The Concessions Series (preferred reading order)
Concessions Made: "In times of war, concessions must be made." It's December 1982, and Samantha comes home from her latest abduction to a grieving lover, a frightened brother, and a stepmother who doesn't know what to do.
Concessions Broken: Sequel to Concessions Made. It's 1987, and Jeffrey and Samantha face up to their past, and to a future in doubt.
Concessions Overture (working title, in progress): After Samantha, Jeffrey examines how it all began.
The Reckoning: Why did Cassandra make the choice she did? Why did she let it go on? The answer is darker than the question. Cassandra backstory to Concessions.
This series references incest between consenting adult siblings.
NEW Concessions Broken *R* 1/1
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: R for adult themes.
CONTENT WARNING: This story references incest between consenting adult siblings. Don't say I didn't warn you.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF, spoilers to Closure. There is a The Truth reference, but you probably wouldn't pick it if you hadn't seen the episode.
CATEGORY/KEYWORD: Angst, Romance (of a sort), Jeffrey/Samantha.
SUMMARY: Sequel to Concessions Made. It's 1987, and Jeffrey and Samantha face up to their past, and to a future in doubt.
NOTE: This story can be read without reading Concessions Made, but I think it will make more sense with it. But if you want to dive right in, all you really need to know is that an isolated and traumatised Jeffrey and Samantha turned to one another in their teens. Cassandra chose not to try to halt the relationship because she didn't know how else to help them cope. She lied to Jeffrey that he and Samantha were not brother and sister after all, and moved the family so they could start fresh. This story is set five years on.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: At the end.
FEEDBACK: I'm sorry...I'm really bad at keeping up with email. But I cherish it, and I do reply - I just take a while. email@example.com
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2002 (Honourable Mention, Other Series Character Romance). Second Place, X-Infinitum Challenge, June 2002.
He feels it pressing against his eyelids, harsh and insistent. He squeezes them tight, instinctively pulling away with a sound of protest until his head is pressed hard to the headboard.
The light lingers. It assaults him with its stark whiteness for long moments. Finally, though, it subsides. He blinks, and dimly, he sees a sliver of light streak across the sky, leaving him to fumble in the darkness.
It is a relief.
For long moments, he lies there, blinking, groping the space beside him. He searches for Samantha, wanting to reassure himself with her presence and her softness. Wanting to feel her hair beneath his hand.
Then it all comes back.
He sits bolt upright and throws the covers aside. He gets to his feet and runs out into the hall. "Samantha?" he calls as his footsteps lead him to the doorway of the lounge. He knows how horrible it is to want it to be Samantha when his mother's gone too, but God, it's been so long, he's so scared for her, please-
It is Samantha, and tangled relief and fear and anguish rise in his chest. Her still form lies on the floor in the middle of the room. For one horrifying moment he fears she might be dead, and his heart is pounding so hard he can feel the ripples right through his body. Vibration and sound meld into one unbearable roar.
His footsteps slow. Not dead, he tells himself. Not dead. He's not sure whether the shallow rise and fall of her breast is real. He no longer trusts his own senses. He no longer trusts anything, except her.
She's slumped there in her nightdress. One arm drapes across her body, and her hand lies on the bare floorboards. White skin against pale wood. He thinks about splinters. Splinters, of all things, when that's his *wife*, goddammit, and she's *unconscious*.
He drops to her side and finds her hand with his. It's cool, and her wrist is thin. The bones protrude at each side. She is breathing, after all, and his heart rate drops back a little.
She murmurs his name. He feels her hand twitch in his. A slight pulse where she tries to squeeze, and fails. Thank God, he thinks. Thank God.
"I'm here," he says, rolling her onto her back. He smooths the hair back off her face. "You're home, Samantha. Wake up." She doesn't answer him, and he starts to pat her cheeks, briskly. He can't quite bring himself to slap her, even though he knows it would probably rouse her. "Come on, Samantha, wake up. Get up."
"Jeffrey," she sighs. Her voice quavers as he shakes her. "I can't - I can't-"
Fear rises in his throat. "You can't what, Sam? You can't what?"
"I can't get up. I can't-"
Oh, no. Not again. Please, no.
He feels anger. Fear. They propel him to his feet and make him shout. "Yes, you CAN! Come on!" He manhandles her up, dragging her like a piece of meat. He gets her up and releases her, and she slumps back down to the floor with a painful thud.
"Get up, dammit!" he yells at her in a perfect fever of fury. "Get up!"
Wide awake now, she stares up at him in the dim light of the moon, rubbing her wrist where he pulled her. Hurt colours her features.
"You can stand, dammit, now get the hell UP!" His voice sounds brutal and rough, even to his own ears.
Her expression softens. The hurt fades. "I'm not paralysed, Jeffrey," she says gently. "Not like your mom."
Oh, my God.
Remorse washes over him, quelling even his fear for the moment. It drives him to his knees before her, and he pulls her against him, clutching at her back and her hair. "Jesus, Samantha, I'm sorry," he mutters into her shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"It's all right, Jeffrey," she whispers. It isn't, he supposes, but he thanks her in his heart for saying so. "Please just help me."
He helps her, gently this time. He gets her up and lets her lean in to him, supporting her with one arm, letting her clutch at the other. He notices her automatic footsteps. Relief swells in his chest. The pounding in his head dies down.
But worry rises up in him, too, as he notes the differences in her. Samantha was never really slim. A size twelve, sometimes even a fourteen, with soft, comforting pads of flesh in all the places where women hate them. But now - she's so light. It frightens him. The way her feet tremble when she puts her weight on them frightens him.
He gets her to their room and deposits her gently onto their bed. She sits there in her nightdress. It smells faintly of sickness and disinfectant. Nothing like the times she's come home before. He kneels down before her, between her knees, and lifts it up over her head. For all the times he's done that, it feels like he's baring her for the first time. But this time, his ragged sigh is not one of desire, but of dismay.
"Jesus, Samantha," he whispers, touching the side of her breast with his palm, trailing it down over the ridges and valleys of her ribs. "What the hell did they do to you?"
"I don't know," she says dully. "There were doctors. They said something about DNA. Branched DNA. Something free-floating in my blood. I don't know."
He can't bear to hear it. He doesn't believe it. He only asked on reflex. No-one did this to her. Certainly not doctors on a spaceship, for God's sake. It's just-
Well, she didn't do it to herself, did she?
Never mind. It doesn't matter. What matters is, she's home. And he means to make her well.
He goes to their cheap laminate dressing table. He opens a drawer. Pulls out a cotton nightdress.
"No," she says. "One of your shirts. Please?"
He looks at her in the dim light. Surprised.
"Just...I've missed you."
That scares the hell out him. Samantha isn't sentimental. Never has been. She keeps the things that matter in her heart, and to hell with souvenirs. She's joked about it more than once. "I only want what I can carry to my grave, Jeffrey." That doesn't seem so funny now.
He looks at her, thoughtfully, and nods. He turns back to the dresser a moment, but then he reconsiders. He pulls the shirt he's wearing up over his head, and slips it down over hers. The body heat will do her good, anyway, he decides. But he doesn't like the way she crosses her arms over herself. The way she snuggles visibly into it, breathing his warmth and his scent. She looks uncomfortably like a child hugging a teddy bear for comfort. She left him as his wife. Now, she's his little sister again. That takes him to some very troubling places in his mind.
He eases her legs up onto the bed, covers her, and gets in beside her. She presses herself into his arms with a sigh, and that's a little better. Her sigh is not exactly one of desire, but it is very much the sigh of a woman back in the arms of the man she loves. He kisses her hair, and he feels her lips on his chest. He allows himself to breathe fully for the first time since he found her.
"How long was I gone?"
He swallows the usual retort. Even if her absence was voluntary-
even *though* her absence was voluntary, clearly, something happened to do this to her. Of course she doesn't know how long she's been gone - how could she? He wonders if whoever did this could have assaulted her. That new date rape drug they're talking about, maybe. Rohypnol. He wonders why that idea doesn't outrage him as it should. He wonders why the idea of taking her to be seen by a doctor does.
"Three months," he says. He likes the way his voice sounds. Mild. Neutral.
"Oh," she says. Her voice is matter-of-fact too. Quiet, maybe. That's all. "Is Cassandra home?"
He shakes his head. "Mom went away a week ago. No idea where. She didn't leave a note. You know what she's like."
She snorts. "Yeah," she says dryly, "I know what she's like." Lightly mocking. They have had this argument many times, and he supposes they will have it many more, but the show of fire pleases him. He almost wishes she would go on with it. Call him a coward. Talk about denial.
"I missed you," he says after a while.
"Me, too." She presses closer. "Love you."
They drift off to sleep there together in the dark.
When he wakes, the guilt hits him, hard and fast and fierce.
The sunlight streams over her through their bedroom window. Without the cover of darkness, he sees her, small, thin, with shadows beneath her eyes, in her cheeks, in the hollows of her collarbones.
He should have looked at her properly. He should have turned on a light. He should have taken her to a doctor.
"Samantha," he says, shaking her gently. "Wake up. We need to get you to a hospital."
She blinks, shaking her head. Still groggy and sleepy. "No," she whispers. "No hospitals, Jeffrey. Please. I couldn't bear it."
He thinks it over. Remembers her one hospital stay years before. Appendicitis. She screamed and screamed and screamed. They had to strap her down to anaesthetise her. He'd never seen her like that.
"You're sick," he argues, but his voice is quiet and tender. There's no calculation about it, no thought of whether that might make her easier to persuade. There's a rawness, a vulnerability about her that moves him, somehow. He smooths her hair back off her face. "You need medical attention, Samantha. You know that."
Her eyes are wet with sudden tears. "Oh, please, Jeffrey, no."
He could get her there by force, he supposes. She's certainly not well enough to stop him. But somehow he can't bear the thought of that.
"What about a doctor, then," he says at last. "One that will come to the house."
She looks very unsure, but she doesn't discount it out of hand, at least. In a way, her willingness to consider it worries him even more.
She looks away, out the window, frowning. He just sits there with her. Lets her take her time. Her voice comes, small and quiet. "You'll be with me the whole time?"
He feels a lump rising in his throat, and he doesn't really know why. "Yes," he says, taking her hand between both of his. "Yes, I will."
"And you won't tell them the things I say? About the experiments? They'd think I was crazy. Hell, you think I'm crazy."
"I don't think you're crazy, Samantha," he says. He doesn't, even though he doesn't believe her, either.
"But you won't-"
"No. I won't tell them. I won't let them take you anywhere you don't want to go."
She nods. Still looking out the window. A low sigh ripples through her body, something he feels rather than hears. Finally, she turns back to him and lifts his hands to her mouth. She kisses his knuckles, nodding against them.
"All right. If you can find someone who'll come, then all right."
Wonder of wonders, he finds a doctor who still makes house calls. God bless Charlotte, Alabama, population 976. He is under no illusions about his chances of finding such a doctor in New York or LA.
He busies himself making tea for them, and he takes Samantha's in to her, leaving the doctor in the kitchen to write his notes.
"Okay?" he asks her, putting her cup on the nightstand at her side.
She looks up at him. He's washed her, now, and she's swathed in a big white button-down shirt. It shames him, somehow, that he finds her frailty beautiful.
"Yeah," she says, smiling up at him. She struggles to sit up, and he lets her do it herself, sensing that the small victory is important to her. When she does it, he puts the tea into her hands. "He seems nice."
"Yeah, he does," he says. "He's from the next town over. Has a practice there." The meaningless information seems to please her. She's smiling when he leaves her.
He comes back out to the kitchen and takes a seat opposite the doctor. He's a benign-looking man in his fifties, Jeffrey estimates, and he has a calming manner. Just the sort of doctor they need.
"Now, you're her..."
He pauses, pen poised over his notebook. He looks at Jeffrey and waits.
The innocent question causes Jeffrey to think at lightning speed. Brother or husband? He wonders whether this will create a paper trail. Then he thinks of Samantha in an obviously shared bed, photos of them on the nightstand, and her insistence that he stay while she was examined, and realises he has no choice.
"She's my wife."
The doctor lifts the mug at his side. "Thanks," he says with a nod, drinking from it. "And how long has she been like this?"
"I'm not completely sure," he says. "I've been away for a few weeks visiting family. I found her this way when I came home." He hopes the doctor doesn't check on that. Not that he has any reason to check, of course - that is, assuming they can get through this without raising any suspicions.
"And she won't go to a hospital? Why is that?"
He's been expecting this. "She had a bad experience when she was younger. An orderly after an operation. She was interfered with," he fibs in an appropriately delicate tone. The doctor makes a small sound of sympathy. "I'm willing to care for her at home, if you'll help. We don't have insurance, but we have savings." He does have insurance and they don't have any savings worth speaking of, but they'll just have to find a way. He can't risk claiming for her on his insurance.
"May work out more affordable to care for her at home, in that case," the doctor says, more into his coffee mug than to Jeffrey. "I'm willing to come by and look in on her every day. I have a sister who lives down the road a little ways, and I see her most days. I won't charge you the call-out fee. Just the consultation."
Jeffrey wonders why he's never seen him at the gas station, but then he realises there is no sister. Their threadbare home has told the man all he needs to know about their "savings". At any other time, the kindness would shame him. Now, he could fall on his knees in gratitude.
He manages instead, "Thank you. That's - very kind."
The doctor waves this aside. "Jeffrey, I have to tell you, I feel bad even taking that. I have no idea what's wrong with your wife. She's seriously ill - you don't need me to tell you that. But that's all I know. I'm not seeing any visual signs of cancer. My first thought was leukaemia, and I'll have to wait on the bloods to exclude that, but I don't think it is. Her gums aren't bleeding, her lymph nodes are down - I really don't think that's it."
"What about that new thing all the papers are talking about?" he wonders. "Acquired Immunity-"
"AIDS? It's not that new, and it's not impossible if she was assaulted, but I'd be surprised. I haven't seen a case of it myself yet, but from what the CDC fliers are saying, she doesn't fit any of the stages they've identified."
He is oddly disappointed. He knows how horrible that is, to hope for such a terrible diagnosis, but it beats branched DNA, whatever that is. At least people are working on treatments for AIDS. Even the realisation that he would have it too doesn't completely frighten the thought into submission.
"Is she going to get better?" he asks at last.
The doctor - Barnable, his name is - Dr Barnable shifts in his seat. "If we can get her weight up, I can't see why not," he says, "but I won't deny I'm worried. If you could get her to agree to go up to Montgomery for tests, it might help."
He shakes his head. "She won't."
"Well, we can't force her. She's a competent adult. She's entitled to refuse treatment. But if she ever loses consciousness, Jeffrey, you take the opportunity, you hear?"
The doctor shakes his hand when he leaves.
The days pass in a blur.
Dr Barnable comes every day. Every day, he shakes his head. Bloods are transported to and fro. It isn't leukaemia. It isn't AIDS. It isn't any of the obscure syndromes Barnable digs up in the medical journals late at night when he should be screwing his wife, or whatever he does when he isn't worrying about a pair of blue-collar drifters who haven't earned even a hello from anyone else in town.
Jeffrey marvels at his concern, but it worries him, too. What if he starts talking about them to the locals? What if the locals rally around them? Start offering casseroles and kindly cups of tea? Start fundraising for their medical bills? Worse, report their plight in the local newspaper? God knows they need the support, but they can't afford that kind of scrutiny. They've been careful, kept the paper trail to a minimum, but there's only so far that goes. The only documents that count are the ones given to Cassandra when she agreed to raise Samantha. Whatever the truth of it, in the eyes of the law, they are brother and sister.
And what if she's taken-
His throat feels very tight.
what if she *leaves* again? This is why they've hidden themselves away, far more than any concerns about anyone's idle curiosity. This is why she doesn't work, doesn't go out, doesn't make friends. If she does, someone, someday will report her missing. Even if he doesn't serve time for her presumed murder, he'll certainly serve time for incest. And when she returns, so will she.
She's getting weaker.
He knows this. That's why he worries, now, about Barnable and his kindly concern. Because he doesn't want to think about her falling weight. About her thin shoulders. About the way she blinks, just a little slower than before. Like it's a terrible effort.
He still makes love to her. He doesn't think he should. He feels that he's taking from her, somehow. But she insists that she wants him to. It is a gentle love, infinitely careful and slow, and when she comes, he feels the ripples deep within her. They don't reach her much-too-slender thighs.
Somewhere along the line, she begins to rally. He has hope. Then she slips back. This becomes a recurring pattern. He starts looking into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They call it the Yuppie Flu, but a few doctors are starting to say it's real.
During her remissions, as he begins to call them (although the remissions are never total), things are better than ever. She doesn't go away any more - not even for a day or two. They spend days in bed, talking, laughing, sharing memories and trading banter. There is a new dimension to their lovemaking, something more loving and bonded than anything they've shared before. He sets her up in her armchair on the verandah and paints her toenails the way she likes them, and he makes her laugh by tickling the soles of her feet. Jeffrey is no stranger to caring for a family member, and for him, it's a small trade-off for the happiness they've found. He begins to take her relapses in his stride. When he rises one morning to find his mother smoking on the porch, his happiness is complete. That is, until she starts to question him about Samantha's condition.
"Branched DNA?" she says. She is very pale.
"That's what she says. But Dr Barnable thinks-"
"Has she been taken since then?"
He fights down the flare of irritation he feels. "She hasn't been away since then, no. She hasn't been well enough."
There is no debate about whether Samantha is "taken" or whether she "goes away". Cassandra just reverses away from him and wheels herself indoors without another word.
She emerges from their bedroom an hour later. Her eyes are red and wet. Jeffrey stares at her, frowning, and then he pushes past her into the room, closing the door behind him.
Samantha is curled up on the bed, close to the window. Looking out. His bewilderment growing, he sits down at her side.
Her back is tight and stiff, and she's trembling. He puts his hand on her shoulder and, gently, turns her to face him.
"What did she say?" he says roughly. "What did she say to you?"
She puts her arms around him. Still weeping. "Please just hold me."
He does, and the way she holds him worries him. So much tighter than he thought she still could. She pulls back a little, and tears linger on her eyelashes. She kisses him, long and deep and hungry. "I love you, Jeffrey," she whispers. "God, I love you. So much."
He's still bewildered, but he meets her with hunger of his own. He makes love to her, and she kisses him the whole time - on his mouth, on his eyes and on his cheeks and in his hair. Touching him like the most precious of gifts. It fills him with awe, but it scares him, too.
It feels like a goodbye.
"What did you say to her?"
There is venom in his voice. For all the times he's felt like screaming at his mother's ravings and her delusions, he's never truly hated her. But now-
Cassandra stubs out her cigarette. She pushes her wheelchair out from the table and swivels to face him. She sits there in the middle of the room, looking calmly at him. There's a hint of motherly kindness in her features, but it's not enough to placate him. Her serenity bothers him.
"She's dying, Jeffrey."
He feels his hands clench into fists at his sides. "You told her that?"
"She had a right to know." God, the complacency in her eyes. She sits there, saying his wife, his twenty-four-year-old wife is going to die like it's the most natural thing in the world. Like it's how the universe is meant to work.
He works very hard to keep his voice level. He can feel the anger bubbling up in his chest. His breathing is fast and shallow. He forces out, "What else did you say?"
"Well, I told her that her life had meaning. That she helped the aliens. They're trying to find a way to help us, you know. They're trying-"
"Shut up!" he screams. "Shut up, shut up, shut UP!" He goes to her and leans over her, holding each side of her chair with his hands. God, he'd love to shove her off a cliff right now. Anything to make her just stop. "All my life you have tortured this family with your bullshit and your lies. You made her believe it, too. She goes out there, and I don't know what the hell she does - whether she does drugs or sleeps on the street or sells herself or what. And she does it because you've convinced her she's some goddamn chosen one for the alien race, and she has to keep going away to make the lie come true." His face is hot and red. Flushed with fury. "Whatever happened to her out there, it's your fault, and I don't want to hear another word of it. Ever. If I do, I will take her and leave you and never come back. Do you understand me?"
Cassandra stares up at him. Eyes wide. Shrinking back.
Jesus Christ. She's afraid of him.
He pushes himself back away from her. Ashamed of his outburst. He goes to the kitchen sink and stands there, his back to her, his shoulders stiff and hard. He's trembling with fury. Shock. Grief. Shit, he doesn't even know which is which any more. He runs his hands through his hair and squeezes his eyes shut tight. There's no method, no meaning to any of it. Just blind groping for some way to get himself under control.
Finally, he does.
His breathing slows. He stands there. Still. Quiet. Heartsick. He hears his mother flick her lighter and light a cigarette. When she breathes out, it comes as a ragged sigh.
"I didn't mean it," he lies after a while.
"Oh, yes, you did," she says. Her voice is cold and sure. "You did."
He nods. "Yeah. I did."
"I don't think we should speak for a while, Jeffrey."
He nods again. He doesn't look at her. "I think that's probably a good idea."
She wheels herself away without another word.
"That was cruel, Jeffrey."
He doesn't look at her. Just pulls his jumper and shirt over his head and dumps them unceremoniously on the floor. "You heard."
"The whole neighbourhood heard."
He kicks off his trousers. "We don't have a neighbourhood. That's why we moved here." He looks around for his pyjama pants and finds them.
"Don't be an ass. What are you doing?"
"Well, since the day got off to such a fine start, I figured I'd go back to bed. Wanna join me?"
Too late, he realises what a callous thing that is to say to a bedridden woman. He's really flying in the sensitivity stakes today. He figures he's still streets ahead of his mother, though.
"Asshole," she says, and turns away to look out the window.
He slips into bed beside her and watches her. Lets her give him the silent treatment. Hell, it's not like she has control over anything else right now. And he really doesn't trust himself not to make matters worse.
Eventually, she relents. She turns to face him again, and when he takes her hand in his, she leans in and kisses him gently on the lips. All is forgiven.
They lie there, watching one another in silence for a while. She's waiting for him to talk, and he doesn't really want to, but he does it anyway, because he's never been able to refuse her anything.
"I don't understand how you can defend her after what she said to you."
She shrugs. "I don't know. It's just - even when I say things you don't want to hear, or that you don't believe, I've never felt that you were angry with me. But your mom - it upsets you so much. There's a little part of you that hates her for what she believes. I don't understand it, Jeffrey." She shifts a little closer, brow furrowed in query. "Why does it upset you like that?"
He thinks about it. He's not completely sure himself, but he thinks - *thinks* - she might have hit on it with her question.
"You hate it as much as I do, Sam," he says after a moment. "You don't want to go. You want to be here with me. Whatever it is you do when you're away, you never, ever want to go." Her frown clears. "But Mom - she *wants* to go! All this saving the world with the aliens crap. She doesn't give a damn how we suffer when she's gone!"
Tenderness softens her features. She strokes his cheek with the back of her hand. He turns his face in to it and kisses it. Still watching her. "You're wrong, Jeffrey," she says. "So wrong. She knows just what it does to us, and it breaks her heart."
He stares at her. "I don't understand."
"You know how I'm always talking about denial?" He nods. "Well, your Mom does it, too, in a way. Why do you think she needs to believe that what we go through serves a higher good?"
"Oh." He has to admit, it makes sense. He feels very small.
"Please try to think kindly of her. I know you've suffered." To his horror, warmth rises up in his face. "But please."
"You're not dying, Samantha," he forces out. "I don't accept that."
"Jeffrey," she sighs. She draws him close.
They make love again. It doesn't really help, but he doesn't know what else to do.
She deteriorates quickly after that.
He can hardly bear to look at his mother. He blames her for Samantha's downturn. It's all he can do not to strangle her with his bare hands.
"We should have a baby," he says from nowhere one day.
They're by the window, and Samantha is cradled in his arms. She stares up at him, a wounded look on her face. He doesn't understand why that hurts her.
"A baby." Her voice is small. "Why?"
"I just - thought it would be nice."
In truth, he hopes a pregnancy will make her fight again. That if she won't fight for herself or for him, then maybe she'll fight for their child. And he still isn't convinced it isn't Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There have been cases of remission in pregnancy.
"We can't have a baby, Jeffrey."
"Why not?" he demands. She opens her mouth, but he forestalls her. "I know what you think about us and you know I don't agree - but for the sake of argument." She sighs, and nods for him to go on with it. "I've been reading. Children born of brother and sister are only slightly more prone to birth defects than the rest of the population."
He shakes his head, warming to his argument. "People have babies with much higher risk factors *all* the time. Women over thirty. Men with haemophilia. It's only sustained inbreeding, over many generations that causes problems. And at most, we only share one parent, so the risk is less again."
She is quiet for a moment. She picks at a stray thread on his shirt. "And what if we did it, Jeffrey? What if we had a beautiful little girl with your eyes and my hair." He smiles down at her, and she smiles back, but her eyes are wet. "And one day people found out about us. She'd be living proof. We'd go to jail. And they'd take her away." Her voice breaks a little. "We'd lose her. I couldn't bear that."
"We could hide her the way we hide ourselves," he argues. "Homeschool. An isolated farm. We could have more so she wouldn't be alone."
"If we isolated ourselves as much as we'd need to, Jeffrey, they'd find solace in one another, just like we did. I don't regret what we did, but we can't create that situation for another generation just to protect ourselves. We can't create that kind of legacy."
"So it's okay for us, but not for our kids?" He can afford to be flip about this, because he doesn't really believe they're brother and sister at all. It's all academic. He sees what she's getting at, though. A vision rises in his mind of generation after generation of hidden families. A vicious cycle of one forbidden love after another. Jesus.
"Jeffrey," she says. "Think about what we went through. Before your mother told us...what she told us. When you believed I was your sister. Think about all the shame and all the guilt you carried." He looks away. He can hardly bear to remember that. They were so goddamn young. "Do you really want that for our children?"
He bows his head. "No. I don't."
"And even if they changed the law tomorrow. Even if we got blood tests and they proved we weren't related." He's considered that himself, but he's never suggested it. Now, he wonders why. "Even then, they'd still have to live with...with what happens to me. With what happens to your mom. Jeffrey, we can't. You know we can't."
He hates hearing her talk like this. He hates hearing all the things she can't do. She can't have children. She can't have friends. She can't have a job.
"Maybe I should have let you go," he says at last. "Maybe I should have let you find someone else. Someone you could just love and be out in the open with and-" his voice breaks.
She draws back to look at him. "It wouldn't have helped, Jeffrey. I could never have had that kind of relationship. Anyone I married would have come under suspicion whenever I disappeared. I would have had to hide, no matter who I was with." Her voice is gentle. "And I never wanted to be with anyone but you."
Her image swims before him.
"You've given me a lifetime of love, Jeffrey. You don't have anything to be sorry for."
The tears come then, and he weeps in her arms.
"Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?"
"Lots of things," he says off-handedly. "Like most kids, I guess." Samantha looks at him curiously, and he realises with a pang that she never thought that far. She just wanted to survive.
But she doesn't talk about that. She rests her chin in her hands. Intrigued. Childlike. "There must have been something in particular, though. I mean, I doubt you saw yourself pumping gas all your life."
"Pumping gas isn't so bad, Samantha. It's worth it." It's true he wishes now and then for something more, but he doesn't think about it much. He has a happy marriage. A home. It's enough.
"But there was *something*, wasn't there?" she wheedles. She's weak today, but she's more than making up for it in spirit.
He finds himself smiling broadly at her. "Well, yeah."
Her mischievous grin grows wide. "So? Tell me!"
He gives a chagrined sigh. "All right. If you must know, I wanted to be an FBI agent. I wanted to catch the bad guys and fight for truth, justice, and the American way. And all that crap."
"Cute?" he echoes. "I said FBI agent, not ballerina."
They laugh together, and he pulls her in for a hug. He can hardly keep his hands off her these days. He needs to touch her. He needs to feel that she's still there.
She pulls back a little and kisses him on the nose. "Agent Spender," she says. "I like that. You should do that, Jeffrey."
"I wouldn't pass the background check," he says complacently. Still holding her.
"You might," she says. "This is the only place we ever told anyone officially that we were married. If you moved on somewhere else - if you used the old place as your last work reference, said you'd travelled in between - you might get through. You're working off the books at the gas station. I don't see how anyone could connect the dots."
His good humour fades. A future apart. That's what she's talking about. That's what she's planning for.
Grief rises in his chest. "Samantha..."
"I don't expect you to put your dreams on hold in my memory, Jeffrey. I know you will for a while. But you shouldn't do that forever. I don't want that."
He bows his head. "You're not going to die, Samantha."
"Yes, I am, Jeffrey. Surely you can see that."
Yes, he can. That's what makes it all so goddamn hard.
"I just don't understand-"
He meets her gaze once more. "Why that doesn't bother you any more."
Her voice is gentle. "I don't have any unfinished business, Jeffrey. Everything I ever could have had, you've already given me. And I always knew I could never have had anything else."
He knows she means it kindly. That he is everything to her. That he makes her happy. But all he can hear is the dark side of it. That there is nothing more he can give her.
The tears come. "I just wish you wanted to stay as much as I want you to stay."
"Oh, Jeffrey," she whispers, and she's crying too. "Oh, Jeffrey."
They make love for the final time.
She sinks rapidly the following day. At nightfall she slips into a coma.
He considers taking her to the hospital. But Barnable confirms what he already knows - the hospital will do her no good. So he keeps her at home, in her bed, and he waits by her side.
It takes three days. Barnable makes her comfortable. He sets up a saline drip. Teaches Jeffrey to tend to it. He checks in twice a day. Jeffrey and Cassandra are barely speaking, but she makes him meals and brings them to him at Samantha's side. He accepts her kindness with what little generosity he has left for her, with a small, watery smile.
He reads to her. He tells her stories from his early childhood, before he met her. He tells her his one good memory of their father. He tells her that he believes her - about the abductions, about her being his sister. He doesn't, not entirely - but there's a little part of him that does, and he tells her that, for whatever it might mean to her. He tells her that he will follow his dream of the FBI, even if he doesn't want it any more, because he knows she thinks he should.
He finds the wedding ring he bought her years ago. He'd known that she would never accept it - it was so frivolous, and she would be afraid of losing it while she was away from him - but he'd bought it anyway, and he gets it out now. He takes it from its box and presses it into her hand, and tells her about the colour of the stones. Then he slips it onto her finger. "I only want what I can carry to my grave, Jeffrey" - and he intends to make sure she will.
Looking at it, thinking about it, he understands her indifference to the concrete. He understands, all too late why she couldn't bring herself to embrace the physical and the real. Because those things were fleeting. They were lost to her every time she was taken away. That was why the only comfort she ever allowed herself was to draw him inside her and to keep something of him within her. Because it was the only thing she could carry with her when she was gone.
The realisation is devastating.
His mother finds him weeping in the middle of the night. Pressing into her hands anything soft and beautiful he can find. Rose petals. A silk scarf. A feather. Anything. Cassandra holds him and rocks him. "She knows, sweetheart. She knows."
"I couldn't - I couldn't -"
"I know." Bullshit. She can't know. He doesn't even know what he's saying himself. But it helps anyway.
He blurts out, "Were we wrong? Was I wrong?"
Cassandra shakes her head. "There's only light and dark, Jeffrey. You gave her light. You can't not know that."
He weeps until he's dry and hoarse, and then she releases him. She kisses Samantha, and she leaves him to wait in the dim light of the moon.
Samantha - his Samantha, his wife, his sister, his wife - she draws her final breath an hour later, as night melds into dawn. He watches numbly as she takes a breath, releases it, and just...stops. His vision blurs, and there are tears - just a few. A single sob. He feels unutterably alone.
He detaches the saline line from the cannula and hangs it over the top of the bag. He peels off the plaster strip from the back of her hand. He eases out the slender needle and rests it on the nightstand, and, automatically, he rubs her skin to ease the discomfort she feels. Would have felt.
He stays at her side, stroking her face and her hands and her hair until her warmth is gone. When finally there is no more hint of life left in her, he bows his head to hers and kisses her forehead, and he offers her the only thing he ever had for her.
"I love you, Samantha. I love you."
His tears spill over his cheeks and onto hers.
When Barnable comes to sign the death certificate, Jeffrey confides in him.
It's a stupid, stupid thing to do. He wonders if the doctor will report them. A part of him almost hopes he does. Perversely, he feels that it would help, somehow. That it would bear witness, somehow, to who she was. To what they were to one another.
Barnable doesn't report them. He offers no judgement, no disapproval, no approval either. He just pats Jeffrey's shoulder and offers quiet words of comfort.
He does not, thank God, offer rationalisations.
He couldn't bear to hear those right now. They loved each other, dammit, and he will not have anyone say that it was just the situation that made them that way. He will never accept that he only loved her because she was all he had. It may be truth, but it isn't his truth. And it never will be.
The doctor gives him the incriminating file when he leaves.
"Where will you go?"
"Maryland," he says, hefting a cardboard box into the back seat of his dirty old utility. "Turns out I'm eligible for a DOD scholarship. Because of Dad."
His mother sits there behind him, watching him from the path. "Are you sure about this, Jeffrey? I know we haven't been on the best of terms, but you've got a home here as long as you want one. I'm not going anywhere."
Until the next time, he thinks, but he doesn't say it. They're rebuilding a tentative relationship, and he's working very hard not to jeopardise that. So is she, he supposes, because she doesn't talk about aliens any more. Not to him, anyway.
"I know, Mom," he says, slamming the door shut. He turns to face her. "But this is what she wanted for me. And I don't know what else to do."
She nods. "I loved her, Jeffrey. If I could have stopped what happened to her-"
"I know that, Mom."
They fall silent. Years of blame and doubt rise up in the space between mother and son. They linger a moment, then fade away. Until the next time.
"What will you do with the ashes?" she asks at last.
"Scatter them," he says. "I don't know where."
"Make sure it's somewhere beautiful."
Another silence. There have been a lot of silences between them since Samantha died. That's one of the reasons he can't stay. He realises now that Samantha was what held he and Cassandra together. She was the keeper of the truth, whatever that really was, while he and Cassandra fought against it in their own private ways. And without her, all they can do is abrade against each other like a couple of raw nerves. Opening each other's wounds over and over again.
"Are you sure you'll be all right here?" he asks finally.
"That nice Dr Barnable has arranged for the county nurse to look in on me now and then. I'll be fine." She looks up at him, suddenly forlorn. "You'll be in touch, won't you, Jeffrey?"
"I need some time, Mom. But eventually, yeah."
"Well, I'll be waiting here. Or not far away, anyway."
He drops to his knees at her side and kisses her. It's an awkward kiss, a dutiful one, but they clutch hands and hold on tight. That's where the love is. In their hands.
At last, they release each other, and he rises. He dusts off his knees. His mother watches, and for a moment, he is a little boy again, cleaning himself off after a tumble. He says impulsively, "I love you, Mom."
"Me too, Jeffrey."
He climbs up into the driver's side of the utility and closes the door. Samantha's ashes are beside him, and so are the letters she left him. He hasn't read those yet. He supposes he will read them one day, but for now, he needs to believe that they still have things to say to one another. That it isn't over yet.
It occurs to him, as he drives away, that she lived her life by his side as much as she could. That she is by his side even now.
The road shifts and blurs before him.
He wipes his eyes, and keeps on going.
AUTHOR'S NOTES (OF THE LITERARY AND PERSONAL VARIETY):
I have to say, Jeffrey and Samantha have taken me by surprise with how completely they've captured my imagination since I wrote Concessions Made. What began as an interesting idea has turned into something very close to my heart. A lot of the feedback I've gotten has said much the same thing - that it was a story that stayed with readers, as it has stayed with me. I hope I've done it justice with this follow-up.
I'm not sure why it was such a powerful story. I'd be more than happy to take all the credit *grin*, but I think the heart of it is the concept itself. I think there's something very special, and very heartbreaking about the ways in which people find love and hope in the depths of pain. I don't really want to glorify incest, because no matter how great the love between a closely related couple, the social obstacles are enormous. I've read some heartbreaking stories in the course of my research; stories of great pain and loss (as well as the equally heartbreaking stories of abuse). But I do want to honour any love that seeks to be truthful and sincere, and I think that's what Jeffrey and Samantha have here.
Anyway...thanks once again for joining me on a sometimes painful read. Several people said to me that they read the first story solely because I wrote it and they trusted me to handle it well, and I can't tell you what that means to me. It's been a very draining, very moving journey. Writing this particular ending saddens me, because I would dearly love to have had more time with the two of them. But I hope the ride was worth it. It was for me. -- Deslea
AUTHOR'S NOTES (OF THE FACTOID/DEEP BACKGROUND VARIETY):
1. As far as I can tell, there is no such town as Charlotte, Alabama (there is, however, a Charlotte Creek). I visualised this as a small agricultural community in the south-west of the state, somewhere in the vicinity of Monroeville and Franklin. I apologise to any locals if this doesn't fit the demographics of that region - I researched as well as I could, and I got a feel for the state as a whole, but I had a lot of trouble finding detailed information about smaller regions within it.
2. In Alabama, incest is a Class C felony, regardless of age or the presence or absence of consent (although I imagine that additional charges of sexual assault, etc would apply in cases where consent was absent). Jeffrey and Samantha would face a minimum of one year and one day's prison, and a maximum of ten years. This is true regardless of whether their relationship is considered to be by blood or by adoption, although it is open to question just how formal Cassandra's adoption of Samantha really was.
I have deliberately left unclear whether their marriage was formal or common-law, but common-law marriage is recognised in Alabama, so the end result is probably the same. The act of marriage between a closely related couple is itself an act of incest there, regardless of consummation - hence Jeffrey's concern about Barnable's files. It is worth noting that incest cannot be proven in Alabama by the uncorroborated testimony of those accused or their partners, so the state would have to rely on witness testimony, documents, or the birth of a child to make its case.
Speaking more broadly (and this makes not one bit of difference to the fic, but it was an interesting set of factoids that turned up in my research), in my own country, from what I can tell, incest of this sort (while technically illegal) is probably protected from prosecution by sexual privacy laws, which forbid the State to inquire into the sexual activities of consenting adults. There are moves in several parts of the world to remove criminal provisions pertaining to incest between consenting adult partners, but these have not had widespread community support. The Wood Royal Commission in Australia originally wanted to decriminalise incest between consenting adults, but backed down after poor community response. In the final report, the commission recommended seven years' prison but also recommended this be limited to blood relatives - not relatives by adoption or marriage. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association's position paper on the 1981 Sexual Offences Act recommends that sex between consenting adults who are both aware of their blood relationship be removed from the legal definition of incest. Interestingly, the BC paper dwells at some length on the issue of couples where one person knows of a blood relationship and the other does not. That makes me wonder whether there was a major case in which this was an issue. Anyway...that's a tangent for another time.
3. I have imposed one of my own social standards onto the fic - namely, Barnable's compassionate part-waiver of his fees. This sort of waiver, while not exactly the norm, is not uncommon in Australia. I have no idea whether it happens in the US.
4. Another regional standard: I have based Jeffrey's thoughts and speculations on what was happening on the news in my country in 1987, when I was thirteen. It's possible that AIDS and Rohypnol became prominent in the US press a little earlier. It's also possible that the Yuppie Flu moniker for ME/CFS was an Australian one. If I screwed those up - sorry about that. I did my best.
5. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) does have periods of relapse and remission, as I learned when I contracted it myself eight years ago. At its worst, I was about as disabled as Samantha is here. I was lucky enough to go into a full remission when I became pregnant with my son. I didn't use the ME/CFS label here because in the late eighties there was a common belief that CFS was an outgrowth of the Epstein-Barr Virus. The ME/CFS designation came later.
6. I've learned in the course of my research that the terminology of incest is itself a huge political football. Several rape crisis agencies state outright on their web presence that there is no such thing as consenting incest - that incest as a term automatically implies the presence of an exploitative perpetrator and a coerced or manipulated victim. It appears that their main concern is that of validating the experiences of survivors who have been manipulated or otherwise maneouvered into a sort of "consent" which is not the free and adult consent we normally mean when we speak of consensual intercourse. (I have to say, my research suggests this is a valid concern - I found several couples who claimed to be in a mutual and consenting relationship, but whose accounts revealed that one partner actively pursued the other in a manipulative way). The law, by contrast, uses the word "incest" purely to refer to sex and/or marriage between close relatives (the degree of relationship prohibited varies by jurisdiction - many parts of the US consider cousin couples to be incestuous, but this is not the case in most other parts of the world). Lack of consent and minor age are aggravating factors rather than automatically implied.
It is in this latter sense that I use the term in this story and the accompanying notes. As much as I sympathise with the reasoning used by the rape crisis agencies, I think the outcome is flawed. I think an adequate understanding of the term "consent" itself provides the philosophical distinction those agencies seek, and I think that equating "incest" with "exploitation" is unhelpful in making sense of this incredibly complex topic. That said, I do recognise that incest between consenting adult partners is by far the rarest form of incest within an immediate family. There is a huge difference between that and sexual abuse. If you are a survivor of abusive incest and are in need of support, please contact RAINN http://www.rainn.org or your local rape crisis center.
7. On the flip side of the equation, I found very few support avenues for consenting adult couples who are in a mutual relationship and are also closely related. About the best one I found was http://www.cousincouples.com. It's a good starting point if you're in that situation, although obviously, it is geared to cousins rather than siblings. I would strongly recommend avoiding alt.support.incest, which is populated by a disquieting mix of erotic stories and troubling stories of sexual predation. I don't think it's a helpful environment, regardless of whether your experience was/is abusive or mutual.