Break a Little
It was cold, but Grey couldn’t feel it as the rain soaked through her clothes, hair matted to her head. Night had fallen already, the only lights provided by fluorescent signs and deep orange street lamps that had seen better times. She wasn’t sure where she was going, heels clicking loudly on the paved roads as she wrapped her arms around herself. She just needed to get out. She couldn’t stand another moment with her catatonic mother, the shadows of the house getting more stifling every minute; couldn’t stand the bitter tang of guilt every time she looked at her and wished it had been her father who lived instead.
And more than anything, she wanted to forget the apparition that had been showing up for her nearly every day since it had happened. Brief flashes only, but it was enough. She saw Alex everywhere: in the doorway of her bedroom, across the street in an alley, in the shadows of a car…
Grey scrubbed furiously at her face, knowing she was crying but unable to differentiate between her tears and the rain.
Normally, when feeling this way she would go to Teddy or Julian. But they had enough going on and they never cared for Alex as much as she had—obviously. They didn’t understand, and she didn’t want them to because that would mean one of them would have to watch the other die a horrible death and though they had all come close on that day, it hadn’t happened. So she walked, aimlessly, through Savannah’s rain-drenched streets, breaking a little with every step.
She tried to put on a brave face. She was the Lycan, the leader, the alpha. She couldn’t be seen as weak or else everyone would lose faith. Not that there were many people who still had faith, but for the few who did, those who were counting on her, she had to be strong. Only now, when the sun was gone and the rain was heavy, making the streets as empty as they could possibly be in a town like this, could she finally drop the mask. Just a little, but it had to be enough. It was all she had.
Suddenly a car pulled up behind her—a jeep, she corrected herself idly—driving as slowly as possible. She ignored it, thinking they would go away unless it was some enemy of some kind. If they were thinking they could kidnap her or something, they would be sorely disappointed. She was not in the mood to deal with thugs and she knew her claws would be out before they could blink. A part of her almost hoped they’d try.
But nothing happened. The car just drove along just behind her, slowly tracking her every movement.
She growled low in her throat and then turned to challenge them…only for the words to die in her throat, because it wasn’t just some stranger in the jeep. It was Kol.
Seeing Kol was surprising for several reasons. For one, the last she’d seen of him, he’d been a wild wolverine, Alex telling her that Kol was essentially gone and they had to leave him to it because he wouldn’t stop until he’d killed all his enemies and potentially anyone in the immediate area. For another, Kol belonged to Alex’s life before she did; he was the only person that might be able to understand her pain, even if his relationship with Alex had not been of the romantic sort, and she didn’t know if she was ready to face his grief; she sure knew she couldn’t handle her own just yet. Seeing Kol was almost like seeing Alex’s apparition again—except he was live and in color.
Kol stopped the jeep, watching her through the rain-splattered windshield with fathomless dark eyes. He didn’t move to get out, didn’t even turn the jeep all the way off. Just waited.
Grey glanced in the direction she had been heading originally, then back at the jeep, and then with a sigh, she moved around to the passenger side and climbed in. Kol still didn’t say anything, but he shifted the jeep into gear and just started driving. The only sound for several minutes was the rain pounding on the vehicle and the engine running beneath them. Grey stared out the window as they drove, not sure where they were going any more than she’d been sure where she had been heading when she was walking.
Somehow, though, the silence wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. It just felt…right. They drove for maybe an hour, and she realized they were headed in a vaguely northwest direction because mountains were coming into view. Only then did she think to ask. “Where are we going?”
Kol shifted, glancing at her briefly before focusing once more on the road. “There’s a mountain a couple hours outside of town, near the Carolina border. I like to go there and just…think.”
“Thinking is a dangerous thing,” Grey said, settling more comfortably into the seat and wrapping her arms around herself.
“You cold?” he asked.
“A little,” she said, because now that she was in the vehicle and out of the rain, she could feel the chill seeping into her bones. Kol reached behind his seat and pulled out a massive jacket, which he wordlessly handed to her.
Grey took it and wrapped it around her, relishing in the warmth of the oversized garment. “Thanks,” she muttered, and silence once more filled the jeep.
As promised, they arrived near the Carolina border and followed a winding, abandoned road up a small mountain, lights fading away into the distance until they were at an overlook. As Kol put the jeep in park, neither of them made to exit the vehicle, just listening to the rain coming down.
“It’s okay, you know,” Kol said after a moment.
“What’s okay?” Grey asked carefully.
“To break a little,” he said, and the words pierced something inside of Grey.
“I’m not broken,” she said.
“You should be,” Kol returned. “I am. Teddy is. Julian sure as hell is. We’re all broken. Maybe we weren’t all broken by the same thing, but it doesn’t matter what did the breaking; all of us are jagged little pieces, just trying to fit together, and you’re trying to play it off, trying to be the tough one, but you’re going to break even more if you don’t let it out.”
“You don’t know what I’m capable of,” Grey said.
“That’s just it. I do know. You’re tough as hell—tougher than all of us—but that’s only because you have to be. But here? You don’t have to be. You can just be Grey. Not Grey the Lycan. Not Grey the Best Friend. Not Grey the Girlfriend. Just Grey,” Kol responded.
Grey didn’t want to hear it; she had tried to be just Grey once and it had backfired spectacularly. She lost her father; she lost Alex. Now she was trying her best not to lose the rest of the people who meant something to her. If that meant being the one who carried most of the burden, then that was what she would do.
She furiously flung the door open and climbed out of the jeep, moving to the overlook’s old wooden fence. The rain still fell, but she had Kol’s hood up and over her head, the water slipping harmlessly off the fabric of the raincoat.
Grey heard Kol’s own door close and then he was beside her, looking out at the fairy lights which floated uncertainly in the void, probably belonging to little houses whose shapes were lost in the blur of the rain.
He stood there quietly, just letting the rain hit him. Grey felt a slight twinge of guilt about having his coat, but she reminded herself that she was mad at him and dismissed that feeling.
“Weren’t you stuck as a wolverine or something?” she asked after a while. “How are you…you?”
Kol spared her a fleeting smile and she noticed the rain as it caught in his eyelashes—they were longer than she’d realized—and on down his cheeks. “Sometimes the blood-rage is permanent,” he admitted. “But mine wasn’t. I just had to do what I had to do, to keep you all safe and do my part, and then I had to calm down. It took at least a week and I was pretty busted up after, but I got better.”
“You look skinnier,” she said.
“Ah…yeah, it happens. When you’re going berserk, it’s basically the best exercise ever. Plus, you don’t eat much when you’re in it. Basic needs are less important than the fight at hand.”
“I should bake you something,” she said.
“Don’t even think about it. I look sexier than I have in years and you will not take this away from me,” Kol declared and Grey started laughing despite herself.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Why?” Kol asked.
“I dunno; I just kind of…” Grey motioned vaguely with her hands, not sure what words to use to convey her meaning.
Kol nodded as if he understood. “Does he visit you, too?” he asked, voice so quiet Grey wouldn’t have been able to hear him if she’d been anyone but herself.
The words were immediately sobering. “Every day,” she said. “Awake or asleep, he’s always there. I don’t know what he’s trying to tell me.”
“Maybe that’s it,” Kol said. “Maybe he’s trying to tell you that he’s there for you.”
“I wish he would just go,” Grey said, and she regretted it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. It sounded like she wanted him gone, but that wasn’t it. He was gone. When someone was gone, she didn’t want them hanging around. It made her feel as if she were holding them back, and with them there…it was harder to grieve and let go.
“I know what you mean,” Kol said. “But I guess it’s a little different for me. You were there when…when it happened. I wasn’t. I was too busy losing my mind, my sense of self. I never got to say goodbye. He is…was…my best friend, and when he needed me, I wasn’t there.”
“Have you tried talking to him?” she asked carefully, glancing at Kol. She hadn’t been able to speak to Alex’s apparition. Every time she even thought of it, she felt her throat close and her heart plummet. She would quickly avert her eyes, clench them closed, pray for him to be gone when she opened them. She usually had her prayer answered; maybe he knew she was scared, though she couldn’t quite say what she was scared of: him, or herself.
“No,” Kol admitted with a sigh. “I don’t know if he can even hear me. And anyway, how do you say goodbye?”
Grey shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I was there, but…I never got to say it either. Not in so many words. It was…horrible. I’m glad you didn’t see it.”
“Maybe we should both say it. Maybe if we just tell him…tell him it’s okay, he’ll move on.”
Grey thought it over. She had to admit it made sense, but even now the thought of seeing him again, of saying it…it was almost too much to bear. “I’m scared,” she admitted.
“Me too. But…”
“It’s okay to break a little, right?” She smiled lightly at him.
“Right.” Kol held his hand out and Grey took it. When they turned around, Alex was there.
He stood, softly glowing with his hands casually in his pockets. Dark curls seemed to defy the rain, floating around his pearly luminescent face. He looked even more perfect in death, the marks from adolescent acne erased so that his skin was smooth and flawless, eyes more purple than anything with the internal light behind them. A smile played about his lips when he saw them holding hands and his mouth moved in the formation of words neither of them could hear.
But they didn’t have to. The meaning seemed to echo in their hearts.
“About damn time,” he seemed to say.
This time, when he reached out to her, Grey clenched Kol’s hand tightly in her own and let Alex’s ghostly hand hover just beside her cheek. She closed her eyes, but not to wish him away—to savor in the barely-there sensation of his parting touch. When she opened her eyes this time, he was still there and a tear was traversing down her cheek.
He looked then at Kol and made a gesture with his hand which Kol mimicked with his own, the one not currently occupied by Grey. It seemed to pull a smile on his features and Grey recognized that this must have been their friendship handshake—she, Teddy and Jules had one, too.
Alex stepped back. “Take care of each other,” he said, and the words seemed to be spoken directly into their heads this time.
Grey nodded. “We will,” she said, feeling the break in her voice.
And when Alex smiled and gave them a wave, disappearing slowly from view, Grey felt something inside her break as well—more than a little—and Kol was holding her as she wept.
He was right, she decided. It was okay to break a little. She just hoped she’d be able to put herself back together again.