“You’re wearing Kallan’s coat,” I said.
“I am,” Bergen answered with his grin.
“It’s been a while,” I said.
I looked at Bergen. He looked at me. He was calm despite the stern look in his eyes.
He said nothing, waiting for me to speak. Bergen always knew when not to speak.
“She said I needed comfort,” I said.
He watched and waited.
“We talked about Angel, the Death Men.” My voice cracked. “The nightmares.”
I took a moment to fight down the tears.
“I told her how I wanted to scrub the skin from my body.” I stared down at my hands wishing right then to rip the flesh of my bones, likes it soiled me somehow.
“How it was all because I craved comfort.” I looked at Bergen. Compassion replaced his stern gaze. “And how I never got it when I needed it most. She told me how to help Angel. How to stop the screams.”
“How?” he asked, turning to me as if he knew.
“She said I need to send you in to speak to her.”
I had expected surprise. Instead, he nodded and looked at the floor as if processing everything I had just said.
“She said my wanting to scrub my skin off was a form of self-punishment. And that with comfort, it will go away.”
“Bergen. I don’t know how to comfort. I don’t even know what it is. What it feels like. What it looks like.”
“There’s something else,” he said to me.
“There is.” I stared at my hands again.
“I was thinking about Ireland. How if I went to Ireland right now, she said I would be disappointed.”
“Would you be?”
“No,” I said. “I’m certain of it.”
“Because of what it is I expect from her.”
“And what do you expect from her?”
“It’s like my forest. A whole country filled with forest. An island. It’s simple. The people are easy going, passionate, affectionate… Like me.”
“You’d go to not feel so alone.”
“I would go to not feel so alone… And then I thought of him.”
“And how I love him. How I still love him. And I asked myself why. That’s when I realized, I would fall in love with almost anyone in Ireland.”
“Then why him?”
“There are some secrets of the heart not even I dare speak of.”
Bergen nodded, and unfastened his belt.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going in to speak to Angel.”
He dropped his belt of supplies and arms on the floor leaving only his trousers, his boots, Kallan’s coat, and his Firstborn. I watched him remove his Firstborn from his back, sheath and all and take to carrying it at his side instead. The black longsword looked out of place at his side.
“And you’re going to speak to her like that?” I pointed at his attire and he gave me his prized smirk.
“Firstborn goes where I go,” he said.
He waited while I finished, his things dumped carelessly around the floor.
“What of you?” he asked.
“I… need to go to my husband… and learn what comfort is.”
“Hm.” Bergen nodded. “Well, good luck.”
“You too,” I said and watched him walk from the room.
Comfort. I don’t understand.
I turned and saw my Erik. Smiling wide I breathed his name.
“Erik,” I whispered.
“What am I if not comfort?”
“Created in your mind to supply what you needed most… Understanding. Empathy. Compassion.”
“I’ve never known these things,” I said.
“Which is why you made me. Which is why you needed me.”
“Why did you go away?” I asked.
“You decided you didn’t need comfort, remember? It made you weak.”
“It was. It did.”
“You threw away everything you viewed as need.”
“Need,” I said. “Desire. They can all be taken away. Used against me.”
“So you threw it away.”
“Elizabeth,” he said.
I looked at Erik.
“What am I?” he asked.
“You held me when I cried,” I said. “You cradled me and let me sob into you.”
“But why me? Why not Bergen?”
“You were unloved,” I said. “You die alone and unloved. No one should die without knowing love. No one,” I said. “Like me. I saw you in me.”
“You related. We were both unwanted. Unloved. So you sought your needs in me.”
“The music,” I said remembering his violin.
“The wide open space.”
“And the moonlight,” I said.
“And Tribble,” he added.
“That…” he said. “Is comfort. Cats are the master of receiving comfort.”
“They’re soft. They purr. They smile at me.”
“And every time you touched her—”
“Every time she entered the room, she purred.”
“And you were at ease. You didn’t need me,” Erik said. “When you had Tribble.”
“I was sixteen.”
“When I went away. Tribble was tactile.”
“The abuse got worse…”
“And Angel started screaming. I wasn’t going to be enough anymore. You needed something physical. Something that shared your world with you.”
“And when Tribble died…”
“I lost my only source of comfort,” I said.
“You held out for barely a year… And then you found Raven.”
“Raven,” I whispered. “Erik.”
“I loved you.”
“Tribble isn’t here anymore.”
“No. She isn’t. But Hosea is.”
“Why would I look to a human for comfort, when my cats and my gardens are always readily available.” My body shook with the rising rage. “Why would I ever turn away from a cat that is always there, ready to love me without question, for a human whose mood I must wait for? A cat is always there. A human isn’t.”
“Because you seek to connect with humans.”
“You want me to trust that I can close my eyes and forget everything… and that he will stay awake and alert.”
“You want to be weak.”
“You want to be able to weak. You want the choice. You want to be able to give in to that… just once.”
“Why lash out?”
I said nothing.
“Even now you feel vulnerable.”
I hugged myself and turned away.
“I hate romance,” I said.
“Isn’t that what romance is? Just comfort? Being in the here and now?”
“Stop the world I want to get off,” he said.
“I want to want the romance. I want to accept the comfort.”
“And what was Raven?”
“Lie your sweet head down on me,” I muttered, remembering his arms wrapped around me and all at once, I was at ease.
“Son of a bitch,” I said. “He did teach me comfort after all.”
“Now,” Erik said. “Go find your husband.”
Angel screamed. Clutching her head, she rocked back and forth on her knees. From the shadows, I watched. She stopped long enough to wrap her arms around her naked filthy self, and she screamed. Gasping, she sobbed.
The chains on her legs had cut through her ankle, leaving behind a bloody chafed limb where the chain still clung to her. Her spine, enhanced by starvation, protruded from her back as she knelt on the stone floor, hunched over. Her black hair hung, filthy and ragged like her. And again, she threw her head back and screamed.
“Angel,” I spoke from the shadows.
I could see the madness in her eyes as she sat up. Her wide eyes found me right away and I stepped from the darkness. Bad idea. She fell back exposing the small breasts decreased in size from the starvation. There was very little of her left.
“Sh. Sh. Sh.” I hushed. She reminded me so much of a beaten horse. Wild and starved. A ragged wraith of what she had once been. What she once could have been.
“You’re alright,” I said to her.
She looked at me like she couldn’t understand my words. I crouched to the ground, laid down my Firstborn and held out my hands. Slowly, I approached her.
Her wild eyes searched me. Keep talking, I thought. Keep talking.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” I slid forward, slowly, my hand raised out. Her eyes stared at my hand as if it were my sword. “You’re safe now.”
Safe. The word snapped her attention to my face and I repeated the words. “You’re safe.”
“Come,” I said. “Everything is alright now. Everything is going to be alright now.”
I managed to get close enough and my fingers brushed her cheek. She turned her face and bit me. And I let her.
“Sh. Sh. Sh.” I hushed her. A tear slid down her face. Her breathing was irregular. I could see her panic set in. I let her have my hand as I slid Kallan’s coat from my shoulders. The motion was enough to startle her and she released my hand.
“You’re safe, Angel,” I said. “I’m here now.”
Panic. She fell back into the floor. Her breathing raced with fear.
Before she could flinch or move, I threw the coat around her shoulders covering the filth on her skin and her nakedness.
Her body froze under the weight and I could see it in her eyes. She had shut down. She slipped into another realm to escape this one.
“Not anymore,” I said, and, taking Angel into my arms, I rose her up from the floor, and pulled her into me. In her state, I rocked her and pressed her head into me. And as I rocked her, I did only what I only I knew how.
Come from the Shadows
The door is there.
Put down your fear.
The sunlight beckons.
The light is there.
Put down your guard.
Within this darkness
You were alone.
Too hurt, too broken to see.
But I am here
Calling to you
I’ll take you up
and hold you.
I’ll carry you from the dark
But first you must come to me.
Put down your fears.
The time to grieve is at an end.
The sunlight waits for you.
I’m here and ready to carry you.
Put down your fears.
Dry your tears.
Find your strength.
“Put down your fears,” I whispered. “You’re safe now, Angel,” I said. “I’m here. Put down your fears, sweet Angel.”
I felt her eyelashes on my chest as she blinked and then, without thinking, I tightened my hold on her, and kissed the top of her head.