There was fire everywhere. There was blood.
There was a noise so loud she couldn't hear anything after, and ashes fell on her face like snow, and when she looked down she saw crimson ribbons and she saw the end of the world written in a pair of blank and shimmering eyes.
The sudden brightness of fire making everything in her field of vision go white, the noise so loud she couldn't hear anything, the taste of smoke and ash, the sight of blood.
She reached out, she held out her hands as though she could stop what was happening through sheer force of will, but the scarlet river in the snow kept flowing.
She felt seasick, she felt like she was drowning, she couldn't breathe—
"Jane! Jane, honey, please wake up."
Jane's eyes flew open. It took her a moment to shake the blur of snow and blood from her brain, but after a few panicked seconds the world came into focus. Maura was leaning over her, eyes large and liquid with concern.
"You were having a nightmare," Maura said softly.
"And how," Jane mumbled.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"You know what it's like," Jane said, kissing Maura's hand. "Nothing new."
"I'm sorry," Maura whispered.
"What time is it?"
Jane sighed and slipped her arm under Maura's, holding her close. Maura settled her head on Jane's chest. They lay in silence for a few moments.
"Do you think they'll ever stop?" Jane asked softly.
"I hope so," Maura murmured after a pause.
Jane pressed her lips to the crown of Maura's head, stroking the space between her shoulder blades until she felt Maura's breath becoming slow and even. She glanced toward the mostly blacked-out window, trying to get a sense of the hour. They hadn't had a reliable clock in months, though Maura had attempted to build a sundial that served them for their cloistered existence; Jane supposed as long as she and Maura and Frost could agree amongst themselves what time it was, that would have to be good enough.
Not knowing what time it was had been one of the most surprisingly difficult parts for Jane in adjusting to the new way of living. If anything, she would have thought Maura would have been the most affected, given her occasionally-infuriating fixation on promptness, though Jane supposed when you didn't have anywhere to be, knowing the hour wasn't as pressing. Still, she'd struggled. She realized knowing the time meant knowing how to contextualize the rest of the world, and the hope of the rest of the world had been one she'd clung to.
Jane had never thought of herself as someone who relied on hope, yet every morning as she tried to make sense of the shadows cast on the dinner plate by the fork and spoon Maura had spent what Jane estimated to be hours calibrating, she felt it surging within her.
They'd been hiding in an abandoned farmhouse miles from the nearest neighboring property for two months, the longest they'd stayed anywhere since the bloody finale at the house on the highway. Jane had insisted they move as often as possible, though finally an intense blizzard had forced them to make a more permanent temporary home. It had taken her several days to stop jumping at every creaking floorboard and flash of sunlight on the snow outside, but gradually her fears diminished and she gave herself over to the business of surviving the bitterly cold winter that had enveloped them.
Summer and winter are mirrors. You always see the reflection of one in the other.
To Jane's relief, the snows had stopped falling with such intensity a few weeks before; the sun had begun to shine with enough warmth to start melting the thick crust of ice covering the landscape. In order to access the outbuildings where the wood and canned goods were kept she and Frost had taken the pickaxe and heavy shovel they'd found in the mudroom and hacked a path that had gradually become a glass-smooth chute between doors. They'd made a series of bets on who could slide the farthest without falling, much to Maura's chagrin, though so far both had escaped injury more serious than mild snowburn from careening into the four-foot-high banks lining the path, though each passing day made their slalom slightly shorter.
Jane knew they'd need to move on as soon as the weather permitted; not only did she still keenly feel the danger they were in, she needed action, motion, purpose. Maura had adjusted the best of all of them to their living situation, resuming the domestic tasks she'd so briefly undertaken at the house in the clearing with Donna, though Jane could tell the pressure of such confined quarters was starting to get to her. Maura had been snapping at her much more frequently than usual, with a barely-repressed ferocity. Not even Frost had escaped her wrath, walking into the house with an armload of firewood without stomping the snow off his boots.
Still, of the three of them, Maura seemed the least eager to continue moving west.
"We have to, Maura," she'd said.
Maura had frowned, sighed, turned back to the weapon she'd been meticulously cleaning. She'd kept up target shooting in the absence of crawlers; once her shoulder had healed she'd been shooting at trees, cans off fences, anything she could find, though she refused to shoot at animals. Jane had simply shaken her head the first time Maura had put her rifle up rather than kill a squirrel, a part of her frustrated at Maura's stubbornness but a larger part touched by her compassion, relieved that it had survived their experiences mostly intact.
"I'll only kill what I need to," she'd said, "and you and Frost seem to positively enjoy slaughtering things, so I'll leave it to you."
"I don't understand you at all," Jane had replied, surprised at the flash of anger that had sizzled through her.
They hadn't spoken for nearly a whole day after that, until Frost had taken Jane aside and read her an abridged riot act.
"Jane," he'd said, "this place is a little too intimate for what we're dealing with, and I know it's no fun to fight with your girlfriend—trust me, I know—but it's probably less fun for me to have to sit here in the middle of it, so just do me this favor and apologize, all right? Because I'm not gonna be your telephone. You go talk to her like a grown-ass adult and I don't know, fuck it out, 'cause I don't want to be in the middle of it, and this place is too small and it's too cold outside for me to get anywhere else."
Jane had grumbled, sworn under her breath, and found Maura in the attic room, leafing through one of the dozens of condensed book anthologies lining the shelves.
"You know," she'd said, not looking up, "Anna Karenina leave a lot to be desired when you shrink it down to a hundred pages."
"I only read the Cliffs Notes," Jane replied. "I probably got even less out of it than you did."
"She jumps in front of a train," Maura had said, still not looking at Jane.
"Please don't jump in front of a train," Jane smiled, crossing to her and kissing the top of her head. "I'm sorry I was an ass."
"You weren't an ass. Well, not more than usual. But we're in extremely close quarters, so everything feels more intense."
"That's why we've got to keep moving," Jane had said. "I mean that, and the probability that some bad guys with bigger guns than we've got are out looking for us."
"Do you really think so? We've been here for weeks, we haven't seen a sign of life anywhere. Don't you think they'd have found us by now if they were looking?"
Jane had grimaced, crossed her arms, started pacing the room. "Okay, well, we've got to keep moving because, I don't know, what are we doing here? I'm going crazy, Maura, not just because I'm stuck in this house with Frost all the time. I still don't know what's happening out there, what's going on in the world, if there are any people left here. And those guys who shot you, who almost killed all of us, don't you want to know what they're planning?"
"Not really," Maura had said, turning the page.
"They almost killed all of us, Jane, you just said it yourself. I can't allow myself to believe that they'd neglect to complete the job should we find ourselves meeting again."
Maura finally set her book down. "Jane," she'd said, gazing out the window, "I cannot let myself think of what would happen if something were to happen to you. Or Frost," she added. "But for reasons I feel are fairly obvious, my concern for your well-being is paramount." She'd turned to look at Jane, her face serious. "What reason to I have to keep going if not for you?" she asked quietly. "I mean it, Jane. I've learned how to survive, the barest elements of survival, but without you all that would be left would be breathing, eating, sleeping. That's not life. That's . . . existing."
"Don't say that," Jane had whispered, suddenly frightened in a way she didn't quite understand. "Maura, don't say things like that."
"Jane," she'd said softly, "you are the only reason I've gotten this far. If I were to lose you—"
"You won't. I'm not going anywhere, Maura. But we can't stay here, we have to leave, we have to keep moving, we have to find out something. Anything. I have to. Frost does. You do, even if you don't think so right now."
"Please don't tell me what I need, Jane." She'd lifted her book back up. Jane had frowned. They didn't speak for the rest of the day. Frost had given Jane enough sideways glances to make her retreat to the woodshed, kicking at logs, cursing the cold.
Jane blinked slowly. She was a little surprised to see thin winter light filtering in around the blackout curtains they'd made from tablecloths and sheets, surprised that she'd managed to go back to sleep without falling into the terror of her dreams.
"Maura?" she whispered. Maura murmured wordlessly, still nestled close against her body. "Maura, I'm gonna get up, okay? You stay here, keep sleeping."
"I'm awake," she mumbled.
"No you're not." Jane smiled, kissed her head, disentangled herself from Maura's arms.
"Okay," Maura breathed, pulled the blankets tightly around herself. "Put on a sweater."
"I will," Jane whispered.
She slipped out of the bed, grabbing one of the thick sweaters she'd found in a closet, before padding into the chilly kitchen. Before the snows had started in earnest they'd moved frequently, making sure to collect whatever supplies they could find along the way. Jane set the cast-iron kettle on the woodstove and stoked up the glowing embers, then carefully poured a small amount of coffee grounds into the waiting French press. They'd all agreed on certain necessities, including taking whatever coffee they found, and had amassed a small plantation's worth of beans to their collective relief.
Jane sat at the kitchen table staring out the window for a few moments, watching the sun inch up over the treeline. She noticed a few patches of bare ground under eaves and dense bushes, and felt a surge of excitement.
We can leave soon.
She didn't have any idea where they'd go, but the desire to move, to keep searching, burned in her more strongly by the day. Even Maura had begun joining the conversations about what the next steps would be, and although they still hadn't made a firm plan the idea was to find a vehicle and keep moving west, looking for survivors, looking for clues as to what had happened, looking for the men who had tried to kill them all, though Jane had been careful not to talk about that part in front of Maura. She suspected Maura knew, though; the way Maura would rub at the scar on her shoulder whenever they discussed their plans made Jane wonder if there wasn't some part of her that wanted vengeance.
It's not about vengeance. It's about justice. It's about the truth.
Jane said the words to herself over and over, working hard to make herself believe them. But when she saw Maura's scar, when she felt the faint ache in her arm from her own glancing gunshot wound, when she thought about her mother, about her brothers, about Korsak and everyone she'd known and loved and lost because of the actions of some faceless men hidden away from the shattered world they'd engineered, vengeance was the first thing that swelled up in her.
We have to find them. They came for us, so now we're coming for them.
She though about Maura, still burrowed snugly in the bed.
This is for you, Maura. This is for us. They took everything away from us, we need to take it back.
The sunlight glinted off the jagged icicles lining the eaves; with every drop of water that pitted the snow below she felt the anticipation building in her chest. They'd be able to leave soon. They'd be able to start.