Light, dazzling and brilliant obscured her vision. The cold sun shone a pale primrose, pouring from the sky to bounce off the snowy ground. It looked as if the landscape had been scattered with tiny diamonds. The pristine snow crunched underfoot as Elizabeth made her way to the church, taking the shortcut across the fields. The air felt close, cold, the cawing of the few squabbling crows swallowed up, sound muffled by the crystal blanket which covered the earth. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves, the fire of the cold stinging her her face and throat as the clean taste of winter filled her with longing.
It was Christmas Day, and today she was going to tell him she loved him. He had said the words the previous day, her mouth running dry as she stared at the floor, unable to meet his gaze as he stuttered. She had tried to respond, to return the affection so freely given, and had completely failed, succumbing to the blush that bloomed in her cheeks and pushed uncomfortably down her neck. She bit her lip, thinking she must look a mess, a blotchy disgrace, and had made a hasty retreat as soon as Andrew had stopped speaking, chastising herself bitterly once she was alone. Why she always had to dissolve into a humiliating incoherence whenever he said anything important, Elizabeth felt she would never know.
But not today. Today, she was going to find Andrew and tell him that she felt the same way. It was not an overwhelming love of course - it always felt like something was missing, as if a piece of the puzzle were in sight but just out of reach - but he was stable and reliable, truthful and attentive, and honestly she knew she was not going to do any better. Her friends were all incredibly jealous, and when she was in his arms she felt safe enough. They had been seeing each other for nearly half a year. If she was not going to make a move now then she never would.
She did not normally go to the family service, preferring the cloak of darkness afforded by midnight mass. But Andrew would be there, cute nephew in tow, and so this Christmas she would be too. Elizabeth absentmindedly ran a gloved hand over her white woolen coat, brushing a few flakes of snow to the ground before checking her handbag, making sure she had the envelope she would need for collection. Today everything would go well: she was prepared.
As she stepped forwards, humming to herself as she looked up at the clear grey sky, the sound of her steps suddenly jarred, comforting, soft scrunch replaced by a hard scrape. She glanced down, looking closely at the white snow, alarmed to see not powder but shards of glass, glittering dangerously for what seemed like miles. Fragments of rainbow shone everywhere she looked and she stood still, not daring to move as her breath bloomed like smoke in the piercing cold air. Panic rose in her chest, her eyes darting from side to side. The silence of the field rang uncomfortably in her ears, making her wince and her heart race. She was frightened, lightheaded, unable to focus, unable to breathe as the world seemed to close in, the noise blooming to a piercing wail. She could not think, could not process, adrenaline coursing through her veins as the white glare shone to obscure her vision...
Elizabeth awoke with a start, sweat beading her brow, her breath coming in harsh rasps. She gulped painfully, her mouth dry as dust and she reached instinctively for the glass of water she kept on the bedside table. The digital clock face shone blue, casting a eerie glow over the otherwise pitch black of the room. Andrew was evidently sleeping peacefully beside her, untroubled by dreams, the blanket rising and falling evenly as he softly snored.
She reached out, intending to wake him, then thought better of it: it was a long way from dawn and her husband desperately needed his sleep. Since starting work as a junior doctor he had been perpetually tired, large bags resting permanently under his hazel eyes, and he would be on call the following day. One of the hazards of the job was working when you were asked, even if that meant spending Christmas Day tending to the sick.
Laying back into the pillows, Elizabeth closed her eyes, willing sleep to reclaim her. She turned, trying to find a more comfortable position then felt a warm arm envelop her, pulling her into a close embrace.
“What’s wrong,” whispered Andrew, his lips close to her ear.
“A nightmare.” Elizabeth relaxed as he nuzzled into her hair, “but it’s over now.”
“Stay with me, Elizabeth,” the voice urged, a hand moving the strands of long hair away from her face. “You have to stay with me.”
Elizabeth struggled against the cotton wool enveloping her, the fog which was settling into her brain. This was not right. She and Andrew seldom argued, and she had not once threatened to leave. The marriage was of course not perfect, but she did not care enough to make a fuss; far better to let the small stuff go, her husband was not being colourful enough to evoke a strong reaction in her. She tried to ask, to seek and explanation, but her eyes grew heavy, the lids dropping closed as the softness of the night swallowed her. She felt warm, safe, free from worry as the bliss of sleep came to claim her...
Elizabeth shook her head, trying to shuffle her memories back into place. She was sitting at the walnut dining table in her old-fashioned kitchen, the one she and Andrew had designed upon his promotion. As a consultant oncologist, the salary more than allowed a little luxury, especially with no children to care for. Her eyes roamed over the cream shaker cabinets, the white quartz worktop, the large aga and polished, stone tiles. It was peaceful, sitting here with a steaming mug of tea, idly leafing through a glossy magazine.
She was waiting for the turkey to cook, and had decided on a quick rest before preparing the brussels sprouts and the bread sauce, neither of which would take very long. It was their first Christmas alone - usually they spent the season with her family - and Elizabeth had been pleasantly surprised to find the preparations were easy without the distraction of children and parents, in the absence of the noise and the bustle and the constant demands.
The day felt listless, boring, anti-climatic. Elizabeth sighed, pushing the magazine away from her before draining her mug and standing up with a purpose. There was no point in brooding. Her life was comfortable, if uneventful. She was secure, well off, respected in the neighbourhood, and that should be enough for anyone. Elizabeth glanced up at the window, her mouth popping open as she saw the face of someone who was undoubtedly a stranger peering in at her with deep, emerald eyes filled with sorrow.
Her heart froze, every muscle in her body tense as she looked, trying to figure out what she should do. The man had his nose practically pressed to the glass, his wild blonde hair blowing in the breeze. It was snowing, delicate flakes swirling through the air to settle on the stranger’s hair and lashes. But he did not move, did not seem to speak, only staring and staring, his expression radiating a sadness and longing that took Elizabeth’s breath away.
Something seemed to stir, the cloud of her mind shifting slightly as she looked at him, and a pain so sharp it made her cry out stabbed at her chest, making her knees weak and knocking her to the floor. Yet she turned her head, seeking the eyes of the stranger as wave after wave of agony coursed through her body. The image swam before her, but still she could not look away, gold and peridot flashing through her brain as the pain intensified to impossible levels and her vision went white…
Elizabeth gazed around at the familiar kitchen full to the brim with family and friends, all of them with grins plastered to their faces. “Surprise!” Andrew said jovially, moving around the table to give her a peck on the cheek. “Well, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to say… thank you! Thank you all!” She looked round at the group, returning their smiles, unsure of what to do or to say. She never had been one for speeches and she felt her face flush red as her mouth ran dry. After some smattered applause and some hearty ‘here, heres’, the buzz of conversation started up, glasses chinking as wine was poured, bright red liquid shining like rubies in the polished vessels.
Andrew looked at her, hazel eyes narrowing slightly as he laid an arm round her shoulders. “You didn’t think I’d forgotten did you?” he asked, his voice slightly hurt.
“Oh, no. I just wasn’t expecting everyone to be here.” Elizabeth looked more closely at the crowd: everyone she had ever loved was there. Her best friend from school who she had not seen for years, not since she had moved away to take up a job in Australia; her brother who had given her some sharp words only the previous week when she had refused his demands for a loan, his disappointment and anger seemingly forgotten; even her first boyfriend, a short but intense fling from her days at university, was mingling with the other guests. Andrew must somehow have found out his address.
This was very unlike him, Elizabeth considered. Her husband did not have many faults - he was frankly too saintly to feel like a rounded individual at times - but he did harbour a strong streak of jealousy, as if knowing, though she never said anything, that her love for him was far from the overpowering passion she had at one point hoped would be part of her life. She was on the point of querying his behaviour when a smell suddenly crept through the room, the stench of tar and iron enough to make her gag.
“The cake!” Andrew cried and he ran to the other side of the kitchen, pulling open the oven with a single movement. Black smoke billowed out, covering the kitchen, the acrid, burnt taste stinging in the back of her throat. The guests coughed uncontrollably as the smoke alarm activated, the sound of sirens deafening and she covered her ears. “This was supposed to be a happy memory!” Andrew exclaimed as he looked around at everyone, his face falling slightly. Then the noise stopped, the smoke dispersed and all that was left were the faces of her friends, all laughing and smiling. She could see them: her friends as children as they played together; as teenagers laughing over boys; as adults celebrating good news in the pub; all of them hugging and smiling and calling her name...
As she opened her eyes, she saw the smashed glass strewn over her body, covering her red dress and the dashboard of the car. Her head was pressed against the steering wheel, the seat belt cutting like wire into her stomach, the sound of sirens piercing the air. She could smell tar, see the ebony smoke and the bright, glowing sparks as a fireman cut through the frame of her vehicle, doing his best to free her from the wreckage.
“The car came out of nowhere!” a voice protested, and Elizabeth tried to turn her head towards the sound, her neck protesting as she moved. “He rammed her and left her for dead. You have to find him. You have to make him pay! I can’t lose her again! I can’t!”
Her eyelids were heavy, and she grit her teeth as the pain intensified to an unbearable agony. The man she had heard pushed past the policeman trying to restrain him, making his way towards her with lightning speed. His green eyes were swimming, tears pooling at the corners, his face haggard with a overwhelming despair the likes of which she had never before witnessed. But she had! She had seen this look before. She had seen his eyes look at her this way on countless occasions. As she watched, her brain shifted, memories flooding back as she looked at the man she was bound to for eternity.
“Stay with me, Elizabeth,” he begged, his voice cracked and trembling. “You have to stay with me. I can’t… I can’t…”
“It’s alright, Meliodas,” she whispered, trying to reach for him even as the memories continued to assault her. Her wings, the beauty of the celestial realm, the dark swirling mark of the demon she loved. The joy, the pain, the absolute agony as she watched Estarossa - no Mael, it was Mael - run him through with seven sharp swords, unable to run to his aid as the Ten Commandments looked on with impassive faces. She remembered the ache and longing she had endured as she waited for Meliodas to return, the emotion so sharp she could taste it, and the dozens more lives she had lived since then as both continued to live with their parents’ curses. Always living, never fading, never experiencing peace.
She tried once more to reach for him, and once more failed, her limbs refusing to obey her commands. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry. I married someone else…”
Meliodas choked, tears falling down his face. “It doesn’t matter,” he rasped out as he pressed up against what remained of the glass. “I love you. I wanted you to be happy.”
“I wasn’t.” The truth of her words washed over her like a comforting balm, and Elizabeth sighed. No wonder she had never been happy with Andrew. It was not her fault or his and she relaxed as the guilt she had carried began to fade. “I love you, Meliodas. And we will be together next time.”
“No- Elizabeth!” The scream registered as no more than background noise as the pain vanished, leaving her limbs warm and comfortable. As the memories stopped, her brain feeling numb and peaceful she made she she kept her eyes on him. She could not move, could not speak, could give him no comfort, but she would look at him until the bitter end. She saw anger morph his features as her vision blurred, and her eyelids closed for the last time in this life…
Meliodas stared at Elizabeth, breathing hard as he struggled to control the familIar whirl of anguish and hate which tore at his insides like tyrant dragons. He sensed her go, felt her soul slip through the air as his hands curled into fists at his sides. He wanted to kill, to destroy, but suppressed the urge, remembering the lessons of his training in Istar.
“I’m so sorry, she’s gone,” the paramedic consoled as she straightened up, turning to look him full in the face. “Did you know her?” she asked as she took a step towards him.
“It’s complicated,” Meliodas said with a sigh. He shook his head, pressing his pain down as he walked towards the police officer who was waiting to take his statement. Elizabeth was not gone after all. He could still sense her trace as she whizzed through the air, in search of the body that would carry her for the next life. And this time, this time, she would live and not reincarnate. This time, whatever happened, he would not let her down.