Gray. Black and white. Sifting, scudding, fluttering all around me . . .
Lowering my hand from my mouth, I flicked a finger against the bent cigarette I carried, watching idly as gray-white flecks that were once nicotine and paper drifted in slow arcs to the ground that spread outward from the float I was leaning against, losing themselves in the rest of the off-white matter.
Where was I?
As I looked up, my surroundings slammed through my vision like one of those crazy Asian bullet-trains. Gloomy, overcast skies. Wreckage that had once been what, no one knows. Empty, black shells of houses. Several brave flowers poking through the ashes that blanketed everything. The sights that I had hardly registered on the regular occasions I'd been here now burned themselves painfully into my retinas. But, then again, this wasn't exactly a regular occasion.
The Black Parade.
I lifted the cigarette to my lips again, taking a deep, comforting drag. M War didn't exactly approve of cigarettes in the Parade, but—what the fuckin' hell. I'm goddamn dead. War's wrath was very low on my list of things to stress about at the moment.
The ashes began to swirl again, moving over the ground in their never-ending eddies due to the slight breeze coming from the . . . wait.
I frowned. There is no goddamn breeze. Why the shit—
My fingers tightened on the cigarette as the ashes coalesced almost directly in front of me, rising up to form a human-like figure and then slowly falling away to reveal the spectral image of a woman—silvery blonde, violet eyes, full Parade attire.
Lilith. Lilith Winchester.
Exhaling, I lowered the cigarette once more. "Li?" I gestured at her almost-transparent appearance. Which was wrong—she was a realm jumper, like me. She should've looked as solid as anything else in this place. "Why are you all . . . ?"
Before I could finish my question, Li reached out and curled her fingers around my forearm. "Just sleep."
My mouth opened to protest her actions, maybe ask her what the hell she was doing . . . silence. I frowned, or attempted to frown—still nothing.
"Just sleep . . ."
Her voice reverberated through my skull, flowing around me like an ancient lullaby. Cold lethargy was creeping steadily through my limbs, up my veins, curling through my stomach . . . I felt a strange detachment steal over me, like I was being separated from something, everything. And the blackness, the blackness was reaching for me, enveloping me in its bittersweet embrace, calming my struggles, pulling me down, down, down . . .
"I'm sorry . . ."
Reddish white . . . black and gray . . . burning, tearing, screaming. Screaming.
I fought. I squirmed, and I writhed in agony. But the darkness again held me in its loving caress, and I resisted no more.
Just sleep . . .
The darkness receding abruptly, I sat straight up, wheezing in a loud breath—and nearly went back under.
"Uuuuugh . . . I—shi-it . . ."
My head pounded like I'd just been through a month-long bender, and my mouth felt dry, my tongue horribly swollen. I was sitting on what felt like some kind of mat, and my ears picked up faint whimpers of pain. Where . . .
Coughing, my vision beginning to clear itself of its black and red dots, I glanced around, moving my head slowly so as not to make the giant hammers striking gleefully away at my brain beat any harder than they already were. And I stilled, whimpers and headache fading to a slight annoyance in the back of my mind.
Blue, cloudless sky . . . sand everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Cacti, their wickedly-pointed needles thrown into sharp relief against the blue and yellow-brown tones of the atmosphere and earth.
The desert. The beautiful, arid Cali desert.
I squeezed my eyes shut, sure that this was some kind of hallucination. I was dead, there was no goddamn way around that. I couldn't be back in the desert, this had to be some kind of messed up dream. Cautiously, I opened one eye again.
The endless sands still glared at me under a blazing midday sun.
Feeling the corners of my lips shift downward in frustration, I turned my head to the side. "This can't—"
I stopped abruptly when I saw the woman curled up on her side, her eyes closed, and the coarse desert sands sticking to her pale, damp skin. Her entire body trembled in a way that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the whimpering noises began to register in my brain again.
"Lilith . . ."
The stabbing pain in my head intensified as I attempted to stand up, and instead I sank to my knees, my breaths coming in short gasps. She looked bad, she looked really bad—I had to get to her, I had to wake her up.
Discarding the idea of getting to my feet, I hunched forward onto my hands and knees and started a slow, clumsy crawl in her direction. Li wasn't too far away, and I managed to reach her side before my limbs gave out on me. Seating myself on my ass, I exhaled with a whoosh and set a hand on Lilith's shoulder.
"Li . . . Li, where—why is—wha-at happened?" I began to shake her a little roughly, my need to know what was going on overriding the caution I'd wanted to conduct myself with.
Lilith let out a strangled noise, her breath shuddering out, then back in. I immediately retracted my hand, even as her lips moved to form a word, one word that I automatically dismissed as too good to be true. "Alive . . ." Her voice was so faint that I had to concentrate hard to hear it, an effort which left me lightheaded. When I glanced back at her, I realized she was covered in a film of sweat, something I felt I should've noticed sooner.
Swallowing convulsively, I lifted myself up on my knees and bent over her shaking form, nearly toppling to the ground as I did. "Why are you . . . I'm just—just halluci-inating, why are . . . you like that . . ."
A violent shudder wracked her body, and I frowned, laying the back of my hand against her sweaty forehead as gently as I could.
Burning. Burning hot. I whipped my hand away, the quick motion sending knives through my eyes. Her body temperature—there was practically steam rising from her.
"N-no . . ."
I leaned in close, the movement slow and tentative.
"I—you—" Her hand lifted from where it lay pressed against her stomach, then dropped again as a second shudder traveled through her. She curled into a tighter ball, something I hadn't thought possible, and tried again. "You—I pulled . . . alive . . ."
The last word seemed to evaporate into the air, and my sluggish brain took a moment to process the fact that she had just slipped into unconsciousness.
"Wait—Li—do-on't . . ." I slid my hand back to her shoulder, shaking her with a dogged determination, as if with that movement I could somehow wake her up again.
Eventually, I sat back, defeated, letting my gaze drop—and rest on the flimsy hospital gown that I was dressed in. I grimaced at the BL/Ind logo sprawled across the front, looking up again for—there.
A dark gray shirt and a pair of jeans were folded neatly on one corner of the mat I still reclined against. I extended an arm, wincing when I stretched a stiff muscle somewhere in the region of my neck that I hadn't even known I'd had.
My hand brushed against the clothes. Gingerly picking up the muscle shirt, I dropped it in my lap and carefully drew the hospital gown over my head, tossing it away as soon as it was fully in my grip and ignoring the slight intensifying of my headache as I did so.
I looked down. Whoever had taken my clothes off hadn't finished the job, anyway—I still wore a pair of briefs. Thank fuck. Goin' commando in tight jeans is not a walk in the park.
The shirt slipped easily over my head, the stretchy material sliding gracefully against my torso. The jeans took a while longer, and I was breathless and on my back when I finally managed to fasten the front up.
Too unsure of myself to attempt even sitting up at this point, I rolled slightly to face Lilith's immobile figure. This was just a hallucination, just a dream . . . I was sure of it. But—the corners of my mouth tipped downward. Why the hell would I dream up a comatose Li? To make the hallucination seem more real?
Raising one arm, I again pressed the back of my hand to her forehead. She was cooler, much cooler . . . almost at a normal temperature now. I curved my lips, letting out a relieved breath, then moved my hand back to her shoulder and gave a weak attempt at a push. "Li . . ."
Nothing. Not even the flutter of an eyelash—not even the slightest aberration in the faint rhythm of her breathing.
Rolling over so that I had my back to her, I let out another breath—and nearly lost an eye to some unidentifiable object that sat directly in front of my face. "Wha—"
I pushed myself up, taking another look at the eye-poker. My lips twisted when I recognized what it was.
Debating on whether or not I should send something out, and—more importantly—whether there was even anyone out there that would actually hear me, my mind wandered back to Li and her feverish whimpers, her helpless form lying there on the sand.
She needed goddamn help . . . and what if this weren't some dark, isolated corner of my imagination come to torture me with dreams of the living? Li was fuckin' half vampire, like me—I frowned. Was that what the smoldering body temperature was about? Also like me, she wasn't prone to bursting into agonizing flames when sunlight struck her . . . but . . . she'd felt like she'd just finished frying eggs on fuckin' Mercury. Had she been burning up the power of her darker abilities, trying to help me? If so . . . if, if, if . . .
Coming to a decision, I raised the transmitter to my lips, my finger playing over the broadcast button.
Hallucination or not, the dead had awoken.