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 she looks the same
XANDER
 Posted: Mar 24 2016, 11:44 AM
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« Justice Around, Then Through »

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Oh, he had been doing so well!

Ariel had so diligently kept to himself, minding his own business, writing his own poetry, entangling himself with other, lesser creatures. Regus detected that it was another game of Ariel's, a flight of fancy with rules, rewards, and a clear track to victory. There was very little that Ariel ever did that was not laid out like a game. In others, the competitive streak of childhood withered to nothing in adulthood, and the whimsy of colorful boards and pointed pawns grew stale. Ariel could not often entice his friends into chess matches, but in the meantime, he made a sport of everything behind his cool green eyes - to keep it interesting, he said. Everything was more fun as a game.

The name of this particular game was Ignoring Iris. More specifically, Ariel aggressively directed his attention away from anything tangentially related to her, or where she resided. There were no other players in this game, save for Ariel's imagining of Iris, but no others were required. Winning consisted of continuously playing the game. Discipline was the winning strategy.

So how Regus ended up trapped in this train compartment, staring out at the barren winter landscape, he was loathe to calculate. His auburn hair fell into his eyes if he dipped his head too low; his bangs merited a trim. Ariel sat across from Regus, his knees pulled up towards his chest, a notebook propped up against his legs. The blank expression on his face indicated he was neither aware nor concerned for Regus's mood.

"Why?" Regus groaned, shoving his hands into his pockets and leaning his forehead against the cold glass of the window. "Why are we going to Paris in the middle of winter?" He lifted his head and looked mournfully to Ariel.

Regus had a headache. He'd drank too much the night before, and then he'd drank again this morning, both times to keep himself from losing his temper at Ariel, and to distract himself from the trip. December was cold and bleak; the world was dying. It was a time of rest and reflection. It was time to stay inside. Instead, Ariel could not stop making trouble for himself, nor could he admit his obsession with trouble. It fulfilled him somehow, all this struggle, all this torment.

And what fulfilled Regus?

It was almost unfair to assess that at all: Regus was much older than Ariel, older than his mid-thirties appearance belied. He was older than Ariel's father, and Ariel's grandfather, and Ariel's grandfather's grandfather, born before many mothers' mothers and fathers' fathers. One summer, passing through an isolated but bustling town, he'd come across young Ariel, a delicate, bitter teenager. More from curiosity than malice, Regus had tried to kill him. Ariel's response had been to return the attempt. Thence forward, they reached a stalemate, and a curious sort of friendship, though Regus spent five years held at a distance, never quite forgiven for his capricious attempted murder.

"I want to see her," Ariel murmured. "Just for a moment."

"That is so insultingly petty, Ariel. Look at a picture." There were things they could be doing back in London - productive things! Things that advanced Regus's own interests, which Iris had only obstructed anyways. "This is boring."

"One look isn't going to hurt me," Ariel answered belligerently. "Or anyone." He lifted his eyes from his notebook, and stared hard at Regus.

Regus looked away from Ariel, and stared back out the window. The only reason it won't hurt you, Regus thought, is because you are too damaged to be hurt very much these days.

*

December sighed at them when they arrived in Paris. Paris sighed at them, as bored as Regus was with Ariel's mania. However, Regus could not help but be mildly impressed at the speed with which Ariel turned up Iris's whereabouts, his method less like that of detective than some sort of mystic, rolling crystals through his palms or toting about a pair of witching sticks. Logic indicated that this intuition was the product of years of intimacy and close study, a library's worth of information boiled down to instinct, but it was a sight to behold, as Ariel knocked on doors, accumulated literary magazines, and created a timetable of various philosophy and poetry salons throughout Paris. He sorted the knowing gossips from the fakes; he distilled half-truths from three-quarters-lies. He dragged Regus down winding avenues and through narrow, dirty alleys. He talked his way into more- and less-respected boarding homes, finding the rooms facing the streets, where he stood by the windows late into the night, watching.

It was on one such night, with the snow softly falling, that they were loitering on a street corner, Ariel's eyes drooping. Fifty feet away, there was a bridge that crossed the river. Ariel was facing Regus, his forehead on Regus's chest, when Regus saw someone crossing the bridge. He nudged Ariel away, and nodded in the direction of the approaching figure.

There she was. Beneath one glaring streetlamp, they spied on her, still and silent. The dirty, polluted snow melted as it fell into her hair. Iris stopped on the bridge and peered over it, as if she'd dropped something, or was whispering to some toxic siren that swam there. She murmured something to no one, mouthing words neither Regus nor Ariel could make out. Ariel stared at her as if she could disappear if she blinked. Then, his shoulders tightened, he clenched his fists, and he stormed away, away from the light and into the darkness of an alley.

Regus covered his mouth to keep from laughing aloud. He trotted forward to catch up. "What was that?"

"How dare she," Ariel muttered. A thundercloud had passed into his face, dark and stormy. His eyebrows knit together and wrinkled his young face. "How dare she."

"What is it?" At last, this trip had ceased to be dull.

"She looks," Ariel said, utterly exasperated, "the same."

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