Again, as though of its own volition, Valentine's left hand crossed the vacant expanse of cotton sheet beside him, while for the uncounted thousandth time he whispered his prayer into the darkness, to a seemingly uncaring god.
'Please, help me find someone to fill the loneliness in my heart.'
Val's days seemed to always end with this same pathetic ritual and despite a decade-long lack of results, he persevered. Again, Val turned his head in the dark, surveying the gray emptiness next to him, imagining what it would be like to again feel the warmth and presence of another human being laying next to him. For all his adult life, this had been his most ardent hope and most constant failure. It always came down to the same thing; the timid question and the polite refusal.
Suddenly, the faintest puff of air stirred the hairs on the back of his neck. In the next instant, Val became aware of the unmistakable sensation of radiated warmth, as though by a nearby body. The urge to roll over and look fought with the near-terror of what he might find.
"What do you fear?" The low whisper emanating from the dark was just above the threshold of hearing, with a strange, unhuman accent.
Gathering his courage, Val rolled slowly to his right, raising himself on an elbow to switch on the lamp. Instantly, his breath caught in his throat as he looked up into a face seen only on the walls of Egyptian tombs. Over him stood a extraordinary creature; well sculpted Human male from the shoulders down, with the head of a ram above. A pleated white kilt covered the creature from waist to knees. Dark hazel eyes framed by heavy, curled horns stared down at him as a slight smile shaded the being's ovine muzzle.
After several strangled attempts, Val found his voice. "W…who are you?"
"You do not know me, Human? I have many names on many worlds. Long ago, when your species was much younger, you called me Amon," the creature whispered as he knelt beside Val's bed.
Deep inside, the Human knew he should feel fear, but the very sound of Amon's voice banished it.
"Why are you here?"
"I should think that self-evident, Human. Did you not just now pray for companionship?"
"Yes, but…" Val was silenced as Amon placed a large, warm hand on his cheek, gently stroking along his jaw-line. This wasn't at all what Val had prayed for, but yet…while part of him was repelled by this intimacy, another part inexplicably yearned to surrender.
"It is such a strange thing," whispered Amon, his voice barely perceptible, as though it crossed a star-lit gulf, light-years wide. "In It's unfathomable wisdom, the Creator universally endowed It's children with the insatiable need for companionship, yet failed to supply so many with the ability to find it. For a billion years, the quantum flux between the stars has reverberated to the fervent prayers of trillions such as you, beseeching the All for help with this most basic need."
To his surprise, Val discovered that while Amon was speaking, he'd sat up and now inexplicably held both his hands over Amon's where it cupped his cheek. Val's eyes were closed as he listened to the deep, gentle voice which had almost instantly become the bright center of his universe. The feeling of Amon's warm palm against his face was, despite all he thought he knew of himself, indescribable. Part of him, rapidly diminishing, was alarmed by these sensations but was powerless to resist.
The agony of years past focused, unbidden, on that one point of contact so that Val fought and failed to stem the tide of tears that welled up at the memory of his unremitting loneliness. Gently, Amon's thumb moved to wipe away one tear as it coursed its way down Val's cheek.
"Oh, child of Earth, you suffer so," Amon sighed. Slowly, the creature bent down and placed a soft kiss on the Human's brow, forever silencing the small, subconscious voice of protest and master of his volition.
Despite his efforts at self-control, Val sobbed uncontrollably, burying his face in the chest-fur of the being before him, as though Amon's slight affection had pushed his soul over some dark precipice of pain and despair. Moments later, he became aware of strong arms embracing him as his tears watered the thick fleece on the creature's chest.
"Cry not, child of sorrow. Why do you carry on so?" asked Amon.
"You're here now, but you can't stay," sobbed Val. "Sooner or later, you'll leave like all the rest." Any resistance Val might have had to Amon's influence was now gone.
"Human, look upon me," murmured Amon, gently taking Val by the chin. "I am not like 'all the rest.' I am not mortal. Time and Space mean nothing to me, for I exist as I choose."
"Then… you'll always be here?" asked Val, choking back a sob.
"Until the end of Time, if it is your wish," whispered Amon.
"Oh yes. It is," Val sighed as a strange realization became evident. While the being before him was nothing like the object of his prayers, in either gender or species, he couldn't deny the compelling evidence of his heart.
"You would give to me your heart?" asked Amon, as though he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Oh yes!" the Human answered, unable to comprehend any other answer.
"Very well." Amon's voice took on a hard edge, causing Val to cringe. "From this moment unto the End of Time, I am yours and you shall be mine."
Taking Val's face between his hands, Amon tilted it up so that he could look deeply into the Human's eyes. When he spoke, his quiet voice held a hint of what could have been regret. "Do you still not know who I am?"
Val remained silent, mesmerized by the interstellar depth of Amon's hazel eyes.
"Oh Human, by giving your heart to me, you have also surrendered your soul. You mortals foolishly believe that only the evil barter their souls, but this is far from true. I have no need for their corrupted spirits, for I have only this to offer," whispered Amon as he once again gently kissed the Human's brow. "Throughout the Universe, it is always the lonely, the unloved, who gladly surrender to me their souls in exchange for these few scraps of affection, that they might pretend it to be love."
Hours later, after he failed to answer the door when his carpool driver came to his apartment, Valentine was found laying in bed, quite dead. Those who saw his body were surprised by the remarkably peaceful expression on his face. His left hand was stilled in the act of reaching out, across the empty expanse beside him. The medical examiner stated he'd been dead since the evening before. No obvious cause of death could be found.
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