Faded Photographs

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is. I don't know why I suddenly got the urge to post this. It's an old blurb that was meant to be part of something bigger. I found it the other day and looked it over, and I realized that I don't know what else to add to it. So, here you have it.

Alister sank onto the bed, slowly clicking open the locket he had been clutching in his hand. There they were, as always: his brother Miruko on one side and their mother on the other. Frozen in time, their eyes looked out at him from the faded photographs. Miruko looked joyous and happy, while their mother smiled quietly, as if only she knew some special secret. Alister gazed at them, feeling as though his heart would simply and quite literally break. This locket, as well as the broken action figure on the nightstand, were all he had left of his family. There were not even graves that he could visit and lay flowers at. And he could not help that sometimes the loneliness would just overwhelm him.

Normally he was able to handle it fine. He went from day to day, living as best as he knew how and being happy that he had his adopted family Raphael and Valon. He had even accepted that he was happy with them, something that he had forced himself not to do for so long because of his fear of losing them. But no matter how content he was with them, that did not change that he missed his family. He knew that Raphael and Valon missed the loved ones that had been taken from them as well. It was only natural and human that sometimes he just could not stand that they were gone.

He closed his eyes. He could hear his mother's singing in his mind. He remembered her sitting in the rocking chair, holding him when he had been only a small child. Then she had done the same thing when Miruko had been born. He recalled the gentle feel of her fingers moving through his hair when he had been frightened after waking up from some bad dream or another. "Shh. It's alright now, Amelda," she would whisper softly. He hated his middle name, but when she had said it, it had never sounded as bad as all that. Since her death, he had never let anyone call him by that name.

He could feel Miruko running toward him, hugging him happily and causing them both to tumble into the autumn leaves. They were both laughing, loving life and spending time together. He could see them, in his mind, play-wrestling in the leaves and throwing them around. He remembered long winter nights when they would curl around the fireplace with their blankets, sleepily listening to the radio and watching their parents dancing. He and Miruko had shared a room, and there had been many nights when Miruko would awake from a scary dream and cross the floor to climb into Alister's bed. He could still remember what it was like to wake up feeling his brother snuggling close in fear.

He did not realize it at first, but he was weeping. The tears broke free from his gray eyes, trailing down his cheeks and splashing down on his hands and the locket. He hardly ever cried, and never in front of anyone. He cried in silence. Many a time, when he outwardly did nothing be but stoic and cold, inwardly his soul was being ripped apart. If anyone saw him now, crying like a lost child, he would most likely feel exposed and vulnerable. But as far as he knew, he was alone in the house. And anyway, by the time he realized he was crying, he did not have the energy to stop himself.

What Alister did not realize was that he was not alone in the house. Valon had came in from riding his motorcycle and was wandering upstairs to his own room when he happened to glance in at Alister's darkened room, since the door was partially open. The brunette boy frowned in confusion when he saw his friend sitting so forlornly on his bed, clutching something in his hand as his shoulders shook with silent sobs. What was wrong with him? Alister never behaved like that. And . . . was he actually weeping? Valon could hardly believe that. Maybe he was just trembling in apprehension or nervousness. But why would he?

Alarm bells suddenly went off in Valon's head. He remembered being told once, by Alister himself, how he had longed to end his own life one night. He had sat on his bed, holding a knife, and had fully intended to slit his wrists and bleed to death. Only Valon himself had stopped him, albeit inadvertantly. But now that Valon had seen the redhead in such a position again, he had to worry and wonder if Alister was feeling suicidal once more. He had not been able to see what Alister was holding, but he had caught the reflection on it from the hall light, so he knew it was something shiny.

Without thinking he broke into the room and grabbed Alister from behind, clutching his shoulders. "What do you think you're doing?!" he yelled, gripping tightly.

As soon as Valon took hold of him, Alister gave a startled cry. He closed his fingers around the locket and struggled briefly to free himself, not certain what was going on or why Valon had suddenly assaulted him. He could not comprehend at all. Did he not have a right to take solitude in his own room, reflect on the past, and even allow a few tears to slip through his defenses without being questioned? Valon's screamed inquiry did not help to calm the startled and still suffering redhead.

"What do I think I'm doing?" he yelled back in a rare moment of losing control. "What do you think you're doing?!" His gray eyes flashed as he pulled free from Valon's grip and turned to face him, the locket still held firmly in his hand.

"Stoppin' you from killin' yourself, is what!" Valon retorted in a voice just as loud.

That stunned Alister into silence. He stared at Valon for several long moments, as if not comprehending, and slowly allowed himself to calm down. Valon had thought he was going to kill himself? That did not quite make sense to him. Why would Valon think that? All he had been doing was sitting on his bed, lost in memories of what once was.

"Valon . . . I wasn't going to kill myself," he said finally, his voice back to its usual, quiet tones.

Valon stared back at him as the soft light from the hall spilled in. It was dim, but bright enough to reveal the tracks of the tears running down Alister's face. This bewildered the Australian. Alister actually had been crying? But . . . how could that be? Alister never cried. He suffered in his stoic silence, never allowing anyone to see the agony crashing through his damaged soul. Valon had not thought that Alister was even capable of tears.

"You . . . you weren't?" he said then, stumbling over his words and feeling foolish.

"No," Alister answered, shaking his head, "I wasn't."

Valon mulled this over for several moments before glaring harshly at the older man. "Then what the heck were you doing?!" he burst out. "You . . . you looked like your heart was breaking. And you were holding something shiny in your hand. . . . I . . . I thought it was a knife or something!"

Slowly Alister uncurled his fingers, revealing the locket. Valon stared at it in amazement and then slumped back, shaking his head. Now he felt like a complete imbecile. He had barged into the room, startling Alister out of whatever he was doing, and had grabbed him. He was certain that Alister thought he was an imbecile as well. Why would he not?

"You were cryin'," he announced then, not able to think of anything else to say and so instead blurting that out.

Alister looked displeased. He reached up, touching his dampened cheek. "I know," he said flatly.

Valon glared at him. Once again, the confusing redhead had retreated back into his shell. For a brief moment he had seemed so vulnerable and lost, and Valon realized that he wished he could help the older man. The Australian possessed a free spirit of action and determination, and one of the things he hated almost more than anything else was having to helplessly stand by and watch someone else suffer when it seemed as though he should know what to do to help.

"People don't just cry for no reason," he stated now, still frowning at Alister. "Especially not you, mate."

"No," Alister agreed, "they don't. I don't."

In complete frustration Valon grabbed a fistful of Alister's tanktop, pulling the lanky man towards him. "I'm tryin' to help you here!" he yelled. "I can't do anything if you won't talk to me!" His eyes flashed indignantly.

Alister gazed at him. "I didn't ask for your help," he pointed out. While he was somewhat surprised and touched that Valon wanted to help him, Alister doubted that there was anything the Australian could do. There was no way to change what was; no way to bring Alister's family back; no way to get him to stop blaming himself for Miruko's death. Alister's pain was something that only he could bear.

Valon let go, thrusting Alister away from him in disgust. "Fine!" he burst out as he got up. "Be that way! I couldn't care less! You idiot, just go ahead and cry all you want!" He clenched a fist angrily as he turned away. There was little point in even continuing this conversation. Alister was just being stubborn, as he always was, and Valon was sick of trying. What good did it really do? Alister did not want his help. He seemed to prefer being alone.

Alister frowned, knowing that he had hurt Valon's feelings again. And yet in another way, he did not think it was fair for Valon to get so upset. He did not want to bear his soul to someone who had been demanding answers from him ever since entering the room. If it had been Raphael, who was quiet and patient and waited for Alister to want to talk, then it might be different. But that was never the case with Valon. He always wanted an explanation, and it had to be delivered right when he wanted it. "Valon," he began. He got up to reach for him, but the Australian slapped his hand away.

"All I wanted to do was help you!" Valon said bitterly, turning back to face him. Alister was somewhat taken aback by the burning he could see in the boy's eyes. "But you always push me away. What do you even hang out with us for if you just wanna be alone? When you're with a bunch of people, you've gotta realize that they'll get close to you. They'll wanna help you if they see you're hurting! And it doesn't do anybody any good when you just push 'em away! You're an idiot, Alister!"

Alister's eyes narrowed. "Valon, I wasn't trying to hurt you," he said quietly. "And I'm not trying to push you away. But you have to understand this---you can't help me. No one can help me. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but it's true."

Valon was not pleased with that response. "It's not like you're the only person who's ever lost someone you cared about!" he shot back. "I lost Mother Mary." He clenched a fist. "And sometimes I blamed myself, too. I mean . . . if I'd gotten there sooner, maybe I could've helped her get out of there before it was too late!"

Alister sighed quietly. "Valon, that's not what I meant," he replied. "I know you've suffered too. This is what I mean---has anyone ever been able to completely console you over Mary's death?" He looked into Valon's eyes with his own gray orbs.

Valon frowned, hating Alister's penetrating gaze. But he had to admit that the redhead was right. He still carried a certain amount of guilt and loneliness in his heart. He missed Mary, and he was certain that some part of him would always insist that he was at fault for what happened. He looked away. "No," he mumbled.

He started when Alister laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's the same with me," the gray-eyed man replied quietly. "No one can ever completely console me about my family's deaths. Sometimes I just miss them so much . . . and I hate myself, thinking that if I'd tried harder, I could have kept them alive. . . ." His voice broke slightly, but he quickly got it under control. "That's what I mean when I say that no one can help me."

Valon looked up at him again. "Yeah . . . maybe not," he said finally, realizing that he was calming down. "But that doesn't mean we can't kinda talk things over sometimes, y'know. . . ." He shrugged. "Maybe it'd kinda ease up the pain for a bit. . . ."

"Maybe," Alister replied.

Valon crashed against his friend. "Oy," he muttered, which was an expression he had picked up of late. "Why the heck are you, me, and Raph still together?" He blinked up at Alister as the redhead looked down at him. "I mean . . . look at us. We're so different it's crazy. You'd think we would've had enough of each other after Doom, but nope, we all had to go looking for each other! Are we all nuts?"

"Probably," Alister answered. "We've all been hurt, and yet we're risking the pain again to be with each other. That's either brave or idiotic." He leaned forward, gazing at the floor. And yet . . . I at least feel it's worth it. That must make me the most idiotic of all of us. He smiled wryly to himself. No . . . all of us must have decided it's worth it, he determined then. Otherwise . . . we would have abandoned each other long ago, wouldn't we? Maybe we all needed some kind of security . . . some feeling that we aren't useless or alone. And being together gave us that. Now . . . I don't know if I could live without them. Maybe it's selfish, but it's true.

He reached over, setting the locket on the nightstand. He would always miss his family, but he had another family now, as well. And that was something that made him smile.