"how long until sunrise?" she asked, her chest tightening each moment spent waiting for her wanderer's eyes, so focused on her satchel. soon, that carefree smile would steal her breath, the one that could melt the midwinter snow, as she felt her light frame grow heavy at the inevitable thought.
"not long now," the traveler answered, smiling but not entirely, briefly meeting the pale morning skies with her own, the color of trees and earth. "listen," she continued, turning her attention to the barren window nearby, rising from her perch with the creaking of wood, "the fischer always sings shortly before the dawn, but stops when its rosy fingers slip over the horizon."
familiar words tickled her ears, the same shared between them when an embrace could not do, words echoing from the first night they had ever shared. "so how long will you be this time, my mendicant?" she asked, as another piece of the sky fell from its home, to be gingerly caught by a calloused fingertip.
"not so long," came the summer's breath, bringing a kiss to where the sky had fallen, "never so long to forget my promise."
her frail arms thrust themselves around the traveler's back, holding her tight, trying desperately to feel those familiar patterns through the leather. tears came pouring through the sky in her eyes, drowning the frown buried in the folds of the traveler's cloak. kissing what skin she could, she soon found comfort in the softest of lips, and the taste of summer's breath behind them.
after moments of silence passed into memory, she let her arms slip away, keeping her porcelain hands atop the traveler's breast. "please," she asked, her voice slowly forcing itself from a whisper, "take me with you again someday?"
a gentle nod was her answer, as her wanderer pulled the verdant cloak over her head. "when times aren't so dangerous," the traveler added, as she felt the familiar roughness of calloused skin upon her cheek. "and then, we'll always travel together."
outside, a faint trill of birdsong faded from hearing, until only the rustling of leaves carried a song upon the air.
the pillow is just as soft and lumpy as she remembers it. another dog is barking now, though, some new neighbor or another, barely audible over the scratch and crackle of old speakers. the posters are slightly faded, but not the sketches or the paintings, the memories of angst and dreams gone by, of trolls made of grasses and knights of clockwork, and sad little mage-girls who didn't want to be rescued, ones with horns and long hair the colour of ravens.
she pauses to breathe in the stuffy air, eyes frozen on such a girl.
falling back on her bed, she wonders if he's still around, or if she went to montana like she'd hoped. heavy-lidded eyes, still taking-in each individual notch so delicately drawn, start to moisten as another song comes on, one that plays without turning over the mixtape still stuck in the player.
it wasn't that long ago, was it? all the little things to make her smile, still as fresh as the air outside, like the oranges he used to bring from wherever it was he went.
she feels her forehead, wondering where it was her horns used to be, and cries into her pillow, just like she always used to.
"do what?" came the nonchalant reply, lupine features relaxed in some strangely serene expression. slender fingers twirled an umbrella idly, satisfied with momentary flourishes, as though each silent step were a triumph of the tightrope walker.
"what you just fucking did!" came the flick of flames, disguised as sound. stumbling over the curb, the larger of the two flailed, however briefly, arms threatening to burst out of the dressy sleeves containing them. barely keeping up, the sharp gaze of his eyes seemed to wish his companion's legs were six inches shorter . . . by force, if necessary.
but the wolfish grin remained silent, as a fork in the road, or the sidewalk at least, offered an opportunity for one graceful step or another. another cloud lulled before the sun, as even the wind slipped out for a momentary stroll elsewhere.
"dammit, why the fuck did you do all that!" came the question, less inquisitive than a question had a right to be. his brows furrowed in some reassurance that they weren't so lost as certain other parts, as he finally came to a halt just to the side of his antagonist.
a soft click of wood tapping pavement, as the casual pedestrian, content with his surroundings, let out a small sigh.
without realizing it, their conversation had led them to a small patch of green, some little park anyone has walked by without paying much attention, but suddenly so beautiful when seen. the wind emerged from is hiding place, a comfy bed of leaves still attached to the tree, stealing away, however briefly, some of the redness found in cheeks.
"it doesn't make sense, does it?" came the contented musing, taking the other by surprise. "in these sorts of stories, the dashing villain, that undeniable rogue, is to work his way into another's heart and steal her away, by virtue of giving her the choice—" at this he paused, turning to face his companion with that same wolfish grin, "—between one love or another, between something tired but tried, testy but tested, and something altogether new and dangerous and exciting."
gritted teeth poorly hiding behind a stiff upper lip, the larger of the two felt obliged to concur.
"and yet," he continued, returning his eyes to the verdant canopy that was slowly drifting above them, "why would that villain deny himself the opportunity, when presented with it, to claim what was handily another's?" another few footsteps onto the budding grasses, the crunch of last year's remnants providing a muffled chorus. "was it because," came the postulation, resplendent with dramatic pause and a shaking head, "no, it was not because there was no attraction, that would be a lie. but a bigger lie still would be the truth was so obscure."
"and what the hell would that be, fucker?" came the outburst, confusion ceding ground to the fires on cheek and head. "what the hell truth would that be? that you had your sick game and got tired of it?" fists came dangerously close to disobeying portions of brain devoted to legal matters, as spittle threatened to break the sound barrier. "that you were fucking around with us the entire time?"
without hesitation, the lupine face turned toward the expression of disgust, still serene and perfectly timed with the flight of birds, the tip of the umbrella softly landing on the grassy ground at the sound.
"that she is very much her own person, and should be free to choose what's best for her," he said, not without a certain degree of sorrow and tenderness, "and that would be neither of us."
the sound of a slender body hitting the ground was only a whisper, compared to the sound of knuckles colliding against the delicate bones of the face. stomping away amidst further shouts of rage and denials great and small, the jilted cloud of thunder rolled away, just as sunbeams pierced through the breaking of the clouds.
"that was not entirely undeserved," came the muffled musing, certain slender features swelling all the more with each passing heartbeat.
wincing in pain, he couldn't help but smile, as, among a quarrel of agitated chirps and clacks, one bird broke away from all the others, slipping through the branches of trees and into the sky above.
"i need to light this candle," you say, the beauty of your face not lost in your somber expression, "or else it will make things worse for all of us."
i had known about the spirit for some time. it haunted this house, our strange prison floating in the sky, as long as i could remember being here. yet, for all our time here, you thought the burden of knowing it, of knowing this what was once your friend, was yours alone to bear. but late at night, when your candle must have lost its flame, i, too, saw the vapor trail, its luminiferous wake haunting the skeleton of rusted pipes and makeshift walkways where another home's basement would be, and my light had been enough to return it to whatever place from it whence came.
your eyes flicker in the candlelight, still the color of raindrops falling upon the ground, of clouds about to burst. the weight of too many days lost to this ceremony pulls at my lips, begs me to speak, as fingers reach deeply into my pocket.
"you don't have to bear this burden alone anymore," i say to you, relating what i had learned, as i produce a candle of my own. my fingers brush your tender cheek, made softer by the warm light slipping in from the hallway, as but for a moment you lean into my hand, a smile flickering, then lost, in the light reflecting in your eyes.
"it's not so simple as that," you say, as more of you seems lost in the ancient folds of linen you wear to bed, another part of the ceremony. as my hand falls away, i feel the kiss of a lonely tear upon my skin.
but it is too late. the wick of my candle is already lit, as you slip under your ragged covers.
"not this time," i say, preparing myself to leave our floating abode, as the sound of chaos from the skies around us rings throughout the halls. "this time, i'll save you."
i retire from your room, to soon lose myself in the rumblings on the sky-deck below. i pause only to look at the still-burning candle, not remembering whose it was any longer.
later i return, our ancient guardians barely keeping their unseen nemeses at bay, as our dilapidated accommodation continues through the air, its bulk rocking with the fury of battle. just before the door to your chamber, one waits for me, matronly at times, but not at this one.
"where is she?" i demand, remembering all too late about candles and the feel of your cheek in my hand, the oath i swore to save you from this place.
unblinking eyes meet my gaze, the unmoving stern expression somehow harsher on its metal face. "we used her beauty, her light, to lure our enemies..." it begins to say, but whether it meant the spirit or their rivals, i will never know.
for a moment, its shattered remains seem to give an unearthly glow, the cracks and fissures in its cranium flickering briefly before fading to emptiness. my hands still tremble with anger, decorated with unfeeling memories where the steel had ruptured my flesh. outside, the battle winds down, as without seeing, our so-called guardians fall, one by one.
i meant to save you from this strange place, though i no longer remember how we got here.
the memory of a kiss that never was tickles my lips, before nothingness fills my vision.