All I clearly remember is the pain. Rebuilding my body from the fire seemed more like a mere inconvenience compared to my second resurrection. I'd had bouts of consciousness throughout the whole gruesome process; my brain must have thankfully blocked out the worst bits. But the screaming…I remember that quite plainly, nevermind the fact that just being alive again was miraculous. It took three sunrises to be able to utter a single word without my throat protesting.
When my body, my new body, had repaired itself once again, I'd pieced together the events that had led up to my second death. Walking among the carnage that surrounded me, the memories came more easily. I had released a dozen or so people from their restraints in the half-buried ship, then made my way to the craft's heart. I'd blown it, and myself, into miniscule pieces of flesh and metal. No, that's not the whole story. There was something in the middle, something sad. No. Bittersweet. I hadn't been alone.
A man. There had been a man, his eyes as bright and blue as mine. I'd kissed him to get the arm gun off his wrist and set it to detonate. I'd climbed to a maintenance shaft before he could stop me, told him goodbye…his eyes had been so sad when he realized what I was going to do. There had been a small, selfish part of me that had wanted to go back to him and leave the living nightmare behind, if only to make that sadness go away. But I didn't have that option, and neither did the Earth. I had to destroy the ship and the monsters within. I couldn't let them bring a fleet back to Earth and do to the humans what they'd done to my people. I couldn't let my planet's fate go unavenged. So I'd left him, Jake was his name, behind and completed my mission.
That should have been the end of it, but I'm still alive. How? Why? Have I somehow become immortal? I contemplate this as I walk closer to the town I'd lived in before the attacks and abductions, although it's grown bigger and busier since then. No, I'm not immortal. Eternal life, especially in a single form is a myth. Nothing is meant to live forever; it goes against the very nature of the universe. I'll think about it later. Right now I want something hot to eat and some clothes that fit better than the Indian garb I'd taken from a fallen warrior…or what was left of him.
Absolution has expanded from a single road to three, new incomplete buildings lining the new paths. Colonel Dolarhyde must be happy since the town's growth means the fattening of his wallet. Dolarhyde. That's his name, the man with the haggard face and the haunted eyes. He was with us, riding alongside Chief Black Knife. I wonder if the chief survived, or the colonel for that matter. More names and faces come back to me as I think of the two leaders. I don't know what happened to any of them, now that I think about it. I order a simple beef stew in the first saloon I pass and ignore the few people staring at me, those sober enough to see only one of me, that is.
As I eat I keep myself occupied by recalling more of my last life, more specifically the people that impacted it. Black Knife and Nat. Colonel Dolarhyde and his son Percy. Doc, the boy, and the dog that followed him everywhere. Jake. His face is the one the crosses my mind the most. The others I can only remember in passing, but I remember Jake's in great detail. The length of his lashes, the curve of his nose (possibly the result of being broken one too many times), the way one corner of his mouth would quirk up in a half-smile. But his most striking feature was undoubtedly the blueness of his eyes. I wonder if I'll ever see them again.
It hits me then: is he still here? Are any of them? I haven't seen any faces that I recognize yet. As a matter of fact, how long has it been since that fateful battle? It can't have been more than a couple months if I go by the remains of the Indian warrior whom I'd relieved of clothes. Then again, the heat from the desert sun could have accelerated the rate of decomposition. A panic begins to form in my chest as the disorientation hits me full force. The more I think about how much time has passed, the more anxious I become. I have to leave this place. I have to find Jake.
"Hey, I know you," a voice says to my left. I almost knock my chair to the floor in surprise when someone approaches me. It's the boy. What was his name? "Ella?" Is that my name? It sounds right, but I'm not sure. "It's me, Emmett. Remember?"
"Emmett?" It occurs to me that I never did learn his name. The others had always just called him 'boy'. "Emmett. How are you?" I look him up and down before he takes the chair beside me. "You've grown, haven't you."
His soft brown eyes are as wide as I remember. "You're supposed to be dead," he says in a whisper.
Right to the point, then. "I know. I was…I think."
"Well, what happened? We-" He lowers his voice when he realizes his volume is increasing. "We saw that thing explode. Jake and Mr. Dolarhyde said it was your doing, that you stayed behind to blow them demons right back to Hell."
"That's right." I don't know what else to add.
"How are you alive? Is it like that time at the Indian camp when you walked out of the fire? How did you do it?"
I have to think about that one. "I don't know. This time was different."
I have to look away from those big, innocent eyes. His curiosity is harmless, but I don't want to relive those memories yet. They're too fresh, too raw. I just want to forget the past right now and move on. But that's not fair to the boy. He deserves some sort of explanation. I give him the only thing I can. "Pain. There was a lot of pain." My vision clouds and twin tears fall down my cheeks.
"Miss Ella, I'm sorry. I didn't mean no harm."
I wipe the tears away and force the bad memories down. They won't do me any good now. I manage a smile for Emmett. "It's alright." My eyes scan the saloon looking for a distraction. I want so badly to ask about Jake, but I can't just yet. "How long has it been since…that day?"
"'Round about four months, I suppose."
I didn't think it had been quite that long. "I see." There's that panic again. I've always hated the feeling. It sits like a burning rock in the center of my chest until the pressure fans out like a starburst and consumes my very being. I especially hate it now when there's no immediate threat, no tangible reason for me to feel like this. I can't hold it back anymore. "And, uh, what about the others? Doc and Nat and…" Great. I can't even say his name aloud.
Emmett seems to understand at least. "They're doing fine. Mr. Dolarhyde and Percy are partners now. Percy's a lot nicer to folks, too. Doc and his missus are expecting in the spring."
"Good for 'em," I say with a smile, the first sincere one I've given since I came to this planet.
Emmett's own smile falters. "As for Nat…he died in the fight. One of them demons ripped his neck open. Mr. Dolarhyde was real torn up about it for a long time." He pauses and looks at me. It feels like he's seeing right through me, though. "Don't you wanna know 'bout Jake?"
His name makes me sit up straighter. How peculiar. "Is he still here, then?"
"'Fraid not. He left town just a couple days after you blew that ship to kingdom come. Said somethin' about too many memories here, too many ghosts."
I can't say the news is shocking, but it still hits me like a kick in the gut from a mule. Emmett must see it in my face because his eyes go wide again; he does that just before he apologizes for something. I cut him off at the pass. "Don't you dare say you're sorry," I admonish, making sure to smile so he knows I'm not angry. "Can't say I blame him after all that's happened to him."
The silence between us fills with noise from the saloon, more people filing in as the work day ends with the setting sun. I try to think of something to say but no words come forward. My thoughts are all one giant ball of confusion, hope, betrayal, anxiety, and relief. I wonder if humans often feel this way, so much so quick. Once again, Emmett comes to the rescue. "Do you like him, Miss Ella? Jake, I mean."
The question catches me off guard and I'm not sure why. It takes me a moment to answer. "Yes. Yes, I like him very much."
This boy has the annoying habit of being straightforward. I hope he never loses that as he gets older. "I don't know. Maybe because…" Why do I like him? In fact, what exactly do I feel for him? It's certainly beyond curiosity, but how much further? "I don't know."
"He likes you, too."
Is he making a joke or being serious? I can't quite tell. "What makes you say that?"
"Miss Ella, everybody knew it. Doc thought he might've just been pro-" He seems to struggle for the word. "Pro-jec-ting his love for the woman he lost onto you. But Nat and me saw differ'nt. Jake always seemed to calm down more when you was around, 'specially when he got his memory back. I might be just a kid, but I know what I saw then." I can't help but stare at him. This child, this quiet, intelligent child knows more about me than I know myself. The thought should frighten me, but I'm oddly calm. It seems having someone understand even a little of what I've gone through is a good thing. Makes me feel not so alone. "Last I saw, Jake was headed east. Dunno if he's even alive at this point, but I got a feeling he's still kicking somewhere."
I have a direction. I have some small hope that he might still be alive, and an even smaller one that he might be happy to see me again. I stand up and start for the door when I remember something vital. Looking back at the empty stew bowl, I whisper, "I don't have any money."
"Aw, don't you worry 'bout that, Miss Ella." Emmett pulls two gold coins from his pocket and takes them to the bartender. When he comes back, he takes my hand and leads me outside.
"Why did you do that?"
"Least I could do after what you done for us," he says steadily, no irony in his voice. "If you're gonna go looking for him, you'd best be gettin' some new clothes." He takes me to his house, through the sitting room, and upstairs to the attic. There's no one home, which I'm thankful for. I remember he's the grandson of the sheriff and I don't think I can handle another reunion so soon after learning about Jake. I want to get going, want to find him as soon as possible. "My ma's been dead for years, but grandpa couldn't bear to get rid of her clothes." He moves some things around and pushes a large chest over to the sole window that lets in light from the new streetlamps outside. I watch in silence as he pulls a few dresses from the depths and lays them on the floor for my inspection. "I don't know nothin' 'bout women's wear, but if you see something you like I want you to take it."
"Oh, Emmett. I can't take something that belonged to your mother."
"I ain't got no use for any of it," he says matter-of-factly. "And grandpa don't never come up here, so he ain't gonna know. I'd rather ma's dresses go to someone who could get some use out of 'em than have 'em sit up here for all eternity."
This boy's kindness is almost too much to bear. I may still be new to the ways of humans, but I know that he is far kinder, far more caring than most. To refuse his charity is unthinkable now. I look at the garments he's laid out and pick two dresses, a creamy white with lacey sleeves and a dark blue with black trim at the hem and neck. He goes back downstairs to let me change in private.
When I descend to the ground floor again (I opted for the darker dress since I have no intention of letting the night pass me by in favor of sleep) he's got a bag packed with food, bandages, a couple canteens of water, and a knife. He thrusts the bag and a holstered pistol at me before I can object. "C'mon," he says hurriedly, darting out the back door quick as an arrow. I have no choice but to follow if only to see what he's up to. He saddles up a horse as fast as I've ever seen and looks at me expectantly. "Well?"
"Ain't you gonna get going?" There's no harshness, no bitterness in his voice. His question is completely sincere.
It's too much. I drop the bag and gun and pull him against me. Never has anyone, man or child, been so kind to me. He's paid for my meal, my first since I died (again), given me his dead mother's clothes, the food from his table, and a horse to get where I want to go. And not once does he demand anything in return. More tears come to my eyes as I embrace him. I want him to come with me, but that would be too much to ask. He can't leave his grandfather, can't go chasing after a wanted man with a woman who's not of this world. But I can't just leave without doing something for him. I push him away just enough so I can look him in the eye. "Emmett, what can I do for you? You're being so kind to me and I've nothing to give back."
"Don't you worry 'bout none of that, Miss Ella. Grandpa an' me got enough gold to last us for years, and you already gave your life to save our folks. You just promise me one thing."
His gaze is that of someone beyond his years, someone made wiser and older before his time. I can't look away even if I wanted to. "You find Jake Lonergan. You find him, and be happy."
I smile a bit half-heartedly at his choice of words. "And how do I do that, be happy?"
He shrugs. "How should I know? I'm just a kid." We share a laugh at his evasion, both knowing he's right. If being happy were simple everyone would know how to do it.
I hug him one more time, possibly the last, before mounting the gelding. Emmett hands me the bag, gun, and dress as I settle into the saddle; it takes a moment to recall how to sit properly. "Goodbye, Miss Ella," he says with a smile.
I return his smile a bit easier this time. "Goodbye, Emmett. You take care of your grandpa, you hear?"
"I'll do that. You find Jake."
"I'll do my best." It's the best I can offer. I've no guarantee I'll succeed, but I'm sure as hell going to try.
I ride through the desert and grassland for three weeks before I find any sign of life. A Native village. They greet me first with suspicion, but allow me to move among them more freely when I speak their language with ease. I ask if they've come across a white man named Jake Lonergan; he would have passed them about five moons ago. None have an answer for me until I find the medicine woman. She wants me to tell her more of this man. I describe his appearance to her and she seems startled when I mention his blue eyes. She tells me she had heard of him from a tribe that had dealings with the Apache, who had heard tell of Jake and a woman from above the stars from Chief Black Knife himself. I tell her that I am the star-woman, to which she only says, "I know". She tells me there is no mistaking someone with a spirit like mine. I am unsure of her meaning, but all I care about is that she knows of Jake.
"Do you know where he was going?" It's a long shot, but at least I know I'm headed in the right direction.
"No. But if you follow the crow's flight, you will find him," she says.
I stay the night with the tribe at the request of the chief, making sure to stock up on supplies. At daybreak I continue east until I realize I am being followed. Not by people, not even by predators. A single crow cuts across the sky above me, cawing as if calling to me. It takes a more northern direction after a few miles. Some would call me crazy for taking the word of an old Indian healer seriously, but I know better; the native peoples are much better connected to the spirit and natural worlds than the white settlers. I have faith in the medicine woman's words, which is why I follow the bird.
Another fortnight goes by until I come across the glowing lights of a city, much bigger than lil' ol' Absolution, Arizona; I don't even know what state I'm in anymore. I urge my horse towards it, but the crow shrieks at me. The moonlight makes it easier for me to see the bird against the black sky. It's leading me away from the city. I pull my horse up short and look back at the buildings and lights that might have more answers for me. Over the past few days I've been growing more impatient, more doubtful. In nearly two months, all I know is that Jake was headed in this general direction and an old Native had only heard of him in passing, hadn't even seen him herself. And what if I do find him? What then? Would he welcome me with open arms? Would he have forgotten me altogether? Would he be angry for what I'd done on the ship? Would he even be alive?
A shrill cry breaks me from my thoughts. The crow has circled back and dropped to the ground. It looks up at me expectantly, tilting its head to the side to glare at me with one golden eye. I let out an uncharacteristic sigh (how odd) as I give one last glance to the city before turning to the bird. "Fine, have it your way. Lead on."
The crow lifts into the air again and starts back on its original course. It takes me to a small glen protected by a ring of trees, a pond or a lake glistening in the distance. There's something more than moonlight reflecting from the water, however. In stark contrast to the whiteness of the moon is a soft yellow light that dances against the darkness. As I move closer, a small house comes into view. It appears to be relatively new, based on the paleness of the wooden sides and roof. The crow flies to the edge of the trees and lights on one of the branches. I dismount and remove the bridle from my horse so he can graze more easily, but still tie him to a tree so he doesn't go running off.
At this short distance I see now that the dancing light is in fact a campfire. It's small, obviously meant for only one person, but I can't see anyone around. I move forward, hoping against hope that my search is at an end with the discovery of this house. When nothing more is revealed to me, I turn back to the crow. "Are you sure?" I whisper, more to myself than anyone or anything else. The crow caws once. I'm too tired to argue, too tired to ride any farther. I sit in front of the fire and let its warmth wash over me. The heat is calming, soothing even, and I have to catch myself from falling over as I nod off. I might as well make myself at home if I don't plan on going anywhere tonight.
I only just start to lay down when I'm quickly forced into the ground. I'm too startled to defend myself, but it would be no use anyway. A heavy, solid mass keeps me pinned on my back and I feel cold metal press against my throat. I wait for the knife to slash my flesh, but it just sits there as a warning. "There are two things I can't abide by," a low voice growls in my ear. "Liars and freeloaders." I know that voice. "What do you want here?"
I know that voice! But I can't see him. Dammit, Jake, this had better be you and not just someone who sounds like you. "I'm looking for someone. Someone I thought I'd lost."
The body goes rigid for a moment before it rises above me. There's no mistaking those eyes as they go wide upon seeing my face. "Who are you?"
"Don't you recognize me, Jake?" I touch his hand that holds the knife, willing him to see me clearly. It backfires.
He flings his arm out to avoid my touch and falls back by the fire. I slowly push myself onto my elbows and watch his face for any sign of recognition. All I see is confusion and disbelief. And just a hint of anger. "What the hell are you? Why do you look like that?"
"Jake, listen to me. I don't know how or why, but I survived the explosion. I've been looking for you for weeks." My words aren't getting through to him. I lift myself into a sitting position and reach out to him; I want so badly to touch his face again, but he draws back. I lower my hands into my lap. "Jake, it's me. It's Ella."
"No you're not. Ella's dead. I watched her die."
"You saw me die before, remember? Then I woke up. It happened again, though." His breathing has slowed and his eyes don't move as fast. "It's really me. Ask me anything to prove it."
He considers it, the silence agonizing for me. "How did Ella blow up the vessel?"
"With the bracelet you had locked on your wrist. I had it set to detonate."
"And how did she do it without blowing me up, too?"
"I took the bracelet off."
"How?" His eyes are minutely softer, that single word said with such pain and torment I can practically feel it rolling from him like a wave.
"I told you to make your mind go blank." I take a chance and crawl forward, slowly. His eyes never leave mine, but he doesn't try to back away either. I take that as a good sign. "You told me you couldn't. You were thinking too much, like you're doing right now." He lets me touch his cheek with my fingertips without so much as a twitch. Another good sign. We're so close I can feel his breath on my neck. "I helped you stop thinking…like this."
When my lips touch his, my own mind goes blank as well. His skin is hot, and not just from the fire, and his heartbeat against my chest is rapid and strong. I don't know too much about kissing other than the general principal of lip-to-lip contact, but it feels…nice. Jake remains tense for another moment, so I take the chance to scoot just a little bit closer. His hands come up to hold my arms with a gentleness I'd have never associated with him had I not known him. He doesn't push me away, and I let out a breath of relief.
That breath morphs into a gasp when I'm thrown back onto the ground. Jake is still kissing me, with much more force than before, and stretches himself out above me. Even though the position should spark every instinct in me to fight, to run, I don't. In fact, I quite like it. He surprises me again when he takes my lower lip between his teeth and gives it a sharp tug before pulling his head away, his arms still wrapped around me. His eyes are heavy with emotions I dare not give names to, but still as blue and beautiful as I remember. His fingertips trace the curve of my cheek as if he's trying to convince himself I'm real and not some phantom or hallucination. "Ella?" he breathes softly. The way he says my name, the only name he knows me by, almost breaks my heart.
I smile and reach up to touch his face. "Yes, Jake. It's me." He seems at a loss for words as the firelight flickers across his face. He never was much for talking. I pull his head back down to me and kiss him again; I'm starting to like this human gesture. "It's me."
One of his hands goes into my hair and grips it hard. What is he doing? "I thought I told you to never do that to me again," he growls. Before I can reply his mouth descends to my neck and kisses it repeatedly. This is new. The nerves in my neck are so very sensitive and I can't stop the sounds that slip past my lips. They seem to encourage Jake, however. Without warning my body begins to shake. Is this normal for humans? The last time I felt this sensation I was dying in this man's arms. But I don't feel any danger now like I did then. So what is it? Jake notices and pulls away to look down at me. He grins. "Cold?"
Not in the slightest. In fact, I feel almost as hot as the fire still burning beside us. "No," is all I can manage to choke out through a tight throat. How curious.
"Let's go inside." He stands and pulls me up, but doesn't let me stand on my own. Instead, he swings me into his arms, kicking dirt over the fire to smother it and carries me to the house that I now know belongs to him. "You sure you're not human?" he asks suddenly.
"My body is." I don't understand the motive behind his question.
There's a gleam in his eyes at my response, a light that has nothing to do with the moonlight. "Good news for me, then."
"I don't understand."
His smile is genuine when he looks back at me. "You will."
I want to ask what he means, but something in that smile tells me he intends to explain one way or another. I kiss his cheek as we enter the house. Although I shouldn't, I trust this man. He would never harm me (intentionally, at least) and that is far more than I can say for any other human. Hell, he broke a man's tooth for calling me a whore. I'll have to ask him why he did that…in the morning. Maybe.