Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Five Days, 1111 words

A tiefling man, not feeling quite so young as he had five years ago, stared up into the night sky. Above, the lights and fires of the Hive sprayed across the darkness, like a scattering of stars. Every point represented a person, or a group of people. Sometimes one of the lights went out, but a new one would alight to take its place, changing the constellations in an endless, intricate dance. Even in a place as dismal and hopeless as the Hive, love could blossom and burn, for a time.

From his vantage near the Grand Bazaar, on the blurry border between the Market and Guildhall Wards, the tiefling wanted nothing more than to reach up and swipe every one of those lights away. He wanted to plunge the whole city – nay, the whole of the planes – into darkness. If day never rose again, that would suit him well.

What had he to offer, he reflected bitterly. No wealth and no prospects. He was not an ugly man, but with his fiendish heritage he was far from fair. He had a little magic to his name, but no more than she. There was nothing, not even his affection and attention, that she couldn't get from someone else.

Cold seeped into him from the stones of the bridge, through his palms and the seat of his trousers. He had perched on the half-wall that came up the side of the bridge, which arched over one of the small canals-cum-rain gutters that ran throughout much of the city below The Lady's Ward. Despite its proximity to the Bazaar, the street saw little traffic – no shops lined the street, just the homes of countless faceless guild factors and city officials, who liked their peace and quiet. In the old days, the Hardheads probably would have tossed him into the canal for simply being a tiefling in the wrong part of town. Now the Sons just nodded as they went by on patrol, content that he wasn't doing anything wrong.

He lifted a hand off the cold stone and pressed it to his forehead, as if the chill could quell the thoughts in his head. Memories. Too many memories, all his but... not. The same night burned in his mind, the same acts done six, eight, a dozen times, in a dozen different ways and places. The same first kiss done a dozen times over – here on the bridge after a chance meeting; outside a cafe where they'd shared a meal; while gasping for breath in an alley after an desperate flight from a pair of muggers; at the front stoop of her home...

Living in Sigil could do that to you. If you weren't careful, if you tried to live too many lives, suddenly you really were living all those lives. And, they discovered, they'd been living them together. All the different copies of them, all the possibilities collapsed into one after that first night.

The trick was living in one life after spending so long in so many others. Too many memories. Too many different versions of her and him, of them – too many hopes and fears crowding together in the same head, jostling for space. Too many expectations.

Her embrace had grown claustrophobic. Her eyes were a cage. Her kiss was suffocation. And, she had revealed after their disastrous first time sharing a bed, so his had been for her. They had become too much and too little for one another all at once.

He closed his eyes and wished... wished what? That it had never happened. That she had been a bad dream. That one day he had turned left instead of right.

A warm hand pressed down on his, on top of the bridge stones, and he flinched. He hadn't heard anyone. He looked over and saw her, a beautiful aasimar, granddaughter to angels and sitting on the bridge next to him, and all but jumped away. He held his hand close as if burned, staring at her. It still hurt to look. Five years since he had met her, three since they'd exchanged even a single word, and it still hurt.

“What,” he managed to croak, his voice strained as if he hadn't said anything in those intervening years.

“I didn't know you still came here,” she said, her voice melodic still, if softer than before. Unfair, he decided, hating the planes all the more. She looked up in the skies at the same fires he had been staring at just moments before.

“What is it,” he demanded, finally sounding like normal. He too-casually held his hands at his side. He couldn't help but remember five days before, when they'd suddenly bumped into one another in the Bazaar – he with more deliveries to make, she with some new purchase. Literally. They'd dropped their things, scrabbled desperately to gather them together, and separated without a word. He'd glanced back, and she had still stood there, looking a little lost.

She looked at him again, now, and he turned his gaze away. Her eyes shouldn't have shone that brightly in the dark. “I'm sorry,” she said. She may as well have driven a sword through a lung. “For my part in how things happened. I'm sorry.” She sat silently, hands folded in her lap, watching him now that she had said her piece.

“I... I...” He stumbled over his words, nervous under her eyes. Finally he managed to blurt out, “I'm sorry, too. But I wish – I wish we'd never... I wish I'd never met you.”

“Do you still love me,” she asked barely above a whisper. He almost couldn't hear her. Wished he hadn't. He felt like he'd kicked something small and fluffy.

“After what I just– what do you think?” He looked out over the houses, imagining the people inside settled into sleep. Sleep and silence. He envied them.

She took his hand and his heart leapt in place so, he feared it would escape. “Would it be so bad? To say so?” she asked.

He tried to draw away but she twined her fingers in his, held him fast. “Reda, please,” he half-moaned. “Don't ask me that.”

“Colius,” she said, and his stomach knotted up at hearing his name on her lips again, “it's been three years. The same mistakes don't have to happen again.”

Colius let out a shuddering breath, and squeezed Reda's hand back. “I...” He couldn't say it, couldn't get the words out. But something about her hand in his felt better.

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