warning: this chapter includes coarse language, mild sexual references, themes of domestic abuse, self harm + suicide. please do not continue reading if these topics may trigger or offend you. disclaimer, these topics may not be written in an entirely realistic light, but i do try to write them fairly accurately. i recommend reading this chapter on my blog, not reader, for the best quality.
3½ YEARS AGO
The penthouse was oddly quiet when Luc hurried in, anxiously clutching a box of chocolates. The worry in his chest tightened as he carefully opened the lounge door, steeling himself for Ebony’s questions — to his shock, however, when he slipped into the room, his girlfriend turned around with a smile and leaped up to meet him. She threw her arms around his neck, crushing her lips against his, and a moment too late he reacted with a stiff embrace. “Why…” His question trailed off. Luc had meant to ask why are you so happy to see me? but he’d bit down on his tongue, not wanting to tear this surprising bloom of affection. Ebony’s hands ran down his shoulders, smooth as satin, and she wound her fingers around his wrist, taking the chocolate box from his grasp. “Come sit down with us, Luc.” She pulled him along and he followed without question, keeping his confusion to himself. He had a good look at the gathering in the lounge; Lilith and Raphael were sitting together on the knit ottoman, and Gabriel on the sofa, hands clasped and talking happily with his girlfriend, Maria, who had arrived at the penthouse a week ago.
Maria was hyperactive; after a couple days of fearful quiet and shyly sticking to Gabriel, she had opened up, like a flower in springtime. Lilith tucked the younger girl under her wing immediately, patiently explaining her cooking as Maria flitted excitedly around her. For a rich girl, she fell into the messy rhythm of the penthouse easily. A change of clothes helped — Lilith’s drab, unfussy style was quite the leap from the opulent silk and skirts of high society, but Maria liked the borrowed sweaters and leggings, delightfully commenting on how easy to move in they were. Other than her elaborately braided updo and her fine way of speaking, she looked right at home on the sofa, comfortably leaning against Gabriel. Every once in a while, the couple would bump shoulders and smile at each other, exchanging a silent message. They both turned to say hi when Ebony pulled Luc onto the sofa, and he awkwardly leaned against the squishy arm as his girlfriend slit open the chocolate box. “Would you like one?” Ebony sweetly offered the box to Maria, who brightened and picked a hazelnut praline. “Oh, thank you!” No one batted an eye at the kind gesture, but Luc drew in a shocked breath.
Ebony was full of secrets and surprises, and one of them was that she got along so well with his family. Lilith, for all her stern coldness and mistrust, befriended her quite easily; often, the two girls sat together and whispered and talked and laughed, with the recent inclusion of Maria. Gabriel seemed to like Ebony, too, and even Raphael was okay with her. It was not uncommon for Luc to arrive home from work, bones aching from exhaustion, and find his girlfriend in the midst of a lively conversation, her honey-gleam eyes warm and soft. Like always, Luc quietly sat on the edge of the conversation, the words flickering in and out of focus. He could barely hear what they were saying, and his gaze drifted away in a tide of weariness. He was tired, of dealing with Ebony’s venomous bite, of never being good enough. He was ashamed of that tempestuous, stormy night he had first met Ebony; the night she had first kissed him, tempting him into a shadowed bedroom, the thundering rain drowning out his poison-hazed thoughts on why he was letting a stranger unbuckle his belt, pull him onto the bed. He regretted offering the penthouse when she had complained about not having a place to stay. And now, Luc felt guilty — hearing how kindly she spoke, how everyone loved her, and he wondered if he had just been misreading how she acted towards him.
Luc wasn’t quite sure when the conversation faded to a lazy close, but when he shook the sleepiness from his head and blinked, he was alone on the sofa. Gabriel and Maria were curled up together on the nearby armchair, whispering again in that secret language of theirs; Ebony had left for her bedroom, probably; and Raphael was halfway through the door, calling out something about a “date” to Lilith. Raphael didn’t do dates, thanks to his impatience, but Luc knew he’d been seeing a dude named Kai, as Raphael had grumpily spilled after Lilith’s nagging. The girl in question frowned after her now-gone best friend, and Luc privately wondered what had happened between them; Lilith and Raphael had always been a team, looking like they were on the steady path to a romantic relationship, but one day something must have split them apart. Before Luc could ask, however, his cousin perched on the sofa, her attention now pinpointed on him. “I am glad you met Ebony,” Lilith half-whispered and smiled, “she is ever so nice to be around. Oh, and she is always going on about how much she loves you, it is very cute.” Her voice was fond. “She does?” A bitter combination of guilt and confusion soured in Luc’s mouth.
“Indeed. You made a good choice, prima.” Lilith patted his shoulder, and Luc could only look down at his folded hands. “It was her that initiated our relationship, actually.” “Well, you are lucky, then.” “Oh… yeah.” His flat answer raised a frown on Lilith’s face. “What is with that tone?” She asked, her words needles of suspicion, and from the way her posture stiffened, Luc realised that the suspicion had been pointed over time. “Nothing… why?” He glanced up at his cousin and glanced away. Lilith hesitated, the real reason for her talking to him on the tip of her tongue. “Ebony is concerned that you have a wandering eye.” The words were careful and heavy, and Luc felt his heart sink under their weight. “I don’t.” A slice of irritation sharpened his reply. “Okay, but you are not going to break her heart, are you?” “I’m not going to, alright?” Luc snapped, and stood up suddenly, drawing the attention of both Maria and Gabriel.
Shame sank cold teeth into him as he tore himself from the lounge. He never used to lose his temper, but lately he had been feeling waves of irritation and exhaustion that seemed to crash into him out of nowhere. Regretting his lashing out, Luc wearily opened the door to his bedroom, hoping Ebony was still in a nice mood. She was standing, arms crossed, and when she stared at him, her eyes were hard and dark again. “Why did you come home late?” Ebony had just been waiting to throw this question, then. “I had an extra shift.” “And you didn’t tell me?” Her voice quietened, and Luc felt his heart twist. “I’m sorry, I forgot.” “You can’t even send a simple text. This is why I can’t trust you,” She snapped, and he gritted his teeth, suddenly frustrated. It was a battle to force himself to calm down, and when her slender fingers beckoned, he managed to steadily press his phone into her palm. He waited silently as she scrolled through his inbox, which was composed mainly of texts from Ebony checking up on him throughout the day, and a scattered few from Lilith and Gabriel. “Why do you check? You know I don’t talk to anyone else,” Luc said tiredly. She snapped her head up to look at him, and his gaze darted away, bracing himself against the searing barb of her voice.
To his relief, Ebony just smiled sweetly and snaked her arms around his neck. “I worry about you, Luc. That’s why I got angry. Okay?” “Oh… of course. Sorry.” Guilt crept up again when she kissed him, seductive and sinuous as always. When she drew away, she was analysing him, calculating the doubt that still lingered on his face. “Luc, you’ve been so depressing to be around lately. That’s why I don’t spend much time with you. You know that, right?” Ebony ran a fingertip along his jaw, her touch a caress but the sharp edge of her nail a warning. He couldn’t speak for a moment, couldn’t breathe, from the shocked shame and then understanding guilt that filled his lungs. “I’m sorry. I don’t what’s wrong with me.” “Well, let me know when you snap out of it.” And Ebony left the room, leaving coldness in her wake.
For how long he stood there, Luc didn’t know, but when he finally forced himself to move, his bedroom was suffocating. Mechanically, he gathered up a pile of books in his arms, and headed off to the tiny spare room where he was tucking away all his books. The room was blackened with dusty shadows, the lights of the city glittering ever brighter for it. Luc silently sat down in front of the glass and lit the solitary lantern, casting a dim glow across the books. He reached out for one and carefully nestled it in his lap. Maybe today. When he flipped the pages, however, the words barely made any sense — just like the last couple weeks — and he slammed the book shut in frustration. The simple happiness he had found in reading was gone, for a reason he didn’t know or understand.
The next evening was blue and grey from snow, a light dusting that fell jagged in a brittle wind, one that hissed of a fierce snowstorm to come. Luc couldn’t fall asleep that night, and he padded silently to the kitchen, in the tired hopes of making a cup of chamomile tea. There was a light flickering in the lounge, and he peeked in to see Maria and Ebony talking. He didn’t think much of it, but then he caught what his girlfriend was saying, and stilled. “Oh, you must be feeling so guilty,” Ebony said sympathetically, but it was the same sweet poison that she often spoke to Luc with. He saw Maria bow her head, and something sharp pinched at him. Ebony continued in that slow, serpentine tone. “Dear, I honestly don’t think I could live with myself, if I killed my own father.” And it was then Luc had heard enough. “Ebony.” Both girls turned at his voice, Maria jumping in shock. His girlfriend just smiled. “Hello, Luc.” “Leave her alone.” He pressed, and fury reared in Ebony’s face before settling into a thin smile. Tonight would be lonely again, he knew. Ignoring the pinch in his chest, Luc stood stiffly as Ebony slunk out of the living room, and then he cautiously sat beside Maria. “I’m sorry about her,” He said softly, and the girl looked at him, her eyes glimmering with unshed tears. “Thank you for doing that.”
“That’s okay,” Luc replied quietly, and they sat there in silence. For the sake of something to do, he caught sight of the chocolate box lying empty and forgotten on the coffee table, and carefully placed the lid back on. “I noticed you always bring back gifts for her,” Maria spoke up curiously, and he glanced at her, noting how her hair was undone, falling over her face in a strange, unruly mess. “Gabriel and I exchange things sometimes as well.” She touched her earrings, the simple but pretty pearls — a couple of days ago, Gabriel and Raphael had gone to get their ears pierced, Maria tagging along. It was quite surprising Raphael had even let her come, for he was annoyed easily by small and excitable girls, or teenagers, or people in general, but Maria was one of rarities that he spoke kindly to, the other rarity being Lilith.
“Are you happy with Ebony?” Maria asked suddenly, and he glanced up, surprised. “I… well, she can be nice. I just keep on making mistakes.” “I asked if you are happy, Luc.” Her bright blue eyes were watching him carefully. The answer stuck in his throat, but his silence was enough for Maria to nod, sadness flitting across her face. “Ebony… she reminds me of Father.” Her voice trembled for a moment. “He was a… generous, wealthy man in public, and a violent alcoholic at home. Ebony feels the same, so I… wonder what she is like to you in private.” Her question was jarring, and Luc looked down at his hands, rough and calloused from years of hard work, lined with scars from his time as a drug runner. He took a deep breath before working up an answer. “Ebony… she does have a temper, but when she gets angry, it’s my fault.” “She doesn’t hit you, does she?” Maria asks, and he shook his head, all too aware of the fading bruise on her eye. “No, of course not.” “But she hurts you in a different way. You look sad.” Maria spoke softly. “I’m just overly sensitive, that’s all.” Luc shifted restlessly. The conversation was reaching an unsettling close point to his thoughts over the past months — he wanted to break up with Ebony, but he was afraid of hurting her if she really did love him and he was just being ungrateful… and deep down, Luc had a feeling that Ebony would find a way to stay if he tried to break up with her.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about this.” He suddenly shook his head. “Why not?” Maria blinked at him, and then realisation dawned as she gingerly touched her face. “That is in the past,” She said firmly, “I am safe with Gabriel now. You can talk, Luc. I understand how you feel.” Maria listened as he hesitantly opened up, to his rambling mess of words, venturing offhandedly into how Ebony oversaw who he was texting and meeting with. “Ebony stops you from making friends?” The sudden intensity of Maria’s gaze made Luc uncomfortable. “Well… I guess, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been a loner anyway.” “It does matter, we must talk to Gabriel and Lilith about this tomorrow, together. I am quite sure they will understand.” For a moment, passionate anger eclipsed her tiredness; then she smiled in an encouraging sort of way, and Luc smiled back. He could see why Gabriel loved her, then — her kindness was open and genuine, nothing like the dark stickiness of Ebony’s purrs. “Thanks, that’s really nice of you.”
For the first time, he looked properly at Maria. She looked just as rundown as he felt — her pale skin had been sickly all day, the light in her eyes winked out, and he wondered why her bright energy had suddenly vanished this morning. “Sorry, I’ve been talking all about myself. Are you okay?” Luc asked in concern, and she smiled faintly. “No, but Gabriel will come back soon. Thank you for the concern, though. You should get some sleep, you look very tired.” Maria tapped the bottom of her eyelid, which Luc interpreted as pointing to the shadows underneath his eyes. “You too,” He said gently. “Oh, I shall stay here. Gabriel and I are going to watch a movie before going to bed.” She tiredly gathered a blanket around her legs, nodding towards a plastic case on the coffee table; a grainy-filmed romantic classic. “Okay. Goodnight.” “Goodnight, Luc. It was nice talking to you.” She waved him off and he smiled gratefully. As he left, Maria was fiddling with the knobs on the ramshackle television, the buzz of static jumping out from her fingers.
23:00, BRIDGEPORT NEWS LATE
“Police have reportedly found Brutus Ignatius, 51, casino mogul, dead within his mansion.”
“The autopsy revealed he was intoxicated, but crime scene analysis determined his death to be by blunt force trauma…”
“Authorities have not yet ruled out homicide…”
“The only other inhabitant of the mansion is his teenage daughter, Maria Ignatius, who the police believe was present at the time of death…”
“Police are searching for her…”
“Her current whereabouts are unknown.”
“Lilith, do you know where Maria is?”
“I can’t find her. We were supposed to watch a movie together.”
“She’s not picking up her phone!”
“Gabriel, calm down. Get your jacket and let’s go find her.”
“The body of Brutus Ignatius’s daughter was discovered this morning, on the east shore of Bridgeport River…”
“Authorities have determined her death to be by suicide.”
This couldn’t be real. This had to be a nightmare. Maria was right there yesterday, compassion shining in her blue eyes, life in her kind smile. Gabriel’s tear-choked cries and the broken radio were a shattered reminder that this was reality, however, and so was the pain that burned in Luc’s chest. His thoughts had run wild and it was only a moment ago that they had finally settled on Ebony. He found her in the dark, empty living room, standing in front of the fire. “Hmm, I suppose you’re going to tell me how this is my fault.” She inspected her nails delicately, watching them gleam as she turned her hand this way and that in the firelight. “She murdered her father. It’s only karma, dear.” “Maria was being abused! She was innocent!” Luc’s voice broke in anger and grief, wanting to break something, that smug smile on Ebony’s face.
“I should have never let you come here,” Luc continued furiously, the words shaking. “Yes, you should’ve broken up with me when you had the chance.” Ebony shrugged her shoulders, the movement somehow fluid and elegant. “I didn’t want to hurt you,” Luc managed to whisper, and Ebony laughed. “As if you could hurt me,” She said coldly, “you say that like you even meant anything.” She might as well have raked those razor nails across his face. “What?” “Wake the fuck up, Luc. You’re so naive. Did you seriously think I was committed to you? I got bored of you in days, love, and there were many other guys waiting.” Ebony drew her the tip of her tongue along her lip, watching each thorn sink into him, his struggle to breathe. “Why?” “Because,” Ebony smiled at him, “it’s fun. Watching you give me everything I wanted. The gifts were wonderful, and this home, and-” “Get out.” He interrupted her, and she turned slightly, her eyebrows arching in surprise. “Hm?” “Get the fuck out. I don’t want to see your face again.” He snapped, and there it was again — fury, before it sharpened into a cold, dangerous smile. Not her sweet, honey-dripped smile, but one that spiked real worry into his chest. All Ebony did, however, was turn back to the fire with a careless hmph.
Luc had the right mind to grab her arm and drag her out into the snow, but before he could, the door opened and the three others came in. Gabriel looked terrible, his face drawn and shadowed with overwhelming pain. To see his usually calm brother falling apart sent another surge of anger through Luc. Ebony began making her way to the door, then. “My, Gabriel, you look horrible.” He didn’t reply, and Luc wondered if his brother was even hearing anything, but Lilith and Raphael looked at her. “Maria ran out just before you came out of the shower,” Ebony meandered on. “You were there?” Lilith whispered. “Mhm. Poor girl had a complete breakdown.” “And you didn’t stop her from leaving?” “Oh, no. She got what she deserved.” Why was she confessing? It was only when Ebony looked at him, her smile pierced with cruel triumph, Luc realised what she had done. It was remarkable, how just one smile and wink twisted the blame away from her, just one effortless snap of her tongue.
Ebony did not flinch when Gabriel lunged at her, knowing Lilith and Raphael would rein him back despite their own fury, and let her walk out in the ensuing chaos. Destruction left so calmly. She knew, too, how after Gabriel’s anger had simmered down a little, he would turn on his brother. Luc couldn’t breathe, rage and fear ripping apart his lungs, and he could barely feel Gabriel’s gaze following him as he left the room, stumbling into the dark foyer, not knowing where his feet were taking him. He found himself in the lightless bathroom, locking the door behind him, tearing through the cabinet for something, something, that would ease the horrific pain gripping his head and let him breathe again. And it was when he could finally breathe that Luc registered the bleeding cuts on his wrist, the razor blade searing in his clutched fist.
He let the blade clatter to the floor, but fury still slashed into him, over and over again. Ebony. Maria. Maria. If he’d just stayed for a couple more minutes, he could have stopped her from running out blindly into the snow. If he hadn’t been so ridiculously stupid about Ebony, Maria would have never gone to that bridge. He had let this happen.
2 YEARS AGO
The penthouse fell into a long, heavy silence after Maria’s death. It was as if Gabriel’s eerie quiet was being echoed, in the rusting pipes and old bricks of the home. Several months along, Lilith couldn’t take it anymore — she and Raphael managed to disassemble and heave up a tired grand piano. Gabriel hadn’t smiled when they showed him their gift, but something in his face softened, and he settled down on the seat. At first, his fingers stumbled across the keys; but then memories of his mother and their evenings playing piano became clearer, and soon the penthouse was beginning to awake with Gabriel’s music.
Lilith liked to watch her cousin as he played. As his fingers danced more smoothly along the keys, she could feel him slowly healing. This particular evening, she stood and listened to the song Gabriel was working to compose, a lovely melody that drew people to the music room. She sensed Luc’s presence arrive behind her; heavy and harsh, even without him speaking. Luc had changed, like everyone else, but more violently. It must have been a horrible shock to him — to everyone — for his loving, kind girlfriend to reveal such a cruel side, and he had gotten more withdrawn and irritable to show for it. Years ago, Luc was forced to grow up far too quickly, but there had always been a lingering trace of youthful sweetness, an awkward innocence. Gone now. The planes of his face cut into harsh lines, and his presence jerked between the seductive city nights and his silent bedroom. Lilith knew what her cousin was doing, for he always came back in the mornings, smelling of cigarette smoke and a different perfume each time. Privately, she suspected that even for the deceiver Ebony had been, her complaints about Luc seemed like they rang true.
She kind of understood his line of thinking, though. Dating, for her, was a pleasant way to let go, to dress up and ignore how her life kept being torn apart, to ease the rage stiffening her shoulders. Every time she thought of Ebony, remembered Maria’s sparkling laugh and Gabriel’s carefree smile, something bitter twisted up her throat. It was hard to keep her anger in control — often, she battled the urge to forget that Ebony had the protection of a gang, and storm into the city, to make that monster pay for what she had done to Maria and Gabriel. It was hard to believe she had actually been friends with Ebony, and it was a while before Lilith could trust anyone outside her family again.
Time had a way of softening hearts, however, and when a baby-faced French boy with freckles came into the boutique where she worked, anxiously rambling about running away as she had fitted his clothes, Lilith couldn’t help but offer a place to stay. She had learned from Ebony, of course — if there was any steady trait of that woman, it was never showing weakness and never revealing her secrets. Michel Descargas was easy to learn about; a quick web search revealed he was the only son of a wealthy Parisian family, and Michel’s voice had shaken when he told Lilith about his homophobic parents, and how he had run away blindly after they had discovered he was gay. It had taken a long time for Lilith to convince Gabriel to let someone new into their trust. Just like Lilith, though, he had a gentle heart — so Michel joined the family, and his lovely, bright-eyed presence began breathing life back into the penthouse again.
1 YEAR AGO
Summer dawned over Bridgeport early that year. Each morning was warm and blue, and when the kitchen windows were open, a cool, salty wind swept through the home. The brighter seasons always picked up Gabriel’s mood. And this summer, he was almost feeling okay again. He still missed Maria, her happy laugh and floral scent and the way she felt in his arms, and sometimes his grief washed back so strongly he couldn’t breathe, but these days… the everlasting, paralysing cold of his sadness had almost melted away.
When Luc appeared, Gabriel carefully set down his coffee cup, pushing down a tiny sting of resentment that always rose at the sight of his brother. “Hey. Do you want to go steal this weekend?” “Where?” “Sunset Valley.” “Sure, whatever.” Luc shrugged, hands in his pockets. Gabriel watched him as he headed over to the coffee machine, and silently brewed himself a triple shot. His brother used to be kind and gentle, quietly taking on what Lilith thought was too much responsibility. After… Ebony had left the penthouse with all the destruction of a hurricane, however, Luc had become a storm himself; he began going out every night, calming down only when the sun rose or his skin was bruised and bloodied. Flirting and fighting. Wild, messy, arrogant. After a while, his devilish behaviour no longer surprised Gabriel. There were bigger problems to deal with, his own grief to bear, a broken home to rebuild.
Gabriel’s mind turned away from his brother when Luc left the kitchen without another word. Sunset Valley. He thought of the last time he had been in the little seaside town. It had been a challenge to steal from the mansions, but the venture had been enjoyable, and surprising, too. He thought of the woodlands, where he had been scoping out the mansion from, the hills green with the life of summer and dappled with warm golden sunlight. He thought of how the quiet had been pierced by the angry voices of several boys and one girl. And he remembered — the memory that was always at the back of his mind — the girl with brown hair, burn scar, and bitter eyes that were alive with fight.
Another super long chapter! At least the flashbacks are now done and dusted. I’m gonna finish up with another Luc appreciation because this is the last time we are going to see his soft & innocent self.