The night fell slowly over them, cloaking them in a sea of warm stars as the campfire Sarah had built hours earlier roared quietly in the background. Every so often, pieces of ember would lift up into the air, swirling as they disappeared.
The war's over. They're alive, and safe, and a little bruised and battered, but they've made it through. They're resting now, away from the world. Helena, Mrs S, and Tony showing them all how to live off the land for a few months while they recoup.
The taste of meat and grilled veggies lingered in the air, the guys and Sarah had BBQd earlier. It's slowly being replaced with the sweet smell of s'mores that Kira is roasting on the edge of the fire, Helena alternating between eating one and handing one to someone else every time one's ready.
“What’s out there?”
All eyes turn to Kira slowly, following where her outstretched hand is pointing.
A few hundred feet away, the drop of the cliff. The end of the earth, as the locals called it. The perfect place to gaze out at the stars or, if you were lucky, the aurora borealis.
They aren’t lucky tonight.
Sarah grabs her daughter’s hand and forges ahead, going all the way to the cliff and sitting at the edge, holding Kira tightly.
Felix and Siobhan drop themselves on either side, Felix wraps his arm around his niece, and Siobhan holds on tightly to her own daughter.
It doesn’t take long for the others to follow, one by one, until they are a long row of silhouettes at the edge of the cliff, staring into the dark unknown. Woven from the same cloth, most of them, but different in their outlooks and perspectives on life.
The sea, miles below them, laps angrily at the cliff, white crests of the tall waves occasionally bright enough for them to see all the way up there.
“What’s out there?” Kira asks again, her voice high and small and clear in the night air.
Donnie smiles at her the same way he smiles at Gemma and Oscar, “Probably some land. Another cliff, leading to another city. Somewhere where the people are just as nice, even if they dress or speak differently. Maybe they’re out there right now too, staring out at us.”
Kira waves her hand. “No, I know that. But the dark, I mean. What’s out there? ”
The group falls silent, watching Kira carefully.
She’s a very peculiar child.
Beth is the first to answer her. “A void. Nothing.” She’s at the very edge of their row, a few feet over from the next person - a very anxious Allison.
“Nothing’s out there, there’s nothing to be found in the dark. Sometimes you just... need to surrender to the void. Let it take you, let it swallow you whole.” Beth whispers, letting her answer get lost in the breeze.
Kira shiveres against Sarah, setting off a chain reaction along the row.
Allison hugs Beth, whispering loudly enough for everyone to hear. “We’ll always be here to pull you back.”
Beth nods, leaning her head against Allison’s in a gesture of thanks.
“My family.” Helena gruffs, ignoring the quiet sombreness that Beth’s answer has raised. “My family... they are out there. And they are here.”
Helena smiles around at the group, laughing gently when Donnie catches her arm before she can fall to the depths.
Everyone leans back a little, towards safety.
“I did not know, until Sestra, my family. They were always...” Helena waves a hand towards the horizon. It’s too dark to make it out clearly, and it’s far enough away that it would be blurry anyway.
Delphine wipes away a tear from Cosima’s cheek, gently kissing her temple.
“Well you have us now, meathead. We’re your family. We’re here. We’re real.”
Helena nudges Donnie, pushing him into Siobhan and her into Sarah, who laughs at the makeshift hug and nudges back.
The more responsible ones gently chastise (Delphine), mutter (Siobhan), or outright scream (Allison) about safety, and the rest of them snicker quietly.
“It’s meathead’s fault.”
“Risk. That’s what’s out there.” Allison says pointedly, glaring back and forth between Helena and Sarah.
Donnie slides his hand in Allison, and she feels herself calming down a little, leaning into his shoulder.
“How are you supposed to trust what you can’t see? I don’t know what’s out there, lurking in the shadows, ready to hurt me. To hurt us.”
Art nodes solemnly, “Danger. More than risk.”
Kira leans forwards (and is immediately grabbed back by Sarah and Felix) to ask him what the difference is.
"Risk involves uncertainty. Allison, who will correct me if I'm wrong, knows there may be good out there or there may be bad out there, and she's worried it might be bad."
Allison doesn’t correct him.
Art strokes an old, mostly healed, bullet wound in his arm, staring down at the waves. "I know there's bad out there. There’s danger."
“There’s freedom too.” Tony speaks quietly, but louder as his confidence in his answer grows. “No one knows who I am in the dark. I don’t have to worry about whether I’m passing or not, whether someone’s about to misgender me again, or if someone’s staring at me funny. I’m free to breathe, to dance, to do whatever I want.”
Krystal nods, adding “Authenticity.”
The group laughs quietly, except Kira who’s staring at Krystal silently. Sarah and Felix share a look above her head, Felix mouthing ‘influencer’.
“What do you mean?”
Krystal ignores the groups tittering laughs, it’s nothing she hasn’t dealt with her entire life, and looks directly at Kira. “You see, it’s like... if I’m me, then I’m me. And when I don’t have to, like, put the camera on and be Krystal then I can just be me. In the dark it’s like, no one can make me be anything else, right? Like it’s just me and just the dark, you know?”
Kira nods, and the group grows silent again.
Felix tilts his head considering her answer.
“Purpose.” He said, simply. He turns his head to the left to look at Sarah and Siobhan, and lets his gaze settle somewhere in the distance behind them as he expands. “When we were younger, everytime Sa-... everything something happened- ”
Siobhan laughs and nudges Sarah, mouths ‘you’.
Sarah sticks her tongue out and turns back to Felix.
“-I would have to step in. Either to save the day or at least stop the walls of the house from crumbling with all the yelling. The dark, Kira... it’s a little like that. Everytime there’s dark around us, there’s something to do. Something useful to do.”
He looks back at Kira and smiles, smirks almost, “Or, you’ve accidentally walked into Beth’s horrible minimalist furnished apartment.”
Beth’s laugh is almost hollow.
The others fill in with their own laughter.
Siobhan murmurs in agreement. Her eyes fill with tears as she hugs Sarah closer. “Responsibility. Making sure the ones you love are alright as you cloak them in that darkness to keep them safe. As you hide away, leaving no trace behind you.”
Sarah leaned into Siobhan, and the whole row tightened as they all hugged each other a little closer.
“It might be the scientist in me, Kira, but I always look at the dark and wonder what’s out there. It might look empty but it might not be, so I guess my answer is wonder.
“And opportunity,” Delphine adds, leaning on Cosima’s shoulder. “What can we do with the unknown? What kind of things can we turn it into? It excites me.”
Felix whistles as the two share a kiss, and Sarah jokingly covers Kira’s eyes.
Tony claps, spinning the pride pin in his jacket pocket.
“Isolation.” Rachel’s voice is cold and harsh against the silence that had fallen and she’s sitting a little away from the group, on the other end from Beth. They don’t quite fit in, but they’re always welcome, shown love and respect.
A pair of bookends on a tight knit group of people.
For a few moments everyone thinks that’s the entirety of Rachel’s answer. It’d be fitting, at least.
“I’ve never ... had a group of people like this.”
Helena hums, recognizing the feeling. Hers is a different kind of loneliness, but it’s awful all the same.
“It’s nice to be here, with you. The dark reminds me of being alone, isolated, lost.”
A few tears are sniffled. Delphine wipes one away from Rachel’s cheek, delicately, uncertainty.
They don’t speak again for a few minutes.
Sarah’s voice is quiet, gravelly, and everyone but Kira has to strain to hear it. She’s tired. So tired. But they’re here, and they’re alive, and she’s so grateful.
No one is surprised, but the tears fall again anyway.
“It’s just, it’s all I’ve ever known, yeah?” She lets her question fade away into the expanse above them as she tips her head down to look at the ocean. “Everything’s always just been. One shitstorm after another.”
Felix covers Kira’s ears.
“Everything’s always just been so completely, utterly, fucked up. And yet, we’ve survived it all. We are surviving it all. I’m not comfortable anywhere else. It’s just home.”
Felix releases Kira’s ears to wipe tears away, and hugs them both.
Slowly, they all pile into an awkward group hug, carefully pulling Sarah and Kira away from the edge. They’re all hugging too tightly and some of them (Tony, Sarah, Beth, Rachel), start to squirm. Donnie starts tickling what he thinks is Allison’s side but it’s Rachel that turns around to swat at him. Art holds Beth’s hand gently. Kira laughs, and laughs, and laughs.
They all fall silent, leaning back onto the soft grass to stare up at the stars.
Everyone stills, and turns their head trying to find where Kira’s voice is coming from in the mess of limbs.
“I see light.”
“Do you mean the stars, monkey?”
“No. Just light. Inside the darkness.”