Author's Note: I'm still working on my sequel for Redemption. It's coming along pretty well :) But this popped into my head so . . . I wrote it and haven't proofread it once. Good luck. The poem is Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe.

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It's not a shock to him when she shows up. Not really. He's always known, somewhere within the inner recesses of the heart he pretends not to have, that she would come back. It's their tragic flaw, their suicidal destiny, their very own, personalized Romeo and Juliet. He's drinking cognac and smoking while reading Naked Angels. Half of him knows who it is before he even stands up from his chair when Chris yells his name from the downstairs. The other half is angry that he's kind of hoping the first half is right.

His cigarette is almost down to the stub but he takes it with him anyway, running a hand through his hair and coming down the stairs with the silent steps that he'd been forced to learn as a kid and are now just a habit. She's standing there by the door. It's been two years since the night Truncheon opened, since the night they crashed and burned for the million and third time, and every damn day since then he's been secretly waiting for this second. In the eyes of every girl he's been with since he was seventeen, in the shame he's felt underneath sheets and in corners, wherever he happens to be screwing whoever he happens to be screwing, he's been searching for her in his own way. And now she's here.

There's mascara running down her cheeks. She's been crying. Again, not very surprising. He's pretty sure she hates him, and he hates her, too, because loving her when she can't love him back would be far too out of character.

There was a time when their adoration of each other was innocent. Well, no, maybe never innocent, but different. He remembers the feeling of Luke's leather couch sticking to his back and the smell of her hair, like rain and citrus. He remembers how she tasted. There's really not much to compare it to except sugar and rosewater and naïve lust and desire all at once. But now that adoration has turned dark, almost compulsive, something they can't escape. It's about time they shatter one another again. They're past their once-a-year deadline.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

"Hi," she whispers. Damn her for looking so beautiful. Damn her hair the color of cinnamon coffee and her eyes that blister him and kill him because they're so electrically blue. Damn how he wants to hold her and make everything okay for her again, even after all that's happened, how he wants to take away her pain and kiss away her hurt and tell her that he's going to fix it. But he knows he can't fix things. He breaks things.

"Hey," he answers. Chris is staring at them like they're both wack jobs. They probably are, on a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest level. She has something grasped in her fingers. He recognizes it as his new book and shudders. He hates talking about his book. He hates talking about himself. Hotwiring a car, how to keep yourself from getting jumped, picking locks, sure. But himself? It's the one thing he doesn't know very much about.

"I . . . I was in the city . . ."

He doesn't believe her, not for a second, but he won't tell her that. Besides, she already knows. The lie is more or less for Chris' benefit. He nods. Over the past couple of years, he's done good for himself. Truncheon is picking up, his two novels haven't been spit back in his face like horse puke, and he recently scraped up enough money to fix the engine in his car. He'll never get rid of that load of crap on wheels until it crumbs into dust. It kind of reminds him of her.

"Doing a Kerouac On the Road thing?" He asks. She's never been a fan of Kerouac, and she wrinkles her nose at this, the almost childish expression contrasting greatly with the tears leaving glistening paths carved into her marble-smooth face.

"Stealing onto moving trains has never really been my thing," she deadpans. He sees her take him in and he unashamedly does the same to her. She has soft, gorgeous curves he doesn't remember from when they were seventeen, and not even the green sweater she's wearing against pre-autumn chill can quite hide that. And jeans. Something in him warms when he sees her wearing jeans again. He reminds himself not to get too attached because she won't be here for long.

"You look good," she tells him, blushing even as she says it, but not afraid of saying what she's thinking. That's one of his favorite things about her.

I was a child and she was a child,
I
n this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Chris leaves, finally realizing he shouldn't be present in a conversation quite like this one. Jess figures he's gone out to a bar and is with some whore. It disgusts him. Not against Chris, not really, but against the entire idea.

"How are you?"

He crushes his cigarette into a nearby ashtray and shrugs. "I'm not dying or anything. That I know of." Actually, it kind of feels like he is.

She looks pointedly at his hand. "If you keep smoking you might be."

He doesn't think she quite has the right to give him advice on his lifestyle anymore, since she's pretty much shot her own to hell too, from the looks of it. But she's only just gotten here and the fighting's not due to start for another twenty minutes or so. He has absolutely no freaking idea how to fill up those twenty minutes. He really just wants to run his hands through her hair. "Join the cancer stick bandwagon. You're already into the fry your liver campaign with the obsessive compulsive coffee drinkers."

She looks down at the floor. It's emerald green carpet. He forgets who picked it out.

"I . . . don't drink coffee very much anymore."

That hurts almost more than anything she's ever told him. "Huh." He wonders who has broken her, and then realizes almost all arrows point toward himself. There's a moment of silence. It's not awkward. It just burns. He clears his throat, sees the diamond on her finger, and there is no surprise. He never would have been good at picking out a diamond anyway.

That doesn't stop his insides from feeling like they're caving in. "Engaged?"

He doesn't know why it's torturing him. It's not like it's unexpected. This is how they work. She looks up at him with eyes that say a thousand things, all of which pour salt onto the wound. They say she wants him. He wishes she didn't but knows that's a lie. He wonders if he'll be invited to the wedding.

Ha. Yeah, right.

"Yes," she answers. He will not envision the blonde dickhead from Yale. He won't do it, because then he'll have to get sick, far worse than any hangover he's ever had. And oh, the hangovers he's had.

"Okay." She wants to tell him something, but he doesn't want to hear it. "As much as I like what you're doing with the room by that coat rack, why don't you come in?"

She looks up and understands he has just forbidden her to mention the jackass, the ceremony, and the reasons behind her choice, so she shakily tries another topic. "I found your book. In an actual bookstore."

He shuts the door behind her and follows her over to the couch she subconsciously wanders toward. "One of the generally accepted places for books," he offers mildly. There's a slight second when they stare at each other. He wants to know why she's here but he won't ask. He tells himself it's because it would be too cliché, but the fact is he sort of already knows and is sort of afraid he's wrong, which he despises. How the mighty have fallen.

"Half Minus Nothing. Except you don't even have the title on the cover," she says. Like he doesn't know what his own book looks like. But he forgives her because he understands she's nervous and has never been as comfortable with the 'cut-the-bullshit' stuff as he has. "I just saw this grey book, no name, no author, just grey, and I had to pick it up, and I kind of already knew who wrote it, because it's just so . . . so you, and I read it all in the shop because I couldn't put it down. I bought it, of course, afterwards," she back peddles. "It was addicting. I'm starting out with this great opportunity at The Times and I'm going to get them to review it if they haven't already. They probably have, but –"

"Rory," he interrupts, unwilling to have her die a death from suffocation in his publishing house, because that would be completely anticlimactic. She looks at him in fear, worrying that she'll have to uncover her true intentions sooner than she plans, but he simply says, "It's shit. But thanks."

The fear leaves and vindictive pride takes its place. She furrows her brow at him and becomes, momentarily, the girl he remembers. "Liar. It's wonderful."

His throat constricts and he can't talk. He wants her back. He wants her, he wants coffee and books and her faded bedspread, the way she always tried to pretend he couldn't get to her when he trailed his hands along her arms from behind but he knew he always did, the way she kissed like someone perfecting an art and had to be taught that wilder and stormier was sometimes better. He's pretty sure that girl is still there, and pretty sure she wants to come out. He's never been good at helping with that kind of thing.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's midnight. There was talking but no drinking. He doesn't feel like he can be the one to dilute her purity with alcohol. Leave that to her asshole fiancé. No, he breaks her in other ways. He breaks her by pushing her because that's what she's here for and they both know it. She's here because she's an addict as surely as the one who injects his veins with heroin. She's here because she's losing herself and she wants him to find her. She should have given him a map.

They both knew what he meant when he suggested they go up to his room to look at his own personal book collection. They both knew and they both went anyway. He has the fan on in his room, thwacking in the darkness, chilling his skin and he doesn't give a damn. He's wanted to shatter her since she shattered him in the downstairs bookstore two years ago. Now's his chance but he doesn't think about revenge. The lights are off and she is a goddess and he thinks of white and he can't even remember what he's thinking and it doesn't matter so much anymore because the night enfolds them like flower petals. It almost tricks him into thinking everything will be right this time.

She's so soft, so very, very soft, and he tells her this, but she can't respond since she can't speak because the apologies in his eyes and the broken dreams that should have been theirs are too much for her to look at without feeling like she's being killed. He's so gentle that she thinks maybe he's never really wanted to hurt her, not in the honest-to-God way, and there's less Othello in him than she imagined. All she can feel is her entire body uncoiling and coiling again in waves of absolute ecstasy and madness she's never felt before, a fantastic, dangerous, spiraling-out-of-control sensation that leaves her dangling over an abyss with him holding her steady the entire time, whispering in her ear that he will never let her go. She believes him. She doesn't think he can even if he wants to.
This craggy, stormy thing has been building up inside of them for six years and its fulfillment is an apex she never believed in until this very second. It's religious, it's everything, she's guided by him to a place he doesn't exactly know the directions to. She doesn't see herself as particularly innocent anymore, but he's showing her that she is, that she's extremely inexperienced in this kind of love, in the boiling, burning passionate lust that's mixed with the tender devotion he's always had in him and only she has ever been able to find.

She can see nothing but his tanned, Italian-be-proud skin sweat slicked in the light from a neon sign outside his window, smell nothing but the distinctly him smell of aftershave and stale cigarettes and leather. He tells her secrets in a language she has forgotten but thinks she must have known once and her heart is bursting and she tells him he's all she wants and that's been killing her. It feels very good not to lie to him. It has taken far too long to get here and she's furious with herself for waiting this long.

She forgets how to think. She forgets everything except his bronze-colored eyes and his hair that she's tangling in her fingers and how he's saying again and again, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here . . ."
Logan does not cross her mind once. The bed is a sacred place, a place for truth and what-should-be and Fate, for Rory and Jess, and no one else intrudes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He is very grateful she does not leave right away. He watches her hungrily, the way her hair is plastered to her neck, the way she plays with his fingers and throws her leg over his. She is him and he is her. It's been that way for a long time, maybe always, and he's nearly killed himself trying to forget.

She's different but not really. He figures she could say the same about him. The years of dust are blown off and she's Rory. She likes to write things in hieroglyphics on his back still, her little finger trailing along his shoulder blades. Her eyes close when she's so overwhelmed with emotions she can't breathe. There's that spot on her collarbone he knows no one but he has ever found. She has an obsession with his hair and she's glad he cut it again. She likes to be held.

He doesn't taste that bitter regret feeling he usually tastes after he sleeps with someone. He wants to give her the world but he knows that she doesn't want the world. He's not sure what she wants. She's the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He hasn't seen a lot of beauty but he's not looking for more than this because when you've got it all, there's not much left.

Except he doesn't have her. He knows that.

He slips out from beside her when she finally falls asleep, reaching for his boxers and jeans and putting them on for some reason he can't quite describe. Maybe because he knows that sleep will change her and rob Rory from him, bring back that pseudo woman who's marrying a jackass. Because he doesn't want to wake her up, he opens the window and smokes out it instead of in the room. Each burning orange ember that falls off makes his head throb.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

His life is a comedy of errors. Dante would have been proud. But this is not one of them. This is souls and forever and tomorrow and I'm sorry, this is what he's never been able to say. He has left his heart inside of her. It will be easier to pretend he doesn't have one now that he's given it away. He will never be able to forgive her, but that's okay, because forgiveness is the first step to forgetting and he does not want to forget.

Dammit, he sounds pathetic. It's a new level of patheticness for him. It's freaking embarrassing.

But then he sees her again, celestial and wrapped in his sheets and with his sweat on her alabaster skin, and he thinks maybe, just maybe, he can stand to be pathetic for a night.
They should have worked out. He shouldn't have fucked up. He shouldn't have but he did and now he knows she will never come back. It's broken this time. She will be so ashamed . . .

But not yet. Not quite yet.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's three in the morning and she's leaving. He hears her gathering her clothes. She thinks he's still asleep but of course he's not. He never fell asleep in the first place. She's used him again, used him for some ulterior motive of her own design, and although he should feel a little bit vindicated because he's finally managed to make a good dent in her picture perfect life, he's empty.

Her silhouette is against his bookshelf as she slips her sweater over her head. He sees her trace her fingers along the spines of books she can't see. Her diamond glitters in the moonlight. It takes all his self control not to rip it off her finger and fling it out the window. That wouldn't help. She's still hell bent on punishing him.

Bleeding. Is he bleeding? It feels like it. He wishes he was. Then, at least, there would be something physical to this pain that's ripping him apart in a million pieces. He's always been strong and stoic, but she finds the break in the armor and comes in with a machete.

She's almost to the door when he finally refuses to let her think she's getting away with anything.

"You should really have fishnet stockings if you're going to do this," he says lowly, sitting up. He's still in his jeans. His shirt is flung on the desk, where he never retrieved it from. She freezes and turns to look at him, begging him not now, not this, but there will be no other time and they're both well aware of the fact.

"Don't say that." She's almost harsh, almost like it's his fault they're this way, on this never-ending circle. He forgets who started it and why. It doesn't matter anymore. He's very angry that she's the one getting defensive and also the one crawling away. But she's always had a way of making him stick around regardless.

"Stay."

He never expected he would ask her that. He has been telling himself since that night in her dorm at Yale he will never ask her that again. But he asks her anyway, asks her because he has to, because if she's going to kill him he has a hard time just lying there doing nothing.

She's crying. She makes no noise but he knows. He gets up and pretty much has memorized the words she's going to use to say no. She can't make him believe she still doesn't want to say yes.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

She backs up against the door, not wanting him to come any closer because she can't say no when he does that. She has a life that other people have set up for her and she is expected to fill. Logan is burdening her again. She wonders when she became the kind of girl to marry a man she doesn't love and tear apart the one she does. Her heart skips its twentieth beat in the last two minutes.

God. Stay. Stay. Stay, stay, stay . . . If only it were that simple, if only it were stay . . .

"We'd kill each other."

His reply is nonchalant and honest and open. Ironic that he's being honest now that it's too late. "I think we already have."

She wants to tell him that's not true, but it is. "This meant . . ." She tries to remember how to talk without crying. It does no good. She was about to tell him it meant everything, he meant every, didn't he know that? But she can't. "I don't know why I came. I'm . . . I'm sorry."

That's what he can't stand and it breaks the final straw. "Dammit!" He runs his hands through his unruly hair and wants the old goddess Rory back. He has never been able to stomach insincere apologies. "Don't you say that!"

Her voice breaks. "What do you want me to say?"

He doesn't have an answer.

She doesn't expect him to.

His taste is still on her tongue. Very interesting that she has never felt safer than in the arms of the most dangerous person in her life. He's it for her, the end, the one, and she's missed it, and it's so absolutely awful that she wonders if she's getting married to Logan just to spite him. He wonders it, too. They both find it highly likely.

"Do you love me?"

She hates him for asking that. Really, really hates him for being able to be so blunt and insensitive. Hates him, hates him, hates him, wishes he will never leave and she will never leave, wishes a thousand things that would be absolutely pointless to stop wishing because she can't.

"I'm . . . I'm getting married," she stumbles, avoiding him like she always does because it's a habit. She's wanted him since the first time she saw him. Probably loved him that long, too.

"You've never been good at lying," he says throatily. He's going to kiss her again. She can see that flash in his chocolate eyes. She's missed it, missed how it makes chills run up and down her spine. He attacks her, crushes his mouth against his, makes her forget where she ends and he starts. Her arms wind around his neck and against his shoulders and he wants to push her against the door so hard her bones crack and the bookshelf topples all his books to the floor.

When she looks at him with huge, terror-filled eyes, he knows without a doubt that, yes, she loves him. It's worse than he thought it would be. He doesn't try to stop her from leaving this time. She's the confused butterfly, and if he tries again, her wings might tear.

She left the copy of his book she brought with her. He decides he wants to burn it but settles for ripping its paperback cover cleanly in his hands and tossing it in the trash. She'll probably come back to get it sometime. He'll be waiting, because that's what one of them does. So much for breaking the cycle.

Her engagement ring is constricting her like a noose. She's pretty sure she can't do it, even as she sits in her car outside. He stands in his room, pretty sure he can't let her go again. She's bourbon, vodka, cigarettes, everything addicting wrapped up into one, and they are Rory and Jess, and this is them, and this will always be them, and neither of them have anything else. By making love to her, he has taught her that her hate and his hate is love.

Lying doesn't change truth very often, and this is no exception. He hears a car door slam as she climbs back out. It makes him laugh.

Crying would be too out of character.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.