The first time he dies, he’s choking on his blood and he knows that even if he manages to turn himself over, it’s much different than choking on alcohol-induced vomit. He’s not making it out of this one. He sees his brother, The Golden Child, the panic, the pain. He has always wanted to spare Alex pain, so he drops. Stops fighting, holds his breath, until he leaves. And Daniel should be dead, he’s been wishing for death since the first time he picked up a bottle, but he wishes a little harder when he hears Alex’s shout for the family ( not so golden after all ). He closes his eyes.
And opens them in the room he stayed in the night before the wedding. He rolls over, half his body hanging over the bed, and vomits. What the fuck? A bad dream maybe, but it felt so real. Daniel showers, then begins drinking ( the perks of being the family fuck-up include the expectation that you’re fucked up all the time. Cheers ). And it goes much the same, his warning to Grace not a warning at all, just something she can pass off as a joke from the brother who doesn’t like her. Not that Daniel doesn’t like Grace. She was always kind, even when he hit on her. Maybe she could tell he wasn’t serious. Grace is beautiful, he wouldn’t really say no, but he never actually expects her to take him up on his offers. He supposes that he shouldn’t be surprised that she doesn’t take his offer to leave either.
The wedding is beautiful… he thinks. He hasn’t been this close to blacking out in a long time. Daniel usually enjoys to ride the edge, it’s an art he’s perfected over the years to get through killing goats... and people. Not that he’s ever held the knife himself, but he still remembers the look on Charles's face. How he still had hope of getting out. Would he have taken me with him? He tries not to contemplate the answer anymore.
The Game Room was always sacred. The only room in the house that people are warned away from. Like a 60’s housewife’s show living room, The Game Room was usually only used to show off to guests. To say, “yes, we are this wealthy. Our dominion over games shows itself in our giant mansion that even has a specialty Game Room.” Daniel hates this room. The first time he ever got drunk, he came into the room. Tried to find any trace of Charles that had been left behind. There was no broken furniture, no blood anywhere, no oddly placed ‘anatomical only’ skeleton. Charles was gone and always would be ( and it was his fault ). This time, he takes his seat and tries not to fidget. He looks again at Grace, how naive she is to what may come. It was only a dream, it was only a dream. He’s praying, but there’s no one who he can pray to. The one they worshipped in this family would gladly have them rip Grace apart. The box is handed to her. She studies it with so much interest until she is rudely reminded to pass it on. He remembers suddenly that Grace doesn’t really have a family. That the betrayal she’ll go through tonight is compounded by the family she thought would be hers showing her through blood exactly why she would never be one of them. She draws the card and Daniel takes another drink.
Because now he has to think about Alex. He has to think about what it means that he so readily betrayed the woman he claimed to love. He had fought so hard for her survival all night, but when it actually mattered, when she could have actually escaped, he caged her like a wounded animal and called the family in to put her out of her misery. Alex was supposed to be the better brother. The better son. The better person. And yet. He died trying to protect Grace ( not that he ever believed he would have died for someone or something. He hasn’t cared about anything or anyone enough to die for it, until ), all for Alex to show his true colors. And Daniel thinks back, tries to be objective, tries to look at Alex without the love, or the guilt, or the remorse. And he remembers.
Alex’s steady hands year after year as they sacrificed goat after goat. The first time Daniel sacrificed a goat he vomited and tried to pretend he wasn’t crying. The first time Alex slid his knife across a goat’s throat, he didn’t flinch. Didn’t seem to care about the blood splatter that shot out of it. Alex’s eyes gleaming in excitement when their family would talk about their greatness and the lengths they would go to, and have gone through, to get and keep it. He doesn’t think Alex even realized things weren’t normal until the night Daniel screamed at him for telling the story to one of their cousins before bedtime.
But Alex had gotten out, had lived a life worthy of someone not a part of their family, had done the impossible; loved and been loved in return. And he threw it away? Daniel couldn’t believe it. Something had to make him snap. Until he did, Daniel would try to help Grace any way he could.
Grace runs into him in the Billiards room. She begs for her life and he’s suddenly aware that she should have died. She beats all possible odds until he betrays her in the forest. He can pretend that he made it up to her later, but she’s still dead at the end. He hands her his gun and tells her to get to the kitchen, that Alex would be shutting the security system down soon. And he stays in the Billiards room and drinks another drink until the family arrives and berates him. This time, it’s him that Emilie shoots with the crossbow. He dies laughing.
And wakes up again. And vomits again. This time, he stays sober. It helps a little. He still gives Grace his gun, but this time he calls the family in after she leaves. They still berate him, but less. The maid still dies. This time, he and his father get to the security room and Alex is distraught. “She killed Stevens.” Alex is crying, but the monitors are still destroyed. “Well, we all are trying to kill her.” And dear old Dad hates that, but so does Alex. “She’s supposed to be better.” And their father hands Alex his gun, and Alex nods like it’s perfectly normal, and Daniel is cold. You were supposed to be better. Is this the betrayal Alex is feeling? But it can’t be. Alex has been given everything in life. Every single scrap of luck and talent was thrown his way, he had been protected from the worst, and he’s still a Le Domas in the end. Grace had been hunted like an animal and she still expected better from Daniel when he found her in the forest. They find Daniel another gun and rejoin the hunt.
He lets things play out the same until the forest, offers Grace a wink when he’s giving his spiel about being the wrong brother to ask for help. Whirls around and fires three shots at Dad, all in the chest, and he’s not dead when he hits the ground, but he’s close to it. He had forgotten about Alex’s true nature until he had matching holes in his chest. Grace was on her knees beside him and she was screaming and her hands were so bloody already, but she was making them worse trying to hold his blood in. The last thing he sees is the butt of Alex’s gun cracking against her skull.
He wakes up again. Swallows down the vomit. Goes to Charity’s room ( was it really a surprise to be shot by her? Can’t even share a bed with you, hasn’t since she got the black card with her name on it ) and digs through her purse. She’s still asleep. Before they were married he used to love watching her sleep. When she’s sleeping she doesn’t put on her mask, the one that formed when she had to do unmentionable things for the barest scrap of food or shelter. Daniel loved her once. Loved her in her small studio apartment where she had a mug tree with mugs that had fun shapes or distinctly unfunny puns. The back of her couch was covered in an old, musty, stained blanket that her grandmother had made for her. He hopes it’s somewhere in their house, but he wonders if she threw it away, along with any ounce of personality that made her the girl from before, the one who snorts when she laughs. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until a tear falls off his nose and lands on the gun in his hands. He puts it back in her purse. Daniel crawls into bed with his wife and tries to pretend that she still has the soul she sold.
When she wakes up, she’s confused and irritated. He tries to play it cute, he catches and kisses her hand like he used to. She gets angrier and tries to hit him, but he catches her again. Kisses her again. And she’s frowning, like she used to when she was in college and working on a difficult math problem. He kisses her mouth and pulls her close. He wants to be in love with his wife ( or is he desperately lonely, betrayed by the one person he did truly love ). Her arms come around his neck and his heart soars. Maybe she’s not so gone after all .
They make love, slowly, but passionately. Like they did the very first time. After several dates and after Daniel fills her studio with her flowers that spell out his love ( white lilies, daisies, apple blossoms, red chrysanthemums, and every other flower that spelled out “I love you. I ache for you. I never want to let you go.” ) . He kisses her with everything he has, swallows her moans like he’s starving for them. Grips her thighs and waist like she’s everything that’s holding him to this world. Spends himself in her only after he makes her toes curl and rolls off of her. Charity splays herself on top of him, hands gently caressing his chest and neck and face. She’s confused again, but she looks like she used to, with a gentle blush across her face. “What was that about?” He smiles at her, leans up and kisses her again. “I missed you.” She smiles back at him. Her “I missed you too,” but a whisper.
They go to the wedding, but they’re smiling this time. Daniel holds Charity’s hand throughout the ceremony and dances with her at the reception. He doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol, too anxious for what’s happening later, even as he tries to forget his misgivings with his wife. This time, Charity isn’t rude to Grace ( the idea that Charity had been jealous made him smile, just a little, even as his heart ached ). But good things must come to an end, as Grace still pulls the same card in The Game Room.
“I don’t know if I can do this.” He has pulled Charity aside, held her close by the stairwell ( trying to ignore an old gravesite is hard when the killer is in front of you, holding the gun she killed you with ). She frowns at him, but places her hand on his cheek. Is this all I had to do to get you back? Pretend you’re the same girl you were before I married you? “Danny,” and he starts, because it’s been so long since she’s called him that, “we’re not dying tonight.” The hope in his chest had been burning so bright, but she’s holding a bucket of water. “It’s her or us, and I’m always going to choose us.” He grabs the hand on his face, kisses the back of it, looks into his wife’s eyes and tries. “What if it’s not real? What if nothing will happen to us?” She kisses him and she tastes like expensive champagne. “Nothing will happen to us.” Charity’s smile has always been bright. “If you can’t do it, I will.” She’s always been so determined.
It hurts more this time, as he chokes in his own blood, that after she shot him she fell to her knees beside him. “I wasn’t aiming for you.” She’s sobbing, but it doesn’t matter. A Le Domas in the end.
He wakes up. He vomits. He doesn’t bother cleaning himself up. This time, he takes the gun out of her purse. Kisses her on her sleeping forehead and pulls the trigger. He flinches at the blood splatter, then he feels his body rapidly expanding and there’s nothing.
He wakes up. Swallows the vomit and runs to her room. Puts the gun against his own forehead.
He wakes up. He vomits. He cries. He gets up. This time, Daniel tells her not to kill anybody. She shoots Stevens in the leg and Alex is still on her side. They lock their father in the security room and go after her. This time, they both witness her shooting Georgie back. Can anyone be saved? Daniel doesn’t save her this time. He wanders to the top floor and glances down at the grounds. He and Alex used to smoke weed up here. Used to laugh and people watch. Used to feel on top of a world where they only had each other. Used to hold each other tight and watch the stars and promise each other they would leave the world behind. He tries to remember his brother as something other than a monster. He jumps.
He’s awake. He’s swallowed the vomit. He leaves. He drives until he runs out of gas and then he walks. He’s not sure where he is. In a forest somewhere. It’s warm and sticky and feels like rain. He wonders if rain would have helped or hindered Grace. He lies down and goes to sleep.
And so it goes. He tries to convince all of the family not to do this. He tries to convince Grace to leave Alex. He tries to convince Alex to leave Grace. Once, he kidnapped her. It didn’t work. Nothing is working. He’s surrounded by monsters that tear each other apart and open. He’s so tired. Is this penance? Am I suffering enough for all that I’ve done? I should never have married Charity. Given her enough money to never worry again and then leave her. I never should have shielded Alex from this mess. Is he still a monster if he sees the utter terror on Charles's face, if he sees the blood dripping from the bolts stuck in his torso? Is Grace really a monster? She always ends up killing one of them, but never Daniel. Never Alex.
He’s given up on counting attempts. Sometimes, he wastes the day, he convinces Charity to stay in bed or to come on an impromptu vacation with him. She always starts off wary, and there’s guilt again, because how has he been treating the woman he pledged himself to? Did he treat her like a monster even when she hadn’t yet proved it? In either case, he soon has her opening up and laughing and it’s just like old times when she was in love with him and he was in love with her ( and did she ever really stop? Or did she just learn to hide it from the stranger her husband became? ). She forgets the next day, but he has time. On some attempts, he waits until the game starts and then tries to kill everyone. It’s usually his mother who kills him in that attempt. Once he got drunker than he’s ever been in his entire life. He doesn’t actually know how he died that time. Trip down the stairs? Choke on his vomit? Just pure alcohol poisoning? It’s not like it actually matters.
On whatever attempt this is, he goes to a church. Being from a family of Satan-worshipping psychos, he’s never actually been inside one. Daniel doesn’t burn upon entering, so he counts it as a victory. He’s not sure what he’s praying for, but the pastors leave him alone for the most part. Later in the night, they give him a bottle of water and a wrapped sandwich. They don’t make him leave, but they turn out most of the lights. He stares up at the man on the cross. Some churches try to make him look healthy despite his suffering. They make him look as though he posed on the cross. This church doesn’t shy away from painful imagery. You can see his ribs, they’re prominently sticking out. There’s blood everywhere. It's dripping from his hands and feet and running down his face from the crown that sits atop the matted hair. Sometimes statues are made to look at peace, but this one’s face is set in perpetual agony, a silent scream for help. Daniel is so tired. If he closes his eyes here, he knows where he’ll wake up. Resurrected into Hell, he wants to scream too. He eats the sandwich slowly. Drinks the water ( it’s the best water he’s ever tasted ). He goes back to the mansion.
This time, he pretends it’s the first time. The first time is the only attempt that doesn’t blur with the rest. His first time betrayed, his first time dead, it’s hard to forget. But this time, the dose is higher. He knows he needs to knock them out for longer than they had been on that night so many lives ago. He and Grace don’t stick around, running with urgency. She cries herself to sleep in the passenger side of his car as he takes them far away. He turns back when the sun rises, desperate to see the truth. When he parks, she wakes up in a panic and a fury. He hands her a gun, tells her to leave, and goes inside.
Who do I want to be saved? I saved Grace, a victim made into a monster. She has blood on her hands, but it would never have been there if we hadn’t handed her the weapons, hadn’t given her a reason to be desperate for survival. Some are past redemption, desperate to do whatever it takes to maintain their lifestyle (the image of his parents crossed his mind and his knees weakened, but he knew he was right). He thinks of Emilie and Fitch, apathetic indifference taken to the highest extreme; why care about anyone else if everything is disposable? He thinks of Georgie, the same age he had been when the hole was poked through his heart, already a killer in the making and proud of it. No, there were only ever two options for who he truly wanted to save. Charity, the woman he had fallen in love with when she snorted her drink out of her nose at one of his jokes on their first date. The woman he married, despite his misgivings, because he wanted to give her the world because he knew she deserved it. The woman who would have, and did, killed to protect them. But does she deserve to be forgiven for that? Is it enough that I’ve fallen back in love with my wife? Does that absolve her of her sins? What about Alex (here he chokes on a sob, desperate for the brother who held him as he cried over what he and Charity’s marriage had become, desperate for the man who promised him he would be better and get away from this family, desperate for the boy who would sneak into his bed when he was upset)? In every attempt, he sides with the family. Something always pushes him to it, but where I am pushed away from them, he is always pushed into them. Is there anything that can ever be said or done?
And there’s no more time for wonder. He enters The Game Room. There are bodies on the floor. All with blood on their lips. Aunt Helene looks ferocious even in death, teeth bared in a mockery of her usual snarl. Emilie looks small in a way she hasn’t since she became the Le Domas heiress, the life of the party. Fitch and his father are closest to the door, always looking for a way out like the selfish cowards they were. His mother is poised, even in death, there is blood on her lips, but her eyes are closed and her face is peaceful. Charity’s eyes are open and bloodshot, it looks like she broke a vessel when she vomited the poison. Her hair is lying in a puddle of someone else’s vomited blood and she looks like a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. Daniel begins to weep.
Alex is seated to the right of Le Bail’s chair. He is drinking from the bottle. He stares at Daniel through hazy eyes. “Grace didn’t do this.
“She would have if she could have.”
Alex chews on that for a moment. “She’ll never be with me again, will she?”
“No.” It’s said with certainty. “Grace will never be the same again. Will never want the same things again. Her dreams for a family died with ours.”
There is steel behind the drunken fog. “Then I don’t forgive you.”
Daniel realizes this is the realization he never got to bear witness to. A rich little boy who can’t have what he wants, so no one else should have it either. This is always the decision that pushes him over the edge. It’s not about Grace killing people, it’s that after she’s forced to do it, why would she ever want to be with the person who put her in this position in the first place.
“I don’t forgive you either.”
There is an explosion, and it’s very strange to watch that happen on the other end. He glances towards the chair and receives a nod in return, but not from the demon who is usually seated there. He goes back outside.
Grace is still there, her eyes are alert and panicked, but they calm down when they see Daniel. He slides back into the car, passenger seat this time, as Grace drives them off the property. “Alex?” She asks, her voice small, but not broken. “A Le Domas,” Daniel answers with regret. She sighs, like she expected nothing better. “I’m sorry.” They say together. They laugh.
The lawyers cleared everything up. The fortune was much smaller than it was before, but still entirely too large for two people. They ignore it mostly. They don’t stay in the same home, but they’re on the same property. There’s safety in the familiar, but pain in it too. They eat dinner together twice a week. They don’t often talk during it, but the comfort is there all the same. He visits her grave more often than his therapist thinks is healthy. Lilacs, marigolds, roses (red and crimson), aloe, and any flowers that convey “I’m sorry. I regret it. I love you. You deserve better.” He thought living again and again was his penance, but instead it was falling in love again with his wife, over and over and over, and then never having her the next day.
There is no grave for his brother. No pieces big enough for burial or cremation. So when he visits his parents, he pretends Alex is there too ( pretends anyone is there to swallow the “I’m sorry”s from his lips ).
Sometimes he imagines getting better. Getting over the deaths and killings of his entire family. He imagines finding that new family in Grace, both of them with fucked-up heads and bleeding hearts. Imagines being able to sleep through the night without screaming or wake without panicking. Imagines forgiveness tied in a bow around a happy ending.
And he weeps.