You’re like the ocean, placid on the surface but a roiling current of riptides and whirlpools beneath, ceaseless churning no cliff nor seawall can abate as in your longing for the shore you wear away at the very thing you desire, love crumbling at your touch to be drawn down into the forces twisting within you and suffocating there, lost to the dark depths where lay forgotten all the burdens too heavy to bear up or toss to land.
You’re like the wildfire, ravenous and unstoppable, a thing of great and terrible beauty which punishes the lover’s outstretched hand with charred flesh and blackened bone, yet even as you rage on you destroy the very substance which makes your existence possible, devouring body and breath to fuel your murder-suicide, and you shall not cease until there is nothing left to burn and you shrink to flickering coals, curling ash, and finally cool to nothing.
You’re like the desert, parched for life-giving rain, longing for sustenance, yet while a drop of affection dries too quickly on your cracked and dusty surface to provide even a moment’s nourishment, a downpour of love cannot soak through quickly enough and so roars as a deadly flash flood through the gullies and pits of your scars, wiping away what weak green buds have managed to take root in the unforgiving soil.
They were saints, vessels of the gods, and so we buried them together, yet still the place remains cursed. The earth there recalls too readily the blood spilled in jealousy and betrayal, and the failure of those who witnessed the sacrilege yet were helpless to intervene. In our nightmares we still recall the phantom wailing heard when we entombed the lovers’ bones – they were not meant to be buried, we understand that now, but how could we have known our attempts at honor were torture instead? Sealed away from the light of Sun and Moon, their spirits remain trapped, and the retribution delivered to their murderer too little, too late to make amends. The White Saint avenged his slain lover, yes, but even as he plunged the blade into their Judas’ back we saw he too bled out and knew we would lose them both in the end. We have tried to bring their spirits peace, yet not even burning the traitor’s body eased their suffering. And so the place of their bloody burial remains haunted and barren, sacred to those who seek the restless saints’ blessing for a lover’s vengeance.
April 16th, 1912
I have only just now found time to write, it has been so very chaotic the last two days. How lucky I am, little journal, that I carry you with me always! I could not bear to think of you at the bottom of the ocean, all my dreams and secrets lost forever in those cold depths. But oh, how many others were lost in such a manner – so many lives we still do not yet know the full count!
I have never been so frightened, dear journal. At first they would tell us nothing of any use; when I asked if something had happened to the ship the crewmen treated me as if I were a child asking silly questions! Mother and Father told me not to worry, but there were many among us as restless as I. When it was announced that those of us in first class should head onto the deck (think of it! on such a cold night!), many people began to argue and spread rumors. I overheard someone say an engine had died; another that this was simply a drill and would soon be completed; someone even claimed we had hit an iceberg and were sinking!
At first I did not believe such dramatic stories, but then the crewmen announced first class women and children should board the lifeboats. I did not think, even then, that a mere drill would require such drastic actions, especially in the middle of the night. By then my fellow passengers were in a panic, and the rumors became truth – we truly had struck an iceberg and the Titanic, that purportedly unsinkable ship, was foundering beneath our feet. If we did not evacuate, we would surely go down into the black waters as well.
Journal, you will think me foolish for my actions, but I swear I acted without thought. One moment I was standing by Mother in preparation to board one of the lifeboats and the next I was running through the crowd, pushing my way back from the deck and into the dining room. I had to find her, journal. That was my only thought. I had to find the girl I had traded glances with over dinner, smiled to secretly as she placed a plate before me or refilled my glass. I did not know her name, had no way to find her on such a great vessel, but I had to try.
In the dining room, where chairs were overturned and meals left half eaten, the serving maids had gathered in fear. No one had told them what to do; I doubt anyone gave a thought for the staff in such a crisis. And there she was, my angel, my beauty, doing her best to calm her fellows and soothe their fears. I should have left her to her duty, perhaps, but as I said, journal, I could hardly think for fear. I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me, saying nothing to her surprised questions save that she must come with me, that we must escape the doomed ship. I remember little of our flight, only that her hand in mine was very warm.
Somehow we made our way through the crowd and to a boarding lifeboat. The crewman assisting ladies into the boat would have let me pass, but he held his hand out to my companion. Even with the deck tilting beneath our feet, still he refused to let my companion board with me, citing her lower class. You would be proud of me in this moment, at least, journal: I squared my shoulders, put my hands on my hips like any stern matron, and told the man this girl was my servant and that if he expected a lady like me to travel alone, and refused her admittance, then I too would remain on the ship. How white he turned, journal! Sometimes I am quite grateful for my station in life. He let us both pass without another word and we climbed into the lifeboat.
Oh journal, I cannot put to words how it broke my heart to hear the cries of fellow passengers as we watched the ship sink beneath the waves! Surely it shall haunt my dreams for many years. I turned my face into my companion’s shoulder and wept, and we held each other through the long, cold night. I do not know what I would have done, had I not had her by my side. We have been inseparable since.
Those of us who survived the sinking (so strange to call myself that – a survivor!) are on a different ship now, one that shall take us the rest of the way to New York. I have promised my companion she shall have a place in our home, for I cannot bear the thought of parting and swear to keep her close as I may. If this harrowing experience has taught me anything, it is that we must keep close the things we cherish, or risk losing them when least expected.
I will write more soon. You remain as always, little journal, my confidante.
Tanim stands, gaze lowered, frowning at something. Daren stands at his side, eyes averted but attention clearly focused on Tanim anyway.
Tanim: You make the worst parts of my personality come out.
Daren (chuckles dryly): It’s the only way to know who you really are.
Tanim: I was honest from the start. You know what I am. What I’m capable of.
Daren: You’re not the villain here.
Tanim: I’m not?
Daren: That badge belongs to me. (gestures to the crumpled woman on the concrete) To her.
(Tanim swallows, silent. Daren reaches into the pocket of his coat and hands Tanim a silken handkerchief. Tanim accepts the proffered object and wipes carelessly at the blood on his lips and chin.)
Tanim: What makes you the villain, then?
Daren (folding the bloodied handkerchief and placing it back in his pocket): I already knew who you really are. I needed to know if you knew. If you recognized the truth amid the blood lust.
Tanim (nods to the unmoving body): And her?
(Daren looks down at her with obvious disdain.)
Daren: She deserved worse.
Tanim (defiantly): Who are you to say what one deserves and doesn’t deserve.
(The two men stare at each other. Tanim’s chin trembles slightly, but he’s standing erect, just barely taller than Daren. Daren’s eyes smolder blackly.)
Daren: I am your god.
(Tanim struggles to maintain the stare, to stand strong before the other, but with a visible shudder he lowers his eyes and tilts his head to the side, a wolf yielding to its alpha. Daren reaches out to take Tanim’s chin, not entirely unkindly.)
Daren (murmuring): Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, love. Would you rather be alone once more? A mad beast wandering the streets, waiting to be put out of its misery?
Tanim (weakly): You said you would help me…
Daren: And I have, haven’t I?
(Tanim looks up, a ghost of tears in each eye.)
Daren: And you repay me in such a manner?
Tanim: I… forgive me, Sire. I… (he licks his lips) Why the girl?
Daren (snorts with amusement and impatience): You know why.
(Tanim winces and seems as if about to speak, then think better of it. He nods instead and gestures halfheartedly at the cooling corpse.)
Tanim: Shall I throw her in the river like the others?
Daren: No. This one stays. (He smiles when Tanim casts him a questioning look) She’ll serve as a warning.
(Tanim bends down to close the girl’s eyes. Daren smiles almost lovingly at the gesture.)
Daren: You still care too much.
Tanim (standing up and dabbing at his mouth with the kerchief again): Of course I care. That’s why you chose me.
Daren takes the handkerchief from Tanim and refolds it, placing it in his back pocket.
Daren: I’ll not see regret in your eyes again. Do you understand?
Tanim (bows his head): Yes, Sire.
(Smirking, Daren turns and starts back down the alley, not bothering to check if Tanim follows. He does, after a slight hesitation, careful not to glance again at the girl’s body as he catches up to his master.)
Daren: You know why I test you so, don’t you, Tanim?
Tanim (speaking as if by rote): So that you may know if I am worthy.
Daren (a sigh like a patient tutor): No, love. Not that.
(Tanim pauses briefly, struck with surprise, then hurries to keep up with Daren.)
Tanim: If not that, then… why?
Daren: Because your heart still beats. (Tanim stops and raises a confused brow. He places his hand over his chest as though to point out the lack of his heartbeat. Daren caresses his cheek and then places his hand over Tanim’s.) You feel as they do, Brother. When you tear their flesh, so is yours torn. That intimacy is vital.
Tanim: Then why kill them at all? (Daren’s jaw clenches angrily. Tanim immediately lowers his head.) Sire, I-I simply ask be-because…. Because if it is intimacy that we seek, why take the life? Why not share that moment together?
(A faint smile manages to pull at Daren’s mouth, though his expression remains impatient, on edge.)
Daren: There are many kinds of intimacy. Would you truly wish to share with them (the word spoken with unfeigned disgust) that which you share with myself? Or vice versa? (Moves in to stand face to face with Tanim, chin lifted to bare his pale neck.) Do you think you could do to me what you do to them, my beautiful beast? Would that bring you satisfaction? Fulfillment?
(Tanim offers a weak smile, more to veer from the threat and temptation of the dare than from amusement.)
Tanim: I doubt you would even let my teeth touch your skin, should I be foolish enough to attempt such a thing.
Daren: But it isn’t fear or logic which keep you from the act.
Tanim (ruefully, yet with a note of affection): No.
(A rustling, groaning noise can be heard behind them. Tanim turns.)
Tanim: Sire, she’s not completely—
Daren: —Take care of it. (gently kisses Tanim’s forehead) And then come to me.
(Tanim swallows, nods, and turns away as Daren continues down the alley. Above the sound of Daren’s footsteps can be heard a high, trembling whimper and then the tear of cloth and flesh.)
[ Collab between myself and the girlfriend. ]
You are your own card, last in the deck, The Deceiver with no honest man to balance your influence. The chalice cupped in your outstretched hands could hold anything; blood or tears or semen, wine or poison. Drawn alone, are you friend or foe? Set beside another card, do you muddle its message, twist the meaning of the spread? Even inverted you pose a threat, your proffered cup empty and waiting to be filled. You’ve your allies – the veiled moon, the crumbling tower – but ultimately you stand alone. Your very presence in the deck causes a constant anxiety, as if even when not drawn your power seeps into the telling.
“Daren? You’re early.”
It’s easy to forget with this one, our ‘stray’, that he isn’t a child. He could be one right now, the way he’s hunched down in the hallway with his arms hugging his legs and forehead pressed to his knees. He looks frightened, lonely, lost. It’s hard not to kneel down and wrap my arms around him, comfort him like I would the true children I treat. I fight the urge, though; I must never forget that this fragile form unfolds into a man a head taller than me, one who if not strong is surprisingly agile and quick. No one touches him except the orderlies.
“Would you like to come in? We can start your session now.”
Yes, his age is easy to forget – at least until those black eyes flicker in my direction, hard and hating, hurting, and it seems this man has never been a child at all. It’s possible in this moment to imagine him wielding a knife, driving it over and over into the chest of a man who was his… what? Friend? Lover? Something darker? Until we can get the story from Daren – if we can get the story, if he ever speaks in more than broken sentences – he’ll remain here indefinitely. I won’t allow someone so traumatized to be put on trial.
“Why don’t you come into my office, Daren?”
His lips twitch; his gaze falls away. He mutters something almost inaudible, voice rusty and weak, but I’ve heard the phrase enough times to make it out anyway. “Need… need to find Tanim…” It’s all he’ll say in reference to his past, to the incident which led him to this involuntary committal. He doesn’t seem to remember his own part in Tanim’s death, nor even that the man is dead, no matter how often I break the news to him.
“Well… let’s talk about that, okay? Come inside and we’ll talk about Tanim.”
I’m determined to uncover the truth behind Daren’s instability, to help him face whatever horrors are so unbearable he’s locked them from his mind. But if he does remember, what will happen to him then? Will he stand trial for murder? Will he be locked away with no hope of rehabilitation, when chances are he had no true understanding of his crime?
You think about it too, don’t you?
I feel helpless, like I came too late; like I failed her.
I’ve felt that guilt as well. It can be… weighty.
What did you do about it?
First I fed it to my sorrow. Then I fed it to my rage.
…how would you do it, if you could?
We’ll never get that chance.
No, most likely not. But for them the willingness counts as much as action. It’s a rage sparked by love, fueled by the urge to protect and avenge. They understand. There’s meaning enough in the desire.
It still haunts you, though, that you weren’t there to save him.
Just as it will always haunt you that you couldn’t keep her safe.
If I ever had the chance…
I know. So would I.
I have seen you, muse, in your gilded cage, the iron bars and patterned glass through which you watch the world. You are safe within that cell, or so at least you’ve convinced yourself to justify the years already wasted in limbo. At least inside the only monsters which can reach you are those of your own devising, the uncertainties and miseries come to plague you nightly. Still, surely you must hear the note of longing in your voice? Sense the tugging of your songs to slip between the bars and ride free upon the wind? You think you need the safety of the cage, yet even I can see how your restless wings shiver in longing for the sky. If I were to unlock that door, open wide your cage, would you burst from your confines and take to the air or would you crouch down on your perch, more afraid of the unknown without than the familiarity of imprisonment? I promise you, dear one, there is beauty and wonder beyond those bars like nothing you could ever imagine. Danger as well, yes, and heartache, but is the gain not worth that struggle? You need not venture forth alone; see, I will sit here just beyond the open door and wait until you step over the threshold so we may go hand in hand into the wide world. I’ve wings strong enough to lift us both until yours remember how to glide.
I would venture into the dark forest for you, brave the monsters of which we do not speak, the old vengeful gods of sacrifice and punishment which leave their marks over our lintels by night, for in the light of day you’ll see they are but creatures of flesh and blood, as easily cut down as us fragile mortals, and cut them down I shall to lay the felled fell beasts at your feet, my hand outstretched, and when you join yours to mine I shall draw you away into the conquered forest where we will reign as kings, gods, lords of the green hall, and never more shall the shadows hold sway over us.
I don’t even see him draw the blade; one minute my mouth is on Daren’s collarbone, one hand tracing his hip while the other gently circles his wrist, and next I know his fingers are fisted in my hair, forcing my head back as he presses the honed blade to my throat. Oh, no, no, I think, oh love, what did I do? Where have you gone? What are you seeing? because when I glance up I don’t see my lover in those hard black eyes, nor any measure of sanity, only the feral snarl of a caged beast for its tormentor. The knife bites at my skin and I know I’m trembling, heart pounding in my chest, my temples, but I can’t stop. At one time in my life I might have found this exciting, even stimulating, but not now. Now it’s only heartbreaking and terrifying to look into Daren’s eyes and see nothing of the man I love. Now I truly can’t predict if Daren will draw the blade away or dig it into my flesh, he’s so far gone into the nightmare where I can’t follow. He utters a sound half a growl, half a hiss, inhuman and yet so clearly a warning he needs no words anyway. I lower my eyes, lay my hands at my sides; I am weak, I think to him, I am not your enemy, you could cut me to ribbons and I would bleed out for you, I won’t fight you, I won’t hurt you, you know me, I’m not that man, you know I’m not... Daren’s hand clenches, bright stars of pain blooming where he tears at my hair, but I don’t dare risk a glance. Instead I let him feel my shaking, smell my fear, a wolf exposing throat and stomach to his alpha. But this is a wolf who’s been caged before, who lashes out still at the hand which feeds in memory of the hand which hurt. I murmur his name, “Daren, Daren, come back,” and above me the ragged breathing becomes a whimper, a strangled moan, and when I chance to look up the grimace on his lips is a twist of misery and rage, but at least they are human expressions. The knife wrenches away as I meet his wide eyes, swear “Darling, I’m here,” and catch him, trembling, choking on the wail he refuses to release, as he collapses into my arms.
The more I bleed, the more he drinks. Do you suppose there’s an equation to predict which of us will drown first? Blood is thicker, but whiskey burns all the way down. I’ve let my body waste, but he actively tried to destroy his. I wonder: if we could predict the end somehow, would we use that knowledge to change the outcome? Would he, knowing I might leave him behind, hasten his own demise? Would I, fearing to be alone again, attempt to tip the scales? Maybe it’s best this way, this camaraderie of shared misery, this fellowship of blood and pain. Maybe if such an equation did exist, could give an accurate sum, we’d only spend the time remaining trying to equal out both sides.
Most men have moments of madness in the midst of their humanity – Daren has moments of humanity in the midst of his madness. Tanim has been fooled by this. Fooled into believing the fractured pieces of Daren’s sanity can be made whole; fooled into trusting the benevolence of the wasteland; fooled into promising his love to the bottomless pit. No mortal body could contain the wrath and ruin of a fallen god, nor mortal mind withstand such rage and deceit, hunger and abhorrence. No wonder the force of it drives Daren to the edge. His flesh and bones exist to cage a maelstrom which will one day rip him wide, which already tears at him from within until he chokes up blood. Yet still Tanim remains steadfast, clinging to the glimpse of awareness in the god’s death throes.
You starved from lack and loss and they buried you in a crossroads grave, nameless, forgotten, but I have always known you and I built a cathedral upon that axis, monument and beacon both, sentinel and soul’s vow, and therein I have waited all these long years. To you, lonely spirit seeking the shelter of belonging, the embrace of completion, my doors are always open, and barred tight against those who mean you harm. Cry sanctuary! and fall into me, let me hold you to my breast and smooth away your tears. Specter no more, take a drop of my blood and a tear from my eye and resurrect like a phoenix from your ashes, sister to my own heartbeat, lover to my own breath. Be reborn as the goddess, the angel, the Valkyrie with blade in hand; and I shall be your temple, your holy ground, your Valhalla.
[ Another pseudo roleplay thing written by the girlfriend and I. ]
(Daren speaks to himself in the mirror. He’s shaving with a folded razor.)
Daren: How am I going to forgive myself?
(A disembodied voice.) Tanim: For what?
Daren: For destroying you. (He lowers the razor, still staring into the mirror.) When all of this finally slides into madness, how will I ever be able to forgive myself for what will happen to you?
Tanim: It was my choice to follow you.
(Daren turns, the unfolded razor gripped in one hand at his side.)
Daren: Was it?
(The sound of footsteps on stone. Tanim approaches, stepping carefully around the rubble on the cathedral floor.)
Tanim: It’s always my choice.
Daren: You’ll die here, you know.
Tanim: What’s a life without you?
(Daren flexes the fingers of his other hand. Tanim sees the razor in the other.)
(Daren follows Tanim’s gaze down to the razor. His lips twitch in some semblance of a ghost smile. His wings tremble once, white feathers shifting against each other.)
Daren (turning the razor over so it catches the weak light): What will you do when I raze this world to the ground, when I level it to a wasteland?
Tanim: I will kneel at your feet in the wasteland.
Daren (staring at the razor pointedly): It would be so easy. So quick. That’s why I can’t do it. Because I need to feel it.
(Tanim takes a step closer, testing Daren’s comfort level. Daren stands unmoving.)
Daren: They didn’t want me there.
Tanim: It was my good fortune that they didn’t.
Daren: Have you been turned away? Have you been observed and inspected and then told to go?
(Tanim reaches out, cupping his hand around the razor. Not hard enough to wrest it from the other’s grasp; just enough to test its edges, draw a drop of blood.)
Tanim (smiling ruefully): Every time. (Looks up to Daren) But who wouldn’t want you?
Daren (voice a mix of scorn and longing): The Bright Ones.
Tanim (shaking his head): You were too bright even for them. What will you do now?
(Daren’s eyes narrow, his hand clenching subconsciously around the blade.)
Daren: Burn this world and send its ashes to Heaven.
Tanim: Go back.
Tanim: Go back. To Heaven.
Tanim: Show them what they cast out.
(Daren glances back down to the razor, considering.)
Daren (thoughtfully): It would be suicide.
Tanim: Not necessarily.
Daren (glancing back up to Tanim): And would you follow me even there?
(Tanim grips onto Daren’s hand, the same that holds the razor. The blade cuts into both of them and drips down their grasp. Daren inhales softly. Tanim clenches his jaw and his eyes flutter at the momentary pain.)
Tanim: As you go, so do I.
Daren: They won’t expect me.
(Daren watches the blood snake down his thin forearm.)
Tanim: If they hurt you, I will end them.
Daren: And if I hurt you?
(Tanim watches the blood as well, angelic silver and mortal red mixing like twin rivers.)
Tanim: You can’t.
Daren: Do you understand what is necessary to bring you with me, into that realm?
Tanim swallows, hesitates, then nods resolutely.
Tanim: Yes. (Raises his head back up to meet Daren’s eyes, white throat bared.) It is a paltry sacrifice, to remain by your side.
(Daren tugs on Tanim’s bleeding hand. The two men are nose to nose. Daren tilts his head to the side and closes his eyes, inhaling Tanim’s scent. Tanim shudders. Daren brushes his lips against Tanim’s neck. Both men’s eyes are closed.)
Daren: It’s unlike any pain you’ve ever felt.
Tanim (swallows): I’m not afraid.
Daren: You should be.
(Daren slides his lips over Tanim’s jaw and locks their mouths together, one hand gripping the back of Tanim’s neck to hold him in place. His other hand raises the blade, wet with their commingled blood, and in one quick, fluid motion slides the razor across Tanim’s neck. He drops the blade as the man begins to collapse, using both arms to lower him gently to the ground.)
Daren (smoothing Tanim’s hair as the other bleeds out): I can’t make you like myself, not completely. There’s only one with that ability. But there’s power in the sacrifice, more than they know. I know, though; I’ve made its kind. (Cups Tanim’s face in his hand) There is power on the other side of agony. You just have to reach it.
He spreads his hands, helpless, and asks What else do we have? Who else do we have? and he’s right, I know he’s right, but If he hurts her… to which he sighs, weary, the struggle clouding his pale eyes, and replies He is irreparably broken; he can’t be fixed, can’t ever be trusted not to destroy or self-destruct; all I can do – all we can do – is give him a safe space in which to be broken an excuse I’ve heard so many times before, yet when once I’d have gone willingly with this sacrifice I can’t now, not when there’s more than myself to lose, so He doesn’t want to be sheltered I counter he wants to be sane and before he can argue You do him no good treating him like he’s made of glass; give him room to flex his wings and we’ll see how broken they really are and for once he has no reply, just a grimace of disagreement and the unspoken knowledge that this road is long and painful for us all, yet as I turn away he mutters Can you blame me, for fearing to hurt him further? to which I reply Can you blame me for fearing the same?
I have always been the Ice Prince: stark, barren, unyielding. It is a vast and empty land over which I rule, shadow and nightmare in shades of silver. Yet now you the Ice Queen too bear the iron crown, I see. Welcome to the kingdom, dear sister. Yes, we are kin, of a kind. We’ve the same black ice blood sluicing through our veins, the same bleak winter in our lungs. Your inheritance is ice and indifference, stone and storm. Did you think otherwise, when the depths and dark places have always called to you? There are no promises or platitudes here; only cold, hard, cutting truths. We can never offer enough, never fill the cup of longing, never sate need nor want. We are inert, hollow, unfeeling things, and even when we give it is always inadequate. We are inadequate. Frozen hearts, wasteland souls, impenetrable and deceitful. Do not disagree, you have carried this shard of knowledge in your breast all your life. After all, are the stars not hard and distant, no matter how brightly they shine? Constant as the Moon is fickle, yet both shed the same cold light, dead light, false light, are unobtainable all the same. So you. So I. So we. Do not deny the crown, Lady, should it slip and become your noose.
[ Another semi-roleplay thingy written in chunks by the girlfriend and myself. ]
(Their bedroom. Daren is sitting on Tanim’s side of the bed. The drawer to the nightstand is open. He holds something in his hands.)
[TANIM enters, pauses at the door frame; a picture of sorrow.]
Tanim: Daren, I asked you not to do that.
Daren (not looking up from what he’s holding): Why do you have this, Tan?
Tanim (softly): Does it matter?
Daren (still staring at the object): Yes. It matters.
Tanim: It’s only a reminder.
Daren glances up now, locking their eyes.
Tanim (holds his gaze for a moment and then looks down): Of what I used to be.
Daren: Why didn’t you tell me?
Tanim (sighs and leans the back of his head against the door frame): Because I knew you would react this way.
Daren: What way?
Tanim: As though it had no importance at all. (gestures to the object) That was my life, Daren.
Daren’s gaze follows the gesture down to the thing in his hands. He sneers.
Daren: Yes, the life you strove to smother or starve from your body. Such importance.
Tanim: You wouldn’t understand. (Under his breath) Not that I expect you to try.
Daren rises, fingers clenched around the object, eyes narrowing.
Daren: Wouldn’t understand? Understand what? Desperation? Fear? The utter lack of control?
Tanim: I… I didn’t mean to imply that—
Daren: —that I don’t know what it’s like? I have my own tokens, Tanim. But I keep them here (places a hand over his heart). I don’t store it in a box beside my bed and keep it hidden from my lover.
Tanim (getting defensive): You already hide enough from me.
Tanim: You know what I mean.
Daren (sneering): Oh yes. I do. I know what you want. But what makes you think you have any right to it? Is there nothing so painful I may keep it to myself? (Takes a step forward) And remember, before you make such demands, what I could ask of you, and do not.
Tanim swallows, then raises his chin to meet the bluff with his own angered dare.
Tanim: Oh? And what would you ask?
Daren steps forward and walks Tanim back against the door frame. Their faces are inches from one another. Daren holds the object tightly in his fist and presses it roughly against Tanim’s chest.
Daren: Don’t. Provoke. Me.
Tanim raises to his full height, staring down into Daren’s eyes.
Tanim: Or what, love? You’ll strike me?
Daren (deadly calm): No. (Takes a step back.) I’ll leave.
Tanim goes completely still.
Tanim: You wouldn’t.
Daren: Don’t presume to know me so well.
Tanim: I’m the only one who knows you.
Daren holds up the small prescription bottle. Emptied of pills long ago, the small shard of glass clangs against the sides of the bottle.
Daren: Get. Rid. Of this.
Tanim: I can’t. You know I can’t.
Daren’s eyes narrow.
Daren (disgusted): Can’t? Is that your excuse for everything?
Daren snorts and tosses the bottle down, turning his back to Tanim.
Daren (softly): You refused to let me die, refused to let me sink into my own madness, and you dare say you can’t let go of this one piece of your past? Even this you cannot do for me? (Hand closes into a fist, as if still holding the bottle) …for us?
Tanim: The scars on your body. (sneers) The… lattice work of abuse etched into your skin.
Daren (angrily): What of it?
Tanim: I let you have those. I press my lips to them. I see them every night and I can’t do a goddamn thing about them.
Daren (laughs bitterly): And am I to blame for those? Would you be better honored by my covering them up than by letting you, only you, see them? (Lower, now; threatening) You act as if you have no scars of your own. What do you think I see, when I look into your eyes? But I never ask. I never press, when you offer.
Tanim (trembling with anger, unable to steady his voice): Ask what?
Daren: Who they were. How many. How often. I know the why, yes, you’ll tell me that when you’re in your cups, but not when or how or where, and I have never asked!
Daren’s shout startles them both into silence.
Daren’s shout echoes through the loft. Tanim kneels down and picks up the bottle.
Tanim: Why would you ever want to know?
Daren turns around to find Tanim kneeling. He closes his eyes and breathes heavily, clenching his jaw.
Tanim (a whisper): You’re the only one that matters to me. (Daren laughs harshly) I… was a different man. I only sought after things because I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting still and realizing I was surrounded by ruin. Beloved…
Tanim reaches out a tentative hand towards Daren’s. Daren’s eye twitches, but he doesn’t make any further movement. His eyes are still closed. A single tear leaks through the corner of his tightly shut eyes.
Daren: Don’t call me that.
Tanim (gently, voice shaking): It’s who you are.
Tanim rises slowly to his feet. Daren refuses to open his eyes. He is trembling now, visibly trying to hold himself still.
Tanim: Oh, love, no… (Tanim reaches up to wipe away the tear, thinks twice, and merely touches Daren’s cheek) Please. Darling. (He takes a small step forward, leaving enough distance between them to not threaten the other. Daren opens his eyes, stares at the floor.) You are my heart. My soul. Compared to you, this (he holds the bottle out) is nothing.
Tanim moves past Daren, opens the French door, and steps onto the dark balcony. Without another word he hurls the bottle over the side, turning so as not to watch its descent. He steps back inside, closes the door gently, and touches Daren’s shoulder. The man has his back to Tanim.
Tanim slowly wraps his arm around Daren’s thin waist. At first, Daren doesn’t react, but then his body visibly shudders and he turns his head to the side. He can see Tanim in his periphery. Tanim speaks directly into his ear.
Tanim: I’ve always only ever been yours.
Daren (soft, voice hoarse and thick): If you can’t let go of your past, how do you expect me to ever let go of mine?
Tanim: You’re right. (nods)
[ Extremely short explanation: the girlfriend and I were discussing over email what it would be like to have dinner with Tanim and Daren. This semi roleplay ensued. Written by us both in chunks. Enjoy! ]
Me: If you’ve already won over Tanim and Daren, what’s there to be afraid of? …oh my god, can you imagine the four of us sitting down to dinner?
Her: How would that even go???
Me: Pretty sure it would be you and Tanim making awkward conversation. XD
Daren fiddles with his steak knife.
Tanim (to Chriselle): Thank you for cooking dinner.
Chriselle: Oh. You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.
Elyssa concentrates on eating her squash.
Me: Oh my god, that’s exactly how it would go. And Daren wouldn’t eat anything, and Tanim would try to get him to without making a scene, which would just make everything worse.
Her: Yup. Basically, that’s how it would go. Daren would look like he was going to either stab himself in the eye with his steak knife, or reach over and stab Tanim in the chest. Tanim would try to be cordial and engage in conversation. I’d be reserved, but I’d be more talkative than you because whenever there’s food in front of you, nothing else exists.
Me: Nooo. I’d be so nervous I’d have a stomach ache, and so I wouldn’t be eating much, and you’d lean over and say “Baby, you need to eat” and then realize you had said it to me at the exact same time that Tanim leaned over and said the exact same thing to Daren.
Tanim: Ah…. Forgive him. He’s… not particularly fond of people.
Chriselle (glances to Elyssa): I suppose you don’t take him grocery shopping.
Tanim: Oh god no. It would be a blood bath.
Chriselle (after a moment): Should… should someone go get him?
Tanim (sipping his drink): Not unless that someone wants to be stabbed in the chest.
Tanim finishes his drink, moves to the sideboard to pour another.
Tanim: Would either of you like something?
Chriselle: Oh, no thank you; we don’t drink.
Tanim: You may want to tonight.
Chriselle: What doesn’t taste like alcohol at all?
Tanim: I can make you a mojito.
Tanim (gesturing towards Elyssa): And her?
Chriselle: Um, do you have any medicine for stomach aches?
Tanim: I… have drugs.
Elyssa: …I, uh, think I’ll pass, but thanks.
A loud crashing sound can be heard from the direction of the bed room. All three politely ignore the sound.
Elyssa (after a moment of awkward silence): So… it’s, uh, been pretty rainy here, huh?
Tanim (mixing Chriselle’s drink, pauses and smiles to himself): It’s always rainy these days.
Both girls look over at each other, hands to their hearts, and swoon.
Tanim hands the drink to Chriselle.
Chriselle: Thank you, sir.
Tanim (laughs softly): Sir?
Chriselle (laughs to herself): Habit.
Tanim nods, smiling.
Another crashing noise from the bedroom.
Tanim: Ah, please excuse his behavior.
Chriselle: Is he all right?
Elyssa (under her breath): Is he ever?
Tanim: Pardon me?
Elyssa: You have a lovely apartment.
Tanim winces at a third noise of destruction.
Tanim (sighing): Most of the time, yes.
Chriselle: That must be… (pauses, searching for a polite word) … interesting.
Tanim smiles wryly, but fondly.
Tanim: He keeps me on my toes.
Chriselle glances over at Elyssa and smiles.
Chriselle: Yeah, I know how that is.
Tanim: Oh? Pray tell.
Chriselle: She’s quite… surprising.
Tanim (to Elyssa): Is that right? Whom do you surprise more often? Her? Or yourself?
During this first comfortable silence, a door down the hallway can be heard opening just a bit.
Daren (very soft and flat): Tan?
Tanim turns to the voice, then glances back to the girls, looking torn between playing the faithful lover and playing the good host.
Chriselle smirks and waves in the direction of the bedroom.
Chriselle: Oh, go on, go on. We wouldn’t want you to get in trouble, now would we?
Tanim returns the smirk, though there’s relief in his eyes.
Tanim: We wouldn’t want that, no. Excuse me.
Tanim gives a small bow and exits.
Elyssa: Well that went…
Chriselle: Just about how we thought it would.
cruel as a virus
embedded deep as cancer
your infectious rage
Faithless specter, I have swallowed your blood and wept your tears yet still you ask for more, for flesh, for bone, for breath and heartbeat and dominion, and if I cannot give these things, if this mortal form’s too frail to contain a slain god’s rage, will your madness burn me to ashes from within until I too am naught but a restless spirit seeking a willing shell?
[ I know this isn't a piece of writing, but I wanted to post part of a discussion about writing my girlfriend and I had over email. I think it's interesting to see how two different writers view the same work, or the craft of writing in general. Also, if I haven't mentioned it (I have), my girlfriend is super talented and you should read her stuff. ]
Her: We write differently, don’t we. It seems that you stew for a while before writing anything. And I just grab the nearest writing utensil and scribble. There’s so much mastery in your writing. It’s like… It’s like honey dipped in strawberries.
Me: I like how desperate and passionate your words are, though. Sometimes lingering over a piece and picking it apart only harms it, not improves it.
Her: Is that how you feel about your writing? That you pick it apart? What do you think of your writing?
Me: Well, sometimes, but not always. It depends; some pieces come flowing out all in one sitting, while others lay fallow and unfinished for weeks, months, or years. I suppose you could compare my writing to… I don’t know, a sculpture or a carving or something, where at first glance you see just a finished product, but on closer inspection you see that every single little stroke or cut was a specific choice, that nothing was done without forethought and an eye for the whole. Which can be good, or bad, or useless – I know no one will notice if I use the word “but” twice in one monologue, but I will, and do, so I’ll change a sentence and use “yet” instead, or something else. The flow has to be just right.
Her: I’m sure you know that Tanim and Daren have different cadences. But I doubt you read your things aloud very often. Tanim’s speech has a staccato feel to it. Sharp. Strong consonants. Intentional rhythm, like a tap-tap-tap. And Daren’s speech, if I were to stick with the music analogy, is very legato. Long. Flowing. So where Tanim’s words stab at you, Daren’s slither in before you realize they’re there. When I read Tanim aloud, I think of a sleek dagger sliding between my ribs. And when I read Daren aloud, I think of a needle that’s already in my skin.
Her (later in the conversation): That’s exactly how it feels. With Tanim, I can sense something happening. I know he’s coming in. But Daren is just… there, suddenly, in the doorway, standing and staring.
Me: I had never thought of it that way, but you’re absolutely right. That’s not even ever how I mean to write any of it, but it comes out that way anyway. You know, I think you’re the only person who truly understands how little control I have over any of this.
Her: On the one hand, I see your part in it. It’s like if They were a painting, I’d recognize your style, your brush strokes, your color choices. But the painting itself is entirely Theirs.
If I once had wings, as you say, what have I done with them? None of us seems used to the burden; the one scorns while the other mourns. And I, for my part, cannot even remember their weight, nor the shifting of muscle and the rush of air. No, all I remember is the fall, the endless plunge of which I dream so often. So how are you so sure of the existence of that which left not even scars upon my shoulder blades? How can you name me such a thing of beauty, I who have always been mortal and fallible? I comfort myself by believing love has blinded you, or perhaps you simply see what you need after years of fruitless searching. You cannot see the truth, surely.
And yet I must admit, to you if no one else, there are times when holding you I almost feel… almost recall… could almost swear that more than arms embrace us in this bed.
If my soul is a book, then for years I have been tearing out the pages and feeding them one by one to flames, rivers, the ocean, the wind, ripping and tossing, leaving fragments strewn in my careless wake, and yet now here you come with the scraps, the ashes, the smoothed out remainders of crumpled passages cupped in your hands, clutched to your breast, weeping openly for the beautiful, terrible tragedy of words I could not bear to read.
Do you know why the Moon first rose up to slay his lover the Sun? Some say it was sorrow or jealousy or fear that moved his hand, or that the Moon had gone mad in the darkness and did not know himself again until he knelt with the dying Sun in his arms. There may be a fragment of truth in all of these – does love not encompass all such emotions? – but I have glimpsed another sliver of truth. Perhaps the Moon raised his blade not to punish or sacrifice his lover the Sun, but to spare him. To save him. Perhaps the Moon wanted only a way for them to never be parted, to cease the chase which kept the lovers forever a horizon’s length away, and did what he must to change their fate. Can you deny that it is better to perish in your lover’s arms, rather than never feel their embrace at all? At least in death the Sun remained with the Moon, as the Moon would remain with the Sun when his turn came to embrace the blade and spill his silver blood. An ill fate, yes, but no worse than the agony of constant separation.
You must hold tight to the thing you love, for it can be taken from you without warning. Do you understand, now? I cannot allow you to be taken from me. It is better, this, than leaving our luck to fate. I spared you the blade, though, and I doubt you ever tasted the powder. (Though I wonder, darling, if even knowing, you would have drank anyway?) The Moon required suffering for his pact, but not I. You need not bleed, darling, only drift to sleep and fear neither pain nor loneliness; I am with you in this, as in all things, and I will hold you safe. You are mine, now, and only mine.
“I thought this would be easier.”
“The pictures are lies. Clearly.”
“This is the most frustrating experience of my life. Why would anyone put themselves through this?”
“How does it get so hard? What the fuck is the point of that?”
“What do you mean? Mine’s so soft I can’t do anythi– dammit!”
“Yeah, that happened to me, too.”
“Do these even fit together?”
“According to the diagram.”
“This is fucking impossible. I give up. Nothing is worth this amount of effort and mess.”
“Hey, don’t look at me like that! I didn’t know it’d be this bad.”
“Well, it was your idea. I’d never think of something like this.”
“I just thought it would be fun to do together. Which it might be, if we weren’t so bad at it.”
“Oh yes, that’s the problem; our inexperience. Right. Darling, next time you want to do some bonding, why don’t we skip the making gingerbread houses part and go straight to the sex?”
“…I like that plan.”
[ Okay, so this scene isn't exactly canon - sue me. My girlfriend and I recently tried to make gingerbread houses from a kit and things... didn't go well. We couldn't resist wondering if Tanim and Daren would have fared any better. ]
Do not question my love, nor counsel caution. We are none of us blessed with the gift of foresight, so how dare you feign a knowledge over me of which you have no claim? Blood binds by loyalty, not obligation; clasped hands, not iron fetters. I acknowledge your experience, your desire to impart wisdom, yet do not concede to it my own free will. If nothing else, I am owed the right to suffer or thrive based on the consequences of my own decisions. A proffered heart is the concern of no one but the giver and receiver. If nothing else, trust in my faith that I commit my own into no safer hands than these.
He pushes, palms to slick, cool gold, shoulders weighted with a thousand judgments as the gates slowly part before him and he crosses the threshold, blade in hand, staring straight ahead in defiance and denial of the knowing gazes all around, let them test his devotion, head high and heart a wild thing in his chest he steps forward without hesitation, as if he has walked such holy ground before, without hesitation or fear or intimidation until… until… until, oh, the sea parts and he falters, forever unprepared to stand as if naked beneath that dark gaze so piercing, he falters and the blade falls from slack fingers, and as the other approaches so he follows the abandoned weapon, drops numb to his knees with mouth open but no words emerging, so focused on this impossibility, the black eyes, the willow body framed in wings so white they hurt to look upon, and all he can do is reach his hands out to this vanished vision and finally utter the barest whimper as familiar hands reach to close the distance between them, the sound a prayer pleading just one touch, begging to let them come away from this place, their fingertips are so close and if he could just feel those hands one last—
He wakes, the whimper still on his lips, and turns his head to press his cheek to the cold white marble, no fit resting place for the living nor the dead, and fingers denied always that last touch reach up to trace the carven letters, Beloved spelled in a braille he has always known and would give anything to forget.
I will break down the gates of heaven
A thousand angels stand waiting for me,
Oh, take my heart and I’ll lay down my weapons
Break my shackles to set me free…
I’ll run, I’ll run, I’ll run,
run to you.
“It isn’t fair! We’re never given that chance! We’re never given that life! God, we’re not even given a chance to glimpse that life, to see and mourn what we’ve been missing all these years, all these endless repetitions of the same fucked up story–”
[ We always come back to this moment. ]
“No! I can’t do this, not again, not for the same damned ending. I always lose you. Always. I’ve gone to Hell itself to bring you back to me and I still lose you, we still suffer for nothing!”
[ I would give you what you wish, you know, if only I could. I thought… ]
“Then for what? What possibly balances out our misery? And why must we continue to suffer at all? It isn’t fair, it isn’t our fault, we shouldn’t–”
“I know. I know.”
[ …but no. That’s not how your story goes. ]
“Doesn’t it hurt you, though? Aren’t you upset? Don’t you want better?”