(1) a small gear which drives (or may be driven by) a larger one.
(2) to restrain somebody, particularly by the arms, so that they cannot move.
(3) one of the primary flight feathers of a bird.
(4) to cut off the last joint of a bird’s wing to permanently prevent flight.
But there were some things she wouldn’t tell him, no matter how hard he pushed.
Some things he didn’t often dare ask, for fear she would give him a straight answer – for fear she would give him the lie he craved (and thus dreaded) with every fibre of his body.
If flushing out his prey had been straightforward, moving in for the kill should have been easy – but she was good.
Oh, he’d known she was good. But even if he’d realised that a hunter risked his soul in the appreciation of the bird in his sights, he would have done the same thing over again.
In some ways, he was glad to suspect but never really know the truth. It made it easier to behave as he knew he must.
“Tell me why…”
Although he couldn’t believe her even if she did tell him.
She was good, and it was only because he’d been winning this game from his cradle that he was better. He’d carefully checked and crosschecked everything she told him, and in the cracks between the lies he’d found enough of the truth to turn her own game against her.
She had made her mistake and he had seen the hazy infatuation in her eyes as he ruthlessly pressed forward and extracted every last detail from her, her mouth moving seemingly without the permission of her mind. There would be no going back to her employers now: by that betrayal she had ensured that she would never work again. No shady organisation in search of shady secrets would ever hire someone who had abandoned her mission so completely in the face of temptation.
Her career had been promising – meticulous research had turned up her photograph with half a dozen different CEOs, all courting their own corporate downfall – but now she had ruined herself for a man who would never, could never love her. With him, she had never been the hunter, only the hunted.
“Why did you stay?”
In the end, she had told him everything.
From the beginning, she hadn’t had a chance.
But nothing would ever be as simple as beginning or end between two people so alike, and the taste of victory turned bitter in his mouth as he realised that it had been, perhaps, too easy.
He’d sweetened the deal with blackmail and employment and a Butler to protect her from her previous employers, but she was too good to be trapped with only a token struggle against the inevitable.
It made him uneasy, and a quick inventory of his emotions revealed the problem that had been tugging at the back of his mind: he felt satisfaction at his success, of course, along with a certain amount of pleasure at the idea of using his opponent’s tool against them, but there was also a strange cocktail of unfamiliar feelings. Sympathy. Compassion. Kinship. Protectiveness. Tenderness. Affection, even.
Perhaps she hadn’t made a mistake after all. Perhaps this painted Jezebel in his arms was even better than he’d imagined.
She sighed and shifted as the poison-soft lips opened to speak at last, and he was almost relieved to hear her skilful truth/lies with his ears once again rather than in the slow deceiving slide of her body against his own.
“You know already.”
He hadn’t really expected her to tell him this time, either, but the words she didn’t speak struck home again.
Or at least he knew what she wanted him to think, and that was as close as he would ever get to knowing.
Because this, he couldn’t check and cross-check. There was no map of her heart he could use to triangulate his findings. There was no way to tell truth from lie, deception from sincerity, reality from manipulation. There was no way to tell whether the sharp edges of her chipped and battered heart were truly on display, or whether the heart itself would dissolve like so much smoke and mirrors the moment he’d bared his own and reached out for it.
They were two of a kind. They were birds of a feather thrust together by circumstances admittedly far from ideal, but no situation was insurmountable for a genius.
It was merely a question of whether it was worth risking the loss of this bird in his hand for one singing twice as sweetly from the bush.
Because even if it was, there were too few lies between them now – too few familiar lies and too many truths laid bare – burying their fledgling relationship in the burned out ashes of anything that could once have been trust.
She was too real now, too honest to let him feel justified in his manipulations, but he couldn’t afford to let himself trust her. He couldn’t afford to believe that he could predict her. He couldn’t afford to take what she was offering, no matter how tempting to simply let go of the edge, to let himself fall, to let himself believe.
Perhaps it was even the truth as she knew it, but a lyrebird could never really change its feathers to become a simple pheasant before the hunter’s gun.
His answer had to be the same, whatever she told him.
He had to be cold.
“I don’t love you.”
One day he would make his own mistake, just as she had made hers. He would let his irrational emotions lead his mind rather than the other way around. He would trust her more through habit than anything else.
One day he would neglect to clip her wings and she would leave his arms and his bed and fly back to her employers. She would return to her old life, victorious at last, redeemed from all her betrayals by the success of her eventual goal. She would use the information she’d gathered in their time together to bring him down, leaving him scattered among the dust and the shards of glittering broken heart for his enemies to sweep up at their leisure.
One day she would realise that he had already given her all he had to give. That he was naked in more ways than he’d ever intended to be before her. That at any moment she could choose to destroy him as he’d thought he would destroy her.
One day, when she turned on him, he would be forced to destroy her for real.
There was no bitterness in her voice, but he understood nonetheless and pulled her closer, gentling fierce truth in a harmless lie.
One day, he would make his mistake. One day, his bird would fly free and he would lift his gun without pause for reflection or regrets. One day, he would shoot his own heart out of the sky and watch it fall as he knew it eventually must.
But not today.