interlude b

The sunlight was dim and blue-toned; he drank it up through his skin.

Draven understood this to be a dream, walking atop a series of small seas the size and shape of skyscrapers, close enough to jump from one to another but far enough to make the tumultuous expanse beneath feel terrifyingly real. Whatever was under his feet felt like polished granite.

James was there, on the highest peak, one arm raised, long, choppy hair whipping in gusts of wind that Draven couldn’t feel. Before he’d seen her, he had been moving forward out of nothing more than pure curiosity.

Draven understood this to be the ocean, despite the topology; it was a vast expanse, visible in all directions before fading into the sea spray. If there was a sky here, it wasn't like any sky he'd known, pinkish and overcast and devoid of any features. The air tasted acidic, seeming to undulate with every breath.

James seemed to have gone out of their way to wear clothing that would billow in the wind; a peasant skirt, a long, white coat that would resemble his lab coat were it not for the embroidery along the seams, a shirt with loose, flowing sleeves. Above him, she looked like part of the ocean, or part of the sky, or maybe the horizon lacing the two together. They didn't look like they wanted to be here.

Draven understood there to be some sort of connection in this experience, like something James was pushing into his head, like an outstretched hand he'd grabbed in his sleep. He climbed atop the last peak, and there was James, looking out to the sea, his hand rising and falling with the tide. The motion was gentle, hypnotic, wavelike in and of itself. Draven couldn't tell which was controlling the other.

"I'm thousands of years old, you know," she sighed into the wind, not making eye contact. "Millions."

Draven understood this to be a challenge, and said nothing.

"No—not exactly. I've existed for millions of years, and been alive for half of that." James hummed softly, as if contemplating over a crossword puzzle. "I shouldn't exist. Not really. It's only possible in fragments. I hope you understand, honey."

"James," he managed, thickly. "You're here." It felt useless—the smoke in the air was lodged in his throat, and the rhythm of their wrist coursing up and down felt hypnotizing, narcotic. "I'm here."

"For now," he murmured. "After that, then…?"

The salt sprayed in Draven's eyes before he could discern the cause; James had snapped her wrist downward, taking the sea with it, leaving salt stains on the gray-pink obelisks. It was far away now, far down, the crashing of waves reduced to faint white noise. The ground was slick with brackish water, as if being replenished from a source unseen, but the sea—the sea was gone. Beyond reach.

Draven understood this to be temporary, and took a deep breath in, the atmosphere wasting no time in filling up the empty space in his lungs. He hadn't noticed until now, but something was leaking from James's pocket after she'd left her arm at rest; smoke, maybe, dust or ash, drifting away on the wind.

James sighs, and the sea sighs with them.

"Can I come up there?"


He follows, doesn't touch them. Stands at a distance, about a meter and a half, assessing it carefully in his head to calm himself down. He looks down at their feet—his combat boots, their delicate ballet flats, heels floating just off the ground. James isn't slipping. Draven feels as though he might teeter off the edge if he takes his eyes off her. Into the maw of the ocean. Capsizing.

"…How long?"

"Three million years," he sighs. "Less or more. The number doesn't matter. Forget I said anything."

They stand in silence again. The sea rises slowly, pushing the acid and salt up with it.

"It's just an empty hole."

It sounds like something they're saying to reassure themself.

Draven's tongue feels stuck. "…it was three months, on my end."

"Then it was three months." The ash in his pocket is piling on the ground.

"Was I there?"

"You were everywhere, darling. The prey. The bait. The victim. The one I lost. Someone I didn't get to in time. Someone else."

She's quiet, for an unsettlingly long time.

"…Something else."

Now it's his lips, uselessly clamped together, weighing his head down. "Then I wasn't there."

"You were." James fixes her gaze on Draven, the first time since they'd arrived here. His eyes are wild, desperate. "You were here, right?"

"I was here," he acknowledges. "Not… there. Here. With you." It feels uselessly vague, like something from a poem, but her shoulders sag in relief.

"…Three million and thirty-three years, then."

"More without you than with you," James mumbles. Again, a first; they're cracking. Their heels touch the ground; the sea continues to rise even as his hands rest at his sides.

"You said it was an empty hole, didn't you?"

"It will be." His lip quivers. "Soon." They're willing it to be true; it's apparent in their expression. Seawater streaks her glasses.

"Then we'll start over." Draven doesn't normally speak this way; it feels contrived, awkward, but he's trying to extend a hand, to reach her where she is. "Fill the gap. Just… worry about those thirty-three years."

The seawater laps at their feet now, murky, pink, and room-temperature warm. He tastes the saline on his lips.

special thanks to daviiiddaviiid for being my fwiend. :]


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