When we lie here like this in the sand with nothing but the wind and the surf to fill our silence, my mind tends to wander; recently my thoughts have been returning to one subject in particular. This beach has held party to a great many things in the last six months or so. Both good and bad. Midnight surfing. Bonfires. Dissociative episodes. Volleyball with the girls. Getting high. Lessons with Lirssa. Morning runs. Jeremy’s ring is out in that water… somewhere. Still regret throwing that. There’s more of my blood soaked here in the sand than there is in my body. The surrounding cliffs have heard my darkest secrets. If rock could speak, I would be ruined.
"Always in me there’s fire and hate and rage. And some of the only times I don’t feel like I’m wearing another man’s skin is when I get to focus all that into killing somebody. I like it."
I can count on one hand the amount of people who know me -- know all of me. And of those people, only Salvador has loved me for it, not in spite of it. He hasn’t told me to fight it or that I’m wrong for it, like Nash and Petra have said.
I am not broken.
True friends are a rarity. I thought, maybe, I had found another. I wanted to be honest with Cris.
“What did you think I was going to do with this information? Rain down a private shower of sulfur and brimstone? I don’t care. Canaan. I don’t care. I don’t judge you. For what you are, or what you do. I never have. You do what you need to, when you need to. What did you think? That I would---suddenly think less of you? That I would suddenly divorce myself from our friendship, or my friendship with Salvador?”
And then he did. For exactly the reason he said he wouldn’t.
Sinjin smiled at me when I told him. If our friendship fails… at least it will not be over the inability to accept my nature.
I feel as though I’m playing with fire to that end.
"Are you a betting man, Cane?"
"God no. I'm... ill-fated beyond compare. When I bet, I lose."
I always lose.
The more I try not to think about you, the more you seem to infiltrate my thoughts. Not only my thoughts, but all my senses, too. There are times when I swear I catch a glimpse of you, ghosting along my peripheral. I turn my head each time to find you even though I know I never will. Your scent is in the breeze right now… there’s a fire somewhere. I can smell the smoke. Sometimes I can taste you in the salty mist that comes off the ocean during my morning runs. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse that I can no longer recall the sound of your voice, but your music runs on a loop in my head.
I can’t escape you.
“It ain’t overwhelming despair anymore, but I still got times where I’m just forcing myself through the motions so I can get through the day.”
It’s one of those days.
Sometimes I hate you for leaving me alone. Like it was somehow a choice you made. Blame you for going out to find him instead of staying home where you I left you. But that’s just me attempting to assuage my guilt. It’s easier to blame you for the gaping hole that you left inside me than to admit it’s my fault you’re dead.
I’m sorry. I miss you.
"Can I ask you something? It's entirely off topic, but I've been wondering for a while."
Sinjin kicked the swing into motion again, lifting his chin and raising his eyebrows at Cane: go on.
"What happened when you didn't go back?" The cigarette was then replaced between his teeth after the question.
He smiled and inclined his chin again; he had been expecting that question, albeit not from Cane. "It has been suspiciously silent," he admitted. "Granted, they are.. patient. Very patient. It could be that they come for me tomorrow. It could be at the end of my lifetime." He went silent for long enough to draw another lungful of smoke and gather his thoughts. "Are you a betting man, Cane?"
The Cajun barked a short, rough laugh. "God no. I'm... ill-fated beyond compare. When I bet, I lose."
Sin’s expression was somewhere between pitying and envious. "I am a betting man," he drawled -- as if it weren't obvious. "And if I had to place a bet, I would place it on knowing that they will come to reap my failings at the moment when I am most useful to them. Right now, I am not useful." He was barely above broke, still rebuilding what was once a vast empire, and his social connections were frail at best. "I am a beggar-king. But they will come." He didn't doubt it for a moment.
Cane looked away when Sin was finished, both to gather his thoughts and as an attempt to mask what was sure to show on his face. Sinjin was an extremely observant creature and Cane wore his heart on his sleeve. "I hope you'll not feel the need to... gamble that encounter alone." Looking back at the Spaniard, he chanced a smile. "You're... integral."
It’s been on my mind since the moment I learned he’d chosen to stay in Rhydin instead of returning to Keythe last year. I’ve dealt with vampires my whole life. Maybe not ones quite like him, but I know how this works. I don’t need to know him personally to understand that a bargain broken will not be forgotten. Keythe will have what is rightfully his, but I don’t believe he’ll come after Sin directly.
I used to think the white jackdaw was Sinjin, and I told him as much once upon a time. If not the sinner himself, then under his influence. He told me the bird was no longer his, that it’s mind was being controlled by someone else. I didn’t ask; I didn’t have to. Keythe had gained control of the thing and was using it to spy.
Only… it’s been watching more than just Sin.
"Aoife's lookin' fer dat jackdaw."
Sinjin’s faltered after Cane spoke and he looked from the Cajun to the little dreamer. "That is unwise, dove."
"Hmm?" Aoife’s fingers tightened on the porch railing, nails clicking into wood, and she was pulling back to look upwards. "He's hungry."
"It's what he hungers for that concerns me," Sin murmured, rocking on his heels.
There was a ‘but’ on her lips and questions in her eyes but she said nothing.
"I'm not scared," she whispered to his retreating feet.
Were I in Keythe’s shoes, I would know better than to think Sin would ever be loyal again. Instead of forcing him to come back, I’d make him regret the decision to break his oath. As far as I can tell, there’s only one thing the world that Sin actually cares about.
I think it’s time I found the jackdaw myself.
"I think I shall be going quite soon."
"I'm glad ya came ta say goodbye. Y'all right, cher?"
I know the feeling.
It’s cold here, but for once I don’t mind. I haven’t even bothered to light a fire. It’s so dark; I can’t see the moons. Solitude is a state of being that I struggle to embrace, because it often brings with it a cloak of loneliness that weighs me down. But last night, I wore that cloak despite being surrounded by dozens of people.
I killed the jackdaw I’d been looking for and was right to do so. I suppose I can’t prove it was Keythe’s, but it was most definitely being controlled by someone. A darkness. I saw a figure in passing and the filth of his magic clung to Strix in the aftermath. I fixed his leg and cleaned him up, but Aoife’s still going to be upset. That usually ends up manifesting as the silent treatment for god knows how long.
Sinjin took it… I don’t know. Well enough, I suppose. I couldn’t tell if he was relieved or upset with me. He didn’t say. How he didn’t catch on sooner is beyond me. I’ve suspected it for months. But then, I guess I can’t entirely blame him for his willful oblivion. It’s nice to just be happy and not worry about anything. I do it myself, even as the looming sense of dread continues to gather overhead like a rain-laden cloud. No one can stop the rain. It will come and it will touch everything, so why worry?
It doesn’t stop me from being irritated with him. There are things I know he doesn’t say and I struggle to force myself not to view it as a lie. These people I’ve surrounded myself with… they keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. And I know that it takes time to build a friendship with a good foundation, one that fosters and encourages the ability to be open -- because not everyone is like me, but I grow tired.
Like Taneth, I’m weary. Everyone has something to hide. They speak in riddles and hold their cards close to their chests as if this is a poker game they have to win by themselves; they lie and bluff to give themselves the upper hand. Perhaps that is where I am different. I’ve always viewed life as a game of blackjack. We all have our own cards, we’re all playing the same game, but the only competition is the dealer.
Secrets have their place, but not amongst friends and lovers. Not in my world. For the first time in two years, I find myself yearning desperately for the life I was forced to leave behind. I went from having siblings who told me everything, co-workers that treated one another like family, children and grandchildren and nothing was difficult except paying the ****ing bills. I’m just--
I miss them. Creating that here will take time, I know that. I want it more than anything. But right now, I’m desperate for what was. Would that I could go there in my dreams.
Why is my… What the fuck am I covered in?
Is this-- oh. No. This is food.
Now I’m hungry.
Yesterday was a disaster.
When I think back on the parts that I can remember, I’m certain I was only able to navigate the fugue with Skid’s help. Every time I let myself think about what I had done… I could feel myself slipping a little deeper into the hole. And not only am I slipping, but I can’t reach for anything to climb back out.
I’m bound and drawn, a literal slave to my sins.
I willingly imprison myself with the shackles of hatred. I’ve been there so many times that it’s easy, it’s comfortable. It’s a safe harbor that prevents me from drifting off into the sea where I know I’ll be weighed down by the guilt until it pulls me under. I don’t want to brave the waters. My fear is that I’ll be consumed when confronted with truth…
Because he’s right. Oh god, he’s right. They all end up dead.
I keep playing it out in my mind: what I could have done differently, what I should have done, should not have done. On and on it runs -- an endless loop that makes my head throb and behind my eyes ache. I see his face and the cruel twist of his smile as he needles me. I see the panic in his bloodshot eyes. I see Salvador lying on the ground and his blood pooling on the ground beneath me. If I had the energy to open my mouth and scream, I would. But I can’t. Because I can’t feel anything. The pain is there, it flirts along the edges of my consciousness. Lurking. Waiting. Reminding me where I still must go.
I can’t. I don’t want to feel.
It’s like I’m watching myself from a distance. I’m lying on little more than a raft in the middle of an expansive ocean with no land in sight, nothing on the horizon but the dark clouds of a fast approaching storm. The wind is picking up around me. The waves are spilling over the edges of my boat faster. I’m trying to bail the water out, but it’s too much. There’s just too much and I’m too tired.
I’ve done this before. I don’t want to do it again. There’s a part of me that wants to cease my efforts. This life raft of mine has had holes in it for years and now it’s sinking. It’s been tiresome to fight for so long. I told him… I told him I would live. However, in this case I have the urge to drown with it.
I’ve been down this road before. It’s long and it’s hard. I can’t say that I’ve reached the end of it, I was still in the process of traveling, but it was brighter where I was and I was happy again. Now I’m forced back to the starting line. Wrong card played. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go.
I wanted nothing more than to wake up this morning to find out it was all a nightmare. I’d take a nightmare every night for the rest of my life if this could just… not be my reality. Instead I opened my eyes to the promise of a new day that has offered me nothing but the pain and guilt of being a ruiner.
Beyond the desire to give up entirely, I want to run. I want to hide from everything. But how does one escape a problem when the problem is yourself?
Welcome to your existence, Canaan. You fucked up everything. Again.
I can’t. Nothing is as it should be. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Why couldn’t he just leave?
I don’t even know if I have the right to feel betrayed by him, but I do. It’s not as if I’m innocent. I feel as though I’ll choke on my own bitterness. Maybe I should let go. Then I can end this war between what I am and what I feel I should be.
‘You're not alone.’
Lirssa. Bless her. She found me wandering around last night. If there is one thing in this world I would not taint, would that it be her. She is kind and caring and stubborn. Crazy, too. Why else would she return to me time after time?
I know I’m not alone, I told her this. I don’t forget anything Salvador tells me. I’m watching him sleep and I know he’s dreaming -- I know this has dredged up memories of his own. I didn’t have anything comforting to say to him back when he first told me about Carmine. I don’t know what words to say now, either. Perhaps there are none for this.
I can’t feel my limbs. I don’t think I could move if I tried.
Everything is numb.
Sal’s arms are around me now, but I can’t feel the cold. Or maybe I’m already cold and that’s why I can’t feel it. He hasn’t said anything yet, perhaps for the same reason I’m not able to. I can sense his eyes on me; I think he’s waiting to see what happens. I don’t even know that for myself.
I don’t want to. I don’t want to move. I want to lie here in the storm forever.
Storms don’t last forever.
No, but when they’re done I still have to deal with the fallout, everything’s that’s left over when all is said and done. I’m not the only person who loved him; and so hate begets hate. The cycle continues. I hated Nash. Someone will hate me. It never ends. Nash knew that. He tried to teach me.
Nash has been one of the most influential people in my life. He came into my world at a time when I was struggling to hold a family together. I was angry and clueless and he came up alongside me to help share the load. My mother did what she could; it wasn’t much, but I can’t judge her. She was just as abused by her boyfriends as us kids were growing up. I never knew my actual father -- demon’s don’t exactly stick around to raise their kids, so Nash ended up being my primary role-model in so many areas.
He impressed upon me the importance of loyalty and said that generosity is something that should never be a question when it comes to the people you care about. Nash was the sort of man to give a person the shirt off his back if they’d a need for it. ‘You can’t take it with you when you go’, he’d say. Lots of people tout that line. Nash lived it.
He taught me that integrity is paramount. At the end of the day, it’s not what you say but what you do that actually matters. ‘Don’t piss on my back and try to tell me it’s rain. Own your actions, boy.’
He told me that nothing is impossible and to never be afraid to speak my mind.
Assume little; learn as much as you can.
But most importantly, he (along with Henri) taught me how important it is to know when to stop and why.
When to stop bashing my head against a wall for a lost cause because my time and energy have value. When to stop in the pursuit of fortune so I don’t lose sight of the things that matter most. When to stop an argument before it devolves into a pissing contest of who can hurt the other more. When to stop thinking of myself so that I do not become so selfish and self-oriented that I fail to think of others. When to stop being so angry, and to let it all go -- to avoid hatred scouring me from the inside out.
Needless to say, like any other child when it comes to their parents, I did not always listen. He taught me those things, but I did not take them all to heart.
If I could but start now…
Let it go.
I am afraid of the pain. I fear that I will become so lost in the dark that I break my promise.
But have you lost yourself? You’ve walked through fire once before.
I just want to lie here. Even the thought of moving exhausts me.
I dare you.
“We should just stay here.”
I kept hearing your voice in my head this morning. That line specifically among all the rest stands out from our conversation yesterday. You were angry and hurt when you said it.
But then we smothered the pain and bitterness in our lovemaking and we forgot, for a time, that we are both hurting. I don’t know how else to help you. I don’t think I can, not with this. What I’ve tried to touch, I think, may have only made you more bitter -- so I won’t touch it again. Honestly, I can’t bear to hurt you. All that is left is a path with which I’m quite familiar.
I’m a runner. Escapism is my coping mechanism. Heartache has never been something I knew how to handle with grace.
I spiralled for six years after Brie cheated on me. Made it all the way to India in pursuit of distraction. Fell in love again. Left him the day after I found out he cheated on me, too. Went all the way home to a sister who couldn’t stand my misery and suggested we take a vacation.
I was reminded of that vacation during our run along the beach. My siblings and I ended up living there in Paris for ten years. I let myself wonder... Will this vacation end up like that one? I think it could.
You’ve come such a long way in the short amount of time I’ve known you. I love that I’ve seen your smile more and more when we are together, but never have I seen you smile as much as you did today, like a weight had been lifted from you. No more clouds to darken your skies. You’re so beautiful; in everything -- both in sadness and in joy, but God do you ever shine when you laugh. It fills me with a warmth no flame could match.
We recently read Peter Pan, you and I. I remember the line, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” I used to think that dying for someone was the ultimate act of love. But you… you’ve reminded me what an amazing thing it is to live. And how wonderful it has been to live; to live for myself and to love you in this adventure so far has been a delight. That’s what this is -- an adventure. I want to go on adventures with you for the rest of our lives. Especially if it means I get to see more of the man you’ve shown me since we arrived.
It’s as though I’ve found a loose thread, but instead of becoming unmade when I pull, you unravel your weather-hardened outer layers to show me what’s been kept sheltered safely within. If this is who you are when you are free from your burdens, then I want to run away with you forever.
“So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”
This could be our Never Land. We’ll think lovely thoughts and never come back down from the heights of our happiness.
I shouldn’t have been there.
I feel as though I’ve encroached upon something that was not meant for me to be anywhere near. All I could think about the whole time was that he’s going to be upset. I know I would have been if the situations were reversed. But I didn’t know -- not until Sal flagged her down. By then, what could I have done?
I didn’t know what we were going to be doing. We came here to sightsee, we came here for Carnival. I had no idea this is where… I should have asked. He said he needed my help; there was no question as to whether or not I’d do whatever he needed, but I should have asked this time. The moment I saw her, I knew, and my sense of dread grew with every step I took across the street to join them. He’s going to be hurt. He’s going to be angry.
I stood there in my discomfort and smiled at that little dark-haired girl who wore her uncle’s smile, watching as she and Salvador interacted with one another. I couldn’t help but think about how Sin would feel when he saw the video. Months ago, when Sal and Skid came back from their trip together, I only learned after the fact that they’d been to my home town. Without me. I was flooded with jealousy over it. It was such an irrational thing -- I didn’t even know at the time what they’d done while there... Sin gets to find out much like I did, only instead of us killing a bunch of people like Sal and Skid did in NOLA, we visited Sin’s family. That’s going to go over so well.
"I miss him. I want to come visit you and him."
Those doleful words tore open a wound in me that was only just beginning to close over and now I’m left to hide in the corner of this bathroom stall where I’m certain I will bleed out. Seeing Ana with Salvador, hearing those words come out of her mouth, it was like being slapped in the face with a memory I’d forgotten. I want to forget them, I want--
No. Please, no. I don’t mean that. I don’t want their faces to fade from my mind. That’s all I have left of them.
I know what it’s like to be apart from the people you love, Sinjin. I didn’t just lose a brother and a lover that day, I lost my entire family. I was ripped up from my roots and cast into a new life that I had to somehow figure out on my own. But despite Sal’s best efforts to create a way for me to return home, there is one thing I will never be able to have back.
I saw pictures of them two Christmases ago. I remember when Emily and Avery were still young enough to crawl in our bed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, the days off I spent with them at the park, teaching Avery to skateboard, the countless hours sitting up in a blind with Emily while she worked up the courage to pull the trigger (and she never did). If you had asked me before I met Jeremy if I could ever love a child the way I eventually grew to love his niece and nephew, I would have said no. I didn’t think it was possible.
Now they’re grown. Emily is married to a man I never had the chance to meet. Avery’s kids I almost didn’t recognize in the pictures Petra showed me. A.J. is so tall, already. Caroline was just a baby when I left, she hadn’t even begun to walk. I was startled by how much she looks like her mama. There was even another baby on the way; Sarah must have had it by now. I was Uncle Ko to those babies like I was to their Dad and their Auntie. The younger two won’t even remember me at this point, but I’d give anything to hug them all one more time.
At least I see my selfishness for what it is, I wouldn’t disrupt their lives to soothe the ache I feel inside. It’s better that they continue to think I’m dead, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous. No matter how much bad blood is between Sin and Julia, at least he gets to see Ana. He gets to talk to her, to touch her, to tell her that he loves her. On the other hand, it makes me so goddamn angry that she’s forbidden him from more.
I miss my family so fiercely that I can scarcely breathe for the swelling pressure in my chest when I think of them. Will I ever breathe freely again? It feels like I’ve been suffocating for years now. One breath -- that’s all I ask -- just one deep breath of air that doesn’t make my lungs burn and constrict at the thought of what I lack.
Salvador is wrong. I’m not trying to fill the hole. There is nothing that could ever take their place. But I struggle to remember how to keep moving forward when I’m reminded of that empty space, especially when the pain seems to pile on all at once. I don’t just mourn one person, I mourn for them all every single time I think about them. It’s too much to bear. It hurts. God, it hurts.
I shouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t my place.
Still cramped in the dank, poorly lit bathroom that was little more than a cubicle, Canaan pulled the video camera out of his pocket and switched it on. Without removing the lense cap, he added a brief message for the sinner. It didn’t much make himself feel any better, but perhaps it would mean something to the other man.
“There are ghosts here.”
“What’s a camp-out in a creepy castle without a few ghosts?”
The Molinera Estate was most certainly haunted. He and Sal had done all they could to rile one of the ghosts in particular, defiling the house over and over until the old man had been driven to the basement to do only god knows what. Occasionally, the mournful howls of hounds and felines alike began to filter up from the bowels of the castle, soft echoes of weary phantoms of the past.
They’d whispered to one another that night as much as screamed, breaking up the wild love-making by sharing stories of their past and their dreams for the future. Once they were both spent, sleep claimed the Spaniard. But try as he might, Cane could not find rest.
It had nothing to do with the ache in his back that came from an active night or the cool breeze that came in through the open doors that led to a balcony overlooking the inner courtyard. It wasn’t the sounds that came from the basement, nor the slumbering man whose body lay draped on top of him. Truth be told, he was waiting to hear her.
“My aunt.” Salvador answered immediately and a corner of his mouth tugged upward in an almost smile. “Esme,” he added. “Esmeralda. I had a feeling your playing would draw her out. She played every day when she wasn’t locked in her rooms. It was her escape. Sometimes, late at night, she’ll come down and play. Maybe you’ll hear her. She’s very good.”
The piano had been one of the first things Cane discovered during his exploration of the castle. He fixed it up and played for a while as they swapped stories. She had come to them, a fleeting imprint of the past on the present. He couldn’t get her out of his mind.
Salvador stirred, lifting his chin until the crown of his head was nestled snugly under Cane’s bearded jaw. The Cajun smiled, raising a hand to gently sift his fingers through the man’s soft, dark hair. While he waited, hoping to hear the sounds of the piano take the place of the ghostly animals, Canaan took a moment to marvel at his lover.
Given his sexuality, he’d lain with both men and women throughout the years, but there was just something about the sturdy weight of a man’s body on top of him in particular that he found so deeply erotic. That heavy, conspicuous presence that made it difficult to take a deep breath. It was a comfortable weight, even desired anything else.
His fingers trickled down from the Spaniard’s hair to the sharp plane of his cheek, touching one corner of his mouth and along his angled jaw. He moved his hand to the man’s shoulder, smoothing over the raised, gnarled scar that he bore from the bite of iron. Cane didn’t linger there for long, eager to put behind him the aching sadness its memory created. In looking down, he could see the outline of Salvador’s strong, muscled body washed in the moonlight that streamed in through the balcony doors. They were both naked; only their legs were covered by the rumpled sheet. He couldn’t help but touch, even at the risk of waking Sal. Fingertips trailed along his robust traps and just barely brushed across the flattered spikes that lined the Spaniard’s spine. Sal’s body tensed minutely. Cane smiled.
Lying sprawled across him like this, it was easy for Cane to feel Sal’s heart beating against his chest. A quiet rhythm that pulsed between them; a mesmerizing and intimate thing. His own heart fluttered in its cage, like a bird beating its wings against the bars. The sexual attraction had fuck all to do with their love, but no man had ever made him burn like this. Everything about him excited Cane. Salvador was strong, dauntless, indomitable. Everything he wanted in a partner and more. He could still taste him, feel the ghost of his cool touch, hear the echoes of his screams.
He very nearly woke Sal up for yet another round.
But just then, the quiet tinkering of the grand piano filtered up from the ballroom one floor down. Soft, haunting, beautiful music. There was no one else in the castle, so Cane knew it had to be Esme. Where moments ago he was thrumming with desire, the ghost’s music eased him into a somnolent state of contented peace. The last thing he remembered before drifting off to sleep was that he never wanted their vacation to end.
It was nice while it lasted.
Because nothing bad in my life can ever happen by itself. No, it has to be accompanied by at least one other truly shitty thing. Otherwise it’s not complete. I guess in a way it’s nice… there actually is a constant in my life! Thanks, Dad. I knew I could count on you.
I should have deleted everything. I saw all those messages when I texted Skid and nearly nuked them right then, but I didn’t. I waited. Told myself I’d be able to handle them in the morning. That was a fucking mistake if there ever was one. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Ninety-five percent of them ended up being from Melanie; most of ‘em even put a smile on my face. I don’t know when it happened, but she got under my skin and she’s stuck there. In a good way. Usually. We started out on such a bad foot a couple years back, but now… I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it. Just like all the girls in the Pack, I’ve this urge to protect her, even though she doesn’t need it in the slightest. I wish the messages had only been from her. I could deal with her flying off the handle at me for what she thinks was ignoring her. I know how to handle crazy girls. I’ve pissed off enough of ‘em in my day to know what to do.
But then there was Mags. At least… at least she didn’t assume right off the bat that I’d done something wrong. I don’t know why that matters to me. I killed him. I did do something wrong. No. Was it wrong? I gave him every chance, I never raised a hand to him until he came after me. And even after he tried to kill me, I wanted to make peace. I would have. He forced my hand. What else could I have done? I don’t know.
I don’t know.
But clearly word has gotten around. People must have known where he came and what he meant to do. And they know by now that he failed. I don’t think Mags would have called Petra, they haven’t spoken in decades. Someone called her, though. Only instead of calling to bitch me out herself, she had Micah do it. Nine months of no contact at all, getting married without saying anything, not telling me they had the kid. I don’t even know its name -- and suddenly he leaves me a message?
Not only that, but he makes it sound like they didn’t completely shut me out of their fucking lives all this time. Suddenly it’s ‘Call me, you idiot. I love you.’ as if nothing was amiss. As if they didn’t go on vacation and just forget to come back. As if--
What the fuck
I almost screamed when I listened to his stupid voice coming through the speaker. Wanted to melt my fucking phone right there.
But in keeping with the fucked up theme of my life, I didn’t even have time to work through all my thoughts about how it only took killing my pseudo father to get my family to give a fuck about me again before Sal had a meltdown of his own.
I could fucking strangle that son of bitch vampire for whatever the fuck it is he did to make Sal fall apart like that. I shouldn’t have saved that damn book. I should have let it burn. It’s half their fucking problem anyway! They don’t talk. And I know Sal won’t talk to me about this. The only thing he has said is that he doesn’t want to see Sin or talk to him. I bet my left nut that won’t last longer than a couple days, but right now? Right now I wanna bust Sin’s fucking face in. I’m seriously tired of watching Sal get hurt over and over and not being able to do a damn thing about it.
I knew staying in Spain was a bad idea. I don’t know why I didn’t insist we go home. Or call. Or do more than fucking ignore the problem. My problem… I can’t do anything about my problem. Nash is dead. He ain’t comin’ back. But I should have should have been an ass and… and… I don’t know. I don’t know what I should have done.
I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. I hate not fucking knowing what to do. I hate not being in control. I hate listening to him cry. I hate feeling like I’m in some death spiral that I can’t stop. I hate Nash for ruining fucking everything. I hate Sin. I hate Micah and Petra. I hate myself.
“So I was sitting here, enjoying the Italian sunrise, when I get a call from Nola. What the fuck did you do? Call me, you stupid fucking idiot. Love you.”
Canaan stared at the backlit screen and the options his phone gave him. Call Back. Delete. He pressed neither and instead touched a calloused fingertip to the blue play button again. Micah’s voice sliced through the silence of the surrounding forest.
“So I was sitting here, enjoying the Italian sunrise, when I get a call from Nola. What the fuck did you do? Call me, you stupid fucking idiot. Love you.”
He’d probably listened to it a hundred times over the course of the day. Now that Sal had fallen asleep again, Cane played the message again. Over and over. Because no matter how much he hated Micah, he missed his family. He needed them. He didn’t know how he was going to hold it all together; everything was just hanging by a thread. Doing a good job not drowning, but he was already getting tired of treading water.
The long, binding fingers of depression were tugging at his feet. He could feel them. Curling and pulling, threatening to yank him below the surface. Cane just wanted to keep moving, keep kicking like his life depended on it. In a way, it really did. He’d been doing relatively fine until this one little thing had tipped the scales.
“So I was sitting here, enjoying the Italian sunrise, when I get a call from Nola. What the fuck did you do? Call me, you stupid fucking idiot. Love you.”
Tears blurred his vision. The Cajun choked on the sob that escaped without his bidding. Furious with himself, Canaan growled under his breath and flung his phone into the darkness. Regret registered only moments before he heard the phone hit a tree trunk, break apart, and fall to the ground. The bright light of the screen went dark. The moons were hidden behind clouds tonight and the weak firelight that come from the cottage windows only reached so far.
“Shit,” he murmured. Frustrated with himself, he ran a hand through his hair and stomped away from the house to locate his phone. Eventually he’d learn not to throw things he cared about. At least his phone would be easier to find than Jeremy’s ring. That was one bad decision he couldn’t take back.
I've been ignoring this big lump in my throat
I shouldn't be crying,
tears were for the weaker days
I'm stronger now, or so I say,
But something's missing
Whatever it is,
it feels like it's laughing at me through the glass of a two-sided mirror
Whatever it is,
it's just laughing at me
And I just wanna scream
What now? I just can't figure it out
What now? I guess I'll just wait it out
I don't know where to go
I don't know what to feel
I don't know how to cry
I don't know why
So what now?
(“What Now?” - Rihanna)
Nothing and everything had changed while they were gone.
Aoife was still a breath of fresh air, warm sunlight on his face. Sabine had chosen to live up to the name Salvador had given her and bloom once again in the depths of winter. The buoyant, carefree man he’d discovered in Salvador while they were in Spain had gotten shoved back into the shadows, shuttered away, out of sight. Sinjin was falling apart at the seams, and it appeared as though he would drag Salvador down with him, whether he meant to or not.
Cane, himself, was left to stand alone in the ruins of his life. Its landscape was pockmarked with tragedy and hardship. On the one hand, he secretly wished that it had been easier, without all the heartache. It made him feel weak for wanting that. On the other hand, he knew those struggles forged him into the man he was today. A man who, when he wasn’t letting despair get the best of him, truly loved himself. His every decision had culminated in his being here -- in this place that allowed him to embrace every part of himself. In that vein, he was eternally grateful for all the difficulties.
Circumstances prevented him from being with his family ever again, but he had been lucky enough to create a new one. They were not a replacement for what he had lost, but they succeeded in enriching his life in a fulfilling way. Even the ones -- one -- at which he was currently angry.
In the beginning, when he and Salvador were still just friends, he had seen the way Sinjin made Sal sad. They didn’t ever really talk about him, but the effect it had on Salvador was clear. Things got better. Salvador was smiling. He loved anything that made Sal smile. Sinjin disappeared, came back months later. Things got bad again. Now they had gone to absolute hell. It was a cycle that Cane did not care to see continue, for Sal’s sake and for Sinjin’s. The sinner had become his friend somewhere along the way. That he was angry with him now did not change that.
He had gone to see the man two nights earlier. The urge to flatten him for whatever damage he’d done to Salvador was almost too much to ignore, but he had seen that Sin was hurting, too. Cane could be there for both of the struggling men, a lighthouse in the storm. The sinner had been all too willing to lean on him, and it came with a gift that Cane was equal parts elated and devastated to receive.
“But you’ll help me?”
“There’s something else,” he eventually said. “My name.”
Canaan grit his teeth as the man’s name echoed in his mind. Not Sinjin Fai. Another name. His true name. He leaned over his desk to grab an old, feathered quill pen from a coffee cup that housed a dozen other writing instruments.
Instead of using ink, Cane pressed the tip of the quill to his palm and pierced the skin. Bright, red, too-warm blood welled up from the cut and was siphoned into the pen. He then wrote three words on a square of rich cardstock with filigree embossed corners. Tohias. Tohias Sanchez. While the paper dried, Canaan got up to clean the pen, erasing all traces of his blood from its well. When he reclaimed his seat, the sinner’s name stared back at him in all of its dark red glory.
He was glad to have what this name meant; it meant he had the sinner’s trust, but he did not want the name itself. It came with too-great a power. It wasn’t that Cane didn’t trust himself to hold such power over Sinjin, it was that he could not give him anything like it in return. Along with trust and loyalty, Cane placed high value on equality.
Memories came to mind from a very cold December night more than a year ago.
“My name,” he said. “I want you to know my name.” That was important. “My mother doesn’t have one, you know. She doesn’t have one, because if she did and anybody knew it -- they could control her. Completely. Bend her to their will. Command an aspect of Death.”
Realization hit him hard and Canaan shook his head a few times before rocking back onto his side to face Salvador. He propped himself up on an elbow and said very seriously, “Don’chou ever tell it ta me, den. I do not ever wanna control you. I don’ want...anymore power over you den you have over me.”
“Ah, mi égida,” Salvador said quietly. “That’s exactly why I want you to know.”
It was enough that Salvador trusted him to want to share it. Of course he was curious, but the trust itself was all he needed.
“I trust you with my life, you know this?”
That was something Cane could give the Spaniard. He trusted his lover with his life as well, but he would not take the man’s name when he had nothing to offer him in return. His own name held no such power.
He hadn’t thought Sin’s did, either, but he was wrong. It was only after Sinjin had given it to him that the sinner explained what it meant, and it was a gift that Cane did not want to keep.
“No.” He shook his head, drawing back his hand from where it had been used to point at Sin to rake through his hair instead. “I have de means of erasing it from my memory. I can erase hearing it from Ana’s lips. I can erase hearing it from yours.”
That is what he intended to do now.
Canaan held both hands over the blood-stained parchment and began to speak the spell in an undertone. The quietly whispered Chthonian words filled the room with a dark power that practically hummed with life. It made his skin tingle and his eyelids droop. The parchment burst into flames, leaving the rest of the desk and its contents untouched, until the sinner’s name was nothing but a pile of ash. When the fire died out, the spell hit Cane like a strong wave. It pushed him back into his seat and his head lolled back as the tendrils of magic surged through his mind in search of the two specific moments he had outlined in the spell: the first time Ana had spoken the name Tohias and the moment when its entirety had come from Sinjin’s own lips. With both of those memories erased, the other instances of having heard it would fall like dominoes, one after the other, gone… gone…
He woke up nearly an hour later still seated in his chair. The effects of the spell made him feel a little cloudy, but it had succeeded. More than succeeded, it had worked perfectly. The lengthy letter he had written to himself detailing the events of the day they had visited Ana in Spain and the reminder that Sinjin had given him an immense amount of trust were not needed. The spell had done only what it was meant to do and had touched nothing more.
The only thing left to do was meet Sal for lunch, and boy was he hungry. Working complicated magic always made him ravenous.
Tensions were high.
He had meant to blow up an oil refinery with Salvador today, but an early morning voicemail changed everything. They took the time to say their goodbyes in a memorable way, and then Canaan watched Salvador pen a letter to Sinjin at the tiny kitchen table while he consumed several pieces of cold, hawaiian pizza for breakfast.
Canaan didn’t want to wait for Salvador to finish; his letters often happened over the course of several hours. The sinner already had quite the head start on him. He needed to get on a plane, and quickly.
“Put it in the book.”
But Cane wasn’t positive that the sinner had taken his book with him to Madrid, so after leaving Salvador alone at the Burrow, he made a pitstop at the Deadwood apartment that Sinjin called home.
The Deadwood stood at the end of what was likely once a cul-de-sac, destroyed by a fire that looked decades old. Most of the buildings were already beginning to become reclaimed by the woods that crept up along the borders, thick vines and crumbling brickwork that tangled and fought for space in the night time sky. The Deadwood itself was no different -- the thick, old tree that burst up through its center made the apartment complex look like it had been uninhabited for years, and even the front door that lead to a winding set of stairs gave no signs of life. Most of the first floor was a hollowed shell standing on its (surprisingly stable) support beams, partially maintained by the tree that sat in the center, still very much alive.
And there were other signs of life, too, once someone was curious enough to take the first few steps up the stairs. Like the fat, insipid-looking cat that sat inconveniently just inside the front door of the first floor apartment, like she was waiting for Cane. Maybe she was. He idly wondered if Sinjin had forgotten to fill her food dish before leaving (not that he planned to check).
The apartment was little more than two or three rooms, though the entirety of the layout was open thanks to the tree that pushed through the floor and up into the ceiling, likely eliminating where a wall once was. It was plain, almost sparsely decorated: a couch, a bed in one corner, a small kitchen, and a table with a few chairs, all in line of sight of tall sets of windows that faced back toward the wilds that always threatened to overtake the building.
It felt a little strange to be snooping about the sinner’s home, but he was a man on a mission. He opened no drawers or cupboards in pursuit of the book, but combed the various surfaces in each room for any sign of it. After several minutes of searching, Cane located the leather bound journal laying on the couch. He touched the curled, scorched corners with a reverent hand. It looked exactly like the one he had put away out of sight for Salvador.
He had finally managed to get the younger Spaniard to tell him what had hurt him so much. Words written on the pages of the book he now held in his hands had cut his lover to the quick, and how quickly the man had bled out. It pained him to remember Salvador’s tears, the ones from last night and all the other that had been shed over the course of the week. Canaan thumbed the edge of the book’s cover, but he was not tempted to open it. He placed it deep within the safety of his backpack, tucked beneath his haphazardly packed clothes.
It was here on this very couch where Sinjin had told him about the trouble that concerned his sister. Cane had offered his help, certain that Salvador would accompany them in the end. But then there had been all this business about Sinjin’s true name, preventing Cane from being part of the death party -- he didn’t want to risk the chance of learning that name again while they ran around Madrid like Monsters. The Cajun assumed Sal would still accompany the sinner, even if he himself could not… but after their lengthy discussion the night before, he understood now why Sal wanted to keep his distance from Sin.
“But -- as has been likely obvious -- I don’t often think with my head.”
The sinner’s words echoed in his head, could even picture him there on the couch where he had spoken them. If Salvador couldn’t be near Sinjin right now, then Canaan would come alongside him in support. It didn’t matter that he was angry Sin had hurt Salvador. Sin needed someone to help keep him on track, to keep him from doing something stupid. This is what it meant to be family, you filled in the gaps where others could not.
“I want to tell you everything. I want to tell you how I feel, about all the stupid, fucking insipid things that a friend would confide in another about his relationship. Or drink until I cease having thoughts, play guitar, and see how long it takes for you to want to hit me when I keep playing the wrong note.”
Canaan set his bag on the couch and moved over to the table where Sinjin had left his guitar. He smiled at the memory attached to the instrument, the night they had spent in one another’s company playing music, getting drunk and smoking joints. He’d let the sinner ‘borrow’ the guitar, knowing full well he’d likely never get it back. It was a token of friendship, blisteringly new back then, but growing stronger the more they got to know one another. The Cajun placed the guitar in its hard case, deciding to take it with him to Madrid. Maybe he could give Sinjin that night of drunken camaraderie that they both desired.
Kavi leapt up onto the couch to sniff at his backpack. Cane looked over in time to see her chewing on one of the leather zipper leads. He scowled at the animal and snatched the closest trinket he could reach, not even taking the time to see what it was before throwing it across the room at the cat. It didn’t break or make a terribly loud noise when it collided with the back of the couch, so it must not have been too heavy, but it did succeed in scaring Kavi away. The fat cat bolted away from the couch, stopping several feet away to peer at him indignantly. Then she swished her tail at him and slinked away.
The Cajun rolled his eyes, grumbling to himself about how much he hated animals. He took the guitar and his bag and left the apartment, left Rhydin, to chase after his friend.
I dream about you so often. Did you know that? None of them are good, and I don’t know why that is, but I try to remember the way they start. In the beginning, I can feel your skin on mine. A climber and a tinkerer, your hands are rough and timeworn. The rest of you is soft, unblemished. You’re not a fighter, you’re a lover. In the beginning, I can smell the smoke in your hair from burning leaves in the backyard; the soap you like so much. In the beginning, I can see your smile. The way one side of your mouth pulls up higher than the other, every single time. In the beginning, I can taste your kiss; it’s sweet like the tea you drink. In the beginning, I can hear your voice. God, your voice. It’s not… I know it’s not perfect. I’ve already forgotten it’s true sound. I miss your singing.
But it’s these things on which I dwell every time I think of you. I go through the senses: touch, taste, smell, sight… sound.
Knowing I’ll never hear you speak again is like a cold knife through the chest.
I sometimes wonder if you can see me from where you are. I don’t know what to believe anymore. If you’re in heaven or in hell. If you’re nothing. If your soul has gone to inhabit another vessel. I like to think you can, that you can see how far I’ve come from the mess of a man you left behind. I want you to see who I’ve become: a man who isn’t hiding anymore, a man who accepts the way he was made.
You haven’t been replaced, I want you to know that. Though, if it’s true that you can see me, then you already know that. Maybe I had to say it for my own benefit. Taneth said something the other night that rubbed me the wrong way. She didn’t mean anything by it, but it got me thinking about how other people look at… I shouldn’t give a **** what anyone thinks and I don’t, for the most part. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t like that. I wanted to tell her I’m still so much in love with you that it makes me ache.
I didn’t think I’d ever be able to love another person, not after what happened. But then I found a friend in someone who was just as lost as me. We neither of us tried to fix the other, just offered a hand to hold and a listening ear. Our journeys are our own, but we’re walking in the same direction. I like having him at my side. Somewhere along the way it turned into more. I’m still not sure how it happened, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I hope you can see me. If you can see me, then you can see him. You can see how much he means to me, the impact he’s had on my life in such a short amount of time. If you can see me, then I know you’re happy for me.
No one could ever be you for me, there’s only you in that place in my heart, my love. But it hurts to go there and visit that place. You’re just a ghost. I can’t see you. I can’t touch you. I can’t taste you, or smell you, or hear you. I love you and I can’t have you. It kills me. I look forward to the day your memory doesn’t run me through.
They say that time's supposed to heal ya
But I ain't done much healing
I said it out loud.
I love you.
I’ve been trying to avoid even thinking it, but tonight I spoke it aloud. It wasn’t even a timid whisper in the dark, I admitted it to someone else. There is a witness. I can’t pretend it’s not true anymore.
I love you.
For months I’ve agonized over it; whether or not to tell you, how to go about doing so, wondering if you might love me back. I want to tell you everything about me, to give you the few secrets I hold dear because I trust you to keep them.
I love you.
But this back and forth thing we have has been eating me alive. Am I coming, am I going? Should I stay, should I leave? Touch you, don’t touch. Smile, ignore. At least he gave me some insight. He told me you’re guarded; that when you’re out in the world, you’re drowning. It helped me see that you’re not two different people, one for me and one for everyone else. He shone a different light on things, and I see now that I should be flattered. You’re not drowning when you’re with me.
I won’t let you drown, because I love you.
I only wish that I could tell you. Sinjin suggested we go away, to reconnect. I told him it wasn’t like that between us. We’re not a couple. Even if I did pour my heart you, I’m not sure we ever could be -- not in the conventional sense. I told him that I felt selfish for wanting to tell you. He was confused. He didn’t understand. I could hear it in his voice when he asked me why.
It’s unfair that I have these feelings when I can’t seem to make room anywhere in my life. Not anything more than what we already share. And it’s not that you are just an afterthought. No, ma chere, you are so much more than that. I give you everything that I can. I won’t stop doing that, but you deserve more. It would be unfair of me to tell you because… because I think I would hurt you in the end.
”Love is not enough to sustain a relationship.”
I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the pain it causes and I’m not going to do that to you. I love you too much.
“She can’t stop you from loving her even if she doesn’t know.”
He’s right. You can’t stop me.
I love you.
I’m just never going to tell you.
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