My first piece. Went through and edited a little bit, added a disclaimer. I'm not going to explain myself any more than that.
I don't own the Titans. - J. Mirembe
He's staring at himself again.
She hates the hours he spends in front of that mirror because she knows all he sees are flaws. Mistake after mistake until all that registers in his mind is failure. He's spent too many years being inspected by others through a magnifying glass. Now even the tiniest imperfection is impossible for him to miss.
He stands there and looks at his scars, and every one of them is a testament to past mistakes. A moment he wasn't fast enough. A thought that just wasn't focused enough. A defense that wasn't strong enough. Time after time after time when he just wasn't good enough.
It's a lesson he's learned a thousand times over. It's the motto he never wanted and the guarantee he's never going to outlive. After all those times, he can't believe in anything else. So he stands there and looks at himself. In a way, he's his own personal train wreck. He hates to watch, but he can't bear to look away.
She's lost count of the times he's stood there. It tears her apart to watch him even though she understands the fatal attraction. A mirror of her own lays waiting on her bedside table. What hurts so badly is how he changes in front of that glass. The boy she grew up with and fights alongside becomes a stranger.
The mirror makes him a soldier. A teenaged veteran with too many bloody memories turned into nightmares. The mirror makes his smile fade away and brings out the shadows circling his eyes. Moonlight highlights every dip and gouge in his skin, and throws half his face in shadow. The brilliant glimmer that normally fills his eyes fades away, leaving him so much darker.
She hates the thought when it comes, but she can't help it. The mirror turns him into what he fears becoming most: a man that's lost his humanity. Still, he stands in front of a mirror she's cursed a hundred times and drowns in his insecurities. She observes from a distance, perched on the edge of his bed. She knows the pattern now by heart.
He gazes straight into his reflection, looking for answers he never sees. Some nights, in a flurry of sudden movement, he pulls his shirt off over his head. He drops it to the ground and then stands still. In those minutes, he reminds her of a work of art.
His constantly unruly hair goes insane, becoming an electrified halo that shines in the moonlight. It throws his torso into sharp relief and highlights every dip and curve of muscle. Only the slow rise and fall of his chest dispels the illusion. Every single time, she thinks of how utterly breathtaking and simultaneously dangerous he is. In the same moment, she knows he's thinking of a time long before her. She knows that he's reliving a battle from the past and slowly losing the war with himself.
He'll stand there, sometimes for hours, and stare into that mirror. Sometimes he'll gaze at something only he can see, while his fingers trace subconsciously over some of his more horrific scars. Other nights he'll burn holes into his reflection, fists clenched and teeth bared in self-loathing. A few rare times, she's watched him fall to his knees. Seen the tears fall from his face and listened to murmured apologies offered to names she's never heard before. No matter what happens, at some point he rips his eyes away. He'll pick up his shirt, and oh so slowly, pull it back over his head. He'll ruffle his hair back to normal, turn to her, and smile.
She doesn't know if she really likes those smiles though. They aren't the fake grins he gives the world. Those small smiles are completely honest. While she loves the sincerity, she hates the pain that lingers in them. The mirror destroys the mask he shows the world and reveals him. All of his sweet vulnerability along with potential that shines so bright, it hurts. It also bares the darkness that lingers around his heart and mind like a fog, blinding him. Shadows he refuses to banish because he feels so much guilt. Too many years have gone by and he's attached to the pain. It's twisted itself around his heart and with an iron grip, it keeps him a willing hostage.
She knows the reason he refuses to set himself free. The pain is familiar. Cold and cruel, he knows it. It's never going to be anything else except pain. If the worst happens, and he loses everyone and everything he has, including her, he'll still have that pain. She wants to tell him that will never happen, but she has the same nightmares he does.
She dreams of the day she isn't fast enough to protect him. Some nights she wakes up crying after attending his funeral in her dreams. The mere thought of losing him makes it hard to breathe. Once the sun goes down and the city falls asleep, when she is surrounded by the dark lonely emptiness of her room, it's all she can think about. Night after night, she would wake up, his face still swimming across her mind's eye. Her mind would stay with him while she lay awake. It became a routine, till every night was spent dwelling on him because it wasn't worth wasting the time on the nightmares. Until that night.
That night she fell asleep and had a nightmare so bad, she couldn't simply think of him. She was forced out of her room by the need to see him. To make sure he was alive and safe and hopefully sleeping soundly. With a gentle swoosh, her door slid open and left her face to face with the subject of her nightmares. Before she could speak, even before she really registered what was happening, he had begun to talk.
His words tumbled out like a flood. Gently murmuring, every sentence he spoke sounded like a lullaby. He whispered to her a story that sounded too familiar. Nightly terrors that were filled with loss would rampage through his mind almost as soon as his eyes closed. Over and over, he lost her in his mind to faceless enemies and undescribed disaster. He refused to look at her face while he told her how helpless it made him feel, how afraid the dreams left him.
She remembers his hand slipping into hers near the middle of his monologue. While he watched their fingers interlace, he confessed he had given up sleeping weeks ago. Instead of sleep, he had taken to sitting next to her door. He figured that that if he couldn't protect her in his dreams, he might as well watch over her while she slept. Either way, he was going to spend the whole night thinking of her.
It left her speechless. She was flawed and broken, as badly, if not more, as he was. He knew it. He had seen through her defenses, wormed his way into her confidence. In all honesty, he was a disease. Infecting everything he came in contact with and spreading without mercy. Her secrets and darkest thoughts were nothing to him. He had seen every scar and witnessed every break down; she was an open book before him. He knew and saw and didn't care. The hypocrite loved her even more for it.
He didn't deserve her. If the world was good and right, he should be happy. The pain that lingers in his eyes would be gone because it never existed. He could always smile honestly, because he wouldn't have to any darkness to hide. Best of all, he wouldn't be scared. The fear of failure, of not being good enough, would never hold him back. She would be able to stand back and watch him soar. She knows, and deep down so does he, that he has the potential to be unstoppable. Even though she wishes he would let go of his personal demons, part of her is terrified of the day he does.
If the world was really good and right, she would have no claim to him. He would finally slip from of her grasp, most likely into the arms of a woman that could love him without reservation like he deserved. Someone who didn't need to be repaired. She was too in love with him to watch as he held himself back. Yet she loved him so much, she didn't to want see him set free.
One night he spends in front of the mirror, she apologizes to him. She tells him how greedy she is and how selfish, but that isn't why she is sorry. Tears fall down her face when she whispers she's sorry she can't stop loving him long enough to think about what's best for him. Now that she's started speaking, the words keep falling from her mouth. Just like the tears, they get hotter and more desperate the longer she speaks.
She tells him what she knows to be the truth. The truth is that she will lose him. Maybe not that night, or the next, but she knows the day is coming when she is going to lose him. Either at the hand of an enemy or to another lover, he can't belong to her forever. The problem is that he's all she wants now.
She wants to be the one he holds at night and who puts him back together after battles. When he comes home, she wants it be to her that welcomes him back. Some part of her thinks that's where he belongs, with her. It's the part that makes her see his face every time she falls asleep. He haunts her dreams, a brave knight in tarnished and dented armor. Every morning, she wakes up excited to see him, even if he looks ridiculous when he first wakes up. Especially since he looks always looks ridiculous in the morning, dressed in oversized pajamas and barely managing to scoop mushy cereal into his mouth because he's still half asleep.
She's seen him at his best. There are the moments of victory where he stands triumphant. The times when he has succeeded by some novel means that only he could think of and achieve. She's also born witness as he's sunk to his lowest. She's watched him scream to the heavens in frustration at himself. She has sat for countless hours by his bedside and watched him slip in and out of consciousness, waiting and praying he makes it back safely. He's confessed to her secrets that make her want to cry for his sake. Sometimes, once he's fallen asleep, she does cry.
She's almost sure she could help him. She could smooth away the rough edges of his flaws and ease the pain of his past. The only thing that holds her back is that once he's fixed, why would he stay with her?
He has no consolations to offer her. She was always better with words. His strength lies in action. So he responds in the only way he knows.
He moves across the room as silently as a shadow. The sheets rustle as he sits next to her on the bed. Slipping his arms around her, he pulls her close and kisses away any remaining tears. She hiccups and listens while he asks her if she understands what she means to him. She tries to remind him how she holds him back, but his lips quiet her. The way he kisses her, the gentle security of his arms, and the feel of his heart beating so close to her own gradually calms her down. Once her gasping breaths have slowed to match his, he nuzzles her and whispers sweet honest little words.
Words they only think in front of their friends and the press. Because in public, they don't need silly little sentiments and reassurances during the day. They are supposed to be stronger than that, above a near constant flow of phrases like 'I'll love you forever' or 'I'd never survive without you'. The sappy phrases like 'I was so worried about you', 'You are beautiful', 'Don't ever leave', and all the rest are never spoken aloud during sunlit hours.
The only exception is when they have an excuse to be near enough to each other that there is no chance of being overheard. Such opportunities are rare in themselves, because they are also strong enough to be independent of one another. It isn't real strength. They simply save every word for the privacy a moonlit room can give them. Once the stars shine in the heavens, they hold each other close and whisper everything they held back throughout the day.
They don't say everything. He'll lie and say he isn't hurt, because he doesn't want her to worry about him more. She'll pretend not to see him wince every time he moves and the painkillers he'll throw back like candy. Some nights she can't be honest with him. So the answer will be yes when he asks if she's ok. She doesn't want him to lose sleep over her, especially when he doesn't sleep much any ways. They both know something is wrong when they can't look each other in the eyes, but they don't talk about it. They both hold too much back, each for the sake of the other.
The policy of keeping things held back leads to arguments. Which often turn heated and lead to words being said that are always meant to hurt, but never meant to scar. The downside of knowing each other so well is that they know each other's weakest points. She knows how to make him cry with only three sentences. He can break her with eight words. When they fight, they intend to win. So they choose their words/weapons well. He favors serrated terms that rip into her heart and tear open old hurts. On the other hand, she prefers razors sharp phrases that slit open scars and crush his spirit. Three words are always off limits. They never dare to use them, for fear of the damage that would be caused. The intensity of their battles can only be matched by their passion for each other's wellbeing.
She decides to forget her worries as they lie close together, at least for tonight. For now, he is away from that mirror and she can protect him from his too harsh self-judgment. They survived another day to see another star-filled sky.
Ever so gently, she strokes an errant strand of hair away from his sleeping face. Maybe someday, he will be able to see he is already enough. Once that day comes, she might be ready to give him up. Right now, she can have day after day claiming him as her own. By then, she might have all her own broken pieces put back together. Until that day comes, they are both broken. At least together, they make a good act of being whole.