Wretched Hopes

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Happy Hump Day!

I’m proud to report I’m getting a lot more writing done than I thought I’d be. I’ve slowly been getting back into the groove with Withered Legacy and I think I’m finding a decent balance between working on that and keeping content up here. Here’s hoping I didn’t just jinx myself. I also have some ideas about my other shorts – I’m thinking of discontinuing Emma and Malakai’s story, in favor of fleshing it out to be a stand-alone novel. We’ll see how that endeavor goes.

Anyway, on to today’s piece. (Brace yourself – it’s a bit long.)

This piece of Videl’s story was inspired by Our Write Side’s Master Class series prompt for the week. The prompt I chose is Wretched Hopes – it serves as both inspiration and title for the piece.

~~~

Wretched Hopes

I shouldn’t be feeling hopeful – not with the task that lays before me. And yet, I can’t help the light flutter in my chest, the way I felt when Marcus held me, even if it was only for a few moments. That feeling lingers, and now it won’t go away. Not even as we make our way to the front door of my old home.

It looks completely different from the day I left. How long ago was that? I used to keep track by checking in on my mother, but I haven’t done that in a long time. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Then again, my mother is better off without my attention on her. She doesn’t need me bringing danger into her life. Pushing thoughts of my mother out, I try to focus on the task at hand. The front gate creaks loudly – the iron protesting against the disturbance. We used to have a beautiful garden in our front yard, but now everything is overgrown and dead. Autumn has taken its toll on it, as well, and everything is littered with dead weeds and leaves fallen from the trees that stand along the property’s perimeter.

When we finally reach the front door, my hand hesitates on the doorbell. Deep in the house, it looks like there’s a light on – probably in the kitchen.

“Why are you even bothering with the doorbell?” Next to me, Marcus seems like he’s trying and failing to be patient. I should be annoyed with his tone, but I’m only comforted by the fact that he’s there. His hands are in his pocket, eyes shifting from the door to the street – he looks bored. “You know we can just pop right in, right?”

“My grandmother’s a powerful witch – you think she doesn’t have some kind of defense against demons just popping in?” While a valid reason, that’s not why my hand is hovering an inch from the doorbell. To be perfectly honest, I’m terrified. Of what, I’m still not sure. I don’t exactly have a plan to deal with her yet, but my apprehension goes beyond uncertainty. “Or do you have some kind of death wish?”

“Fine. Just hurry up, would you?”

“What happened to all that compassion?”

“It’s lacking right now.” There’s something in his eyes that throws me – for a second that panic is back again. Before, when we received the orders to put an end to my grandmother’s antics, he hadn’t seemed even slightly fazed. What’s gotten into him?

Rather than prying further, I just take a deep breath and push the doorbell. No point in drawing it out, and the sooner I confront her the better, right? The familiar tinkling music floats to us through the door. Would she even bother answering?

The question barely finishes crossing my mind when the lock unlatches and the door opens a few inches. I’m holding my breath when I cross the threshold. Behind me, Marcus closes the door. I was right about the kitchen light being on – it’s the only source of light in the entire house. Without realizing it, I’m grabbing Marcus’ wrist. He stiffens at the contact but, as always, he doesn’t pull away. Instead, he adjusts so that he’s holding my hand and squeezes gently. I let out the breath I was holding before letting go and walking down the hall to the kitchen.

My grandmother stands at the stove, back to us, as she works over a large pot. It’s a familiar sight, and it would have been comforting in a different life. I expected the smell in the kitchen to be familiar, too, but it’s something I’ve never smelled before. It’s bitter, leaving a sour taste in my mouth from how strong it is.

“You’re the first demons to ever use the front door.” She still hasn’t turned around, and I don’t think she knows it’s me.

“Yes, well, I don’t want to be rude.” I’m proud that my voice doesn’t tremble. At my words, she goes stock still, her shoulders stiff.

When she turns around, it strikes me how young she looks. She hasn’t changed physically since the last time I saw her, but there’s something in her baby blue eyes that makes her seem like a child. The rest of her looks just as she did in the memory the boss showed me – her dark hair didn’t have a hint of gray in it, her face almost completely wrinkle-free.

“Videl? Is that really you?”

“Yes.”

To her credit, she looks like she’s trying really hard not to run up to me. Instead, she steps towards me slowly, her eyes still reflecting a bit of disbelief. They even start to tear up. Surprisingly, I feel nothing but anger. “I…I thought I’d never see you again, hon.”

“If only.” I cross my arms, and she stops in her tracks.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think I’m here to visit with you? To tell you how much I miss you?”

“I…”

“Because I’m not.” Maybe I should feel guilty for the pain in her eyes. Instead, I run with the odd satisfaction in my gut and start to walk around the room. Marcus stays at the door – my grandmother hardly pays him any mind.

“What happened to you?”

“You’re really going to ask me that question? Or do you actually not know what happens when the devil owns your soul?” She has the presence of mind to wince at my words. At least she looks guilty. “Anyway – that’s not why we’re here.” The mention of ‘we’ seems to trigger her awareness of Marcus. She looks over at him, eyes narrowing as if to scrutinize him.

“He sent you to stop me.” Her shoulders sag just a bit, and she sits at a chair by the counter. She seems calmer than I would have imagined.

“Obviously. Every demon you’ve destroyed means another person has to give up their soul to replace them. You need to learn to deal with the consequences of what you did – I have.” By now I’ve made a lap around the kitchen – it should feel like home, but now I’m just aching to go back to Marcus’.  The longer I’m here, the worse the feeling gets. It’s suffocating.

“And if I don’t?” Her response prompts me to turn and face her, but Marcus speaks before I can.

“Then we’ll deal with you personally.”

“How do you intend to do that? All the demons before you failed to kill me. You’re no different.” She’s smug now, directing her answer to Marcus before she turns to me again and continues, “You wouldn’t try to hurt your grandmother, would you?”

To be honest, I don’t have an answer to that question. That crippling fear is slowly inching its way back into me. Immortality notwithstanding, can I hurt her? I don’t know. I’m furious with her, but can I bring myself to try to kill her? Am I capable of being as heartless as she was when she sold my soul? I hoped I could talk her down, showed up at her house thinking maybe she’d see that I’m fine and would let it go.

Before I know what’s going on, I feel the sharp edge of a knife on my throat and Marcus’ chest against my back, his free arm holding me still.

“There are ways to hurt you that don’t involve Videl doing anything.” His voice is detached – just like our first conversation. Still bored. “It’s funny, actually. You’re counting on Videl’s inability to hurt you, and the boss is counting on yours to hurt your granddaughter…”

What is he doing? I do my best not to show my fear, to find some hint in his words that he wouldn’t actually – would he? This isn’t part of our orders, and the boss can’t afford anymore losses. It’s a bluff – it has to be.

“You wouldn’t.” She narrows her eyes. “You’re going to let him do this to you, Videl?”

“I’m not the one who put me in this position.” Even though I’m doing everything I can to minimize my movement, I feel the sting of the blade as it breaks skin. Warmth trickles down my neck.

“Alright! Just-just stop.” There’s desperation I’ve never heard in her voice. Marcus takes the blade away from my neck. “I won’t be killing anymore demons, okay? You have my word.”

“Your word’s not enough. But we’ll be keeping a close eye on you.” Marcus grabs my wrist and we’re gone.

When my awareness returns, we’re back at his house.

“What the hell was that?!” I snatch my arm away and shove him against the wall before my hand goes up to my neck. It comes away red so I walk down the hall to the bathroom. When was the last time I bled?

Marcus catches up to me fairly quickly, finding me in the bathroom washing the cut clean. “I can explain.”

“Then explain, dammit!”

“She was casting runes under the table, probably trying to trap us in the house. It was the only thing I could think of to get us out.” He approaches me carefully, his hand reaching out to the cut. I slap it away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to actually cut you…”

“I didn’t see her…” I stop tending to the cut and look at Marcus.

“You had your back turned.”

“How can I trust what you’re saying is true?” At my words, he actually looks upset.

“Why would I lie to you? I swear, Videl, I didn’t want to hurt you – never meant to hurt you.” His thumb brushes the cut. “Please…I did that to save us both.” He takes the towel I was using to clean the cut away from me before placing it under the running water. He rings it until it’s no longer sopping wet and then gently cleans the cut. All I can do is watch him, his face more expressive than I’ve ever seen it before. For the first time, he’s truly open and all I can see is remorse – guilt. I know he said he could feel guilt, but I never thought I’d see it.

“Give me a warning or something next time.” I avoid his eyes.

“Duly noted.” He’s relaxed a bit, and has me hold the towel to my neck while he grabs bandages out of the cabinet. “Besides, we can’t kill unless under orders, remember? And if the boss wanted you dead, trust me, you’d know.”

“Your reassurances still suck.” I remove the towel when he signals me to, and he begins to wrap the bandage around my neck. After another moment he’s done, the bandage held in place by a pin.

“It’s not that deep – you should be fine by tomorrow.” His thumb brushes over the bandage and his eyes are darkened by guilt again. Marcus turns to walk out of the room, but I reach out to stop him by his sleeve.

“Thanks for getting us out. Honestly, I don’t put it past her to trap us in that house.” I lose my nerve and break eye-contact, looking down at our feet. “She probably wouldn’t have hurt me, but…” It’s pretty clear what would have happened – we would have been powerless to stop her from getting rid of Marcus. Just like before, the thought hurts more than I can justify. “I don’t…I don’t know what I would have done if-”

“Don’t-” It’s clear he doesn’t want to talk about it, but now I can’t stop the words.

“- she’d destroyed you like those other demons. I don’t think I could handle losing you. I can’t.” I’m finally able to look up at him again. Biting my lip, I do my best to keep myself from saying anything more, but the damage is done. “Sorry.”

I push past him to retreat to my room. Why did I say that? What was I expecting?

~~~

I’m struggling a bit with their relationship, if you couldn’t tell. Let me know what you think in the comments – I’m always looking to improve 🙂

Friendly reminder: #TuesFlashFicTrain prompt is up and waiting for you!

As always, think happy thoughts!

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