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Lovers and Fools
If you had months to live - not survive, but live - would you think you had all the time in the world?
This is based on a very real kind of human suffering that millions of people have experienced. I hope it's realistic. I have also been writing for a long time. I hope it shows.
THIS IS A COMPLETED WORK.
Here are some amazing music tracks which I feel fit beautifully with specific chapters of my story "Lovers and Fools":
CHAPTER I : Earth - Brian Crain
CHAPTER II: Into the Dark - Sebastian Larsson
CHAPTER III: Ice - Brian Crain
Chapter IV: Gentle Rain - Brian Crain
Chapter V: Skyfall - Adele
Chapter VI: Wind - Brian Crain
Chapter VII: Rain - Brian Crain
The credit for such stunning music goes, of course, to the artists whose names are mentioned alongside. I own nothing other than my story (excluding the quotes). I am the bard and it is the tale.
"There comes a point - a moment - in life, when your mind outlives its desires, its obsessions, when your habits survive your dreams, and when your losses ..."
- David Gale
"I still don't know why you felt the need to drag me here ..." he mutters, standing at the corner farthest from the center of the hall milling with people. He could barely hear his own voice over the maelstrom of sounds.
"That's not how I remember it," Ciel comments lightly, handing him a cup of atrocious hospital coffee. As all sane people, he has never liked it - but it is the best possible option at the moment, seeing that their appointment is quite late in the night. "You came of your own volition."
"After you threatened to make Rydan do the same," he reminds her, wondering idly why there is such a commotion at this hour. "It was nothing."
"And you believed me?" She says skeptically. "It's not nothing when you miraculously stop having an appetite, have headaches every other day, can't breathe and swallow normally and cough up blood. If Rydan had known before, he would have been only too glad to do that himself, with or without my permission."
"And no doubt you would have objected instantly," he says, voice bathed in sarcasm, tossing the cup into the nearest bin. "Granted, the coughing up blood part was a wee bit alarming, but I probably just injured my throat."
"You can't dismiss everything," she says exasperatedly. "You're a child sometimes, I swear to God."
"And you put up with me anyway." He grins pompously. "Admit it, you wouldn't have me any other way."
"Have you been reading trashy one - liners?" She demands, after staring at him for a few seconds. She sighs tiredly, then. "But yes, I know I wouldn't, God help me."
"At least I'm an easy case; you've been putting up with Arya long enough."
Their turn arrives just then, and all of them - Arya included - stand up to enter the room. Some of the other patients stare at them as they rise, and as per usual he ignores them. It's all or none.
The doctor who greets them strikes him as a blithe, poised fellow with a perpetually smiling face. He's momentarily surprised to notice the change in doctors.
"Mr. -" he quickly glances at the medical file on the table and looks back up. "DeMont, is it?" He holds out his hand, and he gives it a brief, firm shake.
"We have already received last time's results." Here Arya rolls her eyes discreetly, and he sees Ciel give her a warning look, " And I would like to ask you to please remain calm before we proceed with them, as they aren't very ... promising." His tone is delicate, cautious.
He has a swooping sensation as if he's missed a step, heart thudding for a moment and then stilling. He sees the almost imperceptible tensing of Arya's jaw, followed by the narrowing of her eyes, out of the corner of his eye. Ciel, however is as tranquil as ever - a trait he has always greatly admired.
"And I would like to ask you to skip the cushioning and just go ahead with it," he requests, keeping his tone polite. He's well aware of how that could sound akin to assuming the worst, but he needs to know.
"Estrar," the doctor begins, tone gentle but straightforward. "You have been diagnosed with NSCLC - the common name is lung cancer, I believe. It's not easily detectable, so it's not surprising that we haven't stumbled across it before now. I would have said that we should begin with the surgery as soon as possible, but I'm afraid it's already advanced. Inoperable."
"Stage?" Arya's voice is sharp, staccato and too quick to respond.
"By now? Three B. There's ... nothing we can do to stop it, now. Life expectancy would be about five years."
"But that's optimistically speaking. The five year survival rate is generally three to seven percent. The typical is closer to a year."
The silence is the room is deafening, akin to having been shrouded by a mantle of invisible quiet, but not by human hand. He is so vastly faraway, peering across a yawning chasm of anticipation, and he's forgotten how he reached there.
"Treatment options." It's Arya's voice again. She speaks to ask, and he listens to impede the weighty silence.
"Radiation. Chemotherapy. The usual. We can schedule an appointment for two days later if you'd like to discuss them."
"We'd like that, yes." Ciel's voice is pacific and grounding - and the only real thing thing in the world.
"I will notify you when a suitable time slot is available." There's a pregnant pause after that statement that rings hollow in his ears, as do his next words. "I'm sorry."
There's a roaring sensation in his ears, as if he's falling and he cannot see where, a gradual recognition of circumstance. He's vaguely aware that they have stood to exit the room, vaguely aware of how every inconsequential detail from his milieu is apparent to his still remote mind in magnified definition.
By the time they're out of the building, Arya has already taken a separate taxi and departed. He understands. This time, she cannot be there, when it's Ciel he needs.
Their own ride is excruciatingly silent, and he begins to comprehend in an immensity he has not before, why Arya hates these long, drawn - out silences. He feels so utterly distant. So off - kilter.
He feels like he's fallen off a cliff - and there's the him of yesterday overhead, too far for him to reach.
"Arya told you?" Ciel says without preamble as she takes a seat on of the elegant, high backed chairs at the entrance hall table. Ardyan's house as always looks as if it is barely lived in.
"Yes." She reckons it is a good omen that she is able to coax an answer from him at all, even if monosyllabic.
"Take your time. You can talk to him later."
"Why would I need time for that?"
She raises an eyebrow disbelievingly.
"Fine," he mutters. "Not now."
"You're very calm."
"I need to be."
"Do you ever think about yourself?"
"If I didn't, I couldn't think about anyone else. I just come to terms with things earlier than most people. There's no point fretting over something that will happen anyway."
He hums noncommittally. "I hope you do know there's nothing to talk about. We already know what he's going to say, and that I'm not going to say anything."
"I find it hard to believe that someone who has to comment at the most serious times won't have anything to say," she says frankly. "There have never been any boundaries of the right and wrong things to say with you two."
She rises, pulls on her coat and speaks a final time, resting her hand on the doorknob. "Food for thought."
She shakes her head in exasperation once the door closes behind her. Her boys.
"Time goes, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays, we go."
- Henry Austin Dobson
When he wakes up next morning, the sun is low on the horizon and his mind still fails to entirely embrace everything that's come to light yesterday.
It overwhelms him, now, all those things he has taken for granted and never did appreciate; the infinitesimal instant between two heartbeats; the touch of his fingertips against all things gentle and harsh; the tireless and tangible toil of his heart and mind, continuing unfailingly to nurture and prolong their fragile hold on tenacious life.
All those things reassuringly there, telling him he is safe and sound.
It's not the finality, the eventuality of it that terrifies him - the idea that it will ultimately come to pass; it's the awareness that he needs more time, that he still feels so isolated from it, and God, he needs more time.
But that his human tendency, to want and to never be content. And he's asking for that which people seldom have, and that too merely because they have known it more deeply.
Time and tide wait for no man.
"Do you want to go?" Ciel says, leaning against the door frame.
"What do you think?" he says, once he's finished uncurling from his fetal position on the floor. They'd been laughing at some old, inside joke, and that was all it had taken for his lungs to promptly protest.
"We should." She says, resolute, but not rigid. She respects his opinion enough for that. "It could help. You can always decide once you've heard him out." She's kneeling my his side now, reaching one hand out.
"Alright." He says, after considering it. He takes her hand and hauls his unresponsive legs up. He's thirty - three and feels a hundred years old. "I'll do it."
They share a long, meaningful look.
I don't know what to do.
I know. I'm here.
... How long?
"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
- The Norman Cousins
"Standard treatment for this kind of lung cancer involves chemo and radiation."
"And the side effects?"
"For chemo, the generalized ones are fatigue, diarrhea, hair loss. You'll lose your appetite and probably risk infection. Diarrhea and infection can, however, be dealt with to some measure.
"If we look at radiation, fatigue and appetite loss are there, too. But there's a fifteen percent risk of developing cough and fever - sometimes for years.
"At the present, I advise you to go for both."
You won't have years, a sardonic voice pipes up in the back of his mind, and he quells it forcibly.
"We'll be in a position to tell you by the next appointment, I think."
"I've thought about it already." He cuts Ciel off as she begins to speak. They'd avoided the topic at hand altogether for hours on end, but he has to broach it at some point.
"Really? I wonder when you discussed it with me, because I don't remember it."
"I -" he falls silent as her eyes meet his own without a hint of recrimination. "You're right." And I'm sorry.
She understands, in part because there are some things that they do not say aloud, and in part because she doesn't blame him at all. She looks at him expectantly, silently, and he's grateful for that.
"I just ..." he trails off, wondering how to voice it, because he has neither the words not the strength for it, but - he's desperate enough that the words come tumbling out of him. "I don't know where I'm going because if there's a road I should be taking, I can't see it. And I'm okay with that. With not knowing, I mean. I've never been able to predict things in my life, and it's always been for the best. It's not a good choice, but it's the best I've ever made. Rydan, you - you've both come by just by chance. If I'd taken the road I should have, I'd never have met either of you, and God knows it would have been better for me if I hadn't. But you know I'll still always walk the other way from there, because I don't want to die hooked up to a machine on a hospital bed, or doing things I should have or could have done. I shouldn't but God, I love you both -" and there are some things they don't say aloud, but he's never done what he should - why begin now, when everything's ending? "I've never regretted a single decision because no matter how much I've fallen standing up for it, you've always pulled me back up, and really, what's the point? I won't - I can't - die like that, when all of you make the same stupid decisions I make, without being a part of them. I could say I won't need you both in a year, but then, I won't need air by then. I won't die knowing that I had a last chance to do things I really shouldn't, with you, because I love you both so much I can't breathe."
Ciel's voice is heavy with ancient wisdom, and there's dawning insight in every inch of her face as she leans forward and whispers, "I know." And I love you.
He understands, and he holds her hand this time like she's done so many, many times. The chasm has diminished between them and there is merely bare, painful honesty.
I'll let go of you this once, because I love you. Her soul speaks to him, through eyes that have seen all that he has, but carry a heavier burden.
"I know." I know. I know. And there's desperation in the way those words sound in his mind; there's unspoken vows and ruined dreams in his eyes and upon his lips.
"You have to speak to Ardyan." Ciel's voice is tremulous in the wake of the bygone silence that had descended a while ago.
"I will," he says, because he will always carry his promise to her in one hand and to him in the other.
"I have a year to live."
"I'm not taking treatment."
"I'm not doing this just because Ciel asked me to."
"I - what?" Ardyan's voice is plainly incredulous.
"Why are you always so surprised? I'm not going to die in social isolation."
Ardyan smirks at the familiar query. "It's natural I'd expect that after your rhetorical monologue."
"It wasn't a monologue. I was talking to you, but since you weren't listening - as per usual - you could stretch it that far."
"But you aren't going to die in social isolation if you do monologues all the time."
"Shut the f*** up."
"But since Ciel is pretty much your adviser for whether you should talk about something or not, I suppose it does boil down to telling people to shut up when you actually have to do it."
"No, really. Shut up."
Ardyan looks unimpressed, indeterminate silver - blue eyes giving him one of their finest impassive expressions. "Alright. Bowl me over with your oratory."
He breathes in deeply, and begins to speak, ignoring the evident sarcasm. "Great. If you've finally stopped evading it -"
"- which I haven't," he intervenes seamlessly. "But I will, after a day or two."
He turns and walks out of the nearest park gate, and he stares at his retreating back with his patience slowly dwindling. Then, with a growl of frustration, he rubs a hand down his face and heads back to the house.
"He walked out?" Ciel says as soon as she sees his face.
"You know him," he says, with a harsh bark of laughter. "Can't deal with something? Avoid it like it's the bubonic plague."
"You'll just have to try again."
"I have to, doesn't mean I want to. And honestly, I'm getting f*ing fed up of -"
"That's irrelevant. You simply have to. There isn't an - what?" She says defensively when he gapes at her in disbelief.
"Oh, nothing." He snorts in disgust. "Only people interrupting me like I've got all the f*ing time in the world."
The answering, all - too - patient sigh (and in all probability, an eye - roll that he doesn't see) goes unheard as he slams the entrance hall door behind him.
He feels utterly, utterly drained - now that he has confronted the futility of denying it and the possibility of it happening sooner than thought.
He has been sitting at the edge of his bed for the past few hours, staring unblinkingly at the shadows on the wall. The tedium is soothing, an anchor on a shore that has lost all order and harmony. But he's so powerless and there's the fury seething beneath his skin and singing in his veins - and he's so desperately hungry to be free from its stifling potency.
He starts as his phone vibrates on the bed, and flips it over to see Arya's face looking back up at him. He answers reluctantly.
"What?" he says.
"You tried talking to him?"
"Tried being the keyword."
"Of course," she replies, dryly. "Would you like me to convince him?"
"How are - Jesus!" he says, as he understands.
"I assure you, I'm a very good persuader." He imagines he can hear the laughter in her voice.
"I've seen it before, so I'm not sure I -" He's shaking with laughter, too - but then he's bent over, his phone slipping out of his hands. There's crippling, searing agony in his chest and all coherent thought comes to a standstill.
The door is slammed open just as he falls to his knees, coughing - he can see blood the hue of Arya's hair on the floor as he does - Ciel is by his side a second later, hoisting him to his feet, not without effort. They make it to the toilet just as he heaves again.
It's a long, torturous process, and by the time he's done, Ciel is standing pale - faced and motionless by the basin.
"How did you know?" he says. "The whole room's soundproof."
"Arya." Her voice is strained but steady. "She texted me. Caught on the moment you dropped the phone. And because this is most definitely happening again, we aren't going to sleep here anymore."
"You're going to be here, too."
"Not all the time. This can happen anytime, and I need to -" her voice cracks just a little on the last word, not immediately apparent to anyone but him and Arya. He tries to find an argument against that, because she will most definitely be there in the blink of an eye when the need arises, and he isn't unfit to do it himself. Yet.
"I can shift the bed near the loo. I can walk that distance."
"That's the most half - baked and spectacularly ineffective solution to a problem that I've ever heard."
"Alright," he snaps at last, defeated, much to his irritation. "This is bullshit, so quit hovering like I'm a cripple, for Chrissake -" he hurls the last few words at her with a ferocity that stuns even him, once they've left him.
Ciel simply raises an eyebrow, but something about her posture makes him shrink inwardly in horror. It isn't the words that disgust him, or even the tone, but that though they've had arguments - ugly ones - before, he has never, never said anything similar at a time when she's already falling apart at the seams.
"Jesus," he exhales, feeling worn - out. It seems to be his constant state, now. "At this rate, I'm going to lose count of how many times I apologize."
She lays both hands on his cheeks, turning his face so he could look at her. "When have you ever done that?"
His lips quirk up in a smile. "Whatever have I done to deserve you?"
"You don't," she says simply, as ruthlessly truthful as ever. "But you'd be nowhere without me."
"That I won't," he admits quietly. "None of us would be." He leans forward, but she stops him mid - movement.
"I wouldn't advise that." And I can't do it.
"I can't do this either." Doesn't mean we can't.
He slants his mouth over hers before she could speak again, one hand dropping to her back and pulling her forward, tongue delving in with a hungry longing -
He pulls away just as he finds it's becoming difficult to breathe, the hand on her back dropping lower. She shakes her head and pulls free, touching her forehead to his.
"One year." She doesn't believe it either, and he realizes that she isn't invincible, as much as he believes it sometimes.
He swallows and turns away, wanting suddenly to be anywhere but here, in this moment and place. He walks out of the door mechanically, lies on the bed, pulls the blanket over his head, and stares into the vacant darkness. No matter how much the necessity, they don't talk about it.
"On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory."
- Douglas Macarthur
He lifts his eyes slowly to regard his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He was prepared for a less - than - ideal countenance, but what he sees is something he has never come across, no matter how tired or sleep - deprived he has been.
Sunken and bloodshot eyes over hollow cheeks and a creased forehead - all in a gaunt face. He still feels a hundred years old, only that now he looks like it, too. Only his irises, like twin emeralds, still blaze with the ardor of an indomitable spirit.
It's been weeks since he threw up after the phone call from Arya. Weeks since he could walk without it taking every iota of resolve he has; weeks since he could rest for even a while without his lifeblood ebbing away with mounting frequency; weeks since he's really talked to Ciel about anything of consequence.
His grip on the basin tightens, but he's lost the strength to really feel the pressure. Before he knows what he's doing, his fist has flown forward and into the mirror with all the force he can muster.
Ciel, apparently having heard the crash, has hurried down the stairs. She stands at the door, and takes a look at the blood and the shards, both pooled at his feet.
"Well," she says, terribly matter - of - fact for the situation. "You could have picked something less messy."
He's stoically silent as she leads him to the room and pulls out the first aid - box. He does not react at all, responding to neither her nor the pain.
"I want to go to my old home," he interrupts her mid - flow.
"We have less than a year," she reminds him. "It'll take longer than that to get it ready."
"I know." He looks at her for the first time in weeks, and all is forgiven. He goes on, voice as fierce and steady as his eyes, "and I'm going to live it better than I've ever done anything else."
They share a long, meaningful look. "Okay."
I know what to do.
I know. I'm here.
... How long?
"I think I'll head back." He says. Ciel and he are at the store to 'pick up the medication', as she'd said.
She nods. "I'll be back in half an hour."
"I'll text you when I reach there."
The ride back home is silent, again, except that it does not stifle him this time. He walks inside and downs a glass of water. He's about to head to the garden when he notices that something is wrong.
The knocker on the second floor bedroom with the oak door is askew, just the slightest bit, but it's enough to alert someone who has been cooped inside for too long. Eyebrows furrowed, he makes his way upstairs.
He stops dead moments after he's pushed the door open. The sight that greets him is familiar but almost forgotten; the breath - stopping dread that drops immediately in his stomach like a lead weight.
Reclining in the armchair is Ardyan, feet resting on the threadbare carpet and face relaxed as it rarely is, and on the table beside him, like the ghost of a memory, a packet of snow - white powder, and a syringe in his arm to match.
He's marched over, purely out of instinct, and ripped out the hated thing before he could pump any more poison into his blood. His eyes snap open, discerning as always, yet nebulous with both surprise and the influence of the drug.
"The f*** -" he snarls, towering over him, "- is wrong with you? I get it that you love screwing with your own f*ing brain, but this isn't just about you, you know that and don't even giving a f***, do you -"
"Why do it, then?" Ardyan's voice is indifferent and altogether too calm.
"DON'T GIVE ME THAT BULLSHIT!" he erupts, patience shot to hell completely. "You're still f*ing alive, and you don't even give a s*** that other people won't throw that away! All you -" He halts suddenly, because the familiar agony in his chest rears its head again, and he braces himself against the nearest surface for support.
Ardyan rushes forward, typing into his phone with one hand. He hears him bark something into it, and then pull one of his arms over one shoulder. He's heaving blood - again - only this time it paints the canvas of Ardyan's hands red, red, red. It's ironic, the reminder that he has made this poor choice, too. He laughs at that, and it hurts worse than anything he has ever known, but he cannot stop in spite of that. As Ardyan drags him at the foot of the stairs where the medics swarm around, he speaks, still laughing.
"Always - Always knew you'd be the f*ing death of me -"
Ardyan recoils visibly, as if burned, at that; the mingled shock and horror in his eyes from what he has witnessed do nothing to refute that.
He doesn't give a damn.
She blinks, startled, as her gaze falls on Ardyan sitting in one of the metal chairs outside the hospital room. To the stranger's eye, he has not a care in the world - but she has a seen him dismissing natural human responses before.
She sighs, sets her bags down, and sits beside him, careful to keep a minimum distance. He has always been wary of physical contact unless he initiates it for a less - than - admirable impetus.
"Wash your hands," she says. They are still bloodstained.
He stirs, looking at her as if in a trance, and nods dazedly. She waits in her seat as he gets up and returns within the minute.
"Done with chewing the cud?" she says wryly. "I gave you the food for thought quite some time ago."
"No." Her voice is forceful and brooks no argument. "Now. You can't bargain your way out of this again."
"I don't know what to even do." He looks uncharacteristically lost, and she knows it isn't because of what has happened - he has known worse things - but that he is powerless against it the one time he cannot afford to be.
"I won't ask you to give up your tendency to do that because it's unfair. But you should accept that there are things even you can't solve."
"If I don't do it now -" he begins, his voice as taut as a frayed rope.
"- then when? When it's too late? No -" she says firmly, "- you can't buy yourself more time, because this is something even you can't figure out. You have to do it. For us."
And she knows that is reason enough, because his resistance simply crumbles.
"Okay." He releases a long, shuddering breath. "Okay."
"What did you say?" Ciel presses for the second time that evening.
"I told you, I don't remember -" he sighs, tearing his eyes away from the ceiling.
"Then try. You always do," she says, and the word triggers the memory.
"Oh." His face pales, heart lurching for the slightest of instants as he remembers. "Oh. S***, I - s***."
"What?" she says, with trepidation.
"I told him he's be the death of me one day."
"He wouldn't have taken that seriously, you've hurled worse abuse at each other."
"No -" he struggles to explain. "You should have seen his face, he just ... Christ. And there was blood all over the place, on his hands, for God's sake, and I said it just then."
"Can't say you picked the perfect timing," she says resignedly. "Talk to him. God knows you haven't done enough of that lately."
"I know." He exhales heavily. "I'll do it now."
She nods. "I'll send him."
He acquiesces, because he'll always carry the other half of his heart in one hand, and that of his soul in the other.
"If you're going to try and gauge my mental state by talking, lose all hope of ever getting 'round to it," Ardyan says, pulling out an electric cigarette.
"Glad to know you care so much," he says dryly. "This a no - smoking zone?"
"Yes, it is. No, the hell I care."
"Now I know you're back to normal." He says, and plunges into the matter with all the subtlety of a raging bull. "I'm not going to apologize, seriously, there are limits -"
"Good to see you're trying not to do everything Ciel dictates."
"Deflection won't work. And don't even think about leaving, because I'm giving you two options: walk out here permanently -" and they both know he's not talking about the room, "- or actually be there for once."
"I wasn't going to anyway. And you'll never be okay with getting rid of me that easily."
"Yes, I know I won't. God help me." He echoes Ciel with an aggravated sigh. "And really, do shut up. As I was saying, I'm not going to apologize. But I'll admit I shouldn't have said that -"
"I thought we'd agreed on a policy of total transparency?" Ardyan scoffs.
"- because I was wrong and I wasn't thinking." He ploughs through.
"You're right, and you wouldn't be the first person." Ardyan's voice is aloof with instinctual dispassion, but he can see him withdrawing, nuts and bolts fastening and steel gates slamming shut.
"I was wrong," He says resolutely. "And you know it. It's me and Ciel. We would never take it seriously."
"We all know you're comfortable with your delusions." His face is still sculpted from marble, voice as glacial as his arctic eyes.
"And Ciel? She's the most rational person we both know." His conviction is fueled by both a desire to climb that fortress of equanimity and to make his acceptance known. "You're hardly a saint, and we all know that. But we don't care because it isn't your fault. You've known nothing different and that's just who you are. I don't grudge you that because it's unfair. And no matter what, I want you, you bloody moron, to know that you're still my best friend and my brother and my family."
Ardyan stands abruptly at that - the suddenness of the motion belies his lack of preparedness for what he has confessed for the first and last time in this lifetime - and leaves again.
"Why did you leave?"
"Not really my forte," he says. His voice sounds barely restrained, with an undercurrent of raw hopelessness, to her ears. It tugs at her heartstrings, not the admission in itself, but the knowledge that it comes from the man whose only refuge in the world is being taken from him.
"Don't." She says sharply. "It's Trar and me."
She hugs him, not the fleeting, comforting kind, but the kind one does when they bear another's burden. He is rigid in the circle of her arms initially, but then she feels the tremor, the rapid blinking of his eyes. It's so typically him, through and through, brilliant but emotionally paranoid.
"It's progressed faster than I'd thought," she whispers. "He's just got a few months now, of which he's already used up two."
"I can't solve this."
"You don't have to," she says. "Let go."
"Oh, I don't know," he laughs mirthlessly. "Maybe I'll let go of you too, in a few months."
"Don't you think I won't too, then?" She says, fondly exasperated and touched at the same time. He does not trust lightly, and to earn something so precious from him is a matter of sacrifice and fortitude. This she knows. Once earned, however, it is as immutable and ceaseless as time itself. He does not trust lightly, and for him trust is an absolute; it is a surrender of the self and the soul, devotion with the whole and every fibre of his being. This too, she knows. "But I have to do it, because this is all for -"
"- him. Isn't everything?"
And in those four simple syllables she knows they are everything and the only thing to him. Death is sometimes kinder than love, she thinks.
"It is by suffering that the human becomes the divine."
- Victor Hugo
He rests his head on the headboard, glad for the respite and waiting for the spasms to fade away. He savors the play of light and shadow and hue across his closed lids, the smell and taste of air, the sound of his own heartbeat and above all, the invariable thrum of life in his veins and beneath his skin.
He has never felt more doomed, or more alive.
He had always thought he would die quickly and painlessly, extinguished without warning in the dark. It had been a daunting likelihood, that he will never have the privilege of bestowing a goodbye upon the two people who matter most in the world. He had asked only for that, a last and frugal farewell, because some things they never say aloud and would always go unsaid. He had convinced himself that all that needed to be said, they already knew.
Now, however ... he finds himself saying things which he did not even know were true. But there's still so much left, so much he has not dared to voice, because he had thought there was all the time in the world.
All the time in the world. Of course, he and Ardyan would have thought that, years ago. When they had laughed at the world and dared to dream of flying. Young and reckless.
He is surrounded by the two people he loves most in the world, yet he is so alone. Along this journey, he must hold the lantern aloft himself, with no footprints ahead to guide him.
The realization is grim and crushing. Half the burden had been borne until now by Ciel, but now it returns to its rightful owner with an astounding vengeance. He is intimidated in the face of it - the incredible, impartial finality of it all. He could rage and storm at it and against it, but in the end he floats away like autumn leaves on water.
His resolve vanishes under the twin forces of living and life, both turned on him now with a power that shakes him to the core and calls upon the devastation of a colossal firmament.
He presses his fingers to his eyes, the ache somewhere deep within him a deathless proof of how much he has lived and how much he will lose. He knows that's the purpose of it, of being born and living and dying, to love and to lose. But his mortality and humanity both cannot in cold blood and so simply let go of it.
"What are you -" Ciel pauses as she sees him, face pressed against his clenched fists, sitting at the table as he gazes aimlessly out of the window. Her lips press in a thin line as she sits beside him, snaking both arms around him.
She holds him as he has an honest - to - God breakdown, and he holds her back, shoulders shaking and eyes burning, as if she were the only anchor in a stormy sea, the only oasis in a torrid desert, the last thing in a world that is ending.
"I thought there was all the time in the world," he says, once the hopelessness of it has subsided, leaving behind a dull, hollow ache. His voice sounds raw and blistered, and he winces at the sound.
Her face crumples, too, and then he knows the world - or his, at the very least - truly must be ending. It's terrifying, because only now does it feel so vividly, intensely real. It's writ in stone.
"How many weeks?" he says, because he's beginning to forget how to do tasks he has been doing for an age, now, and living is only one of them.
"Two." He nods, relinquishing the last vestiges of his self - control to the bone - deep ache and fatigue of a body that is simply wasting away now.
"Is the house ready?" he says, allowing forbearance to wash over him and his despairing fury away.
"Yes. I told you a few days ago."
Her last few words are unnecessary, but she does it to help him accept all that is inevitable, now that he is on the threshold of what has been destined for him.
"How long to get there?"
"Six days, maybe eight."
"Okay." He takes a deep breath, and lets go. It feels as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "I want to be there. When it happens."
She sighs, and untangles herself to get up. "This is hardest on him, you know."
"I know. That's why I want him to be there, too."
"There was never any question about that."
She reaches down and hands him the crutches. He takes it and hauls himself on his feet, standing for a moment to allow the room to come to rest, and the accompanying rush of nausea to subside.
"Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, and a tragedy for the poor."
- Sholom Aleichem
He tosses and turns the whole night, glad that Ciel isn't there. Waking her up would solve nothing.
The heat is unbearable, in spite of the fact that his parental home is on a hillside and perpetually cool and breezy.
Sweat me a river, he thinks wryly. He grabs his crutches and makes his way with painstaking effort to the bathroom, bending just as his stomach roils and he vomits.
Once he is finished, he looks at his reflection in the mirror, finally having found the courage to do so without flinching. He looks like he's dead on his feet. He chuckles at the thought, stopping as soon as the pain spikes again in his chest.
He makes his way back, and tries in vain to catch some sleep.
"You taking one?" Ciel says from her seat near the french windows, curling her fingers around the coffee mug.
He shakes his head and sits in one of the adjacent chairs.
"No," she says, picking up a pen from the glass - top table. "Writing."
He doesn't ask. He knows and understands. Ciel has always been a preserver for posterity.
"Care to let me read?"
"I don't think you'd be able to read all of it," she replies, eyes dancing.
"I don't need to. I know how it ends."
"Oh?" her eyebrows rise. "And how is that?"
"Didn't you know?" he says conspiratorially. "I'm the author."
This is the very last day. They do not call it his very last day, because he is not merely an instrument of nature, a masterpiece of that flawless craftsman.
He is as much thought and feeling and human failing as he is an artwork of humanity and a sonata and opus of time.
It is a meticulously planned agreement. It will all culminate in a few milliliters of toxin and a pair of syringes. Swift and painless, as he had always presumed.
He looks at the clock. Twenty minutes to one in the afternoon. It will take precisely fifteen minutes. It is imperative to do this, because if not now, it will get worse to the point where he will have to endure that which he wanted to avoid. The third medical diagnosis had stated it on a white, crisp and clinical sheet of hospital paper in a hospital hall.
"It's time." Ciel stands in the doorway with those earrings he must have gifted her, but he cannot remember doing it now.
He stands and walks the rest of the way to the car with her by the side.
One thousand, two hundred and fifteen. He had been counting the specks on the otherwise immaculate ceiling as the doctor spoke to Ciel and Ardyan outside the room.
The doctor grins they come back.
"As I've already told you," he says, "we will be injecting you now, at precisely quarter to one. You will feel nothing. It'll take fifteen minutes and it's a painless procedure.
"So ... if there's anything that you'd like to say, you may say it now."
"That won't be necessary," he says, coughing, as the doctor turns to leave the room. "I'll only take a few moments, so you can do it now."
"Oh." He looks quite wrong - footed, unaccustomed as he must be to patient denying privacy. "Alright."
He looks at Ciel and Ardyan as the doctor fills the syringe.
"You're the first thing I've ever seen," he murmurs, memorizing her features. There is a soothing bliss at the idea. "And the last thing I'll ever see."
He angles his head so that he's looking at Ardyan. He pauses a little. Ardyan raises an eyebrow, looking unimpressed, and he grins.
"Been a lifetime, mate," he smiles ruefully. "Until next time, then."
He feels his eyes and limbs grow heavy soon after the syringe pricks his skin, and the whole world fades away around the two last and real things on it.
He lets the other half of his soul hold his one hand, and reaches out the other to that of his heart.
We've had all the time in the world.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
Ciel nods, smiles at him and leaves. He thinks he can see her eyes glisten as she does so. He knows that is not the reason she has left - she has simply had so much more time than him.
"It's been a lifetime," he repeats listlessly into an empty room to an emptying husk of a body. "You're the only thing in the world, too - but you know that and you don't give a f***, do you?" he snorts. "I'm - God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but - I'm sorry for not being there the one time I should have, and for doing everything I always do and being myself when I should have been with you.
"You're f*ing stubborn - and don't we all know that - and you never gave up on me. I've always stood alone and it's never mattered, but God, I love you both so much I can't breathe, and I couldn't be around knowing I make terrible things worse.
"I know I should have said this earlier when you were less busy dying on me -" his voice cracks and he swallows, "- and I swear if Ciel hears me saying this again I'll promptly shoot myself in the head because there are some things even I can't come back from - but I love you both and I'll do it to the end of the world and as long as I live. I thought that because that's the only thing and everything that's ever mattered, and now I won't even have that. This is easy on you. This is easy on you because you're the one dying and you've never had to do the opposite when that's all I've ever done. But it isn't enough. I've given up so much without question because I always thought I wouldn't have to watch. There's no purpose to me beyond this because I'm alive and breathing because of this, only and only because of this.
"I thought I'd do it as long as I live and to the end of the world, because I need to to do it as bad as I need to breathe. I thought that when I stopped self - destructing because I didn't have a reason, when I came home because I had nowhere else to go, when I was around when you were making the biggest mistake of your life. But now there isn't enough time now, because I thought there was all the time in the world."
The funeral is sanguine and tranquil. It embodies him in every way, epitomizes who he was and engraves it into stone and into them, beyond the ravages of time and human hand.
There are no black attires or gravestones, simply the return of a human body to where it emerged from. The number of people is kept to a bare minimum, but it feels like all the people in the world in the hollow of a green glade.
"I suppose you didn't have long enough," Ciel says in commiseration.
"No," he disagrees. "It's been a lifetime."
We've had all the time in the world.
"... and when your losses outlast your suffering."