He had heard their voices, Tony and Stephen, felt their hands from indeterminate distance blurred in aching, bone-deep pain, sharpened at the corners of a bitten tongue, a cracked rib, too many bruises. They'd said he was heavy, worried about spinal alignment, tucked him into the bed, but then the black had lifted to blue canopy and worried faces and none of it mattered past Zabini's statement that had come on the blistering threshold of torture, the four simple words torture themselves.
You didn't kill him.
And it was true. He'd forced himself up and the protests were nothing, because across a few feet and a hundred miles he was there, and he was breathing. Alive. Mike. In his own bed, already showing signs of care where the blood had been wiped from his shoulder, the sheets snugged around his still, still body, a few things laid out on the bedside table where hands that couldn't possibly love and regret as much as his had tended him.
He had wept, cried harder than he had ever known a man could sob and not choke on it, but it was too much even for such raw outpouring that had driven the others silently, awkwardly back from the Protego he didn't even remember erecting with the wand he hadn't even realized had been returned to him. It was too much for any sounds, any words, and all he could do was look down on what he had done, the manifest reality of his sins laid out before him on smooth sapphire blue cotton.
Mike was breathing, his lips scantly parted, his chest rising and falling ever so barely, but the curse had come so close to its purpose, and there was an ominous fragility to it that went beyond Tony's well-intentioned warning. Madame Pomfrey, he had said, could do nothing. No one had ever seen a Killing Curse come so close to success without tipping its victim over the edge, and all that could be done now was to wait. Wait and see, and the real fangs of the dragon were in what hadn't been said. Because they weren't waiting to see if Mike lived, they were waiting to see if anything was left beyond breath, or if Terry had left nothing but a shell, white and gray and blue on blue, empty as the silence that met his reaching thoughts, cold as the hand that he laced now with his own.
There was nothing there, nothing at all, but he pressed forward nonetheless, his own pain not even worth feeling as his mind stretched beyond, casting into the space they had once shared. I'm here, Mike. I'm here. Can you hear me? I'm here….
Eyes closed, back curling forward into a fetal ball of grief, forehead pressed to icy knuckles, and he just let it go, let it all pour out, knowing he was making no sense and not caring, knowing he was unheard and refusing to believe, because to believe was to accept, and to accept was impossible, not while a pulse beat however thinly in the heart he hadn't quite stilled. His eyes ached with tears, his own breath was in gulps, and though any intruder would have heard nothing but the soft sobs, the truth of them bled into the etherworld that had been theirs and now was Terry's alone.
Hurts so much to see you like this. You look…oh, Merlin, but I tried to…and you almost were. But you're still beautiful. How can you still be beautiful when you look like a corpse? It's not right. None of this is right, and it's all, all of it, oh, all of it mia culpa.
I've wondered for years what kind of person could burn the Library of Alexandria; all that knowledge, all that art, so much priceless genius, who could look at that and bear to think of a torch or a hammer…but those monsters are still with us, aren't they, Mike? That he could look at you and do…do what he did, knowing you're not just beautiful, but brilliant and brave and good…and how could I help him? What does that make me? Qu'est-ce que creature, quel monstre suis-je?
I don't want to know. For the first time in my life, there's something I don't want to know. Did I destroy you? That's what they didn't want to tell me, that you're still breathing, but if I've burned away everything that makes you who you are, I don't think I could live with myself. The Cruciatus, it's not nearly enough. I don't think anything ever could be.
Can you hear me, Mike? Are you still in there? Squeeze my hand, something. Anything. Just let me know you're still there. Please.
Or maybe this is just a chance to say goodbye, is that it? A chance to really think about what I threw away because I was scared, because I was weak, because I didn't want to hear you keep screaming and hurting and it was like I was up there with you, but I should have been. I knew what you were going to do, but I was a coward. Always a coward. I told myself you wouldn't, but I knew you would, because you'd never leave Elliot to suffer up there alone. Because you're a better person than me, you always have been.
You've never needed to hide behind potions or anything – or anyone else – so that no one can see what's there. I didn't even let myself know until now, I guess. Did you? You couldn't have. You'd never have stayed my friend if you knew I was the kind of person who could do that to someone he'd called a brother.
I never had a brother before you. Never even really knew what that meant, but you're more than that, Mike. I look at you, and I see everything that should be, everything that I'm not, but you make me feel like it doesn't matter, like when I'm with you I am that better person, and now that I've destroyed that, all I'm left with is the pieces that didn't die with you, and those are the pieces that didn't belong to you because I never wanted you to have them, all the parts of me that I never realized were so much of me that were never worth you.
I want…oh, Merlin, I want you back, and that should be everything, that should be the only thing, and it would be if I were worth having you back, but I'm so weak, so fucking weak, and it's calling me, I want it so bad, and you're the only one who was ever able to hold me back when I needed it like this. But I've never needed it like this. Can't. Won't. Won't do it. I deserve this. Did you have any idea? Is that why you didn't stop me this time, because you knew why I really needed it?
I thought it was the fear, I really did. I thought it was because if I let myself feel the fear, I'd never be able to stay with the DA, stay with you since you'd never abandon them. It wasn't fear. It was this…this…I know it's anger, but it's still fear, too, because it's scaring the hell out of me to actually feel it. I've never…never….
I screamed at Neville. Called him a coward, if you'll believe it. Him! Almost the bravest man I've ever known except for you, and I called him a fucking coward because he wouldn't do to me half of what I did to you, and that doesn't make him a coward, it just means he's the better person. He can fucking control himself without being spelled out on some stupid draught.
How could you ever look in here and still love me? I hate. I hate and I'm angry and it's not just Belsen or Snape or the Carrows, it's the whole world that could let this happen, all of it; Neville and Ernie and Elliot and you, oh, what they did to you! Even my parents. I don't understand it, Mike. They've loved me, even though they didn't want me. They've never hurt me, never been unkind to me. Why do I wish they could know what I've become when I know – when that's why I want it – that it would hurt them and make them so ashamed? It's not their fault that I've thrown away the only thing that got me through each day, and I don't mean the potion at all, I mean you.
Are you in there? Are you hearing any of this? Maybe, maybe I hope you're not. I don't even know if I want you to. I don't even know why I'm telling you any of it. It's just…I did kill myself. I tore my heart open to try and do something that I didn't even get right and was never right and now I don't think I can stop the bleeding and maybe I'll bleed to death or maybe I already have and how can this feel like I'm dying and living for maybe the first time and I don't even care if you hate me forever if you'll just be okay.
Just…just be okay, please. You're stronger than this. You're stronger than me. Don't go, please. I wish there was anything I could – but you can't take back the past. I wish. Wishes horses beggars, I know. I know. Unforgivable. Can't be blocked, can't be undone. It's a miracle you're alive at all, and how can it be so beautiful and awful to fail so utterly that you're left with just enough hope to despair over and nothing beyond that.
I've never needed anything beyond that; not hope, I mean…you. I've never needed anything beyond you. I've always been taught that it's wrong to need, wrong to hang that on another person, and I didn't mean to. If I'm being punished for that now…but what do you do when there are no more books? When the knowledge fails and the authority is corrupt and you have to turn somewhere and I turned to you but where do I turn now? Not Neville. Merlin's wand, he's even younger than we are and he's doing an amazing job but he's already so far over his head. Not Professor Flitwick. There's no charm for this.
I don't believe in God. Or is that the problem? Is that…is this some kind of test? If you're out there, make him open his eyes right now, make him sit up and make him all right and make this all a dream or just take him now, make it over and let it end and take him to join the other angels. He never really belonged in this filthy excuse for a world you've left us, anyway. Or take me and let him live. Take me. I'm here if you are!
Look at me. Resorting to superstition. The low points just keep getting lower, I guess. Is there a bottom to it all? Haven't I already broken against it? Why am I still breathing, why haven't I torn myself to pieces yet? I've heard of it, wizards erupting into flames or blowing apart because their own magic destroys them. Anecdotal, mostly, but there's some solid evidence here and there, enough certainly to warrant further investigation, though unfortunately there's practically no priority for funding those kinds of delving into what are really just magical urban legends.
Is there something I'm still supposed to do, something where I've still somehow yet to fail? Are you in there at all? What would happen if…but what's the worst that could? But I know that already, don't I? It wasn't killing you, either, it was this. Not knowing. We've always hated not knowing.
…hurtshurts oh please not again thought it was over thought no more why Terry? Terry? Is that you I thought you let me go so cold so cold hurts so bad…
It was thin, faint, moaning like the distant wind almost too little to hear in the very depths of the blackness, but Terry heard himself cry out as he leapt for it, seized it in formless hands and clutched it, dragged it up to real consciousness. Louder and louder the aimless babble, the litany of suffering, but what did the words matter when it was MIKE and he was THERE and…
His eyes snapped open as they breached the surface together, and at once the breath was driven out of him again as he saw what he had done in his eagerness. Mike's eyes were open, true, but there was nothing there but pain, torn and jagged, unready and unhealed and forced too soon. Sweat had broken out in a chill gloss across his pale skin, his muscles tensing, fresh blood appearing at the pierced triangle on his shoulder as he writhed weakly, and Terry froze in horror, impaled on the implications of his own last impulse for mercy.
"I'm sorry!" He could taste his own blood on his lacerated tongue, feel it well hot again to fill his mouth and drip past his lips onto his chin, but he could have bitten it wholly off for all that it mattered. It was what he'd hoped for, begged for, even prayed for, but not like this. Not more pain, no, not even to know he was still there.
He couldn't do it, and he didn't care if it damned him again as he fumbled his wand from his belt with hands that had gone utterly numb, as he pressed the willow to Mike's throat and oh, please, if there was any justice anywhere ever at all, the Stunner would do no worse than push him back into the painless oblivion.
A flare of red echoing and atoning the flare of green, and Mike was gone again. Terry sat there for what could have been seconds or years, feeling the blood drip down his face, feeling his heart race and the itching, crawling, needing desperation of withdrawal that refused to give him a moment's peace as long as he left it ignored. But he didn't want peace. What he wanted…but no, not like that.
He took a long, deep breath, forcing his hands to stop shaking enough to push the wand back into his belt, to find the cold fingers again with his own and bow over them in new supplication. Never meant it to be like that! Never wanted to see you hurt more! I shouldn't…I shouldn't have…how could I….
Selfish! Selfish and wrong and what is evil if not to force your own will on the pain of others! Oh, Merlin, what am I, how can I be, what's wrong with me? But you're still there! I didn't mean to, I never wanted to, I'd even have borne not knowing still if I'd known it would cause you more pain, but that doesn't change that you're in there! At least a little. And if you're in there, maybe you can heal, and maybe we can get through this.
We. Such a beautiful, tiny little word. So simple. We. Amicitia. Freres. Philia. You're so strong, so much stronger than me. I don't want you to hurt, but edacis, egoiste, egoistic, selfish, selfish, I want you to fight. Fight now and fight again and survive and we'll make it, because if you make it I know I can; you are my better angels.
We'll fight and we'll survive and all of this, every minute of it and every day of my life I've lived and every day I have left will be worth it if I can just have one more day with you well and whole and seeing you smile, seeing your eyes light up with a new idea, some new bit of knowledge, some new discovery that we can share. Remember the tour you wanted? I take back everything I ever said. To hell with an itinerary, let's just go. Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Baghdad, Beijing, Delhi, Timbuktu, Machu Picchu, everywhere, anywhere. It won't matter, because I'm not scared of missing a portkey or getting my pockets picked or having to come up with an emergency antidote to the local water, not any more. Not after this.
I don't know who I am, Mike, but if you're there, as long as you're there, I think I might want to know after all. But that's if you forgive me, and I'm ahead of myself there, aren't I, because how can I expect forgiveness for an Unforgivable? How can I expect you to share the tomorrows I tried to steal from you?
No, I've lost you, I have to accept that, but at least I didn't take you from the rest of the world. I didn't burn the library. That, if nothing else, I can still say for myself. Maybe, in the end, that's why I'm here…so that at least once, someone would truly know how precious you are, even if you're in the end a treasure only measurable by its cost to lose. Even the diamond must have glass to cut.
Je ne suis que le verre.
Author's Note: The poem quoted in the first part of this is "Qu'est-ce pour nous mon Coeur" by Arthur Rimbaud.