The Hardest Words

March 20, 2013

Some people seem to struggle inordinately with three little words, the simplest little emotion standing as a toll-gate for irrevocable commitment, consequences, an inevitable life-path all mapped out and a fate worse than death. But those three words aren’t the hardest for me.

“Don’t go.” That’s the kicker.

“Don’t go.” When a conversation is ending right when you are falling into fascination. When the questions are out there but the answers yet to come.

“Don’t go.” When things are just getting interesting. When there is nothing fit to follow, just drabness, mundanity and boredom. Or emptiness and solitude.

“Don’t go.” When you aren’t sure how many moments like this you will ever experience. You want to extend it, wring it for every extra second you can, whether those droplets of precious time taste like lifeblood to you or are simply the sticky-sweet syrup of interest.

“Don’t go.” When your soul is screaming, because this moment, this person will never touch your life again in the same way. Maybe never be there to touch.

“Don’t go.”

It carries so much baggage, doesn’t it?

“I love you.” That’s a statement of your feelings. Happy little clouds and fluffy unicorns, birdsong, a heel-click, the taste of cinnamon in your coffee.

Maybe it carries expectations, maybe it doesn’t. That’s down to you, or your listener’s assumptions.

And it’s only going to arise with certain people, in certain situations. “I love you” will not attack you by stealth. You know where it’s going to be.

“Don’t go” comes out of the bushes. It hides up a tree. It can be for anyone, at any time.

“Wait, what? No!” Don’t go, we haven’t finished.

We haven’t finished.

“Don’t go.” That’s a demand, right there. It offers your time, but only in exchange for theirs.

“Don’t go.” It assumes they have nothing – or no-one – better to do.

“Don’t go.” It says they’re wrong about wanting to leave.

“Don’t go.” That your desire – or need – or whim – trumps theirs.

“Don’t go.” It’s a confession, that there is more in your heart or mind than has come to light so far.

“Don’t go.” That their presence is better than absence.

“Don’t go.” That you don’t want them to leave.

“Don’t go.” That it hurts – maybe a little, maybe a lot – to think of them gone.

“Don’t go.” That the world is more grey and empty without them.

“Don’t go.” Or an aching, black void with fire at its heart, with no ladder to climb and no net to catch you as you fall.

Don’t go.

We haven’t finished.

Plastic Blue

February 3, 2012

Plastic blue
In my room.
I’ve been waiting
Here for you.
Made for two.
Sunlight fading.


Serr’ala stared blankly into the middle distance. He didn’t need his eyes to see her; she’d been burned onto his retinas since the moment the doors swung open. The little velvet dress, the same carmine hue as her coal-glow eyes, hugged the contours of her body like a mould, rucked in places where the fabric had slipped up or down to accommodate a long stride or a promissory curve. Raven hair spilled loose over her shoulders, like an unravelled spool of fine silk, curled into a single artful corkscrew that lay against one cheek – a curl that was now crushed between the soft slope of her cheek and his shoulder.

Eulya looked up at him, the movement of her head pulling him to look as if he was caught on a line. A bright, sweet smile lit her lips and eyes as he danced her slowly across the room; he couldn’t help but answer it, his expression becoming more serious as he lifted a hand from her waist to brush her hair back from her face. But the light in her eyes went out too quickly. She tucked her face back against his shoulder, hiding, quivering for a moment as she let out a long, sad breath and her arms tightened briefly around his waist.

He tucked a thumb under her chin and lifted her face to him again. “What is it, Eul’yara? You look so sad…”

She bit at her bottom lip and sucked on it, the gesture suddenly turning her into the child she was just a few short years ago and stabbing him with sudden, gut-knotting guilt at the thoughts he’d just been harbouring.

“They’re going to kill me, you know?” She sighed, tucking her head against his shoulder again – this time, he let her, cupping the back of her head in his palm instead, trying to hold all of her close against him. “They think I’m a traitor.”

“Are you?” The words came out before he could think to stop them and he was instantly sorry.

“That’s the sad part.” She gave a soft, bitter laugh that bore no resemblance to her usual wicked, gleeful chortle. “In this case, I’m not… I’m the most loyal person there, probably. But how can I prove that? There’s no time…” Pleading eyes met his and he drowned in the light of them. “If there was just something I could give them… something impressive, it might buy me a little time.”

“If you need money, you know I will always give…” His tongue tripped over itself in his eagerness to make the offer. Every credit I have if it will make you smile again and follow me to bed.

But she was already shaking her head. “They don’t need money… they need…” She stopped, her mouth freezing in a little “O” of realization. “What about Denasket’s Inventory? You thought it would be in the ruins of Sion’s Library – were you right?”

His face’s turn to fall. “Well, I did find something that could be… But it’s um…” His palms started sweating. The Inventory represented the culmination of years of searching. Allegedly, it was the life’s work of its creator, a catalogue of a greater store of treasures, even, than the library it was found in. Denasket had been meticulous in his work, listing dozens of priceless relics found in series of hidden caves the whereabouts of which were lost to memory, but which according to folklore, themselves held a similar document that could point the way to power far beyond price.

If he presented Denasket’s Inventory to the Sith, he would be rich beyond his wildest dreams… for however long he lived. That was one possible future.

Her eyes were melting his. “Please?” she whispered.


Black toungues speak
Faster than the
Car can crash.
You supply the rumours
And I’ll provide the wrath.
Romance is
Breaking every
Heart in two.
Casting shadows in the
Pale shade of blue


Her lips opened the way to another possible future. One in which he wouldn’t be alone that night. As if drawn by gravity, his lids slid slowly closed and he lent in over those pleading lips.

She pushed gently at his shoulders, hissing urgently “The document… I need to see it!”

The room spun, his thoughts lurching from one point to another. Then they were in his bedroom, pulling the document from its case, spreading its pieces out on the bed where she brushed her fingertips across it, scanning the strange cryptograms with swift flicks of her eyes.

“It’s real! You really found it! Oh, thank you! You saved my life!” The Inventory was rolled swiftly into a slim metal cylinder and tucked snugly into her cleavage. “Thank you, Serr! Thank you so much!” Her lips smacked firmly against one corner of his mouth, but when he turned to follow that kiss into something more interesting, she kept moving away. She was at the door when he finally realized what was happening.

“You…. You cold-hearted bitch!”

She turned a twisted, wry smile on him. “Don’t be mad, Serr! Think about it!” She watched the bafflement scud across his face like clouds in a summer sky for a moment, then smoothed down the dress, hands undulating along the landscape that had held him mesmerized all evening. “Just think how much better I’ll have to do to fool you next time!”

He could do nothing but stammer helplessly as she walked away, torn between rage and the sound of that promise.

“…how much better…”

“…next time…”

He reached out, holding on to the bedpost and used it to guide himself down to sit at its edge.

“…next time…”


Plastic blue
In my room.
Saving every
Tear for you.
Trusting every
Word untrue.
Twilight fading.

[Lyrics: “Blue” by The Birthday Massacre.]


January 31, 2012

It feels like having a torn hole inside you;
Red and ragged at the edges,
Where teeth have grabbed
And pulled and ripped,
Fringing a dark and bloody void.
It aches and aches
And will not heal,
Never fill.
Just a torn and bloody hole
Where love used to be
And now never will.

Blue Monday

January 20, 2012

I thought I told you to leave me
While I walked down to the beach
Tell me how does it feel
When your heart grows cold?

An angled plane of green light swept over the still contours of her face; it could have passed for a human woman’s, and a beautiful one at that, were it not for the strong blue colour of her skin, touched with a gentle purplish sheen along the cheekbones and above the brow. The wide, lambent red eyes were closed, creating an illusion of serenity that was quite alone in the cold, precise chaos of the room. Two medi-droids employed their many limbs and instruments cutting incisions, spraying fresh cells into burns and contusions, manipulating and setting broken bones and pumping into her veins the analgesics that kept her so still, so silent.


“You don’t do Sith jobs, do you, Eul’yara’kolia?”

Small for a Chiss, she had to bounce a little in her step to match paces with Keeper, an older human male of substantial intelligence and verve. The greying hair at his temples provoked an instinctive respect she couldn’t quite stifle, though she knew it was quite common in humans. It wasn’t the miracle it seemed amongst her people, who were uniformly ebon-tressed, with the appearance of grey strands denoting the siring of an exceptional child or children. Still, it didn’t seem that unlikely. For all his age, Keeper retained intellectual and physical capabilities that many a younger agent could spend their life envying. That he might have sired a few pink-skinned offspring to inherit those traits didn’t seem impossible.

He was also kind; at least, as kind as an Imperial Intelligence handler could be. He’d taught her well to clear her head and purge her feelings, but what warmth she retained had settled solidly on Keeper as a father-figure. She skipped again to catch up.


“Working directly with the Sith. You’ve been avoiding it. Can’t say I blame you, but it’s been noticed. So I’m giving you an assignment before Darth Imagus does.”

It took him a few paces more to realize she wasn’t breathing, her eyes blank as she focused on some internal debate. He stopped and handed her a dossier. “House Taiva. It’s run by a Twi’lek, very far from the conservative, pureblood Houses, but potentially valuable all the same. And should keep you out of trouble, at least enough to keep Master Kargas…. and me… happy.”

She took the datapad from him with a forceps snip of stiffened fingers. It was a mantra among old agents: “Don’t work with Sith.” They were all bone crazy, every single one.

The faintest hint of a smirk twisted her lips. “Don’t worry, sir. I didn’t want to live forever anyway.”


When you’d your hands upon me
And told me who you are
I thought I was mistaken
I thought I heard your words
Tell me, how do I feel?

Voices, distorted and incomprehensible, swelled and withered in and out of her awareness like great clouds of blackened sound. Splotches of light eddied across the inside of her eyelids. She thought she felt a touch on her face for a moment, the ghostly warmth of fingers that would never touch her again. Her throat constricted, the brutal force of emotion startling her; it was a grief, an ache that she’d thought long since dwindled away.

“Please… Please don’t go, Daddy. Please don’t leave me again.”

The world was empty; there was nothing to answer her silent prayer and such foolish dreams were for children. In the space of a heartbeat, she was sitting up, forcing her eyes open, parsing the blurred image of a white room by force of logic and guesswork when her eyes refused to adapt fast enough to suit her. A scalpel blade swiped from a nearby tray and tucked into her palm prepared her for the worst but slowly returning vision showed her no immediate threats. She gave a smug, sardonic smile for the medi-droids as she slipped out of bed and forced herself to stand.

She told herself she didn’t feel the pain. Not from her wounds, not from the repairs, not from anything. There was no past. Only today.

“Did I happen to have any visitors while I was asleep?”

He’d kissed her. Parried a lightsabre strike that would have taken her head off along with his, then kissed her. Why had he kissed her? Why had he tried to save her life while she tried to kill him? Why had he tried to save her life and then guaranteed its ending by sticking his tongue down her throat?

His facial tendrils had tickled against her skin, the sensation vivid in her memory.

The lightning had burned. An equally clear recollection, strong enough to make a wince ripple across the indolent mask of her features.

The purebloods in House Taiva had been looking for an excuse to get rid of her and Hesadryt had handed it to them. Her collaboration in the twins’ execution might have set her straight with her superiors but that kiss could have queered everything.

If she’d just had another 24 hours, everything could have been so much better. She’d had it all figured out. Hesadryt, Avarox, Mahal and most importantly, the Matron – everything would have clicked, if it wasn’t for one horny twit with an assault cannon. And now she looked like a traitor herself.

“Just one.”


“Inquisitor Sha’tar of House Taiva was here approximately two hours ago.”

The droid’s voicebox was still synthesizing the last syllable when she jumped out of the window.


I see a ship in the harbour
I can and I shall obey
But if it wasn’t for your misfortune
I’d be a heavenly person today.

[Lyrics: “Blue Monday” by New Order.]

A full moon and long, shallow puddles across the road and pavements painted the night outside in chiaroscuro, silver and black. Ian and Dolly staggered hand-in-hand over an arched bridge in front of the palatial Innocenti town house, occasionally losing their grasp on each other and weaving apart with loud exclamations and much laughter, then veering in again to be reunited through a random process of misplaced hugs, hand clasps, ass-grabbing and yet more laughter. At last, reaching the street and the pillared balustrade looking over the wide, flat vacancy of the river, Ian lifted his girl up to the top of the wall and gave her a long, breathless kiss while she wrapped her legs around him.

Resting her chin on his shoulder, Dolly watched the house out of the corner of one eye, nuzzling gently at his neck and ear while she murmured “I thought we were supposed to pretend to be drunk and horny?”

The two broad-shouldered men at the townhouse’s front door gave them only cursory glances. Once they had left the front gate, they’d ceased to be of any concern, despite the enthusiasm with which they’d expelled the couple mere moments before.

“I’m doing really well,” Ian mumbled into her neck, pausing to puff out the few strands of her hair that clung to his lips, “…at about half of that. Any sign of Mike yet?”

She shook her head, snapping a play-bite at his shoulder. “Nuh-uh. Everything seems calm, though.” Her fingers squeezed at the top of his right arm. “Wait a minute… There he is.” Nothing more than a flicker of movement at a top floor window, a shadow blending into first, a trellis, then up to the black shingle of the roof. “He’s going over the bicep.”

Ian pulled back to look at her face, a huge, mischievous grin claiming the lower half of his face. “Did you just say ‘bicep’ for no reason?”

She flushed, lower her eyes, but there was an answering sparkle in her eyes as she squeezed her legs to pull him back against her. “No.” She shook her head, lips pressed solemnly together, but her body shook with suppressed mirth.

“No, you didn’t just say ‘bicep’?” He was laughing too, cupping her head between his hands as he rested his brow on the crown of her head, smelling the soft, subtle scent that always clung in her hair.

She squeezed his arm again. “No, I said ‘bicep.’ I just had a really good reason for it.”

“Well now, if there are any other muscles you’d like to inspect…”

A quiet splash came from the water behind them and Ian looked down to see Mike’s head and shoulders breaking the surface of the water. He was still wearing his tuxedo; it clung heavily to his limbs as he grabbed the bottom of the balustrade and pulled himself up.

“I thought you two were supposed to be waiting at Meier’s Yard?” Mike kept his voice to a harsh whisper, his wet clothes and hair making their own rain as they dripped into the black glass water around him.

Ian tucked his chin into his wife’s shoulder and hissed at his friend. “Something came up. Can’t you wait for ten frigging minutes?”

“No I bloody can’t! It’s freezing in here and this tux is a rental!”

“Fine! Five minutes, then!” He gave his wife an apologetic kiss on the forehead. “Sorry, love, no foreplay.”

She gave him a wide-eyed, vapid look. “What’s foreplay?”

“Behave!” Ian’s jaw set. “Right! Mike, give me the ring!”

A dripping arm stretched up from the shadow of the wall, meeting Ian’s down-stretched hand and slapping something small and gleaming into the palm. “Rendezvous in the bar for a couple of drinks after I’ve changed?” Mike whispered.

Ian shook his head sternly and lifted Dolly down from the balustrade, giving her a solid slap on the rump that sent a seismic wave running from back to front and quite wiped out his ability to think of work along with any wish to look at a skinny, wet, rat-faced thief instead of his girl.

“No way, mate. Tomorrow’s soon enough for celebrating. I’ve got one more job to do before tonight’s over.”


Ian straightened his tie and gave a purposeful thrust of his chin. “Got me some educating to do!” He aimed a kick at Mike’s fingers, sending the other man dropping back into the water with a splash and a drowned expletive, then jogged after the mesmeric swish of his wife’s hips. As they faded into the night together, there was a squeal, then more giggling and finally there was nothing save the rhythmic wash of the tidal river.

A boy from the wrong side of tracks

Had ears that filled up with wax

He extruded two candles

From his ears, like handles

And went out at night to buy snacks.

They moved together with the grace of long intimacy; hip to hip, toe to toe, swirling lightly across the dance floor like leaves caught in an autumn breeze. Dolly’s hand rested on Ian’s shoulder as they danced, fingertips that could count the threads in his vest by touch alone squeezing tighter now and again, drawing his attention to this person or that as latecomers joined the party.  The waiter with the build of a bouncer; the tall, emaciated man with the tinted spectacles and eerily smooth gait; the rotund gentleman in the expensive suit who made the speakers whistle as he walked past.

It didn’t take words, not after everything they’d been through together. A flick of the eyes, the gentle incline of a hip, an urgent indrawn breath, the warm spreading of his fingers as he drew her protectively in against him, as if with hands alone he could cover her, hide her from the spies and rivals circling the outer edges of the party like sharks around a drunken frat boy’s father’s yacht. She never lost her smile, though; an impish twinkle still reigned in her eyes no matter whom she spotted and periodically, she would press close to her husband with a twist and a bump of her hips designed to do anything but make dancing easier.

Fighting a losing battle against the urge to smile, Ian swirled her around a corner and swiftly took the chance to give her a sharp slap on the backside.  A man with short brown hair in an unremarkable style, who’d had his eyes widened by some of Dolly’s earlier antics on the dance floor and at the buffet table – Oh Jesus, that celery stick  – gave Ian a look of mock-compassion, shoulders shaking with laughter as he twirled his far more staid date past them.

They quickened their pace slightly as the song came to an end. As he bowed to his wife, flashing the smug smile he reserved for any public outing with her, Carlyle kept his eyes on a bystander reflected in the heavy, gold-framed mirror on the wall – a young man barely into his twenties, judging from the lines on his hands, but with the arrogance of a much older man in his eyes. Born rich. The only child, only son of a dynasty that cared about such things.

Fernando Innocenti. Brat. Coke-head. Thug. Terrible disappointment to his father.

And staring at Ian’s bird as the flourish of her curtsey dropped her cleavage right into his eye line.

OK, so it meant the plan was working, but he was still going to enjoy the later bits more because of it.

Dolly let him raise her out of her dip with a chivalrous hand, then turned and sashayed off in the direction of a punch bowl. He watched her walk away with a far-away look in his eye, while the laughing dancer from earlier came to stand at his side.

“If it really was two piglets under a tarp, do you think it would be so much fun to watch?”

Ian glanced away from his wife long enough to scowl at the other man. “Shut the hell up, Mike.”

He glanced back just in time to see his inattentive wife collide softly with Innocenti as he prowled to intercept her at the drinks table. She exhaled sharply and fell back, landing on her ass with a startled shriek and a bounce he thought was gratuitous even while he enjoyed the artistry. Ian started striding forward, fists clenched, a certain inexorable menace in the set of his jaw. Mike took in the scene, swinging around it like a man who does not like to put his face in the path of airborne punches, then sidling up the side of the room to lean against the drinks table and watch, dipping himself a fresh ladle of punch without long taking his eyes off the incoming fracas.

Which Ian was looking forward to immensely. His hand snapped out, tapping on Innocenti’s shoulder with just a little too much force, that edge of rage just leaking through.

Ian’s glasses reflected the brat’s face back at him as he turned from offering his hand to Dolly and looked up into the older man’s face. Something primal, male and territorial was singing fiercely in his soul as he faced the kid down.

“Oi, mate. That’s my wife you’re drooling on.”

Then his fist flew through the air like a bolt of pure joy.

Once upon a time, there were two little girls.

As twin sisters, they were quite alike. Both had hair as pale gold as the May sunlight streaming through a gap in the clouds; both had eyes the same bright, poster-paint blue as cornflowers; both had lips stained deep, dark red as if soaked in cherry juice.

And as twin sisters, they were nothing alike. One, the elder by a handful of fevered heartbeats, feared nothing and nobody. When they played, it was she who first climbed every tree, she who rode highest on the swings, she who challenged the other children and stood up for them both. She was sure of herself, in mind and in body, excelling in gymnastics, running, rounders and routinely winning in the egg-and-spoon race on Sports Day, but at the same time gifted with a swift and sharp wit and a formidable memory.

Even at nine years old, no-one who met Peony forgot her easily. She blazed through the lives around her like a tiny flaxen comet.

The younger twin, on the other hand, was a soft and tremulous creature: fragile, frightened, coy and clumsy. She stayed in the shadows, against walls and in corners, unless her sister was there to draw her out, speaking seldom, communicating instead through looks and touches. She was too timid for sports, flinching away from the ball in rounders and freezing on the starting line of every race, but when there was music, everything changed. She would close her eyes and hide between the notes, becoming something fleeting and ethereal when she danced or sang.

Of everything the world could offer, Pris loved two things. Music, and her sister.

The twins lived in an enchanted manor on a high hill looking out across a great old river slowly dying into the sea. The manor nestled deep within a nest of gardens, one inside another, with orchards hiding flower beds that opened onto mazes that bowed down into fields of long dry grass blowing in the breeze. Only one road went there, a white chalk driveway that spiraled up the hill to the crowning house and its twin jewels.

The place was drenched, perpetually, in a haze of summer sunlight and the smell of dry grass and apple blossom, haloed around the walls in the same way the love of the girls’ mother and father – and their love for each other – surrounded them.

But one night, when the sky was black and shivering with thunder, a Terrible Thing happened. Bright flames wrapped around the enchanted manor, melting the windows into water and eating away at the wood and stone. The girls’ mother and father screamed and seared their hands on the white-hot doorknob but the line of nails across the door to their room told the tale of the wooden boards on the other side, and when they broke the windows,  more planks blotted out the gardens and the fire engines that came.

The girls fled the flames. First they tried to go downstairs, but the fire and smoke were thick in the hallways and the blistered, reaching hands of the housekeeper sent both into flight. They ran up the stairs, climbing higher and higher as they looked for a way out.

A glass door, a thrown lamp, a high balcony, a long ladder, the swirl of blue lights and red engines and calm men with reassuring voices and strong but gentle hands. One sister stood atop the ladder, tugging on the other’s hand as she looked past her, back into the dark and the flames and screamed, falling as her sister flew back and away in a halo of smoke and sparks.

It was Peony that saved her sister, pushing her onto the ladder and letting go her hand.

But it was Pris that looked back and saw the monster in the dark.

Wasn’t it?

The Score

June 1, 2011

The Zippo hissed like a blowtorch as Ian inhaled slowly and deeply from the cigarette. The sound tripped other senses, bringing back the smell of seared meat, the bright and shocking swirl of red as it slipped down the shower drain, the feeling of sea spray on his face as he watched the seeping canvas sack sink without a ripple into the steel-grey sea.

His face stayed impassive, blank as the dark lenses that covered his eyes as he stared down at the city. It had been necessary.

He glanced across the little stretch of waste ground to where his wife bared her teeth and playfully fought with their Husky, Gerrard, over an old, dirty, scuffed football. The puppy let go of the ball to loll his tongue in the heat and Dolly, caught off-guard, tumbled backwards to land with a yelp on her plushly upholstered backside.

Ian’s face started to crack with a grin. “Oi!” Gerrard leapt up and ran to meet Ian as he jogged over. “Don’t damage that! It’s one of my favourite bits!” He bent down, holding out both arms to help her up.

“Oh, is it now?” Her hands grasped his forearms as if she was going to let him guide her back upright, but then her legs shot up, locking either side of his waist and shoving sideways while she hauled on his arms, trying to topple him down into the dust with her while the puppy bounced and barked excitedly. Laughing, Ian refused to budge. He scooped her out of the dust instead, her laughter fading and the impish gleam in her eyes becoming something molten as she wrapped herself around him. It was the kind of look that put a catch in his voice.

“One of them.” He tried to sound casual, hefting her up a little and taking a more secure grasp of the anatomy in question in the process. “Do you not remember me toasting it last Christmas?”

“I remember your Mum’s reaction!” She put a hand to her brow in theatrical dismay. “Oh Ian!”

“There was a lot of sherry in that trifle. But wasn’t there some kind of football game going on here?”

“Yeah.” The tip of her nose hovered just alongside his, her breath tickling his face. “You just scored.”

Sirens screamed and the air was thick with the crackle of radio traffic as one emergency service after another rushed to the scene. Towers of orange flame shot sparks into the sky; metal moaned and tore and the muffled sound of explosions was followed by belches of black smoke and clouds of ash and debris expelled from the shattered remains of the apartment building’s windows.

For Dolly and Ian, it might as well have been silent. She sat in his lap, wrapped up in his arms, her own folded across her chest, pinning his hands to her with a desperate need for him not to let go. It was all she’d said since they’d been united again. “Don’t let go. Don’t let me fall.”

They watched the blaze from the roof of an old, 6-story brick-built office building, long out-of-use and boarded up, where they sat on the edge of a creaking air conditioner cabinet. But those whispered pleas – “Don’t let me fall” – had nothing to do with the height; they came from somewhere deep inside her soul, somewhere raw and bloody and dreadfully afraid.

And they didn’t matter at all. Because he wasn’t going to let her go. Not now, not ever. He simply squeezed her tighter and buried his face against her neck as she watched the flames, rocking gently back and forth with a look of vacant wonder and innocence shining from her features and the reflected light turning her blue eyes a hungry orange, glowing back from the black wells of her pupils.

Somewhere inside the inferno of Chris Walsaw’s former home, a boiler exploded, sending streaks of molten copper pipe splashing down on the fire crews below. Ian felt his lover shiver, heard her give a broken little gasp, then finally the tears came. With every sob that shook her, Ian could feel the tension, the misery, the horror slowly draining out of her. Soon, it would be as if she didn’t remember, the only signs of the experience emerging as whimpers in her sleep and tears on her lashes in the morning.

He thought about the bag of medication Walsaw had given him. It might take away the terrors born inside her head, but what could tablets do to change reality? Could sanity give her innocence back the way madness did? Did it matter who she could be if he loved her as she was?

Masonry screamed. A large chunk of the building’s outer wall started to bulge over the street, then fragmented, dropping chunks of concrete down amidst the fire crews. Men ran back and forth, pulling the fallen back from the scene of the collapse or rushing in with new equipment. But from the roof of the empty offices, those men were tiny, ant-like, and the roar of the flames was as silent as the rush of starfire from overhead, Vishnu’s sword clearing out the old, destroying the past.

It was time to start again. And this time, Ian thought, as he rocked his wife lovingly in his lap, it was going to be different.

This time, he was going to do everything right.

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