Ellie sat curled in the corner of the half-darkened basement, trying as hard as she could to keep her breathing quiet. She didn't want him to hear. If he heard her...
If he heard the breaths that shuddered over her silently chattering teeth, giving her position away in the dark house...
She didn't want to think about it.
The door swung wide at the top of the stairs, banging against the wall and sending several books and trinkets flying from the nearby shelf. Ellie felt her pulse thundering in her veins, shocking her with adrenaline. In spite of herself, her hands shook in what felt like excitement.
She could hear his heartbeat pounding with hers, from across the room. Somehow, no matter how far away he was, if he was in the same room, she could always listen closely and hear how the thrill of her rocked his frame.
The knife dragged down the wall with a quietly terrifying rasp as he stepped deliberately down each stair.
Ellie walked up the driveway to the house, the outside lights dark, streetlight gone. The wind had knocked the power lines over for the main street line, and half the town was in the dark. She stopped just short of the door and stared at it.
James was inside. Her James. No, actually...not her James anymore.
She sighed. She shouldn't really be here. They had called it quits two weeks before. Not that that had gotten in the way of a couple dinners-and-rendezvous in the mean time, but she was trying to stay away. If he'd just stop finding her stuff in amongst his things, she wouldn't keep coming to get them and just getting...tempted...into...well. She could leave, that was the main thing to focus on. He was just so...helpless, really, on his own. He didn't take care of himself. And she worried about him.
So here she was.
She went to knock on the door, knocking it open as she did so. She stared down at the knob.
"I guess it was ajar," she muttered to herself, stepping inside and calling out to her ex. "James? ...James?"
There was nothing but silence and darkness, dull shapes of furniture looming in far rooms. It was definitely not a feel-good vibe.
She jumped, looking this way and that.
"Knock it off with the creepy antics, James. Where are you?"
She felt the breeze of him sweeping up behind her, but didn't have time to react before his arm had snaked around her and held her pinned. He seemed to fumble behind him, and she tried to shake him off.
"I know you were never much for romancing, but the assassin method really doesn't work on winning the ladies, James," she rolled her eyes.
"Shut up, Ellie," he hissed in her ear, his other hand now secure in it's target - a knife. He held it to her throat.
"...what the shit are you doing, James?"
"Why did you break up with me, Ells?"
"James, I don't think this is -"
He jerked her suddenly, bringing the knife perilously closer.
"I - ...I was sick of yelling at each other. I was sick of wishing we'd never gotten together. I didn't know how to deal with the shit you started telling me. We've been over this."
"But you love me, Ells."
"That doesn't really matter right now, James," she said, voice shaking slightly. "Let me go."
His grip loosened, but the knife crept closer.
"I'm going to stand right here, Ellie. And I'm going to close my eyes. I have something of yours. Something important. But we're going to play a game first."
"Shut. Up. Ellie." He enunciated each syllable with terrifying precision. "We're going to play a game. You win, you get what you left in my care. I win...I take it. Sound fair?"
"James, I don't get -"
"You have thirty seconds to run and hide, love." He reached up and traced a line down her cheek with the blade. "Take advantage. I really don't want you to feel what it's like to be really caught."
He pushed her away and leaned back against the door, closing his eyes as his fingers found the lock and turned it.
"Stop, we need to-"
"Fine! What did I leave?!" she shouted. "What are we playing for?"
He stopped, and stepped forward towards her and into a beam of moonlight from the window above the door.
"You, baby." He smiled. "You."
"Ellie," he purred into the air. "You're so beautiful."
Her skin crawled, even as her muscles melted around her heart.
"I'm gonna find you, sweetheart," he promised. "And when I do, you won't believe the terrible, beautiful things I'm gonna do to you."
She thanked God for the clutter of the basement, the boxes upon boxes of protection that put off her eventual fate.
"Ellie...I'm gonna give you everything your body ever begged me for," he grinned, lifting the metal of the blade to his lips and placing a slow, deliberate kiss at the hilt. "Come out, baby. I know you want to come to me. For me. With me."
She closed her eyes and remained quiet, trying to still the rising heat in her blood.
"You're making this far more difficult than it has to be," James growled into the darkness. "I'm becoming less and less inclined to be nice."
She said nothing.
She stood in front of the mirror, her hand over her heart as she listened to it pound, still racing from the argument not five minutes before. She felt her pulse in her teeth. Was that normal, she wondered? Her teeth...
James appeared in the doorway, looking at her, only her, enraptured by her.
"Do you know why I love you, Ellie?" he asked quietly.
She stared at him, hand still pressed to her heartbeat, unsure of his quick switch from fury to adoration.
"You're just like me," he murmured, looking at her hand and reaching out to place his over hers. "Only...the answer. You're my equal and opposite reaction, Ells. I'm sorry. Please, please don't stay mad."
She looked down at his hand on hers, dazed and baffled.
"You know that song? You listened to it all night the other week."
She looked up at him, confused. He moved forward, closing the space between them to practically nothing, resting his forehead against hers, staring at the curve of her lower lip.
"'Do you like to hurt?'" she quoted softly, as he raised his other hand to her hair.
"I do, I do," he whispered through gritted teeth.
With a low, guttural growl, he pulled her head up and kissed her.
The final box was pushed away, but Ellie kept her head buried in her knees. She could feel his eyes burning into the back of her neck, feel the shift of his form in the thickness of the air as he knelt next to her. She heard the metallic clatter of his knife falling to the ground - dropped, but not abandoned. He put his mouth to the back of her neck, curling his fingers in her hair and simply breathing against her skin, all open mouth and hot breath and gently grazing lips.
"I knew I would find you here," he whispered adoringly. "I knew you wouldn't leave the house. I knew you would stay."
The fingers that had woven in amongst her hair suddenly pulled, hard. Excruciating pain ripped across her scalp, and her head was jerked back to look James in the eye.
"Hi, baby," he smiled.
They were face to face now, her back against the corner and him with the upper hand. His eyes found hers, half-lidded and intoxicated with his own power.
"Kiss me," he demanded, jerking the hand that held her hair so hard that tears stung at the corners of her eyes.
She said nothing, simply staring at him.
The hardest part of not doing as he commanded - was wanting to.
"Just have out with it!" he yelled at her, slamming his hand into the wall of her bedroom.
"What?" She asked innocently, her heart pounding.
He stared her down.
"Oh, I don't know. Anything super-important to you about our friendship that may have slipped your mind to let me know."
"Um. Well. I don't really -"
His glare somehow seemed to stop her mid-sentence. Ellie sighed.
"What do you want from me, James?"
She looked confused.
"What do you mean, ambition?"
"I mean, reach for what you want." His gaze didn't waver. "Whatever it is."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Her voice turned steely.
"Well, it goes something like this."
He walked forward and grabbed her face in his hands, kissing her intently. She sat frozen, and he pulled away.
"Get the picture? Cause it's kind of fucking obvious."
"You. Are a total shit."
"Why couldn't you just leave it alone?!" she yelled, pushing away to walk to the other side of the room and round on him.
"Why? Why leave it alone?"
"We're friends. Just friends. That's how it started, and that's how it's supposed to go, James. I'm a fuck up, and you're shit at relationships. I'm not gonna intentionally screw up our friendship, fucked though it may be."
"I think it's a little too late, kid. You can't really fight the flow of this kind of thing."
He looked coldly over at her.
"I swear to God, Ellie, if you try to stay just friends when both of us feel this way just to prove a point, I'm going to kill you myself."
She let out a yell of frustration.
"You know what? Fine! I don't care! We'll do it your way." She walked over to him and jabbed a finger into his chest. "But you are going to have to deal with this, bud: I do not want this. I do not want to love you. We fight too much, we're both too fucked up to last with someone healthy, let alone each other, and if I hear you tell one more story about your sexual exploits, I'm going to castrate you. The second I find a way to stop giving a shit about you, we're done. So live with that, while you get your way."
James let a cocky grin spread over his features.
Ellie rolled her eyes and walked out the door, slamming it behind her.
His kiss crashed against her with all the force of a maelstrom. And the worst part was feeling the elation that came with him, the twisting of mouth and muscle to match his fight. It wasn't the pull of his teeth through her skin, it wasn't the terror as he picked up the knife that set her to screaming.
It was remembering that she had come to this point, knowing all along it would come to this.
"Fuck her anyway," James grumbled, watching his seconds-old ex-girlfriend barrel through the party's crowd towards the door, tears of fury on her cheeks.
"Real classy, pal," Ellie called from behind him, on the couch, where she lay in a half-drunken stupor. "Usually, a guy goes through at least two minutes of grieving before throwing off ye olde sting of love."
James glared at her.
"Woah. Rescinded, sorry."
"It's not like I did anything. If she's that sensitive, I'm better off without her. Why waste time getting upset about it?" James shrugged, still glowering.
"Shut up." He walked out of the room towards the empty back porch, stealing Ellie's cup.
"Oi! Hey now," Ellie called, rolling off the couch and bounding after him.
"Stop badgering me," James growled.
"Hey. Knock it off. I'm not the one who just royally binned you at a shindig, okay?" She looked at his moody expression. "You sure you're okay? I'll hear you out."
James shook his head.
"No...it's not..." He rolled his eyes. "Lame as this sounds, it's not like that. She seriously didn't even mean that much to me. It's more just an inconvenience."
"Um. Not sure I'm following you."
"I don't really get that serious about many people. There are very few people I surround myself with who I'd get really upset if they left."
"So...you're not in any way put out about this? I mean, you dated for six months, which is pretty good for you." He shot her a warning look. She threw up her hands. "Just sayin'!"
"I get you. No, though, I'm not upset. Believe me," he said darkly. "You'd know if I was upset."
Ellie raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
James smirked. "Yeah. You really don't know how good I am at controlling my vast and immeasurable fury." He let out a laugh.
"Well," Ellie said amiably. "Let's hope I never have the first-hand knowledge to appreciate it, eh?"
"Let's," he agreed with an enigmatic smile.
"Now let's party on, Romeo," Ellie exclaimed, grabbing James' wrist and dragging him towards the door. "The night is young and you have young hearts now open for the conquering."
She pulled up short, and looked back to a James standing stock still, staring at his wrist. Slowly, he lifted each finger from around his arm and held her hand in both of his, before grabbing her wrist, fingers resting lightly on her tendons.
"Could you promise me something, Ells?" he asked lightly.
"Never leave me." His tone lowered, and his fingers tightened, nails digging in right over the tendons.
"Don't abandon me? Just, as friends..." He pulled her a little closer. "Don't leave me to the wolves, eh?"
Red crescents began welling up just under the skin of her wrist, and Ellie drunkenly tried to wrest free.
"Yeah! Yeah, I promise," Ellie yelped as he released her with a smile. "Jesus H., dude. You sure you're not peeved about Jess?"
"Positive," he said cheerily, clapping her on the back and guiding her towards the door. "Get smashed?"
Ellie nodded slowly and walked through the door.
James followed, a grim smile lighting his face.
"Do you know what a soul mate is, E-liz-a-beth?" he asked, whispering with a grin. He had her pinned, both of her hands in one of his as he traced patterns on her skin by barely brushing the knife over her.
"Two people. Made for each other," she said dully, looking straight up at the ceiling rather than his face. "To love each other."
James tilted his head, brow furrowed.
"Tsk, Little 'lizabeth," he said in a mock reprimand. "Soul mates: two people whose lives fit together like an answer to a question. A key in a lock. A knife to a wound. It's Lex Luther and Superman. Frankenstein and his monster. Just as much as our dear old Romeo and Jules. People whose lives belong to one another. You...are the answer...to my question, my love."
"What's your question, James?"
He laughed quietly, and changed his grip on the knife.
"Truth or dare?"
Ellie thought hard, leaning her head over the side of Jame's couch. Truth or Dare was kind of a been-there-done-that affair at parties anymore, but it was actually pretty entertaining as a two-person boredom killer.
"How many people are on your hit-list?"
James cracked up.
"What? What the heck are you talking about?"
She shifted her head to look up at his inquisitive gaze.
"Oh please. Everyone has one, you can admit it. If there were no repercussions whatsoever, everyone secretly has a couple people they wouldn't mind offing in some dark alley. So tell me. Who would you do?"
James stared at her for a second.
"Um. No repercussions?"
A slight smile touched the corner of his lips.
"I wouldn't really need a hit list. I think I'd just come and go as I pleased on the whole murder scene."
It was Ellie's turn to stare at him, now.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, come on," James reasoned. "Everyone kind of wonders what it would feel like to kill someone. Kids always ask police officers and soldiers if they've gotten anybody. Young interns ask older doctors what to do when a patient finally dies under their knife. I'm just sayin' - there's a reason we're a society where all of our nation's heroes and saviors have the hight body count around. So why not? If there were no repercussions, I'd probably just do whatever I was curious about. I wouldn't really need a hit list in that kind of a world."
Ellie was quiet.
"...what, are you freaked out?"
"No." She looked up at him. "No I'm not."
"So what's up?"
"Well...I think I should be."
"Well, that seems like an eerily detached and inhuman thing to say, to be frank," Ellie said incredulously.
"Detached?" James looked somewhat scandalized. "Ellie, killing is one of the least detached things a human being can do."
"Well, think about it. There are two things that pretty much every animal on the planet does. Sex and murder. Life and death. So if having sex is supposed to be this really connected thing, when it's just two people making something totally foreign... I don't know. I've always just thought it would be an incredibly personal and human thing, killing someone. Because you're sharing their life. It's the most personal act you can do, to murder someone. Far more personal than sex. Don't you think?"
Ellie stared at him.
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
"No, I don't. I should, but I don't. I mean...I guess I see what you're saying, but...well. We don't live in that hypothetical, repercussion-less world, do we?"
"Nope," James concurred.
They both sat there for a second, staring into space.
"Whatcha thinkin', Ells?" James asked softly.
Ellie smiled wryly.
"That either way you get personal with people, they're gonna need some kind of protection."
James reached over and thwacked her upside the head with a pillow, laughing.
Ellie lay like an oil painting of skin and blood and bone, and he stood over her at last, sliding the blade in like an ever-deepening kiss.
She could bear him taking her last breath, if his hand would lift from her throat long enough to breathe it.
"You aren't dying now, Ellie," he said softly, his eyes finally filling with something like softness. "Not now. It was a year ago. Do you remember, baby? Do you remember when you lost your life?"
She never understood it when people, in intense situations, claimed that the room seemed to spin around them.
But as she stumbled out of the office doors, into the crowd of her peers leaving the building for the freedom at the end of the school day, the walls refused to stay in the places she knew they usually stood. Colors zipped by at impossible speeds, faces blurred in passing - and she hadn't even realized she was walking until she hit the door running. Thirty seconds had her behind the school, panting in exertion and terror.
They knew. The teachers, the office, her family, her friends. They knew all about her, and how? How? Who had figured out the code of her perfect imitation of happiness? Who had seen it all and still known that such a creature would know it shouldn't keep living?
Her legs gave out under her at the thought of going home, breath coming in audible gasps. The wall gave much-needed support as she threw her head back into the stones with a dry sob.
Footsteps echoed in her small alcove, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. A concerned face peered around the corner -
"Ellie? Are you...what's wrong?"
Her mouth gaped, opening and closing in an attempt to say something, anything.
He walked tentatively over to her and sat down slowly, his hand gently reaching out to touch her shoulder.
"Would you care if I died?"
His face went blank in shock.
Ellie stared back at him with equal intensity.
"Would you care. If I died."
"You mean..." he looked somewhat uncertain. "Are you...you mean...suicide?"
Ellie said nothing.
His face hardened, and he swept up to his knees, hands grabbing her shoulders as he slammed her back against the wall.
There lasted a moment of silence, before he slammed his hand across her face in a vicious slap.
"What the fu-"
"Don't you ever fucking ask me that again. Don't you ever even think of anything like that ever again."
Ellie was livid.
"It's nothing I can really -"
"No!" He glared at her, fingers digging into her shoulders. "You don't get what you've just done. You don't want your life?"
"No!" Ellie screamed at him, fighting his ever-tightening grip. "No, I don't fucking want it! But no, I won't kill myself, because I don't have it in me. Just..."
Tears of anger and frustration spilled over, and she wiped them away so furiously it looked like she was taking her retribution on them.
"Just...I want to disappear." She looked up at him. "Be a missing person. Non-existent. Gone. Blank."
He stared at her.
"You don't want your life?"
"No," she said strongly, shaking off his now loosely-held hands.
There was a pause.
"Your life. You. I want it. Want you. Stay the fuck alive. You gave up your life. I take responsibility for it. I fucking care about you, Ellie. I want you around. Selfishly, vindictively, and all to myself. So don't take what isn't yours anymore. Don't you steal from me."
His eyes burned into hers, and Ellie realized she truly might have someone to live for after all.
The knife lay to the side of the two frames, curled around each other. One whole, heart beating twice as hard and fast for the two lives it held. One broken, and weakly fluttering in and out of life. James' fingers slid down the slick, crimson mask of her face, turning it to face him.
"You're so beautiful, Ellie," he whispered. "Never let anyone tell you you're not beautiful."
"Ja - "
He kissed her mid-name, the hand gripping her jaw forcing it open. His lungs pulled at hers, taking the last of her air, taking his name from her lips as she faltered in the pattern of her breathing. Her fingers began to scrape feebly at his arms for air, finding no success.
As her body finally failed, her eyes flicked to James.
"I have never loved anyone," he said softly. "Like I love you."
Empty now of her share of life, Ellie felt what it was to die.
James tilted his head back and shuddered, crushing her lifeless body to his frame.
The ocean waves crashed against the sand, rolling back to uncover just one smooth, round, and deliciously black stone. Ellie's hand grabbed clumsily at the rock, and she ran back as the waves rushed her once more, laughing and turning to her mom.
"Okay. I know I said I never wanted to move here, but I gotta admit - the beach is a bitchin' place."
Her mom smiled, lowering her magazine.
"Whatcha got there, sweetheart?"
"Eh, just a rock." Ellie looked at it dismissively. "Just picked it up for kicks. Bein' nature-y."
"Wish on it."
Ellie raised a derisive eyebrow at her mother.
"Mom, I just turned sixteen, not six."
"Oh, don't be a downer. You didn't want a cake, and I want you to make a wish on your birthday. Call me a sap, but just...humor me?"
"Fine," Ellie sighed. "But I'm wishing for a pony."
"Ohhh, make a real one!" Her mother protested.
"You're so demanding!" Ellie moaned. "Fine. I'll make a real one."
She stared down at the rock in her hand in contemplation.
"Ummm...okay. But you can't get mad at this one, because lame as it is, I'm serious."
"Okay! Okay. I'm all ears."
She shifted the rock from hand to hand before saying it.
"I wish I would fall in love here. And I don't want a ton of boyfriends or anything. Just one. Just one guy. I want to meet...augh. I want to be the person who has a high school sweetheart wedding later in life. I want..."
"To meet your soul mate?" her mother smiled at her.
Ellie looked out past the shore and grinned, sending the rock skipping off across the water, sending out her wish.
"Yeah. My soul mate."