Of Mars and Moon: Mute Winter's Fall
by Cecily Hawkins
Disclaimer: This is a not-for-profit fanfic containing characters inspired by copyrighted characters. No damage is intended. This story will contain same-sex romantic and sexual relationships. Content Disclaimer: Some unhappy things will happen in this story. See note at end. This is number 14 in the series Of Mars And Moon. Each entry takes place in one day. Love and kisses as always to Shandryl for beta-reading these things.
The walls would hold, Arete reassured herself even as she felt them juddering. The walls would hold. But even if they did, the soul of the people was already damaged.
They were a nation of women, of women warriors. Proud and strong, champions of peace, love, and justice - and accustomed to living in the same. Border skirmishes, occasional renegades, these were the things they were equipped to handle. Not protracted war. Not a siege on the very heart of the kingdom, a siege they could not seem to lift, trapping the nobles in the walls of their palace and locking them away from the people who were the kingdom's lifeblood. More and more, as the fighting wore on and the death toll mounted, Arete saw the eyes of those who fought becoming blank and dull. It was not a loss of hope; like her, they believed the walls would hold, believed it to the very depths of their beings and could not comprehend any other outcome. It was instead a loss of caring.
It was the expression that stared back at her from Chantrea's face.
When, of course, she saw that face at all. Arete rubbed her hands over the smooth, undamaged texture of her uniform. The princess saw no one of her own choosing. Only those who were required to look in on her periodically could vouch that she still breathed, but even to them she was more a wraith than a person, the dwindling reflection of a former light. She would not die, but she took no interest in living. Nor any interest in the happenings of the battle that raged outside.
I should be out there, Arete thought, as she had any number of times before. I want something I can fight with my hands.
They knew now, however, that the enemy was capable of teleporting directly into the palace itself. It was necessary, then, for some of the warriors to remain on interior guard.
Arete found it cruelly ironic that she, whose failure had demonstrated the need for such guards in the first place, was assigned to be one.
The walls would hold. They would triumph. It was no longer a cheering thought.
The sound of footsteps, too heavy to be one of her soldiers, caused Arete to whirl, her circular weapon glowing in her hand. At the same time, the floor rocked beneath her, and a white shower of particles rained from the ceiling, the building weakening under the onslaught. The dust was not enough to choke or blind the child raised by the Great Red Desert, though, and she aimed for her dimly-seen target, poised to throw. "Flame chakram..." The attack phrase died stillborn on her lips.
Of all the noble warriors called to the princess' service, Melusine was the most refined, unfailingly elegant in her manner and appearance. In happier days, Chantrea had expressed envy at her grace and poise. Everything about her was musical and harmonious; her slender form, her light step, her gently waving hair, the color of the night seas. Beyond that, she was a quick shot, fleet of foot, and ruthless in her pursuit of a goal, and it was for these reasons that she and her partner had been assigned as scouts and messengers to the perimeter.
Now her uniform was torn nearly to shreds, her body marked with dirt, blood, and bruises, the golden sword in her hand - Aura's sword - blackened with grime. She stood unbending still, even battered, even weighted by the familiar body slung over her shoulder. Arete did not need medical training to know that Aura was dead. She could see it in Melusine's eyes. Another love sacrificed to this hopeless war. "What news?" she asked, and nothing more.
"We are losing." Another shocking rumble punctuated her words, and the overstressed glass of the mirrored walls began to crack. "The palace will fall within the day."
Arete's breath caught. "No."
"There is no hope." She made no motion to readjust the burden on her shoulder, although her rangy blonde partner had been taller than she was and the weight could not be inconsiderable. "The Queen orders us to assemble in the Crystal room immediately. Fetch the princess. Hurry."
Melusine did not wait for a response, but walked back in the direction from which she had come, tracking blood and dirt across the marble floors. She was a noble warrior sworn to defend Queen and princess, and she did not have the luxury of choosing to die in battle to be with her lost lover, but neither would she leave that lover behind.
As her world shattered about her, Arete broke into a run.
Terry awoke so suddenly that for a few moments she could neither move nor remember who and where she was. Her memories fitted themselves together like puzzled pieces - as did the dreams. It was impossible, she thought wildly. The last two dreams went together not like similar subconscious musings on some vague subject, but like perfect halves of a true experience. Out of sequence, but more connected than any believable coincidence, and now she better understood the despair that had assaulted her - counterpart? - when she went to confront Chantrea.
But how could dreams tell such a consistent story?
They had to be only dreams. It was unbelievable enough to think that she might have been a magical warrior in a past life, more so that Shaye could have been there with her, but Shannon and Alex? Surely they had only appeared because her subconscious remembered seeing them yesterday. Why her mind would envision Alex dead she didn't want to think about.
If there really was a story being told - how had Arete failed?
Meaningless guilt left over from my childhood, Terry insisted to herself. I still don't believe I deserve to be happy with Shaye, so I imagine myself having done something terrible that would make her hate me forever. Very simple psychology.
She sighed and tried to relax back into sleep, trying not to remember Shaye crying in that same bed the night before. Maybe that was what brought on such guilt-stricken dreams. The pain of immediate memory, not any sort of omen for the future.
"Don't cry, princess," she whispered as drowsiness restored itself in her. "I'm here now. Don't cry."
The weak February sun was glimmering through the blinds when Shaye decided that she was awake. It was only moving from the bed that seemed difficult now, not alertness. The weather had taken a turn for the chill again, making the warm cocoon of bedcovers too seductive to slip loose. She shifted her legs slightly against each other and breathed a sigh of relief that no pain twinged between them.
I did it, she thought. I'm a woman now.
She pondered that thought for a moment. No enlightening rush of maturity descended upon her.
I'm not a virgin anymore.
Shaye shivered as the conditioning she thought she'd left behind her rose up in protest. Sacred, holy virginity. Purity. The physical sign of one's devotion to God. She had left it behind. She was tarnished. She was no longer God's chosen. NO! she argued with herself. Nothing has changed. What we did was natural. What we did was loving, not profane.
But still, the memory of her maiden's blood on the sheets filled her stomach with a sick fear, that somehow she had sinned. Why had God built women to bleed, if not as a sign? There's no going back from here, the sign read. Once you have tasted of the fruit and been cast from the garden, you can never return.
She wanted to feel the warm beauty of Chantrea's love for Arete, wanted to be comforted by the knowledge that now she too could have that fulfillment, that joining of souls. If she could experience true love, she would not long for the acceptance of God and the Church. She would never feel alone again. But that night, the dreams had not come. They did not come every night, of course, but now that she found herself staggering through a sexual relationship like a mermaid first walking on dry land, she missed that reassuring guidance.
"I am still a good girl," she said aloud, startling herself. After a moment, she repeated it. "I am still a good girl."
Shaye smiled. That felt better. She was what she was.
And a good girl, she reminded herself sternly, really shouldn't spend the entire day lazing about in bed. Even if it was Saturday. She pushed down the covers and swung her legs around to the floor. At the feel of the floor, she hurried over to her wardrobe for a pair of pink bunny slippers. Barefoot was nice, but not when it was this cold! Fluffy-soft protection in place, she scurried and skidded her way to the kitchen. A quick peek down the other hall led her to assume that Terry wasn't up yet - the bedroom door was closed and the bathroom door wasn't. Humming softly to herself, she filled a cup with milk and set it in the microwave for a minute. She pulled down a bowl, the cylinder of oatmeal, and the spice shakers of cinnamon and nutmeg, anwered the insistent beeping of the completed microwave cycle, and mixed together her meal.
She heard a door open, and soon a bleary-eyed Terry staggered over to the table where she was eating. "What's for breakfast?"
Shaye blinked. "You hate breakfast. You said so."
The dark-haired girl took a moment to process that. "Yeah," she admitted, "but I thought..."
"That I would be automatically cooking for two?" She smiled and pointed an oatmeal-laden spoon at Terry. "If you want breakfast, fix it yourself."
Terry growled and snatched for the spoon, meaning it only in the sense of sleepy playfulness, but Shaye squeaked, startled, and let go of it. The utensil clattered to the floor, leaving spatters of hot cereal on Terry's long nightshirt. They both stared down at it. "Oops," Terry managed.
Shaye gathered it up and headed for the kitchen sink to clean it. "You'd better go dab that off."
"Mmm-hmm," she heard Terry answer faintly before the bathroom door closed.
A sudden flash of guilt struck Shaye as she finished washing the spoon. She hadn't been rude, had she? She was supposed to be a good girl. She stuck the clean spoon back into her cereal and rounded the corner, heading towards the bathroom. "Terry?" she called hestitantly. "I'm sorry..."
The phone rang.
Since the closest receiver was there in Terry's bedroom and Terry was in the bathroom, Shaye called, "I'll get it," and ducked into the darkened room. Her eyes rested briefly on the rumpled bedcovers before she brought herself back to business and picked up the ringing phone. "Hello?"
"Terry?" said an unfamiliar female voice.
"N-" she started.
The caller continued without waiting, her words trembling. "This is Mimi Charis. I'm calling to inform you that Alan... that Alan Talvi took his own life last night."
The world went cold. "Oh, God," Shaye whispered involuntarily.
"Call me later if you want information on the funeral arrangements," the voice finished in a rush, and the connection abruptly terminated.
Shaye stared at the phone in her hand. "Who is Alan?" she whispered, but there was no one to answer.
"Shaye?" she heard Terry yell from the bathroom. "Who called?"
Her hands shook. Slowly, dreamlike, she hung up the phone. Who was Alan? A friend? An old lover? The half-brother that Terry had mentioned? How could she possibly deliver that sort of news? What could she say? 'Did you know someone named Alan? Because he's dead. Sorry.' Or how about, 'Oh, nothing, Alan committed suicide, that's all.' She felt tears burning in her eyes. I don't even know this person and I'm crying! How can I tell her? I can't not tell her, now that I know, I can't just keep it to myself and wait for her to find out through some other means. Why did I pick up the phone? Why do I have to know? Why do I have to be the one to do this?
"Shaye?" She heard the bathroom door open. "Are you there?"
When Terry entered the room, she found the blonde standing frozen beside the desk with the phone, her face white and tear-streaked, her shoulders shaking. "Shaye?" she said softly, with horrible anticipation creeping into her consciousness. "What's wrong?"
"Alan's dead!" the girl cried, and ran from the room.
Terry pulled another pepperoni pizza pocket from the microwave, sliding the cardboard crisping sleeve off and into the trash can. It was not yet noon, but no meager breakfast food could make a dent at the emptiness inside of her. Blood for blood, she thought, and nearly choked on her mouthful of meat. Flesh for flesh.
She tore angrily into the hot food, following it with heavy swigs of Jolt, battling the black anger with caffeine. It would make her sick to her stomach later, she knew, but for this moment it made the guilt bearable. Her guilt. She was clearly to blame. She had known all too well that Alan had problems, but she had only winked at them. And for what, a pointless threat to expose her sordid past? When she was certain he couldn't prove any of it? The signs had been there from the start, clear as day, right there on his webpage. Suicide FAQ. He had been dancing with death all this time.
Terry could see him imprinted on her eyelids with every blink, kneeling with a gun to his head in stark black and white. She knew instinctively that it had been a gun. Something in his personality marked him as one who would choose a quick, violent, and very certain end. He was not like her. "Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acid stains you, drugs cause cramp," she quoted, and held her stomach as the first protests against her overindulgence registered. "Guns aren't lawful, nooses give, gas smells awful, you might as well live." It was the way she had felt, in her own teenage misery. There had been no easy way out, no simple and painless end to it all, and so she'd chosen to fight; won, at last, control over her own life. Why hadn't Alan?
The pizza pocket vanished as quickly as the first had, and Terry carelessly wiped greasy fingers on her legs, scratching her nails painfully along them. I should have said something, she thought. I am in a position of authority. It is - it was my responsibility to watch out for my students. I knew he was in trouble and I did nothing. If you see someone drowning and you look the other way, you have committed murder.
Her stomach rumbled discontentedly. She carried the dishes to the sink and shoved them in ungently, making no effort to clean them. "What does it matter?" she said aloud, followed by, "I'm talking to myself. I'm crazy."
Terry stalked back to her bedroom, letting out some of the frustration in a loud slam of the door. She flopped heavily onto the bed and rode out the mattress' rebound, then shifted restlessly from side to side. The caffeine was coruscating through her blood and muscles and succeeding only in increasing her tension and her desire to hit something. "This won't do," she grumbled, and pushed herself up to her hands and knees, circling awkwardly on the bed so that at last she could drop her head and shoulders off the end and reach for the box in the closet. Her questing fingers gripped its cardboard sides and yanked it towards her, tipping it over and spilling art and underwear across the floor. "Bingo," she muttered as her hand wrapped around a smooth bottleneck. She pulled the wine towards her and shoved herself back up onto the bed. "Oblivion, here I come."
From her tiny, tucked-away room, Shaye could hear the door slam, and she pressed her face tighter into her knees. She was cold, huddling there on her bed, but she dared not lie down and pull up the covers. She could see her mother, in her memory, lying so pale and so still in the coffin with her arms folded over her chest. That was death. Death was the absence of something warm and wonderful. Death was the loss of something irreplaceable. It didn't make that much difference whether the dead person was your family member or someone you'd never met at all. Death took a piece away from the world that you could never get back.
At least her mother had the promises of Heaven to greet her beyond the body. How could this Alan have taken his own life? Didn't he know that doomed him for eternity? How could anyone willingly give himself over to Hell? Shaye wrapped her arms around her legs and rocked quietly, cold and alone.
Is this my punishment, God? she wondered. Must people die because I have betrayed the church?
Her heart insisted that God was love and could never retaliate so unkindly. But the nagging voices that pointed the finger of sin at her called Job's name to deflate her faith.
Would God test her like Job? Would *everything* in her life die? Almost she cried out: I don't want to be Chosen anymore if it means other people have to suffer. She found, though, that she could no more turn her face from God than she could cut out her own heart. Even if some people could. "Please," she whispered. "Make me able to bear my destiny. Make me strong enough to serve Your purpose... because right now it hurts...."
But if anyone heard her prayers, there was no sign of it that day.
[Author's note: Dedicated to the real Alan, who shot himself three and a half years ago, and to a little boy who died in a household accident while I was writing this.]
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