To understand Gamemaker Azazel Fenwick, one must first understand his family.
The Fenwicks began years ago, an old family born out of toil, but not in the dirt. A name such as his, one that has come to be feared by those that know what's good for them, began like all things do; in blood.
Atticus Fenwick was born before Panem's history. How he got to his position near the shoulder of Snow himself, many do not know. Those that did were silenced quickly. He was known to be an imposing man, not because of his height or the breadth and width of his shoulders, nor was it for his imposing stare. Atticus, above all things, was known for the scar that began at the right corner of his mouth and reached back behind his neck, lost into his hairline. It moved strangely when he spoke and when he drank, liquid would spill out through his cheek. When he ate, those he dined with were treated to a view of what he was chewing.
Absolutely no one knew how he had acquired it. There was no one left to say.
In Snow's new world, Atticus Fenwick quickly established himself, buying up many plots of land on the Capitol's main street and leasing them out to business there. He made sure to establish the Fenwick name by placing it in as many places as he could. It came to the point that one could barely enter a business without being reminded of the Fenwick name.
These clean dealings were never enough for Atticus. He was making the money, yes, but the flavour of life was gone, the joy. A young family blossomed slowly for him in a manor house that was cursed to be too large. Four sons and three daughters, all beautiful and perfectly planted. He had a beautiful wife and family but it was not enough.
Atticus returned to the world that was already growing again in the underbelly of the Capitol, in the poorer areas where the glamour didn't touch quite so easily. He began to trade illegally in anything he could, arms and jewels, cocaine and exotic pets. At the age of seventy-five during the sixtieth games, he passed on these businesses to his second eldest son and left his six children with a substantial amount of money in order for them to spread their roots as well. Atticus remains living a comfortable life with his wife of seventy years in an apartment building owned by the Fenwicks where he chooses not to be bothered.
The current Patriarch of the family is Nicholas Fenwick, father of seven legitimate children and two bastard sons. Since inheriting the family business, its reach has only grown under his name and he is often no longer referred to as just a man. His name is spread around the underground like a curse and the streets have never been bloodier, not since the dark days before Panem.
His children live in the lap of luxury in apartments of their own as they are all mostly grown. His eldest sons help him run the many arms of the Fenwick businesses while younger ones have become Peacekeepers. His daughters have been married off and the eldest of his sons already has an heir. The Fenwick line is a strong one, a large one. The bloodline has bloomed into many different veins and from Atticus Fenwick have come Doctors and Lawyers, Government officials and game technicians, and in one small case, a pastor.
Nolan Fenwick, eldest son of Atticus Fenwick proved to be a disappointment to the Fenwick name. He was born prematurely in the year of the 29th games and was always sickly as a child. His younger brother Nicholas quickly outshone him in all fields. He never earned his father's praise the way that his younger brother could and as a result, his childhood was filled with a strange detachment and sense of shame.
He ran away from home at the age of eighteen and disappeared into the walls of an old ministry that despite everything, had been and continued practising since before the wars. He stayed there, safe behind the walls of the church for three years. his father never looked for him, never having cared for his eldest son in the first place.
Nolan cast off the richness he'd come encased in, trading his expensive suit and jewels for the cowl of a monk, searching for acceptance and love in any corner that he could, never having received it at home.
It is uncertain what he found in those ministry walls but he did not emerge the same man. A new scar adorned his shaven head, an eye with three eyelashes, wide open, was carved into his forehead and he called himself Father.
He began small, preaching to those who would listen on the poorest streets in the Capitol and quickly gained a small following. He promised love, for the suffering to end. He promised to provide them with a scapegoat for their sins, someone that would take all punishments for them so that God may still love them in their time of death. People, desperate for something more, a promise, began to follow him. They provided him with a place to live and food to live, they formed a community of their own. They became a self-sufficient community within the underbelly of the Capitol and Nolan had finally found the love and adoration that he had always craved.
He married a woman named Samanta and she bore for him three daughters and finally, after a few years, a son.
As promised, a scapegoat for his people's sins.
Lest Samanta become attached, Nolan gave his son over to the other woman of his small tribe to be raised. From the time he was able to crawl, he was chained to the wall in order to remind his people who he was. Beautiful in appearance, Nolan preached that the baby had come as a devil to corrupt their community and that he was the promised one. He would be the one to take their sins upon himself as a gift to the community.
He was raised for seven years with no name, left chained up in the dark and only brought out when a community member needed to take punishment for a misdemeanour. The people were joyful that they would not feel the pain themselves but the idea that a small child would suffer for them brought the rate of crime down substantially, especially because of the way that he'd watch them so intently, intelligence in his gaze and judging as well as God himself.
The boy took punishments quietly after some time, having grown used to them from a young age and because of that, the people in the community began to fear him. It didn't make sense to them that such a small child could take the cut of a blade or the burn of a hot poker with not so much as a scream. They stopped seeing him as a child and began to see him as what Father Nolan promised them that he was.
At the age of eight, he was branded on the back of his neck like an animal with the very eye that his father wore so proudly on his head. However, this time, when the hot poker touched his skin, he let out a scream so loud and somehow at the exact time to attract a Peacekeeper that happened to be patrolling the street that the commune lived on.
Some say that the child knew that he would be there, yet how could he when his only link to the outside world had been a small window in the wall of his basement room for so many years?
He was taken then and placed first into government care and then into the hands of an uncle named Nathan, a renowned Peacekeper known for his work in quelling the beginnings of a rebellion in a forgotten district. When Nathan asked the boy his name, his answer was so quiet that he needed to repeat himself twice in order to be heard.
"you are weak but not foolish you have learned how to die."
He was reclaimed.
A lost son of the Fenwick lineage was found.
Atticus Fenwick himself came to see the small boy that had caused so much fuss and they both had a look at each other. Azazel did not call him grandfather, Atticus never asked him to. It wasn't a happy meeting, a family reunion, but an assessment.
Azazel saw a grizzled, miserable old man that had grown complacent in his kingdom. He saw the same strange emptiness in his gaze that his father had held but with slightly more intelligence.
Atticus looked into his eyes and saw himself there, raw intelligence just waiting to be mined. He took him from Nathan and brought Azazel home to his apartment, empty now but for his wife, and began to teach Azazel everything that he knew.
For two long years, Azazel was homeschooled by teachers through favours called in by Atticus; one does not simply ignore a request from a Fenwick, and gradually he began to speak again. He'd been deprived of most everything as a child and learning had been something he'd sought out, a dog begging for scraps beneath the table at dinner.
Azazel, so young, was wiser than most for his age. After two years of learning, he was registered in a private school for the very wealthy and Azazel began to gain his footing. With his keen intellect and interest in anything and everything, he was quickly bumped a couple of grades. The difference in age combined with the fact that his childhood had been rougher than a boy in his standing should have been, left him often alone. He was alienated once again.
Life at home was as lonely as life at school. Azazel was subjected to long periods of no interaction, given a key to his grandfather's apartment and told to stay while his Grandfather and Grandmother attended parties and visited his extended family. The apartment was above ground but he could feel the collar and chain around his neck once again.
Interacting with those his own age became a puzzle and attempting conversation with the kids in his grade was nearly impossible. At three years their junior, no one wanted to babysit.
So Azazel spent most of his time alone and for the most part, he didn't mind. He'd been alone for as long as he could remember.
Then, at the age of eleven, he was moved up another year and for the very first time, Azazel made a friend.
"you are weak but not foolish you have learned how to die."
Some people say that purgatory is a place that you go after you die if you've been neither bad or good. Other people say that it's simply a sort of waiting room before the decision is made whether or not you go to heaven or hell.
Loving Apollo was mine.
There are few pains that are more than loving someone except perhaps loving someone that doesn't love you back. When I was eleven, I met the love of my life, not that I knew it yet.
It would be polite to say that at that age I was socially inept. It was more like I had absolutely no idea how to interact with people, let alone the people in my various classes. At that point I was used to going through life alone, always swimming upstream while the rest of the students at my school flowed with it.
Being bumped up yet another grade meant nothing. It was just another jump closer to graduating and leaving. No one would miss me and I wouldn't miss them, as was the way of life.
I was living with my grandfather then and we barely saw each other except for sometimes at dinner. I was less a boy to him but simply a piece of property, a trophy, if you will. I went from a damp dark room in a basement to a cold, dark apartment in the middle of the city but it never felt much different to me.
I carried that coldness with me throughout the day, never fully able to relieve it from my limbs. I felt it pour out of my mouth, a unending fountain, every single time I opened my mouth.
I certainly didn't have any friends.
I didn't know I wanted them.
One day, a week or so after I entered his class, Apollo came to my desk and sat on it. He smiled at me and his smile was so big and so warm that I felt its heat on my cheeks and it warmed me in the strangest way. Not from contact or closeness, but I felt the warmth blossom in the pit of my stomach and spread out, a flower come from a seed to take root.
A few years later I'd come to understand that I'd experienced love at first sight.
Years later I would regret my saying yes when he asked to do his project with me.
I'd just been shocked at the time; no one had ever chosen me out of want before, only ever because I was the last one left.
He did though.
He chose me and I still wonder why sometimes.
I spent the next year marvelling, wondering what it was that kept bringing him back to sit on my desk, kept inviting me to sit with him at lunch and even after school in study hall. I wondered why he put up with my inability to create and even keep a conversation. He seemed happy just to chatter at me even if I barely responded and through all of it, every moment and day, I could feel the flower digging its roots into me and demanding more. I barely had anything to give so I fed it desperately, giving Apollo my every waking moment.
Then, in the fall of tenth year, Apollo began to date a girl in our class named Daphne.
I liked her, she was always kind.
I did like her, but like most, she didn't very much like me.
Apollo told me that I had a strange vibe to me. He never seemed to mind it but most everyone else did. I couldn't recognize it on myself but I assume it was something sort of like a personal scent. I had smelled it my whole life, so to me, it was fine. To everyone else, I was someone to avoid. I'd never minded much, especially after Apollo became my friend, but I did mind when he started seeing Daphne.
I was a watcher, a wallflower and I can't lie and say I'm not still one now. My natural place is with my back against the wall, analyzing.
Daphne didn't like the way I did that, told me I was a creep.
Not in front of Apollo though, never in front of him.
I didn't mind, what she said never bothered me because in my head, she barely existed and was nowhere near my list of importance. If anything, at that time, she might have been between cotton buds and a shoe horn.
Still, every time I looked at her sitting in Apollo's lap or watched Apollo absentmindedly playing with her hair while we did homework, I felt as if someone was gripping the flower in my stomach and giving it a hard yank. The roots clung on anyway and I'd come to find that it wasn't so much a flower but a weed, growing back every single time I tried to cut it back. That was many in the years to come.
No time harder however than the day that Apollo told me with a pale face that Daphne was pregnant.
The day where it dawned on me that what I was feeling for the past two months of their dating wasn't just an illness but jealousy, hurt. I came to understand that the way I felt for Daphne wasn't simply indifference but a quiet hatred. It was a similar hatred I'd felt for my sisters when I was a child.
If I'd been born as a girl, maybe he might have loved me the way that I loved him.
Jealousy took me up almost eagerly now that I understood what it was and as Daphne grew with child, I lost the ability to look at her, let alone at Apollo. When we spoke I'd drop my gaze and when we were alone together, I felt an agonizing ache in the back of my throat. Words I wanted to speak so badly now that I understood them stuck themselves to my tongue until it grew too heavy to lift and I hated her.
I applied myself to school in those months and left Apollo's year behind, setting myself to graduate with strangers that had heard about the genius in the year below and had always hated me.
I could breathe properly though in a new classroom, one where I didn't have to stare at the back of Daphne's head and watch her hand resting on her stomach as it grew.
The childish part of me that was still very much there, that everyone seemed to forget about, cried out in pain. It wasn't fair. I deserved to be loved by him, to have my love reciprocated, not her.
But he did love me, very much. He didn't in the way that I wanted him to.
We spent that Christmas together, the three of us. I'd never had a Christmas before then and wasn't quite certain about what it was. It was warm, whatever it was really. Something broke between Daphne and I like splintering ice. She was very heavy then with Apollo's child and despite their youth, the tenderness in his hands and eyes when he was near her made me ache.
He loved her and I began to accept it then out of necessity and because he was happy.
I wrapped my hand tight around the weed in my stomach and I cut down to the roots.
For some time, it was all very wonderful. Apollo bought an apartment through his parents and Daphne invited me to live with them. I'd been surprised but there was some sort of peace offering in her eyes and I wondered if maybe we could make that work, if I could handle a second friend.
It creeps through the halls so slow but unyielding and it swallows a person whole.
I watched Apollo walk slowly past the nursery door, doing laps around the apartment as I held his son in my arms and witnessed the sunrise. It'd done it every day since we'd put Daphne in the ground. It had been six weeks before. Finals had come and gone. I'd graduated with honours and I'd turned thirteen somewhere in there.
Daphne's birthday was a week after mine but she wasn't there to celebrate it and I'd never really lost anyone before her.
I'd never cared about anyone before Apollo.
I don't know how, but I know that it was a trade.
Her life for Achilles.
He was a quiet baby, gazing up with inquisitive eyes, staring at me knowingly and I wasn't sure what I was to him then, if he was aware that his mother was dead and all he currently had in that short time was the outline of a father, a hole where he was meant to be and me.
"You're something special, you know?"
Apollo's voice came from the doorframe, a little bit hoarse, a little bit sad. I looked at him for a long moment, drinking him in and paying careful attention to the way the weak morning sun washed over his skin. His hair, dark and unruly was out of place, his shirt open slightly at the neck. There was a trace of a shadow on his jaw. For all this, he looked so young. We both were.
"What?" I ask.
I held Achilles up for him to take then and he gurgled happily, comfortable in his father's arms. Apollo was silent for a moment, eyes shut in a bath of yellow light, hand cupping Achilles' small head. It was quiet and good.
"You're something the world hasn't seen before. You're really gonna shake it, do something big."
It took a moment to process the compliment and I stared up at him, the exhaustion of a sleepless morning up with a newborn having taken its toll on me. There was spit-up on my shoulder and the book on how to change a diaper still lay open in the corner of the room from the night before. My tongue was burnt from testing formula and messing up, I knew it wasn't only Apollo that looked a mess.
A bird chirped outside in the still morning air and I saw the way Apollo held onto his baby so tenderly and careful, brow furrowed slightly with something other than sorrow.
And I loved him again, so much more than only seconds earlier.
He sat down across from me and I could feel the space where our knees almost touched. It buzzed, electric and I honest to god wondered how he couldn't feel it too, how it was just me. I pulled my knees up to my chest, cheeks burning.
I felt a warmth beneath my eyes and I blinked hard. Daphne had only been gone for six weeks.
"Do you think I'll be a good father?"
His question was quiet and sparked, flavoured. There was a hint of Apollo in there that he never showed to the rest of the world, always reserved for Daphne or me. Such vulnerability in an iron frame.
My heart beat so loudly in my chest in that moment, the sound filled the apartment and I nearly let it slip that day. I could feel the words forming so easily there, held in check against my cheek.
"You're loving and kind. You're a caretaker, you'll be good," I told him instead.
He handed Achilles back then and I settled him in my arms against my chest, carefully tucking his blanket around him better. I was already so fond of his little chubby cheeks then, so proud of every little sound he made.
I hadn't liked Daphne much and I still didn't think that life existed after death, but at that moment, I hoped that wherever she was, she could see her son and how beautiful he was.
"I'm selfish too," Apollo said, "Arrogant and stubborn. How do I know that won't rub off?"
"They probably will," I said, "But I like those parts of you."
We sat in silence then for a moment and Apollo stared at me, assessing something new. I couldn't look at him, focused on Achilles instead and the way his little hand gripped my finger so tightly. I didn't know then just how much I loved the kid, didn't know about the things I would do for him in the future. I didn't consider how long I would be in his life, nor he mine.
"Those are bad things?," he phrased it like a question, like he wasn't certain I knew that but I did. "Why do you like them?"
I didn't hesitate.
"Becuase they're apart of you."
"And I like all of you."
"All of the time."
My cheeks heated up and I rocked Achilles gently, wondering if the coffee shop on the corner was open yet so that I could go get a coffee for Apollo and a hot chocolate for myself. I hadn't liked the bitter taste to coffee yet at that point but a few weeks later I'd quickly learned to love it.
It felt like I'd just confessed to him but I knew Apollo wouldn't understand it that way. I was his best friend and nothing more then. I tried not to see it that way. I was his best friend, and I shouldn't have asked for more. He already gave me a home and a family. I was being selfish.
I was naive.
"You're one of the only good things in my life right now," he said softly, "Thank-you."
I couldn't help wondering if it was code, even while knowing it wasn't.
I just smiled, "You're the only good thing in my life."
"...ahh...Achilles too," and I kissed his small forehead for good measure, having felt bad for leaving him out.
"He's really attached to you, you can tell," Apollo said, reaching out to touch the soft baby hair's on his head, "Pretty sure he smiled at you before me."
His hand looked too big there, cupping such fragility and I felt my chest tighten again. Our hands were so different than Daphne's. She was always using hand creams and lotions to keep her's smooth and Achilles wouldn't ever know that. So much was given up in order to have him.
"He's very precious," I said softly.
I wonder if she regretted it, in her last moments, creating him.
Would she had still wanted to have him if she'd known that it would kill her?
"I want to name you a legal guardian when you're older, of course."
I hadn't hesitated for even a moment, eyes stuck on Achilles. He was perfect in every way. I could barely feel anything at that time past the love for the two of them.
"take a fucking chill pill zel, take a fucking pill"
I'm fifteen and fucked the first time someone fucks me. I shouldn't have been at that party but we got a babysitter that night and it was frosh week at college so we basically had to go.
That was a long time ago but I wish I never had.
At the time, I'd still had this idea in my head that Apollo would be my first, no matter how straight he was. I kept waiting for the day that he would suddenly look at me and see me anew. It never came.
When Felix looked at me funny in our property laws class I let him and I thought about him again when I was on my third shot at that party and then again when I woke up, sweaty and uncomfortable at five in the morning beside him in bed, feeling decidedly wrong.
And I didn't tell Apollo, I just felt ashamed.
But after that sex wasn't something to be worried about, some secret idea. I read a lot of books and I had a concept of romance, but I knew that I would never feel anything that deeply except for the way I felt for Apollo. That was my cross to bear. It became easier with an outlet.
I didn't ever let it distract me however, Achilles and school were still my number one priorities. At that point, Apollo and I had already decided that we'd open a law practice together one day so I was simply working myself to that point. I got Achilles' first steps on video and was there the first time he reached up to Apollo with such tiny arms and said, "Daddy."
I was there too when he stumbled over to me on such weak legs and said, "Zel."
And that became my name from there.
For long years we toiled in school but ever the keener, I graduated a semester before Apollo. With nothing to do but wait and Achilles already started Kindergarten, I grew restless. There was only so many bars I could visit, only so many parties I could attend before it all became exhausting, so I put myself to good use and joined up. I received a spotless white uniform and a week to pack for my troubles.
I still remember Achilles' arms wrapped around my legs in the hall of our apartment, snot running down his nose and begging me not to go.
But I still remember too, the ache in the pit of my stomach, the sleepless long mornings spent awkwardly in the bed of someone I didn't even love because I felt so empty and it would be years before I would learn that I was suffering still. After all those years of being free, I wasn't. I had never been.
Because I still woke in a cold sweat most nights, jaw clenched tight and skin tingling with the memory of a whip against my skin.
It worked for awhile.
I was placed in an elite Peacekeeping Squad and the men and women in it seemed to understand me well. We trained long and hard and I had a lot of catching up to do; I had never been big in stature and the exercises were intense. We learned to communicate with no words, sometimes not even gestures. We worked on a level that most would never have the joy of reaching, or the misfortune. Perhaps It was the knowledge that we might die at any moment.
I would go home on leave for Achilles' birthdays, always staying until after mine and I'd marvel at how big he was getting each time. He'd show me everything he'd learned since I'd been gone with excitement and I'd tell him stories about the districts.
Even when Apollo graduated, I didn't go home. He asked me to open a firm wit him and I told him that I needed time.
I'd found something in my unit, something Apollo couldn't offer me.
I'd started seeing Andrew after the first month and then somehow, naturally, Brennan had joined us. No one had commented or seemed to mind about our strange arrangement. There was an unspoken conversation in that unit, a silent story that was writing itself. We functioned as one but as a whole at once.
For two years, we lived like that.
They began sending us out into more difficult missions, things that we barely scraped out of. We lost Caran when I was twenty and none of us were alright after. The world became real and stopped making sense. She'd been the Squad Hen, always cleaning up after us and making everyone tea like it was her second job. Lisa went soon after, she and Caran had always sort of had a thing and when a slim chance of survival came up, she played a hero.
Brennan and I started fighting after. He wanted me to go home, said it was getting too dangerous and they were sending us to Nine to try and get a hand on the gang wars there. I told him that I wasn't a child. I was fucking tired of people treating me like one just becuase I was always younger.
And then there was a bomb.
I still don't remember much except for the ringing in my ears and the heaviness of Andrew's body over mine.
I just remember the stark clarity that everyone else was in pieces around me.
Still, in the few years after I was honourably discharged I couldn't help thinking that perhaps my father had been right all along. Maybe I had been born to pay for the sins of the sinners, maybe it was my role to suffer.
My dog tags hung themselves, a heavy rope, around my neck. I could feel the weight of them pulling me down, along with Andrew and Brennan's. They jingled while I walked and I didn't tell Apollo and Achilles about the love that I had lost that day, unable to fathom it. They treated me very differently, even Achilles, so young and freshly seven.
He could sense that my inability to get up some days was more than just fatigue from a still healing stomach wound.
Apollo let me haunt the apartment for a few weeks before he gently pestered me into joining his practice. He always knew what I needed before I did and it worked somehow. It was easier to focus on the cases, the problems around me rather than the pain I was feeling.
But Apollo was always busy and we worked long days while Achilles sat at home after school with a babysitter. There were nights I couldn't make it home, too ready to stop at a bar on my way, too happy to crawl into someone else's bed for the evening rather than face the nightmares that always waited for me when I was alone. I spent months bed-hopping, avoiding the knowing look on Apollo's face that slowly turned into disinterest.
He possibly accepted what I had become before I did.
And always, there was the ache in my chest when I looked at him, this deep longing that had never occurred with anyone else. The love I felt for him was painful, hardly bearable at all.
Something inside me broke one day when I came home too late and there was Achilles, curled up in my bed, waiting with a picture he'd drawn at school.
And every night, the dreams came, hard and painful. I slept with Achilles in my bed instead. We'd lay in the dark when I got back from the office and he'd tell me about his day at school until I insisted he sleep and I had him like that for a few years, just him and me. By then I was legally his guardian but I had never considered him as anything less than my son. He was precious.
He was medicine.
But I couldn't stop drinking. I would be fine for a few days and then suddenly not be able to make it through the day without two fingers of whisky in my gullet. I knew there was something wrong with me, that I was hardly coping at all but I couldn't admit it and Apollo lost something. He was no longer as observant as he once was.
I lived like that, from one bar to another, wracked by terrible nightmares through Achilles' childhood. Apollo spent longer and longer hours at the office until he was barely home at all and we barely saw him. I didn't know what he was doing. he always just said "I'm working a big case," but it was never a case I knew about.
I was hardly stupid.
That was proven.
I trusted him; gave him his privacy. I always did, sometimes to the point of stupidity.
When I was twenty-four and Achilles was but twelve, his father sent him away. He was banished, as it were, from the lavish house we had come to own and sent to live alone in an apartment across the district. I had a bed in both, refusing to let him live on his own at so young an age, but there was no room for Apollo. He shut himself in his office, locked from the inside. We were both kept out.
I attended a gala meant to recognize strong forces in the law world and received several commendations there but I went alone, too angry with Apollo to ask him to come along. I feared he wouldn't care anyway and I went home on the arm of an older man that night with worry lines too similar to Apollo's.
The next several years were spent being sole-caretake of our son, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck as he began to act out in efforts to get his father's attention. This became harder as he grew taller than me. He did that thing that teenage boys do where they suddenly spring up over the summer months. I never did that.
Apollo refused to see Achilles.
He refused to say why, would always just say it was for his own protection. I remember trying to hate Apollo for the neglect of his own child but I could not. Despite my anger with him, my hurt, I still trusted him. I knew it was for a reason, or, I hoped so. The idea that Apollo could be so cruel was difficult to swallow.
Even as Achilles cried for a father that had left him alone, I loved Apollo with everything I had.
I was so drunk one night but my head was clear, empty. I was twenty-nine and certain that no one would love me the way that I loved Apollo so I drank until I was a fish. It was my birthday and I spent it in a bar with a barely eighteen Achilles. We hung off each other in the street and laughed as we waited for a cab, both refusing to acknowledge the fact that Apollo wasn't there.
Achilles had long sworn that he didn't even care anymore and I had become very good at agreeing.
Still, something in me made me stay inside the cab that night after dropping Achilles off at home. Maybe it was the tequila in me that gave me too much bravery but I'd decided. No matter how broken things had become, how unfixable I thought I was, I was sure that it wasn't possible that it was only me who was in love.
It couldn't be true.
If every single romance I'd ever read was anything to go off of, I would tell Apollo that I loved him, and he would tell me he loved me. We'd kiss and in the morning, go home to our son and have a happy reunion. My alcohol-soaked brain couldn't conceive of any other outcome.
Perhaps I blocked it all out because it was so horribly awkward but I remember the tightness in my chest, like a harpoon pinning me to the wall. My hands shook like leaves as I stood in the doorframe of his office and watched him work, his shoulders caved in concentration, too thin, too weary and not my Apollo at all.
I ignored it, pushing forward through the darkness into the little pool of light that his desk-lamp cast.
And I was familiar with the hatred of how beautiful and not mine he was. The shine of his hair in the light and the size and texture of his hands. The scratch of his pen as he guided it across the page and the width of his shoulders. I felt like I was dying in every moment that I stood in front of him, aching and burning for him.
"How do you not feel this?"
I wanted to yell at him but I said nothing for a very long moment, waiting for him to finish his thought.
"You need to visit your son," I said.
That's how our conversations always started then. I watched his shoulders tense, watched the fatigue in his eyes as he leaned back and rubbed them.
"You're drunk, Zel."
He never called me Zel unless he was annoyed with me. It was always Azazel and I had always loved the fullness of my name on his tongue.
"I'm also right," I said. I was right a lot.
"We've had this conversation a hundred times. It isn't safe," he said, running his fingers through his hair. I watched his hair fall back into place after his fingers had been through, mesmerized. How was it that no one could tell, let alone him, how obsessed with him I was? Maybe it's because I had been coined a starer. Maybe it was my resting bitch face. Andrew had always said that I looked perpetually pissed.
"Yeah, well, I'm breaking you down slowly."
I knew I wasn't.
I knew, that this wasn't my Apollo anymore but a man in his skin. My Apollo was tall, lanky and smiled too much. My Apollo was sunshine and everything good. My Apollo carried a tiny Achilles on his back everywhere he went like a cape. He brought me little things that he thought I'd like and cooked dinner. He asked me how my day had been and didn't keep secrets from me.
I was so fucking smart but so fucking stupid when it came to him.
And I let my legs take me behind the desk to stand in front of him, to casually lean against cedar, to stop too close.
He looked older than thirty-two. Something in the past few years had aged him, faster than anything else. I wondered for a moment if that's just what being thirty does to you but I know that it wasn't true. Apollo's shoulders were heavy with secrets and I went so soft. I yielded to him, anger sliding away, smothered by the love that I felt.
Even now, a year later, tears come to my eyes. I love him.
That night, I placed my hand on the desk to steady myself.
"I love you, Apollo," I said to him, voice low, earnest.
He didn't understand, I was in love with an idiot.
"I love you too, Azazel," he said back, almost dismissively.
"No, Apollo," I told him, nerves making my voice quiver, "I love you."
He paused then, and I recall it being an hour that passed by there, between the two of us. The clock on the wall ticked away, too loud and I felt a trickle of sweat slide down my back. His hand was resting on the desk, and I wanted to take it in mine, to knead his knuckles between my fingers and feel the weight and comfort of his hand on mine. But I didn't reach out.
I could feel the sudden wrongness in the air, I could feel my mistake.
"I love you too, Azazel," he said gently, "I always will."
He didn't have to say the 'but'. we could both feel it in the air above our heads. I felt my cheeks heat up and I knew that I was about five seconds away from throwing up. I shut my eyes for the smallest of moments, doing what i had to do to collect myself, knowing that I had just been rejected.
I had always known I would be.
It's why it had taken me seventeen years to confess.
I felt a fool in that moment and could feel the room spinning around my head painfully. I gripped the edge of the desk tightly, and forced a smile. Apollo stood up and hugged me tightly, one hand on the back of my head. For a moment it felt like old him, my tall, gangly piece of shit best friend with too much laughter buried inside him. A flicker ad it was gone. He let go and it was just the two of us, bitter and aged in his darkly lit office.
I woke up the next morning and the weak cloudy light that filled my room was almost too much to bear.
Five in the morning never treated me well to begin with but it didn't then in particular. I lay there for a long time and stared at the ceiling and I could feel myself leaking away through the mattress. I loved that room in that apartment I shared with Achilles and Thesis, an Avox that we had collected along the way almost four years ago.
I formulated excuses in my head for what I had said to Apollo the night before, knowing that nothing would be acceptable. I never said anything that I didn't mean.
I considered death. It would be far less embarrassing to die than to face him again so soon.
Instead, I showered slowly, letting the smoke of last night's bar wash away. I put off going to work, busying myself with making Achilles an oily breakfast to deal with the hangover he was sure to have. I gave it to Thesis and grabbed my briefcase, calling for a car as I took the stairs instead of the elevator to work off last night's beer.
It was a regular morning for all intents and purposes.
I was distracted in the car, reading over my inbox for the day and the cases I was assigned to deal with. My eyes looked but my brain ticked along slowly, trying to decide how to approach Apollo, if I should. He was probably still at home, it was only six thirty.
I tapped my driver's shoulder and told him to go to the house instead of the office.
We'd pick him up.
I texted him as we sat outside waiting, car running and he didn't respond.
I wondered if he was embarrassed too, perhaps even angry with me. I couldn't bear the idea of that. I got out of the car, leaving my briefcase behind and told the driver to leave the car running.
It feels so long ago now.
Walking down the long halls of the big, empty house, past Achilles' old bedroom that Apollo left untouched, past the room we used to play games in and past the room we ate dinner together in as a family. The last time had been years ago. I walked all the way down the hall to his bedroom, empty.
Then, to his office.
I smelled it before my eyes saw it, before I recognized it.
His form, so wrong, unmoving, slumped there over the desk, white shirt, stained.
Spread out, and too big, like an empty home in the woods, wrong.
A gun, there in his hand, pointed at his head and his hair, perfect, tinged red, in clumps, blood, there on the ground too, blood and pieces of him, brain, grey, dead on the ground, there.
There he was, smelling, still.
And I saw his fingers, resting on the desk, grey and unmoving and I stepped forwards slowly, eyes on the blood spattering the wall beside him, so far away but reaching.
I turned his hand over, palm up and I knew I shouldn't touch but I couldn't help it and I slipped my hand into his and I waited for comfort.