“Take him, Jonas. It’s the only way,” the woman implored from her makeshift bed of straw and blankets. Even though it had been hours since the labor of bringing the child into this world, her body was still drenched in sweat. Her hair was matted to her face as she struggled to sit up.
“Honey, don’t move. You need to rest,” Jonas said. He knelt next to his wife’s lithe body, sweaty and bloody from the miraculous feat she had accomplished. He held the infant wrapped in an old t-shirt from his bag tightly to his chest and looked from his wife’s tired face into his son’s eyes.
They had known about this moment for months. It was inevitable. Hell, it had taken careful planning, secrecy, and sheer dumb luck to even make it this far. Ever since they discovered the pregnancy, it was always going to lead them here if there was any opportunity of giving their son the chance to survive. When Jonas really thought about it, it all had been over as soon as the stones had been put into play. That was the moment when their world came crashing down.
He glanced around the dingy abandoned barn they had managed to find when it became clear that the labor was beginning. Jonas knew he was only delaying what needed to be done, but he needed a moment. He needed time to let go. He scoffed to himself at the thought. There was no way in hell he’d ever be able to let go of this. To move on. He didn’t believe for a second that being made to forget would erase the pain of this loss for a single second.
“I can’t do this,” he choked out, fighting back the tears. He couldn’t lose her. He couldn’t lose them.
She was standing now, leaning against a wooden beam to support her body. This was the weakest he had ever seen her. She seemed so frail, but within her eyes he knew a storm brewed. She reached out her hand, resting her palm against his cheek. She caressed his face, rubbing her thumb from the along the jawline she knew and loved so well. “You have to do it,” she said slowly, “it’s the only way.”
“We can keep running! We’ve made it this long. We’ll go further underground! I’ll find a way to reach out to Alan, maybe in the Resistance—”
“No, Jonas,” she interrupted. She leveled her eyes the color of dark honey at him, pinning him with her gaze. “I will not raise our son this way. I will not have him live in a world where every moment his life is in danger. I could be found any day. If they find me…If they find me they must never get him. They can’t even know about him. We’ve made it this far. No one can know. You know we can’t go to the Resistance. We’ve been over this, babe. No one can ever know.” She wrapped her arms around his waist, the small body of her son pushed against their chests.
She rested her forehead against her husband’s. Her mate. He had made her whole, and she him. Her heart had been slowly breaking over the last nine months. Even as she grew to love the child growing inside her, she mourned the loss she knew would follow his birth. Glancing down into her son’s face, she saw her own eyes reflected back towards her. They were the color of whiskey; the rich caramel eyes were almost too big for his small squishy face. Eyes brimming with tears, she kissed her son’s forehead; she willed her love, her hopes, and her dreams into that kiss.
“No one can know,” she repeated in a whisper.
“Not even me?,” Jonas asked in a shaky voice, tears streaming down his cheeks.
She looked into his eyes hesitantly, not wanting to see the pain and heartbreak she knew would be there.
“How can you be sure they’ll keep you alive if they find you?” Jonas whispered. Asking the question he had refused to think about for weeks. It felt like giving up. It acknowledged that they would find her. “Wouldn’t it be better to find someone to look after him? Somewhere away from all this, untouched by magic. Then you’d still have a chance.”
She took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. She’d thought about the same thing, but the idea of leaving her son to be raised by humans repulsed her very core. He needed to be protected in case they hadn’t been careful enough. So much depended on him. Looking up into her husband’s face, she gave in to the tears she’d been holding back, “No, Jonas. It has to be you.”
Jonas let out a mirthless laugh. They had already given so much. This was too much. Too far. “Are you sure you’ll be able to pull it off?,” he asked. “Something this big…it will leave you too vulnerable. I can’t…I can’t leave you unprotected.”
She smiled at him then through the tears. He was a good man. He would keep her son safe. “I’ll be okay. They haven’t caught our trail. I’ll have time,” she told him, trying to assuage his worry. “I’m going to have to bind your abilities, Jonas. You’re going to have to appear completely human.”
Jonas looked at his wife sharply, “But how will I keep him safe?” Without abilities, Jonas would have no way of staying ahead of possible danger.
“If anything supernatural threatens either of you, the binding will automatically be undone. You’ll be able to protect him Jonas, even as a human. Appearing as a human will keep you both safe. No one will be looking for a human. I have to take it all Jonas. It’s the only way,” she said. Taking her arms from his waist, she rubbed them across his back and sides, feeling the muscle and strength there. She thought back to happier nights, in barns elsewhere, when she had felt those muscles ripple beneath her fingers as they found pleasure with one another. She wondered for a moment which of them was going to suffer more. She, who was about to lose everything and would likely be taken within a month and face the unspeakable; or him, who would never remember what he had in the first place.
Jonas clutched his son with one arm and wrapped his other around her waist—burying his face into his wife’s hair. “Please,” he choked out through the tears, “leave me with something good to hold onto. I can’t—” He pressed is nose into her neck, breathing in her scent deep into his lungs; filling himself with the essence of her.
She kissed his cheek softly and rubbed her tear stained face across his jaw. Marking him with her scent one last time. “I’ll do my best,” she whispered. She looked down at her son for the last time, stroking his cheek softly. He looked so peaceful. How could he sleep so sweetly while his parent’s world was crashing all around him. She slipped her hand into her pocket, pulling out the necklace with opaque grey stone out—the weight of it so familiar. She squeezed the stone for a moment, hesitating in the decision she had made weeks ago. Could she really send the stone with Jonas? He would never even remember what precious cargo he possessed. But she could not risk it falling into the wrong hands when they finally caught up to her. She knew they already had three of the elementals--she would ensure that they would find no others. Her grip on the stone tightened--the sharp edges of the cut rock stabbing into her palm. She kept squeezing until she felt the pain in her hand from the skin breaking, her blood dripping onto the stone from the cut.
After all that she had put into motion, there was so little left that she could give. But she could do this. She could give them hope. And perhaps, that would be enough.
Hope. Such a dangerous thing to any tyrant who sought to vanquish the soul.
Jonas pulled her body tighter to his, holding onto her like a drowning man grasps a floating raft. “I love you. I love you so fucking much…Promise me, when this is all over that you’ll find us. We’ll be together again. Promise me,” he begged, unable to let go. He didn’t notice his wife slip the necklace into the back pocket of his jeans as he gripped her body.
She tensed. He needed the lie. He needed to be able to believe that this would end. That it would be over. That she would be coming back.
He didn't understand that their death warrants had already been signed, the ink still fresh. But even then, at the very end…she couldn’t give it to him. “I will always find you Jonas. In this life or the next, I will always find you my love,” she choked out as his eyes widened.
And then, she kissed his lips.
She poured her will into that kiss, tearing through his memories like a stampede of wild mustangs. Tears streamed down her face as she erased their first meeting. How he had stumbled and flailed, trying to impress her and utterly succeeding unbeknownst to him. She took the memory of that first kiss next to the lake, the moonlight shimmering across the water’s surface. With a cry in her throat she took their first mating and all the others that followed; the heat of it, the need, and the undying devotion. She took from him those few years of bliss they had before the war began. Before the balance was destroyed. Before people started dying. And then she went back further. She took it all. His childhood. His mother. The smell of her cooking peach pie. Learning to control his abilities from his father. His first hunt. Every special moment and quiet memory. She stripped it all away, until nothing of Jonas was left and all that stood before her was an empty canvas ready to be remade.
And then she filled him up.
She thrust new memories into the recesses of his mind, building an entire new world, an entire life. He would become John, she thought, so close to his old name. She selfishly needed to tie him in someway back to her...back to their life and all that they shared. She built his new world. Jonas had been her protector--now he would continue as one for their son. A police officer. Jonas would have been good at that. She gave him a happy childhood. A warm home with human parents--a safe space to rest his head. She gave him memories of meeting her, but she blurred them slightly. They knew what she looked like. If he remembered and was ever under suspicion...it was just better this way. They would meet at a diner. She, a waitress going to school, he, just coming off duty. It would have been late. The night shift. He would have been exhausted from just finishing up a case. He would want pie. She would make him laugh.
She poured into him memories of their growing relationship. Dates. Stolen kisses. Sex in his childhood bed over a Thanksgiving he introduced her to his parents. She gave him a home they lived in together. A garden where she would work. Dancing late at night in the kitchen to the radio. Early mornings with coffee or tea in bed, followed by a passionate round of enjoying each other fully. Then she gave herself a name. Claudia.
She’d always thought the name was beautiful. John and Claudia. They had a happy life together. They loved each other. Claudia was pregnant with their first baby. A boy. A boy who would never go by his first name. Names had power and she would protect her son. No, he would have a nickname that he would grow to love. She willed it. John, Claudia, and the boy were happy. And then Claudia got sick. She made it as painless as possible for John. It was quick. Abrupt. There was nothing to be done, but bury her in the ground and take care of their son. She remembered to will the headstone into being, the house, bank accounts, clothing, furniture; the practical things of life that John would need to live this fiction. She pushed the memory of a fire that destroyed all the material memories of her. There would be no clothing, no photographs, no heirlooms to remember her by. Save one.
With a delicate last whisper, she willed John to remember the necklace. To protect it. To ensure that if anything ever happened, it would go to her son.
The child between them cried out, and in that last moment she also willed something that would protect her son when John could not. Something that would be a piece of her that was only for him. Something that could bring him joy. She briefly thought back to the horse her father had gifted her as a child--Old Blue--and the joy and happiness that came from their time together. She didn't know what to give the boy or how it would come into being in this new world she was sending him into, but it would protect him, it would be a part of her, and it would be blue.
Making it into being, she placed a finger on John’s forehead and pushed. And then he and the baby were gone.
She stood there for a time, tears falling down into the dirt below. She could still feel the ghost of his warmth. She willed herself to always remember that warmth, that she could always call upon the memory of his body pressing into her own, encasing her in his warmth. She would need that memory if she were to survive long enough for her son to reach his majority, but she would. She would. Without the necklace, it would only be a matter of time before they found her. But she would live long enough for her son to thrive--for hope to survive and take root. Hope. All that she had left was hope.
Coming back to the present reality, she gathered her things and fled into the night.
Three weeks later, they caught up to her on the outskirts of Chicago. Her last thought before the blackness set in was of Jonas’s face and the warm bundle of her son’s body pressed to her breast. Even now, with all that she knew was to come, she knew she had done the right thing.