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Tempest

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It all slips through her fingers.

 

She scrambles, pressing back against the inevitable, as if her willpower alone might defy nature itself. She pushes her hands down as hard as she can, but it doesn’t work. It’s not enough. She’s not enough. Thick, dark rush of blood pulses between her fingers, staining her hands, leaving a mark that will never fully go away.

 

“No. No, no, no!”

 

The voice doesn’t sound like hers. It’s raw and desperate, a harsh sound of pure emotion that howls through the streets like gale force winds. But it’s far away, drowned out by the rush of white noise ringing in her ears.

 

She doesn’t notice the fast-approaching wail of sirens, doesn’t pay attention to anyone around her. All she sees, all she’ll see for a very long time, is the fading light from those beautiful eyes she loves so much.

 

It blurs in a tidal wave of tears she can’t hold back.

 

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare leave me.”

 

He gives her a ghost of a smile, whisper-thin and weak, but echoing a thousand grins he’s given her before. It makes everything worse, reminds her vividly of what she’s losing. Of what they’re both losing. His smile was one of the first things that drew her to him.

 

And this is the last time she’ll see it.

 

“Please,” she begs, tears slipping down onto her own fingers as they press against his wound, trying desperately to seal it off. “Please. I need you. I don’t know how to… You have to hold on, okay? You have to… You have to be okay. I don’t know how to be okay without you.”

 

Even as she says it, she knows it’s fruitless. He does, too. She can see the effort it takes him to bring his hand to cover hers, and it only makes her cry harder when he does it anyhow, the last act of comfort he can give her. He slips shaking fingers between hers, gripping her as tight as he can, eyes never leaving her face.

 

“Love you, Julie,” he tells her, the words slurring together.

 

“I love you,” she replies. “I love you so much. Just hold on. Please hold on.”

 

But a second later his hand grows limp, his fingers slipping away from hers as that beautiful spark of life in his eyes fades. She calls his name, over and over, pushes harder on his wound, but there’s nothing she can do - nothing anyone can do - to bring him back.

 

He dies on the sidewalk two blocks from their apartment with the love of his life at his side, begging him to not leave, but he does.

 

In that instant something inside her splinters, cracks right down the middle, fracturing her forever.

 

The scream she lets loose rings out like a cry of a wild animal, primal and untamed. Pain and denial and anger swirl together in a torrent of emotion she can’t contain as the undertow of her sorrow and desperation pulls her down, filling her lungs, drowning her.

 

“We have to go,” someone says. Hands grab at her, trying to pull her away. “ Jules , honey, he’s gone. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but we need to leave.”

 

She barely hears the voice over the dull roar of nothingness filling her ears, over the echo of her screams. Reason has no place here. She fights against the familiar arms that try to tug her away, clinging instead to the body of the man she loves. His blood soaks through her clothes - to her skin, to her soul - and even as the rush of it between her fingers slows, she thinks if she can just stop it, maybe he’ll come back to her, maybe he’ll be okay.

 

But he isn’t, and he won’t be.

 

Blood runs everywhere, pooling beneath her in a sea she can’t escape.

 

He won’t be okay .

 

She freezes, her throat closing up, her chest squeezing so tightly that black spots color her vision.

 

A rhythmic flash of red and white lights beats down on the scene, bathing everything in a dull illumination that somehow makes it all feel less real. The once-distant siren stops, but she barely notices, her rasped shouts of his name replacing it. There’s a rush of booted footfalls around her, but she can’t look away from his lifeless eyes where they stare at her.

 

“Will, help me ,” says the strained voice of the man trying to pull her away.

 

Her father. It’s her father.

 

“Oh my god,” the familiar voice of her brother breathes out as he takes in the scene. “Jules…”

 

She doesn’t look up and she doesn’t beg them to save her boyfriend. It’s too late for that.

 

“Will, help me ,” her father repeats again with a little more force.

 

“You have to get out of here,” he replies. More sirens wail, their cries echoing off the buildings, making them seem like they’re coming from every direction at once. “You can’t be here like this. I’ve got Jules.”

 

“I’m not leaving her right now!”

 

“Dad…” Will replies, his voice low. Everything is far off, more like barely-there echoes, but later her memory will dredge everything up as she relives this moment over and over with varying degrees of painful awareness. “The police are coming. They’ll find out who you are if you’re here like this.”

 

“I’ve got a change of clothes in the truck,” another voice says. “It should fit. You can use it. But hurry .”

 

There’s a moment where her father wars with himself, not wanting to let her go even for a moment. His arms tighten around her to the point of pain, but then he finally releases her. He kisses her hair a half dozen times, mumbling that he’s sorry and he’ll be right back. He promises. His arms fall away and it’s her brother’s that take their place. She barely feels them. Neither is the person she wants holding her at the moment.  

 

“Jules, you have to let him go,” Will urges her softly as she clings to her boyfriend’s sodden shirt. “He’d want you to let him go.”

 

He’d want you to let him go.

 

He’d want you to let him go .

 

He’d want you to let him go .

 

He’d want you to let him go .

 

Jules jerks awake with a ragged gasp.

 

The words echo through her memory as she sits up before she even registers being awake, cold sweat clinging to her skin, her cheeks wet with tears. A sob falls from her lips, breath heaving, an acrid taste clinging to her tongue.

 

When she looks at her hands, all she sees is his blood.

 

Nausea rolls through her as she scrambles from bed toward her bathroom. Her elbow slams into the sink but she barely feels it as she turns the water on, shoving her hands under the flow. But the blood is gone. Long gone, now. She only sees her shaking fingers, bright red like she’d been rubbing them together too hard. With a cracked, “ God ,” she sags against the sink. Her stomach roils and she quickly splashes icy water on her face, not stopping until the urge to throw up disappears.

 

She takes her time, pushing back the turmoil in her gut as she washes away the remnants of her dream - of her memory - from her skin.

 

When she can finally breathe unhindered, she turns the water off.

 

Some nights this happens. Some nights it’s too much and she has nowhere to pour her anger and guilt and grief. Some nights she wonders how she’s managed without him for so long.

 

Looking up at the mirror, she sees a woman with hollowed, bloodshot eyes staring back at her. Would Jackson even recognize the person she’s become in his absence? The answer mocks her and she can’t stand to think about that right now, can’t stand to think about him right now. She takes the picture of them on the bathroom countertop and puts it face-down so that his happy smile doesn’t haunt her quite so readily.

 

So that her own happy smile doesn’t haunt her.

 

He’d want you to let him go .

 

Will’s voice rings out in her head and she almost chokes on the rueful, wet laugh that slips past her lips.

 

“Too bad I don’t know how,” she tells her own reflection.

 

It’s been nearly three years since that night, three years since her carefully built house of cards came crashing down around her. She is whole again, as whole as she can be. She welded those cracks in her soul shut, but the scars are visible for anyone to see. Despite how tightly she’s sewn her wounds together, she feels weaker, more vulnerable than before.

 

And she hates it.

 

Her dog wanders over and noses at her hand like she’s asking Jules what she’s doing awake at such an ungodly hour.

 

Jules smiles mutely down at the lab and scratches her behind the ear in reassurance.

 

“It’s fine, Bokeh,” she says. “I’m okay. I just… I’m just gonna go out for a bit. I’ll be back soon.”

 

On a bad night, there’s only one way to rid herself of the demons that chase her in her sleep. Jules grabs a bag in the corner of her bathroom and quickly glances in at the contents. Dark leather, a domino mask, a chain whip.

 

Some nights it’s a whole lot easier to be Tempest than to be Julianna Queen.

 

“Don’t wait up,” she tells the dog as she heads to the door, her bag slung over her shoulder. “There’s someone I need to find.”