The address on the piece of paper isn't too hard to find, once Margolo locates the street. The house is low and drab and brown, hunched close to the ground as if gravity is too much with it. In this neighbourhood, it has good company.
Arthur's room is in the basement. Margolo, crouching at the window, is reminded of her hole. What are the odds that they would both live underground?
Art sits up in bed when he hears her tapping on the window. Seconds later, she is slipping inside, taking in the room where her Art has spent so much time. It is dark, lit only by a small reading light on the bedside table. The walls might be white; she can't tell, as they're completely hidden beneath posters of bands and video games she's never heard of. The room appears to have been hit by a blizzard of clothes, which have drifted in the corners and wherever there's a flat surface, nearly hiding the desk and the dresser and the flat black box in the corner that Margolo barely recognizes as a television. As she makes her way to the bed, she steps on a dirty plate half-buried in the strata of clothing. It crunches disconcertingly, and she steps gingerly away from it.
She recognizes a stack of paper in one corner, as yet untouched by the slurry of clothing, as her story, and a warm feeling builds in her chest.
Art is already seated on the bed again. "Sorry," he says softly. "I shouldn't actually be up and about yet." He grimaces and gestures to his injured shoulder. "Still healing."
Margolo nods, and takes a seat on the armchair beside Art's bed, pushing aside a pile of clothes and wrinkling her nose at the smell.
There's silence for a little while, as both of them shift about, getting comfortable. Then Margolo asks, "What did you think?"
Art looks puzzled for a few seconds, before comprehension dawns. "Oh. I…" He sighs, frustratedly, and runs a hand through his dark hair. Finally he says, distantly, "It was heartbreaking."
"Then…you liked it?"
Art meets her eyes for the first time since she arrived. "Some of it was really hard to read," he says awkwardly.
Margolo wants to smile, but can't quite find one in her. "Some of it was hard to live."
There's silence, broken only by the rattle of water pipes in the ceiling.
"I ended sort of abruptly," Art says, with a glance at the stack of paper.
"It wasn't finished."
She can't meet his eyes. Instead, she holds out the notebook she killed his best friend for.
Art recognizes it instantly. "Hey, this is Sam's, isn't it? What're you doing with -" He rocks back as it hits him. "You."
Margolo nods, miserably.
"But…why?" Art's voice is pleading, almost pathetic, as he gestures to the stack of paper in the corner. "Was any of it true?"
"Yes! I – I just wanted…" The corners of Margolo's eyes sting. It's all gone wrong again. And every word Art says only serves to underline the point.
She is alone.
And always will be.
When she returns the next night, Art is already awake and sitting up waiting for her. He lets her in without a word, after what looks like a fierce internal struggle. Margolo slips in soundlessly, aware for the first time that she is trespassing and unconsciously trying to make herself as small as possible. Perhaps, if she is small enough and quiet enough and still enough, she might just disappear.
Art is tense, pulled taut as a guitar string. Margolo has the distinct feeling that if she plucked him, he would twang. The mood is infectious, seeping into the air, causing it to hang heavy and glowering as an imminent storm, dark clouds massing overhead. The room crackles with pent-up thunder.
When Margolo speaks, it's more to break the gathering storm than to articulate a thought. "Do you hate me?"
Art blows out a long breath, causing an unruly lock of dark hair to dance out of his eyes. He doesn't answer for a long time, and silence rises like a wave to cover them. Finally, he says, "No."
Art drops back against the pillows as if this brief exchange has sapped all of his energy. "You shouldn't have come back."
Margolo examines her hands.
"You should have stayed away."
Her nails are chipped and broken and so encrusted with dirt that they look almost black. Dirt hides in her knuckles as well, caked on with blood, long-dry.
Her voice is almost as small as she feels when she says, "But I had to come back."
"Why?" Margolo flinches at the sudden lash of Art's voice. "What is there here for you?" He sounds as if on the verge of tears. "Why me?"
Margolo picks at one of the nails on her left hand. "You were there."
Art turns his face away.
And it all comes bubbling up. Margolo's head fills with memories, boiling and shouting and crippling her thoughts. Every word, every look, every century pours past her, each one stripping away a little more of her shield, her carefully constructed fiction, years of sadness and loneliness and fabricated moral anguish and denial trickling like sand between her fingers. She is empty, spent.
He has no love for her. The story is over. She can't keep deluding herself. Fiction cannot become reality.
And Art doesn't care.
Hot red fury begins to swirl.
Art is saying something about mercy and what she wants. Something that Margolo doesn't hear over the roar of thunder in her ears. The storm has broken.
Margolo lunges at the same time as Art turns, bringing up a hand. She sees the look of grim terror that rears up across his face, mingling with a sort of fierce determination, before she darts in for the kill.
The fear and hate dissolve from Art's face, leaving only determination and something Margolo doesn't quite recognize. Something…soft.
Art whispers, "I'm sorry, Margolo."
Her grip fails. She straightens, takes a faltering step backwards. Her mouth opens, but if words are released they are heard by no one.
Art stands, a little shakily, but not as unsteadily as Margolo finds herself now. That same strange look is still on his face, and as she coughs blood Margolo still tries to put a name to it.
"You got what you wanted," he says softly, as he steps forward. Margolo trips over a tangle of clothing behind her, hits the floor with a blow that momentarily makes her forget the icy bloom of pain in her chest.
"You're free," Art says, almost kindly, as he steps forward and hammers the stake home.
" 'Is it – did you - ?'
"His smile warms her, reassures her. 'It's over.'
"She hardly dares believe it. 'Then – I'm human again?'
"She looks into his eyes, and sees love shining back, love and the brilliant blue of a midsummer sky. And he nods, once.
" 'You're free.'
"Words are no longer enough for the feeling that swells within her. Without a sound, she takes his hand, and together, they turn to face the sunrise."