Gregor stared up into the cold gray clouds remembering the eulogy of his grandmother, how she had been a good mother and friend, how she had moved to New York after marrying Gregor's grandfather. And Gregor felt cold as he realized he wasn't even really mourning for her. After he had returned from the Underland he had been cold to death, loss, desensitized. That was the word, desensitized. He had seen so much death in the war, so much pain, so much sorrow that loss didn't even really affect him anymore, even the loss of someone as close to him as his grandmother.
It was really remarkable that she had lived as long as she had after the family had left her, she had been in a rather poor condition when they had left, and most doctors had only given her months to live. And Gregor's family had believed them as well when they took into account her age and that she had recently suffered a heart attack.
Gregor recalled what at the time he had figured to be one of his last days, he recalled how the bodies of humans, nibblers, and even some crawlers had been put on rafts and floated down the river, blessed while some sacred words of one sort or another were ceremoniously chanted as the rafts were floated down the river. Gregor also recalled how the bodies of the enemy rats had also been put into the river but without any raft or sacred words to carry them into the afterlife.
How gruesomely the rats and humans had treated each other, and how he had helped them to slaughter each other, how he and the Bane had faced off and thanks to the sacrifice of his bond Ares, Gregor was able to escape. And how completely unfair it all was. How unfair life was. How it could take everything from him, the people he loved, the things most dear to him, and then, just when he thought that maybe losing his best friend, and his love, and a place that he could call home, and then just when he thought that life couldn't possibly take anything else from him it took his grandma.
Gregor recalled something his grandma had said to him once, how no matter how he ran the prophecies would always find him, now though Gregor didn't believe in the words of Sandwich, so he figured it was just the Underland calling him home, his heart not allowing him to leave the only place that truly understood him. Just as it was calling him home now.
All this flashed into his mind before he looked back down to watch as his grandma was put beneath the dirt. That was the first time it struck Gregor in years. How short life was, how no matter what he or anyone else did they were destined to die, and nothing could change that. This was the first time since Ripred had taken him aside the day that he fought the Bane that Gregor had thought about how his future might not necessarily be as long lived as what he thought it was going to be. As he watched his grandma go six feet under he remembered the words that Ripred had spoke to him when they had parted ways; Gregor headed to Regalia, Luxa, Ripred, and Howard headed deeper into the Firelands, the rat had stepped out of character and told Gregor that life was too short to not take chances and enjoy life, to not fall in love. And now as he heard the words to "Amazing Grace" he understood Ripred for the first time really understood.
Gregor couldn't fall asleep, the once soothing sounds of New York City now just seemed like empty noise, like no matter how hard he tried he couldn't fall asleep, the years spent in Virginia had made him unaccustomed to the noises of the city, so when he sat up from his bed and walked into the living room of Mrs. Cormaci's apartment he wasn't thinking about leaving that night, wasn't planning on it, so he had no idea what to say when his mother stepped out of the shadows.
"Is that it? Were you just going to leave in the middle of the night without saying goodbye?" His mother started in fierce, interrogating her son. She just stood there waiting for an answer, but Gregor didn't know what to say, maybe he hadn't planned on leaving that night, but he had definitely planned on leaving, so what could he even say to that?
"Not tonight," was all that the he could muster as he looked down and away from his mother. He couldn't look her in the eye as he admitted that he had planned on leaving eventually, he had meticulously thought through every detail, but couldn't think of anything more reasonable than leaving a note that told his plan and told them not to follow, how he was sick of hiding and could not bear to lie to himself and the people around him anymore, how he was sick of being and enigma, and wanted to escape the mystery that had shrouded his life for almost five years.
All his mother could do was sob as her fears were confirmed, as she knew that her baby was leaving the nest, and beyond tieing him up she couldn't do much to stop, none of them could, if Gregor wanted to leave then there was nothing to be done about it.
"Grace," Gregor's father's voice came from around the corner, "try to understand, it's just like my mother, when she moved to New York to be with my father she left her family behind, and she still stayed in contact with them." Somehow the comparison didn't really fit, though Gregor made no mention of it, after all his dad had just lost his mother.
"If Gregor goes, I want to go too." Lizzie said as she came out of her room. "Look how much she's changed," Gregor thought remembering the little girl who was scared of her own shadow, but when she left the Underland something had changed, almost like some of Ripred had stayed with her when she had left him, though Gregor doubted any of the small little girl had stuck onto Ripred.
"It's not that simple," Grace said after a long pause. "You're father and I have talked about it for a while and we realized that maybe Gregor does need to go, maybe he doesn't really belong here, and his grades aren't going to get him into college, but Lizzie, you're eleven, you can't leave home," Grace managed to choke out before she started sobbing. The whole family was up now, Boots just standing in the doorway with a puzzled look on her face as if wondering why everyone was up at this early hour, Gregor still sitting on Mrs. Cormaci's reclining chair, Lizzie standing just around the corner not having moved since her surprising appearance, and their father tall like a statue, blocking any exit to the room.
All of a sudden Gregor stood up as he realized what his mother had just said, realizing that his parents had decided to let Gregor return to the Underland, that they realized these last three years had been hell, and that no matter how far they got away from any physical entrance to the Underland his heart only grew closer to the place. "So, are you saying I can go back?" Gregor asked trying to contain the excitement in his heart.
His parents looked at each other as if wondering if they were on the same page until finally his mother said, "We expect at least three visits a year, and not all at once, and none shorter than two weeks." When Gregor heard those words it was all he could do not to jump up and down whooping out hoorays. He was finally going back, finally going home.
When Gregor awoke the next morning he was ecstatic, he was going back! And he was also ecstatic for his first taste out of Mrs. Cormaci's kitchen in a little over three years, his mouth was watering already, as he imagined what delicious surprise awaited him. He walked into the kitchen and was surprised to not just find Mrs. Cormaci but his whole family, waiting for him with a huge plate of pancakes.
"What time is it?" Gregor wondered aloud, usually he didn't sleep past eight.
"It's 10:30, sleepyhead," Lizzie answered in between bites of pancake. 10:30? The last time that had happened was probably before he went to the Underland for the first time, some four years ago now. Then he realized he had done something last night that he had not done since returning to the Overland, he had gone a night without a nightmare, he had slept through the night all the way through. And as he ate pancakes and prepared to see Luxa again it was the happiest he had been in years.
The darkness passed over like an unshakable cloud, covering everything, and suddenly Luxa was glad to have gone to the museum to the museum to get what did the Overlander call it? A "flashlight"? Yes, a flashlight, she was glad she had taken a flashlight. For a torch would have been too cumbersome to conceal under the pretense that she was flying around Regalia and checking on the state of her great city.
She clicked it on as they neared the passageway that led to the Overland, and she remembered the last time she had been here had been to see Gregor off and to say goodbye for what they had both then believed to be forever. She had stuck her head and shoulders out of the ground and got a glimpse of New York, and it was bright, teeming with people, and life, and the trees, so many trees, more trees than perhaps existed in the all of the Underland.
But she wouldn't be nearly so bold now, not without someone to make sure no one saw her. So she just sat there as she thought about all the good times they had had together and all the things they owed each other, and the things they had done for each other and how they could be reunited when he returned.
Gregor approached that unforgettable place in Central park, doing the place a quick once over making sure no one was going to see him, and then with the crowbar that he had brought with him pried the rock up and stepped inside, so close to that land that beckoned him toward it.
Luxa swung onto Aurora's back and drew her sword as she heard footsteps fast approaching. Had an enemy of Regalia followed her and thought that they could strike her down here without any guard.
Gregor was running down the tunnel when he saw light. Who else was down here? Had someone else discovered the Underland? Or was it any number of creatures that could kill you down here? Gregor raised the crowbar as if he were raising a sword, and felt the familiar tingle of the rager sensation splintering his vision for the first time in years.
"Prepare," Luxa whispered into Aurora's ear. "We will prepare to strike just as they round the corner," Luxa held her blade in an offensive position waiting for the right time.
Gregor stopped just as he reached the corner, whoever it was was waiting just around the corner, and would most likely strike as soon as he took his next step, but there was nothing he could do about that, he would just have to hope that he wasn't as rusty as he thought he would be. And with that he took his next step.
"Here he comes," Luxa said to Aurora, who with that swooped down toward their unexpected guest. Luxa extending her sword to strike just as the target became visible, but by the time she realized it was the Overlander it was too late. He would just have to be good enough to parry.
Gregor raised his crowbar to block the expected attack but almost fell over backward when he realized who it was, nevertheless a sword was a crowbar and so he hit the ground and then hit the underneath of the blade to stop it from coming down on him.
Thank goodness he had blocked her attack. Luxa couldn't have lived with herself if she had done anything to harm him.
Gregor had since recovered from his evasion and his overall surprise at the situation and began to walk toward her, the last Underlander he had seen, and who could forget that sweet goodbye? She was running toward him now, and he found that he was running too, not standing to wait any longer to be with her.
She was practically sprinting toward him, not wanting to contain this, not being able to contain it. She let her feelings burst out of her; a torrent of love, joy and anger.
When they reached they locked in a passionate embrace, not wanting to let go, not wanting to ever let go. When they finally fell away Gregor looked into her beautiful violet eyes and knew that her feelings hadn't changed at all, she still wanted to be with him just as much as he wanted to be with her.
As they pulled away their hands stayed intertwined, and when he looked into her eyes it was all she could do not to break down and cry. "I missed you," Luxa said as she stared intensely into his eyes.
"I missed you too," came his reply, never breaking eye contact. Luxa knew he meant it, meant it like she meant it.
There faces were so close that Gregor could feel her warm breath on his lips. He was aware of everything around him, but only she mattered to him. The warmth in her hands inviting his to stay there as long as they wanted to. He looked into her eyes as to make sure that she was as ready as he was, and as he looked he knew that she was.
When their lips finally met they shared what seemed like their first kiss. Even though it wasn't, they had been so young before, but now they could really understand why they each were here, why they needed each other, because now they had lived without the ones that they loved.
When they finally broke away Gregor couldn't really grasp how long they had been like that, locked in each other's arms. Because in some ways it seemed like they would never let go, but in others it seemed like they still hadn't let go. And like they would never let go.
A/N: Thanks to all who reviewed, and read. Keep reading, more should be coming soon. Fly you High!