Despair

From the Story Arc: Phoenyx Rising

Previous Story in the Arc: Endgame by Seraphic Flame (Thursday, June 30, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Revelations by Victoria Victrix (Sunday, July 03, 2005)

(posted Friday, July 01, 2005)

Time and time again she had encountered him, the man who wore her beloved's face, who claimed his name, who was him in all things but one.

He did not know her.

Time and time again, she looked into his eyes, searching for a hint of recognition that never came. Each time she searched and failed to find it, her spirits dropped further, she lost a little more hope, until now. Now she had fallen to the nadir of despair, Now--now there was nothing more to hope for.

She had lost all. There was only duty, and she pursued that duty with a grim determination that sent her to the hospital, again, and again, and again. And she was past caring.

She had thought she was also past new pain, when she had made it known that she wished to be called "Triste"---Sorrow. But always there was someone who had not heard, who called her by her old name. As now. The end of another mission, a kind-face man named Kuo, who stabbed her with the dagger of what she had been and was no longer, all unknowing.

She concealed the pain and closed her eyes. "Please do not call me Flame," she said, "Or Seraphic. That is what I was."

She opened her eyes to see his stricken look. "...Oh, shit."

She sighed. "I am Triste now. I do not think you could have known, so do not---feel guilt."

He still looked guilty, startled, profoundly unhappy. "It... it happened. Bella told me some about it, but... shit."

So he at least knew what was to have happened. She would not have to explain and dig her own wounds deeper. She bowed her head. "He has forgotten---all of us. When he looks at me, there is nothing in his eyes for me. I could wish that Michael had taken my mortal life as well as my powers. But since he did not, I must endure."

And endure, and endure. And now, because she had promised, she must go once again and look that beloved stranger in the face, and endure more pain than she had ever known existed. As Kuo took a very deep breath, she prepared to do just that. "I must go," she said simply.

Kuo looked at her with pity "...I'm sorry, Triste."

As am I. More sorry than you ever could know. "Thank you for your kindness," she said simply, and lifted off into the sky.

She preferred tunnels when she could find them. The trams felt like coffins. It was a fortunate thing that there was a tunnel where she was to meet him, and he had, with a quirk of the humor she remembered only too well, chosen to meet her on the roof of a building that sported a sign proclaiming "Earth for Humans."

She dropped down next to him. He smiled. She merely looked at him gravely. "Get a chance to have a meal, yet?" he asked--for the last time he had seen her, this very morning, she had not, she had in fact gone two days without eating, being entirely unaware this was something she was supposed to do. She nodded. "Good. Have you been drinkin' somethin' too?" he persisted.

Again she nodded. "A great deal of water." And now, at least, she had a mundane question to distract him. "This---gnawing, in my middle---am I ill?"

He laughed a little. "That's hunger, alright. No you're not ill! No, not at all." He chuckled lightly. "You really are somethin' else, y'know that?"

She hung her head. It seemed she was always being something other than what she should be. "I am sorry," she apologized. If only she could go home....

He tilted his head to the side. "Why? Wait, first let's sit. Get comfortable."

They settled themselves and she began to feel the familiar burning of tears as they arranged themselves, remembering the last time they sat on a roof like this---same poses, same distance--and bowed her head so he would not see. Empty silence hung between them until he broke it. "Why'd you say you were sorry, earlier?"

Softly, sadly, she explained. "Because I do not mean to be something else. I mean only to be what I am, although I---I---I do not know how to define that."

He laughed again, and she felt his smile. "No...it's not a bad thing. Ya stand out...you're different, is all. Learnin' all of this stuff...I dunno; it's kinda like you're vulnerable, but you're not. There's nothin' wrong with it."

Silence again, as tears fell quietly onto her crossed legs, and she blessed the night that he could not see them.

He broke the silence again. "Y'know...since I woke up here, there's been plenty of things different for me---Turnin' into a squid is a big one. Years leapin' by, or at least seemin' that way...and there's somethin' else..."

"I wish," she said bitterly, "that time was leaping by for me. Every moment is an eternity."

He did not seem to hear her. "When I'm around folks...I dunno...I get little flashes of things...images, colors, sounds, emotions...it doesn't happen often; usually only when I'm around one of those damned Void things...but also whenI'm around one of y'all, the folks that knew me."

Except around me. Nothing. Nothing.

"Ghosts, echoes, shadows of the past," she said.

"Well...yes and no...." he sounded doubtful as she continued to stare at the hands in her lap. "Some of it, I think, is from the past...but other bits are like current. From the moment...like right now, I can feel that you're sad...d'ya know what I'm sayin'?"

But he could not feel that she loved and was dying of it, and yet, like the Fisher King, existed with a mortal wound and could not die. "I---that was one of my powers once, so---yes, I understand."

He sounded startled. "It was? How so?"

It was something to fill the silence. "I---they have a name for it here. As if by making a label for something they make it more real. 'Telempathy.'"

He pondered that. "So, like mentally readin' another's emotions, right?"

She elaborated. "I could hear the thoughts of others and speak into their minds, and I could feel what they felt. Their pain was my pain. I used that---that to help me in counseling them. I have a shadow of that yet, but I must touch to read someone. So yes, I understand. It is a great gift, but also a great burden." So the flashes are nothing more than what he is picking up from others. There is nothing to hope for here. She kept her eyes fastened on the shadows pooled in her lap. The silence stretched on and she filled it. "It is very difficult, not knowing what you are, only what you are not," she said, mostly talking to herself now. "I am not joy and love. I am not comfort. I have no counsel. I have no connections."

Her palm contained a small pool of tears. Another dropped silently into it.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She started to look up, remembered her tears, hastily looked down again.

His voice sharpened a little. "You're not alright...are you? I think I may have been pickin' up on that...I've been goin' in and out, y'know."

She sighed. Somewhere below them, she heard the sounds of battle, detached, removed, softene by distance. "Those things that I once was, I am no longer; what I am not---only defines a---a void that once was me."

His voice was so kind it made all her emotional wounds ache. "Hey...y'know, I said this last night, and I meant it...That thing that my friend once said: 'We're always all of the people we've ever been.' I think it's true, y'know."

Perhaps for others. Others who had not had that severed from them. "Wherever those things have gone, I cannot find them. I am alone in the dark."

In the dark, staring sleepless at the ceiling, while each eternal second ticked by and her pain and loneliness never eased.

She sensed him shaking his head. "I don't think y'are. And I also think that, maybe not being what you once were...is supposed to be somethin' to help ya...somethin' for ya to learn from, maybe."

My solitary trial. My trial is only to endure alone so that I do not Fall. Not to listen to the Tempter. To remain uncorrupted so that I may go home, where the memories always are alive. "They tell me I must not let sorrow turn to despair, but it is too late for that. I have learned I can endure what I once thought was unendurable. I suppose that is something," she said, dully.

His voice sharpened again. "What is that thing? That you've learned to endure?"

Everything. Fear. Doubt. Loneliness. Despair. Pain. "The loss of hope," she said aloud.

Her tears had ceased for the moment, and she looked up in time to see his brow furrow. "Stop. You used to be an angel, right? And now you're supposedly human?"

It seemed self-evident. "As you see."

"All right, that'll mean yes. What do you think makes a person human? Not just biological, or any of that. What seperates us from people like the criminals we fight?" He waited expectantly.

She sighed. "Ethics. Morality. Duty. Responsibility."

He shook his head. "All of that is subjective stuff. A criminal can have ethics, and morality, and duty. It's hope...the people we fight, they've lost hope for something better than what they fight for... To lose hope, really and truly...that's to cease being human...It's our greatest strength, and our biggest weakness...'To hope against hope'..." He put passion behind those words, the passion she had heard him once use when describing his own personal philosophy. "Normally, I'm not this optimistic myself...but still. I do believe that, now that you've got me all philosophical and such."

His passion washed over her sickening soul and left it untouched,

She shook her head. "Then perhaps I have a hope, but I hope only for an end to pain."

He winced. "Okay...well, you want your pain to end, right? Yes?" He gazed into her eyes, his own expression one of simple but profound compassion, and she nearly cried out with the pain it caused her. "Then end it. Work for it. The other half of hope is makin' it happen. Does any of this sound right?"

He did not understand---and she could not allow him to. That way lay Falling. "There---there are two roads that may end my pain. One is true death. The other I must not pursue."

He was not expecting that. He sat, stunned into silence for a moment. "Well...I don't wantcha dyin'; I'm still tryin' to get to know ya." He smiled. He could not know how every moment with him cut her soul to ribbons.

She held back her grief. "It is surprisingly difficult to truly die here," she pointed out.

He winced. "Still. What's the other 'road'? Why can't you pursue it?"

The simple truth. "I am not permitted. If I do so, I become Fallen."

His eyes narrowed as the world grew still around them, as if it was holding its breath.

"Angel thing, huh? Well...what's the 'road'?"

She repeated it for him. "I am not permitted to tell you."

He scratched his head. "Oh...well, shit. Kinda runs the list short...you're sure those are the only two ways outta your sorrow?"

And that was when she heard it, the whisper in her mind, the dark seductive voice, so logical, so persuasive. "Go ahead, hint at it, that's not so bad....he asked, after all. You're supposed to answer his questions."

No! she thought, her throat closing. It is not permitted---

She looked up in time to see him snap out of a daze. "..hmm? Oh, uh, well? Are those the only two roads you can take?"

The voice continued insidiously. "You're supposed to guide himm right? Won't this guide him? You can protect him from making bad decisions if you're together. What if he chooses some woman that's bad for him? Someone who would hurt him? Someone who would corrupt him?"

She swallowed spasmodically and focused on chosing her words wisely. "They are the only ones I see."

He nodded, as if that was the simple way out of the situation. "Oh...well, that's your problem then. Perspective. Question:---Is there no one that you can tell that second path to? Someone you can confide in, if not me? I guess until someone knows what choices you see, they can't offer up their own advice."

He could not even begin to guess the tight-rope dance she was finding herself on. "I....I am afraid to push the boundaries of that."

He looked at her qizzically. "What do you mean?"

She struggled for the words to explain without revealing anything. "When does telling someone else push the boundaries of---of---telling---who I am not supposed to tell?"

His puzzlement would have been comical if it had not been causing her such pain. "Let me get this straight...you can tell someone, but only so long as it isn't a certain someone or bunch of someones?"

Why could he not understand? "Yes but---but when does that become trying to get around the rules?"

It was so still. And the dark voice was waiting, waiting---she sensed it, lurking, watching---

He, thinking he was helping, only hurting. "Well...I'm not sure...I guess it'd be okay if you told someone...so long as they didn't tell the person that couldn't be told...If you told someone to tell a person who couldn't be told something that something, then I guess that's breakin' the rules."

As if there was anyone she hadn't already warned off of telling him of their shared past. He was not to know. He must not know. He must make all his choices freely, without coercion, without guilt for a past he did not recall. And he could not even be told that much.

"Anyone I could confide in would tell---thinking they were doing me a favor," she replied, with resignation.

He would not leave it be. "Well...you could tell them not to. Specifically. Somone who understands your restrictions...I understand...if you don't trust me enough to not tell that person. We hardly know each other, afterall."

For a moment his words passed right over her head. "I know them too well," she sighed, thinking of Bella, of Djinni, even of poor Ratt. "They *would* tell thinking it would be a fa----"

If you don't trust me enough not to tell that person---

She felt the blood drain from her face. She had thought she had passed the nadir of pain.

She had been wrong. He had driven a knife into her heart with his own hands, and was twisting it.

A rushing sound filled her ears, and her sight began to dim. She could not breathe. She could not think. Her heart was going to burst from her chest.

Dimly she heard him speak. "Y'alright?"

She tried to answer him, opened her mouth as her vision went to grey, then black---

---then nothing.

A voice in the dark. Calling her. Strong fingertips at the pulse-point beneath her ear.

No. No let me not wake. Please. Let me not wake.

Please....


But her eyes opened despite her pleas, she saw him bending over her, that dear, that beloved face she knew better than the one in her mirror and she started to speak his name.

"J--" she bit it back. Struggled upright, moving away from him. He got the hint, and took his seat again a little way away from her.

"Please talk...can you talk?" he begged.

I had rather die.

How do they bear this pain?


"I---I am sorry---" she got out, past a throat so choked with tears she could hardly breathe, much less think.

"Don't talk...not if you don't want to. Trust me, I'm just as happy playin' furniture; in fact, I'm probably more qualified to play a piece of furniture. Or a door holder."

There was a simple truth. "I would rather tell you than anyone else." How she managed not to sob out the words she could not tell. And as his smile faltered and the silence stretched on, she just looked at him with her heart held out, naked, for him to see.

He cleared his throat. "Well...listen. I don't want you to do anything, to say anythin' you'd get in trouble for. Trust me, my need for knowledge isn't that great. But if ya ever do need to tell me somethin', I've got ears."

She bowed her head, so burdened now with dead and dying hope that she felt she could not even have stood at that moment. "Do you know---the fairy tale---of the swan princes?" she asked, quietly.

"No," he said. "Maybe when I was little."

"Once upon a time," she began, quietly, "there was a princess with seven brothers. An evil witch cast a spell over the boys one day when they were all out walking, turning them into swans, and cast a spell on their sister, that if she told what had happened, if she spoke so much as a single word, they would remain swans forever. Her father, thinking she had somehow killed them, sent her into exile, and her brothers came with her. A kind fairy told her that to break the curse, she had to gather nettles, make them into yarn, and knit them seven coats. So they all lived in the wilderness together while she made the coats with bleeding hands, One day a handsome, kind, gentle, brave king came by her cottage. He saw her and fell in love with her, but she was still bound by the spell of silence and could not tell him anything. Nevertheless, he took her and the swans back to his kingdom and married her."

Each word fell into the silence between them like a tear. He did not interrupt her. She stared at her hands and fought her tears with the tale. "They had a child, and the evil witch appeared again, stole the child and left the young queen sleeping with a bloody knife in her hand and blood on her lips."

He shifted restlessly, perhaps uncomfortable with the grisly turn the tale had taken.

"Griefstricken , the king could only condemn her to death, and still she could not speak, for to save her brothers she had to remain silent. They called her a witch, and said that the coats she was making were further witchcraft, They tied her to the stake, still knitting the coats...."

She faltered, then continued. "She---she had to choose between her life, and the lives of her brothers. I must choose between my soul and my----"

A sob secaped her.

She could not say it. She could only think it. --my only love--my only love--my only love--

She choked her sorrow down. "Silence," she whispered, "is our only option."

She wept again, silently, trusting to the shadows to hide her.

"Oh...Triste..." She sensed him struggling for words, and settling only on the same question a child would have made. "What did the princess do?"

"She remained silent as they lit the fire at her feet," she replied. "Faithful and true. Still knitting the last of the seven coats."

Her hands bleeding as my heart bleeds.

Someone was using ice-powers to remove thugs below them. She wished they could be used on her heart.

"So...she died for her brothers?"

She hesitated. This was where the parrallel broke down. "It is a fairy tale," she temporized. "Fairy tales must have happy endings, Her brothers came flying out of the sky. With their wings they put out the fire and beat the guards away. She threw the coats over them and they turned back to the seven princes they once had been. All but one---the coat wasn't finished and instead of one arm he had a swan wing."

Silence. The battle below had moved on.

"Now she could speak, and while she told what had happened, her brothers seized the witch, found the hidden child, and brought them both before the King. so, the happy ending." She waited for a comment. None came. "But that is a fairy tale and this is not. With her silence, she purchased her brothers' lives, at the cost of her own. With mine, I purchase my soul at the cost of--"

She could not continue. She felt crushed to the ground with the weight of her leaden soul.

"Triste..." he said---and stopped.

"Now you know why I have taken that name," she said to the air.

"It means...that you're sad?"

She shook her head. "It means---I am Sorrow."

Silence. "Then I'll never call you that again, Ms. Flame. You aren't sorrow..."

For the first time she interrupted him. "The Seraphim are the angels of Fire and Love," she replied. "And I am become a creature of Fire and Despair."

And that is my definition. What I am. A void. Sorrow. Loss.

SLowly, he dropped words into the silence. "Can I relate something to you?"

"I will listen," she said wearily.

"The world isn't a fairy tale. You're right about that. It's full of hate, and meaness, and tragedy, and loss...but all of those things; they don't last. They can seem to fill up a person up while they're there, but once they're gone they only leave---" he hesitated. "---shadows and whispers. But their counterparts; love, compassion, generosity...those things fill up the world. And when they're gone, they leave echoes that are heard far and wide, even long after they're gone..."

She listened, dully.

"I've seen some horrible things. Men ripped to pieces, dying, begging for their lives--But I've also seen people risking everything to save people they've never known, helping folks less fortunate then them. Horror and beauty...they're both pieces of the world we live in. And---and the latter is the one that stays with us, with humans. It's what drives us, what we aspire towards..."

It was something the John Murdock she loved would have said. The same thoughtfulness, articulation.

But he was not finished. "No matter what you're feeling now, now matter how down low you go, how dark things seem...it doesn't last, and it won't leave marks as deep or remembered as those made by your happiest moments..."

She struggled to remember, as she in her turn had promised. Remember her talisman, and his, in those last days of joy and sorrow. " ...and death will have no dominion...." she whispered, trying to wake some long lost echoes of that joy in her own heart.

Was it only days ago?

"That's from a poem, by my favorite poet, ya know," he said. "Dylan Thomas."

"Yes," she replied. "I know."

"'And Death Shall Have No Dominion'" She sensed his eyes on her, and kept her head down. "It's true, y'know."

She struggled against growing tears and dying memories. "...in the Heart of All Time...." she whispered, truggling to hold the memory, "Nothing is ever forgotten. No one is ever lost. All that is good and true and pure gathered together so that you breathe it like air...and the song of the Seraphim now more compaasionate, more understanding, because of mortal pain..." Her eyes were closed and she could almost, almost see it, feel it. Home. Home. Tears burned her cheeks. "And all that was ever loved or will be is there. And all that was ever hoped for is there. The peace that passeth all understanding. The Light of the Universe....."

She felt it; she had it. A lifeline, thin, fragile, but something to cling to. She opened her eyes, still weeping, to see Blaze lost in thought, something about his face, a vulnerability? A sense that he stood, trembling, on the very verge of something?---was there something there to give her hope again?

"...and thou, beside me, singing in the wilderness, and wildernes were Paradise enow...." she whispered.

And as she studied him clinging to her thread, a word escaped her before she could stop it, a mere breath, a hint of a whisper---

".....beloved...."

Something stirred, in him, something she could not read. She waited, trembling, fear warring with love, pain warring with, not joy, but the mere hope for joy----

And then--

It was gone.

His eyes opened. He wiped them with the back of his hand. "I'm sorry...I...I don't know...I went through a couple of those 'things' again...damnit. They just kept on getting more and more intense..."

She released her breath in a long, shuddering sigh, and let go of the lifeline, sinking again into the sea of sorrow. Duty. Responsibility. That was all that was left to her.

"I---did you say somethin'? While I was...gone? I just kinda drift off with those spells, I miss things sometimes..."

He had not heard a word she had said. "Nothing important," she replied, feeling the words echoing in the hollow within her.

"Uh, sorry again....where were we?"

She rose. "I was just going."

He wiped the last traces of tears from his eyes, composing himself. Whatever had so moved him clearly had nothing to do with her. He looked up at her. "Oh...ya gonna be alright?"

She looked up at the sky, the cruel sky, so empty of any comfort. "I will endure."

He sounded puzzled, perhaps by her seeming indifference. "Well...if ya ever need to talk, call me on the comm. I'm not usually as articulate as I was tonight, but I figured you needed someone to talk to you, as much asyou needed to talk. I prefer to listen actually. Though, one more thing; don't forget to eat and drink. I've still got those bags from earlier in my apartment."

The last place she wanted, or needed to be. "Thank you for the offer. I will remember it."

He studied her. She avoided the eyes that were so empty of anything that she remembered. "Well...um...yeah" he said, uncertainly. "You sure you're alright now?"

No. But it does not matter, for I will never be whole again. I can only wait for the pain to end.

"As Belladonna says, I must play the cards I have been dealt."

He nodded. "Well...I hope you've got a full house, Flame."

She sighed. "Aces and eights, it seems," she said, out of her fading memory, and wondered if he knew that this was known as the "Dead Man's Hand."

He did not react. Evidently not.

"Goodnight, Blaze Phoenyx," she said, turning away. "Thank you for being a---friend---"

She flew off, wondering how she could when her soul and heart were made of lead.