A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

Twice or thrice had I lov'd thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp'd be;
         Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
         But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
         More subtle than the parent is
Love must not be, but take a body too;
         And therefore what thou wert, and who,
                I bid Love ask, and now
That it assume thy body, I allow,
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.
-John Donne

She could not live in a world where there was not a light on the water, the fate of the darkness that seemed endless as the sea dare swallow up the tide, but there where the flickering of the lanterns did laugh along the broken image of the moon she stood at a standstill—where did they go from here?

The last upon the walk, boats passed with a wave still of her hand as each came to pass them on; still her hand came to command the sea—even if it was just the this very small domestic act. Aurore wasn’t ready to face the reality of what was to come, nor was she willing to let him go.

“They are the last,” Her voice a small whisper as though to speak only to her own pounding heart, “They are the last and it is just us.” She wanted to reassure him. Wasn’t this how it always was?

Standing in the doorways of the cathedral she could barely recognize him, the dark sky above and the warm sandstone beneath them could compare to nothing with the way she waged from heart and mind. She half had the mind to sting his face while the other wanted nothing more than touch him in half truths--was he really there? Was this just another figment of her imagination?

Aurore came to face him, her gold gown having lost its luster much like the warmth of the candles in her hair, and though the lace shawl did its best to keep out the cold she shivered. Her eyes searched his—searching for some sort of lie or even a half truth that she was not in fact insane, that the old age illness that so plagued her grandmother was not one she too would suffer.

“You have to say something…I can’t be asked so break this silence, Rowan Paul, please…” She wanted him to say something, anything that would take her thoughts from the crushing reality that she would have to let him go still.
word count: 457

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

The gondolas passed them, much as had the one that contained the wedding party from which they both came. Of the married and the guests, only one soul noted their reticence, and with a brief glance Robert assured Dijana of the strength of his intention, although he was not himself certain of his intention at all. He did know that he wanted, or needed, to be next to Aurore at that time, now that she was near. He was not ready to let her leave again.

He’d thought he’d killed that man, but in the shadow of her light he learned that he had only become more himself than he had ever been. Older, wiser, more temperate and even-handed, but, as ever, still Rowan Bloodworth. The darker hair, indigo dye stifling the former blond, tamer and more befitting a man of high station, and the worry lines a bit more defined by the pressures of the passing years were not quite able to catalyze a similar metamorphosis within him.

No, he was now quite certain that he had only fooled himself into thinking he did not still love her. That love had not been lost over the years or across the ocean. It had changed, certainly. No longer the hungry, needful, almost desperate passions of a young man, but a quieter sort, at peace with itself and its own impossible nature, existing in part because it could not exist. No longer a consuming, devouring fire, but the dedicated, purposeful, controlled light of a candle, watchful and patient, seeking nothing, content to shine alone in the darkness of a disconsolate soul.

Rowan turned to look at her when she spoke, as he always had. He heard her but did not speak. In some ways he felt as though he was in that moment existing outside of himself, apart from his emotions, unable to quite complete the circuit that would provide him closure.

“It’s strange, is all.” His voice felt unfamiliar to him, even though it was the same rich baritone he’d been awarded for surviving puberty. “To have traveled so far only to return home. To you, Aurore. You and I, always.”

He took both of her hands in his. Her hands, too, felt almost the same in his palms as they always had, although if he had not known better, he might have thought her fingers had been very broken at some point. “As it always was, and as it always will be.”

But there was something more to be said. He had known for some time that she was in Venice, even having met the son that bore his name. Why, then had he not thought through what he should say? After a long silence, in a fainter voice, he admitted, “But I’m not certain I have the right to address you, at least not before I beg your forgiveness.”

Even set in a darker face, his blue eyes remained as emotive as ever, and the dull sparkle of the dim light against a forming tear could still betray his innermost thoughts and fears.
word count: 521

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

Though he may have thought his voice sounded unfamiliar…Aurore thought it like coming home. In so many dreams she had thought him returned, nightmares it was only his bones speaking for him as they washed up upon the shore. She was forward in her motions studying his face as though no longer needing to memorize it, but study it for imperfections…new scars that had not been there before. And yet…

“Your hair,” She ran a hand up up through it to note the color and see that it was missing the curls, “What have you done with your hair?” Her accent thick yet light in tone as ever, a voice that was not always something she possessed. This was what happens to a woman when their walls are broken down and defenses shattered like glass.

He took her hands and she let him, modest in the way she still tried to keep her emotions in check and the tears from falling in her eyes,

“Forgive you for what?” It was a whisper that she asked him in, “You did as we all had to do to survive. I am sure.” This was what living on that island had been, survival. She didn't want to betray that she did in fact suffer without him. That would just simply be improper would it not?

“All of us, Lewis, Ashley, Clare. We all live now because we were lucky enough to leave, but you…” Now this she could not contain, and she closed the distance between them as she wrapped her arms around his neck; uncaring as to whom dare look on.

“It is like you are back from the dead.”

Did he feel as though he had gone through hell? She did. And yet she would have done so all over again if it meant he could live again.

“I can hardly tell if you are real or just another dream.” Her voice was a lost muffled sound as she buried her words in him. When she pulled away she held him still by his arms as though afraid at any moment he would float away with the tide.

“What has happened?”
word count: 363

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

The faint self-consciousness Rowan felt as Aurore inspected his face was, oddly enough, not an unpleasant feeling. In fact, it felt expected, like a moment that had been longing to happen for some time. Indeed, perhaps the reunion had been fated the very moment Rowan had left Aurore’s presence the last time.

One thing that was new was an absent habit in which his hand would come to rest at a very particular place on his lower chest, and it did so as she began to fuss about his hair. Buried under layers of clothing, few could offer the reasoning that there was a dark scar on his skin there, and only the woman before him, most likely, could give testament to the origin of that scar.

Being shot was a strange occurrence. Rowan had shot more than his fair share of men in his lifetime, but he had always imagined that the shot went through a man completely, or at least went in at one trajectory and stayed there. To his own woe had he learned the case to be otherwise. The ball rattled through the body, hitting all manner of vital organs before finally coming to lodge upon any one in particular. The pain was extreme and even with the wound healed the phantom of it still troubled him at times, particularly when he was nervous.

He smiled a bit, although her tone of voice seemed unusual to him. He was not able to place it yet. “Yes. I’m afraid the dye rather weighs the locks down.” Aurore had always appreciated his lively blond curls; and the man himself, Constant Delacroix, had warned him that the indigo would have that effect. But nowadays Rowan thought the black suited him better.

Then, as Aurore whispered to him, he closed his eyes and said nothing. Yes, his departure had been necessary, but… had it been worth the cost, leaving her behind? They had found each other, alive still if not happy, but what if that had not been the case? He nodded faintly; he felt as though he had died and lived again, but it was more because he had suffered numerous personal harms, not because he’d survived being shot.

He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, a comforting hold but not quite a lover’s grip, equally oblivious to their surroundings. “I am real, Aurore. Perhaps more real than I have been in years, now that you are here.” He let her pull away, but left his hands at her waist, claimed by the same fear that she might somehow vanish.

After a time, he answered her question. “It is as you said—I did what I had to do to survive. But for me, that meant….” He looked away briefly. “There were troubles that I had to attend to, and they are ended now. But more than that, Aurore….” He faltered again, dropping his gaze, but swallowed his fears and forced himself to look at her. She deserved that much, and more.

“I couldn’t live in a world where I could not love you openly.”

Just like that, the words were said, presented to her and to the air around them, unwrapped and unwoven from his heart. He stopped long enough to close his eyes again, this time fighting back the tears that threatened to fall. He’d been a coward, but now he was ready to pay for it in any way she deemed fit.

Once he had composed himself, he looked at her again and continued, “I did not leave the island immediately. When I did, I sailed for England. Our ship suffered a fatal explosion in the middle of the ocean.” This was the first time he was telling the tale, and he chose not to mention that he was the one who had set the ship’s powder room ablaze. He wasn’t ready yet. “Adrijan and Dijana were also onboard, and they rescued me. Then we were fortunate further, as we were fished out of the ocean by a ship passing near us, en route to Europe from America.”

He’d begun speaking quickly, as if to get past the explanation, but took a breath and slowed down. “I returned to England and found nothing left for me. The Board of Admiralty had already declared me dead. My sister had married and left our home, and my brother had inherited everything with my father having fallen ill and confined to bed. He has since passed away.”

He also chose not to mention that he had seen his father a final time, or the terrible fallout that had happened in that visit.

“Then I traveled for a while, wandering about Europe. I had no plans to remain in Venice, but I met a drunk man in a tavern.” The corners of his mouth ticked upwards as he recalled the odd scene. “In summary, I’m now the first-born and only son of the British ambassador to Venice. And a teacher, as well.” He paused, unsure what Aurore would think of the next revelation. “As it happened, one of my students was a little lordling with a fiery temper and eyes like the sea.”

He lowered his hands from her waist to twine his fingers with hers, if she allowed it. “And what of you, Aurore?” he asked quietly. “What has this life offered to you?”
word count: 910

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

She could not keep the tears from falling, as though it had been many years since she had felt such happiness and true beginnings. And even as he spoke of loving her openly she could not help the small laugh that felt foreign upon her and made her cheeks hurt.

“And is this how you move on?” The rush of emotions played up and down her spine like harp as her heart both lifted and broke at the same time, “Show your love in letting me believe that you died because of me?”

And there it was. The reality.

The Board of Admiralty had already declared me dead.

“I am very well aware of their declaration. Who do you think wrote your mother requesting a memorial?” She only did so because she was not permitted to write his father without her own father’s blessing. Her air was stolen from her in heavy near sobs as the panic came crashing in.

“I arranged a funeral for you. They would not tell me that they found your body. I had not believed it to be true, but their reasons for it was that the bullet…” She couldn’t breathe, and though he held her hands she pulled away to try and catch her breath, and wipe away the tears. And yet as she did she turned to face him once more.

“Was that all set up then? Were you shot that night?” She knew that suggesting this made it seem that he did so in a selfish act to make her suffer as he had? Was that it? Still she could hardly catch her breath, her lungs felt as though they were constricted only further in her boning.

“I can’t breathe,” She admitted in a small voice, still clearly in shock her cheeks warm and flushed. A few steps she took to try and clear her lungs, but all she could do now was rail against him.

“I—“ Aurore started to strip her scarf as well the stays, “It is too tight.” Everything was closing in it felt like.
word count: 349

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

If Rowan had ever thought his heart broken, he had been mistaken. It was only then, as Aurore began to sob and her words struck his soul, that he truly fell apart, in ways he could never have imagined he would.

“Not because of you, Aurore. I did not mean to imply that.” His heart was beating faster and his breaths were coming shorter, but he had not yet realized it.

I arranged a funeral for you.

“Aurore….” That was a fact of which he had not been aware. The only family member he had seen upon his return to England had been his father, and that had gone poorly enough that he had not endeavored to repeat the mistake. “I didn’t know, Aurore. I’m so sorry. I didn’t…” I didn’t think I mattered that much to you. But he had at least enough sense not to say that.

But at her next accusation, he paled completely, and a tremor overtook him. Yes, Aurore, I was shot! I nearly died! I could never have thought of something so cruel only to fool you, Aurore. Please don’t think such things of me.”

The tears began to fall then, and he turned his face to wipe them away, but they ran too fast and too hard; everything was futile. “In looking back, Aurore, I realized I had caused you to suffer, and for that I wished your forgiveness. I had no idea that the pain I caused you was so great. I didn’t understand, and if you should—no, don’t.” He had been distracted by her seeming to start undressing in public, and he realized that she literally could not breathe. But if they reentered the church in this condition, would not the deacons think them mad? But if they remained on the street, someone might pass by and wonder as well. Where could they go? What could they do?

Finally Rowan removed his coat and draped it over her so she could unclasp things, and he started to guide her to sit on the steps. If she allowed that, he would take a knee before her, as much a beggar in that moment as anyone might find him to appear. “Aurore, I have always loved you, but of all the mistakes I have made, being the arrogant fool that I am, the greatest was thinking I deserved you. I have never been worthy of even the slightest of glances you have ever cast upon me.”

He was still crying openly, his words slightly broken up by sobs. “If at any time in this life you can find it in your heart to forgive me, Aurore, I will find myself the most honored and fortunate man to have ever lived, because I will have done nothing to earn it of you.”
word count: 476

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

They came to a wedding to talk of a funeral, the empty streets and endless waterways seemed only to echo their loneliness.

“What am I supposed to think?” She knew that she didn’t have any true right to be angry with him, but for now she settled on just getting it out of her system, “My entire life has been one trick to the next, and I have taken them all in stride. Even the birth of my child was nothing more than a political ploy, and look at what has happened.” She motioned to the North as though to speak of France and it would be there before them on the horizon.

“We were never meant to love, Rowan, it was not in the plan was it?” Her stays undone now so that she could breathe, and she wished she could ask for an alteration to her borrowed gowns. They did not fit her new body with larger breasts and slightly wider hips, but this was what happened when a woman gave birth. There were times when her breasts still hurt at the sound of a baby crying, or she would feel the phantom kicks of the dragon as it moved around inside her. But all of these things could not compare to the ghosts that haunted her dreams—both awake and in slumber.

He had been the rock to her madness, and she had always been the one to keep him close to her—selfishly, this she knew.

“Do you not think that I did not know that your feelings were deeper than my own? That I was not careful in how I spoke of love and the future. I would have married you and not Jocelyn, but would that have been fair? I am modest in my affections, Rowan, but I am not so heartless to realize that I was destroying you. And yet you did not ask…did you know my answer?”

Aurore’s hands shook but still she touched both sides of his face.

“Even now. You speak to me as though the fault is all your own, but who was it that took another man to bed when it should have been you?” She tucked a strand of his hair back from his face, still trying to adjust to the dark color.

“You deserve more than what I have ever been able to give you. It was easy to let him go, Rowan, and those times that I mourned what I thought was love, was only the life that I had not known I wanted.” He would never know how close she had come to her own death, and how she had wanted to give up to it. Yet…

There was one more light left in the darkness.

“I am a mother, and I was not sure I had such love to give another…but even if I gave him life with a broken heart, he has put it back together.” She could not stop touching him, her hands and fingertips grazing gently his skin to memorize it fully.

“I have never deserved you, but still I am thankful and would not take back a single moment." She snorted a little half laugh, "I suppose that does make me rather selfish does it not?"
word count: 551

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

As Aurore’s anger lashed out at him, Rowan bore each word like the sting of a whip, flinching, but silent. Silent save for the sobs that still wracked his frame, his eyes pinched shut against the pain, his limbs falling loose about him as though neglected, forgotten.

She was right. Should he have not been different to her? But he had not been; he had only tricked her like everyone else. He had let her down along with causing her grief.

He shook his head faintly. No, they had not been meant to love, and he was beginning to think that it would have been best if he never had. Somehow he should have steeled his heart toward all affections, like many men he had known in the past, and simply done what had been asked of him, serve the Bloodworth name by serving aboard a ship thousands of miles from home. It should have been simple and effortless.

And no, he had never asked her. Should he have? He had not thought she would say, or would have been able to say, anything but no. And he had feared that answer. He’d been afraid of the confirmation, of the rejection. Had he assumed wrongly? Could all of this have been avoided if he had only asked her?

Or would he only have complicated things in a different way?

He bowed his head as her trembling fingers touched his skin, in part to hide just how much her words were affecting him. He had always been jealous of the other men, that he was neither the man who had given her a child nor the man that would marry her—even as he had attempted to set up a marriage for her. But in her words was redemption. Perhaps his love had not been in vain.

“But you see, Aurore…” He lifted his head to look at her again. Under her touches, his tears had slowed and stopped. “I always knew you had that love to give.”

Slowly he took her hand and wrapped it in his own. “If we have never deserved each other, then what is it we deserve? You have always brought out the best in me.”

Again he shook his head. “No, Aurore, it is selfish that even now, in this moment, I think we can outrun it. I think there would be nothing better than to go now, to leave when no one is looking. To find some little island somewhere with one house on the sea, only for us. You, me, and Lucien.”

With his free hand he wiped away what remained to stain his cheeks before looking up at her again. “But we cannot… and I fear it would be just as unfair to ask you now, after everything.”
word count: 468

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

If ever there was a whip to cast against him she would be the first to place her body over his, to shield him from the darkness (even if it were of his own making) Aurore had always felt this was what their friendship was born upon. He had been the hound of hell and she the sword of fire, yet through the darkness of the worlds between heaven and flame they had lived once together…side by side. Could this be again?

Reminded of the end of days, the time when she would close her eyes for the last time and how little light there was left on the horizon Aurore wasn’t ready to let him go just yet. However, she knew that the time would come when she would have to.

What madness did he suffer with not knowing of what her answer would be? What careful, clever riddle did he think she wrote out for him?

In a voice, so in a shapeless flame

Even now she would wrap her wings around him, and shield him from the storm. But then he asked…

“If we have never deserved each other, then what is it we deserve? You have always brought out the best in me.”

And this question struck her heart to stop as she had often wondered just the very same thing. What was it she deserved? She had been granted a longer life all the while it was stolen away from her once more.

“I have already outrun it, Rowan…I have no where else to go. I can not go back to France, nor can I rescue my father’s finances from the West Indies. I am here on the charity of my cousin and at the mercy of the trustees that handle my son’s title.” To this she whispered to him, her lips close to his ear.

“I have fallen but so too has the crown. In so many ways my fire has burned out, and now my days are spent just trying to make sure that my son has some sort of childhood.” But even that was stolen.

“You…you have so much ahead of you in this new life. In more ways that one you have been given life again no? It is all that I have prayed for, and yes…prayed to see you again.”

Was this where they parted once more? At the very thought she trembled as though to fight away the cold, and brought his hand up to kiss his knuckles.
word count: 426

Re: A Shapeless Flame, Angels Affect Us Oft

A shiver ran through Rowan’s frame again. It was strange to hear Aurore speak of things so simply, as if it was all set in stone. But he knew her as a master of her own fate, and the fate of others as well.

Life had not treated her well during their time apart. Of that Rowan was increasingly certain, although many of the details still escaped him. Yet Aurore had always persevered. Even if it was only his own faith in her, stronger than the faith he had ever placed in anyone or anything else, that saw her through.

They had always been that for each other.

He turned his face towards hers as he answered her, speaking gently just beyond her skin. “I am here now. You can come to me, as you always have.”

Leaning back to look at her, he drew his hand along her chin. “Perhaps this is our story, Aurore. Always to slip past one another, lending each other our strength, without judgment or question. And I think that if I looked beyond my own selfishness that I might have realized it sooner. Perhaps the love we have for one another is the most intimate there is.”

It was true that he did have a new life. As Robert Castle, he had a father who loved him, a birthright, and a place in society. And he had Annabel Blackwood, come of it what may. But did that mean he had to abandon his own ties, abandon Aurore? Could he not be both Robert Castle and Rowan Bloodworth? He thought it was possible. Somehow, some way, he could finally have everything he needed.

“But you have a new life as well, Aurore, one your son has given you.” After she kissed his hand, he swept his fingers along her cheek. “He deserves the best childhood he can have… and not to suffer for our mistakes.”

Then he realized he had spoken somewhat as if he had any real role in Lucien’s life. He could not help it; he had grown attached to the boy. And he worried that despite Aurore’s efforts, Lucien was not in fact getting a true childhood.

“Aurore, will I see you again?” Her words seemed so final. “I know things cannot be as they were, but I have missed you.” Again he took her hand in his, raising his eyes up to meet hers, his glance echoing a question as much as his words.
word count: 416
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