Hand in Hand
Even as Iris’ tears fell on Sarah’s lifeless body, the dead angel began to crumble, disintegrating, turning to a glowing magical dust which dissipated into nothingness. The room was bathed in a bright, golden light, slowly disappearing as the body faded away. After a few seconds, there was no longer anything held in Iris’ arms, just her tears, flowing unhindered. She said nothing, she did not move. Lily struggled with a decision – what should she do, in this situation? Nothing she could do or say would help to alleviate Iris’ grief. Was it better, then, to do nothing? But just the sight of Iris kneeling on the ground and crying threatened to rend her heart apart. Even if it was ineffectual, she wanted to do something.
Lily realised in that moment that she understood why Liliana had begged Sarah to stay at her side to the end. If, somehow, it had been Lily in that situation instead, sick and dying, would she have wanted Iris to stay by her as well, despite knowing how illogical the action was? Would she have wanted Iris to do something, anything, despite knowing that it was pointless?
Yes. Yes, she would.
Lily threw her hesitation aside and moved up behind Iris, kneeling down behind her and hugging her from behind. Iris did not respond. Not at first. After a few moments, her hand tentatively shifted up to touch Lily’s hands, which were joined in front of Iris’ neck. She lightly rested her fingers atop Lily’s hand, speaking in a soft, strangled voice.
“She was my mother, Lily.”
“She loved me, Lily.”
“I’m sure she did.”
“I loved her too.”
“I didn’t know I was capable of love.”
Lily could not respond – her own reservations about the nature of Iris’ affection for her stopped her from saying anything. She hated herself for that. But this moment was not about her, it was about Iris. She continued to stay in her position, holding Iris close.
“Lily, I… I killed her.”
“She asked you to, didn’t she?”
“She did, but… I pulled the trigger.”
“It was what Sarah wanted, there was nothing else you could do.”
“There was! I didn’t even think about other courses of action, I’m sure there must have been-”
“That’s a lie.”
“I know you, Iris. You’re always thinking. Always. Not for yourself, but for others. You’re always thinking about how best to make everyone else happy. I know you, and so I can say for a fact that you did think of other routes, you considered every route. You considered every possibility and concluded that nothing else would have made her happier than that.”
“What if… what if I was wrong? What if there was something that would have brought her more satisfaction, something I missed?”
“You shared her thoughts and memories. There is nothing you could have missed.”
“But I… I… I didn’t have to pull the trigger, I didn’t have to go along with it, I didn’t have to-”
Lily cut off Iris’ increasingly irrational stream of utterances. Lily understood the source of this tirade. She had finally met her mother after all this time, finally met someone who loved her, who cared for her, in a way that nobody could. And she had put an end to this person’s life, and she wanted someone to blame her for it, to hate her for it. Because it was just so unfair that Sarah’s greatest happiness was death at the hand of her child. It was so unfair that the woman had been forced through such hardship that death became the most desirable outcome. It was so unfair that Iris had to kill someone she loved. It was only right that she be punished for her crime. If someone would blame her, then perhaps the pain of being left behind would lighten somewhat. Because guilt was so much more manageable than abandonment.
“Iris, I understand how you feel, but… there is no blame for you to shoulder.”
“But… But I… I’m scared… I’m scared that if I don’t hate myself… I’ll end up hating her.”
“Iris. That won’t happen. You don’t hate anyone. You can’t hate anyone. I know you, and you don’t know how to hate.”
Lily sighed as Iris continued to mumble, trying to find reasons to blame herself.
“Iris. If you need to be hated, if you need someone to hate you so that you don’t hate yourself, so that you don’t hate Sarah… I’ll do it.”
Iris froze, eyes widening.
“I’ll hate you, Iris, so that you don’t have to hate. If that’s what you want, I’ll hate you. Do you want me to hate you?”
Iris shook her head frantically and tightened her grip on Lily’s hand. Lily felt a sharp pain as Iris’ inhuman strength caused several of her metal fingers to buckle, but she withstood the pain and stayed silent as Iris shouted her disagreement.
“No! Please no! I don’t care about anyone else, but if you hate me, then I… I… I don’t know what I’ll do! Please, please don’t hate me!”
Lily responded to Iris’ outburst by gently entwining the fingers of her uninjured hand with Iris’ own, pulling her even closer, holding her tightly, such that Iris’ head was pressed into Lily’s shoulder. Moved by a strange impulse, Lily turned her head and kissed Iris on the brow. Surprised, Iris turned to look at Lily, staring into her eyes.
“Then please, don’t talk about hating yourself ever again. For my sake, if not your own. It hurts to hear you like this, to see you like this. You know better than I that Sarah would have been heartbroken to see you like this.”
Iris averted her teary eyes and bit her lip.
“It hurts now, for sure. It will hurt for some time. It will hurt, and then it will hurt less, and then it will stop hurting. Trust me on that, I’ve been there.”
Lily recalled how she had felt when she learned of her parents’ death, and when she learned that she was the cause of the calamity which had befallen Azoria. She had experienced countless sleepless nights because of it, but the pain had since faded, owing to the presence of Iris and the rest of her family. And she was determined now to provide that same strength to Iris.
“This pain will pass in time. So please, don’t torture yourself like this. It’s not what she would have wanted, and I don’t want to see you like this.”
Iris held her gaze for a few seconds, then closed her eyes and gave a short nod. Lily reached up and wiped away her tears. Iris opened her eyes again and showed a small, pained smile. Lily nodded, satisfied, and helped Iris to her feet. Lily turned toward the door, making to walk off, but Iris did not move. Tilting her head back, Lily witnessed Iris facing the chains that hung from the wall, her head bowed. Lily remained in that position, saying nothing, until Iris turned away from the wall and walked up to Lily, taking her outstretched, uninjured hand.
“Let’s go home, Lily.”
Lily smiled and nodded, leading Iris out of the facility and to the edge of the entrance, where Prei was quietly waiting on a ledge slightly below the entrance. At some point, without them noticing, she had exited the facility. Lily nodded thankfully. She knew that Prei – being the kind and sensitive girl she was – had probably decided to remove herself from the intimate conversation between Iris and Sarah out of concern for their privacy. Prei asked nothing as she took on her draconic form, allowing Lily and Iris to sidle on.
As they headed home, they travelled in silence. Not a single word was uttered throughout the entire journey. Throughout the flight, Iris refused to let go of Lily’s fingers, and Lily answered to that by squeezing tightly with no intention of letting go.