Never Say Good-bye
Schuyler did not sleep the entire evening. Instead she lay awake, looking up at the crossed wooden beams on the ceiling, or out the window to the view of the Duomo, which shone a rosy gold in the dawn. Her dress was a crumpled pile of silk on the floor, next to Jack’s black tuxedo jacket. Last night, after the guests had left, after cheeks were pressed affectionately against hers in loving good-byes, and hands had blessed and patted her ring in a gesture of good luck, the new couple had floated over the cobblestone streets back to their room, buoyed by the happiness they’d found in their friends and in each other, in turns exhilarated and exhausted by the events surrounding their bonding.
In the dim light of the morning, she curled her arm through his, and he turned toward her so that they pressed against each other, his chin resting on her forehead, their legs entwined together under the linen duvet. She placed her hand on his chest to feel the steady ordered beating of his heart, and wondered when they would be able to lie like this again.
“I need to go,” Jack said, his voice still rough with sleep. He pulled her closer, and his breath tickled her ear. “I don’t want to, but I need to.” There was an unspoken apology in his words.
“I know,” Schuyler said. She had promised to be strong for him, and she would keep that promise, she would not fail him. If only tomorrow would never come; if only she could hold on to the night just a little longer. “But not yet. See, it’s still dark outside. It was the nightingale you heard, and not the lark,” she whispered, feeling just like Juliet had that morning when she’d entreated Romeo to stay with her, drowsy and loving, yet fearful for the future and what would happen next. Schuyler was trying to hold on to something precious and fragile, as if the night would be able to protect their love from the oncoming doom and heartbreak the day would bring.
She could feel Jack smile against her cheek when he recognized the line from Shakespeare. As she traced his lips with her fingers, feeling their softness, he moved his body over hers, and she moved with him until they were joined together. He placed her arms above her head, his hands gripping her wrists tightly, and when he kissed her neck, she shuddered to feel his fangs on her skin. She pulled him ever closer, clutching his fine baby-soft hair as he drank deeply from her blood.
After, his blond head rested on her shoulder, and she folded her arms around his back and held him tightly. By now, daylight was streaming into the room. There was no denying it anymore: the night was over, and it would soon be time for them to part. He gently withdrew from her embrace and kissed the wounds that were still fresh on her neck until they healed.
She watched him dress, handing him his boots and sweater. “It’llbe cold. You’ll need a new jacket,” she said, brushing off dirt from his black raincoat.
“I’ll get one when I’m back in the city,” he agreed. “Hey,” he said, when he saw her mournful face. “It’ll be all right. I’ve lived a long time and I intend to keep doing so.” He managed a quick smile.
She nodded; the lump in her throat made it hard to breathe, hard to speak; but she did not want him to remember her this way. She adopted a cheerful tone and handed him his rucksack. “I put your passport in the front pocket.” Already she loved the role of bondmate, of helpmeet, of wife. He nodded his thanks and shouldered the bag, fiddling with the zipper as he tucked in the last of his books, not quite meeting her eyes. She wanted to remember him exactly as he stood, looking golden and beautiful in the morning light, his platinum hair a bit tousled, and his bright green eyes flashing in determination.
“Jack...” Schuyler’s resolve faltered, but she did not want to make their last moment more funereal than it had to be. “I’ll see you soon,” she said lightly.
He squeezed her hand one last time.
Then Jack was gone and she was alone.
Schuyler put away her bonding dress, gently folding it into her suitcase. She was ready to forge ahead, but as she gathered her things, she realized a truth that Jack had refused to acknowledge. It was not that he was afraid of meeting his fate; it was that he would simply bow to it.
Jack will not fight Mimi. Jack will let her kill him rather than fight her.
In the clear light of day, Schuyler grasped the reality of what hewas about to do. Meeting his twin meant meeting his doom.
It was not going to be all right. It was never going to be all right.
He had tried to hide it with his brave words, but Schuyler knew deep down he was marching to his end. That last night was the final night they would ever have together. Jack was going home to die.
For a moment, Schuyler wanted to scream, rend her clothing, and tear her hair in grief. But after a few shuddering sobs, she controlled herself. She wiped her tears and held herself together. She would not let it happen. She could not accept it. She would not accept it. Schuyler felt a surge of excitement fill her veins. She couldn’t let him do this to himself. Oliver had promised he would do his best to distract Mimi, and she was thankful for his efforts in securing her happiness. But this was something she had to do for herself and for her love. She had to save Jack. She had to save him from himself. His flight was leaving in a few minutes, and without thinking, she ran all the way to the airport. She would stop him somehow. He was still alive, and she planned to keep it that way.
Jack was standing on the tarmac, waiting to climb the stairs to the private jet that would take him first to Rome, then on to New York. Two black-clad Venators were waiting for him at the plane and looked at Schuyler curiously, but Jack did not look surprised to see her suddenly appear at his side.
“Schuyler...” He smiled. He did not ask what she was doing there. He already knew, but this time his smile was sad.
“Don’t go,” she said. I cannot let you face your fate alone. We are bonded now. We will face it together. Your destiny is mine as well. We shall live or die together. There is no other way, she sent, letting him hear the words in his head.
Jack began to shake his head, and Schuyler said fiercely, “Listen. We will find a way out of the blood trial. Come to Alexandria with me. If we are unsuccessful and you have to return to New York, then I will share your fate. If you are destroyed, then so am I, and my mother’s legacy is meaningless. I will not leave you. Do not fear the future; we will face it together.”
She could see him weighing her words, and she held her breath.
Her fate --- and perhaps the fate of all vampires --- was in his hands. She had made her case, she had fought for him, and it was his turn now to fight for her.
Jack Force had a dark destiny before him, but Schuyler Van Alen hoped --- she prayed --- she believed--- that together they could change it.