The empty streets of Appaloosa Plains were completely silent.
With a soft humming, Tybalt’s car made its way across the sandy paths and crooked roads. There was not a soul in sight; at this hour, everyone was asleep. It was too late for the club visitors to come outside, and too early for the first people to wake up and head out to work. The dark night was lit up by thousands of twinkling stars, shining next to a crescent moon. The trees gave off a rustling sound as a calm breeze floated through, giving the area a feel of complete serenity.
I silently watched the treetops from inside Tybalt’s car, on the passenger seat. My arms were wrapped around a single bundle on my lap, that was carefully tucked inside a blanket. I could see Tybalt casting glances on it every few seconds, before turning his attention back to the wheel.
‘There it is.’
He slowed down and pointed to a large, wooden house at the edge of town. The veranda was adorned with flowers and the windows, shutters never down, gave off a warm and inviting vibe. Behind the house, I knew, was a garden, with even more flowers and a small orange tree that was being well cared for.
‘Don’t wake them up,’ I warned Tybalt, who nodded as he turned down the engine as far as possible before finally stopping next to the house. His gaze dwelled towards the window on the far left of the first floor. There was, Tybalt knew, a bedroom over there. The man and woman in there were supposed to be vast asleep by now, just like the rest of the town. We’d carefully studied the couple’s daily lives and checked up on everything about them, including their whole background. Now, we knew them inside out.
It had been a necessary thing.
Because we were going to leave something very precious in their care.
‘Tybalt, can we talk?’
It was a few days after our big disappearing act. Things were going the right way, but the grand picture was still a mess. Hao was officially pardoned, but Derek, Tybalt, Yurick and me had all been officially labelled as traitors, and enemies of the State. That was the bad news. The good news was that the State now officially thought that the four of us were dead traitors, as well. Yurick’s plan had worked out perfectly.
And now, each of us faced a choice. Because we were considered a casualty, we could start a new life, if we wanted. Move to another city under a new name. Turn our lives into whatever we wanted. If the boys were careful (and very lucky), they could even re-enter the military of another country. The options were limitless. In a way, our death was the best fresh start that we could have gotten.
For me, there was only one choice, however. Deep down, I knew that I would never stop being a hunter. It had defined me for too long to just be cast away now. It was a part of me that stayed, permanently. But that was not the only reason. I now had two children to keep safe, to protect from the evil that came back through the Gate. They would never stop being a target. So the only thing that I could do to help them, was hunt down the vampires before they could get started on hunting down my children.
And I was okay with that. It was something I had chosen for myself. And this was different from hunting for revenge. This was in order to protect.
I really had changed into a different person.
‘What is it, Raven?’ Tybalt said, looking up from the table that he had been sitting at with the rest of the group. His green eyes stood curious, and a bit worried. I had just told them about my plans. I had also just told them to make their own choice. I couldn’t force them into helping me any more than they had already done. They had shown incredible loyalty, and I’d be forever grateful for that. But I wasn’t their captain anymore, and letting them go free was the only thing that I could do to repay them for their help.
But that brought me to a new problem. Slowly, my hand moved down towards my stomach as I remembered the words that Nikola had spoken, just before he left. At first, I hadn’t believed it, but… all of the signs were there.
‘Come outside with me, please,’ I said softly. He stood up from his chair and followed me out of the church. It would be our final rendezvous point.
I led Tybalt up the hill right next to the building, where we could see the stars. If people took better care of this place, it could become a beautiful spot for tourists.
‘What’s going on?’ Tybalt asked, confused. ‘Is this about your plans?’
‘No. Actually, yes. Sort of.’
I knew that with that answer, I was confusing him even more. But I didn’t know any other way to bring this up, so I just went with it.
‘Tybalt, do you remember that night in the bar, where you said that you couldn’t remember who you ended up sleeping with?’
‘Yeah,’ he said. He looked at me expectantly, obviously wondering why I was talking about that night all of a sudden. It wasn’t exactly a casual topic to talk about.
And then it clicked.
‘It was yóú?’ Tybalt whispered, his eyes suddenly twice as large as normal. I opened my mouth to respond, but then closed it again and simply nodded.
‘Holy Maker, Raven. You knew? No, I mean- I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I was drunk out of my mind, and I never would have done that if I’d been sober and-‘
‘Stop!’ I said, abruptly raising my hand to cut off the flood of apologies that was coming out of Tybalt’s mouth. ‘Don’t.’
‘No. It’s all right. I was just as much at fault as you were, Tybalt, so I won’t blame you for it. That wouldn’t be fair. But there’s something that you need to know.’
I inhaled deeply, bracing myself for the effect that the next five words were going to have.
‘Tybalt. I think I’m pregnant.’
It didn’t come through. Tybalt stared at me, still waiting for me to say something. I think that it took at least five seconds for those words to register in his brain. Then his expression turned to a deep confusion. Tybalt blinked his eyes multiple times, his mouth forming words that never came out.
‘You’re… having a… a baby?’
As he said the word “baby”, it suddenly seemed to hit him at full force. But his reaction was the complete opposite of what I’d thought it would be. The confusion slowly disappeared from his eyes and got replaced by a look full of wonder. To my surprise, he knelt down in front of me and placed his hands on my stomach. Softly, his fingers ran down the fabric of my shirt and caressed the skin underneath.
‘I’m going to be a daddy?’
As I heard his voice crack from emotion, my heart melted. This was a side of him that I had no idea even existed before. He seemed genuinely moved by the idea, curiously moving his hands across my belly.
‘I’ve always wanted to be a daddy,’ Tybalt whispered. ‘How far are you along? Wait, I know that already. Is it going to be a boy, or a girl? Have you thought of names? Where should we raise it? How-‘
‘Tybalt. We can’t keep it.’
That, too, took a very long time to register. Slowly, his warm hands removed themselves from my stomach and Tybalt looked back up at me, straight into my eyes.
‘What… why? What are you saying?’
‘We cannot keep the baby, Tybalt,’ I repeated, with a sad expression in my eyes.
‘But… why not? Is it… is it because of me? Do you think that I won’t be a good daddy?’
‘No,’ I muttered softly. I was hurting him. I could see it written all over his face. The truth was, ever since seeing him look down in wonder at my still flat belly, I knew that he would have been an amazing father. Far better than I would have been a mother, probably. It made explaining myself to him hurt all the more.
‘Then why?’ Tybalt whispered. I softly took his hand in mine, looking him straight in the eyes as I began to speak.
‘Think about it, Tybalt. Think about where I’m going. The kind of world that I’m living in- that we both live in. We can’t bring a child into that.’
‘We could,’ Tybalt protested. ‘We could change our names. Move to a different country and make sure they don’t ever find us. We could make it work, Raven.’
‘No, we couldn’t. I’ve thought about this for a long time before talking to you. Even if we can stay hidden from the humans for the rest of our lives… You know that those things won’t stop looking for us, not after what we did. They’ll hunt us down forever, if we don’t get them first. Because of Nikola and Selene, and because of me… And if we had a child, they’d hurt them in order to get to us. I can’t bring my child- our child, into something like that. I won’t.’
‘But…’ Tybalt whispered. The same sadness that sounded through in my voice had appeared on his face. I could see in his eyes that he understood… but wasn’t willing to admit it.
‘I don’t want to give this baby up any more than you do, Tybalt,’ I said, my voice finally cracking. ‘I love it, too…’
Before I knew what was happening, Tybalt and I had locked ourselves in an embrace. I felt his hand on my stomach again, while the other pulled me close against his chest. He smelled… familiar. Safe. It almost made me crack and take back everything that I’d just said. If only none of this would have happened… we would have been able to have a normal family. But if none of that had happened, Tybalt and I never would have done what we did and our child would not have been there. I guess everything happened for a reason.
‘Try to understand,’ I whispered. ‘Try to think of what could happen if those monsters got to him. Or if we were to get killed by one of them. We’d be leaving him all alone. No child should be all alone in the world, ever. I know what it was like. It’s the loneliest thing that you can imagine… and I can’t do that to him. I won’t.’
As I spoke, tears had started to drip down my cheeks. I tried to wipe them from my face with my sleeve, not wanting Tybalt to see how weak I was.
But then I saw the tears on his face. Tybalt was crying just as hard as I was. He cared that much. Something deep inside of me moved as I looked upon his crying face. My arms suddenly reached out by themselves and wrapped around Tybalt’s back, pulling him close to me. His shoulders were shaking uncontrollably.
‘I want,’ I whispered, my voice coarse from holding back a new tear wave, ‘for this child to grow up nothing like I have. I want it to have a normal childhood, in a safe home. I want it to be happy and grow up to be an amazing person. I want it to be able to come running home after a day’s school and have his parents wait behind the front door. I want them to be there for him, always. That’s the kind of life that he deserves. But you know that it can’t have that with you… or with me.’
Tybalt knew. He knew that I was right. This was the only true solution… even though it would hurt the both of us more than we could imagine. This was the only way.
‘We would have been amazing parents,’ Tybalt sniffed. ‘Don’t you think?’
‘Yes. I know we would have.’
Tybalt opened the car door for me. I took hold of his outstretched hand, supporting the bundle with my other arm as he pulled me outside. We walked over to the porch in silence, both looking at the spot where we would say goodbye to the one precious thing in our lives. Every step I took felt like torture, and I wanted nothing more than to turn around and run away, abandon all of our plans and flee to a place where no one could ever find us. Where we would be safe to raise him in peace, by ourselves.
Only, in the end… there was no such place.
‘This is it,’ Tybalt said, as soon as we’d reached the front door. ‘No going back.’
He looked at the little guy in my arms and seemed to think of the exact same thing as me.
‘Raven… can I hold him? One last time?’
I merely smiled, turning towards Tybalt and handing our child to him. He cradled the boy, holding him close to his chest as he whispered to his son.
‘Now you grow up healthy, you hear me? Be a good boy, and listen to your parents over here. You’ll be just fine. And don’t be lonely, okay? Just know that we did this for you. Everything we did… we did for you, my son,’ he said, fresh tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘I’m Tybalt. I’m your daddy. Did you know? You might forget us, but I’ll never forget that I’m your daddy. I’ll never… ever forget you, Chase.’
He closed his eyes, handing him over to me. I could see his hands clenched into fists. They were shaking uncontrollably. I took our son from him and held him close, burying my face in his blanket to memorize his scent. I would miss him so much.
Slowly, painfully slowly, I knelt down on the porch and placed the baby next to the door. A single, enveloped letter was put next to his sleeping figure. I let my hand linger on his blanket for as long as I could, before finally pulling away. Tybalt and I kept standing there for a long time, side by side. We stared down on our son, printing every inch of his perfect little face into our memories. Neither of us wanted to leave. Neither of us wanted to move.
‘We should go,’ Tybalt finally said. I nodded, not being able to say anything. He then took my hand and gently guided me away, off the wooden porch and back to the driveway. As he stepped into the car and drove it back out into the street, I looked back at my son one more time.
‘We love you, Chase,’ I whispered. ‘Goodbye…’