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never let go till we're gone

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Jake has known Gina since they were born, and they have been friends since he first pushed his face against the bars of his cot and babbled eagerly at the baby in the adjoining one. 

Eleven years of living, eleven years of friendship, eleven years spent laughing together and sneaking out together and driving Nana up the wall, and this is the very first time Jake has seen Gina so still, so quiet. He thinks that, more than anything - even the cries coming from aboard the sinking ship, even the sound of the band playing Nearer My God To Thee over the groans of steel and iron - is what truly terrifies him. She's curled up at Nana's side, watching the expanse of the ocean with wide, unblinking eyes, and Jake feels a sudden ache of relief. For only having Gina and Nana. For all three of them to fall under the category of women and children. For being ushered onto the lifeboats, together, nobody being left behind. 

There are men along the deck, decked in suits and rags alike, passing their wives and their children into the arms of the ship's crew for them to be lifted into the lifeboats and winched down into the sea. Some of them are young, little more than ten years older than Jake himself. Jake can see himself in them. Jake can imagine being ten years older, giving up one of those so-precious spaces in the limited lifeboats so Gina and Nana could survive. 

He can't imagine being the one pushed into a seat, can't imagine leaving someone behind as he gets rowed to safety. He can't imagine being like the screaming girl being forcibly heaved into his lifeboat by a young man who looks strikingly like her, his expression fixed and fierce, knowing he won't make it off this ship. He could never be brave enough for that. 

 

 

Amy was raised to be a lady. Her parents put her in beautiful dresses and hired a private tutor and gave her classes on etiquette. Her brothers were similarly raised to be gentlemen, all seven of them, learning how to play polo and dance the lead and properly smoke cigars. She took to all of it, learned structures and social codes like she was going to be tested on them, and has always been her family's pride and joy - her father's princess, her mother's baby girl, the apple of her brothers' eyes. She is prim and proper, never acts out, and is the epitome of what a lady should be. 

Never in her life has she done anything like what she is doing now - kicking, screaming, grabbing at her brother Joaquin's pristinely pressed shirt and ruining it. She's desperately trying to squirm out of his grip as he pushes his way through the throng towards the lifeboats. She won't let go as one of the crew moves to reach for her and help her into the lifeboat. Joaquin's eyes are stony as he peels Amy's fingers off his arms, where she's digging her nails in to stop him from letting her go. 

"For God's sake, Amy, go with the nice man and get in the lifeboat," Joaquin pleads, jerking his arm away with a quick, sharp movement so her grip is loosened. "Let go of me now, Amy, let go." 

She doesn't understand why he won't come with her. The rest of her brothers are men now, grown up, who had paled just the slightest when the call came - women and children only, women and children! They had lifted their chins, firm and steady, and her eldest brother had taken his jacket off and put it around her before telling Joaquin to take her and go while they went to help those in the lower decks get to the lifeboats. But Joaquin is seventeen, young enough that they will let him in, if he only tells them, and for the life of her, she cannot understand why he will not. 

She cries into his shirt, still refuses to let him go. "Why won't you come with me? You have to come with me!" She may be young, but she is not stupid - he will die on this boat and so will the rest of her brothers, if he does not leave with her. She doesn't not understand why he will consign himself to that. 

He kisses her on the forehead and pries the grip off his jacket with an effort, tells her he will die a gentleman before he dies a coward. Tells her to be a good girl, a good daughter - to make up to their parents for losing seven sons. Tells her to live well and be safe. The moment she no longer has a hold on him he is melting back into the crowd without another word - to find their brothers, Amy is sure - and the crew member he passed her off to is urging her into a lifeboat. She is helped into a seat by another young girl, but her eyes never leave the ship, and she tightens her brother's jacket around her shoulders and sobs. 

 

 

Rosa distinctly remembers her father coming home crying the day the Titanic is finished. He'd been at the docks for months now, sweating over his work and bringing home a good wage, and he sat her on his lap that night and told her what it felt like to finally see the mighty ship come to life. 

The White Star Line gives her father two third-class tickets for his work. Her mother does not like the sea, nor do her sisters, and her brother is busy at his own workplace. But Rosa sees the wide, wide ocean and endless sky when her father tells her his stories at night, and it is her he brings on board. 

She will never forget the feeling of walking up the gangplank onto the ship, or the thrum of the engines as they pushed it through the currents, or the taste of the food in the dining room. She does not get to go on the deck very much, but when she does, she always spends her time looking out, drawing the salty sea air into her lungs, burning the sights she sees into her brain. These are things she wants to remember forever. 

These are the things she holds on to when they collide with the iceberg, when water starts coming in. Many people don't believe it when the warning first comes - they laugh, they parrot what has been said about the unsinkable ship - but her father knows better from all his time at the docks. He takes her up the stairs before the crowds truly start coming in, before the reality sinks in upon everyone. These, too, she can never forget - the horrible groaning sound of the ship beginning to break, her father's last embrace before he seats her safely into a lifeboat, the sound of his footsteps on the deck as he leaves to convince the others in third-class to come up to the lifeboats, to find the women and children. 

"Stay in the boat, Rosa, my girl," her father tells her before he hands her off. "Whatever you do, you must stay in the boat. Promise me you will do so." 

She promises, and she holds on to all the good memories she can think of, makes sure they are all she can see when she closes her eyes, because if she thinks of the way the ship is slowly, slowly sinking, she will leap out of the boat and back onto the deck to run into her father's arms, and she does not break her promises. 

She stays in the boat, watches silently as some of the other children - a group of cousins, she thinks - help the crew lift more children into their boat. She watches, and waits, and curls her fingers against the seat, and holds on. 

 

 

Charles grows up in a very large house with a very large family. Supposedly he has a sister, much older than he is, but really, these strict familial distinctions seem unimportant in a family like his. There are more aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins than he can count and they all look out for each other, play with each other, take care of each other, and Charles thinks that is what is truly important, after all. 

When news of the 'unsinkable ship' first surfaces, the entire family is enraptured. One of his uncles and another one of his cousins are sailors, and they refuse to pass up the chance at taking a journey on the Titanic. Tickets are bought for everyone who wants to go, and eventually half the family is at the docks the day of the launch. They're all chattering excitedly at the top of their voices as they make their way into their cabins - Charles spends his time with his cousins his age, running around on the decks and eating in the dining rooms and playing in the common areas. It's wonderful and everything he never could have dreamed of and he's excited to go home after the trip to recount his experiences to everyone left back on land. 

And then, of course, the collision happens. The adults take charge immediately, the moment they realise what it means. Charles' parents and sister are home, so one of his uncles picks him up and puts him on his back, taking the hand of one of his older cousins and leading both of them towards the lifeboats. Charles doesn't understand, not really, not even when four more of his cousins are ushered into the boat with him, not until he looks over to another lifeboat and sees more cousins, some aunts, being loaded in. 

He will not be going back to an empty home, and Charles is suddenly deeply grateful that not everyone came on board, but he watches the crowd on the deck for familiar faces, clinging on to the railings and shouting the names of their children, their nieces and nephews, their wives, their sisters, their cousins - and he thinks that even one loss, one person gone, is far too much. 

He's still watching as one of his older cousins, seventeen years old and aching with it, tugs on his sleeve. "Come on, Charlie. Let's help the crew get more people on the boat." Her voice shakes but she moves to help anyway, and Charles knows. They will not be going back to an empty home, but some people will, and the more people get on board, the more will be saved, the less they will lose. He is small in size and not overly strong, but his words are kind and his heart is warm, and he manages to coax even a desperately terrified teenager twice his size into the boat, makes sure he knows that he's safe, now, and everything will be all right.

 

 

Terry starts painting when he's just three years old. It runs in the family - both his parents paint and so do three of his grandparents, but even before Terry begins school they all recognise that his talent surpasses any of them. His grandfather proudly proclaims that Terry is going to become the greatest artist in all of England, and he gets the space and freedom to devote his time to his art. 

When he is seven, the family spends the summer by the sea. Terry and his grandparents set up their canvas at the very edge of the shore and let the waves wash gently over their bare feet as they puts the scene on their canvas. He gets lost in the brushstrokes and the sound of the currents roaring and birds squawking, falls in love with the ocean that day. He spends the rest of the holiday alternating between painting, mostly with his grandparents, and swimming, mostly with his parents, and he thinks this is the best summer he will ever have.

The very last day of the holiday, Terry swims too far out despite the warning shouts of his parents. He realises too late that his strength is nothing compared to the ocean's, and goes under for what feels like an eternity. His lungs burn and he cannot scream, and he cries for a good five minutes when his father manages to drag him up to the surface and pull him back to shore. 

From then on, Terry fears the sea. He cannot even look at his paintings from that holiday without tasting salt in his mouth or choking on air. He continues to paint, and never paints water. He grows in height and in talent, and when he is fifteen, his father sits him down and tells him that he wants his son to attend the school he did, his mother did, his grandparents did. A prestigious art school all the way in America, in New York, where he can hone his talent and come home to truly be the greatest painter in all of England. This will mean taking a ship across the sea, and Terry feels his mouth go dry, his knees go weak. 

But he cannot disappoint his family, and a month later, Terry is on the deck of the Titanic with his brushes and paints, waving goodbye to his parents, feeling the sinking ache in his gut and roiling nausea. He spends all his time in the cabin he shares with another boy - though the boy is not in the cabin often - and leaves only to eat and drink, until the day the ship plows straight into an iceberg and his journey to New York is suddenly and abruptly halted. 

He is young enough that he will be given a space on a lifeboat without question, but he is shaking and frozen when he gets to the deck. The sea has almost taken him, once, and now it is taking the ship, and Terry cannot be sure that it will not still take this tiny boat he is meant to trust his life to. 

He sees his cabin-mate making his way to the lifeboats with his arm around another boy's shoulders - the boy is limping and in obvious pain, crying out softly when his cabin-mate gently helps him into the lifeboat, but manages to sit safely. His cabin-mate then turns to him. "Come. We have to go, or we will sink with this ship." 

Terry doesn't move, doesn't speak, can't, and the boy's expression softens. He extends a hand to Terry. "I have seen you paint, in our cabin. You have much talent, my friend. England cannot afford to lose it. Nor can your parents, I am sure."

He thinks of his parents, thinks of his father that summer, swimming into dangerous waters to save his son, and Terry knows this boy is right - he must save himself, now. 

He takes a breath, and takes the boy's hand. 

 

 

Raymond is never meant to be on the Titanic. He has always been perfectly clear where he stands in this society, and boarding the Titanic is a privilege reserved for certain groups of people he does not belong in. He could never even dream of affording a ticket for steerage, not if he worked for the rest of his life.

Kevin, however, can. Kevin, who is soft-spoken, intelligent and terribly charming - Kevin, who belongs in the upper echelons of society and should rightfully turn his nose up at a boy like Raymond, who is only attending the same school as him due to a hard-earned scholarship. Certainly his peers scoff at Raymond - his worn clothes and shoes, his way of speaking, his inability to afford the extracurriculars most of the other boys partake in. Kevin, who ignores all of these rules and charters and gravitates to him when he finds Raymond reading a book on Greek mythology in the library after-hours one day. Kevin's father asks his only son if he would like to take a trip on the Titanic - to see and be seen, is his real meaning. 

To be honest, Kevin is not terribly interested - but Raymond is, desperately, longing to know what it is like to be on open sea. He talks to Kevin about Charybdis, Nereus, Triton, and Kevin asks his father for two tickets. Kevin gets a first-class cabin to himself and Raymond sneaks out of his own cabin to spend most of his time in it - they read to each other, and gaze out upon the sea, and let their hands graze when the doors are securely locked. Kevin calls Raymond Poseidon, calls himself Amphitrite and laughs, light and melodic, and it warms Raymond right down to his toes. 

When the Titanic begins to sink, there is chaos on the deck as the crew try to keep order while loading the lifeboats, and Raymond nearly loses Kevin in the swarm of people pushing and shoving. He hears Kevin yell and shoulders his way through to find him sprawled on the floor, clutching at his ankle, supposedly violently elbowed out of someone's way. 

"I cannot possibly walk, like this," Kevin hisses, teeth clenched from the pain. "You must go. The ship will not hold much longer." 

"You are a fool if you think I will leave you behind," Raymond responds, kneeling and taking Kevin's hand, looping his arm around Raymond's shoulders. "We will make it off this ship together, or not at all." 

Kevin smiles faintly, and lets Raymond help him along without protest, eyes closed from the pain and exhaustion when he makes it safely into the boat, with Raymond following right behind. 

"Boat full! Boat full!" They both hear the call, once Raymond makes it into the lifeboat. With a groan the winch begins to lower the boat into the water, and Raymond exhales shakily, leaning into Kevin as the water comes closer and closer. "We will be fine. We are safe now, my Amphitrite." 

Kevin sighs, resting his hand on Raymond's knee. "With you, my Poseidon? Always." 

 

 

The lifeboat lands with a quiet splash in the dark waters, and one of the crewmen begins to row to given coordinates, to safety. The air is cold and the night wraps endless around them, lit by naught but one point of light - the sinking ship, as it gets further and further away, cries and sobs and the still-playing band growing softer as the distance between them grows. 

Pairs of eyes meet across the boat, groups of strangers huddled together, unsure of what to do or say as the wind picks up and begins to howl. They are bound together, now, by an experience that will change them forever, a narrow escape from death, a loss that will ripple across England, across the world, across history. 

And in the distance, the Titanic sinks ever further, lost to the depths of the deep blue, forever.

 

 

though like the wanderer / the sun gone down / darkness be over me / my rest a stone / yet in my dreams i'd be / nearer my god to thee.