How do I measure up to heights you’ve been to?
How could I ever love you like you’re meant to?
How could a view of my scars light your temple?
- “Haunt You” by Social House.
To watch Lilith attempt to be still was to watch the world attempt not to turn — her motion was constant, and everywhere, stretching past each corner of her being, visible and audible and altogether an experience. Her fingertips could be heard in their thudding, dancing nervously on the edge of the tub, cascading water droplets down to the tile; water sloshed around her with each subtle shift, sending twinkling bathroom lights rippling in the corner of Zelda’s eye…
“Take it off.”
Remarkable that this was the first thing to put her stone.
Her silence was telling, as though she were considering whether to comply to something on the edge of a command — so Zelda softened her words with a hand sliding down Lilith’s arm, wet and slick, down and down to catch at her wrist. Her thumb brushed over the bone there, a signal to take her time.
The glamour came down.
It was hardly noticeable at first, until purple scars pricked up one-two-three, speckled on her back like fairy lights across a storefront. Along her shoulder, a virtual string of faint blade marks: a short one, a full one, a fading one. The last looked recent, and Zelda was pitted with some kind of twisted need to know where it came from, what she’d done to earn it — but she didn’t want to know, did she?
Lilith took an anxious breath from waiting. Zelda sank the washcloth deep, drew it up soaked to her shoulder…
No. She didn’t want to know.
Suds bubbled around the edges of the washcloth and between Zelda’s fingers as she squeezed the fabric against Lilith’s skin — she was a sensitive creature, so Zelda moved slowly, the safest bet. She took special caution over Lilith’s spine, absolutely littered with bruised scars, like a xylophone to a kitchen knife. Lilith shook underneath her as though she had something to fear, or to hide.
Zelda didn’t resent her scars. She loathed their birth, but the pattern, the inherent Lilith-ness to them now, and the rarity of their appearance — they were almost treasures to her now. She played the game of trying to memorize them as best she could before Lilith whisked them away, buried under a shy grin and a promise of never again, never again…
They’d shared a few rounds of this already, and for the first time, Lilith didn’t cry.
As she went, Zelda ran across damp, waving strands of Lilith’s hair where it drifted into the water, coiled in the deep. Zelda followed them down and sighed at the sight; she couldn’t resist the urge to comb her fingers into Lilith’s hair, thumbs working suds outs, wrists enjoying the slide of silk… and she drew it in to take a deep breath.
If there were a heaven to accept Zelda, it was buried somewhere in that hair. Zelda bit her lip to keep from groaning at how wonderful she smelled, at how warm she felt…
Arms sneaking around her, Zelda drew Lilith closer to her chest — a tight, bare, wet embrace that pushed her heart thrumming against Lilith’s back. Lilith stiffened at first, but her shoulders relaxed a little bit into the embrace. Her head rested back on Zelda’s shoulder, as if to stare at the ceiling; but when Zelda checked, her eyes were shut, and her breaths forced.
She was tense, always when her glamour came down, unsurprising and fair. The more bothersome tension came at random times, now when Zelda washed Lilith’s hair, or when she brought Lilith her coat, or whenever she did anything small for her. Creature couldn’t even eat around the family, nor put her feet up on the couch, nor ask where the towels were kept — familiarity contemptible to her, it almost seemed, if Zelda didn’t know her better than that. Lilith was not accustomed to kindness, making Zelda all the more persistent to be kind to her.
Lilith shivered, and Zelda noticed — frowned, and spread her hands comfortably over Lilith’s breasts. She snuggled her closer, offered a kiss to her cutting cheek.
“Are you cold?” she asked in her ear.
“Fine,” Lilith said numbly, though her chin trembled over the words.
Furrowing her brow, Zelda waited until Lilith’s eyes had closed again, distanced just enough that Zelda could tell a lie.
“I’m a bit cold,” she fibbed, skin still red against Lilith’s heat and much enjoying it now. Another kiss to Lilith’s temple and Zelda sat up a bit — reached one hand to the edge of the bath. “Coming out with me?”
Lilith’s head nodded, but her hand locked onto Zelda’s wrist a little too long, a strike of anxiety flashing in her muscles. Zelda ran a thumb over Lilith’s nipple, not overtly sexual in this action — just comforting, and warming. Lilith’s hand shook visibly as she gripped the edge of the tub… so Zelda released her embrace, let her breathe.
Slowly, Lilith sat up and away from Zelda, water sloshing around her as her bare body rose away from the bubbles. Zelda, unable to tear her eyes away from Lilith's ascension, blindly found Lilith’s towel and handed it up to her; Lilith accepted it with a grateful smile, but it faded too quickly to be genuine.
Zelda drew a deep breath, knowing this reaction was natural, familiar to them both. It was a process, convincing Lilith to trust her — it was intense intimacy, then distance, and some sweet spot in the center where they could operate daily. It was Lilith trusting Zelda not to hit her, and Zelda trusting Lilith not to leave her, and they were getting better at it every day.
At least it seemed that way, sometimes.
Taking up her own towel, Zelda stood out of the bubbles and delighted in the fizzle along her skin as foam met fabric and dampened the low hiss in her ears. She tried to focus on drying herself and not staring Lilith down as she did the same — not reading her every microexpression and chasing signs and poetry lines, but just… being, and trusting Lilith to express herself clearly.
Toes met bathmat fuzz and Zelda noticed, just now, the sitting smoke where it hung from the ceiling. She peered into the foggy mirror to find her own cheeks flushed — felt her own face, a bit sweaty, a bit overheated — and huffed a breath.
A frustrated groan, and Zelda turned — found Lilith perched on the edge of the tub with a hand buried in her hair, raking through like gardening. Zelda’s eyes widened.
“What?” she shot back too fast, looking up with innocent eyes turned agitated by something as simple as hair. “What?”
“Let me,” Zelda said, and collected the comb from its precarious teeter on the edge of the sink. Lilith opened her mouth to protest, but Zelda paid her no mind and found a seat beside her. Without a word, she took Lilith’s shoulders and guided them to turn away.
The thought died off as Zelda formally removed Lilith’s hand from her hair and replaced it with the comb — beginning in slow, gentle strokes along her damp waves. Easy gliding motions, root to tip, Zelda brushed through her long-long hair and set the scent of her shampoo floating through the air. That scent was intoxicating, and Zelda’s eyes rolled back just a moment, inhaling…
And Lilith hadn’t put the glamour back up yet, her eyes opened to find. And she smiled to herself, as this was the first time, and relaxed back into her skin.
Lavenders green, dilly dilly…
Zelda started humming to herself as she combed Lilith’s hair, around the side and grazing her head gently. With a sigh, she hummed the next strain, watched Lilith’s shoulders sink and grinned to herself, proud.
There she was. Lilith was relaxing, just being with her, Zelda’s grand prize.
If you love me, dilly dilly…
“-mm, you have,” she half-sang, shaking water off the comb, “the most beautiful hair, you know…”
Lilith huffed a little noise, though it sounded choked. She looked down into her lap, as if Zelda had said something truly offensive. Her grin faded.
And though Zelda could have gone for an age or two more, she decidedly set the comb aside and took up Lilith’s sides, instead. She laid a kiss on Lilith’s shoulder — the fading scar under her lips, warm and soft and slightly risen. Her cheek came to rest against it, her eyes closing…
Who told you so, dilly dilly?
Sinking, Lilith was coming down to rest against her, and so close, so fucking close — but she caught herself in it and gripped the porcelain like a lifeline, and tensed up like a balloon and could not be moved further. Zelda drew back to find perfectly clear skin, a spine untouched, a glamour returned — though the scar could still be felt underneath, warm at her fingertips.
“You don’t have to-” Zelda started, but let it go with her breath. Instead, she rubbed Lilith’s back affirmatively, buried her sigh somewhere deep inside so that Lilith wouldn’t have to bear her disappointment, her frustration — not hers to die under, certainly. She held it in even as Lilith’s back escaped from her touch, and even as Lilith hung up her towel and made for the door…
Only once the door was shut did she release, and sigh with grief for the moment.
She didn’t know what she did wrong, sometimes. She lost Lilith daily, caught onto her vestiges and reeled her back just in time, every time. All Zelda wanted in the world was a firm grasp, without holding too tightly.
But up she went, and out to escape the heat-trap of a bathroom, door swung open. Cool air hit her where the towel didn’t meet, bracing, hardly the swarm of Lilith she’d held before; she flipped the light off and the bathroom fan on, drew the door shut behind her and…
Her heart sank.
Lilith lay naked on the side of the bed, uncovered and shaking — staring at the wall with a look of dread, as if staring down Satan himself. She did nothing to care for herself, remained stretched out and bare as though this were expected.
Zelda clung to the doorway, anxious, afraid to approach that look in her eyes.
“Hm?” No look, no contact — Lilith blinked, but that was about it.
Swallowing, Zelda asked, “Can I come to bed?”
“Mhm,” Lilith said as if it were a silly question, though her frown deepened.
Cautious, Zelda crossed the room and felt the cold front before her, watched it tremble on Lilith’s skin. She sat on the very reaches of the bed, just removed from Lilith’s legs, and inhaled. Her question sat behind her lips, reformed a thousand times before she finally got the nerve to open her mouth.
“Why can’t I take care of you?”
This had Lilith quiet again, finger trailing along the edge of the sheets, her only movement. Zelda cleared her throat, gone thick from silence, and waited.
Finally, and with a terrible expression, Lilith stared down at the bed and gave a non-answer: “Do you want me now?”
Zelda’s grimace faded to nothing. She blinked, furrowed her brow.
“Lilith, what are you- why would you ask that?” she asked, a bit sharp, a bit flustered. Eyes wandering over Lilith, she set a hand on her leg and rubbed at the goosebumps there, gentle as her tone as she added, “Tell me.”
And when she looked — and she shouldn’t have looked, so that was her own damn fault — she found a tear sneaking out of Lilith’s eye, soaking into the sheet beneath her. It was all her strength that kept her shoulders from breaking, her body from falling in next to Lilith and taking her into her arms.
“They used to do these things for me,” Lilith explained in a hoarse voice, blinking rapidly, refusing eye contact. “Bathe me, comb me, perfume me… before…”
She didn’t finish her sentence. Zelda forced air into her lungs, hand lifting cautiously-
“On nights… when -”
Lilith broke down into tears.
And perhaps it was a mistake on her part — perhaps all self-control vanished for a moment and left her to make her own poor decisions — but Zelda did away with the distance. She gathered Lilith up into her arms and met no resistance, drew Lilith in toward her lap, her head to her shoulder. Lilith rested glamoured against Zelda’s towel, both of them somewhat covered, somewhat guarded…
“This is different,” Zelda assured her, and kissed her hair furiously. “This is always different.”
Tears slid against Zelda’s arm until Lilith lifted her head to bite lightly at her shoulder, to stop the crying she didn’t want to do — and Zelda groaned into her hair at the sheer pain of it all. She’d been scaring her. She’d tried to be nice and instead she just sent her back.
“Listen to me, please.”
Lilith nodded her head, and Zelda swallowed. She ran a hand through Lilith’s hair, worked through a wet tangle as she thought over her next words.
“You are not a commodity, Lilith, and you’re not… being put to work,” she said with a break in her voice, though she forged on through it. Kissing Lilith again, she sniffed, and sighed. “You are a person I love — and a person I’ll treat well, if you’ll ever let me.”
A whimper at that and Zelda’s heart broke. Lilith’s glamour faded before her eyes, though she fought valiantly to keep it up.
So Zelda, drawing back to look her in the eyes, reached down to undo her towel.
“Take it off,” Zelda requested, as she rendered herself naked before Lilith, towel tossed to the floor. Finished, she looked at Lilith expectantly, but patiently…
And Lilith, with a considerate gaze, took a deep breath. And she did the same.
With a small smile, Zelda sniffed and bunched Lilith’s hair up in her hand. “That’s better.”
Lilith wiped her eyes and nodded, as if she were proud of herself. Her voice lowered considerably as she stared into Zelda’s lap. “I need…”
“What?” Zelda brushed her hair back, scooted Lilith more comfortably into her lap. “Anything; let me-”
Lilith dove in and hid her face away in Zelda’s chest, all at once, almost forceful in her embrace. She wrapped her arms around Zelda’s neck to hold herself up, and there, clung.