen in days. "Do you think they'll be able to do searches? Check for others? Maybe they have a cure."

"I don't know. Maybe."

He doesn't know, but he doubts they will. He hasn't told her that he saw her father out beyond the wall a few weeks ago when he had night duty, and that he'd been as gone as any of those lurching and raving on the edges of the woods, held at bay by the lights.

He'd watched the chief stand there, staring at the house, the remnants of his uniform a sharp contrast to his bloated face and red eyes. He'd debated with himself for almost an hour before raising the gun to his shoulder and taking aim through the sight. Years of gaming made him more accurate than he'd expected the first time Jasper showed him how to shoot the rifles that had been neatly piled in the basement, and he knew with one pull of the trigger he could kill the man.

The chief had lurched back from the light and towards the woods, and as he stepped into the line of trees, Edward pulled the trigger. The body had been ravaged in minutes, the others ripping the bloated flesh. But he'd been dead before he fell, Edward was certain of that. That small mercy was the least he could do for the man who'd saved both him and Bella.

. . .

Her room was the same as always. The small twin bed that barely held the two of them was neatly made with its crazy quilt cover. He sat down, wincing at the squeak of the springs, the ones that always made him paranoid her dad was going to burst through the door, shotgun in hand, when he'd been brave enough to shimmy up the tree and in her window. She'd loved it though, called him her Romeo the first time he'd done it. He'd always thought Romeo and Juliet was lame, with the over the top way the two lovers had offed themselves at the news of the other's death, but he got what Shakespeare was going for. Love, real love, made you crazy.

He heard the tap of her footsteps coming up the wooden steps. The third one from the top creaked, and he tried to look relaxed when she came through the door. He didn't feel it though. What if he did something wrong? Everyone said it hurt for girls the first time. Emmett said his girlfriend, Rose, had even cried, and not happy tears. He didn't want to hurt her or make her cry.

"Hi, handsome." She looked a little nervous too, her hands clasped awkwardly in front of her as she stood in the doorway for a moment before moving around the room, picking up clothes and straightening the pile of books on the table beside her bed.

Something about that, knowing she wasn't confident either, made him relax. He caught her arm gently, pulling her into his lap. "Hi, beautiful."

She wrinkled her nose at him, looping her arms around his neck. "I told you not to call me that."

"But it's true," he replied. "You are, you know. The most beautiful girl in the world."

She shook her head. "Sure, sure. You just haven't seen much of the world yet, Edward."

"I don't need to. You'll always be the most beautiful to me, Bella."

He wanted to say more, tell her he loved her, but he didn't want her to think it was just because of what was about to happen. It was such a simple phrase, I love you, and people said it all the time. But his father had lectured him for years about what it meant when you said that to a girl. Not something to be said lightly, it was a commitment, a promise, that you cherished her, would protect her and care for her. She might not understand it, but he didn't want her to think those words were motivated by lust.

"I, um, I bought some new underwear." She was blushing, he could feel the heat in her face against his cheek as she whispered in his ear.

"You did?" he whispered back.

She nodded. "It's blue, your favorite."

He groaned as his hands slid under her shirt. "I don't know if I believe you. Maybe I need to check for myself."

She giggled and tried to help as they managed in a tangle of arms to get her shirt almost over her head. He could see it, dark blue and silky looking, just barely covering her small breasts. She halted them, holding the shirt back to her chest.

"Wait, I think there should be a price of admission to this show."

He grinned. "If you want a kiss, you just have to ask."

"Nuh-uh. I think you need to take your shirt off too."

He quickly followed her instructions, pulling the shirt over his head and deftly plucking hers from her hands.

"Now I'm wearing less than you," he commented, pulling her onto the bed so they could lie side by side. "Not sure that's fair."

"Hmmm, maybe we can take care of that in a minute," she replied, reaching out to touch his face. "I want a kiss now."

"Your wish is my command." He found her lips, pulling her smaller body against his, letting his hands wander up the silky skin of her back as she moved closer, entwining herself with him. He'd lost track of how long they'd been kissing, hands roaming exposed skin and teasing at those bits they'd yet to uncover, when he felt the vibration of his phone against his thigh. It startled them both, and he laughed a little at the squeak she made.

"Don't answer it," she protested.

He fished for his phone. "It might be Emmett. Let me check." He held up the phone and felt his blood run cold at the display. It was the chief's number.

"It's your dad," he said.

"Don't answer it," she hissed again, scrambling for her shirt.

"Bella, your dad is calling me at 1:30 in the morning. I have to answer it."

She looked uncertain, but nodded as he answered the phone, trying to keep his voice steady. "Hello?"

"Edward? Are you with Bella?" The chief sounded upset, the tension in his voice evident.

He swallowed hard, mind racing. Bella was plastered against him, her ear to the phone, and she shook her head, miming her throat being cut to signal a denial.

"Chief, I-"

"Edward, I know you aren't home and I know you aren't at the McCarty's like you told your parents." Bella fell over on the bed beside him, hands over her face. "We're dead," she mouthed at him.

"Yes, sir. I was dropping her off, and stayed a little longer than-"

A whistling noise outside the window sounded loud enough to draw both their attention, followed by what sounded like the boom of fireworks. Bella jumped off the bed and ran to the windows.

"Son, we don't have time for that now. Please tell me you're with my daughter."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank God. Now listen carefully. Take Bella and go to the old Carpenter place. You know where I mean? Go now, and don't stop. There's a man bought the place a few weeks ago, name's Jasper Whitlock. Tell him I sent you."

"What's happening, sir?"

"Edward, I wish I could tell you. We're under some kind of attack. Drive careful, and watch the road for debris. And don't worry about your parents. Your dad's at the hospital and your mom's there with him."

"Should we go there?"

There was a pause before the chief responded. "No, no, I think you'll be safer at the Carpenter place for now. I'll come for you both in the morning. Now let me speak to my daughter."

Edward pulled an ashen faced Bella away from the window and handed the phone to her, taking her place at the window. What he saw made his skin cold. The wooded hill beyond the Swan house was now cratered with dark masses, and flames were starting to lick into the woods in the distance. The recent rains were likely the only reason they weren't fully engulfed by now.

He turned, tossing handfuls of Bella's clothes and books into the middle of the quilt, tying it up as she hung up the phone, tears in her eyes.

"Bella, we have to go now. Come on." He shrugged on his shirt and grabbed the quilt.

They hurried down the stairs, and he ran outside, tossing the makeshift bundle in the back. "Bella, c'mon," he yelled.

She came through the front door, her arms full with a box he recognized from one similar to his home. The sort of thing most families had put together for bad storms and power outages, some jugs of water, canned food, batteries and flashlights.

The crackle of the fire sounded louder for a moment, then the flames began to die down as a gentle rain started to fall, just as Bella slid into the car.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Your dad said to go to the Carpenter place," he replied, shifting gears as they roared down the road. Even through the rain, he could see more streaks in the night sky. Were they meteors? Bombs?

"What did your dad say?" he asked, gripping the steering wheel and driving as fast as he dared. He could hear more whistling noises overhead, and he was forced to swerve to avoid one of the craters in the road. There were twisted bits of metal in the midst, like an empty shell casing.

Not meteors then.

"He said to go with you to the Carpenter place, that old man Carpenter had stockpiled supplies for the end of days and we'd be safe there until he can come for us." She curled into a ball in the passenger seat. "He said he loved me. Edward, my dad . . . I know he does, but he just doesn't say that, except when things are really serious. It scared me, like he's worried he won't see me again."

"Your dad's one of the toughest guys I know. He'll be fine and we will too. Okay, beautiful?" He lifted her hand and placed a quick kiss on her fingers before turning his attention back to the road.

People were starting to wander out of their houses as they drove through town, standing on their lawns watching the streaks of light that crossed the sky and landed in the forests around them. He saw the ambulance racing away from the hospital, and was tempted to stop, but remembered the chief's directions. Go to the Carpenter place.

Carpenter had been the town kook for as long as Edward had been alive. Reclusive, he'd lived in an old Victorian that had been home to three generations of his family on the edge of town before he transformed it to look more like a fortress, with a high stone wall that surrounded the house, thick iron gates, and a floodlight system along the wall that would practically blind anyone who approached at night. Rumor was that he'd been in the military, fought in a war and come back so damaged he believed he was always under siege.

Edward didn't know if that was true, just that Carpenter's place was always the popular spot for a dare to see if someone could scale the fence and get inside, though no one had managed it that he knew of. He'd forgotten the old man had passed away in the winter.

He pulled up to the gates, turned off the car, and looked at Bella. "Let's go find Jasper Whitlock."

. . .

The third floor of the old Victorian is mostly attic, with a small bedroom at one end that must have housed a child's room once upon a time. There's not much in the room - a small bed in the corner that makes him think of Bella's, a heavy armchair in the corner, a slim bookcase against the tallest wall. The books must have been Carpenter's, survival manuals, books on military history and strategy. Edward stifles a nervous laugh, wondering if any of them could have contemplated the situation they're facing.

She has her blanket in her arms, the patchwork quilt he know her grandmother made her when she was a baby. She carries it with her a lot now, he's noticed, a touchstone of sorts for all that's been lost. He's glad he took it that night, that she has something to hold on to.

He closes the door behind them, looking out the one small window. Dawn will come soon, and the world will go still, everyone seeking shelter from the sun's rays, even the wretched souls. Bella flicks the lighter from her pocket and lights the single candle they've brought with them as he loosens the ties on the heavy wool blanket nailed above the window, letting it fall.

The room seems cozier this way, blocking out everything around them. Down below, he knows some of the group will still be up and about for a little while, playing some of the board games they'd found in a cabinet or eating one of the stockpiled MREs that Carpenter had piles of in his basement. They're all a little stir crazy after so many days together, and he's noticed that more people are sleeping longer. He doubts even nightmares are worse than reality now.

He sits in the armchair, and after a minute, she comes and curls in his lap. They stay that way for a long time, no words, just soaking in the other and the quiet. "Are we going to make it?" she asks.

He kisses the top of her head. "Yes, beautiful. Someone's coming soon, and everything will be better then."

"What if they don't get here soon enough? I helped Alice with the generator last night, before we turned on the lights. There's not much fuel left."

"I think Jasper may have some more he held in reserve," Edward replies. She looks up at him, skeptical, but he tries his best to look convincing.

"Okay," she replies, but he's not sure she believes him.

. . .

The gates of the Carpenter house were closed, and the floodlights turned off when they pulled up to the end of the long drive that sheltered the residence from the street. Edward stared up at the walls illuminated in his headlights, the wipers of the car giving a glance with each swish through the now pouring rain. He didn't remember the barbwire and shards of glass from before. No wonder none of his friends ever took the dare.

"What if no one's here?" Bella asked.

"There's only one way to find out." He cut off the headlights and opened the door, hearing the twin slam of hers a few seconds behind him as he walked towards the massive gates, ignoring the water that quickly soaked him through. "Hello? Is there anyone in there?"

A shadowy figure emerged from behind the wall just as one of the floodlights atop the gate flared to life. "Who are you?" a voice asked.

Edward shielded his eyes. "My name's Edward Cullen, and this is my girlfriend, Bella Swan. We were told to come here."

"Who told you to do that?"

"My father, Chief Swan. He said to ask for a Jasper Whitlock." Bella stepped from behind him, her arm linking through his, her quilt clutched in her hand. "Is that you?"

There was a long pause, and then the light shut off and the gate began to swing open. "Come inside. I don't have room for anymore, but since you're Chief Swan's daughter, I'll make an exception. That's quite the dad you've got there."

"I know," Bella responded.

A smaller figure moved down the front steps of the porch, barely visible in the darkness. "I'm Alice, Jasper's wife. You both look shellshocked. Come with me."

Edward found himself being ushered into the house, handed a towel and dry clothes that were slightly too large for him. When he emerged from the bathroom, Alice, who he could now see was a petite woman who looked to be in her late twenties, gestured him towards the stairs. "I'll bring Bella down in a minute. Jasper wants us all to get inside the shelter now, just in case. He talked to the Chief. Those things are still falling outside."

"Do you know what they are?"

She shook her head. "No one seems to. There's one in the backyard. It was a near miss, almost hit the house. That's why we're going below now. Jasper spent several years in the military and did a couple of tours in Iraq. He says it looks like canisters of gas, but there's no odor. The explosions are causing some fires, but the rain is helping."

He nodded, trying to take it all in as Alice ushered him down the basement stairs and to a door marked with a yellow and black sign he'd seen in history books.

"Fallout shelter? Carpenter had a fallout shelter built down here?"

Alice nodded. "We've only been here a couple of weeks, and I was getting ready to have someone come and haul away all this stuff, but I guess we should be grateful for it now. He was prepared for a siege. Food, water, guns, even a generator and fuel. This place would be good for several months, if there were just a few people." She glanced at the doorway. "Only we have about twenty-five in there now. It's a little cramped."

Jasper and a pale Bella came down the steps, and Edward pulled her into his arms, rubbing her skin. "It's going to be alright," he whispered. "We're safe here tonight. Tomorrow we'll go home, and figure out what's happened."

He followed her into the fallout shelter, nodding to Mike, one of his teammates on the baseball team.

"Hey man, what are you doing here?" Mike asked.

"Bella's dad told us to come here."

Mike nodded. "We live down the street. My mom knew about this place, remembered when Carpenter had it built."

Edward looked around the room. Most of the people were older, even older than Mike's mom, and probably knew to come here the same way. Jasper strode to the entrance, giving a whistle to grab everyone's attention.

"Ladies and gentlemen. I know we're all a little frightened by what's happened here tonight, but it's important we remain calm. I've been checking in with the authorities on a regular basis, and although it seems the worst of this incident is behind us, Chief Swan has asked if you would all remain here until tomorrow. There's a lot of debris out there, and it would be safer to travel back to your homes then. If you all agree to that, I'm going to close the shelter for now, and we'll all do our best to get a little sleep."

There was a nervous murmur through the crowd, but ultimately everyone agreed as Jasper bolted the door.

. . .

She turns her head towards his, finding his lips. They used to spend hours doing this, making out with soft, slow kisses, but her mouth on his now is different. What was once sweet and full of promise has grown darker, her mouth hard and greedy, like she wants to draw him into her and never let him go.

Her desire lights the spark in him, the part of him that wants her laid bare beneath him. He puts his arms around her, feels her legs wrap around his waist as he hoists her up, staggering to his feet and carrying her to the bed. The tentativeness he had before is gone, and he pulls his shirt off, watching as she does the same.

It's the same blue bra she wore that night, a little more worn now, but just as beautiful against her skin. He almost loses himself then, in the flood of memories never made, but she grabs his face and forces him to watch as she shimmies first one shoulder, then the other free from the lacy straps.

Her breasts are beautiful, small and high, with delicate pink tips that feel like satin under his fingertips and make her moan when he touches them. He falls to his knees as if in supplication, worshiping her as she digs her fingers into his hair, twists the now shaggy strands to pull him closer, guide him to the next stop she wants to feel his tongue.

Her wish is still his command. When she urges his head lower, he follows her lead, until both their bodies are bare. She fumbles with his pants when he discards them on the floor, fishing for the useless wallet filled with money he can't spend and keys to a house he'll never go back to, and pulls out the one thing of value. A small foil square.

They fumble a little now, breaking new ground as she rips the packet open, her fingers trembling just a little as she guides the sheath over him. His mouth has made her slick and hot, ready as she can be when he slowly guides himself into her body. She stiffens for a moment, then urges him forward, and he clutches her to him when he's complete with her. He's hyperaware now, of her heart beating against his, the heat of her body, the little sigh she gives as her fingers curl at the nape of his neck. They're one, and it's perfect.

For the next few minutes, he forgets everything but her and them and the pleasure of life and love and all the things that have been washed away by the loss of humanity he's witnessed. He doesn't want it to end, but when it does, she doesn't cry. She holds him close, helping him as they clean themselves up, curling back against him as he wraps them up in the sheets.

"Bella, I love you."

It's whispered, soft and sleepy against her ear, but he knows she hears him when she whispers it back. "And I love you, Edward."

Night is still hours away, and he allows himself the joy of falling asleep in her arms one last time.

. . .

He didn't think he'd be able to sleep, but he must have dozed off for a few moments, because the sound of the shelter's heavy door opening caused him to rise with a jolt. He eased Bella off his shoulder gently, tucking her blanket around her as he slid through the door, following Jasper up the stairs. His watch showed that it was just after 5:00 in the morning.

Jasper was huddled at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in his hands as he watched the small TV set on the edge of the counter.

"C'mon in, Edward. Everyone will know soon enough."

He sat beside the older man, noting the scars that marred one of his arms. "I thought this would be a safe place to start over with Alice," Jasper observed. "Looks like we're out of safe places."

Edward focused on the screen, where a somber-eyed news anchor stared into the camera. "Authorities are attempting to investigate the wide-spread attack that began last night, but reports from the east coast now indicate that a more serious threat has emerged."

The camera cut to footage of a group of people moving through what looked like Times Square, their eyes red and bodies bloated.

"What's that?" Edward asked.

Jasper took a sip of his coffee. "That's what the gas does. Well, the gas, and exposure to UV rays. Don't know who did it, but it was genius. We're all trapped here now."

"What do you mean?" Edward asked.

Jasper pointed towards the window, which Edward noticed for the first time had a tarp tacked over it. "It means that if we go outside in the daylight, we become that. We've all breathed that gas in, Edward. It was everywhere in town last night."

"So we'll go out after dark." He followed Jasper's gaze back to the screen, where the mob in Times Square descended on a man who exited one of the buildings. His screams echoed in Edward's ear after the shot ended, cutting back to the news reporter, who was warning people to stay inside.

"There's already a television evangelist calling them the wretched souls, claiming it's the end of days." Jasper remarked, flipping to another channel showing a similar scene. "We're about as well set up here as you could hope to be. For now, we should stay put."

"But my parents . . . Bella's dad . . ." Edward trailed off.

Jasper looked at him for a long minute. "Going out there will get you killed or worse, Edward. You stay and take care of that girl. She's going to need someone."

. . .

He wakes slowly, confused for a minute at the feel of the cool sheets against his bare skin until it all begins to flood back. Yesterday, the radio message, his decision, the sacrifice he's resolved to make for her, for Bella.


He sits up, his eyes sweeping the room, but she's gone. He throws the sheet to the side, glancing at his watch. The sun will set in the next hour, and within a half hour after that, the wretched souls will be back at their walls, cowering back from the beam of the light that holds them at bay, ready to rip to shreds anything outside that thin circle. It's a narrow window, but it's enough time for a person to drive to the sheriff's office and raid the emergency fuel supply, bring it back to the gates. Enough time for that person to be exposed to the sun, for the change to begin in them.

He fumbles for his pants, his shirt, grabs his wallet and frowns. Something's missing, the weight in his pocket feels wrong, and before he slides his hand into his pocket he knows what it is.

She's taken the keys to the car.

He races down the stairs, throws open the door, and follows her into the light.