She talked funny. Raven hair curled against bare shoulders and my father fell in love with a hurricane. Should have known better, that loving something so chaotic would only ever end in disaster. Swept off of his feet with simple gestures and with every night of spontaneous passion there was betrayal hidden upon the strange cologne stuck to her dress' collar. Eternal youth, absolute nirvana slipped from in between his fingers like the red silk of her scarf and she held knives to her throat with every strained syllable.
I'll fucking kill myself. I'll kill him too.
A child hidden away within her stomach and he was dead a thousand times over before she even dare let him take his first breath. A bargaining chip, all of a wealthy man's money rested within her stomach and the love found within their desperate kisses was only ever one-sided. Mother played my father, like a violin with frayed strings. All she ever saw between his smiles was teeth made of gold. Coins dripping from calloused fingers and he gave her one-hundred thousand dollars just to make her stay.
They never discharged her from the hospital, baby boy bared against her breast. She never gave them the chance. And the money didn't last very long. Blown on sex and drugs, on expensive clothes and brightly colored bottles. To be neither seen nor heard was what kept pain from branding him. A little boy who seems nothing more than an irrelevant coward, when I look back on it today. Desperate to survive, who cared nothing for a woman who spoke in tongues. Love was conditional- that was my lesson.
We all take, it just depends on how much you're willing to give.
And I think that in some way, she loved me. She fed me, clothed me, and while I never came first I was certainly never the last thing to come to mind. Even stabbed a man with a pair of scissors after he struck me with a marble bust.
That didn't unbreak my nose, though.
Seven years in and I learned how lonely it was to sit in a room full of people. Voices bouncing off of deaf ears and all of my smiles were simple social necessities. He's so cute, Gabriella. He's so bright! He's so charming! Compliments scratching smooth surfaces and I was angry, angry enough to slip sleeping pills into her glass of chardonnay just to live without the constant thrum of doors opening and closing for a night. Footsteps like a stampede and it crushed my skull. Selfish, yes, but what else was to be expected from a boy who had only ever known just that.
Even when father had the peacekeepers take me away, it was not simply for the greater good. Men in carefully pressed suits slipped paper into shaking fists. EMERGENCY CUSTODY ORDER. Printed large and bold and black, just like the obsidian tears down my mother's cheeks, result of smeared mascara. I knew her well enough, even at nine, to know she did not grieve for the loss of her son. She had lost this stupid game of cat and mouse. At the very end, my father had and she did not.
And father? Well, I didn't mean much more to him than I did my mother. I was but a carbon copy, the last chance to continue his success through blood that ran so thin it might as well have been water slipping through his wrinkled fingers. Yes, I was clay already baked but that did not mean I could not be molded into exactly what he needed to be. A hard worker, focused, intelligent, respectful. Nothing of what I actually was.
But love is a transaction. If I pretended to be what he wanted, he pretended to love me. It was easier that way. And I did not mind the busywork. Late nights slaving over numbers that were nothing more than numbers. Words that were nothing more than words. It came easy, provided no challenge. I was a natural, falling comfortably into a life that was never more than a convenient mask.
I couldn't tell you if it was my test scores or my father's money that got me into a school for gifted youths. And I don't much care. Life is a transaction, after all.
My mother's wrath came in the form of angry desperation. Fists pounded against doors painted red and she screamed bloody murder until my father answered. She begged to talk, begged for him to listen. And he loved her, in a way so different. So selfless. I never understood what my father got out of my mother, other than destructive agony and anxiety.
But they shared a bottle of wine and when my father grew drowsy- she brought him up to bed.
My mother's wrath came again, nine months later. Bundled up in blankets with an envelope tucked beneath her shaking body, proof that it was my sister. Fully. In blood and bone and spirit. I loved her more than anything in the world. Good thing too, as it was me who cared for her, most nights. 'Cause she was really fussy like my mom and for some reason, she disgusted father. He wouldn't touch her, wouldn't acknowledge her presence and it was mostly the maids who did anything to care for her. They let me name her too.
And I was fifteen when I woke up to only eerie silence. No girlish laughter, bare feet sticking to tile floors with gentle, maternal coos following a five year old who bounced from wall to wall. She was gone, just like that.
I remember trying to get father to tell me what he'd done. I remember yelling, and then begging. I remember grabbing onto the collar of his shirt and screaming that I'd find the body and throw him in whatever ditch he left her in.
And I remember going to school that day with two black eyes and a lip split wide open.
Love is a transaction- I simply overdrew my account.
I can count on one hand my experience with unconditional love. And I could not tell you that I prefer it to that sewn to dollar signs and painted pretty and pink. Facades with lavender scented smiles, too wide and too sweet. With love that ran skin deep I was free, without roots to hook below the surface- deep so that it may wrap greedy hands around my soul. My father would not miss me, had I run away. There was freedom in that truth- freedom in the way that I owed him no part of me. Nothing more than fake smiles and pleasant words. I was alone, sure, but alone wasn't so bad.
It didn't hurt.
One. Daphne Pete. I can still see sunlight kissing the tops of her shoulders, a bombshell dyed bright blonde. "Goldie Locks~" Affection purred into the crook of her neck, hands tracing whatever bit of her skin I was able to reach. We were fire. An explosion, feeding into each other's chaos. Wrists pinned to the adjacent wall and her pulse was fast beneath my palms. Vivid, she was vivid. Eyes half closed, head tilted backwards. When she laughed the world didn't just stop, it shattered.
And I loved her. In every sense of the word. A love that owed me nothing, without rules. Without boundaries. I was fifteen when we kissed. Fifteen when I sat below her window with palms that sweat and shook, reciting poetry that I had memorized only because it fell from between the pages of her journal. She made me ache. From the first moment I drew smiles from pursed lips, seeing something more than arms crossed and an expression so usually contorted into exasperated disgust.
I'd have done just about anything to make her laugh.
We danced around each other since the day we met. When I was 12 and she was 13.
Always a bit of an outsider, charming but superficial- we ran in similar friend groups and I'd heard many times how much she despised me. We both knew that she was lying. "Men with small dicks make up for it by being obnoxious." She stuck her head out of her bedroom window, attempting to curl her lips and hide her blossoming smile.
"You caught me," I'd put my hands up, feigning defeat. "And now you'll have to take me." She shimmied down the drain, adorned in bright pink pajamas with tired curls piled atop her head. Absent was the paint so artfully scattered about her features- and still I found myself gasping for air. She ignited me, dressed to the nines or sporting sweat pants and a scowl. "Out." I beamed. "On a date."
"I hate you." She rest a hand on my chest.
The rest was well, history.
Two. Azazel Fenwick. You'd never know he wore his heart on his sleeve. Buried beneath thick layers of scar tissue, with wounds as fresh as the bruises on his skin. He sat with his shoulders up to his ears, begging for anything but attention. I watched him for a while, curiosity resting upon the tip of my tongue. This was a year or so before Daphne and I became we and still- I know it annoyed her. My odd infatuation with the youngest boy of our year. I simply couldn't help it.
Drawn, like a bow pulled taught. He needed a wing to rest beneath- temporary shelter and time find his footing. Care taking had always been a habit of mine. Whether it be a little sister no doubt buried 'neath layers of asphalt, whether it be an eleven year old boy trudging against a tide of water-thin blood with nightmares sewn to his heels.
It was never a question of if I loved Azazel. I did. It was painfully complicated- constantly changing, becoming a monster coiled within the pit of my stomach. Consuming me from the inside out, shedding its skin so that it may fester and rot within my blood. I didn't understand it- I still don't.
When we first met it was simple. Settled atop his desk with an eyebrow cocked, pompous and confident and I often forget there was once a time when that was more than a facade. When I felt things, when I felt in control. I now realize Azazel was the beginning of the end, that the foundation of ignorance upon which I had built my kingdom began to crumble the minute timid eyes met mine. He was an omen of death, horseman of the apocalypse.
He was supposed to be my friend, and only that.
I never gave him permission to become anything else.
And I think I resented him for the fact that he did.
Three. Achilles Sheppard.
Daphne never failed a test. Not in her whole life. Straight A's lined ivory paper and a bright blue + appeared upon an ivory stick. I'd purchased four- we'd used three. Boxes littered the bathroom floor and I held her in my arms when she began to cry. We'd dated for barely a year- been madly in love the entire time and yet the glue that held our palms together had suddenly turned to molten gold.
I'd gotten her pregnant.
Her parents didn't approve, my father was dying. I had the money and the resources to care for her and yet I felt like a fucking monster. Branded with bright red letters, fate's claws dug into my flesh. For a man seated upon a silver throne, with a mind meant to change the world
god damn, I was fucking stupid.
We weren't supposed to be excited, but I think we were. Buried somewhere beneath the fear that I hid with bright smiles for nine months straight. Because we talked about him, about our son. About everything we wanted him to have- about how much better we would be than the apathetic deities who called us kin.
Achilles. Our warrior.
It was written in the stars.
I'd always hoped he'd look just like her. He didn't.
And there were so many things I was supposed to have. A family, a wife. Eternity within her embrace, or at least a chance to watch her curls turn gray.
Instead I got a son who sobbed for a mother he never knew at a funeral I got to plan.
I think that's the day I began to die. Slow, but not graceful. I wasn't allowed such a luxury. There was always emptiness within me, dark and hollow- simply waiting to swallow me whole. The catalyst was watching her sunshine sink below an ebony horizon.
The storm brewed.
I think I was seventeen when I found my sister. At least, what was left of her. Mouth sewn shut, symbol of the unwanted, brand of the bastard. I learned much of the black market that day- of Capitol citizens morphed into avox. Perhaps treated worse than those with tongues taken, the ones sewn off at the stump. And I'll be honest- I felt very little sympathy for them before my sister lay dying in some tattered cot. Not too much older than the son settled within Azazel's arms- safe and sound back home.
I knew Riley wasn't going to make it. Neglect allowed disease to take hold of a little body. Her skin was thin as paper, veins protruding, pulsating with skin sagging where there weren't bones to hold it up. She had become a wraithe, my wraithe, with eyes so hollow they recognized nothing of a brother who raised her from the roots up.
Daphne. Riley. I died again that day.
Azazel didn't know that the firm was a facade. An excuse to network, create connections and begin to build. To blow gaping holes in the dirty dealings taking place beneath the belt of the Capitol. And perhaps I didn't do it to save the avox. I know I didn't. It was nothing so altruistic, so wholesome. I was the hero of a story always two steps too late, turned bitter and ugly with only masks left to hide the truth. I created a railroad of wholesome hearts, I couldn't save the avox - sure - but I could send them somewhere better. I could try.
Spite kept my fingers weaving this twisted web.
And it pissed a fair few people off. As expected. My wrath turned to satisfaction and I was ripping golden coins from in between wrinkled palms.
Azazel left soon after.
I was glad.
He and Achilles were my weakness. The soft puss stored inside of calloused hands. Humanity keeps men from doing good, from being great. My father knew that. I think that is what he was trying to teach me, all along.
It's not that I was doomed to become as he once was. Eventually, I'd want to.
I penned a will in Azazel's absence. The shifting of burden, down the ladder. Father to son to father to son. It was easy to convince myself that I did not need Achilles without Azazel to complete the family we had formed. Something sacred had been shattered.
And I am a spiteful man.
I know I did it to punish him. I wish I hadn't. Because then I couldn't stop. Agony was a drug to which I could not bring myself to quit. They would leave me anyway, they would hurt me anyway. I was simply protecting myself from lowering more bodies into shallow graves. Cowardly justification.
Cutting ties. Severing them at their center, obsidian knife ran along soft skin and I closed eyes willfully to the screams that followed. My son was twelve, the last time I spoke to him. And I hope he hates me. I want it that way.
I hated my father too.
I couldn't tell you how many nights I sat, scissors settled upon Azazel's neck - the last of myself left to kill. Freedom was close enough that I could taste his blood. It should have been easy. The spiral had been slow, but effective. Destructive. I was ruining myself and everyone in my wake.
But not him.
It was a disease. I knew that Azazel loved me and it burned. I was meant to be alone, to die alone. And yet he wouldn't fucking realize that I was scum settled beneath the soles of his shoes. Over and over again I told him. Over and over again I begged him to leave me in so many words.
I was hurting Achilles, the boy that he had raised, and still footsteps sounded outside my door. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. "I love you." Not a day went by that Azazel didn't hurt himself. He replaced disease with whisky, poisoning himself so that it hadn't the chance.
He was already ruined, what is lower than rock bottom?
It was the perfect opportunity to plunge a knife into his neck.
"I love you too." I told him. It wasn't a confession. Nor was it a lie.
Cadavers are surprisingly cheap. Swollen and rotting, pathetic as his tongue lolled out of a gaping jaw. A plan so fucking stupid, it might just work. Debts are easy to collect when you've drenched yourself in unholy dealings for the better part of a decade. It wasn't hard to convince a plastic surgeon to operate on a body void of a heart's incessant beat- you save money on anesthesia that way.
I saw myself become rotten. The embodiment of everything I felt, settled inside of me and there was catharsis in sending a bullet through this stranger's skull. I didn't recognize him- the Apollo I had become. It didn't stop a headache from tearing down my spine the minute brain began to seep from the hole I had just created. I hated him, I hated everything about him.
It was splitting me in two
There was a note, written hastily and stained with tears I needn't force. To kill myself meant that I was free. And life, with them, with him, was placed firmly in my wake. After years of decay I finally felt it. Felt something again.
And I really, truly, was.
But like all things, I'd underestimated my addiction to power. I didn't know the hold it had on me. Living a quiet life was what I'd always thought I'd be a good enough man to want. I thought this little bit of selfishness meant a happy ending.
Turns out I'm too adept a liar for my own good.
It lasted a few years.
(A few months, you're being generous)
This ugly monster inside of me demanded to be born again. Craved a crown and gold and all that came with it.
Not by my own name, I was too much of a coward for that.
But I live with the intent of becoming a king. If my pride shall kill me, I'll have lived well.