"...So...what do we do now, I guess?"
"It's for you to decide."
"...You're not gonna kick me out, are you?"
"As I said when we first met, while you may leave any time you wish, I will not send you away. Besides, in this situation, it would be entirely too cruel."
"Thanks...I needed to hear that." Feeling like he had the weight of a large car piled on his shoulders, Demyx sat down on the couch long enough to take his shoes off, then lay down, staring blankly at the wall. Honestly, what else could he do now? Yesterday, he'd had plans for his life, he'd had hopes for the future, he'd had dreams and goals he wanted to accomplish...and today, all of that was gone. The future suddenly seemed as blank as the wall, and the end, no further away. "And you know what the worst part is?" he said aloud, as much to himself as to Father Stone. "It's completely my own fault. I basically asked for this."
"I wouldn't say that," Father Stone said, sitting in his usual chair; he sounded as calm and unruffled as ever, but with an undertone of deep sadness. Somewhere through the haze of his own self-pity, Demyx was dimly gratified that he cared that much. "Your...lifestyle might have put you at risk, but no one asks for a fate like this."
"Well, then, I guess I came as close to it as anyone can," Demyx sighed, trying to make himself melt into the couch. Sadly, that wasn't going to happen any more than he could make today not happen. "Just...why? Why now? Why, when I'm finally getting my life on track and figuring out what I want to do with it...?"
"Well...I suspect that if you were still on the street, you might never have been diagnosed. On the one hand, you wouldn't have to know, but on the other -"
"On the other, it's not like this wouldn't exist if I didn't know about it, I know."
"And when your health began to deteriorate...when would you seek medical attention?"
"I wouldn't. For one thing, where would I go?" Demyx closed his eyes, hoping that just maybe this was all a bad dream and he was about to wake up. No such luck. "But...well, you're right, that's hard to argue with, but...what does that really change? I might not be dying undiagnosed in the street, but...just because I'm diagnosed and here doesn't mean I'm not dying."
"Many people can live perfectly healthy lives for a long time with the HIV virus in their system. You're young, you're otherwise healthy; I see no reason why you couldn't be one of them."
"How long is a long time? Five years? Ten years?"
"Upwards of twenty."
"Oh. That's not...so bad, I guess. But still, most people my age would be looking at another fifty or sixty." Well, maybe he could just go to sleep on the couch. It would be a lot better than having to stay awake and continue to acknowledge how much his life suddenly sucked, and much better than simply lying there and crying, which was what he was already doing. "Besides, doesn't it involve a lot of complicated and expensive treatment?"
"Well, yeah. Pharmaceutical companies are out to make themselves money, first and foremost, not to actually help people. I don't have health insurance or a whole lot of money, and the church can't afford -"
"Demyx, do you seriously imagine I would let you die for the sake of money?" Father Stone sounded angry now, which made Demyx freeze up a little; he'd never seen the man angry before, ever, and that combined with his sheer size - seven feet tall at the least and muscular as a bull - made any display of anger from him downright scary, even when all he was doing was sitting in a chair and talking. "No matter what, we will find a way to afford whatever treatment you need. You've already made plans for your future, plans - and a future - that you have as much right to as anyone; why would anyone even compromise that for the sake of money?"
Jesus, what do I say to that?... "I'm sorry," Demyx murmured, half on instinct, because it was a smart thing to do when you said something that made a very large man angry. "Thanks for...for caring, though. 'Cause...a lot of people wouldn't...wouldn't spend so much time, money, or - or effort on...on, well, an HIV-positive heroin addict."
"Demyx..." Well, maybe that wasn't the smartest thing he could have said, but at least Father Stone wasn't looking so angry anymore. "Don't apologize. You've done nothing wrong. And please, don't speak of yourself in those terms."
"Why not? Not saying it isn't going to make it not true. I'm an HIV-positive heroin addict. There, I said it again. Ex-addict, I guess would be as accurate, but still."
"Why do you insist on talking about yourself in such terms?"
"Because it's true. That's what I am...all I'll ever be now. I don't have time anymore to become anything else..." Tears had been seeping from Demyx's eyes more-or-less the entire time, but now he couldn't stop himself from sobbing uncontrollably. "You t-told me God had p-plans for me," he choked, barely able to calm himself down enough to talk. "If He did, then...w-why would He do this to me?"
The entire couch creaked, as Father Stone came over to sit down next to Demyx and rest a hand on his shoulder. "I don't know," he said in a quiet, grave voice. "Maybe all He wanted was for you not to die in the street, still addicted to heroin. But I have a feeling there's more to it than that. After all, if you'd never come here, you would never have been diagnosed, and without a diagnosis, there would be no treatment until it was much too late. I can't answer for why He let you become infected in the first place, but He may well have led you here to save your life."
Demyx sighed, trying to keep hold of his anger at the general unfairness of everything, because he didn't have much else to hold onto right then. But it was awfully difficult, in the face of all that quiet calm. "Well...I guess...this is a lot better than...dying in the street, still addicted," he said, wiping his eyes and struggling to breathe normally so he could talk normally and stop crying like a baby. "But...like I said...I gotta afford treatment first."
"There will be a way," Father Stone said firmly. "If you can't afford it on your own, we'll find some way."
"Thank you," Demyx sighed, closing his eyes again. "I know you told me not to apologize, but I feel like I should...I'm sorry for being such a burden."
"I really am grateful to you, though. I can't even explain how grateful. If it weren't for you, I would still be out on the street shooting heroin, and probably infecting God-knows-how-many other addicts with my old dirty needles...maybe that's why He brought me here. To break the cycle of infection." Having said his piece, Demyx fell silent, mentally resigning himself to spending the rest of his very short life in Father Stone's guest bedroom, mopping floors and shoveling sidewalks until he was too ill to stand up without help. At least, he reminded himself as Father Stone stood up and left the room, it was better than dying on the street, still hooked on heroin...
Remember how it made you feel?
Remember how amazing it was...that very first high...
Fuck you. I know the trick now - you can spend your whole life chasing it, but no high is ever as good as the first.
You wanted to make a better life for yourself. You can't have that now. You don't have time. But you do have some money saved up...enough for a few good rounds...or maybe just enough to OD, and you can go out happy and high as a kite, without having to wait until you've wasted down to a skeleton with AIDS...
No thank you. I actually have some self-respect now, and...seriously. I already know there's not much sand in the hourglass anymore; why the hell do I want to waste what I have left?
Do you want to die that way? Alone in a hospital, hooked up to machines, can't even crawl out of bed to take a shit, the only people you see anymore are nurses who treat you like shit because hey, look, a heroin addict with AIDS, he totally deserves to die like this...come on. Dogs get put down when they're too sick to save, just so they don't have to go through that. No one's gonna do it for you, so do it yourself. Die with a needle in your arm and a smile on your face. It's better that way.
It's not better that way.
Remember that very first high? Remember?
I don't want to remember. Demyx's eyes locked on the crucifix on the far wall, the one bit of decoration in an otherwise empty space, praying for a bit of help and reassurance against the suddenly all-too-seductive little voice that was invading his brain. He didn't want to go back to shooting heroin in the street, he didn't want to commit suicide just so he wouldn't have to face a slow and miserable death from AIDS later, except that stupid little voice was starting to make him think that maybe he did...
Look, if You had a plan for me, what was it? Was it just to die with a few friends and a little dignity? Was it just so there'd be one less HIV-positive addict on the street leaving contaminated needles behind? Was it so I would have a chance at a happy, normal life before my premature, not-undeserved death? So I'd live a few years longer than I would have on the street? Please...I just want my life to mean something...all I ever wanted was to live like a normal human being, without needing heroin to get by...can I still have that? Did You intend for me to have or be something more? Or...not even that much?
Do I even matter, in the long run? Or am I just a pawn to be sacrificed to some greater cause?
He blinked, and really looked at the crucifix, as something suddenly clicked in his head. All his jumbled-up fears and worries and desires went away, and the only thought left in his head was one simple prayer - Let not my will but Thine be done.
As soon as I figure out what it is.
Whatever You have planned for me, You'll give me enough time to make it happen, right? Okay...that makes me feel a lot better. And if all You wanted was for me to die with some dignity - if You meant for me to be a supporting character in someone else's story rather than the hero of my own...well, then, thanks for not letting me die strung-out in the street.
That just...doesn't seem right, though. Father Stone said that it was better to pay me to do all these odd jobs around the church than to spend that money on a rehab center or something because the money was better spent making a huge difference to me than a small difference to a lot of people at once. He said that, given the opportunity, I could make a much bigger difference...well, if that's not what You're planning, it's not what You're planning. And if it is what You're planning...well, what kind of a difference could I make? I'm just...well...an HIV-positive ex-heroin addict...
As confused and terrified as he'd been a few moments ago, it was downright miraculous how clearly Demyx was thinking now. He also said that Your best agents are ordinary men. I'm as ordinary as they come, so I guess there's hope for me yet. But what I've been doing - cleaning floors and shoveling sidewalks and doing a bit of motivational speaking on the side - is not likely to make a huge difference to anyone. I mean, really. Talking to people is not likely to make them change their ways and give up drugs immediately. To really help them requires - well, more like what Father Stone did for me. Give them a place to stay where they can't get drugs and won't get kicked out, give them something constructive to do, show them patience, kindness, give them a listening ear and a bit of advice when they need it...just treat them like a decent human being with all the rights and benefits thereof.
If I could just find a way to do that on a larger scale...what would it take?
Before long, Demyx had grabbed a pen and a notebook, and was so busy writing and planning that he didn't notice Father Stone had re-entered the room until he spoke. "I left you alone for a few minutes to allow you to compose yourself," he said with more than a hint of amusement, while Demyx jumped in surprise and nearly dropped what he was doing. "It seems to have worked."
"I just - started thinking, you know?" Demyx said, scrambling to pick up the pen he'd just dropped. "Started thinking about what I was actually supposed to be doing with my life, and...I got a little sidetracked. What I ended up with is a kind of a rough plan for a combination homeless shelter, drug rehab center, and career training center. Maybe with an attached restaurant."
"Yeah. Gives the residents a place to, you know, work and have an actual job, plus it could help with the funding for the rest of the place. That can come later, though." Feeling an odd combination of proud and embarrassed, Demyx handed the notebook over to Father Stone, to let him look at the plans he'd roughed out for himself. "I was just...kind of going off what you did for me, and...working out how to do it for a bunch of people at once."
"Yeah, a little over-ambitious, I admit. I couldn't help myself."
"No. This is wonderful. But do you know what it will take to make it a reality?"
"Money and time. A lot of money and time. Plus a place to put it; it would probably be easier and cheaper to buy and renovate an existing building than to buy an empty lot and build a whole new one, especially given where this would need to be. Though it's a massive chunk of change either way. There is going to have to be a huge fundraising campaign to get it off the ground...I suppose I'd be as worthy a poster boy as anyone you're likely to find. I mean, at least the concept has actually worked for me, and I'm still young and healthy enough to be semi-photogenic as long as I wear long sleeves. Do you think the bishop -"
"Are you the same Demyx I left in this room five minutes ago?"
"Uh...pretty sure, yeah. It's amazing how a death sentence can really focus your mind on what's important. Anyway, I was hoping there might be space for a chapel and a garden in among everything else, but that's all gonna depend on space, especially if we buy and renovate an existing building. This is really gonna need to be in the inner city, bad part of town to reach its target audience; on the plus side, real estate should be cheaper there."
"Demyx, what were you doing while I was out of the room?"
"Mostly praying. And then writing. How many beds do you think is a good number to start off with? Fifteen? Of course, we might get mothers with young children. Maybe even mothers with drug-addicted babies - oh, jeez. We'd definitely need to do something for the children; it's not like we could turn their mothers away just -"
"Demyx!" That was loud and forceful enough to get Demyx to shut up for a minute, and cringe a little bit, but thankfully Father Stone was still smiling. "Well. There is definitely a fire in your eyes now. And if it's true that you got this idea from praying, I have no choice but to assume the Holy Spirit put it into your head. Tell me, what would you do to make this a reality?"
"You'd do better to ask me tomorrow if you want a more level-headed response, but right now, anything. I'd trade ten years of my life -" And Demyx stopped short instantly, suddenly all too aware that the entire rest of his life might be no more than ten years, and could quite easily be even less. Trading away ten years of his life might well involve him dying eight years ago. "Except...ten years might be all I got left," he continued, in a very subdued tone. "Maybe not even that much. But...anyway. You see where I'm going with this. It has to happen. Because it not happening...well, leads directly to more HIV-positive heroin addicts dying strung out in the street. And we can't have that."
The room was silent for several long seconds, while Father Stone just looked at him and Demyx tried to figure out what was going on in his head - whether he thought that Demyx really was divinely inspired or whether he believed Demyx really believed in this project, or whether he thought it was some impulsive fantasy that would be forgotten by the next morning. "Demyx, there is a fire in your eyes such as I have almost never seen," he said finally. "I can't doubt that you have the passion to make this a reality. Do you have the dedication?"
"Just try me," Demyx said, surprised by the sound of his own voice. "All I really need is the money, the support...and the time..." The time - that was it. That was the one thing that no human being could give him. That was the one thing he would never know if he had enough of, until it turned out that either he did...or he didn't.
Just trust God. If this is what He wants you to do with your life, He'll give you all the time you need.
"Father...if I don't get the chance to...to see it through...will you...?"
"Thank you. That's all I really need."
AN: I know I had this marked as Complete. But then, all of a sudden, I realized that I HAD to add more to the story.
The more I think about it, the more surprised I am that I wrote this story at all, because most people who know me know that I'm not a particularly devout Catholic (or don't know that I'm Catholic at all). AND YET THIS HAPPENED.
Also, I was this close to calling this chapter "Prodigal's Gethsemane". I still might, when it goes to deviantART.