This is one of several short stories / scenes I wrote over the Christmas period as a present for various people. It fits between Ripples and Chimera, and so has spoilers for both, but it isn't necessary to have read either.
I'd love to hear what you think - comments and criticism are always much adored. :) - Ki
The Edge of the Horizon
He came with the night and so she came to think of him in much the same way: dark and sweeping and sinuous, moving across her sky as he moved over her body, with a slow grace that utterly subsumed her attention.
Beneath his star-cold eyes, everything else fell into shadow until her senses extended no further than the first feather-light touch, the last shuddering sigh.
A hopeless addict, she ached for those moments when she could be pinned beneath him, abandoned to his tender mercies. In such moments of possession, little else seemed real: the world took on vague lines that were punctuated by adoring detail: a window was important for nothing but the light it threw onto the side of his face, dividing it like a harlequin's mask.
Yet it was she who was the fool, and when he drifted away with the first threat of light, he seemed some terrible and fabulous thing of her making; half-dream, half-nightmare, existing only in the confines of her room.
Alone, she rued those nights, cursing herself for her weakness.
There was only one constant in his life: her.
Everything else was as changeable as the winds, blowing hither and thither, and though Blue Malefici soared above the world as easily as a kestrel, he always returned to her.
There was nothing unfamiliar in the curve of her breasts and the long slope of her back and in that room, where they shared an unspoken truce, no treachery or bland machinations to be batted away or punished. He knew exactly where to drop a kiss on the arch of her shoulder to make her shiver, yet never quite knew what her response would be: that was the only uncertainty in his sanctuary, and it was a pleasantly anticipated one.
She had awoken a thirst in him he hadn't known existed, and he slaked himself on her each night, learning, remembering, experimenting. There was a delicious thrill to the sound of her sighs, muffled against his neck, to the taut lines of her body, to the dull heat that rose over her cheeks, to every small gesture she made.
He could not explain this simple fascination, nor why he found her continually new and vibrant, as if the motions of her body were a language to be learnt, one with its own richness and subtle nuance. Wordless, she could convey more than a thousand babbling prophets.
In her silence and in her lack of silence, he found contentment.
She hid her need at first.
But time passed and, immersed in his chilled and pristine world, she began to crumble. It was slow and so she did not notice the small betrayals: her fingers closing around his before she fell asleep, the kiss she planted on his cheek before he left one morning.
But he noticed.
He knew – that was what flashed in his eyes like a coin spinning, hate and love and hate and love and hate and love and-
He'd blink, and she was left to wonder what lay under the chilly veneer.
To comfort herself, she would pretend that moment had never happened – pretend her sky had not split down the centre, waiting on some holy message.
Sometimes, she'd lean over him and count the stars in his eyes: one, two, fifty, a thousand, fragmented and distant. Those were the good days.
They were becoming rare.
Sometimes, she prodded the marks he left on her to see if she could still feel. She pushed and pinched at the purple bruises on her thighs, a matching pair that looked as if an inky finger had rested there. She would rub at her red skin, chafing it to a new flush of colour and press her lips together to make them tingle once more, as if his mouth hovered over hers.
Those nights, she rattled about her own body, auditing it dispassionately, wondering what drew him back time and again. Those were the bad days, and they were dragging her down, one by one.
Dusk until dawn: that was all the time he allowed himself to indulge this foolish whimsy, but lately, it didn't seem long enough. And the thought chilled him.
Somehow, it had become about more than lust and sex and a fervent, clandestine meeting of tongues and hands and flesh. It mattered to him that he heard desire roughening her voice and saw pleasure in her face – she had begun to matter to him in a way that no one else ever had.
He found her beginning to haunt his thought during the day, a sunlit ghost who hovered at the periphery of his life. A glimpse of black hair could make him turn his head, or a whiff of the perfume she would sometimes dab on her neck and wrists.
In an effort to exorcise her, he left each morning, severing the fragile intimacy they had wrought. Encountering her under sunlight, he let contempt roll through his words and flash in his expression; he took delight in tormenting her with small touches and soft-voiced phrases. The intimacy that was so natural beneath a shadowed sky had no place in the brisk business of daylight, and thus he used it to unnerve and wound her.
But as time went by, he found that even these small touches were becoming more frequent and that the sun seemed to rise earlier and earlier; that his scorn had become as much shield as sword.
"You don't have to leave," she had said once, very early on.
He had laughed, of course, and seen the answering regret in her eyes almost instantly. "I want to leave."
He waited for her to ask him again, unable to concede weakness to her. It was weakness, he was sure.
Eventually, she would ask, and he would lie all day in the heat of her body, but not until she asked. He counted the days, one by one, weighted by expectation.
Once, she had asked why.
He had been sat next to her, lifting her hair in his hands to let it stream through his fingers. When he laid a hand at that sensitive ridge where her neck joined her spine, she had breathed in, taut with anticipation. And somehow, unintended, the question had slipped out, borne on her unsettled breath.
He had drawn back his hand, abandoning her without a second thought. His face had frozen: white and still, he seemed an effigy of himself, the only colour twin splashes of blue that danced like water under candlelight.
"Don't ask. You'll only be disappointed."
That night, his first kiss drew blood.
He had always lived his life on the threshold, and in the tight moment between driving need and satiation, he felt himself to be most alive. Always, no matter how he tried, there was always a point where his dispassion wavered.
One moment, when he would bow his head and shudder, when he knew his hands were too tight and too rigid but could not ease his grip, when he could do nothing to hide the shock in his eyes.
There, on the edge, poised between heaven and hell, between annihilation and naissance, within her and without her, he loved her most truly, without question and without doubt.
He had always lived on the threshold, but in those nights, under the smudged green of her eyes, he died there, and was reborn: every night, he was astonished anew, he burned anew.
He loved anew.
In truth, that was why he came back – for that one moment of wonder.
She used to think it was about love.
Her heart long since hardened to the fact that love has little to do with obsession. She was no longer foolish enough to plead for declarations of love and grand gestures. She was no beggar and her pride was immense.
It was this same vast pride that gnawed at her conscience when she welcomed him in each night. She ruined him with her teeth and her nails, her pride inflicting the wounds on him that he inflicted on her.
If it was about anything, it was about pain and revenge, wrapped up in a tawdry illusion of love and desire. Her world was split in two: those brutal nights, and the bright days.
It would only take one word, she knew, and it would all stop.
Sometimes, the word rested on her lips like a communion wafer – and she swallowed it back, poor sinner that she was, thoughts already on the sweet promise of sin and pleasure and pain.
She could barely tell the difference anymore.
But as long as there was him, however vengeful and wretched the nights had become, there was something to take away the emptiness.
In her naiveté, she had made him the anchor of her world and feared to lose him: feared that she would drift forevermore, an empty, echoing thing that had only regrets to buoy her.
As the months passed and she stagnated, she realised that the stars had already realigned themselves to outline his shape, that her world was defined by his cold distance and his stark, cruel words. Her job was merely a way to fill the daylight hours, to fill the absence he left and pass the time spent without him.
However she tried to jar herself from her apathy, there was nothing – no one – bold and fierce enough to take his place. Perhaps, one day, someone would come to give her purpose. Until then, she despaired and she repeated the old lie:
It's just sex. It doesn't mean anything.
He doesn't know how to tell her: words, he is sure, are too crude to express what he feels. And so he waits for her to speak first, waits for her to speak to him of need and love, as she did long ago, in the glen where this all began.
He doesn't know how to tell her, and so he waits.
She means everything.
Thanks for reading - I'd love to hear what you think.