Still Life

By Contrarian

Rating: K (typical teenage angst)

Spoilers: Provided you've read The Key, none.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marianne Curley.

Notes: I've never tried writing a story in second person, and I'm not sure if it's considered bad form. But this is the way it took shape in my head, and it's not a common pairing anyway, so I figured I'd experiment a bit. Also, I admit that I'm not a fan of Rochelle, but I did my best to do her justice in this story. And while originally it was supposed to be solely Arkarian/Rochelle, my desire to make the pairing as canon-compliant as possible necessitated a very small hint of Ethan/Rochelle as well.

I hope you enjoy it. Feedback would be appreciated, of course.

You're not sure what love is supposed to feel like, but judging by the way Matt can't look at you anymore, you're at least good at faking it. You understand relationships in theory, having gathered information by observing countless couples. You know when it's okay to start holding hands when you walk each other to class, what kinds of gifts are appropriate for specific anniversaries, and how to act on dates. You think that you could probably write a dating manual and people would take you seriously, which just goes to show how gullible people are.

Not that you blame Matt for taking your bait. You're aware of your beauty, and of how difficult it is for men to refuse you; besides hearing it from the minds of so many boys, Marduke had always made sure you knew your strengths, regardless of what they were. You actually pity Matt, even though he would hate that if he knew, and you can't look at him either, not without feeling stabs of guilt.

So it's ironic that, after carefully maintaining a false relationship for years, you have no idea how to go about developing one that's real.

Not that this can be real. You've already resigned yourself to that fact. Isabel is his soul mate, and if you've learned anything at all from the war for Time, it's that it's useless to fight destiny. Your status as one of the Named overcame what you thought had been your unshakable loyalty to the Order, after all, so there's something to be said for fate.

But that doesn't mean the feeling isn't there, even though, again, you're not entirely certain that it's love anyway. It's definitely not the giggly, dreamy type of infatuation you've heard about; you understand that you'll never get to experience that, since it requires an innocence you lost a long time ago.

Actually, this attraction feels more inevitable than anything else, even though you know that, deep down, you care for Ethan too. Your chest wouldn't tighten so painfully every time you hear the suspicion in his thoughts if you didn't. But the rational part of you says it's stupid to be attached to someone who so obviously doesn't trust you. You'd just be setting yourself up to be hurt, again and again.

And you don't want to be hurt anymore.

Arkarian wouldn't hurt you, you're sure of that. You've seen how he is with Isabel, so gentle, so reluctant to put her in a situation where she could be harmed. Lately it's given you pangs of jealousy every time you've seen it. He's everything you need right now: supportive, kind, and trustworthy. And the fact is, you're tired and lonely and he's the only one who makes you feel like you still matter. Is it any wonder that you fell for him?

You don't know how to express to him how grateful you are that he's given you his trust when no one else will; if you tried to tell him that now, you'd probably wind up divulging all your feelings, and this you will not allow yourself to do. You've been careful to screen your thoughts when in his presence (being able to read others' thoughts has made you all the more aware of how important it is to shield your own), although it's not always easy. You recall how he had run his hand over your arm in the underworld; even though he had only been trying to give you Lady Arabella's crystal, the memory of his palm, so warm in the icy air of Lathenia's realm, makes your heart slam out a few irregular beats.

Isabel really is lucky. You hope she knows that.