Author note: Sadly, I've fallen behind again, chapter wise, thanks to an unexpected bout of not-very-well-at-all-ness. Mrm. I hope you all like this, though! (Also, don't ask how, but I managed the NaNoWriMo dare where you have a sentence over 300 words long. Good luck getting sense out of it.)
NaNoWriMo word count: 30,425
Chapter Fifteen – Ask (I Might Answer)
On the whole, John reflected that he'd definitely had better ideas in the past. Mind you, he'd also had worse ideas, so it was a bit of a mental balancing act with regard to where you wanted to draw the line between 'good' and 'bad'.
Or maybe that was the gin talking. John switched to hyper-vodka.
"I want to find him, John," Gray slurred for the umpteenth time.
"He disappeared," John told the boy again. "He's gone. He left."
"You could find him?" Hope, though dimmed by the alcohol, flared. "Find him for me?"
John snorted a laugh. Regretted it when Gray's face fell. "Kid..."
"He's all I've ever wanted, John. All— all those years..."
John tried to steer the conversation back to happier (ish?) things. It didn't work so well. "You're free now, Gray. You could do anything. Go anywhere. Go anywhen. Where first?"
Gray regarded him with... well, with glum regard. And then he pushed up abruptly from the bedspread, swung to his feet and made it two steps across the small room before his legs gave out.
John looked down at the pile of Gray. "You're free to go anywhere, and you went to the floor?"
There may have been a small giggle.
John smiled lazily as he reached for the bottle again.
The giggle turned to a sob.
John's smile dropped. (Thankfully, the bottle didn't follow suit.) "Gray?"
"I want... I want..."
John slid off the bed and shuffled over to Gray. "What do you want?"
Ragged gasping. "Anywhere. Anywhen. You said. C— can... can I go back?" Gray peered up at John with red-rimmed eyes. "Back to when he... when it all... Please?"
Realisation flickered in the forefront of John's mind like an unwelcome splash of cold water. Gray must have seen the answer on John's face because he moaned and curled up again.
John rolled his eyes. "Gray."
"Anywhere, anywhen. So why not then?"
"Because," said John.
Gray straightened. Almost petulantly, he said, "That doesn't make sense."
Amusement. "Did anyone say it had to?"
"I can't, Gray. It's impossible."
"Why? Surely if you just—"
"Gray." John's eyebrows rose, like a parent hitting their point softly home. "No."
Gray moved forward all of a sudden, then. Or at least, he tried to. The alcohol was weighing on his muscles even as it loosened up his mind. "Is there anything I can do?"
John frowned. "What?"
"To make you change your mind."
Realisation flickered again, and John looked away even as Gray tried to lean closer. He put a hand out, fingers flattening on Gray's chest. "Stop."
"Gray," he said, looking back at the boy. Gray's eyes swam as he tried to focus on John. "It's already happened," John murmured, "and it's going to stay happened. There's nothing anyone here can do to change that."
He let his hand drop.
Gray stayed where he was, several inches away from John's face, for a few moments longer before he pulled away and curled up again.
"Gray, if I took you back there... You'd want to change things."
Something incomprehensible whispered out from between Gray's knees.
"Oh, you're saying you wouldn't?"
Silence, then. Gray sniffled. John sighed and said, "Look. We'll talk about it more later, yeah?" More silence. John knee-walked to where Gray was and put a hand on his shoulder. Gray twitched. "Gray..."
"My head feels funny," Gray mumbled.
Was that a flaring of guilt in the pit of John's stomach? It might just have been. "You should go back to bed, then, shouldn't you?"
"But I want—"
John kneaded lightly at the shoulder under his hand. Lightly. Persuasively.
"S'not fair," slurred Gray, unfolding himself once more only to nudge his head against John's stomach. John blinked down at him and carefully shifted his hand from Gray's shoulder to tease through the boy's roughly cropped hair. Gray shivered, but didn't pull away. John considered this a win.
"The universe doesn't do fair," he told the side of Gray's head. "Not then, not now, not ever."
"Mph," Gray said again, voice muffled. "It should."
John couldn't helped a snort. "Look, there isn't truly such a thing as what 'should' be. There's only what there is, what it is, and that's it. You think the universe cares for fair or unfair? It doesn't. The universe is emotionless, and the concept of what 'should have been' is something humans invented just to torture themselves with. Humans like doing that, as you may have noticed."
Gray turned his head to look up at John. Blue-grey met red rimmed hazel for several long moments before he whispered, "Thank you."
John blinked again. Ran his fingers through Gray's sandy blonde hair. "What for?"
The corner of John's mouth twitched up.
"I'll make it up to you," Gray continued. "I'll pay you back for your kindness."
The corner of John's mouth twitched back down. Kindness? Interesting word for it... "Whatever you say, kid."
And he said it with such conviction that John's fingers paused of their own accord. Gray smiled, pulled away from John and crawled back to his bed.
Well, he tried to crawl back to it, anyway.
Upon hearing a soft thump and another small giggle, John turned and saw Gray half entangled in the bed sheets as the boy attempted the foot and a half climb (it looked more like an expedition) back up into his bed, and he had to laugh.
"Captain Hart," Marek said, lowering the newspaper he'd stolen off LeLouch to peer at Gray as the boy entered the galley, "is off on some planet chasing a bit of skirt. Or possibly a bit of trouser. Or some other miscellaneous clothing item that depends on gender and species." He tilted his head. "Why d'you ask?"
"No reason," Gray said, glancing around the long room. Marek was sat in the small cubby hole of a dining area, feet up on the table and ankles crossed, a steaming bowl of something or other beside them. He quirked a brow, clearly not believing that, but shrugged and went back to absently flicking through the newspaper. Two weeks since they had arrived at the Medusa Cascade space station. Two weeks of Gray's screaming nightmares and of John silently (well, mostly silently) saying that he could deal with it.
Marek had stopped getting out of bed to check, by now.
But continuing the 'two weeks' train of thought... It'd been two weeks since they'd arrived, two weeks of Gray's nightmares interrupting his sleep, and two weeks since Marek had had the full introductions with the rest of the people on board the station. Eric Sorrel, Isabelle Jenkins and Kassis Rodya Illiam. Though the latter preferred just Kassis on most occasions.
Eric Sorrel was the engineer, a tall red head with a penchant for oil spotted caps and overalls who kept near enough all the mechanical systems on the space station chuntering, and who Lindsa often had to physically drag away from the engine room (he and Lindsa were partners, Marek had gathered, and had been so for some time, to bicker the way they did – and so loudly – with no worries for how the outcome would affect their relationship); Isabelle Jenkins was an expert in technological systems from a selection of backgrounds and eras, a short (very short, actually, since she had only come up to the middle of Marek's chest when the pair had met), young blonde – she couldn't have been older than fourteen or so, either, which was really quite strange because it wasn't like the Time Agency hired children, they wouldn't risk lives so unlived – who wore thick glass safety spectacles, like milk bottle bottoms, over violet eyes, dark blue scrubs with combat boots and a strange sort of pendant around her neck; finally, Kassis Rodya Illiam... well, she was hard to describe, or perhaps "hard to take in all at once" would be a better way to put it – being only a few inches taller than Isabelle Jenkins and mildly humanoid in appearance, she had pale blue grey skin, a thin, lithe build, short cropped hair that was a sort of powdered white that made Marek think of dust (only in a clean way?) and she tended to wear dark, skin tight clothes, all of the same bluey grey tones as her skin, and it wasn't like she didn't know as many, if not more, languages than Marek, but you had set your ears to full speed to keep up with each and every word, else wise it was just chirped gibberish.
Mild disbelief of attempted nonchalance aside, Marek folded up his (was it his or LeLouch's, now? Ownership was eleven tenths of the law, with Time Agents... so probably it was Marek's newspaper until LeLouch stole it back off him) newspaper and speared a piece of dubious meat from his steaming bowl of something or other and asked, "You hungry?"
Gray nodded, the action almost absent. Marek frowned a bit.
"Pot of..." Marek squinted at his bowl. Looked back up at Gray. "Food on the stove. Bowls are in the second cupboard along. Help yourself."
A repeat of the absent nod. Gray went over to schlop (technical term, that) himself a bowl and then wandered over to where Marek was to sit opposite the taller, older man. "When will he be back?"
Marek licked his spoon in a thoughtful manner, gazing over it at Gray. "No idea."
And yet another nod... Gray stirred his food a time or two before starting to eat, and Marek continued to watch him. If the boy seemed aware of the attention, if he was bothered by it, he didn't let on.
Which suited Marek just fine.
Night time, or the time that Marek had decided to call 'night', produced more eventfulness. Looking up at the ceiling of his room, Marek decided that he had had enough of eventfulness. Maybe he would settle down somewhere and grow sheep. That's what people with uneventful lives did, right?
Gray screamed again. John wasn't back or Gray would have stopped by now. Marek grumbled to the room at large before tugging on some trousers and going to check on the kid.
"John?" Gray whispered, when Marek wound the door open.
"He's not back yet."
Gasping breath, gasping breath.
"Anything I can do?" No answer. Marek sighed and reached to turn the lights up a bit. "Hey?"
Gray's eyes, wide and panicked, darted to him. "I don't want to see it. I keep seeing it."
"Seeing what?" Marek asked, though by the time the words were out of his mouth, he realised they may have been a mistake.
"Everyone dying by inches around me." Gray's gaze dropped to Marek's knees, then flicked back up again. "Why did I survive? Why didn't I just..."
"Surviving is nothing to feel ashamed about."
Gray just swallowed, trying to steady his breathing.
Marek couldn't help the way his brow quirked upwards, at that. "You don't believe me?"
"I don't feel ashamed," Gray told his own knees, hidden under the tangled sheets. "I just... I don't understand why."
"Do you need to?"
Gray looked confusion at him. Yes, yes he did.
Marek pushed off from the doorway and came to sit on the edge of the bed beside Gray. "You survived because you did," he said, rearranging Gray's bed sheets a little. "We found you because we did."
"And my brother let me get taken by them because he did?"
Their gazes met, and the sudden blazing... was that anger or hurt? Or possibly something sicker? Whatever it was... in Gray's eyes made Marek look away. "Maybe," he said, not knowing all the facts. Not like John had told him everything about the boy. "Whatever the matter, it happened and it will stay happened and the only thing you can do is move forwards."
"Or backwards?" Gray murmured, a twinkle of amusement covering up the sick, angered hurt as he nodded to Marek's wrist strap.
"Or backwards," Marek wryly agreed.
Gray just smiled, then.