Ever since he’d arrived on Earth, Charlie had been learning to be invisible. It doesn’t always work, but it does now that the school is almost empty and he’s thankful for it. There are a lot of things humans can explain away to themselves, but a student carrying is heavily pregnant teacher who hadn’t been pregnant an hour ago has got to be too much ever for them.
“Do you need help?” Matteusz asks, but Charlie shakes his head.
“She’s lighter than she looks.”
He suspects that he wouldn’t feel that way if it hadn’t been for his Rhodian genes, but she feels feather light right now. He’d pointed a gun at her only minutes prior, but now feels at a loss. Angry, revenge-fuelled Quill he can deal with; an unconscious, pregnant one is much worse.
Pregnant. How is it even possible?
He can ask his questions later so for now, Charlie focuses on taking her back to the house. On more than one occasion, he’d been strongly advised to stay away from Quill’s bedroom, but he kicks the door open anyway and settles her down on the bed. Then he starts doing research.
Human females don’t nest before they give birth, apparently; mostly birds to that on Earth and their nests don’t look anything like a Quill’s. Not that he knows much about that either, but he’s heard enough stories to know that he can’t turn Quill’s bedroom into a nest no matter how hard he tries. They’re vast spaces, or so he’d been told, and each of the babies has its own space.
Babies. Plural. How many could there be? Charlie doesn’t know, and the Internet isn’t very helpful. Even when he manages to get his primitive human phone to get into several intergalactic search engines, they don’t help much; everything there is to be said about the Quill is tied to their destruction and he soon gives up, unable to keep reading news reports on something he’d lived through only months earlier.
The next thing is food. Hibernating animals on Earth usually eat before falling asleep, but a Quill is supposed to be fed by her partner. It’s another thing Charlie can’t find a substitute for – he can’t even found the suitable food, let alone another Quill to take care of her – so he makes up with what he does have. He tries to liquefy some of the food they have in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work out too well. The only even remotely liquid thing they have is honey which is disgusting and Charlie can’t imagine how he’d manage to pour it down Quill’s throat without her choking. He settles for water and a few instant soups he buys on his way to school.
He doesn’t say anything to anyone. Anyone means April; she’s the only one he actually talks to, even though he makes sure to inform the secretary that Quill is unable to come to work – there’s no reason for them to draw even more attention to themselves with unexplained absences. She tells him that she’d sort it out, but with April, it isn’t that easy. She suspects that there’s something wrong, he thinks, but she doesn’t push and he’s grateful. For a few days, this is what his life is – meeting with April, doing his best to ignore the tension in class, trying not to think about where Matteusz is and what he’s doing, trying to keep Quill alive. As far as routines go, he’s had much more painful ones in the past, so he gets used to it. He hides the gun in the Cabinet where she can’t reach it on the off chance that she wakes up in the middle of the night and tries to look for it, and he convinces himself that he’s fine. He can handle this. He’s handled worse things. Once she wakes up, he’d handle that too. He couldn’t control her anymore, but he could control her weapon, and he had the Cabinet. He’d manage to take the situation in his hands no matter the circumstances.
He goes to bed at night in the absolute silence of the house and feels more alone than he has in months.
Once he’d decided that he can handle things the way they are, the peace is not bound to last. Life likes to keep him on the edge of his seat at all times, and it does the same now as Matteusz comes to visit him, Quill wakes up and, with no relation whatsoever, the whole world goes to hell.
It’s finally done.
Quill never gets to learn which theory about her people is the correct one. His royal know-it-all had insisted that there are three billion souls in the Cabinet and if he’s right, then that includes the Quill as well. She’s always preferred the much more supported theory that the souls of her race die with their bodies, but if he’s right...
If he’s right, she’d watched the souls of her people murder every last Shadowkin in existence, and she loves it. She’s never loved anything more. And the Rhodians, too, useful for what has to be the first time in their history; she watches them go out in a blaze of glory as Charlie keeps gripping the Cabinet, unable – unwilling – to stop.
It’s beautiful. She’s ready to admit that most species out there have much more developed concept of beauty than the Quill ever had, but she understands now how almost every other race manages to marvel in front of art, because this surely has to be the peak of it.
She’s not sure how much time passes until it’s over, but finally, it is. Everything quiets down and the Cabinet is empty. There are no Rhodians, no Quill, no souls being brought back to life; just Charles and the last lonely soul that seems to have picked him. He’s welcoming it; she can see that even without looking at his face. All he wants is to cleanse himself from the Shadowkin power transferred to him after April’s death and his own death comes as a gift.
Her body reaches out before her mind can do anything about it and she pulls him down, away from the Cabinet, away from the last hope for the only thing he wants more than anything in the world.
On a second occasion in so little time, she saves his life voluntarily. There’s no arn to force her, no orders to be given, just the knowledge that he has to keep living because he has to live with the loss just as she does. She’s not quite sure whether it’s because she wants him to suffer or because she can’t be the only one, but for once, she doesn’t want to be the only one left.
Her eyes keep straying to the Cabinet and the vast emptiness inside, and Quill remembers the time when she’d told Charlie to be a hero. To be glorious. She hadn’t believed a word of it then, but she’d almost wanted to believe it now. The idea of the might hero from Rhodia’s legends doesn’t fit the Charlie she knows, but for a moment, she had clung to the faint possibility of what can happen if it turns out to be true.
But it doesn’t, and she’s not too disappointed – the Shadowkin are dead, and that’s all that matters. Charles might try and convince himself that he’d thought he’d manage it, but it would be a feeble excuse – he’d just wanted them dead, and he’d wanted to get something else out of it, too. Greedy, like all the others like him, but not stupid. He’d known what the consequences would be, and he’d hoped for the easy way out of it, and she knows that she can’t have that. She pulls him out of the way and she sees the rage and the powerlessness in his eyes at the realisation that he’s still alive when he shouldn’t – doesn’t want to – be.
Why didn’t it kill me?
She knows she’s the reason, but she doesn’t know why. She’s not sure she wants to know, really, but there’s only one answer to his question.
You have to live. You have to live with the sacrifice.
They both have to. Quill dreads to think what that might mean.