Word count: 1238
Notes: I owe this to dopplegl for the gorgeous layout he made me. Again :D
circles of rust
It begins on a bridge, a sliver of a bridge across a river turbulent and gritty with rain. The wind swirls amongst huddled treetops and stirs the clouds with a slow finger, greys and blacks and odd bruised shades of blue-sepia boiling and tumbling in a way that could signify the end of the world. If you didn’t know better. Which they do.
The tallest leaves first. The rain doesn’t bother him.
The pale boy folds his hands neatly and watches, entranced, as a slender prismic snake of oil appears in the water and is broken up by jostling raindrop ripples. Then he ducks his head in a private smile and walks off the other side of the bridge with water plastering his hair to his head in greasy pale strands.
“Busy month planned?”
“Same old.” She flashes a gunshot of a smile at him through the rain.
“You’re a dreadful liar, my dear.”
“Well.” Her hand slides across the wet metal to lie over his wrist, gentle pressure on the bones, and she leans comfortably against his side. “Let a girl have her secrets.”
“Ancient and arcane,” she drawls.
“And yet, inevitably, never subtle.”
“Have I ever done otherwise?”
Her hand tightens around his, slowly, like a noose.
Two months later and she’s painting the Middle East with cadmium laughter, petrol and blood. Gravel and shell fragments under her feet like the shattering of ice, and one afternoon she finds herself in a dark room breaking someone’s arm as though it were glass. There are men, tall quiet shifting men with names as hidden as their faces in swathes of dirty blue, who could do the breaking for her. But she has never been afraid to get her hands dirty. She rolls up the sleeves of her camouflage jacket, rests one foot on the chair between the man’s thighs and watches his eyes travel up her perfect leg to her face. She smiles. He pisses himself, and she removes her foot with fastidious swiftness.
“Kill him,” she says. “Slowly.”
And then she smiles again.
And then he talks.
She kills him anyway, plays him like a cello, twists and tunes and tightens and frowns and listens for the moment when the harsh, high, inhuman screams disintegrate into a keening moan that gurgles with tears, with snot and the bright blood that is speckling his lips. She has perfect pitch.
And though it there’s a dissonance; his voice – never subtle – and she fires four rounds into the twitching body, her teeth pressed together, shaking.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Lucifer says, and he takes her out for dinner at a terrible restaurant where the walls have odd bare squares denoting pictures taken down, and the waiter is missing three fingers and speaks to them from beneath a turban of stained bandages.
She isn’t. She picks up her fork and slowly, deliberately eats everything on the plate. Olive oil runs down onto her fingers and her grip becomes sloppy, sliding, slick with calories.
Lucifer sips his wine, which has no doubt been handed a few years and ordered to become a more palatable vintage, and watches her with something that is not quite amusement but is skirting smugly around the edges of it.
She finishes her meal, and the only other customers get into an argument over the bill. The argument escalates into shouting, shoving, and then there’s a rapid rattle of gunfire and the room is filled with that silence peculiar to death and the fear of the same. It should be familiar, cheering, but her mood is still rotten. She runs her tongue over her lip and looks at Lucifer, every civil war that humanity has ever perpetrated burning and crackling in her eyes.
“Let’s have sex on the table,” she says, and is glad of the crudeness of her voice.
Lucifer backhands her with stunning force, and she’s not expecting it so she goes crashing back across the cheap crockery and the feeble candles.
“Let’s not.” He heads for the door without looking at her. She pulls broken glass from her arms and catches up with him before he is ten steps down the street. “You’re such a fun person to enrage, my dear,” he says, and she kicks him square in the chest with a sharp stiletto heel.
They stand overlooking Jerusalem, and she loves the taste of that word, Jerusalem. Comforting and enlivening and addictive – just like coffee, Lucifer says, and she laughs. There are so many temples of stone and of the mind in this city, but from where she is standing amongst dry grass and crumbling arches, the hallowed ground of Jerusalem is nothing more than a shrine to her glory. And has been nothing else for a very, very long time.
“Ironic,” she says.
“Don’t get cocky,” Lucifer says, and kisses her neck.
It is possible to get used to variety, to the thinning of space. She wouldn’t call herself spoiled. But there are only so many barfights that she can witness and only so many drinks the colour of pale diluted envy she can sip at before she sets her glass down and gathers her coat. Under her hands it is still a door, but ingress rather than exit.
If she –
She’s not looking for anyone.
She sits on a barstool and lifts a hand to greet the devil. He is sitting lazily, listening to the muted ramblings of a thin dark girl whose eyes bear the unconscious imprint of siege and sprawling warfare. As she watches, the girl fiddles absently with Lucifer’s hand, and he does nothing more than smile. Brush back her hair.
Her lip curls. One down, and –
She’s not looking for anyone.
The redheaded boy is glowering at the table, resolutely ignoring her voice. She leans in and draws one nail across his temple; he flinches away.
She doesn’t remark upon the fact that he could have stood up and left as soon as she sat down. That he could have chosen not to sip sullenly from the wine she slid under his nose. That for every warm zephyr of a breath she gives to raise the colour in his cheeks and for every stroke of her fingertips across his lips, there is a chance for him to slip into intangibility.
They’re both there: the power and the opportunity.
And yet he sits and grits his teeth.
Interesting kid, this one.
She meets Lucifer’s eyes, laughs, and feels better.
“Where have you been?”
“Hidden,” she says, and then, because the bitterness is hard to keep out, “arcane.”
She sits in the darkest corner of the restaurant, somehow finding arrogance and elegance in her posture despite the agonising thinness of the chairs, and turns a silver fork over and over in one hand. She is not going to apologise, not least because she cannot quite pinpoint what it is she feels she should be apologising for.
He waves away the hovering staff and takes a seat. The muted light falls oddly into the clefts and hollows of him.
“Tell me about it,” he invites.
She doesn’t, not directly. But the fork flickers between her fingers and she tells him about all the places on a man’s body where a single four-tined puncture can kill, and it’s a good start.