by Beth Portnoy

“You see? You’ll never be able to see me. Not really.” She gives a chuckle, his blood on her arm mixing with her own.

“Let me help you.” He reaches out his hand, stretching it out to hers. “Let me pull you up like you once did for me. You don’t have to be like this.”

She grasps his hand, dangling solely from his grip on the edge. “Like what? Like a villain?”

“Destructive. Self-destructive. Irrational. Hair-trigger temper. Violent.”

She gives him a deadpan look.

“Alright. Yeah. A villain.”

“A villain.” She repeats, musing. “The villain. The villain of your story. And you’re breaking the rules. You want to save me.”

“Please. I swear it. I can save you. I will save you. Just let me.” He asks, a desperate begging and pleading tone to his voice.

“You either die a hero or live to let yourself become the villain. At least that’s what they say,” she continues, not reacting to his pleas. “I disagree. When you get pushed down, you either get back up a hero, to get pushed down all over again, or you rise up a villain. See, that’s the thing about the word villain. It’s subjective. Am I the villain of your story? You see me as your damsel in distress.”

“And what do you see yourself as?” He asks, adding a second hand to his grip as he clips on a harness around her, pulling her up, but letting his muscles relax, just for a second, knowing she is safe. Gloating was therapeutic, he knew, so he let her continue with her speech.

“I see myself as a power you cannot control, so in the innate wisdom of human nature, you seek to either bring it under your wing or destroy it once and for all. I don’t see the world in terms of heroes and villains. I see it in terms of reality. And we don’t make the reality we live in. The reality we live in makes us.”

“I got you. You’re safe. How about I get you to the hospital and you can dish the philosophy on the way?” He asks, pulling her over the edge, to the strong and solid ground on his end. His voice is soft, smooth, and soothing, seeking to calm her down from her rage.

“The reality we live in makes us, and so do the people in it. People are the lifeblood of the world. People can make you. And people can break you. And most of all, people control your destiny. I don’t believe in heroes and villains. I believe in my own desires. And I believe that when I go out, you’ll feel the bang. Everyone will. Always and forever.”

She gives him a sweet smile that sends shivers down his spine, as he remembered the last time she had said that.

“And you, my dear, can rest safely, in the peace that will never arrive.”

He had been watching her face, anxious that she refused to move. He hadn’t noticed the harness buckle she had removed, the lock she had picked, and the clip she had undone. Her words are still ringing in his mind as she jumps. He feels it. He is a second too late, as he lunges for her, ignoring whether his own harness could hold him. His screams sound faint to the ear, and he can still see her, her body, her corpse, splattered onto the ground below, even through the tears streaming down his face, his hoarse throat, and his sweaty palms, unable to grasp the rope he is dangling from, unable to pull himself up, the sight of her burned into his mind, washing in front of his eyes even as he forces himself to look away.

Even as sneakers skid to a halt above and pull him up, his body is limp, faint as he can’t get rid of the words ringing in his ears, the sound of her voice which would never taunt him again, the look on her face, peaceful, full of acceptance in her last moments, never to twist in a vicious snarl as he got a rise of her, never to smile so blindingly at him before stabbing him in the back. Never to love him or hate him, to kiss him or shoot him. She had been everything to him, his love and then his enemy, his greatest hope and his worst nightmare. But she is gone. And he is here.

He doesn’t hear his friends waving hands in front of his face. He only vaguely hears their worried exchange, only catches snippets– “why is he upset?” “she jumped,” “tried to save her,” “never let go.”

He ignores them. They will never know what he knew. They will never feel as he feels. They will never understand the blinding truth of it. But he would.

And he does. He remembers what she had said once; the memory bringing a smile to his face, looking slightly crazed, covered in both his own blood and hers. “The most dangerous people aren’t the ones that have everything to win, or the ones that have only to gain and nothing to lose. The most dangerous ones are the ones that have already given up on life. Who gave nothing to win and nothing to lose. Who broke rock bottom and sank even deeper. Because they’re going to be so unpredictable you’ll never know them as they know themselves.”

He remembers her words, and as tears and cries of anguish stream from his face, he smiles for a brief moment. She was right, after all. He had never seen her coming.

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