If I were Achilles, Patroclus would not have died. I would never have let my lover bleed out his holy blood there in the dust before Troy’s gates. I would have slaughtered them all first – Achaeans and Trojans alike, soldier and civilian together – and burned that unworthy city to the ground. I would have salted its ruins as they smoldered and by the time they cooled I would have taken him far from that cursed place. And if not, if I had been too late, as Achilles was… then not even death could have stopped my wrath from tearing the world apart.
You do not need to know where we are. We could be in the alley, kneeling on cold, wet cement beneath a dying streetlamp; on the roof of the penthouse, perched at the top of a world of glass and steel; in bed, tangled among satin sheets, heartbeats straining beneath the press of hot skin. There are a thousand options yet in the end the setting is unimportant when we have played out this scene so many times. Imagine whatever you prefer.
You do not need to know how we came to be here. I will not recount the full details of the chase; not where it began or down what winding paths it led, nor how many fleeting moments or long hours passed in pursuit. If you must, imagine the way his rapid steps eventually began to slow, to stumble, the way he gasped for air and the frantic glances he threw over his shoulder. Oh, how the chase always sends such a thrill through me. He fights best when he’s desperate and the challenge makes the ending all the sweeter. After all, we do not want to rush things – and I do believe in a fair fight, despite what you might think.
All that is ancillary, however. Merely a prelude. What you need to know is how I do it this time, which is with the knife. It’s a wicked little thing, sharp as a crescent moon, and it slices his meat like silk. What you need to know is how good it feels as his blood spills over my hand and how his body tries to jerk away from the assault even as he clings to me with trembling fingers. The groan he bites down could be one of unbearable pain or unbelievable ecstasy… or both. He has never been good at discerning between them.
What you need to know is that beneath the storm of agony and exhaustion in his gray eyes is relief. And love.
“Happy solstice, darling,” I murmur as I drive the knife deeper and draw his bloody mouth to mine.
You may be a god, my love, but here on my blade you die like any mortal and here in my forest you rot like any animal. Fear not; I am here with you in your dying, just as I shall be with you in your rotting. I shall be with you when your laboring heart finally spasms and stills (not too long now, you have lost so much blood already). I shall be with you when your cells begin to slowly suffocate en masse, thirty trillion microscopic deaths triggered by your last shallow breath. I shall be with you as your cooling meat begins to spoil. I shall be with you when the coyotes tear at your choicest organs, muzzles stained red and tongues lolling (your godblood tastes so sweet, you know, it is the only drink I have ever hungered for), and the crows bicker over the honor of pecking out your eyes. I shall be with you as your flesh is consumed like holy communion to feed my host of scavengers and decomposers, leaving only your lovely bones behind as grave markers. And I shall be here still when fungi sprout up through the sockets of your whitening skull and wildflowers twine around the bars of your rib cage, nourished on the nutrients of your long forgotten corpse which yet enrich the soil. I am always with you, beloved, so fear neither the blade nor the breaking down. Death has ever been your dearest companion.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
You become addicted to the fall, you know. You wake on rooftops, the edges of cliffs, at open windows. You test limits, argue, rebel; self-destruct, self-sabotage, self-fulfill your tragic prophecy. You long for both the sensation of falling – weightless, helpless, careless – and the moment of inevitable impact when all the world shatters around you. Only it is you who shatters and you are grateful for it, for the violence of that sudden fragmentation and the senselessness it brings. And then you wake at the edge of the open window and you lean forward once more.
It was humanity who gave me wings, and more fools they.
Wings are the keys to heaven’s dominion;
without them I would have known neither
freedom nor the fall.
All these tales about the moon killing the sun on the winter solstice, all these gruesome stories of betrayal and bloodshed on the longest night of the year… Did you never wonder why the sun seems to so easily succumb to his lover’s blade each year, knowing as he must when it will come for him? Why he has never chosen to break this cycle? It’s not because he can’t; it’s because he doesn’t want to. He needs me. He’s tried every other option, after all. Drugs, alcohol, nicotine; rope, blades, bullets; drowning, jumping, suffocating. Every method of suicide and every combination thereof. None of them work, you see, because fate long ago bound us together, I to be his killer and he to be mine. No matter how much he longs for death, I am the only one who can decide when and where he shall meet that end. So like a key into a lock, this is how it must be: my blade, his throat, our endless dance choreographed down to the last struggling heartbeat. It is a gift. One that no other can ever fully understand, true, but a gift nonetheless.
I do not yet know what I want from you – will you be patient as I search for it? Will you let me cut you open to dig through your soft flesh until I find that precious something hidden within? Will you let me dissect your deepest secrets and hold your most embarrassing fears and failures up to the light? It will be a learning opportunity for us both, a chance to discover who you really are beneath the layers of artifice. Somewhere in your warm depths I’ll find what I’m looking for; until then, I will enjoy weighing and cataloging every scrap of you.
They will never believe you, just like they never believed poor Cassandra. Except in her case it was the curse’s fault; what convenient excuse do you have? No god-given curse, no fatal prophecy, no unavoidable destiny. Nothing to fall back on but your own shortcomings. And at least Cassandra knew she was telling the truth, even if no one believed her. That was surely some small comfort in the end. Do you know if you’re telling the truth? Do you know if any of this is even real? Maybe no one believes you because they know it’s bullshit. Or maybe… maybe no one believes you because no one’s listening in the first place. Even mad Cassandra didn’t have that problem. How pathetic.
I could not care less if my death should be ruled a murder or a suicide. It is merely a question of semantics; at the core they seem identical to me. After all, if I stay, if I let you wrap your lovely hands around my neck in the dark of some night, who is really to blame – you for your action or myself for my inaction? To whom should my death be attributed, and why should I care one way or another when I am gone? The beauty of that final moment is that we are together, conjoined in our shared sin and experiencing its climax as one. Your squeezing hands, my bruising skin, they are really not so different. Here, darling, take the last breath off my lips and keep it as your own. You may call it a trophy or a suicide note, I do not care.
The human body is astoundingly stubborn; it clings to life long after the will to live has bled from the spirit. Deny it sustenance, deny it rest, deny it more than a bare modicum of care or attention and still it struggles to rise each day. You can force your body to breathe ash and swallow poison, yet still your heart labors to beat as long as it possibly can. It’s sad, really, to think that every cell in your body struggles unceasingly to survive when you couldn’t care less if you even live through the night. I’d have died years ago if it were up to me. Somehow I keep waking each morning, though, so I’ll just keep going until the day I don’t. Give up, heart. Give in, lungs. Nothing in this world is worth your desperate striving. I long for the day I’ll never see, when you have finally learned to let go.
I am getting very good at dying. Practice, after all, makes perfect. No, I will not tell you which methods are most painful; it is not the manner of death that hurts, but the person by whom it is caused. Nor will I tell you which method I most prefer; there are times when you want to feel nothing and times when you want to experience the death of every individual cell. And no, I will not tell you my most gruesome ends; death is a private thing, no matter how we treat it otherwise. (And besides, I have a biographer for that.) You ask how many times I have died by my own hand? Define hand. Define my own. Define died. You ask what was my longest death? But surely you know we are all dying from the first moment of our existence. How and why things accelerate near the end matters very little. Close your eyes and feel the cells in your body dying this very second, dying every second, dying every single day of your life. Do not worry about the hows and whys. Take it from someone who has died so many times I could not possibly keep track: only the devil is in the details.
I fight the desire to find some hidden hole in which to die, but it becomes harder every day. I made that choice once and he found me anyway, just this side of in-time, and look what that got me. He’d turn the whole city upside down searching for me if I did it again, and so would do me no good. But still my animal instincts urge me to hide somewhere, anywhere; in the closet or the bathroom, beneath the bed, on the roof, in the fucking walls if possible. Death is a private thing, and having been born alone and lived alone, I would prefer to go out the same way. There is nothing romantic about dying in your lover’s arms, of that I can assure you. Better to die alone and save them the misery of the aftermath, and yourself the guilt of leaving.
I will give my lover this; he does nothing by halves. If he drinks, it is expensive hard liquor he tosses back like cheap shots. If he gets high, it’s on uncounted pills that sink him into a sleep as deep as the dead. If he fucks, it is fervently, anonymously, dangerously. If he hurts, it is never just one punch, but blow after blow until knuckles split and bruise. And if he loves, he loves with body and heart and soul, all-consuming, submissive and possessive.
[conversations with gods]
Does the wick burn willingly for the flame?
The wick doesn’t have a choice. Without it, the flame dies.
Why is that the wick’s problem?
Why do you question everything?
Why don’t you?
First he tries pleading. “Beloved. Darling. Baby. Open the door. This can’t be like everything else. You don’t get to hide this from me.”
Then he tries threatening. “I’ll break the door down if you don’t unlock it. You know I will. Just let me in.”
Then he tries guilting. “Fine. Whatever. Die alone in there, if you want. I don’t care. I’m going back to bed.”
A couple minutes later he kicks in the bathroom door anyway, face contorted in a mixture of anxiety and anger that on another day would be highly amusing. But it’s hard to find much of anything amusing as I turn my palm over to show him the spatters of blood, little droplets to match those glistening on the rim of the toilet and drying on my chapped lips. The anger and anxiety leech away, along with the color in his face, and whatever he was going to say remains unspoken as he sinks down onto the tile next to me with a weary sigh.
“Fallen angel” is a misnomer. They didn’t fall; they were pushed. Banished. Cast down. Not a one leaped willingly or fell gladly. They were reaching up, grasping at something higher and greater than themselves, and for that they were punished. You could call them prosecuted or persecuted, expelled or extinguished, but never fallen. “Fallen” implies they chose the descent into darkness, when all they really wanted was to be closer to the light above.
What if Beauty stopped loving the Beast when he became human again? What if what she was really drawn to was the mystery, the anger, the subtle yet constant threat of violence? What if she fell for the Beast because he had the body of a beast and not because he had the heart of a human? There’s nothing interesting or dangerous about living with a prince. Once the magic’s gone and he’s back to normal, just a regular guy who buys her flowers and uses proper table manners, all the risk and risque romance would be gone. Would there be any point in her sticking around after that? Not everyone wants a prince, after all; some people seek out the cursed beasts of the world on purpose. What if Beauty was one of those and her love vanished along with the Beast’s claws and teeth and unpredictable temper? She probably didn’t even mean for it to happen that way. She probably fully intended to save the Beast with her love, lift the curse, and have them both live happily ever after. Maybe it was only after the Beast was returned to his harmless, civilized form that she realized she had fallen in love with the construct, not the man beneath it. You can’t really blame her, in that case. The heart wants what it wants. Still… how crushing would it be to finally regain your humanity, only to learn the person you love doesn’t want to know the real you?
You ask why the Moon murdered the Sun. But have you noticed no one else does, not even the Sun himself? I’m the villain; it’s just expected I’ll do something horrible. No one asks why a crazy person does something crazy, after all. They know these things just happen. And sure, I may not be a villain in the traditional sense, but I’m still the wretched one, the insane one, the cruel one. I’m still the antagonist, even if the protagonist loves me. So you know why I haven’t told you the truth? Because no matter how you tell the story, they’ll still decide I’m its villain. There’s no point in fighting it. I don’t have that kind of energy. He wanted me to be the villain, too, though for a different reason. At least with him, it was a good thing. Something that felt worthwhile, a role I could be praised for playing. But still, it wasn’t really my choice. I wanted– Well. It doesn’t matter what I wanted. Maybe I never really knew anyway.
My point is, stop asking. No one cares but you.
He asks, “What happened to make you so fearful? How can you choose this,” meaning the coughing, the blood, the wasting away to an inevitable end, “over the possibility of a cure? Or at least something to ease the pain? It’s irrational. What do you think will happen to you if you try to get help?”
What I don’t say is, No fear is irrational if it’s based on experience.
What I don’t say is, Not one more needle; not one more test or drug or locked door; I will choke to death on my own blood first.
What I don’t say is, I am more terrified of going back there than I am of leaving you.
All I do say is, “I was sent where all lost things go. I won’t return there, or to its like.” He’ll figure it out in time. If I’m lucky, it’ll be long after I’m gone. Until then, darling, count yourself blessed you even get half answers. This part of the tale isn’t for you.
Is this the winter you’ll finally tell me why the Moon killed the Sun?
Are you ever going to tell me?
Probably not. Besides, who knows why the gods do anything?
That’s a terrible answer.
Isn’t it better to get an honest “no” than be promised truths you’ll never receive?
I feel like you’re getting too into this trickster-death-god role.
I thought that’s what you wanted?
Yes, I mean, maybe, but… I’m getting Loki/Set vibes from you and it’s becoming a little alarming.
I’m well suited to the role, that’s all. Anyway, you already know the answer to your question. I don’t know why you keep bothering me about it.
I feel like every time I get an answer it just inspires ten more questions.
It’s been thirteen years and you’re just now catching on to that?
Fenrir didn’t ask to be born a monster. He didn’t ask to be feared because he bore claws and fangs and a hunger deep as the sea. He did not bite the hand that fed him; he bit the hand that betrayed him. If you are told from the womb that you are a beast, how can they expect you to grow to be anything else?
[ The video opens on a room so dark nothing can be seen outside the harsh glow of the computer screen. Sitting in that glow, Daren seems another part of the darkness in the black shirt which covers him to the neck and wrists. Set against that darkness, his skin glows ghostly white. He stares absently off to the side as if he has not noticed the webcam records him. ]
I know what you’re doing. (speaking softly, as if to himself) I told you not to, and yet you persist. You are truly a foolish man.
(sighs and turns to face the screen, looking directly into the camera)
I know you’re here. I can feel you, somewhere in this city. I wonder what you do to pass the time? Do you wander these foreign streets in the hopes of sighting me in the crowd, or finding me in some back alley? Or do you lose yourself in drink and danger, hoping I’ll come to collect you before one of your nightly paramours goes too far?
(lifts his right hand into view, dropping his eyes to watch the little silver blade he weaves between his fingers)
I won’t come, you know. Not tonight, not tomorrow night, or any other night after those. I am not coming. You can’t seem to grasp that concept, which is a pity. You know me. You know I don’t change my mind once I have decided. And this is decided. I am not coming
(turns his eyes back to the camera, lips thinned in the barest scowl)
So instead, you came to me. That wasn’t the agreement. That’s not how this works. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough on our parting? But your scars should serve as a reminder if your memory fails. (thoughtfully, eyes on the blade again) Not that you can forget me, can you? I’m not an unkind man, though, so I’ll give you one more warning.
(snaps the blade shut and leans toward the camera)
Go home, Tanim. I am not yours to pursue. I left you alive once; I will not again. It would be best to remember that. After all, I keep my promises – even if you do not.
[ Daren rises to his feet and one white hand moves to shut off the webcam. The video ends. ]
When I was younger, before my silence and resistance jaded the nurses’ treatment of me, they used to tell me that St. Anthony watched over me. They told me St. Anthony was the patron saint of lost things and so watched over all of us there, that we may one day find what we were looking for; health, sanity, family, hope, even the peace of the beyond. They said that every day, smiling as they handed out little paper cups full of pills: May St. Anthony protect you. May St. Anthony guide you. May St. Anthony lead you back onto the path of goodness. They didn’t seem to sense any irony in this, in summoning the blessings of St. Anthony when no one wanted to find us anyway and none of us could leave of our own accord. We were all in some way the abandoned, the purposefully forgotten, sick in mind and spirit and body. Society didn’t want us, was embarrassed and afraid of us in turn, and so we were locked away where we’d offend no delicate sensibilities. If St. Anthony was indeed the cause of our incarceration, or at least had yet to lead any of us to our better destinies, then he had a lot of explaining to do. St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, of lost people, of lost minds. St. Anthony, patron saint of the lost and never found.
Sure, they’ll call you King and God, but they’ll also call you Sacrifice. They’ll bring you gold and precious stones and perfumes, but where will they be when your hands are bleeding around cold iron? What good will all those pretty names do you when it comes time to produce a miracle out of stilled flesh? You’re only the prodigal son if you return from the darkness triumphant; otherwise you’re just another failed revolutionary who thought himself a prophet. Wouldn’t it be easier, then, to just stay gone and leave this world to fend for itself? Don’t you remember how heavy that crown is, beloved?
After the nightmare ebbs, Tanim holds me close while I tremble and it’s as if his arms are the only things keeping me from physically breaking apart. Without his unyielding embrace I might shatter into so many discordant fragments I could never be made whole again. Would it really be so bad, though, to shatter? To crumble into the separate pieces of myself? A shard of anger, another of bitterness, yet others of fear and pain and claustrophobia? Grief and loathing and exhaustion? They are hardly unified within me; perhaps the pieces are so jagged because I was never meant to be whole in the first place. Perhaps it would be easier to break apart. I doubt even Tanim’s firm hold can keep me together forever, anyway.
[ Daren doesn’t usually react to things on my side of reality, but something about the story of that imprisoned transgender teenager who escaped from a treatment facility (only to be soon caught) rubbed him the wrong way. Interesting… ]
If you want me, oh summer king, oh golden lord, then come and seek me; cast off your heavy silks, your rings of amber and tigers eye, and go slumming in the dark places; I am waiting for you in those cold depths, crowned in funereal ashes and buried in shadow, exhaling smoke with every deathslumber breath; take my cold hand, brother, if you do not fear the grave, and draw me out of this purgatory; resurrect your winter lord.
Over a glass of Angel’s Envy he breaks the settled evening silence, murmuring as if the thought has just crossed his mind, “You’re like a tiger.”
“A tiger?” I glance over but Tanim’s gaze rests in the hearth fire.
“Yes,” He nods once, sips his drink. “You’re like a tiger kept in some run down zoo, caged behind rusty iron bars and cold cement. You’ve been in there so long you’ve forgotten you ever knew anything else, felt the wind or rain or earth; yet still you pace your confines in endless circles, lashing out through the bars, starved and desperate. Instead of defeating you, the captivity only fuels your rage, makes you a feral, senseless beast. If someone were to open that cage for you, you’d leap at them and sink your teeth into their flesh before you even realized the door to freedom stood open.”
Tanim’s speech leaves a strange taste in my mouth, not bitter yet unpleasant nonetheless, and when I scoff, “I’m no tiger,” the denial feels false. He eyes me now, and replies with slow thoughtfulness, “No, you’re not. You’re far more dangerous. Even with that door wide open, you’d remain in the cage and wait for your prey to come to you.”
I have no reply to that.
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.