A Thousand Beautiful Things

Now I must nurse my courage in a sling
I dream the ancient skies are ripening

- Galway Kinnell, "Conversation at Tea"

VIII. Where Old Oblivions Gather

Except tonight.

The problem is eternity. The mistake is devotion.

It is his nature, no more or less. He looks human, but he is not. He is youkai, but he is still more than that, and his nature is his downfall.

Stained with melancholy madness, he circles her in her refuge, in the village she inhabits where she is rebellious and angry and longing for human company, when all he ever wanted for her, for himself, for her, was -

She has crippled him, hobbled his feet, wounded him and bled him out, dismembered him - and he welcomed it, this destructive thing that slices him to ribbons even as it sustains him. Folly, foolishness. He cradled her in his arms and did nothing as she ran her tiny hands over him and brushed away his determination, swept his resistance to the wind, ruined him completely.

Yet he haunts the forests beyond her village, and waits for her, longs to bring her back even as he struggles against the thing that she has done to him.

But he will not. That small scrap of dignity will remain to him, no matter how badly he wishes to shed it.

Her absence drives him weary wild.

Some days, Jaken is insistent that he leave, that he not humble himself this way, and that is fine. Some days, Jaken does not bother to speak to him at all, and that, too, is fine. He has all the time in the world to do the things he must, all the time in the world to walk the waves. But just a little longer.

Just a little longer.

His years are made long with waiting, made heavy with emptiness, and still she will not come.

Each day, he lives inside his mistake. The mistake, the stumble, the fall, the landing - pain and panic, unintended, avoidable, cursed missteps. Most can be mended, patched with care until all is as it had been before, or near enough that it makes no difference, but some take longer, look less like the pristine past and more like the shattered future.

Even mended, the ghosts of his mistakes live on, because he remembers.

Each night he wanders the forests, wondering how far he can go before she stops him. The further he runs, the tighter her hold, until he cannot breathe, until he cannot see, until he cannot struggle any longer and he turns back, lifting clawed fingers to scritch scritch scratch against the air, a mute appeal, too stoic to speak, too prideful to beg, back to wait for her to remember what he is and why he is here.

Except tonight.

In the storm and the lightening and the wild wind, he felt her. Not the hole of her, not the phantom limb of her, not the ghost, but her.

And even though he sensed her coming, walking through the darkness and the rain, even though he feels her, he didn't quite expect -

- at the edge of the village, atop the brink of her life, over the wall of his thoughts, on the tip of his tongue -

- to see her there.

From the sky, he watches her standing beneath the storm, and he knows she waits for him.

He knows this, because he knows so well, so well what waiting looks like. It looks like an agonizing lift of the chin. It looks like the hopeless shine of the eyes. It looks like the useless years and constant admonitions and the slow halt of all that was meant to go on.

It looks like the end.

So he goes to her.

And as he does, he thinks: if he could open her veins, if he could open her body to him, he would search inside her for the piece of him she stole and take it back, become whole again.

But that is impossible. The piece of him that would allow him to dismantle her and reclaim what he was is the piece she holds, safe, away from him in her body that he will never touch, in her hands, those fragile fingers he reluctantly cherishes. He would sooner draw his own beating heart from his body and devour it himself than see her harmed. It is his nature.

When he meets the end of the world, he will not be himself. He will be otherwise, alien, unrecognizable, and all because he allowed her to crawl into his bones and make him hers. He will never belong to himself again. He has been lost.

This is the mistake that will live forever, for she is hers is herself is her own, and he is a fool who failed to remember the one thing he should never do.

There is nothing like a dog's devotion.