The Last Watch

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: Capturing a Memory by Sister Shuma (Monday, June 20, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Insomnia by Seraphic Flame (Thursday, June 23, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, June 22, 2005)

Cowritten by John Murdock

Seraphic Flame stood at the window of Belladonna's apartment. Tomorrow, Bella would have it back again. Tomorrow she would be in that strange little room down the hall---familiar yet unfamiliar, furnished with things she and Bella had chosen almost at random, in a vain attempt to think of something, anything, other than John Murdock.

Tomorrow, for the first time in a life that stretched back to the beginning of time, she would be alone.

She felt him arriving long before he opened the door, and spoke. And she knew, of course, what he would say. "Love..." he began, the word sounding broken in a voice gone hoarse.

She turned and opened her arms and he came to them like a weary bird to the nest. She held him a moment, then drew him over to the sofa where they both sat silent for a moment. She broke the silence to charm the words from him. "Oh---oh my love---"

He looked at her with eyes full of solemn grieving. "Tomorrow...that's when it will happen."

She drew a shuddering breath. "I--know," she said, "I told you I could not number your days for you. But I knew."

He nodded. "I know...I'm sorry. That I haven't been there for you, like I should have been. For this entire mess."

Apologizing because his own heart-agony had sent him out to the thing that had kept him alive for so long---because he had not wanted to burden her with it. She knew that feeling, she had gone out to grimly hunt down Hellions and Council for the same reason. "John please--" she begged. "Please, you have done what you needed to do. No regrets, no recriminations--"

His eyes, bewildered, full of pain both physical and emotional, begged her for balm. "Still kinda hard to believe...so damned soon."

She took both his hands in hers, and held them, giving him the answer he craved. "Beloved--every moment with you is cherished in my memory."

She felt his hands shaking. As sensitive to him as if her skin had been peeled away, leaving only raw nerves, she felt his weakness, his growing pain, and could not regret for his sake that this was ending at last.

"I know..." he said, mournfully. "I just wish we'd had more of 'em."

Shew felt her lips trembling, her heart aching. "So do I," she said. She examined every scar, every line, every inch of that beloved face, trying to memorize it, trying to burn it so deeply into her mind that it would be the last thing she saw before sleep and the first on awakening.

He seemed to be doing the same. "There'll be more time...for us. I don't know how; I just know that there will be."

She felt the words like little blows against her heart, and involuntarily she put her fist to her lips. How could he know this, when she could not? A comforting illusion...."I pray so, beloved, but it is dark to me from there....I....." she faltered as he took her hands into his. "....I want to be strong and brave for you...but I am afraid...I have never been afraid before."

It was hard to speak those words, she who had been the unbending oak, the strong stone cliff that he could put his back against. But he smiled slightly. "Part of being human, love."

She trembled. "I....I have never been afraid, never known doubt, never had uncertainty. I feel all these things now....I am become all too human."

He nodded, and held her hands with gentle grace. "I can only imagine...how hard this'll be for you...all of it."

She bowed her head and looked down at their clasped hands. His engulfed hers completely. The hands of a warrior, the touch of a healer---"I think we both lack words..."

He sighed, and his weariness flooded her. "Yeah...just so much of it...." He looked up at her eyes. "I think we should do it atop the Arena where we met? Tomorrow, I mean..."

It had a symmetry to it, this suggestion. She nodded. "Yes. It is where it began for us. It is fitting that it should be...." She faltered, unable to go on.

He squeezed her hands. "It won't be the end, tomorrow...I promise that."

How did humans bear this heartbreak? She swallowed her pain and looked him in the eyes, those wonderful, gentle eyes. "I trust you," she said. "You are more than my own soul to me"

He leaned forward, and caressed her cheek. "And you are my soul." He paused. "I have...some questions. I'll understand if you can't answer them, dear..."

He leaned back into the back of the couch, and she leaned against his shoulder. Even through his clothing she felt the hectic heat of him, as his body consumed itself. "Ask. Much is permitted now. There....there is not a great deal I can change with my words at this moment, in any event."

He hesitated. "The Kheldian...is there nothing that can save him? Anything other than what we will do tomorrow?"

Oh, her failure, her failure! So much pain for Bella, who had come to love this strange creature in so short a time. So much pain for John, who loathed that another creature might die so he would live! She wept silently "He himself set all my plans awry," she confessed, as tears dampened his shirt. "But it was his free choice to do so. I would have saved him, but for his own actions. Now....now I cannot."

John shook his head, woefully. "So...his fate is sealed."

She tasted the bitterness of it. "By his own will. I offered him Sanctuary beneath my wings from his enemy, and he would not accept it. I offered him the protection of the sword of Michael Azir and he has not used it. I offered him of my own energies to preserve him and he would not take it."

He nodded reluctantly. "I understand...well, not really. Uh...tomorrow. Will you...be okay? I don't want anything to happen to you---"

She turned her head so that he could look into her face. "A gentle lie or the truth, beloved?" she asked softly.

He shook his head; she sensed he feared the worst. Yet, brave as always, he faced it. "The...truth."

And she gave it to him. "I will lose the greater part of myself, and this will be hard. But harder still will be knowng that when I look into your eyes, there will be no recognition there. The voice of the Tempter will be stronger in my deepest heart than that of the Infinite. But for your sake I will endure all these things. And for your sake I will not Fall."

He took it as she had meant it. "If in nothing else, Flame...I have faith in you. I'd die for you...even worse, I'm coming back for you. It's a deal."

Faced with such faith---it bolstered her own. "I will believe in you," she said, slowly, "As I believe in the Infinite." She sighed. "Beloved? Have you any more questions?"

He shook his head. "No...I just want to be with you...there's going to be a lot happening tomorrow. I want to spend as much time with you as I can until then."

A thought occurred to her; the thought became a petition, and the petition was answered, and she offered one last gift. "I have spent so much time with you in your world---would you care to spend a moment in mine?" she asked. "I fear a moment is all an incarnate soul can bear...."

He blinked a few tears from his eyes, as she raised her head from his shoulder. "What do you mean?"

Her heart sang with painful joy. To share this with him---"When, in the past, I have taken your hand, I have taken you a little way into the realm from which I came. Would you care to come fully into it for a moment? So that I may at last share it with you as you have shared yours with me?"

He did not hesitate. "With you. Yes."

She moved so that she supported him and took him into her arms. "Close your eyes, beloved," she whispered.

She sensed him doing so, and gathered his spririt to her, and disincarnated, taking him with her, leaving their mortal shells behind. A rushing sound, the sound of her great wings, heard with the soul and not the ears, surrounded them, and then---

They were home. No eyes were needed to see here, as she felt him sort what he was experiencing into things he could understand. To him, they were both beings of pure light. surrounded by her siblings. They in turn surrounded a greater Presence, that was too bright even for them to look upon for long. There were no words adequate to describe it, but the closest was that it was the distillation of everything that was good and pure and true in all of the multiplicity of universes.

Her siblings were singing. The song had no words, but they both understood that in the past few weeks of mortal time, that song had changed profoundly. There was a depth of compassion to it now that was enough to make him want to simultaneously shout with joy and weep with understanding. He knew now, as she had known when the change began, and she and those like her, also incarnate in many forms, had made that change.

She felt his mind expand outward; touching his lost love, still on her journey of exploration, touching the minds and hearts of all of those around him as she did. He saw the depth of their grief and love for him, and experienced hers as well--

Then it was too much, his mind had taken in all that it could bear. He fell, lightly as a feather, back into himself again, and for the last time, she made the same journey.

She held him in mortal arms, and her tears fell upon his cheek. "You are very strong, beloved," she said. "It is a difficult place to endure."

As he opened his eyes, she felt the tears he was letting fall freely mingling with hers. His words were disjointed, but she got the sense of them. "Thank you for that, love...it's the---I can't describe it. It was just about the most I've ever felt...I say just about...because you are my most. Thank you....for everything."

She held him as the both trembled. "That is the Heart of All Time. And all things dwell in it," she said softly. "Your love for me and mine for you will live there forever." And she invoked the words he had given her 'Though lovers be lost---" she said, wiping the tears from his cheeks with a feather touch "'---love shall not---'"

He finished it for her. "'--and death shall have no dominion...'"

"Yes," she sighed.

"I'm always thinking of you...and that poem." he replied after a long silence.

"It has become my talisman against the dark of despair." She searched for something else, as dusk filled the room, something to hold back the darkness for a little while, and then, found it in an unexpected place. "Beloved?"

"Yes, love?" he breathed.

She smiled. "It is time for me to ask a gift of you."

"Anything, Flame" he said instantly.

So simple a thing; so profound. So precisely what she needed. As did he. "Hold me," she said. "Comfort me." He turned so that he was facing her. "Take me into your peace."

He smiled. She had always been the strong one; her gift to him was this moment of weakness, his to her would be---that she could have it. "Oh, love..."

He took her into his arms and held her tightly, as if he would never let her go again. She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder, then relaxed completely, as she had never done before. "Tell me the words again," she whispered.

He bent his head down and breathed them into her ear. "We'll never lose each other...'And death shall have no dominion---'"