Moments Like This

August 26, 2010


“I can see our house from here!”

I shaded my eyes with a hand and looked up, laughing as Ian’s voice crackled into my ear through the headset.

“Well, OK, not really.” He sounded a little petulant, disappointed that the vagaries of geography were denying him his quip.

“I can see you from here, though!” I leaned on the sniper rifle in a way that definitely isn’t recommended in the manual. As my eyes adjusted to the distance, I could pick out little details. The glint of light from his sunglasses, the dim stripe of an armband, the reddish gleam from his hair as the sun caught it.

San Paro should be a miserable city. Oppression and death are its watchwords. Dozens of civillians going about their everyday lives are killed, maimed or broken here every day.

“Like the view?”

I laughed like a happy teenager, sprinting up the road to meet him.

Moments like this are why they stay.

***

Moments like this are why they flee.

Ian lay on the floor, blood coating his fingers as they gripped at his stomach, face contorted with pain. The echoes of my scream rang back from the warehouse walls as I flung myself to him, tear-blind to the scar-faced man standing over us with a gun in his fist.

“You put up a good fight, lad, but here’s where it ends. Slowly bleeding to death on a concrete floor.” He stepped forward, looking down at Ian while his gun remained pointed in my direction. The toe of one boot kicked at my rifle, sending it skittering away across the floor. I didn’t care.

Ian…

“But you know what? You made me wait for revenge… I’ll make you wait for death. A long, slow, agonizing wait. And we’re going to watch.” Tom was some ghost out of Ian’s past; a former mentor, comrade-in-arms… maybe even friend. Once. The scars on his face were Ian’s parting gift to him. He sat down on a crate facing us, the gun resting idly on his knee. He picked up a can of cheap beer and cracked it open with one hand, taking a swig as Ian struggled to rise, falling back with his teeth clenched against the pain.

I never begged in the hospital. Not when they put me in restraints. Not when they gave me the drugs. Not when the night porter came to my room with plans for his own little injection.

And I never begged on the streets. Not when I was hungry and cold in the rain, mazed with withdrawal and lost in this strange new reality. Not when the enforcers beat me down or cuffed and tased me until I lost consciousness.

But I begged Ian once… and I begged for him again now.

***
“It’s going to be fine.” His eyes laughed into mine, the sun behind him painting the sea crimson as it sank into the waves, the first warm, fat raindrops splashing into the cooling blood pooled on the rooftop. “But I need you to promise me something, OK?”

“I’d do anything for you.” Even as I said it, the slow change in his expression made a cold pit in my stomach.

“When… If I tell you to run, you run. You run fast and far away, and you don’t look back. You have to promise me, Doll.”

I couldn’t speak. My mouth worked but no sound came out. I shook my head over and over. No. Tears started to build in my eyes.

“If they get me, they’ll let you go. You’ll be safe. I have to know you’re safe, love.”

“But I’m safest with you!” It was a howl of pain as the tears started to flow. The prospect of a world the way it used to be; empty of him. No cocky little quips. No mad scrambling after a football across a patch of waste ground. No frenzied rolling around inside a Bishada until one of us kicked the handbrake off and it started to roll. No-one to throw my arms around in triumph or console me in disaster. No strong arms to hold me at night. No scent of his cologne on my skin in the morning.

Nothing.

Absence.

Void.

“What about the enforcers? What about the asylum? What… what… what… You promised me! You promised you’d never let me go! Never!” Like a child in a tantrum, I beat at his chest with my fists and just like that child, received the same tolerant, loving smile. A gentle hand cupped my chin, thumb lightly caressing my lips while the rain ran down my face like my tears were nothing at all.

“We’re going to be married soon, love. That means we’ll be together forever. We’re not going to lose. But you have to promise me. I need this from you, Blue.”

“I’ll do it if you ask me. But please… Please! Don’t ask it. Don’t ask me to leave you! Ask me anything but that, please…” Every fibre of my body shook. The inside of my stomach felt cold and sick, like a glass of bleach imbibed and slowly seeping poison.

Behind us, on the roof, the rain slapped uncaring onto the ruin of a dead man’s face, dripping into the remnants of one uncaring eye.

In moments like this, I envy him.

***

“Please… Let me take him to a hospital.”

I was on my knees as I faced Tom, lifting my eyes to his face when every instinct told me to watch the gun he cradled so indolently across his knee. My Doctor would have defined Tom as a man who feels powerless, and so craves power and I fed into that with every wile in my body. The desperate wringing of my hands, the blue eyes wide but not staring directly into his, slightly averted to give no threat or challenge. The deep, gulping breaths that made my chest heave and strain at the taut fabric of the minidress. The tears on my cheeks, the pleading tone, the trembling lips.

I gave it everything, for more than my life depended on it. The woman who belonged to Ian Carlyle humbled on her knees in the dirt before him, blood and grease and gunshot residue staining that thousand-dollar dress, begging for the life of her man. It had to feed that need inside him.

But cruelty and revenge were stronger. He looked right into my face and laughed.

“Look, I know you’re all in love with this cunt, but this is old business, lass.”

“And it’s over!” I didn’t realise how loudly I’d spoken til the echo came back to me. “It’s been over for five years! Please! Just let me take him to a hospital!” All guile and thought were gone, just that anguished absence lurking in the future, the cold and dreadful fear. I meant every word.

The clean steel of the gun barrel levelled at my face again.

Soft, broken words from beside me. “Dolly… run…”

It felt like something inside me tore in two. And it kept tearing. It would keep tearing forever. One endless, sick moment repeating for all time.

“Tom… please… Let her go…”

My legs wouldn’t obey even if I wanted to keep my promise. Though I did want to. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to know I was safe and wouldn’t be a burden to him. I wanted him not to have to worry for me.

But I didn’t want to leave. And the ache in my back was throbbing, the blood wet and slippery on my skin where the ricocheted bullet had sunk in, so swiftly I’d thought it nothing more than a blow from fallen debris. Maybe I was dying too and would never leave this room.

I hoped so.

I bent over Ian one last time, stroking my fingers through his hair, my other hand resting on the webbing vest above his wound.

“Dolly… You promised.” The pain-wracked ghost of a smile crossed his lips, wringing my heart like a wet rag.

“Not like this… Please, not like this.” My hair fell about us like a veil as I bowed forward over him, pressing kisses onto his face and neck, drinking in that scent of aftershave and gun oil. The sobs were strong enough that they felt too large for my body, jerking me each time one escaped. Too much to bear. An intention formed inside me; it was a warm but dour comfort.

I whispered in his ear, “Remember Peony at the waterfront.”

My tear-streaked eyes turned back to Tom but my body was twisting to the side, the cooked grenade sealed in my palm flying out, exploding in a burst of dust and grime. With that promise burning like acid in my heart, I flung myself away, behind a pile of crates, then started to lurch back the way we’d come, alone this time, crying too bitterly to see.

***
“I can’t reach! You have to take it out!” I knocked back another mouthful of scotch, straight from the bottle, as I lay face down on the kitchen table, panting, a little from nerves, a little from pain.

“I know, Blue, I just… don’t like the thought of hurting you.” Ian stood over me with my longest pair of eyebrow tweezers in his hand. “Besides, you’re nearly naked and it’s giving me ideas.”

Despite the shrieks of agony running up my nerves from the merciless disinfectant, I laughed. “Ideas they’ll stay, unless we get the damn bullet out. Now penetrate me, lover! Tweeze my mother-fucking brains out!”

“Hold still…”

“Ah you cunting bastard fuck! FUCK!” As drunk as I’d tried to get, it evidently wasn’t enough. Pain painted my vision with big neon pink spots and I screamed my lungs raw until a tinny “plink” signalled the rebirth of the bullet into a coffee mug on the kitchen counter. Relief as the agony ebbed back to a slow, heavy throbbing washed over me in blissful waves and I just lay on the table gasping, with my head on his knee, while Ian’s hands gently rubbed at my shoulders.

A loud pounding on the door interrupted our tender moment and I felt a lonely pang as Ian walked to the door and cracked it open. I heard the voice of the building supervisor outside.

“Um, Mr Smith… Look, I’m sorry to come up here again, but the other residents are really upset by the… Well, look, there are families here and… Oh god, will you please just try to keep it down when you’re having sex? The young lady is… really vocal.”

Ian started to laugh. It showed in the line of his spine, in the shaking of his shoulders, but he managed to keep it out of his voice. “Uh… Sure! Very sorry about that. I’ll try to tell her to… curb her enthusiasm. No guarantees, mind.”

I heard the indrawn breath as the Super finally noticed the blood on Ian’s hands, the strong smell of alcohol. I stuck my head around the door and gave him my brightest smile.

“Sorry, Mr K. Time of the month. Will try to keep it down.”

Giggling like maniacs on nitrous oxide, we pushed the door closed and fell into each other’s arms. Moments like this are what I live for.

***
I broke my promise at the last moment. Clinging to the door frame, I looked back, wanting one last sight of the man who’d changed my life.

And it felt like I flew as the long-barrelled Deagle shone in Ian’s hand, its loud retort blasting through the haze of smoke and kicking a scarlet flourish up from Tom’s gut.

“Always check your work you TWAT!” The toe of Ian’s boot caught him in the side of the face before the old man even had time to fall, knocking him back onto his improvised seat on the crates. The can of beer tipped sideways and started to piss its contents onto the floor.

“I’m not like you, Tom. I won’t leave you to die a slow death. Just know…”

Some tension I’d never noticed before, but which had always been there, ebbed out of my lover’s shoulders as he lifted the gun again.

“This was a long time coming, mate.”

The Deagle barked a second time as the last of the fallout cleared.

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