Sanza speme vivemo in disio.*
- Dante's Inferno, Canto IV
And so it came to pass that there were born two twin children, the girl as fair as her brother was dark, and beautiful beyond compare. Their parents, both scientists, weren't rich in the ways of the world, but they were full of love and brother and sister wanted for nothing. They were as bright and happy as any two children in the world ever were, and loved nothing more than to follow their parents into the field and help them work.
Brother and sister loved each other fiercely. They were so fond of each other that they always held each other's hand while exploring, and when the brother squeezed his sister's fingers and said, "We'll always be together, no matter what," his sister looked at him in reverence and swore, "Forever and ever." Such was the strength of their bond that the vow became a magical contract, linking them together.
The second they get out of the elevator and step onto the grassy field, John sets her down and crouches in front of her. His face is harshly lined, bruised with exhaustion, and his neck, and hair are flecked with spatters of blood. But his eyes are warm, familiar, safe, when they meet hers. She can feel her heartbeat thumping in time to his, finally synchronous.
We can't stay here, he says.
She looks around, and squints as bright sunlight almost blinds her, sending shockwaves of pain pounding behind her temples. Her entire body feels like a giant abrasion, scraped and raw. John, I don't think I can move.
His hands are inked black with gun oil, dirt, and god knows what else when they grab on to hers, swallow them whole. It's both comfort and caution. I just blew up the ARK, Sam. You think UAC, the military – you think anyone – is going to let us live?
They don't...they wouldn't. She struggles for clarity, for reason. She's always been the reasonable one. Kill them with logic and kindness, their father had always said. We'll explain, we'll –
We can't stay here.
The air is crisp, cold, stings her lungs as she struggles for breath, then hiccups. Hyperventilates. There are too many scents in the air, assaulting her nostrils, her throat. The sun is too heavy, too hot, the grass too green. The sky is too bright, too blue, too close. She can't stay on Earth. She'll suffocate in this place. She needs confines, goddammit, she needs rules. Earth has no logic. It's very nature – the sheer physical motion of it – won't allow it.
Shhhh, hold on, it's alright. I've got you. I've got you, just...it's alright. It's alright.
She burrows into John's chest, ashamed of herself for needing protection, angry at him for knowing her so well after a decade – an eternity – apart. He doesn't have any right to come back into her life and take his place like he's never left. Yet, somehow, his arms seem sturdier now than when they'd been holding her weight in the elevator. When she really had needed his strength.
I can't breathe on this planet. She curses herself for the desperation in her voice.
Look at me, he says, and the command is unmistakable. He is her brother (her younger brother, she reminds herself, for all the good it does), but he's also a man, a soldier. A leader, used to being followed. She's always been good at orders. When she looks up, he kisses each eyelid, then her lips, each touch reverent, a sacrament.
Then I'll be your breath. But I'm not letting you go. I'll take care of you. His hands squeeze hers.
That's my job. The reply is automatic. She looks at him, finds her center in his eyes. The next words are easier, rote. Taking care of you is my job.
Brother and sister often ran about the dig alone, and no beast or man did them harm. They were beloved by all who crossed their path, and eager to learn, smarter than their years. "You're such a comfort to me," their mother would say, with pride in her voice, and their father would add, "You're such a help, the truest riches I could ever want." They both glowed under the praise, and blossomed in the artificially bright rays of a dead planet.
It happened soon afterwards that both of their parents died in a terrible accident, and the children, full of sorrow and grief, were alone in the world except for each other. They wept and prayed over their parents' graves, still holding hands, always united together. "We are all we have left," the brother told the sister, and held her close, and the sister kissed him softly and replied, "I shall not let you go, not now, not ever." Such was the power of their devotion that everyone around them was moved to tears, and two trees sprang forth from the ground on top of the graves, and every year bore the most beautiful of fruit.
John hotwires a truck, and helps her into the cab. She wants to ask where he learned that skill; she's terrified he'll answer. The silence is heavy between them as he drives, his profile a dark shadow refracting the fading sunlight, transforming him into someone else. Looking at him – so solid, so real, so alive – she feels like Dr. Frankenstein, like God. She doesn't ask him how he feels.
She can see the lake in the distance, shimmering brightly, a prism, a chimera. Around her, the land is lush and green, bountiful, teeming with life. She wonders if this is what Eden looked like. If this is what Eve felt like, gazing upon her new empire for the first time. Had she felt as helpless, as overwhelmed, by all of the choices? She wonders if that's why Eve had eaten from the fruit – not for the knowledge, but for the rules. The limits. To find order among the chaos that was life.
It's night by the time he stops in the parking lot of a mostly deserted motel somewhere off the highway. Wait here, he tells her, then climbs out of the truck before she can respond. Not that she has anything to say. The vacancy sign above the motel flickers fluorescent blue, neon brightness reflecting off the windshield, then immediately swallowed by the darkness surrounding her. As bright as it had been during the day, the absence had come with frightening swiftness. Nothing stirs in the air. The stars are absent. She could be the only person left on the planet. She is all that's left of Olduvai. An endangered race, bordering on extinction.
John raps at the window. She bites back the scream – it's just John, just her brother – even as she opens the door. Sorry, he mutters, and she almost believes he means it.
I can try to walk, she says when he moves to cradle her back in his arms.
Not until I get a look at your leg, he tells her, brooking no argument, and carries her into an empty room. She looks around. The bedspread on the single queen-sized bed looks worn, but clean enough. The print is some sort of floral pattern, might have been daisies at some point. It's been a long time since she's seen flowers. There's a lonely dresser at the other end of the room, and two chairs with a miniscule table between them. On her left is a door the leads to an equally tiny bathroom.
Cozy, she mutters.
Just like old times, he smiles, and somewhere buried in the grime and scruff and the horror of the past few hours, she can see the man under the soldier. She can see her brother, as he used to be. We are all beasts and predators, she thinks. Only we're cursed with self-awareness and morals.
So I take it we're adding breaking and entering to our long list of crimes?
We need sleep, he replies. And it wouldn't kill us to get cleaned up. If it eases your conscience, I'll leave some cash on the table when we head out.
After tonight, I'm not sure how much conscience I have left. It scares her that she means it, too. What little faith in humanity she had left had died with Duke. She doesn't allow herself to think about everyone else. So many souls lost, and for what? To further what end? No knowledge gained could be worth this price.
He walks into the bathroom and sets her down on the edge of the tub, then crouches in front of her, looming in the too-small space like a benevolent wraith. I need to look at your leg.
I'll be fine.
In his voice, she can hear the ghost of their father, concern overlaid with command. She's a doctor, she reminds herself, through the clogging of her throat. She can do this. She can face this. No matter what. Wordlessly, she nods.
His hands are painfully gentle as he slides her pants off her legs. Her right thigh is a mass of bruises and drying blood. He hisses out a curse, dark head a sharp contrast to her pale skin as he gently probes the wounds. She sifts her hand through his hair, centering herself, centering him. So much has changed between them, but the connection remains.
It's gonna need stitches, he finally replies. His voice is hoarse. She wonders if the unshed tears are for her, for him, for his team, or the life he's lost. Maybe all of the above. Maybe none of the above.
I trust you. The rest is unspoken between them.
The water is scalding, abrasive, as he runs a washcloth over her skin. She watches in detached silence as dirt and blood collect on the cloth, staining it black. The big sister that had taught him everything he knows about medicine and anatomy is proud of the evenness of his stitches as he puts her back together. The scientist in her is fascinated by his lack of wounds when he strips off his own shirt to check himself over. The woman in her...
Do you remember the story Mom used to tell us? he abruptly asks, catching her gaze in the mirror. The one about the ancient Greek lovers?
Selene and Endymion?
Yeah. That one.
Of course I do. It had been her favorite story as a child. She's surprised he remembers – that he'd allowed himself to remember when he'd forgotten so many other things.
Then you know why I let you do it. She doesn't ask what he means; she doesn't have to. When he turns to face her, he looks like a statue come to life, and some part of her is reborn as well.
Years passed for brother and sister in both solitude and comfort, until one day the brother was approached by a seemingly kind old man, who was really a wizard in disguise. He was full of hate and envy of the bond the siblings had and had vowed to break it. "You are wasted in this place, wasting your talent and your time," said the wizard, "only come with me and I will turn you into a fine hunter, the greatest the world has ever known, and you can travel the known worlds and start a new life, away from this hateful place of sorrow." The brother, who had been feeling constrained with regret and a yearning for something more, said yes, and was immediately turned into a ferocious wolf. When the sister found her brother thus, she wept bitter tears, and prayed for her brother to return to his natural form. "Oh brother," she cried," who is it that has cursed you so?"
"It is no curse," the brother replied with a growl. "Now I can finally be free of my grief and take my rightful place in this world." "Please don't leave me," the sister begged, "for the woods are treacherous and filled with dangers and you might be killed and then I would be all alone." But the brother was stubborn and would not listen, and instead, set off for distant lands to explore; so happy was he to finally breathe different air, see different sights, and do all the things he longed to do. The sister, brokenhearted and alone, turned to their father's work and vowed to finish it. The evil wizard, upon hearing this, laughed in triumph as the once magical bond between brother and sister shattered.
She dreams of Lucy, arms outstretched, skeletal smile wide as she beckons Sam closer, the fetid smell of her decaying bones stealing the air from her lungs, a monster, a goddess, all-powerful, something more than human. Then, the dream morphs into the tunnels of Olduvai, of the dig. She can hear her mother's voice in the distance, calling her to come home, the sound echoing down the hall, down her spine. She runs until she's gasping for breath, the walls of the tunnel closing in on her, the ground trembling, then rumbling, dust and debris raining down around her...
She wakes with a start, heart hammering in her chest. As her eyes adjust to the darkness, she can make out John's outline stretched beside her, feel his heat through the thin blanket separating them. It doesn't escape her notice that he's put himself between her and the door.
Mom and Dad? His voice is quiet, slightly strained.
She nods, throat closed with tears she refuses to shed, then sighs. Gives in to the inevitable. How'd you know?
How do you think?
Everyone has ghosts, she thinks, as she settles back onto the thin pillow. She knows her brother down to a molecular level, but he's still a mystery. So much has changed.
What will you do now? she asks, and risks placing a hand on his arm.
What will you do?
I have no idea. Grief threatens to swamp her. She ruthlessly tamps it down. She is stronger than this. She will be stronger than this. I don't know how to do anything else.
You're the smartest person I know, Sam, he says, and she can't hear the usual bitterness in his tone. Instead, all she hears is pride. You'll find something.
You're just as smart, you know. I mean it, John, don't look at me like that.
How do you know I'm looking at you like anything?
Because I haven't forgotten, she wants to say, but doesn't. What would be the point? You used to love following Mom and Dad around, she says, instead. What happened to that boy?
He grew up.
He gave up.
The harsh silence between them stretches thin and intractable, like the years between them, like the space that's been there for far too long. She feels as alone as she had on the day he'd left her, only this time, it's worse. She can't do this again. She won't. She'll break and no amount of stitches will be able to repair her.
Then, finally: Where do you want to go?
Détente, she thinks, relief stealing her regret like a welcome thief, then replies: Someplace warm.
Warm sounds nice. Somewhere down the coast.
Some tiny village.
Where no one's heard of Mars.
His lips are on hers the next instant, thorough, claiming every part of her he'd left behind. She sobs into it, completeness swamping her from the inside out.
She thinks of Ares and Aphrodite – lovers and siblings – as he moves down her body, maps all of the places he already knows, relearns the shape of her with full lips and soft kisses. Under his hands, she feels as voluptuous as a goddess, immortal and all-powerful. This is sacrament, this is benediction. She can feel her heart harmonize in time to his, the beats symbiotic, co-dependent, a foundation.
Her lips trace the tattoo on his forearm – a hooded figure raising a scythe – then the one on his chest – a snake entwined around a sword. Symbols of death and darkness, of his new-found power and her new-found strength. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, God and his creations, only she no longer knows which one she is or why it matters. The myth is the same, no matter who tells it.
I've got you, she murmurs, etches the promise along his skin. I've got you now.
He groans out her name, and the sound of it tastes like forgiveness. When his hands tangle in her hair, she can no longer feel the calluses. Only him, only them together, and the unbreakable bond between them. The next kiss is hungry, desperate, untamed. They may not be gods, but they are immortal as long as they're together. They would create their own rules, set their own limits, just as the gods did.
After many years wandering the lands and facing many dangers and many evils, finally the brother returned home, still a wolf, but no longer married to the hunt. The sister, overjoyed with seeing her beloved brother again, covered him in kisses, and her tears of pure joy and love transformed him back into a man, breaking the wizard's curse forever. Thus, together again, they reaffirmed their vows, resealing their bond, and lived happily together for the rest of their days.
*Without hope, we live in desire.