No, I haven't abandoned Fragments, this is just something that came to me in the meantime, a rather different genre. Please let me know what you think?
Thank you to lily moonlight, for looking through this for me and making suggestions.
She stares at the empty room, shocked faces beside her, the door opening onto the street. Sirens scream, a string vibrating, tuned too sharp. Too sharp, too taut. She shares the feeling.
"You should be home by now, Stell. Your shift ended hours ago."
She laughs. "The day I see you follow that advice, Mac…"
An unwilling smile tugs at his mouth. "You'll be the death of me."
"I've saved your life before now, so I'm going to call that an unfair comment."
He laughs, properly. "Fair enough."
She's aware of a voice which sounds exactly like hers barking orders into a radio, hands which are like her own reaching out in gestures which speak through the wooden air. In a reflective window she sees a face which mirrors her own, and she turns away, refusing to acknowledge the fear in those identical eyes which stare widely at her for an instant.
"What do you think of this restaurant?" he asks, his eyes nervously seeking approval from hers. Around them, candles burn bright in brass holders over red cloths, soft shadows falling in corners, catching in her curls and in the hollow of her throat.
"It's lovely, stop worrying." They wait to be seated. A violinist plays on a raised plinth, her eyes closed as she cradles her instrument in the crook of her shoulder. Her fingers pinch the strings, the bow drawing out the slow music from the resonance of the dark seasoned wood. She's lost to the world.
They arrive at their table. Ever the gentleman, he pulls out her chair for her, making her laugh. The noise harmonises with the violin's melody. "We should eat together more often," she says, resting her elbow on the edge of the red tablecloth, stroking the soft wax near the wick of the tall candle.
He raises his eyebrows. "Does that remark have anything to do with the fact that I've already offered to pay?"
"Of course not!" she protests, the flame's reflection twinkling in her eyes.
Feet step impatiently towards her, their owner searching for answers she doesn't hold. She turns to see him snatch his glasses off, revealing the anger smouldering in his eyes, running his hand through his hair in sheer frustration.
"What the hell was he thinking?"
"Calm down, Danny, you're not helping."
"Sorry, Stell. But – he played us. What'd Mac have to go and trust him for?"
"We all trusted him." She's looking in all directions, not wanting to waste precious time on words. But ever since she pulled up outside the bank earlier, and spotted his car, there's been nothing else to do but wait.
"I wish I could play the violin like that woman could."
They're walking, beneath a full silver moon, over silver and black grass. Mac has a flashlight in his pocket but doesn't need to turn it on. Every leaf, every blade of grass is outlined, cast in metal. Midnight shadows stretch behind them.
They pause at the edge of an obsidian pond. "You can't do everything, Stell."
She dips the toe of her shoe, just touching the water. A perfect ripple spreads outwards. "I know."
"You've always wanted to do everything."
"When I was little I was told I'd grow up to eat the world in one bite."
Radios crackle, sounds hissing and spitting through the air, flame-flickering sounds, and she wants to cry but knows she can't because there's a hot flame of anger and fear barely contained within her, and this is one of those fires that flares up to a frenzied inferno at the touch of water intended to quench it, the touch of tears.
She wants to fall apart, but there's no time for it. She tries to think logically, scientifically, and that makes her think of all the times he refused to do anything but follow the science, follow the evidence, never trusting anyone, always looking for verification, because the science never lied however much the people did.
But not this time. This time he trusted the man's words, and now he's missing, and it feels as if he's taken a part of her with him.
"There's a story, you know, about violins."
"What sort of story?"
They walk over the grass, each argentine blade casting its own pointed shadow. The moonlight spins a spell of silence around them.
"A faery tale."
She laughs, a silver chime. "Go on, tell me the story. We've got all night."
He smiles. "A prince went out courting, and he came to a king's palace, where he was offered the choice between three princesses, each of whom would bring a different gift to her new husband. He was told that as a dowry, one would bring money, one would bring power, and one would bring only happiness, but he wasn't allowed to ask them which was which."
"What did they look like?" she asks.
He thinks for a second. "The first princess had long golden hair, the second was tall with red hair, and the third – " he lifts his hand, lightly touches her curls with his fingertips – "The third was the most beautiful, and she had brown hair like a gypsy's, and green eyes."
She smiles, and wonders whether the prince had eyes which contained all the colours of the sky. "So what did he do?" She slips her arm in his, playing along. They pass beneath black-barked trees, and she touches a spray of silvered leaves, setting them dancing.
"He saw in the corner a musician with a violin, and he asked each girl for one hair from their heads, and they gave them to him. Then, one at a time, he strung the hairs on the violin and played them with the bow. With the first hair he heard the chink of coins. With the second, he heard the sound of armies marching. With the third he played a dancing song, and the brown-haired princess began to dance to it, and they left together, with him still playing the violin for them both."
"What colour was his hair?" she asks, looking into his night-darkened eyes.
He laughs at her transparency. "Black."
She smiles. "I like that story."
"Stell, are you ok?"
His eyes are too kind and understanding for her to be able to bear at this moment. She turns away. "I'm fine, Don."
"Stell – "
"I'm fine." Instantly regretting the harshness of her tone, she knows nonetheless that if she apologises, if she lets down her armour, she won't be able to build it up again in time to protect herself. "What leads do we have?"
He seems to understand, and she's grateful. But there aren't any leads.
They walk, arm in arm, through the moonlight. They fell silent a while ago, and now neither of them wants to disturb the night with words. The glances they share speak loud enough. They stroll along a path bordered with shadows, and his hand finds hers, both of them sharing their touch, solid in a world of silver shapes and black silhouettes. The sweet smell of elderflowers fills the air, each tiny petal picked out by moonbeams.
She can do nothing now but wait. They're all pretending to be busy, because none of them can face the fact that there's nothing that they can do. She sits in the passenger seat of the car, watching Don's hands clench on the steering wheel, the two of them jumping each time the radio spits out its messages as they try and retrace Mac's journey – up to the point where they lost him. And, of course, it's the time beyond that point, the direction that he went, that they need to know, but don't. Can't.
All she can do is wait, and remember. She remembers last night, and the moonlight in the park. And she remembers the warmth of his hand in hers, and his voice in her ear, and the way the moonbeams painted them in black and white, actors in some forgotten film, and she remembers the elderflowers, and the violin.
They walk together beneath trees whose black boughs are stencilled across the white face of the moon. "We should do this again, Mac, it's been lovely."
"Tomorrow?" he suggests, and she laughs.
They reach the end of the grass, the end of the silver, but they stop before they quite reach the street, next to dark foliage.
"Goodnight, Mac," she says, and on impulse kisses his cheek. He returns the kiss, brushing his lips over hers, and she's too surprised to return it until he's already stepped back, smiling.
"Goodnight, Stella," he says. "I'll see you in the morning."
Moonbeams pale his face, leave dark shadows behind his eyes. The threads of her hair glisten.
He plucks her a sprig of elderflower, white petals mirroring the moon.