Veronica admits there was a moment when she thought this was going to be glamorous. Everything was only just beginning to go to hell: walls and checkpoints going up, a scattershot of environmental disasters, self-declared militias on patrol. It seemed like a good plan they had, to be on a boat for a while. It was the kind of idea people had early on, when it still seemed possible that it would end soon enough and well enough, when the present seemed like an opportunity to make history. The kind of story a plucky filmmaker would love twenty years from now: mild mannered booksellers become pirate librarians! A thing they could tell their grandkids.
The pirate business was mostly theoretical. Performance art as much as anything. They raised the money for the boat on gofundme and bought it cheap from a photographer with dual citizenship who had decided to wait things out in Europe. It was a boat and not a ship, even after they painted it and gave it a handmade flag. They were going to sail the great loop, hang out doing banned book readings from port to port, then go home and fundraise for part two, a more elaborate trip involving cutting through Panama and sailing up the west coast. At one of the early read-ins they wore pirate costumes, but only because the local community theatre had donated them at their launch party.
Guns are easier to get now than ibuprofen.
Now, she and Grace are always in leggings and worn out tees, the kind of shirts her husband would have mocked her for wearing even to bed, if she still had a husband, which she did when this started. It has never been as heroic an endeavor as she hoped. They wanted to promote reading and storytelling and art and truth and for three months that was considered safely theatrical because mostly it was, and in the fourth month a border patrol boat shot at them when they tried to pull in to the national harbor. So, no more storytimes.
Somewhere below, in the stormdrain that was already filled nearly to capacity with runoff (there could have been no one down there, the County Sheriff would later exclaim to a Derry News reporter with a frustrated fury so great it was almost agony; Hercules himself would have been swept away in that driving current), George’s newspaper boat shot onward through nighted chambers and long concrete hallways that roared and chimed with water. For awhile it ran neck-and-neck with a dead chicken that floated with its yellowy, reptilian toes pointed at the dripping ceiling; then, at some junction east of town, the chicken was swept off to the left while George’s boat went straight. An hour later, while George’s mother was being sedated in the Emergency Room at Derry Home Hospital and while Stuttering Bill sat stunned and white and silent in his bed, listening to his father sob hoarsely in the parlor where his mother had been playing Für Elise when George went out, the boat shot out through a concrete loophole like a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun and ran at speed down a sluiceway and into an unnamed stream. When it joined the boiling, swollen Penobscot River twenty minutes later, the first rifts of blue had begun to show in the sky overhead. The storm was over. Part 1: The Shadow Before 1. After the Flood (1957)
The sky was clear of clouds and full of stars as you sailed
across the night ocean to return back home.
You had spent some time in the capital nearby, having gone
to visit your father before he set off on another one of his lengthy excursions.
Like many others in this region, he was a travelling merchant who spent a good
number of his days out in the open sea. There weren’t many other options when
it came to finding a steady job, other than being a fisherman, but seeing as
how you lived in a small port city, it was to be expected.
After managing to successfully hitch a ride on this 30-crew
ship, you now found yourself nearing the end of your trip as the sailors on
board made the announcement that you would arrive at the docks by sunrise. So
far everything was smooth sailing, quite literally, as you sat alone inside the
musty crew quarters. You didn’t feel the need to go to sleep whereas the rest
of the crew didn’t feel the need to call for your assistance on deck, not that
you minded; you would much rather sit back and enjoy the free ride.
Out of nowhere, you suddenly felt the ship jolt to one side.
You were keen on brushing it off as the vessel hitting a particularly rocky
wave, since you had been on a fair share of excursions yourself, but then you
heard a rising commotion outside before the boat jerked in the same direction with
an unnaturally greater force.
Summary: In an alternate universe where Spider-Man doesn’t exist, Spider-Girl does. Instead of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, it was the reader. And now she becomes the web slinging hero, destined to save New York…
A/N: Just forewarning you, there is a massive time skip here in this one from the last one. I decided not to write about the Washington DC trip just to save time and energy. This one will take place at the time of the Staten Island Ferry incident. Just to let you know…
The bruises didn’t hurt anymore. The pain didn’t linger after the initial blow. He had hit me so many times I knew what to expect, I knew how to try and protect myself. No the bruises didn’t hurt anymore. The only thing still sore after I got away from Tomas was my pride. Everyone told me he wasn’t the one, he wasn’t even worth my time. But I had to prove them right by dating him. I had to make my own mistakes.
And I had to damage myself by letting him hurt me.
The bruise on my cheek caused people to stare. When I got on the boat, people’s eyes followed me as I walked past them. If only they could see the faded bruises, the scars he left in his wake as he dug his nails into my skin. I had to have stitches along my hip last year because of a rusty nail he stabbed me with.
The physical scars lined my body. But they would never be as painful as the scars he left on my soul. He tore me down. He made me believe I wasn’t even good enough for myself. I had been so broken and abused I had to leave in the middle of the night. I fled with nothing more than a bag full of clothing. I left everything else behind.
This boat was my shot at freedom. This was my new beginning.
I had no idea where I was going. But I was getting away from him. I leaned against the railing, inhaling the sharp scent of sea water. The wind ripped through my hair, pushing it into my eyes. My fingers held tightly to the railing, but the sun made it easier to breathe. On the other side of this water was freedom. On the other side of the pain there was life.
He was asleep when I packed my bags. Tomas was usually a light sleeper, but somehow someone was watching over me. Maybe it was my mom, or maybe it was just dumb luck. Either way he didn’t wake when I dropped my bag, hurrying to shove as many things into it as I could. He didn’t even flinch when I grabbed the money out of his wallet and the rest I had stashed under the floorboard in the kitchen.
I avoided the last step, it was always the one that creaked and flew out the front door. I couldn’t take the car, or anything material other than my clothing. I couldn’t leave a trail. I had been saving for months, every penny he gave me went into my freedom fund. I had to get out before it was too late. I had to get out before he killed me.
He had taken away everyone in my life. He isolated me from my sisters, the few friends I had he cut them off. I had no one but him. And in the beginning I thought that was okay. In the beginning I thought he was the only one I would ever need. The only one I could ever want.
Now I realized that was his game. Make me have no one but him in my life. Make my only ally the man who was slowly killing me and I would never be able to break free.
The wind touched my cheeks as the boat started to move. The weight on my chest got lighter when I realized he couldn’t follow me now. I was setting off on my own journey, I was finding my own way. He would never know where I went, or who I would become.
The only saving grace I had was that I never married him. He never asked, more content with me as his toy, his girlfriend to parade around. He knew he controlled me, he knew I wouldn’t leave him. So he didn’t ask me to marry him. I’m not sure if I had the strength to say no. After all I was the coward who left in the middle of the night. I’m the one who ran away because I couldn’t face him.
Then again leaving was probably the bravest thing I had ever done.
I let out a slow breath and with it I tried to let go of my fears. A shadow crossed in front of me. I turned and looked at the stranger who had suddenly appeared. He was massive, broad and muscled. His hair hung close to his shoulders, a tattoo peeked out of his sleeve. His hand was dangerously close to him as he stood there, looking out at the water.
“Thinking about jumping?” His deep voice made something in my bruised heart sputter.
I shook my head, “no. Just thinking.”
“Well this is a beautiful view to be thinking in front of.”
He smiled, it reached his eyes and turned the brown golden. In that moment brown became one of the most beautiful colors I had ever seen. I thought Tomas had changed me. I thought the boy who had turned into a monster took away my ability, my desire to feel anything except pain. But this handsome stranger made my heart beat faster as we stood there together.
“Cassian,” he said quietly as his eyes met mine. He offered me his hand, but let it drop when I didn’t take it. He still wore that crooked smile, “I saw you come on the boat and I’ve been trying to get the nerve to talk to you.”
“Yeah. Right. I’m not interesting. I’m sure you probably just want to ask about my face.”
He cleared his throat, “actually no. But I hope you’ll tell me you ran into something. Or that the other guy looks worse. Because I don’t know you, but it burns my blood to think that someone hurt you.”
He held the railing tighter as he looked back at the water.
“They’re the reason I left,” I whispered before I could stop myself. I wanted to be free, to find a new life. But I knew that wasn’t possible unless I found a way out of the darkness that followed me. Out of the darkness Tomas had created.
“Where are you going?” He asked quietly.
“Where he can’t find me.”
We stood in silence, the water rushing around the boat. We didn’t say anything for a little while, both caught up in our own heads. I would give anything to know what he was thinking, if he was thinking about me. Something about this man, Cassian, made me feel safe. It was like I had known him for my entire life. Like we were two halves of a whole. Maybe the world created one heart and then spilt it into two pieces. Giving one to the person you’re meant to find as you walk this earth.
Or maybe I was going crazy.
“Nesta,” I finally said turning to face him, “I’m Nesta.”
He took my hand, his fingers were warm as they wrapped around mine. He gave me that crooked smile, “I know we just met, Nesta. But if you need somewhere to stay, I know someone who can help.”
Cassian’s friend Amren was the perfect roommate. She was quiet and minded her own business. She helped me find a job and never complained if I couldn’t give her my part of the rent on time. She didn’t care, apparently she had a trust fund and was fine fronting the bill as long as I cleaned up after myself.
His friend Mor, who he called his cousin because he was close friends with her actual cousin, was the one who forced me to talk. She had been through something similar, by the hands of her former fiancé, under her father’s command. She cried with me when I told her about Tomas. She held me as I recalled the first time it happened, when he promised it would never ever happen again.
In a way Mor was the only who truly understood what happened to me. She dried my tears and she told me I couldn’t let him win. I could cry now but I had to pull myself together. If I let the darkness pull me under then Tomas would win. Even if he never found me, he would win by destroying the girl I had been before we met.
I never did thank Cassian for bringing me here. I wasn’t sure I would’ve survive without him in this new place.
The only people I kept in contact with on the other side of the water were my sisters. Elain and Feyre had been devastated when Tomas told them he couldn’t find me. But when I called and told them what had happened, they promised they would tell him where I had ended up. They promised I would be safe on this side of the world.
Cassian came by everyday. At first it was cute, but it was slowly becoming annoying. He was arrogant, he was cocky. He knew exactly how to push my buttons. He was loyal and he was sweet. He was the only person in this new life that could make me laugh. Maybe that’s why he kept coming around. Because he wanted me to feel again. Because he wanted me to laugh more.
Once on a really bad day he came by and I was in a mood. The pain was unbearable and he was in my path. So when he asked me to get him water, something he could’ve done himself, I grabbed a glass and filled it with ice. I slammed it down in front of him and glared.
“This isn’t water.”
I shrugged, “wait.”
That was the first time he saw the Nesta I had been before. The broken down and angry Nesta. The girl who was still trying to heal herself. I hated how hard she was, how I wasn’t able to push past her and be the girl I had been before. Softer and trusting. Someone who wasn’t so afraid of the people who wanted to be in her life.
That day didn’t scare Cassian away though. He smiled, raising his eyebrows at me and laughing as I sat down beside him. He didn’t go to fill the glass himself. He waited for the ice to melted and then looked at me when he took the first sip. And just like that I laughed, the dark cloud that had been following me that day snapped.
Once again Cassian had proved to me how good he was. How sweet and loyal he was.
Usually he stopped by on his way to work to make sure I got out of bed. In the beginning that had been the hardest part. Then he started showing up in the evenings, after work. Claiming he had to see Amren or he had nothing else to do.
Then he started to cook me dinner every other night and promised me it meant nothing more than him seeing me eat. He said I was too thin, I needed to trust him. He said he just wanted me to know he was my friend. Friends help each other. He wanted me to feel safe. At least that’s what he kept saying.
But then one day something changed. He looked at me and I realized I was safe here, but not because I was in a new place. I was safe with him; because of him.
That night I made dinner. I had been living with Amren for almost 2 months. Cassian still came over every night to see us. He told me about the gym, he told me about his friends. I listened and laughed at his stupid jokes. I even met the two men he called his brothers and they were just as kind as him. I knew Feyre would be taken with the violet eyed one. Elain would lean towards the quiet dark one.
So one night I cooked him his favorite, the easiest meal I could make. I knew it wasn’t perfect, there were a few burnt edges to the pasta. But I had done something I never tried before. Something Tomas would’ve laughed at. I set out two plates and I wore a new dress I found on sale. I even lit a few candles.
When he showed up, fresh out of the shower after working at the gym he ran with his two best friends, he seemed surprised. Amren had found somewhere else to be and well it was just the two of us. My hands were shaking when I heard his truck pull up. I was nervous, I hadn’t been nervous to see a man in a long time. Since before Tomas and I had fallen down that dark hole.
But I was nervous because this was Cassian. My friend. This was Cassian, the man who had somehow seen me through the barbed wired I had built around my heart.
“Nes?” He asked quietly as I met him at the door.
His brown eyes turned that golden shade again as they met mine. He was beautiful, his hair damp and clinging to his neck. His shirt tight against his arms, his smile lighting up his face. When we first met I knew he was handsome. I just didn’t realize he was beautiful. Inside and out this man was a rare breed. Or maybe I had just been looking in all the wrong places for someone like him.
I could’ve stood there all day and looked into his eyes. It was like seeing his soul. It was like seeing myself for the very first time. He didn’t see me as weak or broken. He never saw me as a girl who needed to be saved. He saw me as Nesta, the girl he met on a Sunday staring at the water.
The girl he now called his very best friend.
I smiled, a real smile, and took his hand in mine, “I made you dinner to thank you. For being so kind to me when I didn’t know anyone, when I could’ve faltered and ran back to that horrible excuse of a man. Thank you Cass. You are the light guiding me out of the darkness even when I didn’t want you to be.”
His hand moved to my cheek, cupping it as his thumb brushed lightly over my skin, “Nesta.”
I shook my head and leaned in, afraid more words would ruin this moment. So I stood up on my tip toes and pressed my lips to his, sealing the rest of my life. In that moment when his lips met mine, I felt everything right itself in my world. The bruises that lined my soul, the aches inside my heart, they all healed in that moment. I closed my eyes and I saw the stars, I saw our happiness, I heard my own laughter.
It was that kiss that broke the hold on me. The darkness was gone, the light had broken through. I pulled on his shirt, bringing him closer to me. I could feel his heart hammering inside his chest. It was beating as erratically as mine. His fingers dug into my waist as he kissed me like I was the air he needed to fill his lungs. Like he was drowning and I was the only thing that could bring him back.
“Nesta,” he leaned his forehead against mine and then pressed another soft kiss against my lips, “gods above I’ve wanted to kiss you for the last two months.”
I giggled. My eyes met his and I held his gaze. I could only hope he saw the truth reflected in my gaze, “you gave me time to heal. I didn’t realize what was happening until you showed up in my heart.”
He laced his fingers through mine, “he never deserved you.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him closer to me, “no. But he brought me to you. Even after the hell he put me through I will be forever grateful for that.”
“Did you do all this for me?” He asked softly as he held me in his arms.
I laughed, “for us. As our first date.”
Cassian shook his head, “no. This isn’t our first date. Why do you think I cooked you so many meals these last two months?”
I leaned into him, “okay. Our first official date as boyfriend and girlfriend.”
He smiled as he kissed me again. God I didn’t know what I did to deserve this man. But I would never ever let myself lose him. He held me as if he was making me that promise to. He would never hurt me. He would never falter. He would always be there and he would always be mine.
And in that moment nothing mattered more than that unspoken promise we made each other. To fall slowly, to help each other heal. To be each other’s best friend and greatest love.
My bruises that had lined my skin were finally healed, they were faded now. Cassian had been there for all the pain. He helped me heal, he watched them turn yellow and disappear. A few nights he had sat beside me and traced his fingers over one of the worst ones on my arm. And I realized as his eyes stared at that angry bruise, he never once told me I wasn’t beautiful. He never made me feel as if this had been all my fault.
Cassian was my savior. My warrior in disguise.
“So what do you say?” I asked quietly, our faces still pressed close together, “can I tell everyone you’re mine?”
He laughed, his big hand wrapping around my neck and holding me there, our breath mixing together, “you don’t have to. I told them already, the day I brought you home.”
Maybe Tomas had broke me. Maybe he had given me scars and told me I would never be worthy of a male except for him. But if that was true, then so was this. Cassian had resurrected me. He put those broken pieces back together and proved to me that even in the darkest moments there was light to be found.
I wasn’t broken anymore, because of my brown eyed boy. I wasn’t scared or hurting, because he took the chance and gave me a home.
I giggled, brushing my nose with his before kissing him again. I wrapped myself around him as he pulled me up into his arms and carried me towards my bedroom. Dinner was long forgotten as he laid me down against the mattress. When he whispered more sweet promises into my skin, I knew I had finally made it to the other side and found my own beautiful piece of life.