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the Joss. The Joss is good. In the footsteps of the Joss do we gratefully warm
ourselves, nor expect we thanks or remuneration. (Though feedback would be
He'd thought he could take anything, as long as it helped her.
He felt gingerly over his face. Lump over one eye, the one he couldn't see from. Dried blood on his cheek. More than one scab. He dampened a washcloth in a little vodka and wiped it off, wincing as it burned into the cuts underneath.
Lips. Swollen. A cut on the upper lip; a lump rising. More vodka. It stung. He took a swig from the bottle and rinsed it around his mouth to take away the taste of blood.
He'd never enjoyed the taste of his own blood. Funny that.
He'd really loved her. She knew it too, had to.
Hadn't made any difference.
He tested his teeth gently with his tongue. One was pretty wobbly. Didn't seem to be about to fall out. A couple more were sore. They'd heal up in a couple of days if he didn't lose them first.
He peeled off his jacket, then his shirt. It was stuck down in places with dried blood. Pulling it loose pulled off the skin underneath. It hurt. Stretching hurt the muscles in his arms, back, everywhere. He inspected his chest. Several scrapes, fresh bleeding where he'd pulled the shirt loose. More vodka on the washcloth to wipe off the blood.
Christ, that hurt.
The damage didn't seem too serious underneath.
Several large bruises, one already turning purple. His face must be a mess. Probably just as well mirrors were no use. Her expression, when she saw what she'd done to him, told him more than he needed to know.
He'd thought for a second there that she regretted it. He'd seen the tears standing in her eyes. He'd thought for a moment she was sorry she'd hurt him.
But then he realised she was just horrified that she'd stooped so low.
He felt along his sides. A couple of very tender spots. One cracked rib. No, two. They'd mend soon enough. Nothing he could do for it now but deaden the pain.
He recapped the bottle and inspected his shirt. Ripped in a couple of places; could be stitched. The stains would come out. But he'd nicked it thinking she might like it. He tossed it in the trash.
He moved slowly down the ladder into the crypt and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. A faint smell of sex still hung in the air. He looked around him. The place was a mess. He hadn't gotten around to cleaning up after her last visit.
He braced himself and stood up painfully, wincing as he straightened. He had to do this now, before he stiffened up.
Before he lost his resolve.
For the next forty-five minutes he worked slowly and methodically through the crypt, straightening, tidying, throwing out everything that had broken. Ridding the crypt of any sign of her presence.
When he was done he pulled on a t-shirt. No point frightening the locals. He climbed carefully up the ladder with the bag of trash. It was a quarter-mile to the nearest dumpster, but he carried it all the way, pausing from time to time to set it down and stretch out his protesting muscles and rest. She'd really done a number on him. Finally he reached his goal and with another little effort, a grunt of exertion, tossed in the bag.
He leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. It hurt to hold it between his lips. He smoked it down to the nub, looking idly at the opposite wall, his mind a careful blank. When the ember reached his fingers he pinched it out and threw the butt on the ground.
Littering. Proved he was a soulless evil thing, that.
Didn't want to go back to the crypt. It smelled of her. But there was nowhere in this sodding town that didn't smell of her.
No way to avoid it. He'd be reminded of her everywhere he went.
He sighed and began the trek home.
Home. Funny, that, too. Never felt like home. Maybe it was time he changed that, decorated to suit himself, instead of trying to guess at her tastes. Maybe he could move. A crypt was a bit of a stereotype. Time he outgrew it, maybe.
He tried to remember when he'd felt the break. The tiny, final snap in his chest, of something parting, some thread that had held taut until now against everything she'd done.
The invisible filament that had connected him to her.
It hadn't been when she'd said he couldn't love her. Not when she'd said she'd never be his girl. Not when she'd called him soulless and evil. She'd said all those things before. They hadn't helped.
It hadn't been when she was beating him, as he lay there not even trying to defend himself. She'd never gone so far before. But it was no more than he'd expected. Hell, he'd given her permission.
He remembered as he crossed the street outside the Magic Box. Jaywalking. Evil thing.
He'd felt the snap when without a backward glance, she'd walked away.
Tiny. Definite. Almost audible.
You could swear it was over a thousand times. It wouldn't make any difference. Until finally one day something shifted. Something broke. And then the whole world changed.
It was going to be hard. And no way to kill the pain. But at least it wasn't going to be impossible anymore.
He walked past the alley behind the burger joint she worked in.
No way to avoid reminders.
But he could avoid her, from now on.