People have always been divided when it comes to control of their fate. Some believe it is far better to have some sort of higher power looking after them. They find the idea that their mistakes are not their own, but instead tricks of some more-powerful being that they had no influence over, comforting. Others will vehemently protest if you tell them that whatever they do, it was part of some ineffable plan all along. They refuse to let others meddle in their everyday affairs, they have no desire to leave the larger and far more important matter of their destiny in anyone's hands but their own.
Destiny, of course, knows that this is all foolish. He has no control over the lives of those who take up barely a page in the heavy book he bears, but they curse him all the same despite his inability to change things. He merely watches, and turns pages, and whether the book is already written or writes itself as time passes is hard to say.
-This aye night, this aye night-
Islington has never strongly embraced Desire, but its world ends in fire all the same.
The pretty dancing girls, eyes once full of laughter and whispered suggestions from behind gauzy curtains, are shaking, terrified, clinging together desperately with eyes wide, and they scream as they feel the earth sink lower. The priests are in their sanctuaries, on their knees, begging their gods to save them as the temples burn and altars fall. The old man everyone dismissed as insane is staggering about the streets drunk, telling them that he warned them the ground was shaking, falling, that everything would be gone eventually.
Destruction, not for the first time, wonders what he is doing, and Islington laughs like a delighted child.
The marquis has heard the rumor, as all of his ilk have. The rogues and bastards of London Below hear everything the nobles do, as is the way of things, for while they will avoid dealing with the fork-tongued viziers and less-than-subtle henchmen those at the Courts employ, they aren't averse to taking advantage of their information.
The latest, they have heard, is that you can hide your life. Buy yourself another chance at existence in case you lose your first. Most scoff at this, for though they will claim to be cowards and knaves who will do anything to save their own skin, they still cling to some foreign sense of honor that even they must die when their time arrives.
The marquis begs to differ, for he alone, he thinks, will decide when his time is, and he has no limits to his own means of self-preservation.
Richard wonders if once he wished for an exciting life and this is his comeuppance. He's always been a nice person, if a rather boring one, he supposes, and his childhood dream was not, like so many of his friends', to do something horribly thrilling. He wanted a nice job and a nice wife and maybe a few children or a dog, or both, even, and if he got bored he'd visit somewhere horrifically foreign like America or Timbuktu.
He wasn't sure where Timbuktu was, but he remembered learning about it in Geography once, and it sounded nicely exotic.
He has no idea how wishing to be normal meant that he was the one who talked to rats and received instructions involving the word 'widdershins' when his friends became accountants.
-Every night and all-
There are no mirrors in Islington's prison. It is a prison, this Islington knows, despite any false pretenses at sanctuary. The world is being kept safe from Islington, not the other way around. The wine glasses, Islington makes sure, are always too full and sparkling to reflect, and it does not look in the water.
It is in reflections that Islington sees Atlantis, and it is in Atlantis that Islington sees what it cannot reconcile.
"yOUr'E sO MeAN to HiM," Delirium says, petting a rainbow-striped frog with one hand and resting her chin in the other, frowning at her sister.
Despair shakes her head, watching Islington through the mirror he cannot see. "You are far worse than I in this case."
Delirium scowls and the frog vanishes with a faint 'pop.'
"You," the young woman says, roughly running a hand through her black hair, "are really very difficult."
The marquis groans. Crucifixion does not do much for one's conversational abilities.
"You should," she continues, "be dead. I'm almost surprised you don't want to be."
The marquis still says nothing, just closes his eyes as if the sound of her voice is painful. It probably is.
"If you insist on not dying the way you do," she sighs, "I can't take you. And stop the theatrics, you're not actually suffering. Your body is, for all intents and purposes, dead. What's listening to me right now is more...how to explain this...your projection of yourself. You're only suffering as much as you think you are."
"You'll excuse me, then," the marquis rasps, "if I still think I'm in a considerable amount of pain."
She shrugged. "It's your choice, really. I'm afraid you're going to have to really be dead for at least a short while, and you don't seem like you'll enjoy it."
He lifts his head as cockily as he can manage with a slit throat. "It's only temporary," he says, and laughs hoarsely.
The young woman sighs in frustration.
This, Richard decides, has to stop. Men on rooftops he could cope with. Night's Bridge was hard, but he managed. Earl's Court, even, that was fine, that was good, he has moved on, even though he was nearly eaten by the Underground and okay, maybe he's not quite over that bit yet. And what sort of place was it where drinking tea was an Ordeal?
Having the life sucked out of him, however, was another story, as was being told that they're being chased by people who will kill them, towards something that will kill them. As is the marquis's outrage at Lamia's behavior, because the marquis is not supposed to care, but more than that, it's where the marquis may have been, because the marquis is not supposed to be vulnerable or breakable. The marquis is meant for capes or dandy coats, not old blankets.
But they have angels and murderers to worry about now and so Richard spares only a passing thought for how wrong it is to see the marquis looking like he's got one foot in the grave.
As if 'widdershins' wasn't bad enough. He should have known it'd all go downhill from there.
-Fire and fleet and candlelight-
They say this is justice, but it is no such thing. Atlantis was too much to go on. Too much brilliance, too much light, too much laughter, too much wine.
Islington was doing Atlantis a favor. It knows that one day the almighty would see this too-much-ness; it knows that that salvation would be far longer and more painful than the one it delivered.
It does not know why its own justice was so much more frowned upon than the one that would have been inevitable otherwise, and it picks up the phone.
Despair shakes her head again. "Do you see what I mean, little sister?"
Delirium is too busy blowing bubbles to notice, or perhaps only pretending to be, and they turn into tiny cats with wings when she pops them.
"Where am I going, then?" he had asked, foolishly, and the woman had not looked happy.
"Wherever you think you should be."
For what had been only the third or so time in his life, the marquis de Carabas looked frightened. And as the young woman vanished it got very, very cold.
Now that he is alive - as alive as he thinks he can be, all circumstances considered, he has sworn he will never go back.
And if he has any say in things, neither will his companions, and by no means by the wickedness of the Velvets, this he will swear.
"If you touch him again, you or any of your Velvet children..."
Desire watches the marquis as he pushes Lamia aside and laughs. "Well, this is certainly a lovely turn of events."
It is the dreams that are the worst part. He tosses and turns in his penthouse apartment (really a nice apartment, can't see how he managed to luck into it, this never happened to him before) and can't sleep even though there aren't dreams of the Beast anymore (because he's the Warrior now, no, he's not, he was but that's gone now, now he's going to be normal). There are lights and the distant hum of far-off conversations and a tinny music box and soft, smug laughter in his ear that sends shivers down his spine.
Dream frowns at the last addition. "Are you meddling again, sister-brother?" He is leaning against a lamppost in front of a tenant building, peering up at the penthouse window.
Desire appears next to him, leaning suggestively against the building wall, and lights a cigarette. "You know I don't interfere in your domain. This is all his own." Desire smiles appreciatively. "Lovely, isn't it."
"I am giving him remnants of what he had. You make him want them back."
The appreciative smile turns coy. "That is what I do, isn't it?"
-And Christ receive thy soul-
"Yes," the voice comes from the other end of the phone. "Yes. You could say that's our specialty."
Islington hears faint growling sort of laugh in the background. "Tell me, are your services available for hire?"
As the phone vanishes when the receiver is hung up, Islington smiles to itself and pours another glass of wine.
Delirium's laugh sounds like old, off-key silver bells and Despair turns to the mirror of a young, dark-haired girl with oddly-colored eyes.
He doesn't sleep anymore. He did, once, and since then has never quite believed that he woke up.
Door looks at him askance every so often when he can't fight back a yawn or the circles under his eyes are particularly pronounced, but her questions die before they are given life as if she knows that this is not something she is allowed to pry into.
"I don't like how he dislikes me so much," Death frowns. "It's not like I'm going to come sweep him away in the night. That's not how his type go, he should know that by now."
"You do seem to have that effect on people," Dream comments.
Death sighs and smiles slightly when she sees the marquis laugh; she watches him as one would a favorite grandchild who believes himself very clever for stealing the last piece of cake despite the rest of the room's knowing it was saved for him all along. "He's very interesting, you have to admit."
"We knew you'd come around eventually," the marquis says, taking Richard's arm and guiding him not-entirely-gently toward what looks like the end of a tunnel, where there are lights and the distant hum of far-off conversations and as they grow closer, Richard can see what looks like a stand where a little girl in a ballerina costume is selling music boxes.
"I'm not that predictable," he bristles.
The marquis's laughter as he stands what-should-be-uncomfortably close is soft and smug and Richard shivers even though it isn't cold.
Desire's laugh brings to mind satin sheets and obscenities whispered by candlelight, and the wind whistles over a desolate cliff somewhere as Destiny turns the page.