The stoop is cold.
It's always cold, and she loses her henshin almost more to have something between it and her bottom that for fear someone might see her heaven-colored wings and softly shining halo. It's a trade off. As herself she has her coat and slacks to keep her warm against the cold stone of the stoop. As her other self she has her halo to light the shadows because he never leaves the front light on when he's gone out. In the end, she has learned that she would rather have the warmth than the light and sits quietly in the dark and waits for him.
He will come, she knows, eventually. He always does, although sometimes he is gone for hours at a time. She always waits, patiently silent. She always turns her cell phone off while she's waiting because she allows nothing to interfere with this. St. John has begun to get used to not her not answering. He no longer asks where she goes when she goes out and stays gone for hours at a time and comes home so drawn and tired, plum smudges under her eyes from giving too much of herself away, from straining her muscles to bruising pulling herself so thin and gaunt. He trusts her. Perhaps he should not.
She has brought a book with her, some heavy Russian reading or perhaps some Camus, and later when they are sitting or standing together quietly she will echo Ivan when she asks him how a loving God can allow the children, the little children, to be tormented. It is a question that has been on her mind more and more as of late. Alexei has asked if she has decided to become an Existentialist. She feels instead that that thing has crawled inside of her and she cannot drag it out, no matter how hard and fast she grips it by the tail, leaning against it, or if she did manage to drag it out that it would rip out something precious with it, so she has given up fighting it. He does not offer her answers to her questions, but she does not expect him to. If he listens to her speak, the words spilling out fast and loose and helter-skelter, if he only listens when the sobs build in her chest until she can't strong-arm them down any more, that is enough for her.
He is good at listening. He has always been good at listening.
But out here there is not light enough to read by because she has put her other self away, the one that really forces her to him. This self, her brown-stockinged schoolgirl self loves him, wants him. The other her needs him like iron railing to grip when she's gone vertigo. She has decided that he is what keeps her from the precipice, and in deciding so has made it true.
He is still oak. He is still iron, although he has become all bent and rough-rusty under her hands, giving up splinters whenever she lays herself down but she does not say a word even when it catches against her, a thousand needles of chestnut with no cotton batting because she knows that he would never hurt her. Not intentionally, and he is still the bulwark she clings to because she has declared that she has nothing else, and in the declaring it becomes so.
When she sits on the stoop, she always tucks her things away into her bag and waits quietly, hands folded in her lap. He does not want her to wait. He has said so. She does not care and waits anyway. His garden needs weeding, but she has not brought her trowel, and it is past midnight now. Trimming the stock will have to wait for another day. He should have roses in his garden. The next time she comes she will bring him cuttings and see to them herself.
She is used to seeing to things with him herself, as if he is an unwilling participant in all of it. She does not care. She knows that at some point, underneath the same moon that now hangs so heavy in the sky she swore whatever the cost, whatever the care – and she has never sworn lightly. What's to become of the swallow that fell in love with the moon? What indeed.
In the house - his house - the cabinets need reorganizing and she asks him how he finds anything and he does not answer and she wonders if he even eats at all. Of course he does. Everyone eats.
His neighbors never bother her. It's almost as if they avoid looking into his yard, and she always sits so quietly and so still in the dark she has begun to feel as if they might even assume she's simply part of the property - a silent little stone marker – 'Here lies I. Let me rest in peace.' No one ever asks why she is waiting. She does not know what she would tell them if they did. She cannot explain the need that drives her to see him, not him, yet still him. She cannot tell the urge that burns her to verify every chance she has that he is still there and still breathing. He always tells her to leave. He always wants her to go.
But she will not.
She would reorder the world for him. She strives to every day, every moment she can hear the the low grate of his voice. He fights her every step of the way - but then, they are old opponents and she does not mind straining her fingers bloody against the granite blocks that rim the empty hole where his soul used to be.
If she did not have a fine control of her temper, sometimes when all of it became too much for her she might shout, "You had no right to offer it away. It was mine. You had given it to me. It is not something that you can give to more than one person."
But then, that was untrue and her fathers had taught her that before she could walk, burning it into the edges of her very soul as her hands tangled up in the identical braids that they wore over their hips.
This though, this was a different thing. He had not given himself to another body. That she could have learned to accept the same way that her fathers had come to terms with each other. No, he had given himself over to something she could not know, would not know, like silk fingered spider legs that slipped up her back when she was idle in his presence. He had gone down a dark path, and she was running as fast as she could through the thorn and bracken to catch him, because his path was one she could not trod.
She would not give herself away. That was still his.
Sometimes she wanted to beat some bloody sense into him with her mace, because it was more humane, but she knew that she had lost primaries to him before, she knew that that confrontation could only end in one of them dead and the other bleeding grief and this was another path she could not tread in fear that she would flare too well and too high and it would be his empty corpse she left on the field. A thousand deaths she'd give him without asking, because she had a thousand to spare, and there was always tomorrow. He was forbidden any because he had given his spare chances away, and now he had but one, already hanging loose ended from her last high, fast burn.
She had no ring on her finger. She could only assume it had gone back to his mother when she had gone to ground that first time. That was only right. It had been her ring in the first place, and really in the grand scheme of things, as she had once told the Lily of the Valley, rings are not altogether that important. What is bound is bound regardless of the metalwork involved.
Perhaps when he came she would read to him for a while in the dim light of the sitting room, or perhaps she would play the piano very softly and very badly. He had Für Elise set at the piano, she knew. It was always Für Elise, or perhaps Für Therese, or Für Rachel, or Für Katya, or even Für Demeter herself. In the end the naming didn't really matter. A rose by any other was still a rose, and she was Gabriel and he knew the color of her roses.
He never played for her and she had given up asking, but she did not mind playing badly for him, all the notes a stumbling mess, but perhaps she was getting better.
She did not have time to get better.
Time. Once he'd told her it was all he wanted in the world. Now they had it in spades, or perhaps they had none at all.
Perhaps when he came she would talk to him in low tones about the opera, or some other tangential thing until she fell asleep exhausted in an armchair by the empty fireplace. He will sit in the other chair and watch her sleep, tracing the contour of the dark smudges over her cheekbones with his eyes and saying nothing.
Perhaps if he was very preoccupied she would slip up behind him and lay her forehead against his back the way she had done so many times before. If she were very still, then perhaps he would be too and let her stand there doing nothing more than lean against him. It was all she wanted.
And that was untrue, but it was all he would spare and she would content herself with that because she had no other alternatives. Such was the fate of the swallow who fell in love with the moon.
And when he does come he's calico spattered crimson bloody dark and he's got something in one of his hands that used to be inside someone else – a bit of spine, perhaps? She doesn't look. She is very good at not seeing.
He asks, "Why are you here?"
She says, "To see you."
Stating the obvious.
He says, "You should go."
And she says, "Unlock the door and I'll go make some tea."
And he will and she will and then they will once again be as they always are, because she is very good at waiting and very good at not seeing and he draws some measure of satisfaction just from listening to her breathe.