“…Scientists are still no closer to discovering the secret behind the strange phenomena that is ‘The Lost.’ When these young people reach the age of eighteen their DNA freezes and they subsequently never age. Nobody knows how or why…Professor Boyle said: ‘We believe this can happen to anyone born in Obsidian. It seems completely random. Parents and the teenagers themselves don’t know until they turn 18 if they will freeze…’” - Extract from The Obsidian Times; July 2100.
The problem with looking for something, Raven had discovered, was that sometimes you thought you found it.
She remembered last year she'd started crying when she thought she'd found a grey hair, until her mom told her to stop being stupid: it was a trick of the light.
She remembered last month when she'd spent almost an hour staring at her reflection, trying to remember if those lines had always been around her eyes like that, until Strat had laughed and pulled her into his chest: assuring her that nothing about her face had changed: he had spent so long studying it he knew it better than his own.
She remembered last night waking from a nightmare, a stone-cold grave bearing her name and a blond-haired boy that stood over it. She'd cried out loud enough that Zahara had reached for the dream suppressants again, before Strat had knocked them out her hands and told her that only she would and could decide if she wanted them.
She hadn't: she had learned that dreams were worth the nightmares.
But reality was sweeter than any dream: just like now, lying in Strat's arms in a post-sex haze, hearing their hearts beat in sync and feeling the heat of his fire-hot skin transfer to hers.
He'd been right all those years ago: their bodies finally rhymed. "I can hear your thoughts." A rumble sounded from in his chest as he spoke, and she giggled as the vibration ticked her cheek. "That's a skill you've been keeping from me."
He laughed, and she closed her eyes as he lifted a hand to stroke through her hair. "You're thinking about the future again. You keep remembering the nightmare."
She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut tighter as the hand in her hair stilled, and she felt him shift under her cheek and hands so that he was facing her. "Don't you? You'll have to bury me someday."
She felt the flinch her words had brought.
"That was a consequence I accepted before I ever came to your window. But I don't think it matters much anymore."
Her eyes snapped open.
"How can it not matter?! Strat, one day I'm going to die...and you won't!"
She pushed herself up off the mattress, turning away to look through the darkness of the tunnels leading away from the Deep End, blinking back the tears as she realised that this must be it: this was when he finally realised that he was willing to do anything for love.
She waited in silence as she felt him shift, feeling the naked skin of his chest against her back, and his arms fitting with hers. Her cheeks ached as she tried to hold in her sobs: he was being cruel, she thought, to hold her so tight as he prepared to let her go-
"You're Lost, Raven."
Go insane, apparently.
She wretched away from him, welcoming the red lick of fury in her blood as she whirled to face him still on the mattress. "That's not funny, Strat...you can't, don't you dare..."
She hadn't seen him move, but his face was suddenly inches from hers and her arms were held above her head against the wall, his body in line with hers. "You think I'd lie about this?"
"I think you'd rather believe the impossible than the truth."
"Who ever said it was impossible?"
She had no answer, and he smiled as he ran his hands down her arms. His eyes glittered silver-blue.
"You're turning 26, yet you've not changed from the day I first saw you. You've become bolder, stronger, but what convinced me were your eyes...they glint dark with danger, the voices of unspoken sin, black and glittering like a raven's wing..."
He pulled her into a hungry kiss, and she felt passion sing through her blood.
He broke the kiss gasping. "You don't believe me now, but that's OK: you'll see for yourself when you turn 38...48, even 49. You'll see, you'll feel it, and you'll know...trust me."
Hope that she had always squashed down for fear it would choke her burst through, she could feel it sitting at the back of her throat, heavy and metallic: potentially damaging.
"You're sure?" Her voice was a whisper: it was a question she had never dared ask.
He pulled back to look at her, and she could see the wonder and joy reflected in his gaze. He'd always had a beautiful reflection.
"You think I wouldn't recognise one of my own?"
And hope gave way to joy: so sharp and strong that she toppled him back onto the mattress, kissing him with a passion which burned brighter than fire, brighter than all the stars in the sky, and louder than any notes a guitar - either a Telecaster or a Stratacaster - can play.
Because he was right: no one had ever said it was impossible.