It was like morning never came. The aftermath of the night drifted into the day and Larra had nothing but the terror filled inside her, hiding it away underneath the strong exterior she had always managed to maintain. She had woken abruptly, finding the unconscious Englishman still on the ground with a swollen eye. She left him and entered his room, taking all of his belongings and shoving them into his only suitcase, leaving the booze and powders alone.
He wasn't going to stay. Not after what happened last night, not after that. She could only tolerate so much, but an attempted sexual assault crossed the line.
It was almost midday before he woke, anxiously appearing at the living room doorway. He looked tired and weary, but most of all, guilty. He opened his mouth to say something, having caught Larra's eye but noticed his suitcase sitting upon the low coffee table, directly in front of where Larra sat. Her glare was obvious.
He gulped down his spit, nerves shooting up his spine. How did he even have the courage to look directly into her eye? He was aware of his actions, disgusted at himself for letting his troubles taking over. Benjamin, as he was called, was once a respectable man, and here he was only just recently attempted raping a woman who had suffered longer than he. It made him feel physically sick, knowing that he was capable of such a crime.
Larra watched him expectantly; mouth shut tightly and desperate to have the man out of her house before anything else potentially went wrong. She didn't want to hate him, but she had no clue on how she could ever forgive him. If he was capable of the crime, actively attempted the crime, then it could only be a matter of weeks before he tried again. This man was addicted, and as she observed from his bedroom, probably intoxicated for a good half of the day. An argument, a worry in the back of his mind, anything, could trigger the mental plug and he would be as unstable as last night, untamed, dangerous and even deadly.
He crossed the room, swiftly taking his suitcase off the table. He took three steps back immediately, the close proximity making him feel uncomfortable. He was desperate to apologise, to say anything, but words weren't forming and from Larra's hard stare at the front door, it was evident that she simply wanted to be left alone.
Respecting her wishes, the Englishman shuffled towards the entrance, craning his head around to catch one last look at someone who could have been a loyal friend in years to come; an opportunity he had snatched, only to tear it up and throw it in the bin.
"I'm sorry," he managed to drag out, holding back the stammer in his voice. He didn't know if she heard him – and if she did, she probably didn't care – but at least a bit of the weight in his chest had been taken off him.
He left without another word, realising just as he had started walking along the path that he had nowhere to go. To return to the Council would mean he had failed, and another opportunity of redeeming himself gone. Most probably they would lock him up in the notorious prison known as Hell for his previous crimes.
Having not walked very far, not keen on nearing the main town, he sat himself down in the gutter of the road, suitcase by his side and face sunken with accumulative guilt, collected over the span of nearly a decade.
Death, he reasoned, was eternal, but even the dead had to disintegrate and fade away. It was a fact that nothing ever stayed in the world forever. Was there some way to cut the life of a dead man short? He could sit and wait until Hell froze over in the very same position he was now and maybe that could be the end of him. After all, he knew that the undead had to drink fluids in order to maintain their health.
He could starve.
It would be a long process and he wasn't sure if he was willing to push aside the desperation for a drink of water, and remain rooted to his position. If only a blade through the heart could kill a dead being as it did to a human.
Ben's mouth dropped, realising that this was the first time he was contemplating suicide. He was remarkably calm about the fact. To end his life, then the suffering and the pain would subside. He didn't want to spend the rest of eternity missing his loved one, and now with the guilt that he lusted over another woman while he still remembered her? It seemed that death was the only exit to happiness.
He should be dead. He had prepared for death, and remembered the painful drop of the floor giving way, spine snapping and breath constricted. He remembered the struggle to maintain his airflow and the feeling of rope burn along his neck.
Most of all, he remembered the darkness. They say that your life flashes in front of your eyes, and that was the most painful experience of all. He relived some of his worst memories: watching his own mother bleeding in his own arms as her life slipped away; his beloved sister burning in front of him after the Plague had taken her; the time he ran away from home, breaking the rules and refusing to live up to his family's expectations; the constant pushing and shoving from his cousins who laughed at their differences, because he was smarter, more intelligent, bright; his first lover and fiancée; his travels through Europe as a performer and composer; and lastly, the introduction to the most beautiful woman he had ever met, and would never forget, Rosette Plantagenet.
He took away her innocence and didn't care about her duty. The truth was, Rosette was the daughter of the Royal family and of a far higher position than he ever was. She was only fifteen years old. She could have been a wonderful Queen of France, but instead, he ultimately destroyed her future and left her as a crumbling mess.
He left her. How could he forgive himself for that? It was his fault. He could have avoided the punishment. Maybe if he had been given more time, and more hope, he would have been able to provide enough evidence to prove he was innocent. He was innocent, and while living he knew he would never be able to kill someone. He used to be a good man.
Death, he answered himself miserably. Cupping his face in his hands, his shoulders hunched over and he shut his eyes tightly, attempting to cut himself off from the outside world. If the only to death meant slowly, then so be it.
Ben... Please, stop this. Do this for me... You're okay, you're going to be okay... Ben!
He woke with a jolt, the bright sky blinding his eyes momentarily as he adjusted to the new light. It took a moment before he became aware of his surroundings, lying down on cold ground with his suitcase beside him, and... leaves? He sat up, the empty and deserted path looking more familiar.
His whole body jerked, staring at the woman who had woken him. Her hair was thick and tangled and her eyes dark. He knew her. He tried to say her name but all that came out was a coughing fit and a pain in his chest. Senses coming back to him, a sudden ache began in his brain, pulsing against his skull. He winced and ran his tongue over his dry lips. Dehydration, it must have been.
"Come on, up you get," she ordered gingerly, picking him up by underneath his shoulders. Helping him heave him onto his two feet, he quietly allowed her to lead him back to the cottage that he remembered walking out of. When? He wasn't sure. It felt like a while ago.
It took half an hour for the pair to reach the place and Ben was taken to a room that looked clean except for the hole in the wall and the many strange wiring that spilled out from it. She helped him lie down on his back, leaving him only for a short while to fetch a glass of water. He drank it obediently, the taste instantly soothing his sore throat.
Three glasses later, his voice returned and his aching brain eased.
"Much," he nodded once, a frown crossing his face.
Ben paused, biting his lip, "Larra. I don't understand why you're helping me."
She sat down on the edge of the bed, taking a while to answer. She was thinking, trying to find a suitable answer, "When I was still young, my third-born child, Toma, had a couple of troubles with growing up. Stronger than most boys his age and a little unsure of how to control himself, he hurt a young girl in a nearby village that we were passing. My family and I had to leave immediately, and I was angry at my son, and ashamed. He was only trying to impress the girl, but rather than explain how to help him show his feelings safely, I abandoned him," she paused, glancing away uncomfortably, "and he was isolated and alone. He ran away, but we found him a few days later. Dead."
Ben stared at Larra, sympathy dawning on him. To find your own son that you had pushed away, dead? How she managed to wake up every morning was beyond him. But why was she telling him this?
"We buried him, and I was guilty beyond belief. I blamed myself. He killed a girl, but that gave no right for me to abandon him."
He bit on the bottom of his lip, his eyebrows dropping over his eyes sadly, "I'm sorry," he tried, wishing he had something better to say.
She sighed, "You weren't in your right mind, and you weren't because you're suffering. You tried to end yourself, and if I didn't find you any sooner then maybe you would have disintegrated into dust. I wouldn't let that fact sit on my conscience, and I guess... What I'm trying to say, I forgive you."
Ben sat up, ignoring the pain that disagreed with any movement, "Don't. I don't want forgiveness." He tried to shift his weight but Larra only pushed him gently back down.
"Rest. You can stay. I know you've done many things you regret, but we all have. And if you want to overcome the pain, you'll have to cooperate. That means telling me what happened to you, life and death."
He pursed his lips, shaking his head unhappily, "I can't."
"You can try."
"And if I don't?
"Then you can spend the rest of your eternity in pain and sorrow. I know what you're going through. The tightness in your chest, and the unsettling feeling in your stomach? You're suffering, and the only way to push past that barrier is by talking. I know it's difficult, but you have to talk."
His eyelids fell over his eyes and he held his breath – held nothing, to be more accurate – while trying to decide how he was supposed to even begin to explain what had happened to him. He didn't even know. Simply born the odd one out. That's why his father bought him the harpsichord, to express himself –
"Larra," he snapped his head up, "How do you earn money here? The same as you would in the mortal world? I should earn a decent salary."
"Hold up there, wait a moment," she raised one hand, indicating him to slow down, "Why would you need money?"
He smiled, but with an emptiness, "Because if there's one thing that let me live, it was music. It was my life, and as you say, if I am going to live in eternity, I would prefer to do so with a profound passion of mine."
"You never said you were a musician. I thought you were a duke."
"The son of a duke, stripped of his privileges and left to make his life in the world of music. I said I travelled, and I did because I performed."
Larra smiled gently, "Birthday gift. From me," she stood up, straightening her clothes, "Would you like a cup of tea? Stay rested."
She exited the room, leaving Ben by himself. He still wasn't precisely sure why Larra would actively search for him and take him back, and of course, he didn't forgive himself, but he was thankful. It was his second chance to make things right.
He smiled to himself, strangely happy. He could have been guilty that he was happy, or should have been feeling guilty for his actions, but sometimes it was easier to push the dark past behind him and realise the future was filled with countless opportunities of redemption.
The future was strange, questionable and unforeseeable but the delight in that was that it could bring back any person, no matter who they were or what they had done, a different path. Endless possibilities of hope and love were bound to be found along the road but the truth was, it was up to the person walking down the path to shape it for themselves and decide where they wanted to go.