Title: The Fine Art of Falling Apart

Genre: Angst (Pre-Slash)

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Red spends the longest night of his life sweating bullets of guilt over Andy.

Disclaimer: I don't own a god damned thing. The title belongs to Mr. Matthew Good, and the lines in italics are stolen directly from the screenplay, as written by Frank Darabont. Everything else belongs to Stephen King I suppose, with a bit of leeway thrown in for all the folks at Castle Rock and Columbia that contributed to the film adaptation. Unlike Red, I ain't making no 20, and this is for entertainment purposes only.

xxxx

I've had some long nights in stir. Alone in the dark, with nothing but your thoughts…time can draw out like a blade. This is the longest night of my life. You'd think by now I'd have been used to it. The tension in your body that strings you up like fresh meat, singing through your limbs and making sleep something like a dream. But the truth is, before tonight, I'd never felt the tension so fierce, or the guilt so deep. As the hours trickle by like molasses, I can't help but think that I had been the catalyst. That perhaps my harsh words that, in the past, were only intended to keep all the fella's feet grounded, had perhaps now grounded Andy for eternity. Those words echo in my head, taunting me with their cruelty. Shitty pipe dreams. Way to go, Redding.

"I don't think you should be doing this to yourself, Andy. Talking shitty pipe dreams. Mexico is way the hell down there, and you're in here, and that's the way it is." I'd not meant any harm in them. I'm just a realist, and that's the truth of the matter. I've always been the one that stayed real. Hell, someone'd had to. These walls around us were built to hold, and hold they do. Without Tommy's testimony, there is no way anyone was going to let Andy out, even if he is innocent. Even I doubted that once. It doesn't seem that long ago either, that I was wondering why Andy had done it. Now that I think on it, I have a hard time dealing with it. Dealing with the doubt that I had for the closest friend I've ever had. I don't want to deal with these things right now. All I should be thinking about is finding a way to ensure that Andy doesn't hurt himself. Images of Haywood's rope doing the dirty work on Andy's pale throat are flashing through my mind at a steady pace, and my old heart is pounding in my chest with a ferocity that scares me. I think I might be joining Andy in the next world tonight after all, if my ticker doesn't return to a normal pace anytime soon. God damnit, the look in his eyes. A look like that would send chills down the backs of Jack Daniels and Jimmy Beam. Sure as hell froze the blood in my veins. Hopelessness. "Yeah. I'm in here." Could it be, that after all this time, it was me, not prison, but me that broke the man in whom hope seeped forth like a spring? I'm praying it's not so. But even prayer can't save Andy tonight. Nothing short of pure, maybe violent physical intervention can save him.

There is nothing I can do.

Damn near forty years of living in this cage have taught me enough about futility to last ten lifetimes. If Andy goes tonight, as the half of my head that is able to put the pieces together says he will, then there's nothing I can do to stop him. I've been helpless before, for sure. But for some reason, my helplessness always escalates when it's Andy's welfare that's involved. It was the worst when the Sisters hurt him so bad. I'd lie on my bunk at night, awake in the desolate black, and I could hear Andy sobbing softly, so softly. A part of me died to hear Andy cry. To know that a part of my friend had been lost that can't ever be put back. I had wanted to protect him, but I hadn't been able to. I know that had I tried, it probably would have made the whole thing worse than it ever really was. When they put Andy in the infirmary that last time, I knew that I couldn't sit around anymore. It had only taken a word or two in the right ear. I probably wouldn't have had to say anything, given the way the guards had taken a shining to Andy. Besides which, everyone knew who was responsible. It wasn't like it was a secret.

No matter, it had given me peace of mind.

A pack of cigarettes got me into the infirmary one evening a few days later, and the sight of Andy all banged up had ripped a hole in my chest that's still there to this day. Damn I've gone soft. He was sleeping, hopped up on whatever the doc had given him to help with the pain. He never knew I came, and it's better that way. If he knew, well-let's just say that my guilt is heavy enough now. Promises that can't be kept shouldn't ever be spoken, but I felt the need to tell him that night that he was safe. I should have kept my mouth shut. Instead, I took his bruised hand in mine, felt the cold flesh under my fingertips and promised that I'd do what it took to protect him: to keep his spirit from breaking. First impressions are always important, but not always accurate. I'd almost laugh at the irony of it all: how I first went from betting on Andy's tears to being the first to want to stop them from falling. I'd laugh, but it just doesn't seem funny.

Not tonight.

I can hear Andy's voice, those fateful words of his running rings in my head, twisting around my own thoughts, my own guilt. "I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living, or get busy dying." Turns out, I failed miserably. Turns out I couldn't even protect Andy from the cruelest thing this prison could throw at him: myself.

xxxx

The hours have passed ruthlessly. There's this pressure in my head, sitting right behind my eyes that won't go away. I've had a spell or two in the last while where the pressure in my chest grew to be so painful I wanted to pass out. I've strained my hearing to no avail. Just like Andy to conjure a god damned storm up the night of his "departure." Andy always liked intelligent sounding words like that. He always was one of them quiet, educated fella's. I'm angry now. There ain't a sound coming from cell 245, and it scares the hell outta me. Usually, on quiet mornings, I can make out Andy's breathing. It's easy enough to distinguish his sounds from those of the guys who bunk between us. Easy enough for me, that is.

I can hear the guards lurking below, pissing around. Bastards. Of all the nights not to do a god damned cell check. Judging from the amount of light filtering through my window, it's about time to roll out. It takes every bit of strength I've got to stand up, and when I do, it's not enough. I had held onto a small piece of hope inside me. Hope that maybe Andy hadn't gone off the deep end. That he was working on another quirky project of his, and that's why he needed the rope. We are talking about the man who carved his own chess set out of rock bits, after all. That small hope dies a painful silent death when I turn and see the empty space where Andy is supposed to be. Haig's yelling ain't produce any results, and my heart drops down into my stomach as he marches past me cursing something about Andy being sick or dead, or soon wishing for one or the other. God Andy, what have you gone and done? It's too soon. Haig mutters an "oh my holy God" and I think I might hit the floor, my knees feel so weak. What have you done, Andy? What have I done? It's too soon. Not your time yet. Not your time.