One night she dreamed she went barefooted out through the blasted heath where the grass was not short and fine but thistle thorny rough and it painted her soles scarlet but she did not heed it because her soles had been scarlet frequently enough in the past. Her soul had been scarlet for ages now, cardinal. His cardinal.
And she had wandered through the ivory boneyards of the dead, carrion flowers growing at her feet, glutted by the blood of the fallen. Fallen, such a simple little word. I fell and scraped my knee. I fell and scraped my soul out, jagged and ground with gravel until it was an ugly thing that I no longer wanted. I fell and left myself littered in a thousand different pieces that you will never find, that you can never know. I fell and you were there, beautiful and painful and my blood sang like a symphony because hadn't I once told you that all life is pain? I will be yours until the stars fall heavy from the sky like lead and saltpeter, and the world goes cold. I will be yours after that, when nothing lives and breathes except for you, and then also I, as proxy. The world is dead and you have killed it, but that is not too terribly bad, is it? Because there is still you.
And the ground smelled of sickly sweet death, the way it does when too much animal has gone down into the earth and not enough vegetable or mineral. The mud slid thick and greasy under her feet from the fat that still had to be boiling off these bones when the sun was high. Now there was no sun and no moon, only the light of her dim little halo.
And him. There was always him.
She went out walking after midnight as a ghostling, and every step she took toward him numbered another of her primaries - the feathers of her very self – abandoning her for high treason. It was all right. She'd go collect them later. Perhaps he'd wrap them up for her, all in a box so she could keep them safe and close to the hollow where he heart had once beat rich and sweet. Now there was a sweetness too, a sweetness that hung heavy like her arms and legs when she stayed too long in the bathtub.
He never looked at her, sitting high on his mound of corpses, his lance struck through the top like a flag that claimed the kills as his own. He kept his back to her as she came barefoot, shedding the feathers that marked her grace. She would take the pennies from his eyes and cross that river to find him, but she would not look back because she would not look forward. She would look only at him.
He was red now, but it was not the red of his tailcoat.
And what about your child? rang through her head, but then, simple as a metal pin sliding in to deaden the nerve it was What about her? beautiful and simple like blown roses left out to dry and then to moulder. There is only me as I exist as proxy to him. I am the child, my summers still ahead of me, and he will take care of me.
She would reorder the world for him, and she reordered hers now, shrugging grace and snow feathers off, running the rim of her ever dimming halo around her fingers curiously, as if it were the most interesting toy she had ever seen.
What will you do if I am not there to catch you?
Why, I will fall.
We all live forever – and suddenly she could not remember the rest of the rhyme, as if it had left her head entirely.
I would do anything for you, go anywhere after you, because you are all I see, between heaven and sky and earth and rock and I'm sorry because - .
But she found she wasn't sorry, not really, just a sweetly sedate sort of content that left her feeling a little hollow around the belly, and her bare feet dug in, toes curling around rib bones and the sharp bends of pelvises as she climbed his mountain to settle in quietly behind him, patient and relaxed, as if all their days began with the blood red sun coming up over a throne built from the open meat of people that had been and now were not. Of things that had been and now were not. He was the only one left between heaven and sky, earth and stone.
"I didn't expect you to be this far," she said, eyes tracing out the lines on his face slow and careful, easy like the last bit of jam left in the jar, and then his eyes found her, red like the sun and red like her soles and her soul that she found she did not miss too terribly. It was just another thing she could fill up with dried rose petals.
And then he laid his hand on her and she woke up, sweat pooled around her like ice water, his words still hanging heavy and full against her the way his hand had been and she wept, not because she had seriously considered his touch, but because she knew the standing offer would never come before her.
I didn't expect you to be this close.