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Chapter 2 : Poisonous
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One Day Ago
Rain trickles down the windowpane, the scenery outside distorted and blurry. Andromeda traces the glass with a tentative finger, her heart sighing. As the sun sets, she knows the waiting has to end, once again. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore, the pain numbs itself quicker than before. Her expectations are low, her hopes plummeted long ago, but her promise freezes her in front of the window every sunset, watching as the sun sneaks below the horizon.
After all this time, why does she still wait? The years have passed in an immeasurable number of sunsets and she has been there at nearly every one. She can’t help but wonder if there’s any point to it anymore. Peering at her pasty complexion in the reflection on the cool surface of the window, she remarks how she has aged. Circles as dark as her hair droop beneath dull eyes, fatigue etched into every line. Deep inside the house, the child cries and she can’t find the energy to leave her post. It hurts to leave the remaining hope that she clings to, the hope that today will be the last day she has to wait. But it never is. As each day goes past, she loses a tiny morsel of hope as it dies with the sun.
She knows Ted is waiting for her, much as she waits for Gideon; with a heavy heart and little hope that things will change. Andromeda finds it remarkable that even long after the sun has set and her waiting ends, he is still there to embrace her and console her. It’s not his job to clear up after another man, to heal the wounds Gideon has left. But he has never been able to steer her from the window, her promise is too great. She has always been stubborn, and he knows that, but never is she more obstinate than when she resumes her place at the window, in his mind a permanent shadow tainting the windowpane.
Behind her, the floorboards creak as Ted goes to comfort her daughter, the crying echoing around her head as she fixedly scrutinises the street outside. The shadows grow longer and longer until the street is swallowed up by darkness, along with one tiny piece of hope that loses itself in the dark. She’ll have trouble finding it again as each day becomes harder to face. She knows it will only end in disappointment.
Her tears have long run dry, though she tries hard to fight the sadness in her heart as it swells and engulfs her. Again he has not come, he has not returned to her. She anticipates it, she lives with it, but she cannot explain why the pain gradually worsens with each time he doesn’t arrive.
A hand finds her shoulder, the thumb rubbing the thick material that keeps her from shivering. After all this time, there is not much Ted can do to return the smile to her face; it, like her hope, has long been swallowed up by Gideon’s absence. Biting her lip, she turns to face him as his strong arms pull her close. She goes through the motions, the obligatory embrace and the kiss on his cheek before she is allowed to carry on with her life, to pretend that her heart is whole again. Ted is the only thing stopping her from falling apart altogether.
Her hand rests on the doorframe by the kitchen, her body sagging into the wood. She doesn’t know how many more times she can wait in vain for him, perhaps this time is one time too many.
Ted’s hand finds her cheek, his sparkling blue eyes catching her dark ones, dark like the hope she has lost. “Don’t lose hope.” His words are strong, he forces them upon her until she can’t think of anything else. “He’ll come back to you, I promise.”
She knows he only says it to bring her back from the dark place she hides in, but she has reached a point where she wants to believe him. The hope throbs, it glows for a moment before her voice catches in her throat.
“He’s not coming back,” she says softly, her eyes closing. “I don’t think I can wait for him any longer. It hurts too much.”
Ted draws her close again, her head resting on his chest as she listens to the steady beat of his heart. Outside, the rain keeps on falling until she is sick of the sound, until she wishes she could slam her hands over her ears until the noise fades away. It’s the sound of her heart breaking over and over again, of hope and dreams draining away.
“He’ll return, just you wait and see,” he says into her hair as she clings to him, the last glimmer of optimism she has. “I promise you.”
“Promise…” she mutters clumsily, wincing as though in pain. “That means nothing to me now.”
She breathes in the smell of his jumper, tainted with his soothing scent that calms her senses as she leans against him, eyes closed. The pain dissipates as she forgets the past, ignores the future and focuses on the feel of his arms around her waist, the safety his touch gives her. She can’t survive without him, yet their marriage arose out of convenience as a method of wiping away the tears. She chose security over her love for Gideon and she feels like the painful moment after sunset is how she pays for that choice; without it, she would have been slowly broken down until not even Gideon could bring the smile to her face. Ted is her salvation.
“Be strong,” he murmurs. “It won’t be long now.”
His words are soothing to her, his tone so familiar that she tries to relax. Gideon will not be away forever. She repeats it in her head, she rewinds the time to their last visit and remembers his promise. He will not be away forever. Sighing, she opens her eyes and steps back from her husband. She has a child to soothe and a body to calm and a husband who looks after her more than Gideon ever did. She has to find the will to continue her life again. At least until the next sunset.
They stand two feet apart, silenced by the complications of their situation. She feels guilty that she drags him into her despair, that she needs him to be there to pull her out again. She takes and she takes and all he asks in return is her company. Her life has been a failure made up of wrong decisions and inconvenience. Taking his face in her hands, her apology is a kiss, her thanks the caressing of his cheek. She loves him, he know she does, but she cannot love him in the same way she loves Gideon, no matter how hard she tries to forget him.
So Andromeda gives up. She turns away from the window and towards the fortune she does have and stops biting her lip. She sighs, the pain leaving her body like waves shrink away from the shore. It won’t be long until she is back there again. Her fragility will keep that promise.
Ted leads her upstairs, allowing her to wrap herself in a blanket in order to stop the shivering. It’s more than just the cold that chills her bones, the blanket is unlikely to warm her cool spirit. Perhaps it’s best if she just disappears into the darkness as the lights are extinguished, only the faint glow of the summer sunset peering through a gap in the curtains. She is left alone, once again, as Ted continues the routine without her. The guilt settles again, but she isn’t strong enough to fight it. She focuses all her attention on forgetting it, forgetting him. But her attempts are as futile now as she always has been. No matter how poisonous he is, she cannot let Gideon out of her life. Sometimes she doesn’t even want him to leave.
A faint knock echoes around the house, though she doesn’t pay much attention to it. It could have been her head drooping against the headboard, her body overcome with exhaustion; it may be Ted as he puts the child to bed again. She doesn’t care, as long as nothing more is expected of her. She needs this solitude.
“Andromeda?” Ted is indeed outside her door once again, and she closes her eyes in irritation. She wants him to leave her this evening, she needs the time to think and consider and recover. Burying her head into her pillow, she hopes he understands her silence. He is usually so good at reading her. He persists. “Andromeda, please? Let me in, it’s important.”
Admitting defeat, she drags herself towards the door and undoes the latch. He is not surprised to see her looking so forlorn, his expression remaining grim.
“What is it?” she mumbles, her eyes now watching her feet. “Is Nymphadora alright?”
“She’s fine,” he dismisses quickly, taking her hand and rubbing it between his palms in order to warm her. “You need to come downstairs, there’s someone here to see you.”
Blood pounds against the confines of her skin, her eyes lift suddenly to meet Ted’s as he watches her closely. It’s him, she can feel it. He has finally come for her, it can be no one else. He is the only one who knows their location, he is the only one they can trust with the information. Her heart thuds and thuds against her tiny frame and the despair lifts from her shoulders. Removing her hand from Ted’s, she brushes past him in order to find her way to the door, mumbling Gideon as she clasps the banister tightly. She doesn’t want to fall now.
Somehow, the energy slowly fills her again as she takes each step downwards. With each step, she hears another behind her as Ted follows her. She doesn’t need him now, she will be strong again. Momentarily, she resents how he assumes she will need his hand, need his consolation. She can be stronger now.
Like the last time, she will kiss him, hold him so close she can hear their hearts beating together and tell him that she loves him. She will beg him not to go, once again, only this time she will not let him leave. Her heart cannot take it again, she cannot bear to be without him. Holding his head in her hands, she will look into those dark eyes and tell him how she feels, how she cannot survive without him. This time he will stay with her, she will make sure of it.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she braces herself to turn the corner and embrace him. It’s over now, the pain and heartache is over.
A hand finds hers. “It’s not him.” His words cut into her like glass, causing her to draw breath.
“What?” she chokes, almost losing balance as her legs sway.
“I’m sorry.” His voice cracks as she stares ahead, not daring to turn the corner, not brave enough to face whoever has dared knock on the door; Gideon’s door. It is only for him. Ted places a hand on the small of her back and steers her around the corner to face the intruder. She stares at the grim looking fellow in front of her, hating everything about him from his dark robes to his scarred face. “He said he would only speak to you.”
Shaking, she clutches his arm, once again needing his support. She should know that she will always need him by her side, she will never be able to function without him. Her heart is trapped between the husband who supports her and the lover who inspires her, who gives her a reason to breathe. She cannot have both and cannot survive with neither.
The man’s cracked lips move, but the disbelief is so strong she cannot process his words. Dizzy, she accepts the letter he offers her, though so nauseous she cannot read it. Her hands trembling, she passes it to Ted, the constant in her life, and he takes it carefully from her. She doesn’t care what it says, nothing can comfort her now. She will not let herself build her hopes up again; Gideon is not coming to get her.
Ted freezes beside her, his body tense against hers as she leans into him. He clears his throat, turning the parchment over and over in his hands before handing it back to her. “You need to read this yourself,” he says gruffly before striding into the kitchen. Through the closed door, she hears him pour himself a drink. Looking up, she notices the man has gone, has left and she has never been more glad to be alone. She licks her dry lips, composing herself. Her mind briefly wanders to her mother, who would be so ashamed that such a weak woman once bore the name Black. Her glare hardening, Andromeda turns her attention to the parchment.
She reads the first line before stumbles backwards into the wall, the parchment dropping from her hand. She doesn’t care to see where it falls, her own body sinking against the wall. A moan escapes her, the tears shortly following. She shakes as her face screws up in pain. She wants to scream, she wants to sob, she wants to disappear. The guilt wells inside her, the horror growing with it. She is too late, her groans of pain fall on deaf ears because he is dead. Her Gideon is dead and she has failed him.
A/N: once again, a very big thank you to Rachel for reading through this for me first. I'm still a little worried this is confusing/not working, so please let me know how I can improve. Thanks!
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