At what point did this become normal, exactly? Leaving work not focused, but distracted, occupied. Unsure of how to handle the situation that certainly awaited him when he returned home.
It never made him lessen his pace, or take a different route; dealing with the change of routine which awaited him was more than enough. He never even left the hospital late.
She would be waiting. She had been waiting. She never went home.
And he had to deal with it, as he had nowhere else to go.
His partner would certainly be of no help. A grin, a few pointedly crass comments, and a rhetorical question, all sprinkled over with a literary reference or two. Nothing useful to be gained by an "escape" there.
He did not want to escape, really. He was a creature of habit. Slowly, by her refusal to leave, she was becoming habit. Soon her absence would be a difficulty.
"Not, I imagine, that you'll be absent anytime soon--" Duriel began as he rounded the corner to his home. He halted mid-sentence and mid-step at the sight of his empty stoop.
The little orphaned dove was gone.
More likely, perhaps, she had never even come. Duriel considered the idea as he moved closer to his doorway. No signs of her presence, no telltale scent or forgotten accessory.
Nothing at all.
Just as usual.
Duriel's hand gripped the key, inserted it into the lock. The door opened with a slight creak, as always. No one called from inside. Perfectly normal. Perfectly empty.
Duriel's face contorted in anger as he slammed the door, his home unentered. "Where is she?"
He closed his eyes, silently regaining his composure. Still seething, he checked Demeter Serrafield's regular haunt. Nothing there. No smell, no small loafer-prints, no discarded clover.
Nothing. It positively reeked of suspicion.
Duriel turned toward the street, trying his utmost to feel for Kanon's Mace. She knew where she lived, where she was educated, where she did her charitable work.
She had to be somewhere. His routine would not be in place until she rested again on his doorstep.
He loathed disruption. Almost a century of peace, and she destroys it over a month of quiet patience and a single afternoon's absence. Surely, no one else could drive the Lord of Pain to such distraction.
Plagued by uncertainty, Duriel's irritation swelled to anger and thence to rage. An elderly man's laughter became a choked scream as another's pain welled inside him. His heart stopped as Duriel, disgust on his face, walked past the open window, clutching a twisted soul in his right hand.
Several blocks later, Duriel stopped. Surely, going to her school was a foolish course of action, but where else could she be? It was not yet dark, her charity work he knew was not scheduled today, and it was past the appointed time for her to bother him.
Even absentee, she seemed to be doing a wonderful job with the bothering.
Duriel approached the school grounds, eyes roving for student activity. A massed shout drew his attention to the far side of the grounds, followed by a cheer.
Drawing closer to the noise, he saw where his once-upon-a-time wife was keeping herself.
Demeter rushed downfield, her braided hair flying behind her, a grim smile in place as she rushed for the goal. "Unstoppable, this time for certain!" She thought excitedly as she increased her pace to dodge a defender.
As she swept past, her team rallying to close the gap behind her and put the ball in place, the defender, who showed no intention of chasing her, simply swung back and aimed at the right leg of the determined Serrafield.
From the sidelines, Duriel watched her go down, saw the red stain appear on her leg. He watched her pick herself up and walk to the bench, listened as she declined medical attention in favor of a recuperative bout of cheering.
Then, just as he was considering moving out of sight, she looked his way.
Their eyes met calmly across the crowd, Demeter's face shifting from excited anger to quiet shock.
Duriel saw her lean over to the coach, saw her limp away toward the small clubhouse.
He followed her to the distant side of the building, out of view of the still-noisy crowd. She leaned against the wall, eyes cast downward.
"So, are you here to spy on me just the one time, or do you often observe my scrimmages without my knowledge, Doctor?" Gabriel lifted her eyes slowly to him, a smile twisting one side of her mouth.
Duriel did not respond, but shifted his eyes to her shin. He looked up questioningly.
"It hurts, really, but you should not concern yourself, Dr. Eisenreich. I am quite sure that the coach wi--," she broke off as he moved suddenly, silently to the ground on one knee, already dabbing away the blood.
His fingers bit sharply into her leg, and she hissed. "Demeter, I am insuring that nothing is fractured. Please contain yourself." Duriel continued his ministrations.
With narrowing eyes, Gabriel shook him off and grabbed his hand, twining her fingers with his before he could react. "Before you begin treatment, I suggest you discuss terms with your patient," she stated coldly, with only a bit of a tremble in her voice. "Besides, why should you concern yourself with a minor injury? You've never minded hurting me before."
Her voice grew bitter, and Duriel locked gazes with her, for a moment, quite shocked.
His control returning, Duriel replied "Gabriel, I am simply checking up on you. Nothing more--" before he was cut off by her abrupt embrace.
"--and nothing less. Stop talking. Please. You came here to find me. You needed to. That's all that matters." Her eyes glimmered as she leaned against him, willing him to respond.
"I . . . I don't know why I came. I suppose I'll go." Surprised, Duriel felt his anger fading. He moved to push her away.
Gabriel, sensing his withdrawal, shifted her embrace. When she kissed him, he stopped. When she kissed him, he responded. When he kissed her, it tasted of death.
Gabriel, uncaring, clung to him, moving with him, refusing to stop.
They broke the contact. Both stood, moved their hands apart. Walked to the bench.
Demeter left the field in the company of her uncle, needing rest.
Duriel supported her quietly as he led them home, to the stoop, to the empty house.
No one likes to interrupt their routine. No one likes it when things change.
Demeter entered the house. Duriel followed. Waiting for him was a welcoming face, a woman and not a girl. An angel, tired of the same old things.