He had been her bodyguard for three months now.
Trailing her around the venues where she spun her magic webs, then standing stoically outside her various dressing rooms whilst she snapped the threads to pieces. It was the job.
He knew why he’d taken it, of course. Because of the magic. When she was up there, spinning, leaping, floating, she was unbreakable.
Watching her, he could feel it, and, in those moments, nothing seemed to matter except the way she soared. He was earth-bound, himself, too big, too clumsy when it came to the music.
But when she danced, it was almost as if he stepped alongside her, lifting her, spinning with her. That was why he’d taken the job. But it wasn’t why he stayed.
He stayed because of the breaking. At first he hadn't noticed it. It looked like fun, like the kind of lifestyle to aspire to.
But gradually, gradually, he saw it for what it was: a lifestyle, but a hellish, grim, and wretched one.
She would be laughing when she brought them to her dressing room, laughing and teasing and flirting.
They'd stumble past him; giving him no more attention than if he’d been a part of the furniture. There'd be crashes, screams, sighs, then one of them would stumble out, looking dishevelled.
Sometimes they left the door open, and then he could see her. She’d force a smile to herself, not bothering to get a glass, sipping straight from the open bottle. Dutch comfort.
Sometimes she’d catch him looking, but her eyes would slide straight past him. She was good at that: pretending. Pretending she was alone. Pretending he couldn’t see the threads snapping.
Pretending the answers were swishing at the bottom of the bottle. He never said anything. He understood make-believe. He understood false comforts.
Then the anomaly. The outlier. The irregularity in their rehearsed routine. She came back alone this time. He waited for her to walk past, but she stopped in front of him.
Acknowledged his presence for the first time.
“You should come in.” She pushed open the door that he stood stiffly beside and looked up at him, daring, waiting.
“I'm on duty.”
“You are here to protect me, yes?” She asked, and he caught the lilting end of an accent on her words. “What better place to keep me safe than from by my side?”
He hesitated still, but she waited, unmoving, so he carefully sidled past her. Into the lion’s den.
She closed the door behind them and moved to the small table that groaned under the weight of the bottles it carried.
“You will have a drink?” It wasn’t really a question, but he nodded anyway. He’d come this far. She pulled the lid off the clear liquid, pouring it into two glasses.
She passed him one, then carried the other and the bottle to the two sofas sat facing each other, sitting the potent drink on the coffee table between them.
He sat facing her, and they sipped, watching each other carefully.
“So,” she said finally, turning the glass in her hand, “what is your story?”
“I don’t understand.” He shook his head a little uneasily. She teased a tangle out of her pale hair and lifted her callused feet onto the table.
“You, the super spy. I want to know why.”
He stiffened slightly, gazing down at his drink. What did he have to lose? he would argue. Nothing but the magic. He risked it.
“I was in love with a girl.” He paused, and she nodded understandingly.
“They always are.”
“I almost killed two people she loved. Now she hates me. Thinks I'm a monster.”
She didn’t argue.
“I believe that everyone is a monster.” She addressed her glass thoughtfully, absently. “At least a little bit.”
“Even you?” He caught his breath for a moment, afraid he’d overstepped, but she only nodded.
“I killed a man,” she said calmly. He waited.
“He was my fiancé. We loved each other desperately, which always means disaster. I could not stay faithful.”
“Could not, or would not?” He snapped his teeth on the venomous tail of his sentence, but it slipped from his lips and hung between them. She shrugged.
“Is there a difference? He would confront me, command me, cajole me. But love had turned my heart to stone. I made it all about the art.
I told him how he smothered me, how he suffocated my dance, my movement. We could not live without each other, but we could not live with each other. He killed himself.”
“Yet you live without him.”
She looked up at him, her brow twisting.
“I breathe without him. My heart beats without him. My feet move, my hands work, and my mouth smiles without him. But I do not live.”
She sipped from her glass, then looked up at him.
“You are very handsome.”
“And you are very beautiful.”
“It is a pity that we are ugly on the inside.” They were silent, then with interest in her voice she asked, “do you believe that I killed him? That I caused his death?”
He slid his finger through the condensation on the side of his glass. He had begun with truths. He would continue with them.
“Yes,” he replied. “I believe that you did.”
She seemed surprised for the first time that night, then she smiled crookedly at him.
“And I believe that it was your own fault that your love knows you for a monster.”
“So do I.”
She nodded slowly.
“At least we are honest.” She broke the silence after a few moments, and he glanced up at her. “We may be the most beautiful ugly monsters, but at least we know.
At least we do not lie to ourselves.”
His hand was moving before he realised it, and his drink hung in the air between them.
She leaned forward, touching her glass gently against his, and they both drained their glasses. She coughed slightly, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand.
“You are very handsome,” she said again. He watched her, wordless. “Would you stay, if I asked you too?” She whispered.
“Would you make-believe love with me? Would you pretend, just for a little while, that we aren't ruined?”
He turned the glass around in his hand for a few moments, remembering. He remembered the months spent watching the threads breaking. He remembered the years spent chasing magic.
He remembered the revulsion, the hatred, the loathing written across his One-and-Only’s face. He remembered Her tears. He remembered Her kisses.
He set the glass down gently on the scuffed wooden table. He looked up at the broken woman. Then he stood up.
“I used to pretend,” he said softly, “but eventually you have to face reality.”
He crossed the room quickly, but was halted in the doorway by her words.
“You're a monster. But so is everyone. She’ll understand eventually.”
Then he was only a fast-disappearing shadow on the wall. She watched the empty doorway for a while, then lifted her glass, letting the light dance through it.
Her hand loosened, just enough, then the glass shattered across the wooden table. He heard it. He didn’t turn back.
She was dead in the morning. He knew that he’d killed her. But what did it matter?
Everyone is a monster, she understood that.
It was night by the time he found the right street. It was inky-black as he waited outside the house. He could feel Her in there. He watched the darkened windows, then paced slowly towards them.
He was ugly inside, but so was everyone. He would make Her understand.
He had to.