She woke up in the middle of the night from a dream of a dream of the world ending.
She sat bolt upright, her heart pounding, sweat trickling down the back of her neck, the faintest taste of smoke in her mouth. The thunder of far-off explosions echoed in her ears.
But I saved you, Maura. I found you and I saved you and maybe it was to save myself but you're here, you're alive, you're whole—
Jane closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. She caught the lightest note of flowers.
She pushed herself off the bed and padded into the kitchen for a drink of water. She heard the birds outside beginning to sing. It was near dawn.
"Maura?" Jane said, in the quiet way she now had sometimes. Maura started in her chair. Jane could tell she'd been gone, she'd been away, she'd been swimming in an ocean Jane could never fathom.
"Are you feeling all right?" Jane asked because it was what she asked now; she asked because Maura had drifted farther away from her than she had been ready for. She asked because she was no longer sure just by looking at her, because Maura's eyes had turned honey-colored and Jane did not understand the language in them. She had tried without trying too hard, trying to know Maura again without Maura seeing her uncertainty, but Jane couldn't be sure Maura saw anything any more.
"I'm fine, Jane," she said, and Jane looked at her askance.
"Are you . . . sure?" She tried to hide the fluttering anxiety in her voice, tried to find the right tone.
"I'm fine," Maura said again, smiling in a way that didn't reach her eyes, didn't dim the honeylight glowing there. "My head aches sometimes, but the occurrence is less frequent."
"And you're doing . . . okay other than that?"
Maura smiled again, more gently, more brightly. "Yes," she said softly. "There are still moments when things . . . come back, but for the most part I feel very much myself."
"Okay," Jane said, but she couldn't hide the sadness in her voice, couldn't entirely hide the anguish she still felt when she looked at Maura's face, overlaid with the image of her surrounded by the dense haze of smoke and the heavy drone of bees, her face pale as the moon, her body made of fire. "Maura—"
There was a long pause. Jane turned her face away briefly, rubbed at her own scars.
At least mine are visible. At least I can remember, but I don't want you ever to remember, Maura, what he did to you was a hundred times worse, a thousand, he took part of you away from me.
Jane shook her head imperceptibly.
He took part of you away from everyone. From yourself. But Maura, he took you from me and I don't know where you went, I don't know how to bring you back. I saved you, Maura, I saved you from him and I pulled you away from Death and I claimed you for this life; I saw distant fires that meant the world was ending and if you had been taken I would have nothing, Maura, but where did you go? You are here, you are breathing, as long as you are breathing the world will not end, but where are you?
"I'm—I'm so sorry," she mumbled. She didn't know what else to say. There was too much, it was too much, it was not enough. The hollow echo of far-off explosions rumbled too loudly in her ears.
"Jane—" Maura whispered, and stopped, and Jane would have given anything to know what she would have said next.
Please stay with me, Maura, please, because if you went away I wouldn't be able to—
Jane sometimes looked at her as though she wanted to speak but she said nothing. They did not know how to be.
It had been days and weeks since Maura had been taken, days and weeks since Jane had found her floating at the bottom of a sea she did not understand, since Jane had killed the man who hurt her and taken her in her arms and carried her out into a place flooded with light. Days and weeks since Jane had seen the terrifying fire and blood of the end of the world, had seen it in the bright crimson in Maura's hair, had tasted the honey and the smoke of it on her tongue, had touched it in the febrile heat of Maura's skin.
The world was ending and you were there.
She dreamed sometimes of a woman walking away from her, pausing on the edge of a cratered horizon. In her dreams the woman looked back then plunged down, in her dreams Jane could see the cries escaping her mouth and dissolving in the air in front of her like smoke.
She didn't know what to say. They saw each other at work; Maura spent much of the rest of her time alone. Jane had tried to be with her, had tried to insist upon staying with her, but there was a distance that felt insurmountable. She had accepted Maura's soft refusals. She had accepted them.
I don't know why I took no for an answer, Maura, I don't, but there's something between us now, there's this space, and I don't know how to get across it, to get back to you. I don't know what to say. Just please, Maura, please stay with me.
Sometimes she dreamed of nothing, she dreamed of dreams, she saw long empty stretches of smoke, she sometimes tasted salt on her lips. She woke up curled on her side, clutching at a pillow, tasting salt on her lips.
Where did you, go, Maura, I will go there to find you, I will do anything to bring you back.
Sometimes she woke in the night, her hand flying to her phone, her thumb poised to dial just as she became aware of what she was doing.
Don't call her, Jane. She doesn't want to talk to you. She'd tell you if she did.
Jane wanted desperately to talk to Maura, wanted to find in her the woman she cared about, the woman she loved—
I love you, Maura, because you are stronger than you know. I hate him for hurting you because he took part of you away, he took part of your strength, he left you distant and quiet and strange to me, Maura, he took you away from me, and all I have is love to bring you back.
"I do," she whispered to the shadows of the shadows in the darkest part of the night. She didn't feel changed, she felt certain, she understood. "I love you. Where did you go?"
Jane took a deep breath. She lifted her hand.
She took a deep breath.
Just do it. Just do it, Jane, you have to, you came here, you have to do this. For yourself. For her.
She knocked softly on the door. After a long pause she pressed her ear against it and heard nothing, felt for a moment a heavy bolt of fear shoot through her body, pressed gently at it and exhaled, trembling slightly, the tension in her back releasing, when it did not swing open at her touch. She knocked again, slightly harder.
"Maura?" she called, tentative, afraid she'd interrupted something, though she did not know what. She did not know anything about Maura, she sometimes felt. Maura had become a stranger to her, and the empty look Maura gave her as she opened the door turned her heart to cinders, she tasted ashes on her tongue.
"Can I come in?" Her mouth was so dry it ached, the heavy char clinging to her, she was what was left after the world had been burned.
"Of course," and Maura stepped back to let Jane pass. Jane moved around her, a deliberate distance between them, she hated it, she felt it acutely, she wanted to reach out and crush Maura in an embrace but the depths of Maura's solitude were palpable and Jane did not know how to reach through them. She stood in the living room, burning with anxiety, trying to shake the faint echo of explosions away.
You have to talk to her. Otherwise she will sit there looking through you, looking past you into a world you will never see, you have to talk to her and tell her all those things, you have to say it-
"Maura, I haven't been there for you very much," she said suddenly, in a single breath. "And I wanted to tell you I'm sorry. I just—I haven't known what to say, you know? How to talk to you."
Maura said nothing. Jane took a deep breath, closed her eyes, kept talking, didn't know what else to do. The more words she said the more the fires receded from the corners of her eyes; the closer she got to saying what she wanted to say the more the honeylight seemed to dim in Maura's.
"I mean, I know we've been through stuff like this before but none of it . . . none of it really felt like this. You were gone so long, and I didn't know where you were, and all I could do was look for you, but every day that went by, I got more and more afraid." Maura I was afraid, Maura, that you were—you know. And then I found you and I didn't know if I was just going to lose you again right then. And then it took you so long to wake up, I didn't . . . I couldn't . . ."
"Sit down," Maura said softly, taking Jane's hand and pulling her down beside her.
"I was so scared, Maura. I was so scared." She took a deep breath. "And then you were so hurt, and I felt like . . . I felt like it was my fault, like I didn't get to you fast enough, and then when I found out what . . . happened, I—"
"Jane," Maura whispered. There was something in her voice so familiar Jane couldn't recognize it.
"Maura, I'm so sorry."
It's all I can say. It's not enough. It's too much. I love you, please stay with me.
Maura reached out and touched Jane's hand. Jane flinched without meaning to.
"I don't know what to do," Jane mumbled. "I feel like I screwed up so bad, Maura, that you went through things no person should ever have to because I wasn't there, because I couldn't find you fast enough."
I only saved you to save myself, Maura, because I love you and I need you, as long as you are with me the world is not ending.
"Whatever you think you've done or not done, Jane, you have to know I don't agree. You saved my life," Maura said. Her head was beginning to ache. "I don't feel betrayed by you, I feel indebted."
Jane didn't speak. She couldn't think, the smell of flowers in her nose, the taste of honey on her tongue, the far-off explosions dulled into the drone of thousands of bees. She clenched her fists into hard white knots of anxiety, of despair, of fear. She tasted salt on her lips, she felt it on her skin.
"Whatever forgiveness you're looking for," Maura whispered, her voice so familiar, soft and kind, pleading and suffused with sweetness, "I offer it to you. Please, Jane. Please."
"I just . . . "
I saved you to save myself—
"I don't know if I want you to forgive me. I don't know if I can forgive myself," Jane said, her voice shot through with fine cracks.
This is not what I wanted to say to you, Maura, I wanted to say I love you, that as long as you stay with me—
She closed her eyes, felt salt slipping down her cheeks, tasted salt cutting through the sweetness of Maura's perfume, the soft heat of Maura's body next to her.
I saved you, Maura, I can't live without you, I don't want—
Maura sighed gently, and Jane felt the coolness of her fingers slip across the tight skin of her clenched fists, felt Maura's fingers pressing at Jane's until Jane relented. Maura's fingers wove through Jane's and Jane closed her eyes, her breath shallow, the salt in her mouth oceanbitter, she suddenly felt like she was drowning, she was being crushed beneath the waves of the days and the weeks. The fires burning on the horizons were extinguished, plumes of smoke rising into the sky, dissipating with each gentle push of Maura's fingers through hers.
I love you, Maura, please don't leave—
Maura pulled gently on Jane's hand until Jane felt the levees break inside her, the familiar sound in Maura's voice pouring honeyed water across the parts of her that still burned.
Jane's breath caught in her throat as she ran her fingers trembling up the length of Maura's arm, barely making contact with her skin, afraid to touch her in the places she had been hurt, desperate to-
I don't have the right to touch you, Maura. I don't have the right to love you when I only saved you to save myself.
"I know you don't remember what happened," Jane whispered so quietly she wasn't sure for a moment she'd said anything. "And trust me, Maura, that's for the best, and I hope it never comes back to you. But I—I know what happened, and Maura, I'm so sorry."
"Jane," Maura murmured. She touched Jane's cheek. Jane flinched again, from shame, from fear, from hope and from pain and from sorrow, but did not pull her face away.
"I was so scared," she whispered. She didn't know how to say anything else. It wasn't enough. It was too much.
She sat there, dreaming of a dream, cradled in Maura's arms. Salt pooled at her throat, she could smell flowers and taste honey, she did not know what to say, she could only try to explain to Maura how she was so undeserving, how she wanted so much, how she wanted—
Then Maura was lifting her chin gently, Jane's eyes downcast, afraid to look at Maura's face, afraid to see the familiar light, afraid to feel the enormity of what had been broken open in her. Maura was lifting her chin gently, and then Maura's lips were on her cheek, pressed to her skin, tasting the salt that ran like rivers there.
I love you, Maura, I do, I saved you so I could tell you, why can't I tell you, I don't want to hurt you more but oh Maura, I want to tell you so badly—
"I don't know, Maura," Jane mumbled. "I don't know-"
"Shh," Maura murmured. "Please don't."
She kept her lips pressed against Jane's cheek until Jane exhaled, slowly, shudderingly, the stiffness of her body beginning to give. She leaned felt Maura leaning back, leaned with her, allowed herself to be pulled against Maura's soft body, allowed her face to rest in the hollow of Maura's neck.
In my dream the world was ending and you were there. In my dream there was fire and blood and honey and salt. In my dream you were leaving me, you were walking away, but I saved you, Maura, I saved you, and I would stay with you until the world ended, until the day after that, and the day after that.
Thanks to all of you who stuck it out on this odd dreamy trip, it was fun at first, and then immensely difficult, and then so overwhelming to think about finishing that I almost didn't, but in the end, obviously, I did. Many many thanks and so much appreciation and love to all of you who went dreaming with me 3