"Don't leave me."
Liz Allen-Osborn only half-recognized the mumbled plea as sleep began to leave her. "I won't," she promised absently, a reflexive rather than sincere response.
"Yes you will!" If she wasn't fully awake before, she completely came to her senses as she was harshly jerked from her pillow. Her husband's enraged face, sharp cheekbones silhouetted in blue moonlight, was the first sight to meet her blinking eyes. He shook her violently as he spat each word, unshed tears glistening in his dark eyes. His voice was not his own. "She left him, and he left me! Everyone leaves… everyone…"
"No, Harry," the frightened blonde soothed. "No, I'm not leaving… I'm here--"
"I know that you're here!" he snarled as he threw her back onto the bed. "Don't patronize me," he added lowly, warningly. Harry sat still as he gazed down at Liz, as if he were etched of stone. His young wife watched him with wide eyes, too afraid to speak, knowing that something needed to be said nonetheless.
"W-what's wrong?" Liz tried at length. She moved to sit up, but Harry nudged her back down and laid beside her, wrapping an arm over her, clutching the thin fabric of her nightgown as if he'd fall off the edge of sanity if he released it.
"Nothing," he whispered, and just like that, he fell asleep. Liz stared at the ceiling as she rubbed a hand over his encompassing arm, trying to quell her own hammering heart.
"Good morning, beautiful."
Sunlight was apparently a redeeming element, for the morning brought with it a seemingly completely different Harry Osborn. He made no mention of the night's episode as he woke Liz with a warm kiss, lovingly caressed her cheek as he gazed upon her for a moment, and then rose and departed into the bathroom. Liz remained motionless for a time, listening as Harry's off-key singing competed with the steady hum of the shower behind the closed door.
She had known going into this marriage the dark secrets that lurked within the Osborn family. Death and drugs and jaded monsters seemed to cackle their way down the manor halls, taunting her, daring her to try and flee. She was in too deep now. As Harry had displayed clearly the night before, running away from him was not an option. But did she really want to?
What would she really be running from? A handsome, powerful husband? A luxurious mansion? All of the fineries that the Osborn wealth could provide her with? As she slipped from beneath the satin sheets and walked out upon the garden balcony, staring over the rolling grounds that were being tended to by dutiful servants in the early morning sun, Liz decided that an occasional bout of dementia from Harry was a small price to pay for the material happiness that was allotted to her by way of her marriage.
It was a decision that did not take into account a lack of inner joy.
"Yes?" Liz walked back into the bedroom. Harry stood in his bathrobe before his open closet, surveying his clothes as he blotted his damp hair with a towel. She watched him, admiring the blunt auburn streaks in his dark, wavy hair as they shimmered in the sunlight. He glanced at her with a doting smile.
"My queen," he began gallantly, walking over to take her hand in his own and grace it with a kiss, "the day belongs to you."
"Oh Harry," she sighed, taken by his romantic bravado. "Really?" She couldn't remember a time since their honeymoon in which Harry hadn't been consumed in OsCorp affairs.
"No one will bother us today." He took his cell phone and made a show of turning it off and burying it in a dresser drawer to illustrate his promise. "It's been too long since we've had time to ourselves."
"It has," she murmured in agreement as he took her into his arms. She leaned her head into his shoulder and closed her eyes, contented.
"Liz?" he whispered, his lips tickling her ear.
"I love you." It was with some hesitancy that he added, barely loud enough to be audible, "And I'm sorry… for everything."
The manor was haunted, and he was the only one able to see it.
Everyone thought that Harry was crazy; yes, he knew the way the servants whispered behind his back. He saw the sweet old cook shake her head in sympathy as he passed. He noted that Edmund Bernard, the houseman, spoke to him as if he were a delicate bomb liable to explode with the slightest agitation. Harry was a man of quick temper, admittedly, but he was not as demented as they all decreed.
In fact, he often thought himself to be the only sane person in a world full of blind pawns.
They never heard the whispers that resounded in the parlor late at night, as if someone sat in his father's old chair, speaking lowly to company only they could see. No one but Harry saw the glimpses in the mirror of a face much like his, but wizened with age and gaunt with death. No one else noticed that Norman Osborn's favorite pen would be found lying across the cherry wood desk as if discarded after signing important documents, even though no one had used the old office for years.
No matter. Today was not the day for such thoughts. Today, he and his beautiful bride would enjoy the kind of togetherness and bonding that families were supposed to engage in. "Do you hear that, Dad?" Harry hissed at his own reflection as he buttoned his neat green shirt. "Even you can't come between us today."
Harry never batted an eye, but he could have sworn that the young man in the mirror winked at him.
He gazed at it steadily, unblinkingly, until Liz's airy voice floated promptingly from downstairs. "Coming, my love," he called and hurried out the door, pointedly not giving the mirror a second glance. Whatever apparitions it harbored could wait until tomorrow to continue in their endless torment of him.
Any fleeting thoughts of ghosts and goblins that lingered in Harry's mind were effectively pushed asunder by the vision that greeted him at the bottom of the winding staircase. "Oh, Liz…"
She smiled expectantly. "You like it?" She twirled once, the flowing skirt of her dress blousing in her wake. It was a deep blue, strapless and accented with paler touches of the same shade, and its contrast with her eyes made them sparkle like bright jewels in her pretty face. She had curled her honey colored hair, and it fell in softening waves down her shoulders and back. Her smile was bright with an inner radiance that Harry had not seen on her face in a long time.
"I don't deserve you," he pointed out as he lifted her by the waist and spun her about.
"True," she grinned. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his waiting lips. "But I think I'll stick around anyway."
"Yes you will," Harry replied, more harshly than he intended, and his grasp tightened around her. It was as if some inner demon borrowed his voice at times, speaking aloud the thoughts he never wanted to have. "You can never leave me, Liz, never. Wherever you try to run, I will follow."
Her eyes, so bright and merry, began to dim as if he were steadily extinguishing a wavering flame.
"You can never hide from me."
Her smile thinned.
"If I have to, I will chase you into death and across the very fires of Hell. Never forget that, Elizabeth-mine."
The beautiful radiance that had emanated from Liz's being died, and she was again the cold shell of a woman that he had grown accustomed to.
Most of Harry wanted to cry in shame and guilt. But the small part of him that had surfaced was pleased; it didn't want Liz to have the sort of joy that it had forever been denied.
Why do I always mess it up? I mess everything up!
It was supposed to have been a lovely and blithe day, just he and Liz dining together, going to see a game, going dancing-- whatever she wanted, so long as they were in each other's company. That's all Harry wanted, to be with Liz, to listen to her musical laughter and bask in the warmth of her sun-bright smile for one whole glorious day. He still loved her with the same passion and intensity that alighted within him the day he asked her to become his bride.
But there was a blackness in his heart that refused to be denied. Or was it perhaps not black, but another shade entirely? He smiled wryly to himself, the bizarre image of his own blood running green in his veins teasing his mind's eye.
"What's so funny?"
Across the table, Liz was eyeing him critically. She was reserved around him, as always she was when he lashed out at her or frightened her, and he knew it would take some time for her to warm back up to him. Their day was effectively shattered. They were together, but Harry knew that she would rather be anywhere else than on his arm at the moment.
"Nothing," Harry evaded, wisely choosing not to indulge her with his mental image. "Pretty good, huh?" he gestured at her plate as he took a bite of his own blueberry pancakes. They had stopped at a quaint diner called Aunt Patty's Kitchen for brunch at Liz's insistence-- today was not the day for ritzy restaurants, she had decreed. To Harry's mild surprise, it was a lovely establishment as far as such places go, and with some of the best food he had tasted in a long time.
His enjoyment prompted a smile from his wife. "I told you," Liz pointed out triumphantly. "We don't always have to spend a hundred dollars when we go out to eat just for the sake of doing so."
Harry laughed. "We?"
"When I say we, I mean you."
"That's what I thought." He smiled and reached across the table for Liz's hand. She allowed Harry to caress it for a moment, but she uncomfortably slid her arm away at length, her gaze leaving his. "Liz, I'm--" he began softly, but she looked up and cut him off.
"You're sorry," she finished for him, not without a hint of bitterness. "Yes, yes, I know. I've heard it several times."
Harry shamefully looked to his knees. "I just--" He wasn't quite sure how to express his remorse and explain the reasons for his irrational behavior. Oh, to have a normal life!… "I can't help it," he finally sighed. "I don't know why I say the things I say, or act the way I act…"
"Well I do!" Liz snapped suddenly, rising to her feet. Her high voice caught the eyes of several onlookers. "It's because of your father, because of the Goblin!"
Harry glanced about with an awkward smile as people began scooting farther away from the young man and his displeased wife. "Liz, honey, what are you talking about? That's… that's all in the past, sweetheart…"
"Is that why you yell at me? Or how about when you hit me-- is it all in the past then?!"
Harry rose in anger. "Elizabeth," he warned stormily, his hand clenching inside his pocket. "Lower your tone." The entire diner was tuned in now, the customers' faces agape with outrage and shock.
"I suggest you watch how you speak to the lady, son," drawled a burly truck driver from his nearby booth. "We don't take kindly to men who don't treat their women right here at Aunt Patty's."
"That's fine," Harry replied cooly as he handed a nearby waitress the check. "We were just leaving." He grabbed Liz by the upper arm and began leading her out the door.
"I'm not going anywhere with you!" Liz cried as she jerked away. "Let me go!"
The truck driver had seen enough. He clambered over into the couple's path and placed a meaty hand on Harry's shoulder. "Boy, I believe the lady said to let her go. Are you deaf, son?"
Harry took in a deep breath, struggling to remain calm. His hand flexed at the edge of his pocket all the while. "I'm taking my wife home," he stated evenly. "I'm not going to ask you more than once to move out of my way, 'sir'." He spat the title with disdain.
"Good, because I hate being asked the same question over and over," the huge man rumbled. A few of his buddies laughed appreciatively from their table. "Now, for the last time, let the lady go, son."
Harry felt his face heat with rage. "Don't -- call-- me-- SON!" he bellowed and his hand withdrew from his pocket, hurling a flat disc at the driver's feet. It exploded on impact. The driver was flung upon the floor a few feet away, moaning softly in pain. All around the diner, people screamed and dodged under tables, flew towards the exits, and a few people threw chairs for whatever reason they deemed it helpful. "Everybody, SHUTUP!" Harry demanded, another disc in his right hand, Liz's arm still clutched in his left. "Now, does anyone else have a problem with my wife and I?"
Nobody made a sound.
"Good." He dragged Liz out into the parking lot, not heeding her whimpering protests as he opened their car's passenger door and nonchalantly tossed her inside. He stalked around and flung himself into the driver's side, keying the ignition and screaming out of the parking lot within a matter of seconds.
"I hate you!" Liz screamed shrilly as they sped down the road. She pounded a fist against his arm. "I hate you!" she repeated angrily before recoiling into her own seat, curling her knees into her chest and crying bitterly into them.
"Shutup, Liz," Harry snarled. "Just be quiet for once! Stupid woman," he hissed as he gripped a handful of her hair, eliciting a shriek of pain. "It's you that drives me to do these things!"
"You're insane!" she screamed hoarsely. "You're a twisted, hopeless, son of a--" She fell short with another cry of pain as Harry backhanded her hard into the door. The engine quieted and tires screeched, the smell of burning rubber scenting the air as Harry jerked the car to a sudden halt upon the side of the road. He reached over and gathered Liz by the shoulders, bearing down upon her with an infuriated scowl.
"All I wanted was one day with you!" he screamed into her face, jostling her about in his anger.
"Well you got it, didn't you? I hope you enjoyed it!" she bit back, kneeing him hard in the stomach.
He grunted and slammed her head back against the door. "You are going to learn to respect me," he snarled as he shifted his weight on top of her. "One way or another!" He furiously ripped at her skirt, more out of a raged need to demonstrate his dominance than a desire for her. Liz writhed beneath him, her angered screams impossibly rising in pitch.
"Tell me you love me!" Harry demanded as he ground against her.
"No!" Liz defied him. He slapped her across the cheek, his own hand stinging from the severity of the impact. She spluttered in pain.
"Tell me you love me," he hissed, so close to her face that his lips moved against her nose.
"I… I love you," she reluctantly conceded. She cried out when Harry gripped her neck, his fingernails biting her delicate skin.
"Make me believe it!" he bellowed, pressing her further into the seat.
"I LOVE YOU!" Liz cried at full lung capacity, her voice raspy from screaming, her face red and soaked with tears. Her screaming at last gave way into exhausted pleas. "Stop! Stop…oh, Harry, please…" she begged as he pinned her flailing arms. Tears rained freely down her face and her lips trembled. He covered them with his own, much less harshly than he intended. She mumbled beneath his kiss and he murmured along, both of their grievances and apologies and laments eventually fading into silence.
"I do love you," Liz whispered when he pulled back at last, resting his head on her shoulder. "You know I do…"
"I know," he answered, his voice choked with tears. "I'm so sorry." His hands moved to comb through her golden hair and work their way down her body, reveling in her soft warmth beneath him. She succumbed to his touch and hugged her arms tight around him.
"Everything will be okay," Liz whimpered as he sat up and pulled her along with him, gathering her to his chest. "Right, Harry?"
"Right, Liz," he assured her shakily. "Everything's going to be fine, my love…"
Liz buried her face in his chest, her shoulders shaking with renewed sobs. Warm tears soaked through his shirt as he stroked her back through her tangled hair. "I don't want to live my life like this," the young woman confided under her breath.
"I know," Harry sighed, but offered no solution. What else was to be said? Meaningless assurances that he would break with the next bout of dementia that overcame him? "You're right, you know," he whispered. "It is the Goblin. It's the Goblin, and my dad… I can't escape them… they're one entity, seeking to draw me into their grasp permanently… oh, Liz!" His voice cracked with tears as he cried into her neck. "I want so much to take care of you, to be a good husband to you! But I don't know what to do…"
"We'll beat them," Liz promised as she lifted Harry's head in her gentle hands, brushing away his tears. She smiled encouragingly. "I won't give you up without a fight."
"You're… you're not going to leave me?"
Her eyes softened with sympathy. "I vowed that I would be faithful to you until death parts us," Liz reminded her husband. "And I am a woman of my word." They clung to each other for what seemed like hours to Harry, and yet no length of time would ever be long enough to truly savor all that her presence brought him. She eventually fell asleep there beside him in the car, wrapped in his arms and her head pillowed on his shoulder. He leaned against his seat's headrest, reverently stroking her smooth arms.
His eyes trailed over the windshield mirror, his own tired face reflected in its surface. Or was it? It was a face much like his, but older, sharper…
It winked, triumphant and gloating, a grin sparkling in the dark eyes.
Harry blinked in confusion, and started to turn his head in fear. Something about Liz's comforting weight against him afforded Harry the strength that he rarely was able to find within himself, and he was moved to retort in the only logical way he could think of.
He stared his reflection in the eye and winked back.
No further phantom manifested itself in the silver surface, but Harry could feel a cold anger creeping through the air, as if some unseen being surrounded him, raged by his defiance. He paid it no mind, and instead fell asleep with his wife at his side. Harry Osborn was a man that lived with demons, but in light of realizing that he had an angel on his side to face them with, he no longer felt quite as weak and afraid as he had before.