“Don’t go,” she said.
“You know I have to.” His hand brushed against her cheek. “You know why.”
“To keep me safe.”
“You have your blade?”
She nodded, and he left. Of course he did. He’d already put his boots on.
His musk hung in the air, and she breathed it down deep, into her belly. Maybe that new life would get to know him through this. Maybe it—too soon to say he or she, and it was wrong to tempt fate—would love him from the start.
She sat on her bed and turned the lights down, almost to darkness. That way, she could pretend he was still in the room.
But he was outside, keeping watch. Keeping them safe. He would not let them take her again.
She’d been young, and her memories were confused. But he’d told her of the blood, and the screams, and of how she’d cowered from him—yes, even as he fought to pull her from their evil clutches. She’d lashed out, and the scar on his neck was still a reminder to that.
But he hadn’t forsaken her. He knew she was pure, one of the few. And so he kept her safe.
Her hand found the bulge under her dress, and she let up a silent prayer that this would be the one. She didn’t know if she could bare the pain of letting him down again. She didn’t want to feel the agony as her body rejected another poor deformed creature, tainted with the virus that had stopped the world. She couldn’t face turning her back on him again as he took the thing away, ending its suffering before it could spread the disease.
She looked to the door and wondered, not for the first time, what it was like out there. He said it stank, and that coming down here was the only thing that kept him going. He said there were monsters everywhere. Even the ones who looked like her might be monsters. He said she was safe down here. And he said she was the only chance the world had. She would be the one to bring forth the uninfected generation.
When he said these words, his body next to hers, she could feel him shaking.
There was a noise from the door, and this was strange, because normally he opened it without a sound. And normally, when the door opened, there was not this brilliantly painful stream of light.
She couldn’t see, but she could hear, and the voices were not his. One of them uttered something about a smell. She breathed deep, savouring it.
And then one of the voices asked if she was okay, and with her arm over her eyes as protection she shook her head. She wasn’t okay because she couldn’t see him.
“You’re safe now,” a voice said, which was a lie. Something grabbed her arm, and she screamed his name. But he didn’t come, and the hand on her arm gripped tighter. Someone mentioned a poor kid, and then the hand was pulling her to her feet.
Her fingers stretched over her belly. She couldn’t fight. She couldn’t risk losing this one.
There was an arm over her shoulder now, and a body close, but it stank of long ago, and she didn’t want to go, but she had no choice.
There were stone steps beyond the door, and they were cold, and she wondered if the virus could live on it, like it lived on his boots, but it could not escape if he placed them on the special mat. She wondered if there would be a mat upstairs for her feet.
The strangers led her to a room. It was larger than her own, and looked too comfortable, and the walls and floor had none of the beautiful stillness she was used to. There was a smell, and it was like the babies that hadn’t made it.
There was a blanket in the corner, with two boots protruding. They looked out of place, like they should be on a mat.
She counted three strangers, and they grinned at her, and she was scared. Because there was nothing to be happy about, unless they had the virus. Unless they were vermin. Who else would do … such a thing?
Her fingers rounded her belly, then dipped to her waist, to his gift.
He’d promised to keep her safe. She would make sure he kept that promise. She’d use his gift, as he intended.
She moved, and she wanted to be fast but everything felt slow, like the stench in the air held her back. Her arm tightened, and she gripped harder, pushing forwards. There was a scream, but it wasn’t hers. She felt splashes, like vermin spitting on her hand, and then something twisted inside, and she crumbled. There was a burning, like the other times, but it was worse, and as the pain overtook her she prayed again that this would be the one, that somehow it would be perfect.
Hands pulled her, and hands pushed. She yelled, and when something came near her mouth she bit hard, and heard cursing. But then she felt the tightening, and knew it was time.
His boots sat in a growing pool of crimson, and she called out his name.
Let it be the name that lived on.
The Customer Is Always Right
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