No one else must have noticed; the dubious perks of being the former partner of a god of destruction, of Dido herself, include being able to read her every movement—to predict her more completely than she herself is able to. As much as these three years have been strung into a veil between them, as much as Dido now avoids her religiously, she still manages to catch glimpses of Dido on the streets. Inevitable, perhaps, when one lives in the same city with its patron god.
No one else must have noticed, not expecting a god to appear, so very human, on the streets. Not expecting a god to stumble and almost fail to catch herself. Three years is a long time, but only for her, mortal and fragile; for Dido, three years must have passed unnoticed, the deterioration a sudden and abrupt onset. Even the other day, she’d caught her on the edges of her vision, footsteps on the brink of crashing into a cart and then a telephone pole, and then she’d looked up and met Dido’s eyes, half-lidded and already sliding away.
Dido’s always been better at taking care of herself than she seems, because despite all the drinking and temper and risk taking, she knows her limits—better than anyone else in her city. Perhaps if it had been a one-time thing… but it wasn’t and every time that she’d caught her on the street, she’d seemed deadly tired.
(She’d asked the god once, before that day three years ago, how non-mortals lived. How gods subsisted. Dido had laughed then. Asked, am I so different from you that you must ask?)
So here she is, turning down familiar cramped alleyways, to the oldest section of the city. She knows exactly where she’s going; knows that it is, perhaps, inadvisable. (To draw too close to the sublime invites despair in the face of the overwhelming.) She does it anyway.
She hums as she walks, head bobbing along to her own little off-key melody (the headphones on her ears are silent). For the moment, she can delude herself into thinking that she is just wandering, as untethered as she’d been three years ago, walking out in the middle of the day without a plan.
All too soon she reaches the oldest building in the city, not that anyone knows it. It is a demure thing, unobtrusive and blending in all too well to the dreariness of the redbrick around it. Four, maybe five stories — Dido’d once told her that it was originally a single room house, that it was the home of someone completely inconsequential to everyone but the city’s patron god. Nothing remains of that time but the foundations, which reach into the ground to unearth painful histories. Thus Dido lives on the topmost floor, unable to bear leaving, but unable to stay so close to her origins.
She climbs the steps, slowly enough that her legs burn with every step. Under her shoes, the grey wood groans with disuse, and their endless nature entertains the prospect of their reversal. It would be unnoticable, she thinks, if she gradually began to descend, reaching the foundation instead of her destination at the top of the building, a physical journey of Dido’s displeasure.
But her eyes open and there is the door, also wooden, also grey. She fiddles with the lock even though she has the key (that would be too much like the welcome it isn’t), slamming the door open when it clicks.
There’s a crash from inside and the roar of “THAT WAS A GLASS OF 1995 ROMANÉE-CONTI, BASTARD! IT’S WORTH MORE THAN TEN TIMES YOUR PATHETIC EXISTENCE!”
She clutches her heart, sweeping into the kitchen. It hasn’t changed. Still just as pretentious and elegant as ever, lit with expensive warm lights. “Ah, Dido, such a warm welcome! I must have stayed in your heart if I’m worth even a tenth of your wine.”
She’s not surprised to see actual anger in Dido’s gritted teeth when she comes into view. She welcomes it even, would have felt almost lonely without it. (After all, it was she who had left.)
“What are you doing here? If your apartment owner kicked you out, you can go freeze on the streets—stop bothering me!”
The last three words have the edge of biting sincerity to them. It’s a bit unfair—she hasn’t even spoken to Dido properly since that day three years ago, even though they live within four blocks of each other. But Dido is off guard, surprised and unpleasantly so, and it’s making her sloppy, vulnerable.
(Once, this god of destruction—who’d settled for this city due to a request long forgotten— would have known her as soon as she’d stepped around the corner to this block. Once, the patron god of this city would have felt the movement of the city, resonated with this building, every insignificant detail so overwhelming she’d forget to be human, just for that split-second. But then, perhaps it wasn’t only her, but also Dido, who’d become untethered.)
Dido hasn’t yet turned around, hands gripping the countertop that divides the kitchen and the living room, the glass of wine shattered at her feet, the dark red pooling around her ridiculous leather heels. Her hair is obscuring her face, but she can clearly see the hardened curve of her jaw, the barely restrained rage in the trembling arms—trembling, she knows, for holding back the urge to break her knuckles on the dark marble. And still, there remains an unnatural stiffness in Dido’s neck and the tilt of his head—as if something had set wrong, had been knocked a few degrees off of the original angle.
She doesn’t like it.
“You know, Dido, drinking all that wine can’t be good for you—you must have let yourself go without me bothering you. I’ve truly done you a favor; can’t you love me?” Somehow, she cannot help but fall back to sharp words and that mocking tone that had characterized the months Before.
She seems smaller than usual—and while that may be due to the lack of both coat and hat—it lends Dido an air of fragility that she feels almost, almost uncomfortable with. (Despite being the reckless one, Dido’s always been seen as delicate, needing protection. When they had been together, requests had always been given to her, not Dido. The city misunderstood nearly everything: underestimating the sheer stubbornness that drives every action of hers, simplifying Dido to mortal, to worse and lesser. So clearly blind, because isn’t it obvious? Because Dido has always fit, somehow integral even in this state, into the very fabric of this city, especially its violent underbelly. Perhaps she overestimates; perhaps Dido has already shattered and reformed a million times over, as delicate as the city whispered. She’d joked once that Dido’s heart was sugar pane, that it broke with the tap of a knife or spoon, that people devoured its pieces and left with only lingering sweetness, not the burning anger that defined so much of her. She’d joked once, but it was true in the worst ways.)
Dido forcibly relaxes herself and brushes past her, sinking into the living room couch, still facing away from her.
“Why are you here?”
And this time the note of tiredness is obvious.
She doesn’t move from her position. Dido’s stare goes through the bottle of wine left on the countertop, and she wonders absently at the picture they must make; something close to the late Renaissance paintings that Dido’d favored, she’s sure. Something dramatized and half-surreal in that exaggeration. Something beautifully grotesque.
(In that at least, they fit this city, for all its misunderstandings.)
DIdo shouldn’t be letting her guard down for her of all people. It is inadvisable, just as her presence here is inadvisable. But she still does, vivid eyes closed and head dropping wearily against the top of the sofa with a sigh, and it is that sound that makes her begin to turn.
Here too is chiaroscuro, the vestiges of the winter sun making its way across silver-scarred dark skin and locks of deadly crimson, dyed sometime in the first three months of their separation. (And hadn’t that been a shock, unrecognition until she glanced again?) Here too is chiaroscuro—the maiden, in the light grasp of dreams, the demon as onlooker. It is Dido’s favorite painting but she has never bothered to note its name.
She still hasn’t answered, but why should she?
They both know each other too well to ask trivialities like why and expect an answer.
Despite the tiredness, Dido hasn’t let go of the stranglehold she has on this building. That would move this past the delicate balance of inadvisability and intrude into folly. Dido would entrust her with her life, but she values her life less than her loyalty, values it less than complete trust. She’d lost that trust, however reluctantly given, on that day three years ago. (She’d lost that trust in that bottle of Karuizawa single malt whisky she’d never tasted, then the most expensive alcohol in Dido’s collection, opened and downed by the god in the span of a night. She’d lost that trust in that bottle of whisky, when she knows that Dido never drinks whisky, when she knows that Dido still had it in her collection as one of her prized acquisitions.)
Despite her unawareness, Dido hasn’t let go of the building; but with both of their untetherings, perhaps she should have.
The light makeup, designed to draw attention away from the dark under her eyes, bothers her. Dido looks half-ghost, barely tangible. Not delicate, never delicate to anyone who’d know her, but worn, battered smooth.
She glances surreptitiously around the room and finds it unfamiliar—the same dimensions, but almost every single piece of furniture (even the bed, from what she can see through the half-open bedroom door) has been shifted, repositioned in such a way that she cannot overlay her memories on the strange layout. The only thing that has stayed the same are the reports, the piles and piles of paper crammed onto most of the flat surfaces in the apartment, only the kitchen and Dido’s wine countertop remaining bare of the shadows of her work. There’s too much, but it’s not enough to explain anything, because Dido’s always had a truly ridiculous work ethic, and paperwork by itself can’t account for the sheer fatigue that dogs her footsteps.
She wonders if she’s sick.
(If it’s Dido, it must be some overly dramatic illness, something just as explosive and fiery as she herself. If it’s Dido, she must have found a way to even this mortality, despite godhood.)
In any case, Dido is right to question her presence.
A distant part of her mind tells him that she should leave, that she cut off all ties to Dido that day three years ago—but that isn’t quite true. She’s never been in the habit of self-deception, so she admits to herself that Dido is… complicated. Has always been complicated, from her trust to her mortality, to the all-too-familiar barbs they fling towards each other.
She won’t lie to herself; there was a point when she would have been glad to cut off all ties—and it would have been almost easy to compartmentalize and compartmentalize again, make that splash of vividness smaller and smaller until it disappeared in that wide swathe of grey. Relationships have always been fleeting, half-distant to her, and unlike Dido, who is so often painfully true, she has always seen through that veil darkly, always that slight glint in the corner of her eye reminding her of the intangible film separating herself from reality.
But even before the external threats that irrevocably entangled both their past and present, she had thought of Dido, had allowed herself to think. When she had left, driven by only a string of words, a deadened anger, and nothing more, most days had been grey and knowing someone so well that their voice curled around the margins of her mind, her potential reactions expected and countered within confines of thought, was something close to color. There are some things that are carved into bone, that become more than instinct and more than knowledge. And Dido fit so very neatly into her ribcage.
Dido’s back is towards her, her head positioned in such a way that she knows cuts a sliver of herself in the periphery of her sight. If she moves at all, the eyes will be the first change, shifting to keep her in the line of vision as the body twists, folds, and repositions itself over the couch to face her. But they remain suspended in this liminal space, tension in this non-movement.
They remain suspended until they don’t. Until she realizes her legs are on the verge of locking, until she realizes it is incredibly easy just to leave the door wide open and let the winter in.
The papers not held down by different paperweights flurry along with the snow that is rapidly melting in puddles near the door. It would almost be poetic, white on white, the contrast of the incoming cold to the warmth of the apartment, if not for the rage that barrels its way down the redbrick and through her feet as she turns away once more.