This Ascension: The Cool Air of Mourning, Chapter Two
Copyright © 1996-2000, Dominic A. Wilde
All rights reserved

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"joy divided
life like blood
staining, anointing
love
wetter than death
lacquered smile
straining, enjoining
love
to tear us apart
again"
--Douglas E. Winter

The moon has gone to sleep, tucked safely behind the heavy late January clouds that fill the sky. The wind still blows, but the clouds are dense and low- heavy with moisture, spreading across the sky in a thick, pendulous blanket. They've killed the light, and the windows have become nothing but desolate panes of painted glass. Dim and dusty faces of saints and angels, no more alive than I am, when only moments before they had been sparkling with moonlit radiance.

The mosaic angel above me looks down with dead-white eyes…the eyes of a blind man. That was one of the first things that struck me about this church- the beautiful patchwork of colors in the windows, and the angel with the dead eyes. I had always believed in my grandmother's stories about guardian angels, and I knew the moment I walked through the heavy oak doors that this one had been mine.

I hadn't been abandoned after all; he simply couldn't see me.

Childish, perhaps. But so much better to indulge in childish fantasies than to hate the world and everything in it. I have more than enough reasons to be bitter, considering how things have turned out….

But bitterness isn't my style. Too easy to let it cloud your emotions and color your thinking. And when you have powerful enemies who prefer to stay hidden in the shadows, you can't afford to be anything but focused…always.

My guard will never be let down again.

Bianka comes to a skittering, fluttering halt on the desk in front of me, landing squarely on the stack of blank pages spread out before me. She has been prying into my thoughts- and now she stands ready to accuse, all over again. She is a shadow with feathers, lit from behind with a halo of fire….my conscience, I think sometimes.

I reach out and smooth her ruffled feathers with my hands, just as I try to soothe her anger with my words.

"I'm not mourning enough for you? I've mourned for ten years…isn't that enough? Bianka, I can't forget….but I don't want to spend all of my time grieving for something that couldn't be stopped. Philip and I did what we had to do. I walked away, he didn't. It was senseless, but do you think he would have acted differently if he had known what the outcome was going to be?"

Frustration that she can't make me see…can't make me understand her feelings. For a moment, I wonder if she's going to peck my hands for emphasis, but instead she turns her sharp little bird-beak on a stray piece of paper, and begins to shred at it mercilessly.

"Do you really think it would make a difference if I let him go now?" I ask her, since that seems to be what has her the most frustrated. She wants Dylan gone.

I forget, it's not his safety she's concerned about. It's my sanity.

"You want me to give up the one thing that makes me happy? Who made you my keeper? Now, if you don't drop it, I'm going to lock you outside in the snow. Go and find a mouse to terrorize."

She is properly put out, of course…that I could have the audacity to speak to her that way. I don't even get a chastising squawk before she flies off to the choir loft, leaving me alone with memories that cut at my heart like serrated knives.

If she thinks I'm not mourning, in my own way, then she doesn't know me at all. The temptation to accept all of the blame for that night is great- almost too great…but the one thing that keeps drawing me back from the precipice of martyrdom is that it hadn't been my idea. Philip wanted to be a hero. I never wanted to see that creature again, but he couldn't let it drop.

"You have to face up to him eventually, Raven. You think he'll really let you get away with leaving him?"

Philip had been right, of course. If my maker had found me, I would have been forced to go back…by any means necessary. But we hadn't known what we were about to find ourselves up against…

I wonder if it matters at all to Philip that I still bleed for him. I bleed for the memory that even a whisper of his name can evoke.

Where would I be now, if he were still here? What would I be now?

I didn't even hear him approach- he was as quiet as a wraith. Sitting on the desk, wrapped tightly in an old patchwork quilt, one bare foot prodding my knee.

"Writing in the dark can't be good for your eyes." He says, and the questing foot slides from my knee onto my thigh. He is beautifully sleep rumpled, my Dylan, squinting against the darkness…trying to see me through the fringe of white-blond hair that has slipped into his eyes. "You didn't wake me." He adds, disappointment evident in his voice.

I stretch out in my chair and shrug. He is still flushed and warm from the opium, and I know if I touch his face it will feel like a furnace. I torture myself with the thought, wanting to see how long I can resist the siren's call of his skin against my fingertips, but there is a smudge of ash across one porcelain cheek and my hand moves with a will of it's own.

Hot, yes…just as I knew it would be. I draw my hand away from his face, and rub the ash between my fingers. The texture reminds me of death, and I don't want it anywhere near him.

"You looked peaceful…I wasn't sure if I should wake you." I say. It's a lie, of course. We haven't seen one another in three weeks, and I would have woken him if he had slept much longer. We have to be somewhere in a little over an hour, and I wouldn't forgive myself I didn't steal a little private time with him first.

I catch his ankle in my hand, rub the length of his calf until my hand disappears underneath the hem of the quilt. He shivers, hitches in his breath, and smiles an achingly sweet smile. His cornflower blue eyes shimmer, and I can't believe I've wasted my time mourning the loss of the moonlight.

"I was only sleeping because I couldn't think of how to pass the time until you came home." He says, sliding forward until he's barely balanced on the desk. The quilt slips down, exposing one bare shoulder. In the darkness, his skin is like shadowed marble…and I want to taste it.

Like sunlight, sea breezes, and musk. I already have it committed to memory. But skin is all that I'll taste. Dylan's blood is off limits to me- I put that restriction on myself.

I'm not afraid of killing him. Give me an ounce of credit for having more self-control than that. I simply don't want to mix bloodlust into what we have…I like things the way they are.

Physical and human.

I let my mind wander, easily giving up the earlier thoughts of death and where to place the blame, and replace them with the lascivious thoughts that seemed to spring to life the moment I began stroking sleep warmed flesh.

Dylan frowns, and I'm reminded of the earlier disappointment of seeing the moon swallowed by the clouds. Was it something I did? My hand stops it's journey, giving his thigh one final squeeze, and I wait. I feel like a child sometimes, always afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. There is too much heaviness in the air, and I can't think of where to rest my eyes all of a sudden. I can't look him in the eye, because I'm afraid of what he would see.

I've never told him that I love him.

He wants to hear it; I'm not ready. There is no doubt that I do love him, but I entertain the most ridiculous thoughts, sometimes…call it superstition, but I feel as though the moment the words would leave my mouth, I would be signing his death warrant.

If Bianka were listening in, I'm sure she would tell me that I already have signed his death warrant, but I refuse to think that way. Love can't be wrong…and after everything else that's happened, I deserve some happiness. No one is going to take this from me.

Callused fingers caress my cheek, and tug at my chin until our eyes meet. I've seen the birth of those calluses- I've seen him play his guitar until his fingers were raw and bleeding. It's one thing we have in common, this intense drive and determination.

The music we create together comes dangerously close to being what some would call….art. As pompous as it sounds, it can be a transcendence of the physical. Reality becomes illusion, and illusion becomes reality.

"You were thinking of him, weren't you?" He asks, running his thumb across my lower lip. He is curious and pensive, and I see him swallow hard against the next words, trying to keep them unspoken. "Did you love him? You can tell me." His voice wavers, and he is suddenly as unsure of himself as I was. The quilt has slipped from both shoulders, and he is suddenly aware of how exposed he is….both physically and emotionally. Naked body, naked soul.

He moves his hand from my chin, and I can see him trying to decide if he should gather the quilt back around his shoulders. With a sigh of frustration, he blows an errant lock of hair from his eyes and places his hands on the desk, leaning back against them….steeling himself for my answer. It's enough of a distraction for me to gather my own bearings, watching each nervous fidget, each tenuous intake of breath.

He is blushing- I can smell the sudden rush of blood to the surface of the skin even before my eyes see it.

My grip on his thigh tightens, and I smile.

"Jealous, are we?" I say, moving my hand from it's resting place to pinch at the skin of his inner thigh. He shrugs sheepishly, climbs off of the desk and slips into my lap. My arms close around him, and I can hear the nervous beating of his heart. Like a bird fluttering it's wings against a cage…too quick, too uneven.

The opium…I don't understand why he smokes it. Every time I mention it, he insists it isn't a problem. And truly, it's never presented a problem. I know he'll have a clear head for the rehearsal tonight, and his timing will be nothing short of perfect. I don't understand how he can do it; he is the exact opposite of Jesse, our drummer. Jesse can barely articulate a sentence when he's high….and Jesse is always high.

I won't mention it, though- because then I would be accused of changing the subject. I rest my hand on the small of his back, listen to his heartbeat, and try to decide how to be truthful without saying too much.

"How did you know what…who….I was thinking about?" I ask, genuinely curious. Was it that obvious?

"Because you were sitting in the dark, all silent and broody. And you've been gone for three weeks. You do this every year." He says, leaning in to kiss my cheek. It catches me off guard, because I haven't realized….every year?

"I loved him. He was like a brother to me." I say, and I mean it. There was never a moment of romantic love, but our bond was strong. I'll never be able to put into words, how important that bond was to me…because even now, when I try- I fail. I could show him with thoughts, with feelings…but that would be too personal. And I'm not ready to split myself open quite that much.

He leans in again, and kisses the corner of my mouth- and I wish I had the words to tell him how much I love him. How my relationship with Philip was nothing compared to this, and how I've been a fool for living in the past.

"Will you mourn for me this way, when I die? Sit in the dark and write horrible, heart wrenching poetry while your new lover waits for you, and wonders what you're thinking?" He says. I can tell that he's teasing, but enough truth lingers under the glib words to give me pause.

We have to talk about this, Dylan and I. But not here, not now.

I scoop him up and set him on his feet, giving his bare ass a good swat, nearly sending him off balance.

"I've done enough mourning for ten lifetimes, and I don't plan on doing any more. Now, go and get dressed, or we're going to be late. Sebastian hates to be kept waiting, and I don't feel like finding out our rehearsal space was given to someone else." I say, hoping that the mention of Sebastian will be enough to at least elicit a smile.

And it does. A smile and a shrug, as he wanders back to his room to get dressed.

It's going to be a long night, and as I wait for Dylan to come back, I find myself mentally preparing for it. Jesse will undoubtedly be late, if he even decides to show up at all. He'll be higher than a kite, combative, and his timing will throw Dara completely off. She, in turn, will be furious with him for making her look bad. Why do I put up with it? Because Jesse is Dylan's older brother, and I've always been a sucker for a sob story. My head is starting to ache, just imagining it.

We owe Sebastian this show. I owe him…for giving me one of my first breaks.

Almost on cue at the mention of his name, the phone rings. When I answer, I'm greeted by the familiar voice of Sebastian. British, cultured, terminally sarcastic. As we go through the obligatory pleasantries, I find myself waiting…wondering what kind of trouble Jesse managed to get himself into before the rest of us arrived. But what he says catches me off guard.

"We have a visitor, Raven. Not our kind, but not human, either. I made it a point to chat him up because I've never seen him around the club before. He says he's waiting for you…and after watching him for the last hour, I would be wary." He says, and as I listen, I realize my fingernails have left gouges in the telephone.

I would like to believe it was coincidence, and whoever this stranger was….he was just an enthusiastic fan. But to show up on this date….

It has to be more than that.

And I will be ready.

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