Old GroundA Chapter by MoonAngel
Varjak Swinton regained consciousness in a dark place that seemed to envelop him.
Being an undead, he did not groggily awaken, but instead sat up and looked around.
Judging by the stalagmites he intelligently guessed he was in a cave.
“What an observation,” he muttered sardonically to himself, standing up and passing a hand over a jagged rock.
After a few moments Varjak had summarized that he was alone in his cave.
But that knowledge worried him.
If he was here, where were the other three?
More to the point, where was Kate?
Vague moans deep into the cave gave even the usually impenetrable Varjak a shudder.
The words floated into his mind reluctantly as he placed the sound.
The Living Dead.
Well, thank God it was daylight. They'd stay back until the sun went back down.
But something bothered Varjak. He'd sworn it was afternoon when they were taken from their hotel, beaten up and Varjak was made unconscious.
Which meant he had spent a night undoubtedly in the company of the Living Dead.
Again, the unshakable Varjak shook.
He looked down at himself.
Looked like they'd cut him up a bit, broken a finger or two, but to Varjak that was barely a paper cut.
The fact he was injected with something to make himself unconscious must have allowed the Living Dead to go lightly on him.
After all, it was basically like a man and a bear situation - play dead, and, ironically, you live.
But that unnerved Varjak even more.
Sure, the undead, intelligent, previously unconscious Varjak was fine.
But the others were utterly clueless about the Living Dead.
He became angry with himself at this thought - the Living Dead was something he intended to tell Kate and the others on their travels.
He felt he had let them all down.
Not only that, but his best friend could be lying dead and he might never know about it.
Varjak sighed and passed a hand over his slick blond head, as though this was a vaguely problematic, well, problem.
Cautiously he padded towards the small light of the entrance. Rocks crumbled and cracked beneath his leather shoes.
No ghostly protests from the depths of the cave - they couldn't sense where he was if they couldn't see him.
Varjak thought this to be a good advantage.
He came to the entrance of the cave and looked out. Barely an inch of rock lay between the opening and a terrible death below.
Varjak sat himself on what seemed to be the edge of the world and sighed.
He could vanish in a few hours time when he'd recovered fully and find the others.
But what use would that be? The undead or the Living Dead would find him and the humans and they'd all die.
Anyway, that wasn't Varjak's style. That was vanishing and reappearing heroically to the humans and attempting to set them all free.
He'd fail. And anyway, Varjak was more calculated than that, in a strictly mathematical way.
He'd have to hatch a Varjak-style plan to get out of this one.
After all, they were always the most effective plans.
He needed time, though, which annoyed him. The essence of Varjak-style plans was quickness.
But this time the situation was much more difficult than any others he'd faced, and he needed some intelligent time to himself.
He jumped up from the edge of the cave and flew back inside in an exaggerated manner, annoyed with himself for being flummoxed at the first hurdle.
He pushed his head against the damp cave wall and groaned.
Think Varjak! THINK!
“Whoever's there I sincerely suggest you jump off that cliff,” snarled Varjak into the wall, as he heard footsteps walking softly and slowly towards him.
“Jack...? Jack Swinton?”
It may have been mentioned that Varjak was a mostly indestructible soul.
Physically, he could handle a lot more pain than a human.
Mentally, he was only vaguely properly emotional and rarely did he show when he was.
But those three words shuddered Varjak to the very core of his slowly beating heart.
Shock like that he had not felt since he was human.
Pain that he didn't think he'd ever felt.
And the worst part of it was having to turn around slowly and stare at his ageless wife full on in the face.
“Gwen,” he whispered, gulping to swallow his tears of pain. “It's been a very long time.”
The beautiful blue eyes of his wife stared back at him, her eyes visibly welling up at the sight of him.
“Jack, my sweetheart, welcome home,” she said, tears trickling down her pale cheeks.
In contrast, Varjak's eyes blazed.
“I'm not Jack anymore and I'm not your sweetheart. You, on the other hand, are a foul, filthy woman that I can barely look at.” He glanced at her round stomach.
Gwen gasped, then, once she had gulped it away, one of her hands outstretched towards Varjak.
“Jack, I'm so sorry. They came for me - they told me they'd take away my pain - ”
“You know, I'd have rather you dead than this Gwen,” Varjak growled. “I would have rather my wife died that night than become a disgusting little creature who eats the flesh of the humans and becomes pregnant all the time, giving birth to more creatures. Are you a valuable child-bearer, by the way?”
Gwen stayed notably silent.
“If possible, you've disgusted me more,” he spat, then tore his gaze away from her.
“Jack, please,” she sobbed, voice breaking completely and tears brimming her giant blue eyes. “Please listen to me - at least show your wife that level of respect.”
“My ex-wife doesn't deserve it,” he said evenly, thrusting his face back round to glare at her. “But nonetheless she'll get it.”
Exaggeratedly, he sat himself on the ground and crossed his legs like a primary school kid, looking up to his teacher with a beckoning expression.
“Go on Gwenny. I'm simply dying to hear this. Or was that too ironic?”
Gwen shuddered at the use of the nickname 'Gwenny'.
“I was transformed the night I was due to die of meningitis,” she began, gaze cast to the ground nervously as Varjak's eyes bore into her skull. “The night - the night that you were there, and you were still human, and you were crying over my dying body at my bedside.”
“Tangents, Gwenny,” he taunted.
“Well anyway, I remember that you went off to get some rest after I'd encouraged you. You were up for so long - you'd barely slept in two or three days. You reluctantly left for the night and soon after I was told that I wasn't going to make it and I had a matter of hours. I remember them going away to call you to come back, but it was too late.
Suddenly a figure appeared beside my bed. I think you can guess who this figure was. An undead. Of course I had no idea what an undead was at that point, so I tried to scream but the undead stopped me.
They explained everything to me, about how they were searching for dying people in the hospital who could be of use to them. They gave me the option to half-live with them, or to die. Either way, I'd never see you again. At least if I was undead I'd have a ghost of a chance.
So the undead bit into me and transformed me and immediately left. Of course the cardiac monitor went dead because I was only just beginning to transform. The doctors couldn't resuscitate me and I was declared dead. Then that was - ”
“When I came to see your body,” said Varjak coldly.
“Y-yes. And those awful few hours I have nightmares about every single night,” said Gwen. “How you cried and cried yourself hoarse over me, begged me to come back, and it was all I could do to stop myself from crying and leaping up to hug you. I-I couldn't let a human know what I'd become. Especially you. It would have hurt more if you knew I was still alive in some way but had to leave you. Genuinely, it was for the best.”
Varjak remained silent for a long moment.
He had shuffled himself to press his back casually against the wall and had an arm resting on a raised knee.
He observed a stone in his palm as he thought.
Gwen observed him with great curiosity.
“You never used to be like that,” she said, staring at the stone. “You're...totally mad now. Utterly insane. You were such a sensible human, and yet a strange undead. How have you become so...obnoxious?”
“Gwen,” began Varjak dangerously. “I really don't appreciate your tangents. Another thing I don't really appreciate is the fact you chose a lowly life over a noble death. I'd have rather visited your graveside than visit you like this, the way you are now.”
“Jack, you would never have seen me again!” she cried, tears resuming their mutinous flow. “I would have been cold and buried underground! I know you Jack Swinton, and if I had died that day and you had become what you are you would have wished I was an undead as well.”
Varjak's expression unwillingly faltered.
“Go on! You know it yourself Jack! You would have stood over my graveside and vowed to do anything to get me back!”
“Well that's irrelevant!” Varjak shouted, vanishing briefly and reappearing instantly at Gwen's throat. He lowered his voice into her ear. “Not if I had known what the undead are like, Gwen. No. That would be the only way I'd prefer you to be dead than alive. As I said - a noble death versus a lowly life.
You knew what you were getting into when you were transformed - the undead told you all about it. You chose to be one of them Gwen. And don't think you can say you did it for me, or that you did it to find me again, because, for the final time, I'd rather you dead and consider you dead. Do you understand?”
“Tell me one thing Jack.”
“One last thing before I throw you off this damned cliff.”
“Tell me that you feel nothing for me,” she said, and at speed of the undead, kissed him full on the lips.
There was an explosion inside them, like a volcano waiting to erupt for twenty years.
Gwen felt a mixture of pure love, hope, pain and regret.
Varjak felt mostly anger and pain, but lingering behind those emotions like a forgotten memory was just a pinch of the love he once felt for Gwen.
That one speckle of love left was enough to tempt him to wind his fingers through Gwen's tumbling blond hair and continue kissing her.
But instead with a mighty effort he wrenched her away from him, and the force sent Gwen falling to the ground.
She cried out.
“Jack!” she gasped, clutching her grazed bleeding arm and screwing her face up with tears, “Is there no way you can forgive me ever? For so many years I've dreamed of you, and dreamed that the undead would accept you back and we could live together.
Imagine what that would be like Jack. Being the only family in the undead camp. Sure we'd be outcasts at least for a while, and I'd lose my valuable child-bearer status, but we could have a baby. And our baby doesn't need to be a warrior, or a child-bearer. Our baby can just be alive for being alive - ”
“Shut up Gwen, and just get out of here!” Varjak shouted, his scorching red face burning into her own and spitting as he spoke, “If you won't do anything useful like help me and my friends get out of here then you seriously are worth nothing to me!”
“I assumed I'd be that anyway,” she said lightly, well-concealing her fear of him.
Slowly, Varjak stood up and helped Gwen up too.
They both came to stand face to face and Varjak couldn‘t stand to look at her.
He turned from her and walked towards the wall in a pacing fashion, hand cupping his chin.
“Forget your human friends, baby,” said Gwen, using affectionate language she'd last used many years ago.
Approaching him quietly from behind and wrapping her arms around his torso, she continued.
“If you forget your human friends you can be with me and have a family for all of eternity. Your human friends will die out eventually. I won't. I won't ever die on you again.”
Softening considerably, Varjak turned to face the woman he married.
“Gwenny, there are too many complications now. We're enemies now. We're not a married couple anymore, and we won't ever be again. Your idea is not feasible, and not just because the undead won't accept me. I love those humans Gwenny. I love all humans. I think they are the best species on this earth and have much more right to be here than us.
And to you, I know my next sentence will be blasphemous. But I would kill to be human again. I genuinely would. And therein lies the fundamental difference between me and you and why we'll never function again.”
Gwen's lip quivered.
“Then it is my turn to be disgusted Jack Swinton.”
She turned and walked two steps forward, then slowly turned back to him, eyes falling on his face.
“This is the last time we'll see each other as lovers, isn't it?”
Varjak gave one, mute nod.
“Yes it is. If you could describe the way I see you now as a lover.”
“We'll be enemies from now on.”
“Remember when we were sixteen and dreamed of being together forever? Jack, I'll never forget that. You were my first lover. My first and only love too. And in my heart you'll always be Jack Swinton. You'll never be Varjak to me. Jack Swinton the human.” She gave a sketchy laugh. “Yes, I like that memory.”
“You know how much I loved you Gwen,” said Varjak unthinkingly.
She gave a curt nod. “Of course I do.”
She stepped forwards and grasped Varjak's hand in her own icy grip.
Her blue eyes burned into his as she spoke.
“I wish none of this happened you know. And your human friends - you really do love them, don't you?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
Gwen smiled brightly.
“Then you are my Jack.”
“I am until you leave this cave,” he said, with a smirk which lacked conviction.
Tears falling flat, Gwen raised Varjak's hand and pressed her lips against his skin for the longest moment.
“Be brilliant Jack. Just be brilliant,” she murmured into his fingers, then stepped backwards quickly, as though about to turn and run. “Save your human friends and just be brilliant. I know you can do it.”
She stopped just before her back touched the opposite side of the cave.
The world stopped for them as they stared at each other, as faraway as they could be at that moment.
The pain echoed heavily in the air around them. It became suffocating.
Gwen shot Varjak a serene smile that seemed to radiate across the space, touching Varjak in the most vulnerable parts of his heart.
“Hello Gwennyth. You know for an enemy, you're pretty hot.”
“Thank you.” Gwen winked. Then she wasn‘t there any more.
Varjak Swinton had lost his wife for a second time.
Days passed without Varjak being able to think of a plan of escape.
Even someone of his undead experience was finding it a struggle to think of a foolproof plan of escaping.
His mind felt clogged.
He knew the reason for it, but he wouldn’t admit it to himself.
His heart would frequently dip into the possibility of being with Gwen again, and he would deny himself the pleasure of indulging in it.
If he did, he might even be tempted to forget saving his friends and to be with Gwen.
And that was far too selfish.
She was a reminder of a time before his loneliness.
And before he became a creature. Being with her would mean no more running, not if the undead would somehow let him in.
They could have a baby together, they could renew their vows.
They could even escape one day, place themselves back in human life, get a house, a job, a mortgage…
There was a rejection to this idea within him.
While there were many problems with this idea, the main one to Varjak was internal.
It had been twenty years.
Varjak had changed - he had adapted his name to that of a book character’s, he had tolerated alienation for years to the point of near insanity and an inability to understand dark emotion.
But mostly, Varjak’s soul had changed.
He was no longer the careful, fragile ghost of a man he once was.
He was stronger for his flippant attitude.
Gwen and he worked because of a power dynamic.
Now they were equals.
And now he had someone he wanted to protect more than Gwen.
Even if he allowed twenty years’ worth of emotion to finally consume him, it would never work out well.
Despite this, a part of him wanted Gwen to appear in his cave again.
If he could just kiss her once, properly, just to get her out of his system.
But she hadn’t appeared since - instead, every night an undead would inject him with some weird, specially made drug they used for the rogue undead that stopped him from leaving.
They were trained warriors, it was not as though an only fairly strong, untrained undead could wriggle free of their grip and stop them from doing it.
He also had been weakened by the nightly attacks of the Living Dead, which although would never kill him, was still having an effect on his technically half-human body.
That was the only time he had any interaction with anyone else.
He had been kept up in his cave for days - meanwhile, his companions were in the undead camp far below.
© 2012 MoonAngel
Added on July 3, 2011
Last Updated on April 24, 2012
Light After Fire
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
About“Kiss me and you'll know how important I am.” I'm a 19 year old English student. I'm quite dedicated to writing and I've been working on the Light After Fire series officially for ei.. more..