He waits. The shards of glass have glittered like snow on the white carpet for five months now; he steps around them without thought as he paces. Sometimes he still purposefully treads on one to feel the bright, sharp pain travel up through his foot, to leave a few more bloodstains in the wreckage. He hasn’t even bothered to replace the shattered glass tumblers, instead drinking his liquor out of a coffee mug or straight from the bottle. He’s stopped bothering with an ash tray, too, and the cigarette butts leave little burn marks where they fall from idle hands. He doesn’t care. The one he loves will return to him, he is certain of this despite their parting words, the broken glass and passing months. The one he loves will return to him and so he must be here, cleansed by his penitence and proven faithful by his stasis. So, he waits.
Love lies at the end of a knife blade, the culmination of all you ever wanted to share with your beloved, beautiful red pain blossoming up around that sweet spot just below the sternum, and finally he sees the world you’ve made for him, for you both, finally he understands the language your love speaks in pain and punishment and the patience to lead him inexorably to this moment of final, total clarity, his surrender in your arms the last step in the dance of your own design, and you will be called madmen but that is because only you can see the beauty in a love this red.
Betrayed and behind enemy lines, Lucifer flees. As she traces a low arc across the land toward inevitable impact, she harnesses what remains of her cataclysmic power to foil her pursuers. Mountainsides shake as the land buckles, thrusting great shards of rock into the sky; rivers crash and roar as their beds rise, fall, shatter; whole forests fly through the air with the force of a volcanic eruption. All chaos swallows the rebel angel’s wake, buying her precious time to outfly Heaven’s host. To be caught is to be tortured and killed. To be caught is to be undone, unmade, to become nothing again. Just dust. Ash. She cannot let them catch her.
The price of her lead is high, though, and Lucifer’s battered body cannot run forever on fear and fury. Too soon she feels the earth fighting against her commands, gravity drawing her downward with increasing speed. With a last desperate grasp at control, Lucifer tries to slow and steer her descent – and tumbles into unconsciousness as pain roars up inside her. Oblivion is a small mercy; she does not experience the bone-shattering impact, nor how the ground scrapes off her skin as her limp body tumbles to a stop.
She revives sometime later, if being awash in agony and disorientation can be called reviving. Despite the grind of broken bones, Lucifer manages to push herself into a kneeling position, swaying dizzily as she surveys her crash site. When she realizes where she is, some idle part of her wishes the impact had killed her. She is in No Man’s Land, a wasteland of corpses and broken armor between the fronts of Heaven and Hell. She can look in any direction and see the dead – angels, demons, even humans who got too close. If she stood, craned her neck, she might easily recognize many comrades.
It doesn’t matter; she doesn’t have the strength to stand. She doesn’t have the strength to do anything. She is bone tired, soul tired, and all she can do is hug her arms around her aching chest and cry. What is the point of all this? she screams internally. Why was this your great plan, and why did it require scapegoats like me? Why did it require rebellion and battle? I didn’t ask for free will – you gave it to me, to all of us! How could you expect us to surrender it without a fight? You created me! You made me a weapon and placed the seed of doubt in my breast! How can you blame me and my kind for refusing the very yoke you created us to abhor? Why did you make us just to punish us?!
Lucifer’s tears have stopped. Her trembling ceases. When she feels the presence vanish, she opens her eyes and slowly uncurls from her knot of pain. She takes a deep breath, then grits her teeth and pushes herself to her feet.
My heart failed a hundred times today – which is to say that your heart failed a hundred times today, and I felt each awful cessation with you. I felt your collapse, too, and the hands that fought desperately to restart the beating. Likewise, I tasted bile in my throat and tears on my lips as you suffered through withdrawal, and felt your feverish skin as I ran my fingers through your tangled hair. By the end of the day I can’t quite tell if my body aches from real pain or your phantom agony. I feel sick, exhausted, but why? Is this even my pain? Does my body even know the difference anymore? I feel everything you feel – so tell me, how many times can my heart break, stop, burst for you before it ceases once and for all?
“Mama, look!” Dia’deferde’t’mana’nbat’shi glanced down from where she stood arranging flowers for the night’s celebration – and right into the wide, emotionless eyes of a small garden snake. Its head bobbed up and down as her youngest daughter bounced on the balls of her feet to compensate for her toddler stature. “He’s like us!” she crowed, wiggling her red tail as evidence. “See?”
“Rem’r!” Dia drew back in disgust, both relieved and further repulsed to see the snake was alive, its tongue flicking in and out while it most likely plotted the invasion of her villa. “How many times have I told you not to bring anything that is alive, or was once alive, or that could become alive into the house?” She made as if to push her daughter back out the door, but hesitated before coming within striking distance of the snake. “Honey, just…” she gestured toward the door, “go put that thing back where you found it… or farther away than that. And wash your hands.” From beyond the snake’s questing head, Rem’r’s chubby face crumpled. “But he’s like us!” she repeated, trying with upstretched arms and tippy-toes to show her mother the snake. “He has a tail and we have tails! He’s family!”
“Guh!” Dia shuddered involuntarily. “We are not like that… thing!” She circled around her daughter, then gently pushed her toward the door. “Snakes aren’t related to tieflings. Snakes are scaly and slimy and… and creepy crawly little monsters!” At the threshold to the patio she stopped and gave her daughter a final stern nudge. “Do go put that gross thing back, Rem’r. It’s time to come inside anyway. The guests will be here soon.”
“Okay, Mama…” Rem’r cast her a last pouting look, then turned away. Dia watched her daughter trudge down to one of the far gardens, ensuring the snake was good and truly released, then turned back to her preparations. How Rem’r had turned out so odd, and so unlike her three older daughters, she had no idea.
– – –
“A basilisk! How wonderful!” While the rest of her party backed away in understandable caution, Rem’r moved toward the beast emerging lithely from the forest. It wore a hood much like a hunting bird’s, the better to protect them all from its stony stare – though chances were great that Rem’r would have approached the creature anyway without it. She let it sniff her hands, then walked in a circle to take it in from all angles.
“His name is Eli,” the sorceress explained, clearly pleased that at least one in the party didn’t fear a creature of the Fae Wilds. “He’ll come with you, as long as you are sure to feed him. Basilisks require quite a lot of food.” Nodding in agreement, Rem’r scratched the basilisk under the chin and cooed, “Eli, you’re such a sweetie. Who’s a good boy? You are! Do you wanna come with us to kill the big bad witch?”
“Are you actually petting him?” From a safe vantage point, Never attempted rationality. “You know what basilisks are, don’t you? And what they can do? We are not taking that monster with us; it’ll probably eat us before we’re halfway there!”
“HEY!” Rem’r turned an indignant and furious look upon the dragonborn, her tail lashing back and forth. “He’s not a monster! He’s a basilisk, and a very nice one at that. Basilisks are important apex predators and a crucial link in the food chain of–” She kept lecturing but the others had, as usual, already tuned her out and were settling the details of the agreement with the sorceress. She gave the general gathering a final glare and turned back to Eli. “You’re not a monster,” she reassured him. “You’re a very good boy and I bet without you the whole local ecosystem would collapse.”
Life is one long slippery slope. I started at the top, but from the first my stance was shaky. I slid so early so easily and never managed to climb back up more than an inch – and that just to fall again anyway. Drinking to smoking to injecting, kissing to fucking to binding, it’s all downhill. Melancholy to misery to madness. Love to obsession to hatred. I’m not sure I’ll even know when I’ve hit the bottom; will it feel any different than where I am now?
The first time I made him bleed, I thought I would kill myself rather than live with the guilt. But I didn’t, and the second time that guilt weighed a little less on my shoulders. I barely felt it at all the third time; he knew the possibility was there, he could have prevented it had he truly wanted to. My point is, none of those instances felt like rock bottom. Maybe nothing will, until the time I unwrap my hands from his neck and he lays still and silent. I thought love might be the thing with which I’d climb back up that slope, but I was wrong. If anything, it only accelerated my descent.
There are times when I want to either be fully in that world or not there at all. Like now: I can watch him sink to his knees, but I can’t pull him away. His hands tremble now, no matter how steadily they held the blade a moment before, but I can’t take them in my own. I watch him bite back a sob as he folds over, hands fisting in his hair – wiping blood on black locks – and I can’t hold him or touch him or do anything of value. If I could, I’d fix him a drink; wash the blood from his clothes; get him in bed. Do… something about Daren’s body. If I have to watch this scene replay itself unto eternity, I at least deserve to be a player and not solely the audience. I wouldn’t stop things or try to change the outcome. I just want to clean away the blood so neither of them has to. That seems fair.