Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Goodbye To A Good Friend. Part 3.

When the door opened, the first glance I caught of Winston was him with his cheek in David's hand. A kiss being placed on the opposite one as though in reassurance after a second or two of whispers. Then the assassin just turned and left down the hall. Leaving Winston staring after him like a deer caught in headlights. Even the ugly black that he had dyed his hair to after his kidnapping incident looked pale in that moment as he shakily stepped back to rest against the door frame. Sliding down it slowly. Sinking to the floor. Exhaustion, disbelief, and panic slowly melting away from his scarred features to leave only self-loathing in their wake. A despair that he had been wearing just beneath the surface for so long...  that was finally surging through to the surface like pus from an infected wound. Rising up and consuming him whole. His kidnapping had aged him greatly - the torture and the needle marks on his arms still all too apparent - but, to my eyes then, he looked even older. Nearly worn through.

He apologized without even looking at me. Voice hoarse. On the verge of breaking.

Then he apologized again.

And again.

And again.

Each time bringing that despair closer and closer to the surface. Crushing himself with it until every part of him was trembling. Twitching. Slowly breaking. It was like watching a crack start in glass. How it would grow across the surface. Spreading out like a web right before your eyes - assuring you that you'll eventually see it shatter to pieces completely. Winston whispered curses at his own uselessness. Voice like cracking ice in the dead of winter as he took the whip to himself - guilt overflowing from a glass that had obviously been steadily filling up for a while. Cursing himself for his state. For his inability to do anything except apparently be the "worst tossing ally in existence!" Bringing his knees to his chest as he spoke of how he'd had a chance. That I'd given him one. That, after Redlight made him "treat [me] like a bloody object in need of being put back together", I had put my trust in him. That he had had the chance to "do some goddamn good for once and keep [me] safe" for a while... and he had screwed it up. And royally at that. All because he'd been exhausted. Pulled in too many directions at once. With everything piling up, he let himself think that having David and I under the same roof would be alright. Not giving a thought to consequence. Of the history between us or any vendettas... and then forgetting to even mention it.

"Forgetting and leaving you to get..."

He couldn't say what had nearly happened. It pained him to even think it...

I couldn't help myself.

I started laughing.

I had listened to him. Listened to him come apart at the seams as I tried my best to pull myself back together... and, as I strained my muscles to sit up while clutching my dislocated arm, I just started laughing. I couldn't hold it in anymore. I felt it stirring inside and tried to bite it back, but it escaped. Starting as a weak chuckle... and slowly growing in strength until it burst from my gut in howling laughter. Laughter that shook and pained my tired body right down to my core. That made my lungs burn and my sides hurt. That made my eyes water and run in tears. Sitting on the bed with my feet on the floor, I laughed like the last shreds of my sanity were being set aflame. Arms coiled around myself in some desperate attempt of a fool's mind to ease the ache the laughter brought upon me.

The ache that melded into everything else that ached.

I knew... what I must have seemed like.

I knew that I was scaring Winston. Probably bringing back memories of the battlefield when his comrades had mentally shattered in similar fashions. Dissolving into mad fits of laughter after one too many bullets skimmed by their heads... and then all that was left was a not-so-temporary visit to the Funny Farm. I knew that's what he was thinking. I had been able to hear it in his voice when he whispered my name. But the thought of losing my mind only made me laugh harder (They're coming to take me away, ha-ha, they're coming to take me away, ho-ho, he-he, ha-ha...).

When I reined in my giggles, I only really had one thing to say. I asked him if he thought it was funny too. Holding out my hand for him to see.

It was trembling.

I asked Winston... if he had any idea what my hands had done. How I'd used them. How they'd tortured and manipulated. Contorted bodies in nearly every possible way. Been soaked in the blood of the Haunted and Innocent alike. How they'd felt the bulge of the skin just before a bone cracks through the surface. How they'd felt how the chest shivers and rises just before a gut-wrenching scream of agony sings into the air. How they'd closed around the throats of many a target of mine. Feeling the muscles strain for breath as life was slowly denied and terrified eyes turned dull.

How they'd held someone right up close to me... even as my gauntlet pushed itself deeper inside of them. Cutting through whatever resisted. Making a hand-puppet of the still-living. Bladed fingers wrapping so carefully around the heart. Caressing so gently. And then squeezing. Cutting. Ripping.

I asked him if he ever had a heart beat in the palm of his hand. Beat. And then quiver.




I had.

My hands hadn't shook then.

But that afternoon... in that Cafe... after I'd been chased and locked in a room... hit around and pinned down.... and nearly raped all by one little assassin...

That's when my hands shook.

I thought it was funny.

No, actually... I thought it was hilarious.

Winston just sat and listened. Quiet as the grave. Pale as the dead. Listening to me as I rambled through my chuckling. As I spoke through the wide smile that had taken my face. As I rattled on and on. Until I used one of those trembling hands to cover my smile which came to feel more like a grimace. Eventually sinking low over myself as I pressed my pained arm to my body and rested the elbow of my other on my knee. Holding my head. It still ached. Everything did...

I told him that I didn't blame him. That I couldn't blame him. Not while I was thanking him for interfering. Thanking him for putting himself as the one thing that stood between David and I. The one thing that... stopped what otherwise would have happened. While it was true, Winston had been given a warning which he'd failed to pass on... but David could have just as well not said anything. I had - like a stupid newbie - posted on this very blog where I was. Who I was with. What condition I was in. He could have come with no warning at all and it would have come to the exact same result.

The only one I had to blame was myself.

I could tell from the look on Winston's face, however, that he was far from done blaming himself. I still remember the exact words he used then. He didn't stand up. He didn't come over to me. He stayed where he was. Staring across to me. Catching my own stare with his. His were bloodshot. I was certain mine were too. 

"Sam... I would never betray you if I could avoid it in any possible way. Remember that."

I believed him.

Leaving did brush over my mind, but that wasn't a choice. Redlight desired me there. I knew that. To leave would have been foolish at best and suicidal at worse.

I stayed.

I healed.

I worked.

All in all, it was manageable.

David didn't try anything after that, but he still seemed to... find ways for us to brush past each other. Honestly, to an outsider, it would have seemed perfectly accidental or harmless. That is, if you didn't know better. If you didn't know him. Me. The history there. I know he enjoyed how it always made me involuntarily tense, but it never went further. He'd offer, at times. Make suggestions. Comments. But my repeated declines were... "respected." Which came with a wave of relief, needless to say. It meant we were able to work together without either of us getting the other killed. And, once Morningstar had joined us, that was twice the miracle.

Shooter had always had a certain level of disgust reserved especially for rapists, and that hadn't changed with his "resurrection". When he caught on to what had happened (I sure as hell didn't tell him), Shooter went absolutely lethal. It took me hours (of several days) to talk him down. Not even the threat of consequences from Redlight if Star removed a piece from play prematurely reined him in. Once, he pulled a knife and lunged with the clear threat of castrating David (for starters) when the assassin made a comment about how he could still say that I yelled out while under him. He'd just leave out that it wasn't his name.

Part of me really didn't want to restrain Star back for that one.

In any case, it just became another thing not to mention. Another thing to bury and forget about. After all, we were all working under a Certain Someone. It was best to not let the personal side of things overflow into business. Best for us to get along as best we could. Not make a laughing stock out of ourselves by revealing what kind of "unity" there really was in the Cafe. Amongst it all, it really did come as surprise that the one who came closest to actually dying... was "Joseph". Though, to be fair, that was when he pissed off Redlight. No thanks to Sage, of course. And, when all was settled again even as spiked nerves remained, the four of us split up to regroup ourselves. Morningstar went to the roof. David went to our prisoner to "keep him company" with Ronan. "Joseph" disappeared into his room... And I told the others I was headed to mine. To call if I was needed, but how I planned to catch a nap.

In actuality, I went to Winston's room.

I found him sitting on his bed.

Pale. Frail. Blank. Just staring off into empty space with his hands clutched in his lap.

I didn't bother asking for an invite. Merely closed the door behind me and sat down beside him. Putting my arm around his shoulders only to find them trembling so slightly. Letting him lean on me even as his thoughts replayed what it felt like to nearly be disposed of. Nearly be Hallowed beneath Redlight's hand. How close of a call it had been. He didn't utter a single word at first, but when I shifted to get more comfortable myself, all I heard was a soft plea for me not to go. I assured him I'd stay as long as he wanted, and there wasn't a single other word spoken after that. Nothing needed to be said. It felt awkward enough to... handle what our bond had become as it was. With no joke. No smile. Just a presence. It was the most I could offer... and the fact that I wasn't entirely sure Redlight was really gone for now made it a hell of a risk at that. 

"My own people seem to find themselves unable to be at least be somewhat 
honest with me, and on the other side... I refuse to work for that... 
that... bloody Red FREAK!! 
I know I never had many avenues to choose from in the first place, Sam, 
but now... why does it seem that I... 
I don't even have one path to walk down?" 

"...A logical mind doesn't find throwing itself 
into a volcano or a tornado to be available options. 
Sadly, that's more or less what we have. 
Listen to me, Winston. You've already had one run-in with 'that freak'. 
It's obvious the dislike is mutual.. 
But I can't protect you from The Devil if you run off with the Highers..."

And it was in the moment, with his head on my shoulder, that I realized with a bit of a curse that... I'd allowed it to happen. Allowed it to grow. A weakness that neither of us needed in this turbulent time. A weakness we couldn't afford. And yet, no amount of inconvenience could change the fact that Winston's words to David through that locked door had been the Truth. The complete, honest Truth. 

"Knock, knock. Is the lady of the house home~?"

"You just missed her... this old dog will have to do."

"Well, I always have preferred the company of animals 
in comparison to people..." 

We weren't "friends". 

"What can I say, darling? I'm a Proxy of my Word."

"You're a rank idiot."

We were Friends.


 "Keep stating the obvious, my dear, and you might become a Sage yet~"

 "Speaking of... they really don't have much of a chance, do they? 
The Runners, I mean..." 
"Sweetheart, when did they ever? It's Wash, Rinse, and Repeat. 
Even when they returned to the old Tried and Failed system yet again... 
their precious Sages abandoned them. So who did they begin to turn to? 
Who became Unofficial Sages in their absence? 
Gargoyle. You. And lil' ol' Me. 
Three Proxies, of all things. 
One of Past, and Two of Present.
And that, my friend, is just sad."

Right from the beginning, it was never "Nightscream" and "Sherlock". 

"Show me a man that says that he no longer fears death, not one bit, 
and I will show you a liar. Acceptance and lack of fear... 
are two very, very different things. 
Don't forget that, Sam. The fear never dies out. 
It is one of the only things that they can never take away from you. 
That fear is what reminds you that you're human. 
That is truly what I believe. There may be no way to measure a man, 
but one can quantify oneself as being alive. As being what they are. 
And that? That is humanity, Sam. 
There's no great tally, 
nobody keeping track of the so-called inhuman acts you commit, 
no one examining the good you do. We are just simply... here. 
I think... what everyone is terrified to admit... 
is that they don't think that is enough, 
when that is all they're going to get."

"How true. The only real tally is in your head. 
We know what we've done. And what we deserve in turn. 
And that, my friend, is keeping solid footing. 
That is remembering common sense and being able to... 
act normal, even if we aren't. 
Even if one has forgotten what 'normal'  even feels like... 
I envy you, Winston, in a way. You still remember. You still care. 
Though it's obvious what manner of price you pay for it..."

"Paid in blood. Sadly, mostly my own. 
Though... I'd make the same choices again. 
Especially if it meant reminding someone like you, Sam, of better times. 
I may be prideful, over-focused, and arrogant... 
I may hurt more people than I help in order to save my own hide... 
but saving your life is something I'll always be proud of. 
Something I'll never regret."

It was Sam and Winston.

"...What makes you think I'm motivated outside the cause?"

"You haven't thrown everything away. Not yet. 
You have clear motivations and aren't suicidal, 
which denotes that, even if it's practically impossible,
you still have somewhere you'd like to go back to. 
The "wanderer" archetype usually is a clear type of person; 
not the one who has nothing left, but rather...
the one that has something to protect."

"...Clever. Truly. Though one part of that is wrong."

"Would you be so kind as to enlighten me?"

"I have nowhere to go back to, darling. That's gone."

A Ex-High School Teacher and an Ex-Soldier. 

"...But fighting back to that extent
doesn't really help you if it's going to kill you in the end, now is it? 
Isn't it therefore better to fly under the figurative radar...?"

"You work under the radar, Winston.  

All while held up tight in this little Cage you call The Cafe.
Tell me, do you think you're able to breathe any easier than me?"


And I liked him. I trusted him. For once, I felt like... there was an understanding. An instant, mutual understanding. That was something... I'd never experience before then with any of my kin. We understood each other. So alike... and yet different in just the right places to nearly make us polar opposites. In many ways... he could have well been the Teacher. And I could have well been the Soldier. It's almost funny how lines blur... 

"Don't delude yourself; snakes that can cheat death, 
attendants that can freeze and burn,
 craftsmen that can create entire realities; 
what about that implies simple mortals? 
What do you see in those monsters that would 
possibly make them qualify to be men?"

"Snakes are eaten by birds and weasels. 
Ice melts. 
Fire is drowned. 
Illusions shatter at but a slight shift in light. 
Everything has a weak spot. Everything. 
Mortal doesn't mean human, love. 
Mortal means weakness.
It's just a matter of figuring out how to exploit it."

And yet... it was something else that caught my attention from the start. A simple thing. Something he had which I didn't. It was his eyes. Eyes that were deep and burdened. A cold flicker near the surface, and much turmoil beneath. A boredom. A hunger. A pain that struck him deep. And yet... they were such a warm golden brown when he laughed. They'd come alive. Nearly shine. He had the eyes of a Human. The eyes of the Norms. While mine... well, there is not a laugh I can give that would change them from what they are. They're eyes that are Wrong. Eyes that others shy away from peering into. Eyes that unnerve at a glance. Disturb at being held. As cold and as sharp as the blades of my gauntlet. An item that they've stolen their color from as well...

 "...I wouldn't last one second with Redlight,
and you know it, Sam. 
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. 
I'm just a man, Sam, and men are pests to him. 
No... men like me are nothing in his eyes. 
Maybe that will be his downfall..."

"I won't tell you what to do, Winston. For that, I have no right. 
For me, I suppose it's an easier choice. 
Staying at the heel of the Highers would only end up...
with an Elimination Order with my name in the wrong spot. 
At least, with Redlight, I have half a chance to live through the storm. 
I simply wish..."

There was a time... that my eyes used to change too. 

"...Humanity is a strength, Sherlock. 
Not a weakness. 
It's the Key. 
The Secret. 
Don't forget that."

"...So this is where it ends, huh? 
I doubt our respective bosses really will want us fraternizing. 
The less trouble we cause each other, the better... 
It's... almost funny.
Two clear divides between what is supposed to be one unified group. 
Take care of yourself, Nightscream. 
I mean that."

But that is long past now. Long past...

"I expect a coffee when this is all over."

 "Let's hope we both make it to then."

And, when I let myself into that no-name, nearly-condemned bar which was nested on the very end of a trashy, no-where street in some tiny, no-nothing town... the first words that Friend said to me weren't a greeting or a question of my presence or intent. It was simple fact. Spoken on a soft, drifting voice. One that should have been smothered beneath the sounds of the storm that ravaged the "building" on all sides. But, instead, the words seemed to fill the bar. Cover it. As if it was written on the very walls themselves. 

"So you got out."

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