by D.C. Logan
ACT 1: One of those days
I've been there.
I've done this.
I've played this game many times.
There are some days I play it still...
Today is one of those days.
It's night, it's raining, and the dark sky cries its tears on the ground far below. The space that contains me is dark, hard, and smells faintly of chemical cleaners. Their artificial scent is a burning tinge in my nostrils. The room is small and hard-edged and spare. It suits me. It should feel odd to sit in the corner of the tiled shower, arms resting over knees, forehead dropped heavily on hands—but it is a familiar position to me now. I read once that many frightened creatures retreat to the bathroom—something about the grounding effects of the pipes, the insulating properties of the tile. It's bullshit, but someone somewhere made his or her name off of saying it.
My feet are bare, and I brake my train of thought in time to wonder if I should enter the next chapter without shoes. I shift my toes on the flooring, feeling the joins of grout under my soles as I count the tiles between them. The room hasn't seen more than a cursory cleaning since new, and my feet are stained with the dirt and residue from a hundred transient lives. Time slows—and the minutiae of details drag the seconds along and stretch them out interminably. No one will ever find me in this dismal hotel on earth. I am alone, and the feeling is both familiar and terrifying at once. I reach up and feel for the narrow patch of shiny skin where Duo's bullet grazed along my right arm years ago—where he'd marked me. Duo called me "Heero of the many scars" once. Most are faint, but visible if you know where to look for them. Others lurk deeper. Duo doesn't know all my secret and scars. There are some I don't ever want him to find out about.
I click the safety off, and the sharp noise echoes in the room. The sheer presence of the machine is a comforting weight in my hand. Its potential, enormous.
An answering crack of thunder reverberates outside my self-imposed cell in response. My mental state blurs the lines of time that separate the present storm from the past months of war. The souls I have sent beyond scream in the heavy silence that hovers between the lightning and the thunder. That pause between flash and rumble stretches out—and the dead speak to me from its silence. Even after all this time, the souls I've destroyed haunt me; and I have sent them plenty of company during the past long months.
I smell the smoke and ash of war on my skin. No matter how I scrub at my body and clothes, it stains me with its scent. I've tried, and I've failed, in my quest to separate war from life. I see people as targets and liabilities. Friends and comrades remain a foreign concept to me. And though I've tried to change, the training creeps in when I least suspect it and brands me a soldier of death. I fear for my allies; I pray for my friends. My demon lies close to the surface—it fights to escape. I am its keeper—but it is strong, and I am growing tired. Containing it takes all my strength, but I fight best when it is loose and free and hesitate to kill it. It is a vital part of who I am.
I have felt the soft embrace of death before. I remember the sensation of flight without wings, and a presence comforting and quiet and warm. And peaceful. I'd felt it against my soul like the warm push of living skin, a fragile membrane that could tear easily, but holds strong against the demands of pressure. And it waits for me, but I don't fear it. I'm not sure I ever did. I fear the close present of the hard dark night more. I can feel the surge of pain/panic rise like gorge in my throat. The walls close in. My heart races.
I pull the gold chain at my throat one-handed and retrieve the warm cross from my breast. It emerges from the stretched neckline of my shirt and pools into my outstretched hand. Duo's gift, given in friendship, with the promise of more if I ever asked. But I can't ask now. He deserves more than I can give him; he deserves better than me. My heart holds only winter water in cold slick floods that slow its beating. I would pull him under; he would never surface.
I remember the day he pushed me away—not in so many words, but in small actions. Telling me that I needed to find myself before I could be with him. To decide my future without being told the path I should take. There were moments when I knew that Duo knew my inner self with more awareness than I do myself. I have to believe that Duo is right—that I have it in me to change and know myself. It's very like Duo to want to complicate a perfectly good relationship.
A quiet mental voice tells me "He's just trying to scare you." And a soft timid voice from deep inside replies, "It's working."
But I fear this is all that I am; all I have left to offer. I'm not sure I can be or become anyone else. Not anymore. I've done terrible things, and left no one alive to beg absolution from. The rest of my present and all of my past is just shattered junk that slops rhythmically in my skull.
I can feel my muscles jumping and twitching with the effort of maintaining control. If I can make it through this night again, as I have made it through so many dark terrors of the night before, they will shake with reaction for hours afterward— accepting the toll of the mental battle.
I raise the cool surface of the weapon to my brow and press the side of the barrel to the cold fear-sweat that lies there. The metal is the coldest thing in the room, and oddly comforting. A grounding presence in my mental hell. No light glints off its dangerous surface. The fear/rage is worst at night, and yet I find that the dark is comforting. It's a dangerous combination—one I can't bring myself to resist.
The window is cracked open at the bottom and I hear the loud happy noises of the people outside the nightclub behind the motel. Concerned only with the moment—no past, no future. How I wish I was one of them—anonymous in the world. Yet here I am, alone with my fears, incapable of living up to my ambitions. Unworthy of so many things, and so fearful of what I may become in the future—what damage I may yet do to those I have come to care for.
Why do I crave? It was all so much easier when I didn't care. When I didn't want to reach out and be accepted in return. When I was... When I didn't...
A storm is coming. But not the one outside my window—for it has already arrived. This stormwind talks to me alone. It sings the songs of demented souls. The lightning scorches the earth under it, and I feel myself under its power.
I'm so tired. The weight of the world crushes my bones. I can't keep my head level any longer. Cruel time laps at the edge of my consciousness. Long ago I entered a mental hole where cruel thoughts draw blood, and now each memory is like a lancet the skewers my life. If I close my eyes, I can feel the blood leave my body and course down my skin. But the blood is like ice, and my skin is cold and gray in the vision behind my shallow lids.
During the war I had been ready to give up my life for what I believed, was this any different? Really?
Hmm. Welcome to a mental prison—my dark reality. Where you put your clothes on, and settle your armor in place. And you lock everything down and ratchet it good and tight to protect yourself. But you find that the blood that leaks from you finds the smallest chinks in your armor and drips slowly to the green field under your feet. Life leaking away from you in a very real sense.
Duo has his business and never met a stranger; Trowa has his adopted family, Quatre has his empire; Wufei has his job with the Preventers and the heritage of his dead clan for company. I have nothing to hold in my hands, not even the promise of something better one day. The small comforts of my life no longer console me, I have no reason to continue along this road, no reason I can think of in this moment. Except for Duo's vow to me: "If you promise to not try to kill yourself for the next three months, I'll find a reason for you to keep on living." But I don't know if I can hold out that long. I hear his words to me, spoken so long ago, "Now I can understand you wanting to take your own life, but maybe, just maybe, you should think of another way to commit suicide, Buddy..."
My soul hangs empty in the midst of time.
Of all the times I've tried to end my life over the years, this moment seems no more real to me. Just another mission failed, just another life without a reason to go on. Tomorrow might be different ... but hope is wearing thin. I hold Duo's words in my mind like a gift; "I'm not asking you to trust me or anything, but right now I'm the only friend you've got pal."
No one wants to die alone. Least of all me. But it's so hard to hang on when my objective is resolved, my mission completed, and there are no more reasons not...
ACT 2: And On...
He felt their watchful presence at his back. And he heard whispered comments as they shifted past him in a miserable huddle of umbrellaed souls. Three others stood apart from both him and the crowd. He wanted to be alone. Heero had ensured that he would remain so forever. And he damned him to hell; because that was his new home.
Eventually, he sensed the approach of a quiet presence, but though he saw the timid and hesitant approach of Quatre from the corner of his eye, he didn't see him—not really. And even when another figure, nameless and faceless in his grief, tried to softly turn him around from the grave in front of him, he shrugged off the gentle hand and responded not at all.
He ignored the persistent presence of the three of them until he felt it ease from his senses, leaving him alone with his dead mirror laid out in front of him.
Quatre slowly walked back to Trowa and Wufei. He paused to look back at Duo, standing alone by the open grave. And feared for his good friend's mortal soul. Wufei had a question in his eyes as he approached, but Quatre knew the others would follow his lead now. It was his call. He would decide how best to handle Duo's grief. How to fulfill his obligation to Heero and figure out a way to keep Duo from self-destructing in his absence.
"Give him some time alone. It's not real for him yet, I barely believe it myself," was his quiet verdict to the others. And the three who remained, silently watched the one who stood alone.
Duo stood stiffly and talked to Heero's grave—angry at Heero's memory. He stood alone, hunched against the cold, dull-gray day, the dark reality. The light rain ran rivulets of grief down his face—augmenting his tears. And he stayed, long after the others had gone, to speak with a ghost laying in a grave.
"They left me alone so I could talk to you." Duo sat on the edge of the fresh earth and idly stomped the clots of mud from his boots. "The newsfeed listed your death as accidental—but I know better Heero. You're too professional—too practiced—to have an accident like that. It was intentional, it was deliberate, and it was cruel and heartless to those you left behind. And especially to me. I waited all that time for you— did you think I wouldn't wait still?"
He was numb, he was blind, he was deaf, he was mute; inside he was screaming. But he wore his agony silent on the outside where the others could see. His grief was a private thing ... as his love had been. He wondered if Heero could feel his soul standing by.
He sat there for a long time, talking to Heero, but with eyes closed to shut out the reality laid out in front of them. And there was no warm voice that replied, no growl of annoyance, no noncommittal "hn" in response to his continual string of non-sequitors.
"'A short but intense life' was how they spoke of you on the news. The others came today you know, I saw them on the edge of the field after the rest of the people left, standing alone. I don't know who else came. Or who else stayed."
He paused to catch his breath, but his soul didn't answer back.
"They asked me to speak about you—to say fancy words over your casket. But I couldn't. I stood there, in front of and apart from all those people who claimed to know you—and who knew you not at all. How do you find the words to sum up an entire life in ten minutes? I stood there, numb and dumb with grief. And I could think of was that if I didn't say the words—admit you were gone—that it wouldn't be true."
He was quiet after that. Thinking. A wave of soul-wrenching despair slid over him, and threatened to bury him under its turbulent mass. He rose out of it, gasping for breath. But he didn't want to leave. The sky turned darker, the day heavier with impending reality. Trowa approached this time, as Quatre had before him, and maintained a respectful distance from the grave. But Duo ignored him as well. Not wanting to leave Heero's side.
"I'm angry with you for leaving first and so soon. Stopping your life before you had a chance to die. Before you had a change to live as you could have lived." And he proceeded to curse his shortened existence with impressive thoroughness. It didn't make him feel and better.
And then he spoke to himself, with a small degree of wonderment, "Why do they call suicides 'victims'? What are they victims of? Themselves? Their environment? Their emotions? What? It's the ones left behind that suffer. The dead exist beyond suffering."
Trowa crept closer to Duo, slowly desensitizing him to his presence. With practiced stealth, he covered Duo's escape route. Blocking his path should he run. But in the end, it hadn't been necessary. But it had taken the combined efforts of all three pilots to move Duo from Heero's grave—and even outnumbered as he was—it hadn't been pretty. Trowa, not all that familiar with Duo's fighting ability, had underestimated him badly—and had a broken arm and a concussion as a souvenir of the scuffle.
Quatre set the rounds for the suicide watch—but wondered if it was necessary. Duo seemed quieter, more withdrawn. But he was either a consummate actor, or recovering quickly. He roamed about the apartment, dressed, ate, and spoke of Heero in the past tense with nary a twitch of eyelid to indicate his grief.
And then there were the moments of despair so deep that his determination to maintain a watch over his friend was instantly justified.
"Duo? Duo?!" Wufei pushed the door the rest of the way open. Duo was sitting motionless in a chair, staring out the window into the night. Though full dark had fallen, no lights had been turned on in the room. The sole occupant had no need of light, indeed it seemed that light had left his life entirely.
Duo didn't hear the concern in Wufei's voice. It was doubtful he heard the words at all. The senselessness of Heero's death wrapped him in a rage so cold he doubted he'd ever be warm again. He needed to hold on to the moment—letting it pass into history would be doing a disservice to such an important pivotal memory. He couldn't let go, he didn't want to. Duo found that he couldn't move—not because he might break—but rather explode. Caught on the sharp point of one of the major events in his life—he couldn't bring himself to move on.
Two weeks passed without incident, and Quatre relieved the shifts, believing Duo capable and out of the danger zone. He and the others had hope—that Duo might again come to live in the world. But some faith can be misplaced. And it isn't good strategy to corner an adversary who has absolutely nothing to lose.
Wufei looked to the side. His passenger looked stoically ahead at the rain on the windshield, and didn't respond to his glance. How unlike the old Duo this new one was. He felt a stab of guilt for wishing Heero dead, even once. Of envying him Duo's love and loyalty. It was a different kind of agony, watching Duo waste away, pining for that which he had lost. He was on 24-hour watch again, and had been since he had cut his hair—leaving it in short uneven strands cut close to his scalp. When Trowa had asked why he'd destroyed it, he'd replied softly, "Because Heero loved it. And because I can't run my own fingers through it without thinking of him." Hearing that had nearly fractured his heart. Trowa told him later that Quatre had left the room and cried for hours.
Duo had asked to visit Heero, and Quatre had acquiesced—despite reservations on Wufei and Trowa's part. But Duo seemed less angry now, yet just as damaged. Wufei cringed at how broken he seemed on the inside—and how now the outside matched— unadulterated black clothes, hair short and wild and uncannily similar to Heero's in its resistance to gravity, and the dead eyes of a blocked and pain-clouded mind. But Duo was quieter on the inside, and Quatre said he had felt a peace within him. Wufei sincerely hoped that he wasn't mistaking inner peace for icy resolve. But he left the car and walked with his charge to the lonely grave. Muddy rivulets ran off into the surrounding turf. Wilted flowers had been heaped on the berm of earth to camouflage its presence. It looked exactly like what it was—a shrine whose god had died and abandoned it.
He left Duo at the side of the grave and moved a respectful distance from him—understanding his need for privacy. Room to say quiet good-byes. He remembered all too well the pain associated with losing someone close before they'd had an opportunity to become closer. It wasn't only grief over what had been lost, but the potential that had been murdered its wake as well. And in many ways that old death haunted him still. Duo would be living with this for a long time—or for at least as long as they could keep him alive. Wufei maintained no illusions regarding Duo's resourcefulness.
Duo knelt in the wet earth. Pooled water collected top of the mud and quickly soaked through his clothing. He didn't notice, wrapped as he was in his grief. He pulled a handful of the wet earth to him to give him something physical to hold, and spoke with Heero some more.
"Trowa told me about your continual desire for self-destruction and how inevitable it was for you to kill yourself. How you'd gone to each member of Noventa's family after your mistake and tried to repair your tragic error by forfeiting your life in return. And Relena told me how you tried to kill yourself within minutes of meeting her—not that I blame you for feeling that way then mind you. And then that dive after I'd helped you out of the hospital. You were always trying to end your life, trying to throw it away, and it looks like you finally finished your mission. I hate you for that. I thought you could survive with a deathwish. I thought I could make a difference. I guess I was wrong. So tell me Heero, where does that leave me? Why did you have to carry the burden of yesterday? What did it prove? Who did it help in the end?"
He stood alone in the gray autumn rain, waiting for the water to wash the dream away—the dream that wasn't a dream. He spoke his name, once, but grief stole the second half of the word from his throat. What was that old saying? Shed tears for comfort, shed blood for vengeance? But it didn't comfort him. And he had no one to take vengeance upon. Just his dead friend for an irrational action he'd taken, and himself for not recognizing how dangerously close Heero had been to his critical limits.
Yet another few weeks passed without incident, and Quatre abolished the watch, based in part on Duo's vow to not harm himself. He and the others still had hope. But time goes by, and we feel safe too soon.
Duo stood upon the threshold of his home. They hadn't had much time together—a few days, a precious weekend. But he'd felt the potential the first time he'd met Heero. And had been willing to wait for the timing to be right, for both of them to be ready for something more permanent. He knew himself—that was his curse and his strength. He'd wanted Heero to find himself as well. But it hadn't happened. And now it never would. Wufei had left, his watchdog was gone, and he was alone in his house for the first time since...
So this is what happens when you come home to an empty house after burying your potential life partner? He'd never wanted to find out. But then this happened—the sudden, the unexpected, and absolutely world-changing. So this is what happens after all the people leave, and it's quiet, and you're completely, utterly alone? And now he was finding out. And he wondered how, or if, he'd manage to survive this.
Back to the house, his empty home. Collapsing on the bed, fisting his hands into the sheets and pulling them to his face. Weeks had passed, and he'd still hold Heero's clothes to his face and inhale his scent, and remember what he'd smelled like when alive and warm in them.
He'd turn in the kitchen, expecting to see him there. He called out his name in the dark when the nightmares came, and remembered too late that Heero wasn't there to save him from his demons, comfort him in his loss, save his soul from the fiery hells of damnation he'd cursed himself to live in forever.
The life he'd wished for was like a beautiful garden he'd seen once, with orderly paths, manicured foliage, rare birds. Beautiful, perfect, but not for him. He felt unworthy to be there. A high wall barred his path, separated him, kept him from the perfection that was never meant to be his.
And he found himself, late one night, cleaning his gun with an old shirt of Heero's. Thinking about a promise he'd made to Quatre, and wondering if he had the strength to break it. Considering if grief is the price we pay for love, why had he loved so much and so deeply then? He had nothing left to protect his soul. He was grief. He was sadness. He was beyond wishing for death.
He held the gun in his hand, turning it about and shifting it from hand to hand with indecision. Then gripping it with purpose, and holding it in a double grip with the muzzle pressed hard under his trembling chin, denting the fragile skin there. But he didn't pull the trigger. Not yet. Tomorrow might be different. But what were the odds, really... Heero had died and left a hole in his heart impossible to fill. "I didn't even have a life until you showed up, and now what do I have left? What do I do now Heero?" His voice trailed off with his thoughts...
He'd been there.
He'd done this.
He'd played this game many times.
There were some days he played it still...
Today was one of those days.