I give you my love, but you don't care
So what is right and what is wrong?
Give me a sign
The pit of growing anxiety that was your stomach began to churn. Every step, every thought, every breath reminded you of him. You had always been a fighter, a survivor, but you didn’t know how you could possibly win this battle when it was against yourself. Every part of your mind told you to get up and continue on without him, but then your heart would begin to ache and your stomach would explode with unresolved nerves. Deep down you knew that you still needed him in your life and that the two of you would meet again in the future. You just didn’t know when.
A sigh passed through your parted lips as you looked at your reflection. Your face had grown thinner; the anxiety being so bad on most days that you couldn’t even eat. It’s not that you didn’t want to eat, you physically couldn’t. When you finally managed to stomach the food, you just felt like you would throw it up anyways, so you just stopped eating. It was easier than having the food settling uneasily in you. So you ate when you could and lost weight as a result. You had always wanted to be thinner anyways.
You walked from your bathroom and sat on your bed. It was comfortable, but far too empty. He had helped fill all the spaces in your life, so now that he was gone you were left with half of everything. The bed was too big without him, the walks too lonely…
You shook your head at where your thoughts were going. You knew you would be okay if you could just get him out of your head. That was where your real troubles began; getting him out of everything that you did.
You stood in frustration and walked to the kitchen, opening the fridge by habit. Nothing had changed since you last opened it, so you closed the door with a sigh.
What is love?
Baby, don't hurt me
Baby, don't hurt me
Your main regret was falling in love with him. His onyx locks, his piercing eyes that always knew how to read your face. Despite his outer stoic demeanor he was soft and gentle on the inside. He had cared deeply about you and you had fallen for every minute of it.
There had been no bad between you two. That made it so much harder. He had been your perfect man; the best thing that had ever happened to you… And now he wasn’t there anymore; gone like each second that ticks by. He was something you had loved and had never imagined you would lose. But you did lose him; he had left, like everyone else.
The one condolence you were left with was that he hadn’t wanted to leave you. His career had demanded him to be elsewhere, and so he had no choice. Maybe he hadn’t fallen in love with you quite yet or perhaps he would have asked you to come with him. But he had voiced his regret over leaving you while he left. He had acknowledged how much you meant to him, so at least you had that.
A tear softly rolled down your cheek. You didn’t bother to wipe it away; there was no one to see anyways.
You knew that no matter how much he had liked you, you still weren’t with him anymore, and that was what hurt you the most. You wanted nothing more than to be with him always, for that was what love created; a big mess of all your feelings that centered around that one special person. But regardless of his feelings or yours, you were still hurting, still crying.
Oh, I don't know, what can I do?
What else can I say? It's up to you
I know we're one, just me and you
I can't go on
You wanted to fight for him, wanted him to see all that he meant to you, but you didn’t quite know how. He had already ended things so what more could you do? If he wanted to be with you then he would take the risk with you, but he didn’t, so what did that mean?
You quickly stood in frustration. You had been left with so many questions and you didn’t know where to find the answers.
Your phone began buzzing and you quickly fetched it from the counter. It wasn’t him, so you let it ring to your voicemail. You didn’t feel like dealing with the world.
You sat down as the anxiety built in your core. Your head fell into your hands as a sob racked your body. You were sick of crying over him, but at the same time it was all you could do to remember how much he meant to you. It was a reminder that there is life after being broken. You just had to get through this, and then you would see.
But until then you didn’t quite know how you would be able to survive on your own. Sure, you were managing to get by, but you weren’t happy. He had brought you to life after feeling dead for so long. You didn’t want to return to that point and even the thought of it terrified you. You wanted to be with him; with Levi.
Thinking his name caused you to cry harder, his face entering your mind, his voice, his gentle touch. You couldn’t continue like this!
What is love?
Baby, don't hurt me
Baby, don't hurt me
You stood and quickly reached for your phone, dialling your best friend Krista’s number. The phone rang twice.
“Hey girl, what’s up?” She answered.
“Are you busy?” You sobbed.
“Oh no, not again?” She said, automatically knowing what was wrong, “No I’m not busy, we can talk.”
“Krista I don’t know what to do! Every thought is of him! I try to do something and then he snakes his way back into my head!” You exasperated.
“I know it’s hard, and I’m sorry you have to go through this. But you have to remember that it didn’t end on a bad note! Things are okay between you two and that’s good – that’s more than most people can say when a relationship ends.”
“I know, I know, but I want this pain to stop,” you said frantically, grabbing hold of your hair as you sat down again.
“It will, just like the last time your heart was broken. Remember that thing you always say? The only constant in life is change. This will pass, just as everything always does,” she said calmly. You took a deep breath, attempting to sooth your nerves. Krista was right, you knew that. But it still didn’t stop the pain in your heart.
“Thank you, Krista. I’m going to go now though,” you said.
“Have a good day, girl. I love you,” she said before hanging up.
You gripped your phone in your hand and slowly slumped to the floor. You wished he would call you. You wished he had at least wanted to take the risk of long distance. Other couples did it and succeeded, so couldn’t he at least have tried?
You lifted the phone to your face and scrolled through the pictures of him. His face was always so kind and loving when he was with you. The way he looked at you made you feel like you were the most special girl in the entire world, like you had actually meant something to him.
Over and over he had called you beautiful, made you blush like a schoolgirl when you received his compliments. So how could he have quit it all just like that?
Maybe you would never know, maybe one day he would come back to you, or maybe your love for him would fade away. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but that didn’t change the here and now. You were broken, and those feelings were what you knew.
I want no other, no other lover
This is our life, our time
When we are together, I need you forever
Is it love?
The sound of the sirens is what has stayed with me. I remember the explosions, the engines of the Messerschmitts, the screams of men trapped beneath the rubble. Of course I do. But it is the wail of the sirens that yet haunts my dreams, settles that same cold sickness in my gut, that same cold slickness on my palms. It is the banshee shriek of coming death.
The night was cold and clear when that sound prickled along my arms like so many icy fingers reaching out from behind the drapes.
Rowan stilled her hands at the typewriter and ripped the sheet from the machine, lest some unscrupulous eye should take advantage of her temporary absence. She snatched up a grey cardigan, a torch, and the requisite gas mask, and had nearly gotten to the door before she turned back to look at me. Her dark eyes were as empty as ever.
‘Are you coming?’ she asked as she stuck one arm into a cardigan sleeve.
‘I’ll follow later,’ I said. ‘I thought to take advantage of the chaos.’
‘Your job,’ she said flatly.
She did not ask about that job. She never had, and I knew that she never would, just as I never asked about the papers she snatched from the typewriter to lock away in her briefcase each night. We had a good arrangement, Rowan and I. It was the most congenial possible billet.
She nodded and disappeared into the darkness of the garden, her exit punctuated by a pungent whiff of cordite.
I, meanwhile, indulged in my own business. I laid down my book and donned my hat and coat, slipping over my shoulder the strap of my own gas mask in its canvas bag; court danger though I might, I had no wish for scorched lungs.
The streets of London were deadly dark at that hour, save for the lurid orange stain of fires blossoming on the sky to the East. The blackout gave me the cover I required. Beneath me, I knew, were a million quivering hearts, children clinging to mothers, husbands to wives. They waited to hear the thunder of German boots, but I am no German, and my boots are silent.
At first, I only wandered. Rowan thought my nocturnal perambulations to be in the service of His Majesty, and in a way, they were. I would be of little use to Britain without them. There were, however, aspects which even Rowan, inured as she was to the unsavoury, might find difficult to stomach.
My first of the evening was a tramp, a young man with one eye and a dead arm, perhaps recently returned from the front. My second was a lady of the evening, stinking of alcohol, stumbling through the streets in a vain search for shelter. I left her near a club where I knew there to be a cellar, if only she could sober enough to find it. They both lived. The purpose of my reactivation, of course, had been the preservation of the British people, and would be but poorly served were I to start picking them off one by one.
Restraint, though, brought with it problems of its own. There was a third, and a fourth and a fifth followed. Despite the warning wail of the sirens, the streets of London were never difficult to hunt during a raid.
The sixth and last was an older man, a father no doubt, and a man of some standing. His entrails glistened amid the rubble that had killed him, that was killing him even as I found him. Blood oozed from the wound to mingle with the remains of his home. I took what was left of him and left his shell for the flames and the fire brigade.
A tired roar filled the air as another house was engulfed at the end of the street, and the buzz of the engines began to retreat. They had taken long enough to drop their loads, spreading out the destruction over a good half hour. I suspected that this particular flight had been given no specific target and wondered how many we had managed to bring down.
I took a roundabout route back to the house and slid down into the Anderson where Rowan was sitting in the dark.
‘We could put a light down here,’ I told her, ‘and you could bring a book.’
She turned to face me, staring past me through the gloom, and her right arm relaxed. The muzzle of a revolver fell away to point at the floor.
‘We could,’ she admitted, ‘and you could bring a book. I prefer to listen.’ She pushed a hand through her cropped hair and pulled her cardigan more tightly around herself. ‘Someone came while you were gone. I heard the back door open and shut.’
‘Hence the gun?’
‘Hence the gun. I heard the door twice, so either they’re gone now, or there are two inside. Will you take forward or back?’
‘Forward, thanks. I’ll round the downstairs and then the up and corral them back down to you if there’s anyone inside.’
I unbuttoned my coat and drew a pistol of my own from an interior pocket, a compact American automatic I had once stolen from a corpse. Though I possessed other, more organic weapons, the weight of a pistol in my palm carried with it a certain gravity that made the act of killing all the more real. Additionally, it would be difficult to explain my natural weaponry to Rowan.
‘Professor,’ she said, ‘don’t get yourself killed.’ There was a strange note of humour in her voice that made me wonder once more why she never asked about my part in the war effort.
‘Good advice,’ I told her dryly as I stepped once more into the night. Smoke had mingled with the distinctive chemical odour of the incendiaries, borne by a light breeze from the east, and my throat at once began to sting. Rowan fell in at my back. The gentle click was deafening as she drew back the hammer of her revolver.
I crossed the garden quickly, ascended the step, and opened the door as silently as I was able. The ageing hinges defied me, though, and let go a soft protest. I froze, and I listened. There was no flurry of movement from inside, no harsh breath, no answering squeak of a cupboard or wardrobe that might indicate an adversary seeking cover. Still, the things that come after me are not always obvious about it.
I left Rowan outside and moved through the kitchen, through the empty dining room and into the sitting room. The front door was still locked from the inside, the key in my pocket and the bolt securely thrown. If anyone had come in through the back, they had not left through the front. Rowan’s typewriter was undisturbed, as was her case. The pile of the carpet had taken no prints, as far as I could see. I crept silently up the stairs, leading with my pistol close to my chest. No one had turned a light on, and no glow of a torch was visible. I checked my own room first – the wardrobe, beneath the desk, under the bed – then Rowan’s room and the WC. Nothing.
There was a lingering scent in the air, though. A man’s heavy cologne, one I did not recognise.
I checked behind the drapes, just in case. Still nothing. I almost found it hard to believe that the intruder had left; the smell was still so strong.
‘Rowan!’ I called. ‘It’s empty. There was someone here, though. Possibly a looter.’
She came up behind me so quickly, she must have been inside already. Her revolver was still at the ready; apparently, she did not trust my judgement.
‘It smells like a solicitor’s office,’ she commented. ‘You checked upstairs?’
‘Every hiding place?’
‘Did you notice anything missing?’
She looked up at me, and her lip curled in an almost imperceptible sneer. I smiled at getting a reaction out of her.
‘Turn on the bloody lights and look again. How in hell can you see anything in here, anyway?’ She stormed over to the light switch – or she would have, if the darkness had not compelled her to move gingerly, one arm outstretched lest she collide with the wall. A moment later, the electrics flooded the room with their yellow glare.
I squinted and returned my gun to its holster, removing my spectacles to polish them on a kerchief drawn from my pocket. So it was that I was momentarily blind when I heard Rowan’s grunt of surprise.
‘Must be convenient,’ she said cryptically. Something rustled, and her blurred form held out a blurrier form in my direction. ‘It’s for you.’
I hastily returned my glasses to the bridge of my nose and found a large envelope in my face, its flap securely tied and its front indeed bearing my name in unremarkable block letters. One glance told me that fingerprinting it would be useless, and the overpowering reek of the cologne masked any more recognisable trace scent. Clever.
‘It was in your chair,’ she said as I took the envelope from her hand, ‘sitting on top of your book. Don’t open it inside.’
I am sure that I probably rolled my eyes at her. She shrugged, scratched at the back of her head, and went upstairs, leading with her revolver. I had known since we first met that she was paranoid, but she was also still alive, so she must have been doing something right.
The envelope was bulky, but its surface was free of suspicious lumps, and it bent easily in my hand. Only paper, then. It occurred to me, though, that while my mysterious gift might not be explosive, it could easily be accompanied by something equally as unpleasant. A pathogen, perhaps, or some toxin. I donned gloves and took it to the kitchen to open it over the basin.
A thick stack of papers slid out into my hand, and at the top was a folded note addressed to me in a hand I did recognise. A subtle, slimy sort of feeling settled in my stomach as I understood what had been delivered.
‘New courier, gentlemen?’ I asked under my breath. ‘I think I liked the old one better.’ The old one, at least, had the decency to deliver these things to the door or leave them with the regular post. It was dangerous, perhaps, risking the packages being found, but it seemed less dangerous than sending messengers sneaking through the smoke of a raid. I unfolded the note, neglecting to remove my gloves, and read:
We regret that your services will once more be required to safeguard the security of our home front. Please find enclosed all relevant data. Unfortunately, those data have been scarce; this case falls undoubtedly more under your expertise than ours, and as a result, we are unable to provide information to the same extent as in the past. Due to the unusual nature of the assignment, your regular compensation will be tripled. Additionally, arrangements have been made for your travel north for this holiday season, barring unforeseen circumstances. As always, all of our resources are at your disposal.
From the open back door, the sound of the all-clear raised gooseflesh on my arms. I shut the door and locked it. Then I moved the note to the bottom of the stack, shook the envelope for any stray papers, and migrated back to my room, brushing past Rowan as she descended the stairs, her revolver concealed once more.
‘Good,’ she remarked in passing. ‘I’m glad it didn’t kill you.’
I ignored her and retreated behind a closed door, locking myself in before I spread out my materiel on the desk. There were perhaps forty pages of carbon paper typescript and a small bundle of glossy photographs beneath that. In slightly crooked letters, the header proclaimed:
NAME: Signe, surname unknown. DIRECTIVE: eliminate