Life and Death by Tarale Wolffe
The music played. The soft melody could only dimly be heard from the next room. The people in the lounge wanted the music more than the conversation. Those in the restaurant wanted conversation more than the music, but even with the wall between them, some hint of the melodies filtered through. It was a pleasant background to the lulls in the room. The lights were brighter than the lounge, but still dim, made to promote intimacy and privacy.
Those who came to Elysian didn't come to be seen. They didn't come to see. They came to meet with someone. They came to have a good time.
All through the room couples and small groups huddled over tables, intent on their conversation. Most of them barely spared the effort to glance up when anyone came by. So engrossed were they by their companions, they had no ability to notice anyone else.
One table held only a single female. Anywhere else, she'd have been flooded by invitations and unsolicited offers. Her table would be filled with drinks as men–and women–breathlessly awaited her decision. Anywhere else, she'd have stood out for her long blond hair; her slender form encompassed by the long, form fitting gown of the palest blue. Here, her solitude marked her as different.
Her arms crossed on the table before her, eyes focused on the spot before her. She never looked up. Anytime a waiter came by, she waved them off with an elegantly raised hand. She waited for something. Had been waiting for over an hour. Several of the staff eyed her in sympathy, believing her stood up.
The lounge music swelled as the door opened. It swung closed behind a man, tall and pale with dark hair. He wore a suit of black. He arrived alone. He stood at the door, silently, unmoving, his head turning to take in the dimly lit room. When he began moving, it was toward the woman, who still didn't look up.
As he arrived, his shadow–what there was of it– fell over the woman, but she didn't look up.
"The last time I danced with Death, I stepped on his toes."
The words were mild, no clue as to whether it was threat or promise, but the man took no notice of it. He smiled, revealing white teeth.
"Why should this time be any different?"
She glanced up, taking in the tall, dark form standing over her. A smile lit her face, lighting up her eyes. She rose, turning to hold her hands to him. He took them, fingers closing around her, skin cool against hers.
He raised them to his lips. She barely felt them, but it sent a silent thrill through her. Her smile widened. Her fair skin flushed.
"You're still a charmer," she said, drawing him to the chair next to her.
He went willingly, his dark suit creasing around him. She released him to smooth her dress behind her knees as she sat. Once settled, her hand found his once more.
"Only where you're concerned," he said, eyes drinking in her features like a man starved. The feel of her warmth against his was all he strove for.
"I never lie to you."
"Heh." She brushed the hair from her face. "Did you get my present?"
"I did. It was beautiful."
"I'm glad. It took a long time to get it right."
"I don't know how you let go of them all."
"I know they're going to good hands. You do take care of them, right?" She asked, lips pulling down in sudden worry for the precious things left to his care.
"I do," He assured. "Each one's a treasure. You've a mind beyond explanation."
His free hand reached over, cupping her face, feeling the smooth, soft skin under his fingers. As she leaned into the touch, closing her eyes as the coolness seeped into her, he wished he could do more. Feel more. Take all that was offered. If he did, she would die.
Turning her head, she brushed her lips against his palm.
"Good. Each one is a piece of my heart sent through time and with careful preparation."
He sighed, pulling away. "I wish there was something I could give you; some way to prove my love as you do."
"But you do." She clasped both his hands in hers. "With every look, with every gesture, with every touch, you prove yourself."
She inhaled sharply, yanking her hands from his. She turned them over, staring at the angry red glaring up at her.
"Oh no," he breathed, pulling away from her as his brows furrowed. They could only stare at the evidence of their doom. Of her destruction should they continue.
"How can you love me when my very touch harms you?" he asked, eyes closing to block the sight. It didn't work, her burned flesh was already seared in his mind, as it always was whenever he touched her too long.
She reached for him, the warmth of her skin felt, even with the bare breath of space she kept between them. She meant to comfort him, but all he felt was despair. This was the woman he loved. The woman that could never be his.
"I could love you," she told him, "if I never touched you again for eternity."
His hands came for her, hovering over her arms without ever connecting. "To never touch you again, that would be agony."
She smiled. "Agony," she agreed.
"And yet hurting you is agony enough."
He withdrew, evading the hands that reached for him. She cradled her hands to her chest, the tender skin sheltered from his gaze. She didn't meet his gaze, and though his eyes never left her, he didn't try to catch them. The silence stretched between them.
"Perhaps," he said, breaking first, "I could give one back."
She laughed, the sound loud enough to carry. A few glanced up, then returned their attention to their own matters. Neither noticed.
"Give one back?" she asked, a smile on her lips. "Darling, you've tried that before. They had a fit. They still tell stories about them."
"I could do something different this time."
"Like what?" she asked. "They already talk of vampires, and zombies. What else would you give their story tellers?"
She continued to smile at him, and he was breathless at the love in her eyes. That she would love him meant the world.
"I got close with the second one," he protested. "He only needed blood to survive. He could get it without killing anyone."
"And next you will succeed?"
"Perhaps. If it would mean I could prove my love for you, as you do for me, then it would be well worth it."
Her smile faded, saddened by his words. She knew he meant them. Knew also he hoped it would allow him to cease harming her with his touch.
"Life is my domain," she told him, softly, gently. "All life comes through me, lives within me, and travels to you at the end of it. Death cannot create life. Life cannot force death."
"I know, but ..." he hesitated, searching for an argument, some reason to prove her wrong.
She waited, hoping he found one. The silence stretched once more.
"We are the opposites that turn their world, my love," she said, reaching for him once more. She pulled back at the last moment, knowing any further contact would increase the pain she felt. "It is the cruelest irony of their world that we may never connect, and they are the only way I can show you my love."
"While I can do nothing."
"You come back."
"And what does that mean?" he demanded, slumping over the table in silent defeat.
She touched him then, gritting her teeth against the pain that seared up her arm. "It means you prove it by returning to me every time. Despite the pain, despite the agony of being near but being unable to– " she broke off, forced to withdraw her hand. She cradled it to her, blinking away the tears, and trying to find her voice once more.
"You shouldn't touch me," he said. "Life shouldn't touch Death. It will kill you."
"And what is Life without Death?" she demanded as the tears fell from her eyes. "What am I without you? Life means nothing without Death. I am nothing without you at my side."
"You are everything."
"Because you are with me."
She reached for him again, unable to help herself. He flinched away. Her hand dropped to the table between them.
"I should have kissed you," she said. "When you arrived. That I didn't means I must do without the feel of you."
"I didn't think of it."
"Nor I. I was too pleased to see you again."
"Tomorrow, perhaps," he said, hoping to ease her pain in some small way.
"Yes," she smiled again, a weak imitation of what had gone before. "Yes, I shall kiss you tomorrow, my love. Will you come?"
There was no hesitation in his voice. Her smile grew radiant once more.