Lilith jumped slightly and self-consciously raised a hand to her head. She had hacked off her hair in spiky patches with a dull razorblade the night before. In a strange way, it suited her, especially given the black tank-top and cammos she was wearing. It made her look older and harder, but it was also the mark of a woman who had reached the end of her rope. What Mirror couldn't see were the scars, strategically hidden by the wrist-bands she wore. One wristband contained her communicator-slash-global positioning system, and the other provided a linkup for her orchid, the arrangement of sharp blades set into a flower-like shape, capable of dealing death with one backhand. ''I got tired of it, Mirror. It was getting too long.'' Mirror snorted, and tied the tourniquet around her arm. Now holding the syringe in her teeth, she tapped out one of the few good veins she had left. As the syringe slid through her skin and the drug eased into her veins, Lilith could almost sense the change that came over her. If Mirror were a monster before, now she was redefining the term. She looked at Lilith sideways, and Lilith shifted uncomfortably under the weight of her blue stare. ''Don't give me that bullshit, Lilith. I know you better than anybody here, with maybe the exception of Stefan.'' Nightmare. Lilith wondered how she got pulled into this nightmare-- how she went from fifteen and homeless to 25 and wanted. She supposed it was Nightmare's-- Stefan's-- fault that she wound up here, but she had no one but herself to blame for the fact that she had done her job too well. Being the leader wasn't easy, and it wasn't even really rewarding. The only thing she could tell so far about it was that the drugs and the guns were better from this end. Lilith began to mumble a reply. ''I just had a bad day, Mirror, that's all.'' Mirror snorted again and took Lilith's arm. She moved aside the wrist-band on Lilith's left arm, her wrist-com, and raised an eyebrow at what she found. Quietly, without a word, she shifted the wrist-band back into place and began pulling more Burn from a little vial with the syringe that she had just used, with a quick sideways glance to Nastassja to make sure that she hadn't seen Lilith's latest suicide attempt. Lilith frowned. ''Mirror, you're going to kill yourself. That's too much.'' Mirror grunted. ''Good thing it's not for me, then, Shadowcat. Mirror took Lilith's arm again, holding it just below the barbed wire tattoo that circled Lilith's upper arm, and began tapping for a vein. Lilith didn't protest, simply stared out the window into a world where the street lights were painted orange because the electricity didn't work anymore.
Mirror found the vein she wanted and tied the tourniquet. Lilith made sure to keep her head turned at Mirror injected the drug into her veins. The change was instant. She relaxed almost immediately, and tensed up as quickly. Her muscles were on fire. She fell back senseless onto the bed, and a low moaning sound rose out of her throat. Mirror frowned. This had never happened before, but Lilith didn't seem to be ODing. She flipped back one of Lilith's eyelids with an expert hand, and found no signs of the tell-tale yellowing that resembled jaundice and meant that a brainer was on his or her way to a rendevous on the dark side of the moon. She decided to wait it out, and sat back with her back against the wall. Lilith sighed in her semi-conscious state and the Burn began working its dubious magic. Her adrenal glands went into overdrive, and Lilith felt stronger now than she had in weeks. The ache from her left leg, which had been broken a few weeks ago and healed erratically due to her unhealthy practices while it was vulnerable, felt good enough to walk on without limping again. Best of all, the sheer exhaustion that had crippled her for weeks was draining right out of her pores and onto the bed. She smiled. Then she opened her eyes, and her entire worldview shifted. Lilith was sitting outside her house, the one that had been torn down yaars ago in the aftermath of the Bomb. She turned around, frowning, and leaned out over the railing to look into the kitchen window. What she saw froze her in her tracks.
''Mama!'' Lilith drew back her fist; out of the corner of her eye, she noted with some surprise that it was still bleeding, and the knuckles were bathed, swollen, in fluid. Still, she had no time to think, only to react. Her fist went through the kitchen window. Then she spun around quickly and put all her force into a back-kick into the same. Her combat boots connected with solid glass and kept going. The cracks that had formed from her fist went flying inward, dissolving in a shower of shards. Lilith didn't notice as she began ripping the glass away from the window pane with her bare hands that her hands were streaked with blood. She had glass under her fingernails and a nasty gash on her palm, but she pulled all the glass away and slid through the open window. Her mother was lying on the kitchen floor, shotgun in her mouth. Lilith's three year old sister was sitting beside her in her high chair, not fastened in, playing with her mother's long black hair. Her mother was crying, but Bella was laughing. The clock on the wall read 2:58 and the paper lying on the counter said April 7, 2040.
Lilith's mother's hair trailed from the floor all the way up to the highchair. When it was down, it reached below her waist. She usually kept it braided, or tied back, but today, it was loose, and Bella had managed to grab a handful as her mother laid down. Lilith's mother didn't seem to notice. She closed her eyes. Lilith kicked into a run and dove for her mother just as the shotgun went off and the clock clicked over to 2:59.
Lilith screamed and the scream sounded hollow to her own ears, as it mingled with Bella's sudden terrified shriek. She dropped her mother's hair and began to struggle in her high chair, falling to the floor. Lilith dropped easily into a roll from her running jump and landed in a low crouch, palms on the kitchen floor. She tried to catch Bella, but she missed. Bella landed in her mother's blood, and walked unsteadily to her mother's side. She sat in the floor and touched her mother's shoulder gently. Not understanding, she began to wail, and picked up a lock of her mother's hair, wrapping it around her tiny fist and covering her eyes with her hands. The clock clicked over to 3:00.
Lilith screamed again, and sat in the floor, covering her face with her bleeding hands. The screaming in the room reached a macabre crescendo-- and then the doorhandle turned. Everything went silent as Bella turned to look at the door and Lilith rose unsteadily to her feet, shaking and leaning against the wall. She saw herself walk through the door, her long black hair falling to the middle of her back. She was a fifteen year old version of her mother, and she called out...''Mama? I'm home'' Then Bella started screaming again, and the young Lilith turned into the kitchen. Her face drained of all color, and she began whispering fast, over and over and over again. ''No-- goddammit, no.'' She ran over to Bella, scooping her up and disentangling her sister's hand from her mother's bloody hair. She took her into the living room and told her to sit down, she would be right back. The Lilith of today watched all of this in silence, tears running down her face as she saw Bella lift her hand to Lilith's long black hair, leaving a bloody smear across Lilith's face as Lilith walked away. The clock clicked 3:02.
Fifteen year old Lilith walked back into the kitchen, her eyes dead and lifeless. She walked past the counter, where her mother had lined up the notices from the United States Armed Forces. Four letters, all bringing news of another death in the family. The first for her middle brother, Jason. The second for 20 year old Stephen. The third for her oldest brother, Jake. And the final one, dated April 2, 2040, was for her father. It was postmarked today. Lilith picked it up, and turned to her mother's body. She let the government letter flutter from her hands and to the floor, and then she raked one hand back through her hair, and began the process of dragging her mother out to the garden. It took a long time to dig the grave. Lilith watched from the corner of the yard, trembling, and occasionally sobbing. The younger Lilith buried her mother. ''How could you? She hissed at the grave. Then she sunk to her knees and began to sob. In the middle of her keening, she remembered Bella and sprinted back inside. The little girl had fallen asleep on the couch. Lilith, exhausted, picked up Bella and carried her to her room, laying down on the bed beside her and holding her tightly. It was after nine, but the blood would have to wait.
Lilith knew this wasn't exactly the way it happened. She could remember that day with a crystalline clarity. She had put Bella to bed, and then she had gone back to the kitchen and scrubbed until her hands bled, trying to erase her mother's crime from the floor and the walls. She gave up, exhausted, late into the night, and passed out in the middle of the floor. When she woke up the next morning, Bella was complaining of a sore stomach. The whites of her eyes were turning yellow. She had broken out into a fine red rash all over her pale skin, and cried constantly in the throes of fever. Bella had survived for seven more days, lingering in the slow murder of fall-out sickness-- commonly referred to as Burn, where the drug had gotten its name. Lilith didn't eat for seven days. She fed her sister, kept her cool, sang lullabies and read bedtime stories. Bella played with her hair and called her Mama in the grip of her delusions. Lilith was awake when she died, kneeling by the bed and holding her little sister's hand. After she felt her go, she crept into bed with her dead sister and wrapped her arms around her, weeping. She fell asleep that way. When she woke up the next morning as the sunlight streamed in, she had another body to bury in the garden.
Now Lilith felt like a woman trapped in a snow-globe, moving through a mockery of time. Her hands were still bleeding seven days later when she followed her younger self out to the garden and laid her sister to rest. They were still bleeding when she followed herself back inside and watched herself pick up the shotgun from the dried blood it had fallen in seven days earlier. She followed herself to the back bedroom, sitting crosslegged on the bed opposite herself, watching as the younger Lilith took a pair of scissors and began hacking off her hair, up to the scalp. Then she watched Lilith put the shotgun in her mouth, and close her own eyes, just as her mother had done. She watched the girl's finger tighten around the trigger-- but before the blast could end her life, a larger blast rocked the house. Both Lilith's tumbled to the floor, tumbling into one another as the colors shifted and the women merged-- until Lilith opened her eyes again with Alessandra standing over her screaming for Stefan, trying to take away the Luger planted firmly between Lilith's teeth.
Alessandra was crouched over Lilith, one knee planted on either side of her torso. She had her hand around the barrel of the gun, praying that Lilith wouldn't pull the trigger. She begged her for the gun, begged her to give it to her, begged her to shoot -her-, just take the gun out of your mouth. Every window in the apartment was smashed. Lilith's hand were pouring blood, Alessandra and Fang were covered in it. Stefan ran through the back room, skidding to a halt in front of Lilith. He put one hand on her forehead and held her hand down, as Alessandra forced her mouth open and carefully removed the Luger. She threw it across the room, and then stood up, lifting Lilith bodily and holding her against the wall as Lilith screamed and struggled, blood trickling from her nose and ears. She fought like a caged tiger, but Alessandra absorbed every blow, even when Lilith's fist connected with her face, breaking her nose. Stefan finally drew back his own fist to hit Lilith, in an attempt to render her unconscious, but he was stopped by Alessandra's hissed command. ''Hit her, and I kill you.'' Between clenched teeth, heedless of the pain, Mirror held Lilith down until her rage ran dry; Lilith collapsed crying against the wall, sliding towards the floor. Mirror slid with her, until she was holding her in her arms as they both sat on the floor. Lilith had covered her face with her bleeding hands, rocking back and forth as her body shook with the force of her grief. Mirror, bleeding now, too, held her tighter. Finally, she picked Lilith up like a rag doll, and carried her back to the bedroom, easing her onto the bed. She sat on the edge and checked her pulse, then lifted her eyelids. The color was returning to Lilith's face, and her breathing was slowing. Alessandra waited until she was sure Lilith was asleep, and then she walked out of the room without a word, punching a hole in the thin wall before she left.