• The man who stood in the brisk wind was tall; not so tall as to attract excessive attention, but his head stood higher than others in a crowd. His face was covered with a thick beard. The hair there and on top of his head had once been black as night, but the years had dusted it with white and gray. The black trench coat he wore fluttered around his knees as another gust of wind blew through. His eyes narrowed as he stared at that which he had come to see. His mind worked, recalling memories. Sirens in the distance clicked one into place, and the man's eyes lost focus as he fell back into the past.

    I loved her. I loved her more than anyone I had ever known. She was what made me happy; the very thought of her could lift my heart as high as the stars. She was in pain, though, and I couldn't do a damn thing to change it. Every day, I saw her eyes lose more and more of their shine. She was suffering, and it was destroying me to watch it happen. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and take her hand and lead her to safety, but I couldn't. I had long ago lost my chance to be her knight in shining armor. All I could do now was offer condolences and promise her that it would all be okay.

    I had never been one to have the best control over my emotions. If I was happy, I was so happy that anyone around me couldn't help but be happy, too. Sadness sent me into seclusion, refusing to look anyone in the eye. Anger was the worst. Most times, it was merely a grinding of teeth and clenching my jaw. Sometimes, though, I found myself filled with a blind rage that fed me ideas of violence. When that anger took me, I could barely keep myself from just reaching out and wrapping my hands around the throat of a person that I loved like the younger sibling I had never had.

    Watching the love of my life become less and less herself was taking all of the worst emotions I knew and mixing them all together into some hideous conflagration of the heart. The day that I saw her left eye ringed in purple, that fire burning in my chest erupted into something more destructive than I thought possible. I stood up from the chair in which I had been sitting and crossed to room to her in two strides. She looked up at me, and our eyes locked. Between them crossed more pain than most people know in their lifetimes. I rested my hand on her shoulder for a moment, and, as I saw the tears well up, I wrapped her in my arms. Sobs racked her, and she sagged into me. I held her up for more time than I could count. Around us, people passed by uncomfortably, some casting sideways glances in our direction. I did not return their gazes. My eyes stared straight forward, over my love's head. They burned with the murderous rage that had so long been waiting for this catalyst to set it free.

    As my love regained the strength to stand without support, I held her at arm's length and looked into her eyes again. Her brow creased with confusion when she saw the fire in my eyes. I drew her back in and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Releasing her, I stepped past and made my way outside. I knew exactly where my love's torture was, and I was determined to make sure that she never suffered at his hands again. He saw me coming and knew exactly why I was there. I knew he was ready for me to throw the first punch, but I stopped and looked directly into his eyes.

    "I am going to tell you right now that you are never to lay another hand on her again." My voice was quiet, but beneath it lay the beast that wanted ever so much for me to let it free. "If you do, I can guarantee you that either you or I will be dead by the end of that day, because I will find you and I will kill you, or I will die trying." As I began to turn, I saw him charge. His fist nearly broke my jaw as it struck home, but inside my mind, something did break. The control that I had maintained for so long shattered like a mirror, and behind that pane of glass was my inner demon, the hideous thing that I had kept tucked away, unknowingly making it stronger with every tear I had choked back and admonition I had swallowed. Now that it was free there was no going back.

    I blinked, and there were sirens all around me. At my feet lay a person, curled tightly into a ball. I looked down at my hands without understanding. They were clenched tightly, and I couldn't seem to relax them, no matter how hard I tried. I saw something drip off and I raised one up to look at it in the flashing lights that I had yet to really notice. My knuckles were torn ragged, and blood trickled down my wrist. There was too much there for just that, though. I looked again at the still form below me. From it came a soft whimper, and suddenly I knew why my hands were so stained. It wasn't my blood drying to a rusty brown. It was his.

    My love never looked me in the eyes again. I had gone to protect her and had betrayed the promise I had made so many years ago. Just as I had never loved anyone so much before, I never loved anyone so much again. We said our goodbyes the next year, and went out into the world to seek our futures. I knew, however, I had left my future in the past.

    The tall man blinked and his eyes regained their sharp focus. He looked up to the sky, staring at the cold, pale blue. This was not a happy summer sky under which young couples lounged on their blankets on the park. It was the harsh reminder of winter's impending reign, with steel gray clouds streaked across it like an artist's last desperate strokes on a failed masterpiece. The man's eyes closed and a tear rolled down his cheek. He turned away from the headstone at which he had been staring for longer than he could remember and walked slowly back to his car. As the sound of its engine faded away, the coldest wind yet rolled through, fluttering the petals of the flower that he had laid under the last words of the inscription: Love.