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The Shadow Gallery

It's nearly time...

It's nearly time...

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Hmmm are we going to play something on the 5th?
Maybe our thinking caps will work better if I post this shorty :) To get the ball rolling, so to speak.


Valediction
by ewige
Many thanks to Killing Joke and prankcloud, whose verdict sealed the fate of this story.


***
I have been standing in this door frame for so long that I eventually lean against it, mindful of the daggers on my belt. They will be allowed to sing later today, but now any hint of noise may alert her. Her sleep is my most treasured asset in these wee hours of November the Fourth; it is also her pair of wings, albeit she doesn’t know it yet.

This room’s walls are still lined up with stacks of books. It hadn’t been slept in in months since her comeback – heady, intoxicating, unguarded months – and we took to calling it a guest room. We took the jest so far as to planning on actually inviting somebody to stay over. She suggested Mr Finch. He was killed two days later in a fire ball in the underground parking garage of the New People’s Government; his remnants could be identified only because of the Prime Minister ring he wore.

The day the sad certainty reached our underground home was the first time she injured me during our sparring. I spent the rest of the evening on the bathroom floor with my bare back to the locked door. I waited for the deep laceration to knit over and hoped that my folded shirt would suffice to staunch the remaining trickles. She sat at the other side of the door, sobbing for Finch. She apologised through the door for having attacked so viciously earlier; I apologised for having let her. Heaps of bloodied towels around me testified that none of us was really sorry.

Two nights later the same technically perfect throw of her dagger dispatched a guard at the warehouse. My dagger flew further, into the middle of men loading a lorry with gas cylinders. The heavy pommel took off the valve with a fountain of sparkles, igniting the content of the cylinder and thrusting the terrorists into their personal inferno. The rapid succession of thunderclaps of the other cylinders exploding reverberated through the sleeping city. The spider would learn of the retribution soon enough anyway. Now that the roles have been reversed, he adopted my tactic, exploding buildings to plant fear from someplace hidden. I didn’t have to adopt his methods to locate him in the end. My hands will close around his throat today as it had been my fate all along, even though my resolve wavered one year earlier.

My eyes refuse to leave her sleeping form. I block most of the light from the corridor so her delicate outline is blanketed by darkness, and I remember the first night she trembled under my fingertips. I remember counting her steady breaths when I dared not fall asleep by her side lest I woke up to an empty bed.

It was a fortnight after the bombing that I found her asleep in the provisory building of the government. Her cabinet took an old library’s wing; she passed out at her desk, surrounded by the smell of books and stacks of Finch’s notes on the educational reform.

Every step I didn’t make towards Victoria Station on that fateful night translates into one day she is forced to live a double life. Sometimes she is too tired to walk home through the labyrinth of tunnels; I don’t blame her. When she fell asleep in the guest room – her old bedroom – for the first time this year, she told me in the morning that she hadn’t wanted to disturb me by stumbling in late.

It wasn’t forgiveness when she eventually chose our bed again. The fresh unfamiliarity of the situation appeared to have taken her unawares, and her hands fumbled in darkness, smoothing over the well-healed laceration through the murmur of my shirt. Her kisses followed – tender and heady, but that intangible hint of reverence seemed to be gone. She had told me we had all the time in the world. Now her finger circled around one button and flicked it open, and her hand snaked impatiently beneath the shirt.

I fought behind the mask to say something – to say that it was alright despite my shaking frame; but the words never came and so she withdrew her hand, leaving it the only time she touched the man beneath it all. My mask pressed awkwardly against her temple when I held her later, and she rolled away as if in sleep.

Every time I saw her drifting further away into the politics and our guest bedroom, I was glad that words and courage had failed me back then.

I had prepared her for being an idea for the country. She’d seduced me into being a mere man. None of us could anticipate that we would assume our new roles so eagerly but come to regret the transformation of the other in the end. Be careful what you wish for, they say…

I drink in her innocent features: when she sleeps, she reminds me of the girl I once knew. I can rather feel than see her own bone-white mask grinning from the vanity, prepared to be donned tonight to be done with the spider and his henchmen once and for all. Chief Inspector Stone is aware of our plan; his men will be on the ready – to collect the pawns.

It is up to me now to finish off the spider in his very lair. It is not a part of the plan, but I see it clearly before my eyes. It is the setting from one year earlier minus one day and a breast plate.

The beautiful truth is that if she was to wake up now, she would let me go.

I look at her one last time and my heart clenches just like one year ago. Her lips are slightly parted. They will never know my real kiss. I fight the urge to drop to my knees by her side, discard my second face and steal one searing touch of my lips to hers. It would be as unfair as her first kiss of the cold mask was.

But I don’t give in. She will not suffer for my weakness. There had been enough of that in the year past.

I remove my glove and take off the simple ring. I shall not be identified by it – she may always think that I’m with her, watching from the shadows. Maybe I will.

The faint creak of my leather glove makes her blink sleepily in my direction, and my heart stops in agony.

“Everything okay?” She gives me the sweetest smile and nuzzles into her pillow.

“Yes, love. Go back to sleep.”


  • Very evocative! And an interesting take on what can happen when fate (as opposed to Fate) is deferred.
    • Thank you for reading! :)
      I don't really believe Evey when she kisses him by the train. She sounds more desperate than in love. And in this case, it's hard to remain loyal and patient when the initial excitement fades out.
      Now that I got it out of my system, I can return to the regularly scheduled program of M-rated fluff :p
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