Here was the bed where she had laid, the sheets that were crumpled beneath her grip. This was the little hotel room where she had hidden, the corner she had cried in, the lamp that she had left turned off because she did not want the light to glitter off her tears.
He stood back against the door and looked over it all, his eyes cold and weary. He could visualize her, curled up on the bed weeping, strands of tawny copper hair sticking to the ivory skin of her face. He imagined the red rings around her eyes, mixing in with the wine-dark stains that began to appear after she stopped sleeping. He saw her hands grip onto the sheets, heard her quiet sobs crescendo, as loud as they would ever be but still held under her breath. He could taste the salt of her tears, the quiet pain in her blood, the danger in her every breath.
And now the hotel was quiet, except for his breathing, too loud and raspy. Now he focused his eyes on the corners of the bed where the sheets were stretched taut, a bit too small of the mattress and struggled upon, and thought, "In another life …." Now he fingered the plastic outer-case of his cell phone, knowing he should make the call, but not having the will quite yet. Now he didn't want to make it real, the sheets, the hands, the tears that hadn't quite dried on her face.
Lazy sunlight spilled onto the bed, staining her legs saffron, turning the cream of the sheets to amber. In fluorescent light those sheets would have been the color of bones, and the shadows from the curve of a leg would have been dove-gray. Of course, now with the light the color of whiskey pouring through the window, the shadows looked pure black. And he couldn't take his eyes off of it.
What sounds might that room have held if he was a different man? The faint rustle of sheets when she moved in his arms? The creaking of the springs on the mattress? Her gasp, her scream, his sighs when they moved against each other – with each other – against sheets the color of bones? But he was not that kind of man, and any sounds that the room held now with that tone would not be caused by him, or her.
When the light began to fade, the city outside that window began to shine. She threw on diamonds dressed up as streetlights, music disguised as cars and concerts and families sitting down to dinner and sex and alcoholism and life, life in every form. Outside the pane of glass a world spun and swam in itself, its own glorious abandon to all kinds of manner of existence, as long as movement was present.
And behind the glass? Lurking in a hotel room stained with amber?
He studied the bed once more, the line of the leg stretching, the outline of a rib, the curve of a dry lip. He watched the copper hair against the pillow smolder, catch flame, and burn out. And he thought –
"Amon," her voice sent shock waves through him, stripped off his skin and bared his beating heart to her soft gaze. "If it isn't too much trouble, could you …" the way the shadows played across her face as she lowered her gaze below his stare tore through him, "drive me home?"
"Yes," he answered simply, trying to solidify the molten steel he thought was creeping into his voice.
She gave the slightest hint of a sigh and looked up, just enough to catch his gaze. He saw – fear, hope, love, fear, sorrow, fear – and he wished, silently, the words screaming across his mind, praying in strange tongues to whatever gods would listen to him –
"Yes?" enquired a voice oceans away, the other end of the phone.
"It's done," he said, too quietly.
"She is dead?" the voice asked. "You are sure?"
"Are you in the hotel where she had been hiding?"
"You may leave now," the voice commanded. "Our crew will take care of her final arrangements."
He hung up. And in his memory –
She whispered his name in the dark.
"If you'll be my warden," she breathed against his neck, running her fingernails lightly over his chest "you won't leave me then? Ever?"
"No, Robin," his lips were as close to hers as they could get without kissing her. "I'm not going anywhere."
She pressed against him, her thin arms holding him tighter.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He held onto her like she would break apart if he didn't, like they were about to fall off the edge of the world and he was the only thing holding her back. And he hated himself, hated the gun on the nightstand, hated the part of himself that would let him –
The light was failing, and he was failing too. His hand splayed against the door, his eyes itched for tears to come, even though they had been dry for too many years, aching and dark. His focus shifted to the bed, shifted to the girl, shifted to the blood.
"Robin," he whispered, so low he could barely hear himself. "I'm sorry."
His hand moved to the doorknob. The feel of metal made his heart wrench, and part of him tugged back into the room, back to the sheets where he should be laying, his arms around the cold, pale girl. He turned his wrist anyway, and entered the hall. He couldn't even look back –
"Oh," she breathed when she saw. Her eyes closed. "I trust you, Amon."
He stiffened, willing himself not to do this.
'It was never supposed to be this way,' whispered some voice in his mind, his blood, his heart.
She sighed under the weight of his gaze, under the metal. His finger on the trigger started to ache.
"I'm ready," she told him.
It always ended like this.
As he stepped out onto the street he could have sworn he felt the ghost of her brush against him.