If you want to hear the lullaby referenced – originally called “Suo Gan” – I suggest this stunningly beautiful version by Cai Thomas.
Rain on my family, on hats and veils. Rain on suits too dark to show. Rain on high heels, staining dark hose.
Rain on my grave.
I’m not in it. Some guy is—a man too poor to buy his own, who chose to trade red plasma for a real burial, and happened to look enough like me that he could take my place.
But that’s my grave. I bought the plot. I picked the casket. I’d planned it, see? I was not going to be a burden to anyone when I died, whether by accident or old age.
Well, I won’t be a burden now. Notte tells me that when Night-Children die, we turn to ash, to dust, and the wind takes us away. There will be no burial for me.
My sister’s legs give out partway through the eulogy. She sobs my baby, my baby, over and over again, and my older brother holds her up and glares at my grave because by dying, I did this to her.
My gram doesn’t seem aware of sister, the preacher, or anything. She hums under her breath, an old lullaby she used to sing to me, and just stares at nothing, swaying.
I can hear her from this far away, can hear every breath, every shift in leather shoes and uncomfortable dress clothes. That’s gonna take time to get used to.
I know they’ll be okay. Notte had his people make sure my life insurance paid out the full settlement, and somehow the IRS won’t touch it. Before, I would have fussed about this, insisted they pay tax, been the letter of the law. Now, all that matters is my family.
I thought I’d prepared for everything, but how could anyone prepare for this?
“The grief of those we love is a bitter brew,” says Notte beside me. He’s holding a huge black umbrella over us; we’re just an indistinct shape, too far away to bother anyone.
I wish he were easier to hate. “My life wasn’t supposed to be this way,” I manage.
He says nothing.
“Their grief isn’t necessary,” I say, gesturing at my family, and it’s a lie he lets me keep until I’m ready to throw it away. “They’d understand, if I told them. We don’t have to do this.”
“The grief shouldn’t be necessary,” I snap, too wound up to stop. “We shouldn’t have to hide. The Fey are out now. The dragons are. The Kin. People know there’s magic. Why are we still hiding?”
His patience is terrible. It’s the same reason cool prosecutors are dangerous. I’m wrecked, but I can’t wreck him, and it’s driving me crazy.
“Kin are viewed as human, and neither the Fey nor dragons are predators of the human race as we must be,” he says, so gentle. “Additionally, all three are numerous enough to preclude violence. We, the Night-Children, are not so numerous, and we cannot risk the safety of our family – or that of humankind. Should we be forced to defend ourselves, there would be much death.”
“Our family.” We don’t look like family.
“Yes.” He means it.
I blurt it out. “I wish you didn’t seem like you cared so much.”
“Would you prefer I be cruel when our relationship is still so newly minted?”
Our relationship. That’s one way to put it.
He rescued me.
I owe him, I know I do. I’m not under any delusions. The creature who made me wanted me to be a Beast, mad, killing people, a monster. She made me to hurt him, an act of messy rebellion, and he saved me from myself. But that creature is just like him, is of his blood, and I can’t just forgive that.
He lets the silence lie. Patience again.
The preacher finishes the eulogy. People wander away—I bet to Aunt Linda’s. She’s got the space, and after funerals come loads of food. That’s just the way it is.
My brother carries my sister.
Gram goes nowhere. She’s five foot nothing, drove herself here, and nobody’s making her go until she’s ready.
She’s gone from humming to singing, singing the old lullaby.
Sleep my baby on my bosom
Warm and cozy will it prove
Round thee mother’s arms are folding
In her heart a mother’s love
She sang this to me all my life. Sang it over my crib, sang it when I had trouble sleeping in elementary school. Kept humming it even when I got mad at her in my teens, because it’s colonialism, a “traditional” white lullaby that has no business being in a family that suffered through slavery. I told her never to sing it again.
And now –
I will guard you
Keep you from all
Woe and harm
Please don’t stop. This is the last time. The last lullaby. When she’s done, it’s over forever. Please, gram, I think. Please sing it to the end.
I know Notte’s feeling all this, even if he doesn’t read minds (he says). I know he feels my gutted regret.
I know he feels my rage.
I’m glad he’s silent.
I will hold you,
Close enfold you
Close your eyes now
Go to sleep.
I can’t stop the uneven breath, the hitching sob. Just one more escapes, but I can’t keep it in, a loud and broken sound.
Slowly, she turns from the grave and looks toward us.
I don’t know what she sees. I’m sure she doesn’t see me, her youngest grandson. Whatever she sees, she nods to us – acknowledging my sob, maybe – and turns to go.
She slips in the wet grass.
Notte moves so fast sometimes that just the physics involved make me afraid, but right now, I’m glad he can: he’s just there all of a sudden, steadying her, offering his arm, and she takes it like a queen. She lets him escort her to the gravel path, and then—still humming—makes her way down to the parking lot.
I stare at them both, holding the umbrella, all alone. My shoulders shake with my sobs, and the umbrella tilts to slide rain onto my arm. My throat chokes down the sounds I cannot make, will not make.
I know I can’t go back. I know. When I was made, turned into a vampire, I killed people. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in my right mind. It doesn’t matter that the one who made me planned the violence. If the police traced those murders to me, my family will go through a whole other hell.
Notte’s protecting me in more ways than one. I know that. Being dead is better. I get that. No police. No shame.
I still hate him right now – or I would, if I could.
I drink my bitter brew.
Notte waits in the rain, letting me grieve myself. He’s just standing there. I think he’d wait for days if I chose. I wish he were easier to hate.
Finally, I wipe my face. My throat is still tight, like my trachea twisted into a pretzel, but I can’t stand here in the empty graveyard any longer.
I walk to my grave, steadier on my feet than I ever was when human, more graceful than I could’ve ever hoped to be. I walk to the plot I purchased, to the casket I will never use, and throw a handful of soil. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Grief of those we love may be a bitter brew, but I’m not sure my own grief tastes any sweeter.
And still, Notte waits for me. In spite of what I’ve been through and in spite of what I’ve lost, in spite of the fact that he knows I’m angling my rage at him because I can’t aim it anywhere else, he waits.
I believe his compassion, his empathy. Damn him. I almost wish he’d just put me down like a rabid wolf instead, but he didn’t. Instead, here I am, in this bitter second chance.
I turn away from my grave for the last time. “I’m ready,” I say, and my voice is so thick I don’t recognize it. “Please take me home.”