Susanne Beck (Swordnquill)

Acknowledgements: The other day, my muse sat on my shoulder and asked if I wouldn't mind taking a couple of old friends out for a spin. Thinking on it a bit, I decided that I'd missed those old friends dearly and, even if I didn't know what they were up to now, I'd like to see what they might have been up to then, from another point of view.

When the request was made for a story of a certain type, this particular idea seemed to flow well. Then my computer crashed and I thought all was lost. But with the help of a couple of friends (Soj and E), I was able to pen this, and I think it turned out okay.

Linda? A couple of years ago, you asked me to write you a Valentine's Day story. Unfortunately, events came up that made that an impossibility. So here it is now, a couple years late, and a bit different from what you asked for. I don't know even if you'll ever get the chance to read it, but I hope you do, because the sentiments remain the same. This one's for you, hon.

The clock on the stand tells me that dawn is still hours off, and yet here I am, awake. It happens often, these early arisings, but I've learned to cherish them, for they bring to me a strange, almost melancholy sort of peace. In these hours of darkness before the earth awakens to greet the day, my demons lie still and quiet. They are always with me, these ghosts and sins of my past, but in the pre-dawn hours, their call seems faraway and, mostly, unimportant.

All my life, people have called me the strong and silent type, not given much to flights of fancy or too-grave introspection, and while I'd argue with them on the second, the first is true enough. Still waters run deep, so they say, and what's inside me seems very deep indeed. So deep that sometimes I can't see past the darkness inside, but I know, finally, that there will always be a light to call me home.

My light.

My love.

She lies sleeping in our bed in that endearing way of hers, looking like nothing so much as a young child, exhausted after a hard day's play. She's far from a child, of course, though to look at her now, with the moonlight shining on a face so innocent and beautiful, you might think her untouched by life's harsh realities.

And you'd be wrong, but I wouldn't find fault with the mistake. Even now, after everything that the world has used to beat her down, her spirit remains unbroken and a sense of goodness shines from her as from no one else I've ever known. It's that goodness that keeps me sane, and I know, without a doubt in my soul, that without it, I would be utterly lost.

Yes, she has changed, grown even more beautiful with the passing years until my heart aches just to look upon her, but when she's like this, sleeping deeply with the moon shining on her, I can easily see the young woman she was when our eyes first happened to meet.

What I can also see, and that much too easily, is who I was during that long ago time, and that person, with me still, brings me much shame and regret. My demons owned me then, and while that should have frightened me, it didn't. At the time, I believed that they were who I was, all that I was, and all that I would ever become. Those were the facts as I knew them, and I'd grown used to accepting—cherishing, even—the role of defiler, of murderer, of monster. It was one that I'd learned to play well and, truthfully, with an eagerness that would give any sane being pause.

The one advantage I had, however, in my darkness and because of it, was the knowledge that my person and my privacy—the two things I cherished most of all—would be respected out of fear of the possible consequences I would personally deliver.

And in that time, and in that place, that was the most I could ever hope to receive. The freedom from having to look over my shoulder every minute of every day was, after all, the only real freedom I had.

And it was more than most others would ever be granted.

My grand reentrance into the gallery of the wretched was as carefully choreographed as any musical on any stage from back alleys to Broadway. It was intentional, of course, this pitiful bit of showmanship meant to show who was servant and who was Master, but as I've often heard, it's the animals who run the zoo, no matter what their keepers might think.

Word of my return had spread through the populace like wildfire driven onward by a strong wind. The audience was in place, stoked into a frenzy that had the men on either side of me trembling with a fear they tried to hide by pulling on my chains and attempting to assert their dominance over me, a poor, humbled evildoer receiving her just desserts.

That I wasn't acting the part made them angry, but this was my domain and frankly, guns or no, they were too far out of their depth to do harm to anyone but themselves.

I could hear my name, the one given me in this very place years before, being shouted to the rafters with an intensity which bordered on the savage. Not that this was at all surprising, since savagery built this place as much as the bricks and mortar that made up its imposing walls.

I won't lie and tell you that the sound of it didn't straighten my shoulders and cause my chest to puff out like some rooster strutting along a dungheap. I was who I was, after all, the homage seemed fitting for the conquering hero returned.

The noise swelled like a living thing, echoing off of the cement walls, the metal railings and staircases and bars meant to keep us caged like the animals we were until it seemed as if the world was nothing but the sound of my name being chanted over and over and over again.

Bodies merged, faces too, into one massive being pressing on me from all sides, hands reaching out, trying to touch me as if I were some dark idol come to life with the power to grant their every evil desire. It was a strange feeling, being in the center of this conflagration, and yet apart from it as well.

One or two faces stood out with some clarity as those I'd known before, but I attached no emotion to their seeing. My emotions, like my heart, were dead things, too desiccated to ever have the hope of returning to life again. I am an island, I thought, bringing up a snatch of song I'd once remembered hearing. I touch no one and no one touches me.

As a mantra, I found that it fit like a glove.

My trembling bookends having finally managed to part the crowd as if with the Staff of Moses, they urged me toward the first of the steps that would lead me to my new, and permanent, home.

Four steps up toward the first riser, and the first of my surprises awaited me. Three women stood before me, women I recognized and had once called friends. They were smiling at me, and the joy in their eyes sounded a hollow echo in my soul which, frankly, stunned me.

Perhaps it was that temporary loss of my emotional footing that allowed what happened next. For before I could draw back behind the shields of who I was, she was there, looking at me in a way that I'd never been looked at before. And for the first time in so many years that I'd lost count, I felt an emotion I thought buried forever.


I'd been looked upon in love before, and in lust, in fear, and in hatred, by those who were needy, and those who were greedy, by those who wanted my outer beauty, and those who wanted my inner darkness.

But never, ever before had someone looked at me as if they could see all that I was, inside, outside, on the surface, and down deep, deeper even than my demons, down to where the shriveled remains of my hopes and dreams lay scattered like so much dust over a deserted wasteland.

In that one simple look, those eyes, those innocent, child-like eyes laid claim to my soul with an effortlessness that made a mockery of any outward power I'd heretofore pretended to possess.

My first reaction was anger. How dare she strip bare all that I was and leave me vulnerable as a babe in arms before her? How dare she presume to look beyond the outward trappings, the inward darkness, to a spark of light so secret that it was unknown even to myself?

How dare she?

To me!

My second reaction was denial. Denial that anything so profound had just happened. No, I told myself, it was just a trick of the light, just a coincidental happenstance that occurred from time to time, meaningless as whatever life was left to me here. I was who I was, and if this little slip of a girl presumed to think that she'd seen something that wasn't there, well, she would soon learn the hard way about fantasies and the destruction they could cause.

She reached out to touch me, and I don't know what would have happened had she succeeded. But the guard pushed her away, breaking the connection of our eyes as he did so, and allowing me to regain my stability once again.

Still, she was a pretty young thing, with a body lush and ripe and just perfect for the taking. My lips formed a smirk to negate anything that might have passed between us and, with the barest flick of a wink, I turned away from her and continued up the stairs, never realizing until much later that in so doing, I'd left my soul behind.

But that was then, and this is now, and the years between have been well chronicled in pen, pencil, and many spiral notebooks that stay with us still, even here in the paradise we've earned.

Yet this paradise, as lovely as it is, is but a pale imitation of the one I saw in her eyes on that warm summer's day so long ago. The one I refused to acknowledge, but was helpless to stand against.

And evermore, she grows into me, like a tree whose very roots have entwined with another so that they are more one being than two.

And still she sleeps, and still the moon caresses her and kisses her hair, as I will when I lay back down beside her and whisper into her sleeping ear all the things she means to me.

She will always be my light.

My love.

My hope.

My Angel.



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