The night after he'd broken up with her, he'd had a dream

The night after he'd broken up with her, he'd had a dream. It had been vivid and unpleasant in the sort of way that means you've learned a truth that cuts too close to the bone; the kind of thing you quickly forget or ignore in order to keep life the same as it was and had been.

She'd told him that it wasn't fair, that she was wasting her life with him in a complacency that lacked emotional attachment. She told him that being in love meant being able to share emotional states, and that the last thing he'd shared with her was a sandwich more than a month earlier.

And he, of course, hadn't understood. Love to him had been long silences where mood and breath intertwined and the stroke of a nail along his shoulder imparted more answers than words ever could. Love had been quiet, un-extreme pleasures, comfort and her company. He had loved her, or so he had thought and it had hurt.

But that was before the dream.

The dream had been orange-edged crimson and an androgynous smile and a hand that slashed his chest with its wicked nails and a certain sadism. It had hurt. Hurt as much as those words she's said that morning. Hurt more. It had burned and ached and stung and inflamed his marrow with a pain that felt like something akin to understanding.

His heart, a jeweled scarlet, convulsed in his chest, his ribs split as neatly as firewood. That horribly impersonal hand withdrew the writhing muscle and held it over a scrying bowl that was filled with dark and silvery water. The heart was reflected there, though the hand was not and he noticed this in a passing way, which he soon forgot.

Wise green eyes stared at him and that asexual smile turned into a smirk and the heart was neatly dropped into the water.

He woke silently, the ache in his torso flared then quieted and he was left breathing slowly, unaware of the twitching beginning in his limbs.

He had learned something from this, something painful and dangerous. And he tucked this knowledge away, behind his eyes and under his heart. He held it without looking at it, knowing somehow that what he held would burn his sight if he chanced a glance.

It was almost a year before he dared to recognize the experience.

And when first he turned his inner-eye to that orange-edged crimson place he discovered something he had lived the past year without realizing: he knew within his heart that love wasn't about being hurt or being happy, it was about being vulnerable and opening your heart to a mirror.

It would be a long time before he could accept what he saw there.