Wings of desire (3)

For the first time, he saw traces of fear in her eyes. And yet, she stood before him, unflinching, brave. Questioning his horrible words, his horrible soul.

-I don’t think you could hurt me -she simply said, but he caught the faint quiver of her lower lip.

-You don’t know me… you don’t know what I’m capable of -he turned away, walked to his desk and fell on the chair. Its legs squeaked under the weight of his burdened conscience. She saw his back, hunched to protect himself from her inquisitive eyes. Adding to the strange landscape of silence and uncertainty, muffled stamps could be heard in the background as they tried to hit the heavy rocks.

-What exactly did you do just now? -she asked, wondering how lasting the effects of his endeavours would be.

-I stopped them from coming closer -he said, or rather, muttered, his head resting on his palm. The mask lay on the desk, he didn’t bother putting it back on. Her glance fell on the quaint sparkle of light that hit the rim of the mask; its shadow lay deformed and deeply dark on its side, but as she took a step closer to him, it grew smaller. When she was standing behind him, she saw no shadow at all. She watched, fascinated, wondering.

-You shouldn’t come close to me, either -he growled, slightly shifting his weight on the chair.

She heard him, and his words of not so long ago still reverberated in her mind. She had no reason to doubt him: whatever he told her in the past had always been the truth. She listened to heavy tools hit rocks, partsof which would occasionally splash into the shallow water. Echoes hit the cave walls in an unorderly rhythm, and she listened to the sounds, fascinated by them, not even occurring to her that behind those walls people were trying to save her life.

Christine, with the enamoured heart of a prey that knows it will soon perish, knew that she had to try saving her Angel. He had done so much for her that she knew she was forever indebted. She probably owed her life to him. Touching his shoulder was the only thing she wanted to do. As she did so, she felt his muscles tense under her fingers, his flesh becoming rocks, his back rounding up even more to shield himself from what seemed to be his greatest enemy: her presence. She stepped around him, reached for his left hand and gently tried to force him to turn on his chair and face her.

-Listen to me -she softly murmured, pulling and pulling until he was facing her, albeit with his face turned. His curls were falling to cover his scar. -You can’t keep me here forever… and you can’t kill me.

-I damn well can! -his thunderous reply came without any hesitation. -I could crush you between my hands if I wanted!

-Yes, you’re powerful… I know -she whispered, then knelt in front of him, her lush dress making it soft for her knees despite the hard stone floor. -But this power also makes you weak… and strong, when you have to be. How many times were you strong for me, when I was weak? And how many times have you been weak to spare someone? You spared me… because you’re strong enough to overcome your own strength.

His fingers were like shaking petals between her hands. He felt utterly lost and inert, she knew he was withholding his power for her sake. A sudden flash veiled her vision and showed the two of them in an inseparable embrace, entangled, body and soul, the same power that he was withholding now sending waves of joy to her very core. She blinked, but her vision made her drop her trembling hands. She averted her gaze, trying to discern if the sounds behind the wall were getting louder or not.

-You’re stripping me of my strength, Christine -his voice was resigned, subdued. He lifted his face to meet her eyes, and she was once again shocked at the sight of his scar. -I can see it in your eyes that I’m frightening you… that I’m disgusting you… I should have long ago killed you, and killed myself, to end this torture… but I can’t. I can’t -he added, speaking to himself rather than her.

She watched his scarred face, looking for emotions in it, but he was averting his unmarred side this time, and his scarred skin was in itself like a mask: impenetrable, keeping all inner turmoil within.

-I’m not scared of you, Joshua -she spoke, gently saying his name, making him stir slightly in his seat.

As the incessant drumming of metal on rocks continued, he slowly turned to face her once more, but kept his gaze on the ground. She followed his eyes, she realized he was looking at her hands.

-It may not be my real name -he uttered, the sway of an invisible wind making his torso shift. -No one knew my name, they just called me ‘freak’. I was being carried from village to village, people paid money to see my ugly face… I was the monster in the circus, not even the bearded woman attracted as many curious people as I did -he added, not without pride. -One night the lion-tamer threw me a piece of raw meat, leftovers from the beast’s dinner, and said, ‘Hey you, I shall call you Joshua from now on’.

She listened in silence, her heart drumming in her chest.

-I asked him why Joshua… and he said, ‘Because I still have faith in a generous God’. I remember he smiled at me… then grabbed his bottle of wine and hid in his tent.

-He must have cared for you -she swallowed, wishing she could touch him.

-He died that night -he cackled, before his pain contorted the healthy side of his face. -His tent burnt down, they said he started the fire himself.

She bit her lip, clasping her fingers helplessly, noticing how his attention shifted at the movement of her hands.

-He gave you a beautiful name -she tried to smile, but suddenly, amidst the motionless peace of their untroubled presence, she started feeling more scared than ever before.

-I loathe my name -he grunted, a hand unwittingly lifting to clasp his hair. He pulled at his curls as if wanting to cause himself physical pain. -It only reminds me of how I lost everything, and how I never got anything in return.

-Yet, here I am -she whispered, searching his face. The scar was not so frightening to her any more; it looked soft to her, pained, and very lonely, living its own life on the cheek of its owner.

-You are here because I brought you -he thundered, defying her wish to placate him.

-Had you called me… I would have come -she said, ready to face his eyes that were still averted.

-You’re lying -he looked at her, his eyes sending lightnings of pain into her soul. -You’re lying to save yourself…

-No! -she cut him off, leaning forward. -I’m telling the truth.

He shook his head, shaking off a hand that tried to touch his. He passed an inert hand over his scar, his fingers lingering on the groovy texture of skin as if touching it for the first time. She saw him freeze for a moment before the familiarity of it settled: it was his face, his scar, the mask he had been given by a not so generous God.

-I can’t go out to get you more food -he said after letting his hand fall. -They will sooner or later get in… and I will have to face them.

-No, you don’t. Not if you let me go -she eagerly replied.

His brows shadowed his pitch black eyes, his lips quivered in wrath.

-And I am supposed to believe you?! When you’re so keen on running away from me?!

A tear escaped her lashes and fell, followed by another. Her eyes were so pure, so hurt.

-I’m only trying to save you… like you saved me -her quiet sobs shook her tiny frame.

Mesmerized by her tears, he watched her with eyes wide open, stranded between hope and faithlessness. Could she be telling the truth? He could not imagine her lying… to anyone. Ever. She was too untainted.

-You’re lying… -he said, this time, without belief. It was a bad habit he could not yet break: mistrusting everyone, only believing the horror in people’s eyes each time they saw his scar.

Now it was she shaking her head, powerless against his fear. She felt crushed, mutilated in spirit, there was nothing she could say to make him believe otherwise. She was to expect either her own death, or his, without fail, without anything she could possibly do to change things.

-I don’t want to die… -she was crying, tears streaming down her face.

He laughed, a grotesque, surreal cackle above the banging of the tools that stopped for a minute at the sound of his merriment.

-Of course you don’t. Everyone turns into a coward in the face of death… you all want to save your skins. You’re just like them! -he finished, towering above her, tiny and shaking as she was on the floor.

-I don’t want to die… it would mean not hearing your voice again -she looked at him pleadingly, the pain in her eyes breaking his defences one by one, peeling them off like layers, like ribs that caged his heart for so long, until he felt he was exposed to her completely, uncovered and vulnerable as a heart that beats its last beats.

He could not believe his ears, or his eyes. Her sobs, her tears, her broken stance could all deceive him, like his whole life he had been deceived by compassionate glances that turned into mockery the moment his fierce attention slackened. But his heart he could not deny, or shut off: his heart was drumming, She loves you, she loves you, she loves you, more and more deafeningly. The words meant more than anything in the world before, they meant… freedom. The freedom from a dark place he had always hated, he had always tried to escape from.

-I don’t want to lose you, Christine… -he moaned, unable to stop his tears that tickled the healthy side of his face, and left his scar unfeeling.

She looked at him through her tears and smiled, preparing to get to her feet as there came an explosion of sound, rocks rolling off each other, water receiving them with angry splashes, and a multitude of human voices shouting above each other.

It was only a matter of seconds before they reached the cave.