Liz was aware that time passed, but it had no meaning for her. Days blurred together. Everything around her just seemed dull and muted, unreal. She often wondered if she would just fade away.
Speed stretches fallen rain.
Skin lines on the window pane.
It blurs until I'm blind.
Can't see the other side.
Except the unending pain, that was very real.
Her whole body hurt all the time. Everything she did was painful, every movement torment, even breathing.
I took the long way home,
Through November's undertone.
Sharp eyes sifting through to find
Moments rare and purified.
All she wanted to do was sleep but even that was denied to her because terrible dreams haunted her.
The other thing she was aware of was Zan.
He was a constant presence.
Zan got her out of bed, pushed her into the shower, laid out clothes for her to wear. She only ate because he sat her at the table and put food in front of her. She only left her apartment because he pulled her out the door.
He talked to her, but she didn’t hear most of what he said, and when she did answer it was in a disinterested monotone and using as few words as possible.
He took her for drives and she stared out the window without seeing their surroundings. He took her to his garage while he worked and she sat to the side in a chair where he put her, and she focused on the stains on the floor.
Often he took her for walks around the park, and they stopped to see her angel and it made her feel a little less sad. Sometimes she just sat in the grass looking at him and sometimes she sat and cried.
When she got really bad, Zan’s strong arms held her tight.
I didn't know where I was,
I don't know where I'm running to.
Fear is needless, cease.
Air is fearless, breathe.
Slowly Liz woke and realized that for the first time in a long time that she had actually gotten some sleep. Nightmares hadn’t plagued her in the night, or at least they hadn’t kept her awake.
Gingerly she sat up, expecting every muscle in her body to protest, but it was more of a dull ache and not the strength-stealing agony that had seemed to be in her very bones. Taking a deep breath she waited for the pain to come, but at least for now it had receded.
Looking around her room, she realized that the world around her seemed less blurry. It was like she was coming out of a fog, and wondered how long it had been. She couldn’t seem to focus her brain on the time that had passed, all she could remember was the pain. But it had to have been weeks, didn’t it?
She wasn’t sure how many, but surely more than two or three. At least that was the impression she had. She’d have to ask Zan.
And even though she didn’t see or hear him, she knew he was in the apartment. He must have been staying with her. He’d been there in moments whenever she’d cried out in the night. He’d held her, stroking her hair and rocking her like a child, whispering comforting words until she quieted again and drifted off into a troubled sleep.
A movement made her turn her head and she saw he was standing at her bedroom door. When her eyes met his, he smiled. “Morning, darling”, he greeted.
His sudden appearance surprised her and she sat looking at him for long minutes. The words sounded familiar and she wondered if he’d been saying them to her every morning.
She watched him as his smile started to falter, but for some reason that bothered her and she wanted it back. She spoke softly hoping it would return. “Good morning.”
Instantly his smile was back and he moved into the room, leaning a casual shoulder against her wall as he folded his arms over his chest. “So what are you up for today? A drive? Or you could help me out at the garage with that new Corvette.”
Liz stared at him, blinking occasionally, as his words seemed to take a long time to make sense. When they finally did, her brow creased and she looked down at his hands as she considered. He had large, strong hands, but they were also gentle. She knew that because of the way he’d been taking care of her. She didn’t remember anything specific, it was just a feeling, and she knew it should mean something, but she just couldn’t think of what it was.
There was something she should remember or do, but it wouldn’t come to her. Her usually sharp mind still didn’t seem to be functioning properly.
She didn’t know how long she sat thinking, but her name being spoken broke through and caught her attention.
“Liz,” Zan said again.
She looked up to see that the smile was gone from his face again, and he’d moved closer. He knelt before her, searching her face, and she realized that she’d kept him waiting for his answer.
“I want to go to the park,” she breathed.
He held her gaze, looking solemn, but nodded. “Why don’t you have a shower and get dressed,” he suggested. “I’ll make breakfast, and we can go after we eat.”
She wanted to go now but knew Zan would insist on breakfast, and she had no strength to fight him. It was easier to just give in. “Okay,” she agreed with a sigh.
He stood. “Do you need any help?”
Liz’s first reaction was surprise. Why would he offer to help? She wasn’t an invalid. But she realized that he had been helping her a lot, even though she really didn’t remember many details.
“Liz?” he prompted, making her refocus on him, and she shook her head.
He looked like he might argue, but nodded. “Just yell if you need anything,” as he headed toward the door.
As Liz stood under the steaming water, she tried to concentrate on what had happened in the time since she’d told Zan, but she was missing large chunks of time. She only remembered bits and pieces, moments and snatches of time.
She could remember him talking to her, and even remember that she’d occasionally answered, but she couldn’t think of one thing they’d said. And it seemed to her that today was the most conversation she’d had with Zan the whole time.
She’d gotten up for the first time before he’d dragged her out of bed and they’d talked, even if it was brief. She’d even looked him in the eye, which she couldn’t remember doing since that day she’d told him. Maybe that’s why he’d been surprised.
But she was glad that he hadn’t made a big deal out of it. He’d been casual and as normal as possible and it put her at ease.
The hot water felt good on her skin and she realized it was the first time in a long time that it had. She remembered standing under the water day after day without really feeling it or anything else at all.
Was she coming back to life? And she had to wonder if the worst of her grieving was starting to pass.
It was too soon though, wasn’t it? What was a normal amount of time to grieve? She didn’t know. But it seemed too soon.
How could she just get over the love of her life in a few weeks?
But it hadn’t only been a few weeks, some part of her brain reminded her. It had been more than six months.
What was a normal amount of time to grieve?
She tried to think about it logically, but again her brain didn’t seem to want to function properly. She couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around large or complicated thoughts. Pushing it aside for now, she focused on what she could comprehend; washing her body and hair, turning off the water, patting herself dry with a towel.
Going into her room, she wasn’t surprised to see clothes laid out on her now-made bed. Zan must have done it like he’d done for her all the other mornings, and she put them on, grateful that she didn’t have to tax her brain with wondering what to wear.
She combed her hair, vaguely realizing it was still wet, but drying it just seemed like too much trouble. Even thinking about using her powers to do it practically exhausted her. She didn’t think she had used her powers since that day, it just didn’t seem possible, like it would take away all her energy.
She’d avoided looking in the mirror in the bathroom and she did the same in the bedroom. She didn’t want to know what she looked like, but her eyes were drawn to her reflection as if against her will.
In the mirror she saw her thin, haggard face, pale and drawn like she was the survivor of a terrible accident or tragedy. But she guessed that was exactly what she was.
Without emotion, she took in every detail of her reflection. Her eyes seemed huge and dominated her face, and were filled with a lost and faraway look. Dark smudges underneath almost looked like bruises. Her mouth was thin and straight as if it had never smiled.
She looked tiny, pale and pathetic, but as she stood blinking at the strange girl in the mirror, she just couldn’t summon the energy to care.
Maybe that should bother her, but it didn’t.
A wonderful smell made her turn toward the door and she inhaled deeply. Bacon cooking had to be the best thing she had ever smelled and it made her stomach rumble with hunger.
Zan had been cooking for her, and she thought she even remembered bacon on her plate on more than one occasion, but she couldn’t remember smelling it or even being tempted by it. Perhaps it was just more proof that she was starting to come back to the world of the living, whether she was ready or not.
After breakfast was eaten and the dishes and kitchen cleaned with a swipe of Zan’s hand, they started on their walk through the park.
Liz hadn’t asked Zan to come but he was right beside her the whole way.
Hear the sirens,
Hear the circus so profound.
I hear the sirens
More and more in this here town
She knew they’d gone to see her angels more than once, but she barely even remember those visits. It felt like the first time she’d been to see them in months.
Today as they approached the trees that separated the park from the cemetery, she felt nervous about seeing them. Him.
Let me catch my breath to breathe
And reach across the bed
Just to know we're safe
Would seeing her angel bring it all back? Make it even more real?
Her heart seemed to speed up with each step they took through the trees and closer to the cemetery.
She’d found comfort there for so long and she didn’t want that feeling to change. Her angel had helped her through some of her toughest times.
Even if she hadn’t consciously wanted to admit that Max was gone, she’d visited the angel statue like she would have visited his grave if he’d been on Earth.
I pull you close, so much to lose knowing that nothing lasts forever
I didn't care before you were here.
I danced in laughter with the everafter
But all things change
Let this remain
Hear the sirens
Covering distance in the night.
The sound echoing closer.
Will they come for me next time?
They finally emerged into the cemetery and Liz practically held her breath as they approached the familiar spot.
She was afraid to look, but lifted her eyes quickly to do it before she could talk herself out of it.
A shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and fell across her angel’s face, illuminating it and practically making it glow, and she caught her breath.
He was so beautiful.
The slightest bit of light
And I can see you clear
Oh, have to take your hand
And feel your breath for fear this someday will be over
But as she studied him, the light also revealed the truth.
The angel was beautiful, but it was only stone, a marble statue, not the magical creature that she had come to regard it as.
Liz realized that tears flowed down her cheeks.
Max was gone. She couldn’t pretend any more. He was gone and nothing would change that.
For a moment she saw Max’s face carved into the stone and wondered what had happened to him after he... After.
She was certain that he wouldn’t have a monument. Would he have been put in an unmarked hole in the ground? Or possibly cremated and his ashes disposed of like he’d never existed.
He deserved better than that. He was a hero. He had sacrificed two lifetimes for his people.
Want you to know that should I go
I always loved you, held you high above, true.
I study your face, and the fear goes away.
It's a fragile thing, this life we lead.
If I think too much I can get overwhelmed by the grace
By which we live our lives with death over our shoulder
But what happened to him was something she would never know. That was why it was easier to pretend that he and the others were here on Earth, where they belonged, buried beneath the angels.
She took a deep breath, but her voice was choked with pain as she whispered, “Goodbye Max.”
After their walk, Zan drove them to the beach and Liz sat in the sand and watched the waves roll into shore. The sounds of the water and the rhythms were soothing and she let her thoughts drift away.
She ate when Zan gave her food, but didn’t have the strength to wonder where it had come from, or even what it was. She didn’t even notice that it was getting dark until Zan spoke.
“We should get you home,” he said softly.
She looked up at him, where he was standing above her and took his outstretched hand, letting him help her to her feet.
He put her in the car and wrapped a blanket around her. “Are you warm enough?”
Nodding, she met his gaze. “Yes, thank you.”
For a moment she thought she saw a spark of something in his eyes, but her foggy brain couldn’t hold onto it long enough to wonder what it was.
He started the car and chatted as they drove. “It was a nice day at the beach,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I liked watching the waves.”
“It was a beautiful sunset,” he continued.
She shook her head. “I guess I missed it.”
“Well,” he drawled, “we can go another time and I’ll be sure to point it out to you.”
“Okay,” she agreed, and then wondered if he was teasing her. She had to have been really focused not to have noticed the sunset, and he would have realized.
Suddenly she was exhausted. Her head was too heavy to hold up and she leaned it against the window. And then remembered what she’d meant to ask him. “How long?” she breathed.
He didn’t ask her to explain what she meant. “Almost six weeks,” he said softly.
It seemed like a long time, but on the other hand, it didn’t really mean all that much to her, and she heard herself saying, “Oh.”
After a few minutes when she didn’t say anything else, Zan picked up the conversation again, asking for her comments and opinions, and she answered him the best she could with her fuzzy brain.
And sooner than she would have thought, they were at her apartment, and she was almost disappointed. She’d liked Zan talking to her.
Pulling the car into one of the guest parking spots, he came around to help her out.
It seemed like her muscles weren’t obeying her, and she had a hard time even turning to get out. But without a word, Zan swung her into his arms, carrying her into the apartment and to her room.
He used a pulse of power to push the blankets down her bed, and she wondered if he had made it, because she couldn’t remember doing it. Then he gently placed her on the bed.
A strange feeling rushed through her, making her shiver with fear and loneliness and something she couldn’t identify. “I don’t know if I can sleep,” she shakily.
With a wave of his hand, he changed her clothes into soft pajamas. “We had a long day,” he soothed. “You’ll be asleep in no time.”
She was so tired but suddenly she was afraid to be alone. As Zan turned to go, she grabbed his hand, and instantly he turned back to her with a look of concern.
“Can you stay until I fall asleep?” she asked.
A soft smile lifted the edges of his mouth and he nodded as sat down on the bed beside her. He kept her hand in his and stroked her hair with his free hand. Instantly she felt better and the exhaustion started to overcome her, and her eyes drifted shut.
She was just wondering if he was easing her to sleep with his powers as the comforting darkness closed around her. She felt Zan’s lips on her forehead and he whispered, “I missed you, princess. I’m so glad you’re coming back to me.”