You betrayed me into the hands of the enemy, Cezelia.
Yes, Drayven… I did. But you betrayed me first.
How? What did I do that you stand there now and watch me forced to bow at their mercy? I know you’re watching…
I can’t help but watch, because even now, you are beautiful.
Surrounded by shadows in an alleyway strewn with trash, you arch back on your knees, bathed in the light of their torches. The radiance from those flames scintillates up the brick that marks the walls of the alley and illuminates the tattoos that cover your skin. The ink forms chains around your neck and coils and twines down your arms in shapes of dragons and weapons and calligraphy that disappear beneath the waistline of your pants.
Torchlight gleams on your hair. In the glow, its strands are the color of bruises where they brush your shoulders.
I feel you standing in the shadows as I kneel before my foes.
I may bow in a space where rank urine and sewage fester in heat and banana peels ripen to the edge of rot and decay behind dumpsters, but in its midst:
Your scent, for you linger at the edge of this scene, your hair like ash, your eyes in shadow.
Your hands are traitors, though, traitors to you because they twitch, longing to help me.
And traitors to me because they don’t.
Papers rustle in the alleyway’s corners like imps whispering secrets.
Your wings span the space behind your shoulders, your feathers gleaming in hues of obsidian and refracted light.
Their glimmer reminds me of every stroke my fingers stole on your feathers while you lay beneath me on covers we’d rumpled. Your hands gripping my thighs around your hips, our breaths the only sound in our chamber…
Now your enemy’s guns glint as their muzzles aim at your sneer. Blood trickles from your lip where one struck you. Your smile as it drips life vows that you’re not afraid, though. You’ve seen a place of night where no dawn ever comes.
And you’re going to send them there.
You know I will. They cannot win. They tire of beating me because I will not break.
You tire of it because if it lasts much longer, you will break.
I will not break, but even so, as their torture of you ends and they aim their weapons, I feel relief.
Until they pull their triggers and you vault into the air, your wings going liquid. Black ribbons unwind through the light and their torches go out.
Their shots flash, helpless, in the semidarkness where your tattoos vanished.
Throats are easy to slit, but that’s not how they go. It’s the ooze of my wings’ poison that hits their necks and fills their gullets, their lungs. They drown in toxins.
Toxins I’ve never used on you, Cezelia.
You land behind me, your fingers alighting on my shoulders.
Your breath whispers in my ear. “Were you just going to watch?”
I feel you weaken, my sweet…
You always weaken after I find your pulse beneath the velvet of your hair. When my lips caress the throb of blood beneath your skin.
Race, I murmur against your heartbeat, Run for your life.
But you don’t, because you know.
Your heart is mine.
Only the dead surround us, and the refuse at our feet. Its dirty touch twirls around my ankles while your dirty exhalation caresses my skin.
No noise breaks the silence above our mingling breaths, because they are mingling now. Your arm has locked around my waist and cradles me close; your body cupping mine sways me to a music only you hear.
You’re coaxing me to shift with you.
Come slide against me, your body purrs, urging me to slide against you as I did in the bar, when drink fused with the blood in my veins, and madness egged me too far.
You danced with me this way that night four weeks after I met you.
I know your body remembers, Cezelia; it’s in the quiver under your skin: the memory of how you couldn’t be stopped. You slugged drink after drink: a maniac trying to exorcise demons already part of her, their torments in your cells, their secrets squatting in the hollows of your bone.
Dancers gyrated around us in that infected pit of humanity, undulating to the beat of stereos vibrating through the floor, and you…
You were wreathed in heat and smoke, anguished, agonized. But that night, you liberated the thing bellying inside you.
You shed the mantle of grief always wrapped around you and let my hands on your waist. I caught you like a victim on my hook and I reeled you in. You were bleeding for my kiss.
You had your first taste of my body moving on yours through our clothes.
Your eyes fluttered shut on everything else.
His face was still in my mind that night.
Would you care?
Whoever you were thinking of, a week later, you stopped fighting it.
It got out of hand.
Because you were in my hands then.
Your hands in my hair, your tattoos on my skin, your breath in my mouth, your sweat between my legs.
Those sensations altered me forever.
You laughed in the mirror as we stood side by side sharing my toothpaste. You cooked eggs and toast in my kitchen the next morning, humming and wearing my t-shirt and nothing else, your hair in a bun.
You smiled when I pressed up against you from behind.
And when I hoisted you onto my countertop, you did more than smile.
You didn’t notice the murk that filled my eyes. All those weeks, you never noticed that something unhappy burrowed beneath my charade.
I thought it was embarrassment and loss of innocence.
I thought you’d get over it.
What woman can get over her brother’s murder?
Don’t feign surprise.
Search your memory for his death.
Your fingers splay across my throat—surely your fingertips that trace my lips can find the truth in my words.
Think of my name, for surely he spoke it as your wing poison filled his mouth. My name surely bubbled from his lips on the bloody foam of your toxin.
Or maybe he sobbed it, knowing I would be unprotected. He vowed to keep me safe, his younger sister.
I found his killer, though, didn’t I? Then I gave you the smile that invited you in.
How far in?
Just far enough.
Too far for you, I think, because I got everywhere. It’s in the tremor of your body as I pull you close again and resume our sway. My victory dwells in your every shiver.
Yes, you got too far, for I was careless and you were good. But I can still strike deep.
With the dagger your hand cannot clutch hard enough?
I feel it, you know, my fingertips have found your wrist where your heartbeat runs rampant. Your fingers grasp a knife your weakness cannot wield.
Your will to harm me shreds itself on the passion you deny.
Passion cannot replace my brother.
Vengeance cannot replace him, either, and death cannot replace me. The emptiness after you’ve done it would not replace this caress. The sorrow that will overtake you will not replace my love.
This isn’t love.
Then why the hesitation? Why the hitch in your breath as I cradle your body in mine?
It’s not hesitation.
So you won’t sense the blast coming—
…a whiplash of wings…
The world explodes in a blast of air that drops out below. Your wings swoop currents over my ears as fire licks madly at our feet. A wave of incredible heat gusts over my back.
Then my legs kick into nothingness, your arm still locked around my waist. Below us, the city branches of into a hundred tributaries where moonlight leaks its streams of milk.
I betrayed the plan too soon. I’ve failed.
You think I’m that easy to kill, Cezelia?
Cinders float across my lips.
Insanity stirs in my fingertips.
Come drop the knife.
I stroke your wrist, inked in tattoo,
And drop the knife–it winks adieu.
A flash, a scar, a silver star
Upon a night sky singed in char,
The knife, like me, it falls too far.
You slide with me inside our bower
In our silken sheets, my broken flower.
Where flushes like blossoms caress your skin,
Put your anguish to sleep and let me in.
Never will you yearn for another knife.
Race, I tell your heartbeat.
Race for your life.
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