nc-17 | major character death | disturbing content | discussion of cannibalism
She managed to pry open her eyes. She and Sigma had fallen asleep with the babies on the couch in the lounge, and she hadn't anticipated waking up again. Sigma could barely stand, she couldn't manage to produce any more milk, and Sigma had instructed her to put a little bit of whiskey on her finger and let the twins suckle it off. Just so they sleep.
"Are we dead, S-Sigma?"
"I ... I have a suggestion."
With trembling fingers, he pressed something into her palm. She turned it over in her hand, and it took her a moment to realize it was the knife from the healing room.
"W-What? We - talked about this already."
And they had decided against it. It might have been different if they were only considering suicide for themselves, but neither of them could bear the thought of killing their children, even if they could figure out some way to do it humanely.
"I don't mean that. Maybe ... maybe you could kill me and ... it would be enough sustenance -"
"No!" With her remaining strength, she tossed the knife away. The motion jostled Delta in her lap, but he didn't wake.
"Diana, I don't know how much nutrition you could get from my ... my -"
"No, no, no!" she cried out as she started to sob. "You're asking me to kill you and ... and eat you? That's horrible!"
She could hear the unanswered question: not even for them? She tried to keep her body from shaking, so she wouldn't disturb her son, while tears streamed down her face. She couldn't even believe he was suggesting it.
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I ... knew you ..." He sought out her hand and slipped his fingers in between hers. "I just ... I want you to survive. I would ... I would do anything -"
His voice broke. He rested his head against her shoulder. She could feel that he was crying, too.
"There's no way ... that we'd make it another ten months, and even if we did ..."
"I wrote down the exact spot I sent the twins. If you could stay alive until then, you could transport there. You could ... you could be with them ..."
His hand went limp against hers.
She managed to encircle his wrist with her fingers. His pulse was weak, but it was still there.
"If you get there first, Sigma ... wait for me."
Someone was trying to take Delta from her.
She wasn't strong enough to resist them. She tried to cry out but there was something on her face. Delta was ripped out of her grip and that was when she noticed Sigma's hand was no longer in hers. Her eyes wouldn't open.
Sigma had told her that if there was an afterlife, he thought he wouldn't be going to the same place she was.
This couldn't be heaven, not if they were taking her family away. If it was hell, it made sense they wouldn't let her keep the people who meant the most to her.
Maybe she was as damned as he thought he was.
"Diana? Please don't fight us. We're here to help."
She hadn't heard that voice in almost a year.
"K ... k ... 'kane?"
Somebody opened one of her eyes for her, but she couldn't see anything; there was a bright light shining into it. Somebody was stabbing her in the arm. Someone was holding down her legs.
"Diana, Sigma's going to be okay, and so are the children. She won't calm down unless you show her!"
The light moved, and then someone was turning her head. Everything was blurry for entirely too long, but then she saw Sigma, strapped on a gurney.
He wasn't moving.
"He's still alive! We're going to get him to the hospital. And here, here are the children!"
Two men in blue uniforms came over to her, something bundled up in white towels in their arms. She couldn't see their faces. She needed to see their faces. She had to get up. She had to make sure they were okay.
"Shit! Gah, she hit me in the face. Lady, we have to sedate her."
Someone was stabbing her in the arm again. Everything went black.
She was thirsty.
Maybe she was in heaven, because as soon as she thought it, someone was pressing an ice cube to her lips. Maybe the same person who was holding her hand. It felt like Sigma's, but it had a strength that had started to slip away from him two weeks before, when he stopped taking partial rations and skipped eating altogether.
If it was heaven, though, he'd be strong and healthy, able to carry her in his arms again.
She wondered if she'd be able to see her children grow up, or if they'd stay babies forever. Maybe they'd stay tiny and helpless for all of eternity. She and Sigma could sing lullabies and rock them to sleep - if one actually sleeps in heaven - and tell them stories of what life was like on earth.
Or maybe they'd age like they would normally, and she'd be able to watch her son grow into a man, her daughter blossom into a young woman. Maybe there would be proms and weddings and birthday parties.
Her mouth hurt when she smiled. It seemed odd that there would be chapped lips in heaven, but she was a nurse after all, not a theologian. Maybe you didn't get lip balm as soon as you arrived. Maybe there was a commissary. Maybe she should have paid more attention in Sunday school. She laughed, weakly. Maybe dying had made her crazy.
"Told you ... told you that you wouldn't go to hell."
"We're not dead, sweetheart."
Maybe heaven changed a person, because he never called her that before. But she liked it.
"I knew we'd stay together, Sigma." It took some effort, but she got her eyes open. His face was still sunken, but he was smiling. Heaven looked like a hospital room. It smelled like a hospital room. It had scratchy sheets and uncomfortable pillows. It ... had IVs?
She tried to sit up, but she listed sideways instead. He released her hand to grasp her shoulders and keep her upright.
"Take it easy, Diana."
"Phi, Delta, where are they?"
"NICU, but they're fine." He cupped her face in his hands. "The doctor says they're remarkably healthy. They'll probably be ready for release before we are. Lay back down. You need to rest."
She let him ease her back onto the bed. "You wouldn't lie to me?""
"They're alive. I'll have a nurse bring them here, if you want?"
He picked up the call button beside her bed and pressed it repeatedly.
"Oh, we really hate it when you do that. Once is enough."
He laughed - she can't remember the last time he laughed - and got up out of his chair. "I need to hold you, Diana. Is that okay?"
She reached for him, but he stopped her before she pulled out her IV. It didn't look like the bed had room for both of them, but he managed to squeeze in, laying on his side. She could tell he was trying to hold back tears as he kissed her temple.
"Sir, I told you, you can't be doing that."
"Please," Diana said, lifting her head to look at the nurse. "Please, just for a little bit. We ... we ..."
She got too choked up to continue, but it didn't matter. Another nurse, an older woman with wisps of gray in her hair, had come in and put her hand on her coworker's shoulder, whispering something in her ear.
"Our babies." She reached out a hand towards them. "I need to see them."
"Alright, ma'am." Whatever the older woman had said to her, the young woman looked terribly sad. "Right away."
Diana clung to Sigma, almost unwilling to believe he was here, that they were safe. He didn't smell like the cheap soap that had been in the cabinet in the locker room in the shelter. He was wearing a hospital gown unlike anything they'd found while they were trapped down there. He couldn't stop kissing her, and he had given up trying not to cry.
"How - how did we get out? I ... did I hear Akane?"
He reached over her to grab some tissues off the side table so he could wipe his nose.
"She came back for us. She says she doesn't remember anything about being in the underground shelter."
"Bullshit," Diana said, bitterly.
"Maybe. She claims she got a letter in the mail a few days ago with coordinates for the shelter and a note that just said, 'Everything is complete. Come to find the answers to your questions.'"
"Do you believe her?"
"I ... I want to."
"That's not a yes."
The conversation ended when the nurses returned, each wheeling a baby in a small hospital crib, and Diana sobbed with relief.
"Are you sure they're okay?" she asked. She desperately wanted to hold them, but she didn't trust her strength. They both looked peaceful. Happy. Delta waved at her, a tiny blue hospital bracelet on his wrist, while Phi appeared to be sleeping.
"They're in perfect health," the older nurse assured her. "It's a miracle, really, with everything we were told you went through. We'll, uh, give you your privacy."
"A miracle?" A chill ran down her spine and she clutched Sigma more tightly. "Is this real? It doesn't seem like this can be real. What if ... what if we're dead, or just dreaming?"
"We might be. But ... Akane didn't find Phi. The other Phi. If this was heaven, or we were dreaming, I would think Phi would be with us."
"Maybe she escaped."
It was a mantra they had been telling themselves for months, but she believed it a little less each time.
"I think something happened to her in that incinerator, Diana," he said, giving voice to what she had long suspected.
She buried her face in Sigma's chest and let herself mourn. She cried until her eyes refused to produce any more tears. They held their children and watched them nap in the cribs and she fell asleep and woke up and Sigma was still in her bed, his every exhale causing her hair to flutter.
She pinched her arm, and it hurt.
Which wouldn't happen if it was just a dream.