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Short story snippet: “Hope”

I’ve had a portrait of my character Zouriel hanging from my wall since I moved in and it finally coaxed me into writing something with him again. This is a short scene, which I set far in the future in my novel-verse. Perhaps in what would be book two or three.


He watched the steady rise and fall of Marcus’ chest, suppressing the urge to touch him. There had been no nightmares tonight and he didn’t want to spoil what seemed to be the first decent sleep Marcus had had since his memories had returned. Zouriel lay on his side, feeling his right arm slowly go numb, but not caring one bit. The only thing that really mattered was that Marcus was here and not tossing and turning, as nightmarish imagery plagued his sleep.

He silently studied what parts of Marcus body was exposed, the shoulders with their faint scars, creating a trail leading down his body, vanishing under the covers. The artificial arm that mirrored his own, but with far less pointy edges than Zouriel’s own. Marcus had initially referred to himself as the version 2.0, where Zouriel had been the prototype, the crude first attempt on which all future experiments had been based. All those medical appointments he’d had over the years had largely been dedicated to data collection and assessments, the actual health and well-being of Zouriel had always been secondary. But he’d kind of guessed that much already.

Zouriel silently wondered what had become of the 1.0…and any other versions that had been created before Marcus. He shuddered then, only partially from the chill in the room.

He could still recall Marcus as he had been before everything had happened. His body had been more lanky, his muscles less defined, but he had still possessed a wiry strength that had amazed Zouriel more than once. Like Zouriel, Marcus had had to bulk up in the shoulder and chest area, to balance out the machinery that was permanently grafted to their bodies. Though Zouriel wondered how much Marcus had really had to bulk up for that reason, his arm appeared lighter and less clumsy than his and the increased muscular tone was evident no matter what part of Marcus body he looked at. And he did like to look, though it was mostly stolen glances, afraid that Marcus would take it the wrong way.

If this had not been Marcus, if he had not been so overwhelmed with joy at having him back  in his life, alive, if not completely whole, then he might have felt jealous that Marcus face was less distorted and marked by scar tissue. The pattern of ropy scar tissue that did mar Marcus fine and well-sculpted body told a different story of what had happened to him during the attack that had killed everyone else in their unit. Most of Marcus scar tissue was centered on his lower torso and his hips. On one of his first evenings when his mind had been clear once more he had joked that he had old-man hips now. Hip replacement surgery and more, to replace the extensive damage to his pelvic area, which had come close to killing him. Zouriel didn’t want to think about that, not remember those feverish, painful moments when he thought that he might die too. But they had both been allowed to survive, just so their bodies could be used to create a new kind of soldier and in the process make huge advances in several areas of medical science.

Zouriel supposed he could have accepted it, if it had been for a just cause, so that every human might enjoy the fruits of the scientist’s labor and Zouriel and Marcus pain. But what they had done to Marcus in the process…What they had done to his mind…What they had done to Zouriel’s mind as well…Zouriel bit his lip in his distress, feeling blood well up in his mouth, that metallic taste all too familiar.

The military wanted to keep their advances to themselves, that’s the one thing Zouriel felt fairly certain of. They wanted stronger soldiers and Zouriel had theories, dark theories that in the future all conscripted soldiers might have to undergo compulsory grafts and limb replacements, to make them more powerful and reliable in combat. And more controllable.

But this was all dark thoughts that fluttered about in Zouriel’s mind, when he lay sleepless in bed, watching Marcus plagued by his nightmares or like now…Sleeping peacefully.

He could only hope that there would be more nights like these.

Finally he could resist it no longer and he freed his right arm from under his own body, feeling it tingle as blood rushed back into it. Carefully he traced a pattern on Marcus shoulder, the normal one, letting his fingers rest in the tiny bumps and grooves that made him uniquely Marcus.

They had not had sex since Marcus had been completely back, but it had felt wrong so far. This was not the old Marcus, the one who playfully suggested they find a closet or some other private corner where they could release some tension or just play around for a bit. A part of him he could still feel ashamed of hoped that this peaceful sleep meant that the day when playful Marcus would be back might be here soon and he would once more feel Marcus hands…his mouth on his body again. He wouldn’t have to be the strong one anymore, the one in control.

No, he should feel content for now that Marcus was here, so close to him, his breath on his bare skin and his warmth warming up the bed they shared.

Soon enough, whether caused by Zouriel’s touch or not, Marcus began to stir, his eyes fluttering open. For a second Zouriel was terrified that he’d forgotten him again, but then he saw recognition in those warm, brown eyes.

“Zou?..” Marcus mumbled, reaching out his normal hand to touch his face. Zouriel could not help but lean into it slightly. “I dreamed I was lost again…Lost in some deep fog and there was screaming and blood…But then you found me and lead me out into the sunlight.”

So close to a nightmare…But it had not gotten as bad as that. Zouriel gently stopped the movement of Marcus hand to kiss it.

“I’ll make sure you don’t get lost again…” he murmured.”As long as you are with me, you will never feel lost again.”

Marcus sighed, but a slight smile played at the corners of his eyes.

“When you say it, I can actually believe it.”

Hope was the thing with feathers, or at least that was something Zouriel had heard once. But now he began to wonder if hope did not have a different shape. It was a shared blanket, a bed and a pair of brown eyes that had nothing but trust and love resting inside their warm depths.

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