I am swimming in large glass-walled tanks similar to those at aquariums. Eventually, I climb out and walk with other volunteers around the various habitats throughout the park. It is my first day as a volunteer at this sanctuary and the work feels not just important; it is vital to me, to all of us. I have waited for this moment… for this day, for what seems like forever. The fact that I am finally here, that I’ve made it to this place, has me filled with pride.
An explosion sounds from behind me. It’s a raid. The opposition. My worst fear. And I remember why this work is so vital. This rebel force will destroy everything.
I have to fight.
There are no weapons nearby, but I find a stick which is almost more like a small branch, lying in the leaves by my feet. It is strong and I clutch it like a batter at home plate. I spin. A fireball is thrown from a man’s hand. I see his face and my heart sinks, but I can’t think about it now. The ball is heading straight toward one of the habitats. If it hits this target, the habitat and all who shelter inside will be reduced to rubble. I’ve seen this happen.
I move, desperate to block the path of what he’s thrown. I swing out hard. My makeshift bat connects with the fireball, sending it up and out to eventually land in an open portion of thankfully uninhabited grass before exploding. Dirt flies. It is the same deafening sound as the explosion that had first alerted me to the rebel’s presence. I’m shaken, but aside from the assault on my ears, I am unharmed.
I turn to face the next attack, unsure where it will come from, but again, my eyes fall on his face. Where I had seen determination moments ago, I now see rage. It is aimed solely at me. I wait for him to pull out a second ball to ignite in flames. I grip tight to my bat, but instead he pulls out what looks like a long dinner fork. I know this weapon too. It is gold, about eighteen inches long and thinker than a normal fork. The three points are needle-sharp. He runs, but not toward the habitat. A scream filled with the same rage I see on his face, rips out of him as he heads for me. My stick, such as it is, feels weak in my hands now. It will not stop this man. I know him. I know him too well. I run.
I can hear him closing the distance behind me, even as another explosion shakes the ground under our feet. Still I run. I don’t stop until, at last, I am trapped – cornered really – between two connecting raptor enclosures that make a ninety degree angle. There is nothing left to do but to turn and face this man; face my death. My chin is held high when I do.
He raises his fork, which is strong enough, sharp enough, to go right through my breast bone to pierce my heart with a single blow. I have seen that too. But I don’t look at it. My gaze meets his, effectively trapping him too. He looks into my eyes, frozen in that moment, rage still vivid on his face.
The noise around us has become distant; barely audible over the pounding in my head. He lets out an exasperated breath. Strangely, the sound of that is sharp and exaggerated to my ears. As I watch, he quickly lowers his weapon to his side, his hand letting it fall to his feet. Then he closes the last inches between us, stopping a breath from my face. I watch him. Waiting.
I know this man. He’s as gorgeous as ever. My heart thunders in my chest, because I love this man. Despite our differences, despite this war between us, despite the sides we’ve chosen.
I love you, he tells me, echoing my tormented thoughts.
My breath catches. He sounds resigned. His voice is deep. A voice I haven’t heard in too many years. A voice I never thought I’d hear again. He closes the remaining distance and kisses me. It is soft and incredibly tender and it ends much too fast.
As our lips part he says to me, with equal resignation, I hate you. His voice, low, husky and full of love despite his words, is almost too much for me. It is a statement that has just as much conviction as the first and I somehow know this hatred. I understand it. The opposition has torn us apart. Yet here we are. I laugh softly and place my hand on his cheek.
I miss him. He smells as he always did. Under my hand, his familiar face, shaven just that morning, has become rough in this late afternoon light. He turns his cheek into my hand, but he doesn’t laugh at our shared misery as I do. Instead, he closes his eyes, hiding his pain and as the dream begins to fade he whispers I hate that I love you.