Chapter 1 : helen + paris
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was there another troy for her to burn?
Of all things she had known, or thought she had known, only this eluded her.
She did not belong here. She never had and never would.
That was the problem, she knew. Even as she lived in these grey moments and inhaled the smoke, she knew the weak sun beating down on her was no excuse for daylight, and there was more to breathing than choking. This was not her time. There were greater things in life. She had simply had the misfortune of being born to this life.
The problem rested in this: if this was not her place, what was?
She had been kept up at night, wondering, wishing, pleading for something or someone to take her away from this, all of this (the gesture sweeps over the vast ruination of the world, the dirty skies and the tawdry houses, the graying countryside and the corrupt cities). That would be the thing, she reckoned. If she were to find her place in this universe, she would be happy. If she knew what that place was, well, that would be a huge improvement over what she had now. Restlessness, recklessness. She leaned into her lover’s body and tried to convince herself that she belonged there.
But it was not to be. He kissed her back and that was it. That was ever it.
She felt it in her bones, a pestilence growing with her (surely numbered) days. There was something not right about her life and its circumstances. There was something wrong with this, all of this. This was not her time.
She posed a question once, to that lover of hers. What’s wrong with me?
He kissed her back and didn’t answer. She was not fooled.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
She begged to differ, begged to be allowed to do so, at least, but was denied. His lips were on her mouth yet again, and his arms wrapped around her waist. He was an anchor, tethering her to the ground, shackling her ankles to the dirt floor. She would never escape her fate, this endless life of monotony and illusions of grandeur, with him always at her back, always drawing her to him.
He repeated the phrase again. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.
She refused to believe it and slid out of his grasp. The chains were loosened but not thrown off. The time for that would come, but not now. For now she would have him, devour him, drink of him and that delicious morality that could stave off a host of parasites, much like herself.
It’s the rest of us that are in the wrong.
This caught her attention, as so few things in this life did.
It is I who is wrong. The words slipped from his mouth like a kiss loaded with gold blossoms, falling swiftly and softly on her disquieted ears. It is I who is unworthy of you. It is all of us, really, who do not deserve you. It is the rest of us mortals who cannot compare to you. His arms wound their way across her waist again. She didn’t know how he did it, or why, but his lips were still his own, and the words kept falling, falling. It is I who is holding you back from everything you are, or could be. His head bowed to hers, and he whispered her name three times, each time with less urgency and more irony. She didn’t like it, and a shiver passed through her to him. You, love. It is you who is our better, our best. We hold you back. You are more than this, than us, even more than me. It is this time that is not suited for you, not vice versa.
She withdrew again, but could not shake his grip. Still she was encircled, and her pulse rising. She no longer knew what he was saying, or what he wanted it to mean. There was so much… too much. Yes. Too much. Of everything.
We are not ready for such a one as you. I am not ready. I can hardly comprehend you, hardly let you leave for fear of where you might go, who you might meet. For surely we are not meant to be. I am nothing and you–you are… His laugh was wry, less ardent, less tender. There was something there and she could hear it but not name it. There is nothing that can compete with you, your passion, your beauty. You–well, you are everything that this age cannot handle. It is you who are too much.
His head rose, with that face shining into hers like a planet around a star. He eclipsed her light, swallowing it for himself, taking the one thing she could offer such a one as him. He wanted everything of her, wanted to possess her, but there was much in her soul. He did not lie: he could not handle her. She was everything, and though he once fancied himself able to compete, there was none of that naiveté now. She had consumed him, or still was doing so, and he aimed to get something more out of the process than simple pleasure.
Without pause, he drowned her lips and protests with his own. Against her mouth he continued, Marry me. Let me marry you, my love, my otherworldly goddess. Allow me that honour. Let me show this pitiable world what it has lost the right to hold. Let me hold up your hand and say to this place, This is the woman to whom you owe every bit of pride and joy you have ever felt. Yours is the face that will launch a thousand ships, a thousand war lords. Yours is the gaze that men would kill to earn. Let me dedicate my life–
For the fourth time, she said no.
He was sweet, this lover. She had never felt this level of devotion from anyone else in all of her days of restlessness. It frightened her at times to be the source of such inspiration, such tremendous desire, but there was no escaping it. Such was her nature, to draw in the unsuspecting and make them hers. She did not seek to disturb lives, did not want to stir up rebellion in their souls, but what was she to do? It was her fault, yes, but she was helpless against it.
This answer of his, whatever it meant, was not enough. She could not content herself with this, this deification, this idolization. Perhaps she was greedy, egotistical; perhaps her avarice outweighed her pride. But she wanted more. She drew closer to him, felt his arms habitually jerking tighter, ensnaring her in the trap of her own choosing.
He watched her advance within his arms, so distant a light, but so bright. He swallowed it in with his eyes, watched hers shine and sparkle with that otherworldly beauty that did not belong in this time. She would not stay much longer, he knew in his heart of hearts. She would leave and move on, forever in search of what she felt she needed. A place, a destiny worth having, an adventure and a story in her fate. He knew what she would find, and looked forward to his goddess’s fall.
In the confines of her ever-working mind, she was already considering other questions. Her existence, her future, her destiny, her fate, her soul, her purpose, her beauty, her power, her revolution. Then she made to kiss him one last time.
He grinned against her mouth as he returned the gesture, counting the seconds it lasted.