“You don’t have to say anything,” Rae said. She wasn’t coming into the room. She just stood in the doorway.
And he didn’t. He waited. He was thankful that, in that moment, she could not see his Light.
“I know that it might seem sudden, but during the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about my life. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done here and how it’s affected the world. I was so scared at first, wasn’t I?” She laughed. “I was so scared that meddling with things in my own past would screw up my present…but I don’t think that anymore.”
Eliot had nothing to say. He let her continue after a pause.
“You know what I think? It’s kind of weird, but I think everything I’ve done—everything that I seemingly ‘changed’—is exactly what I was always supposed to do. I think that this might have always been the way it happened. Even before I was born, I’d already been here. Time’s funny like that. Does that make sense at all?”
Eliot still did not move. His heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest.
“Anyway. I’ve spent some time Outside…which is funny to say, if you think about it, because if I’m Outside of time, then there is no time to spend there.”
She was rambling. She didn’t usually ramble. She was always so collected. The change in her demeanor had Eliot examining her Light more closely than ever.
She sighed, catching her tongue. “The point is, I’ve decided what I’m going to do.”
Rae paused. Why did she pause? Eliot scrutinized her Light. He couldn’t see the answer there. Did that mean that she was staying? He couldn’t tell.
“Why?” he found himself saying. “Won’t that make it harder for you?”
“Yes. But I need to know that I can say it while still looking you in the eyes.”
Eliot felt like he coughed, but it seemed to come out more like a burst of laughter. “So you can make sure you feel nothing?”
Her Light dimmed. “No. So I can make sure I know exactly what it feels like to leave you behind. I’m not a coward, Eliot. I’m not leaving so that I can hide from my feelings. I’m going to face them and defeat them.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe it’s not something you have to defeat?”
“No.” Her response was quick.
“It’s something you want to do, then?”
“Yes. I have to.”
Eliot found it difficult to swallow. “I don’t want you to.”
“It’s just like you,” she said. “Selfish to the bitter end.”
Eliot took to his feet and faced her in the blink of an eye. “What the bloody tides are you talking about?”
“You know I have to leave. You know it. And yet here you are asking me to stay.”
He laughed, a sad chuckle of concession. “Is it going to make a difference?”
“Of course not.”
“So why do you care?”
“Damn it, Eliot. You infuriate me.”
“You’re no less aggravating yourself,” Eliot barked.
“You’ll be glad when I’m gone, then,” she said. Her voice was beginning to rise. “You’ll have to fall back on Nathaniel to irritate you. And won’t that be boring as hell after all the fun we’ve had.”
Eliot suddenly found himself in the passenger seat of his own actions. He was stepping toward Rae, her fiery eyes locked on him. He grabbed her around the back of the neck and pulled her in, kissing her with everything he had. He felt her hands on his chest, then the pressure on his lips was gone. He stumbled backward, catching his balance just before he fell.
“Don’t you dare,” she said, a growl rising in her voice. “You know why I came here. That’s hardly fair.”
“You keep saying that I know you have to go, like…like I know it! And I don’t see a single reason under the bloody sun that you can’t stay here. You’ve been here this long. What’s…the rest of your life?”
She blinked in disbelief. “Do you hear yourself?”
“Yes. And, to tell the truth, I just don’t see what’s so damn crazy about any of it.”
“Please, Eliot,” she said, dropping her shoulders. Her tone had dropped its anger. It was almost pleading. “Please, just tell me that you love me and that you wish me the best.”
“That’s what you want me to say to you?”
“It would be really nice.” Then, muttering, “Wenth’s blood bloody snakes.”
“I don’t love you, and I hope you trip on your way through the time vortex.”
“Raim. You sound like a child! You’re an adult, dammit, but it’s like your emotions are stuck in primary school. You know that? I’ve seen your Light, stupid. I know the truth.”
“And I can see your Light right now,” Eliot shot back. “And I know that despite this really semi-convincing act you’re putting on, that Stepping Back and going home is the last thing you want to do.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to lie to you. I know enough to know that that’s impossible. But I’m not lying when I say that leaving and returning home is what I must do. It doesn’t matter what I wish I could do—”
“Why doesn’t it? Why doesn’t that matter.”
“Because I don’t have the fortitude to do what needs to be done.” With her words, her Light blazed and momentarily blinded Eliot. It was so sudden, it completely threw him off and he just stared at her blankly for a few seconds.
“What needs to be done?”
She exhaled heavily, stomping a foot. “I guess you’ll figure out what I mean eventually.”
With their tempers calm, and Rae’s Light returned to its normal state, Eliot took a step toward her again. She didn’t move to retreat. And with that assurance, he embraced her. She returned it uncomfortably at first, then after a few seconds, seemed to melt into him. She buried her face into his shoulder. He could feel her breathing with every fiber of his being. How strange, he thought, that after all these years, it was the first time they had slowed down enough, stopped yelling long enough, to be this close and still. He had never felt her breathe like this. Seeing someone’s Light was one thing, but physically feeling their life like this? That was something entirely different.
He thought about saying a lot of things in that moment, but kept his mouth shut for fear of pushing her away. He never wanted to let go of her again. The words “don’t go,” hung just on the end of his tongue. But they would be the worst words he could possibly say. If he uttered them, he knew she would be out the door in seconds.
His heart stopped, then, as he heard her whisper, “I don’t want to go.”
He couldn’t stop himself from pulling her just far enough away for their lips to meet again. This time, she did not push him away. This time, her arms were wrapped tightly around him. This time, when he felt her pushing against him, she moved with him until he felt the bed against the back of his knees. He felt backward, Rae still clinging to him.
He held on to her. Desperately. As if letting her go would be allowing her to slip into the void and away from him forever.
“Eliot,” she said, pulling her face back slightly.
He wouldn’t stop kissing her. If he stopped, he would never get this time back.
She pulled one arm out from under him and placed it against his mouth. Resigned, he looked into her eyes. He had never seen them this close. Not really.
“I have to go.”
Eliot shook his head. “No. No, you said you didn’t want to.”
“I don’t. Oh, Raim. I don’t want to at all. But…look at us.”
“I am. And I just don’t see anything wrong.”
“No. I don’t mean right now. Look at you and me, everything we are, everything we’ve ever been. Eliot, I’ve never hated any other person as much as I hate you. You know that?”
“I feel the exact same way,” he replied, keeping a small laugh from escaping.
She pulled back and sat beside him. He didn’t bother sitting up. He kind of liked having her look down at him like this.
“I don’t know a lot about love,” she said, not reacting to his comment at all. “But what kind of love is this, if all we do is destroy each other? I’m leaving, Eliot. That fact won’t change. It can’t. You have to understand that.”
Why? Why did he have to understand it? She wouldn’t leave. She couldn’t.
“Love is supposed to be beautiful. Messy, perhaps, but beautiful. And, honestly, we can’t have that. Look at us. We’re from two different centuries. Two different worlds. You want someone who can be by your side and live out this adventure with you, but that isn’t me. I have my own to live out.”
“They don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Eliot replied. His voice felt so weak.
But Rae frowned. Her eyes looked heavy. “They do, Tiger. If we were to act like we could live our own lives and keep hold of our love…that would destroy us. I can see that, just as plainly as you can see my Light, I can see that possibility. What kind of love is that? One that makes us bleed away all we have until we die?” She paused. “There isn’t one. It’s that simple.”
Eliot nodded, his mouth tight across his face. “You’re saying our…love…doesn’t exist.”
“I’m saying it shouldn’t.”
He sat up. It felt like he was lifting the whole house up with him. “Then I guess there’s no reason for you to stay.”
“No,” she said. “There isn’t.”
Eliot felt sick to his stomach. Everything seemed surreal, spinning around him and mocking him like some twisted dream. He tried to think of something useful to say, but he didn’t think he could make his voice work if he wanted to. He stared beyond the floor to the nothing below it. He tried to focus on his own Light, but even that seemed to be shrinking away from him, retreating into the nothingness.
Rae stood up slowly, not looking Eliot in the eyes as she spoke. “Baeou and Glacia are having a departure dinner for me this evening. We’re all going to tell stories and stuff. I’d like to have some good memories with all of you before I go. Please be there. I really want to spend that time with you, too.”
Memories with all of you…like he was just one of the gang.
When he said nothing, she left the room and Eliot was left alone.
He would always be left alone.