Pilot 03 - Music
Duo told us this joke, once, that life is like a bathtub. In order to get the most out of it, you have to get right in, not just skim the surfaceóand the longer you stay in, the more wrinkles you get. I forget why that happens, the wrinkle thing. Something about diffusion or osmosis or one of those passive transport things I would know more about if Iíd actually finished school. Weird, though, because if you put raisins in water they get all fat and juicy, but humans wrinkle right up, like they lose water.
One of lifeís great mysteries, without doubt.
Sixteen years isnít very long to stay in life. Not very long at all, considering that the life expectancy these days is around eighty five. So youíd think that for being sixteen years old Iíd have seen about enough to make your average military generalÖ blink. If I were a war-movie kind of guy, maybe enough to make him nod appreciatively, once, before brushing me off and going back to whatever it was he was doing before this scrawny teenager came in and starting talking at him.
Well, if you thought that, youíre so wrong it would almost make me laugh, if I thought I could. See, last time I was in a military generalís presence, it was at a party at the end of the war, and he was asking me all sorts of questions about guerrilla mobile suit tactics, and how all five of the Gundam pilots had managed to stay alive for nearly two years straight of war that we were front and centre in. (You know, when youíre only sixteen, two years is a long time. A really long time. Like a whole eighth of a life. An eighth of an eighty year oldís life is ten years. Think on that for a second, if you can handle it.) I wasnít really paying attention to the guy, respectable and medal-laden though he may have been. I wasnít really paying attention to anything at the party, just standing there and wondering when it would be finished. Or at the very least, when the general would lay off, go talk to someone who cared about war, like Heero, and leave me alone.
Because honestly, I donít need to relive two years of violence every day. Only just now have I been able to actually relax when Iím at "home" (I havenít really gotten to thinking of it as home, yet) with Quatre. Really, really relax, not worry about the next mission or why the heck I havenít gotten the next missionÖ Relaxing is never something Iíve been good at. Because when you relax you let your guard down. Youíre vulnerable. And vulnerability has never served me well.
I learned pretty quick to put up shields. To not let other people know what I was thinking or feeling. As soon as people know what you feel, they can manipulate you, and hurt you. I learned that pretty quick, too, the first time I forgot the first lesson and cried in the presence of one of the mercenaries I was working with.
He tried to shut me up. Said I was distracting him. My ass, I was distracting him. Anyway, what he did to me only made me cry harder, so he was left with this screaming, bawling little kid and even more work to do, as his methods were somewhatÖ time consuming. He ended up leaving in disgust, taking nearly all traces of himself with him.
Not all traces. Enough that no one but me knew heíd been there, and what heíd been up to. But he left enough for me to feel lower that a snake in a gutter for a week and a half. More than enough.
If the other soldiers got any indication of what the guy had done, they kept it to themselves, which may have been a good or bad idea, I havenít decided yet. Unfortunately, what they kept quiet about, they also found interest in, and it wasnít long before the guyís methods became something of a fad around the camp. Lightened their lives up considerably, no doubt. I just had the bad luck of being around when the idea struck them.
So I learned not to be vulnerable, though little help that was now that the fashion of the camp had been set. If I thought it would keep me from getting hurt I was dead wrong. It hurt all right. The only comfort it offered was that I knew they wouldnít have the pleasure of seeing me cry.
Heíd laughed at me, that bastard who had done it first. Called me a baby, said that I was loud and a pain in the ass. He walked out of the hangar as good as laughing. And I swore, there on the cold cement floor as I hiccupped and coughed and finally ran out of tears, that I would never cry again.
Something happened that day, though I donít know what. It truly was the last time I cried. Never once after that, with all the violence and blood and pain I endured, did I ever allow a tear to fall from my eyes. I was sick of it. Sick to death of it, sick of the salty tightness it left on my cheeks, sick of the headache that inevitably followed, the shame of it, the deflation and utter submission to the whole world that crying implied. So I stopped. It was hard, at first, and had me biting nearly through my lip to keep the tears at bay. But it got easier, until even the prickling in the corners of my eyes, that I had learned to squash, simply stopped happening.
And so did I cease to feel. It took years, but by God, by the time that war rolled around there was nothing the world could throw at me that could break that wall. Maybe I was better off for it--I tend to think Iíd be dead now if I hadnít had it. So thereís some merit to it, at least. Quatre would tell me otherwise, but heís a guy who cries in movies. I could never do that.
But now that the warís doneÖ I donít know, sometimes it feels like that wall isnít necessary anymore, like itís just some big ugly protrusion in my head, a leftover, covered in graffiti and half falling apart anyway. I mean really, the warís done, youíd think Iíd be happy, huh? Youíd think Iíd do more than just look around and shrug when Quatre asks me if Iím OK. I wanted to, I think. I wanted to get up and run around and smile, and hell, even laugh. Duo was laughing like a maniac when he figured out that everyone was alive. I wanted that feeling. That energy. I wanted to know what it felt like. Iíd never had any reason to be happy.
But the wall that kept pain from really making itself known to me was a damn effective one, and the only thing I could really distinguish as emotion was a deep sense of relief. Thank God that I didnít have to deal with war again--not for a little while, anyway. Sixteen years of turmoil. It seemed like a lifetimeÖ and it was, to a sixteen year old. My whole life. And with the war done and best forgotten about, I felt like I suppose someone would feel at the end of a long day. Tired. Ready to just give up. Glad itís over. But this wasnít just a long day. It was a life, a very short life, which seemed to me quite long enough. I had no interest in hanging around to see what else the universe could throw at me. I would have been perfectly happy going to bed one night and never waking up again.
But I guess for suicide you need a bit of passion in you, and the part of my brain marked "passion" was a black hole. Besides, Quatre would have had a fit, and I didnít like the idea of making him sad. So I stayed on, kept getting up every day, going about my business and never laughing, never crying.
Nothing used to bother me. Not even the fact that nothing did bother me. I just didnít care. But thatís changing, slowly. Itís likeÖ like a phantom limb, I guess, though Iíve never had one. But it feels like I guess one would feel. Something aching that isnít even there. There are times when I watch Quatre cry, and know why heís crying, and know that Iím supposed to feel somethingÖ And feel nothing. Just this kind of hollowness, like thereís something missing in me. And itís more the idea of it that bothers me, I think. Or it was. Now itís more the feeling.
Itís said that if you can question your own sanity it means youíre sane. Would that work with this, I wonder? If I can feel that Iím not feeling anything, does that make me sane? Does that make me human?
Actually, some things do affect me.
Never things that are actually happening around me, of course. But Iíve noticed more and more that if Iím reading a particularly emotional book, Iíll feel for the character in ways I never feel for myself. And there was a painting I saw once, at one of Relenaís peace-party things, done by a girl even younger than me. It was of an angel, cradling the broken body of a dead soldier. And it made my breath catch.
And the music, dear God, the music. There was this classical piece I heard once, snooping through one of Quatís sisterís collections. It was all piano and cello and keening Chinese violin, and I almost swore I felt that so-unfamiliar prickling in the corners of my eyes at its climax. It spoke of things I could only dream of, water and deep midnight blue and emerald green and light silver. Of dew and leaves and cool, fathomless pools in the middle of a dark forest by moonlight. I couldnít explain the images that popped, unbidden into my head when I listened to it over and over, not wanting to lose that weird tugging in my chest that was so strange, and at the same time so compelling.
When Quatre asked me what kind of things Iíd listened to in that big old music room of theirs, I could only answer one way. Beautiful things.
And Iíd really only listened to the one song.
Music is what really does it to me. I think now that Iíd not give up my sense of hearing for all the money and fame in the world, not that Iíd care for money and fame anyway--the clichť stands.
Itís why I learned to play the flute, probably, even if I didnít know it at the time. It let me forget, it soothed over the emptiness and let me focus on something else. Like some people can stare at a candle flame for hours, I could play that flute until the sun came up, just for the sheer freedom it gave me.
Quatre thinks like that too, about his music. During the war, when we lodged at one of his familyís places, Iíd often catch him playing the piano or his violin when everyone else was long ago asleep. And when I asked him why, heíd say, just because. Because it doesnít hurt. And when he played, this look of peace would come over him. Especially the violin. I swear, he petted that little instrument when he played it, and the purring melodies he coaxed out of it were almost as good as the water song at his sisterís. And he looked absolutely rapturous when he played. Like the only thing in his world that mattered to him was what he was holding. Like it made him happy like nothing else could ever accomplish. Like having it taken away from him would break his heart.
Maybe itís beauty that breaks me, then. That angel painting was beautiful. The water song was beautiful.
And Quatre can be beautiful, too.
It was him that broke me the most. Last night I was sick, and feeling only marginally higher than I had felt that first night so many years ago in that hangar. And I felt old. Much older that a sixteen year old should feel. Quatre, in his empathy and deep-rooted wisdom, ran me a hot bath, dumped in half a bottle of relaxing aromatherapy bath oil, and he stuck me in it, closed the door behind him, and left me to contemplate.
The bath, of course, did little except make my fingertips shrivel, which in turn made me feel even older. It seemed I had lived two lifetimes, three, for all that I had not even lived half of one. And so did my thought process progress, getting more and more morbid, until I seriously considered letting my head fall beneath the waterís fragrant surface, and fill my lungs with the stuff. Surely, I thought, I deserved a rest.
I guess Quat got worried about me, and, with his uncanny timing, he opened the door and came in to sit in the floor beside the tub. He didnít say anything, just smiled at me, and toed the door closed to keep the warm, cradling steam from leaking into the rest of the house.
We would have cut an interesting picture, the two of us, had anyone else been in the bathroom. Quatre leaning against the bathtub and completely not caring that I was both naked and contagious. And myself staring past him at the beading steam on the walls, curled up and reddened by the nearly-scalding water I kept heating up. He didnít say anything to me, until the silence stretched and I began to squirm uncomfortably, very aware of my current state and the fact that Quatre was there to witness it. It was unsettling. Plus, he usually babbles to fill my silences. When weíre both quiet, itís like the whole world stops moving.
And he noticed my discomfort, of course. He turned around, and smiled at me, one of his small, affectionate smiles that only just curves his lips bit crinkles the corners of his eyes anyway. I wasnít sure if I should return it or try to hide from it. It scared me. Weird, huh? That a smile should scare me, and I didnít even know why. I mean, this was Quatre. Thereís little to be scared of in that guy, unless heís juiced up on Zero System and about to blow you up--which Iíve experienced. But I swear to God, that little smile made me want to disappear.
I guess it was becauseÖ I donít know, because I think I wanted it so badly. That smile tugged at my heart the same way that song did, weird, unsettling feeling, but not one I was willing to give up just yet. Have you even noticed that the more you want something, the less likely you are to accept it when thereís a possibility of you getting it? I suppose weíre trying to save ourselves from disappointment, but that smile made me turn about the consistency of pudding. If I acknowledged it for what I thought it was, what I wanted it to be, then it would disappear. It would betray me, and leave me open and vulnerable.
I never make myself vulnerable. Which is a joke, considering there I was, naked and sick in a bathtub without so much as bubbles to act as a shield. But in what little space I had in that tub, I backed into, until my shoulder hit the wall and there was nowhere else to go. I considered pulling the shower curtain across to hide him from my view, but thought the better of it when his smile went sad, and he reached for me.
He took my hand, tangled his pale fingers with mine and pressed our palms together. His hand was soft and cool next to the hot water mine had been resting in, and when he squeezed, I felt as though coolness was spreading through my whole body, nearly bubbling like spring water. It reminded me of that piano song, that feeling. I couldnít tell if it was a physical sensation or a mental one, but it felt good. Weird, alien, but good. So good I squeezed back involuntarily, unwilling to let him go.
And then I met his eyes. And what I saw there nearly made me faint. He had his violin look on, the look where the only thing that matters is the thing heís holding--and at that moment, he was holding my hand. Quite simply, he was holding me, my soul, my whole life. And he was looking at me like I meant the world to him.
Something happened then that hadnít happened in a long time. In years. My eyes got past the prickly-corner stage, and I actually felt tears collection in them. It took me a minute to notice, too, thatís how unfamiliar the feeling was. On instinct, I turned my head away, staring at the tiled wall and mentally forcing the tears back. The old shame surged up, sharp and painful as it had been so many years ago. I would not, I would not cry. Not ever again. Iíd made that vow, and by God I would keep it. Boyís didnít cry. Crying was weak and babyish and noisy. I would never ever let myself be reduced to crying again.
And no, never in front of Quatre. Conveniently forgetting his penchant to cry at the drop of a hat, I convinced myself that if he saw a single tear come out of my eyes, it would be the end of our friendship. He would be disgusted with me. He would think I was no better than a child, to just bawl over nothing. He would laugh at me just like the mercenaries had. He would throw me out and never speak to me again. He would think I wasnít good for anythingÖ
Somewhere in the middle of my mental tirade, he let go of my hand. To me, it was a sure sign he was going to leave. But it reappeared on my chin, gently urging me to turn my head, to look at him. I did so almost defiantly, daring him to comment. But when I met his gaze, and saw in his blue eyes not disgust or maliceÖ but understanding, tenderness, and, dare I say it, even love.
Which nearly broke me, and I choked back what might have been a sob. Most of the tears had disappeared while my head was turned, but seeing him look at me like that brought a new wave through me. I didnít know whether I wanted to say something or just die on the spot. I blinked desperately, trying to keep the tide back, but it seemed to me a useless act.
Quatre bit his bottom lip, and with his fingertip gently touched the corner of my left eye. He caught a tear where it had hung suspended from my lashes, let the wetness collect on the pad of his finger, and painted the saltwater slowly down my cheek, mimicking the path the tear would take if I ever let it fall. He lingered with the moist tip resting against the corner of my mouth, hesitating, waiting for a reaction.
I parted my lips to take a breath, and the salt of my tears, in all its human realness, flooded my tongue. And with no further thought, I let go.
And I cried.
Oh, I cried. My breath caught over and over again in my throat, forcing its way out in rough sobs, and stumbling back in with short, desperate gasps. Tears flowed freely from my eyes, sometimes following the path he had made, and sometimes spilling down on their own. I forgot to be ashamed, forgot to be disgusted with myself. I just let myself bawl, right there in the bathtub, my face between my palms and Quatreís hands stroking my hair.
And it felt good. So good. Like I was wringing my body out. It was excruciating, sort of painful, but so freeing. I felt like I was bleeding impurities out my eyes, squeezing out everything that hurt. Call me sick, but I almost never wanted it to stop, even going so far as to call up other horrible memories to bring on a new wave of tears, to prolong it. I was purgatory, yes, it hurt, but it was such a release.
Duo showed me something once, that he made me swear to never tell Heero the truth about. Every battle wound he has is slashed across with another straight scar. He cuts over all of them, every one he gets, regardless of how healed they are when he gets around to it. And then he drains out the blood in the area. To get rid of the memory, he told me. To get rid of the pain. To get rid of the violence. It baffled me when he told me. But now I think I understand, even just a little, what it feels like to him.
Eventually, of course, I ran out of memories, and ran out of things to cry about. I found myself leaning over the rim of the tub into Quatreís warm shoulder, the last of my tears soaking through his tee shirt to dampen his skin. He had his arms wrapped around me tightly, rubbing my back, regardless of how wet I was getting him. In my daze I had forgotten to heat up the water again, and it had cooled from scalding to pleasantly warm around me. My head ached, fairly pounded, drained and dehydrated. Left in the stead of my tears was a strange, throbbing hollowness, but I honestly didnít mind it. Because I could feel it. And besides, with Quatre holding me, and the water cradling me, and the fragrant air warming me, that hollowness was doomed.
He slept beside me last night. Neither of us got under the covers, the bathroom had been too hot to even think about it. I curled up against him, gripping a fistful of his shirt as I drifted to sleep. I dreamed of the water song at his sisterís. I dreamed of a pool in a moonlit forest, and a boy crouched near its edge. I dreamed that with every note in the music, a drop of water hit the poolís surface. I dreamed that each drop was a tear from the boyís eye, and I dreamed that they were tears of joy and release.
In my dream, that boy was me.
And this morning, we both slept in.