14

How blissful it was for me to sleep in for once; for two nights; for three, four, and five; and not have my mind set on whatever happened after sundown any longer. How sweet it was to look forward to the peaceful evening visits of nonviolent friends, and not wait by the door for the arrival of pint-size dystopian soldiers who foamed at the mouth for mischief. That world remained in a place far beyond the hospital doors and far beyond the reach of my new friends, carefully locked away where I wouldn't have to think about it or look at it. In its place, however, I had to slowly make myself sink into a steady, but somewhat boring routine.

My mornings began at seven o'clock sharp, because that was when the morning shift nurse would wake me up, help me into a wheelchair, and take me down the hall to see if I'd gained any weight over the previous day. If she'd noticed any change on the scale, she'd jot it down on some clipboard; nod to herself in approval; and then send it off to some office person so that they could update my medical chart. If not, I would just receive a small pat on the back, followed by the acknowledgment that I could "do better next time." In either case, I would then have my blood pressure checked, my respiration measured, and from there return to my room where they would serve me my first meal of the day. I would then alternate from rest periods to finding a few good programs to watch on the hospital's television set until noon rolled around, which meant that the next orderly to arrive would also bring my lunch along with them.

Once they'd coaxed me to finish as much as I could possibly swallow, my next stop would be the activity room, a place created on purpose to give patients a sense of being at home rather than in a sterile holding cell surrounded by strangers. At least, its four blue walls and white-curtained windows did the trick for the patients around me, because they felt like talking and socializing all in one corner by themselves. As for me, I would just sit alone as I'd always done, reading my books or playing my Solitaire because it wasn't them I wanted to make friends with. That particular group waited for me until right after dinner, because that was the time reserved for visitors as most of them couldn't come in until after quitting time anyway.

In the meantime, I would have to keep my mind sharp while I was waiting for my body to get back into perfect working condition, and for that there was that little book on how to draw one's own comics, a special present from none other than my own dearest Em. I felt a little glad that she'd remembered those drawings I had made from my adolescence onward, mainly because I'd forgotten several of them on my own but also because I'd once thought her too busy to ever pay attention. There had also been that dark period that only I could claim to be guilty of, that moment in time where I'd gone about like some rusty robotic creature and lived up to my programming, like...dusting and sweeping up after someone that hadn't lived with me for months...even years, if a person wanted to get technical. I hadn't bothered to sketch a single letter or draw a single line during that time, because to me, what would have been the point?

Things were a little different for me now, though, and they would go on being different to my benefit, I hoped. I could tell that my old interests were returning to me one by one, those little things I had done long before I'd met that gang in white or that other gang with the iron crosses. This included the comic strips, because on one winter's day when I'd gotten bored of the activity room and asked to be taken back to my hospital bed, I finally started to work on something new.

My first sketch in years was one big nothing at first, a pile of pencil lines that lead nowhere, odd shapes with no name or purpose, lost and wandering around from here to there as surely as I myself had wandered. I had to crumple that one up and throw it away, because I neither felt any attachment to it nor noticed any stories rising out of its directionless outlines. It was my second sketch that started to hold some promise for me, as I soon found myself creating a landscape from another world out o0f a certain arrangement of hills, rocks, and a few scrubby trees. This could definitely serve as the background for the opening page, I reasoned, because I'd always wanted to do something from science fiction, or else something that had to do with life on other planets. This one I redrew just one more time, darkening every outline on purpose so that I could add ink as a finishing touch and so erase all the pencil lines later on.

Once that step had been completed, I started to work on more of the same background sketching until, unexpectedly, there seemed to be two oddly-shaped pathways emerging from the soil; a double stone walkway that very nearly resembled pools of water or wet footprints. I had to stop for a few minutes and think this surprise design over, since I didn't quite yet know if this should have been a rocky path, rain-filled tracks, or just a series of puddles that had formed in the mud over the course of a particularly violent rainstorm. It wasn't until I had stared down at the paper for about three minutes that I realized the truth of it—these oddly-shaped spots were not stones or water at all. They were being left behind by a character trying to carry the dead body of someone they cared about home to their family, and the spots were their friend's blood stains right before they themselves walked through them, essentially turning them into blood-filled tracks.

I tried not to let Georgina or the others see these drawings when they came to visit me after dinnertime, but Em drew attention to them right away just by pointing straight at them, and then tilting her head to one side as though to ask the questions about them herself. With so much interest in my work so soon, I didn't have any other choice but to answer.

"It's just something new," I said vaguely, because I was still working out all the little details in my head and until I was sure about them, the pages wouldn't have any sentimental value to me.

"Someone's best friend just died."

Only Em looked sad after seeing my words signed out to her. She was the only one who knew the real reason for my nightly wanderings. Everyone else just stared at me out of pure curiosity and tried to fill in the blanks on their own.

"Whose best friend?" Georgina asked me, drawing closer to my bedside.

Mine, I wanted to tell her, but it would have raised too many questions in too short a time. Instead, I made myself look a little confused right before I asked her, "I...beg your pardon?"

"Whose best friend is the dead man? Is he rich or poor? Old or young? Doctor or soldier?"

"Oh." How I wished I could come up with better answers for Gigi, or else ones that had more than just one word to them.

"I, um...I haven't thought that far ahead. It's all just a blur so far."

They would be more than just a little disappointed in me now, because they had expected the massive, filling treat of a new story and instead I had nothing to offer them but a few crumbs of information. Yet another loss I could chalk up to being sick...or so I had originally feared. I'd watched each of their faces in turn, expecting to see some degree of disapproval only to realize there wasn't any. Greg and John looked as though they had saved the story idea in the backs of their minds, and would then keep any further questions about it to themselves until they knew I was ready to answer them. Georgina just smiled and patted my arm as though to show me that my imaginary problem was really one big nothing. Even Matthew seemed just the slightest bit interested, although that could have also been the sight of Gigi touching me to make him pay so much attention in the first place. Still, over the course of my days in that hospital bed, planning out this graphic novel would end up as my escape from my own misery.

Oh, there would be other distractions as well, don't get me wrong. In fact, it wasn't long before I received a letter telling me all about how I'd been officially placed at the State Marine Insurance building, effective immediately after my release from the hospital. I would receive a round of handshakes from the other men around me, and hugs from Em and Georgina besides. I would also receive visits from Em all by herself on the nights that my new friends left alone on purpose, because they knew how much we needed them. That, in turn, would mean voiceless conversations in front of my room's television set; lullabies played with the twist of a music box key; the silent sharing of chapters from books that contained loads of photos; little packets of menthol and eucalyptus smuggled in to use in my bath water; and as always, that old familiar scent of lavender that could remind me of home and promise my return to it the moment I breathed it in.

The more Em visited, sometimes the stronger the pull for home came that I very nearly grew dizzy and fainted from the force of it all. I barely rescued myself in time from the weight of this need taking me over, but still, I did indeed rescue myself. I reminded myself that with each day gone, that would also be one less day remaining between me and my wonderful return back to that old flat. And, so that I would neither lose track of this new idea for my comic nor allow myself to fall into another muse-less period of nothingness, one day I asked for a pad of paper and a few pens in order to begin putting down notes for later use.

I thought that I would have a few general ideas at the most, just the bare bones of something I could easily add meat to once I'd been discharged. What I came up with instead were the bones, muscles, heart, and just about everything in between for this story that had been waiting to happen. My central character wasn't going to be some average man fighting in a war where he ends up losing his best friend. Instead, perhaps he could be some younger Prince never expected to lead, inherit, or go on any exciting adventures. A second son who stayed out of his older brother's way on purpose, only to see him die during some horrible battle...and then get pulled into the spotlight that he wasn't entirely sure he wanted.

In a way, some of the very old history of this island dealt with similar things—the older brother might not have originally died, but he still had to give his crown away to whomever was next in line, because giving up his title to marry a commoner woman meant he could never take it back. What better way to remember this particular King than to base my words upon him? I made about three or four bullet points about this on my notepad's first page, a good start for something I hoped to see through to the end. It wouldn't be enough for whatever tale I wanted to tell, unfortunately. For there to be a decent hero in this, there would also have to be an equally disturbing villain. There might even need to be some kind of love interest for my hero, since it would probably be inevitable for a future King to need a Queen to keep him company. His new line of work would only do so much for his self-esteem. The only question was, how would I go about making them?

I had to mull this one over for about five minutes before the answer finally came to me. What if the love interest and the villain were somehow connected to each other? Moreover, what if the hero once viewed his elder brother as someone he'd always looked up to and wanted to be like, only to learn after his death that he'd done a lot more harm tan good to the kingdom he would have someday ruled? It didn't take me very long to figure out some of the necessary details. The woman would have been the Princess from an enemy kingdom on a planet completely different from the hero's, maybe one covered entirely by desert where his own could have been green and lush. In turn, the villain would then have to be her older brother, who had resorted to killing the first Crown Prince in order to save her from all sorts of abuse at his hands.

The second Prince would deny this at first, because any good family member would when faced with shocking information about someone they loved. However, the longer this Prince character would end up thinking things over—and he would, because the thought of his older brother causing all sorts of trouble wouldn't go away so easily—he would slowly come to accept it as the truth. He wasn't the first person to ever get disappointed by somebody else, and he definitely wouldn't be the last. I knew that would happen because I'd seen it happen.

And I'm up while the dawn is breaking, even though my heart is aching...

I hadn't heard this particular song in years, ages maybe—yet there it was, loud and clear through the crack in my door. Some nurse or orderly must have left their radio on. They must have also known exactly what it would do to me, because in an instant, my mind had jumped backwards about two years in time.

...I should be drinking a toast to absent friends, instead of these comedians...

It played the morning after he finally found a way to make me break a promise I'd made to myself and all the devotchkas some four years ago or so. I'd never wanted to take some girl or woman against her will, because I'd seen in the films how good everything could be if she was just given the chance to say 'yes'. How, indeed, could I ever forget the way my one and only idol attracted them in droves; able to leave them shrieking and fainting in the aisles with no more than a smile and a song?

The King would have waited for the proper invitation, because in doing so, he would receive the chance to be with the girl of his dreams every single time no matter which film it happened in. No little lady would ever refuse him, because really there was no wicked secret in his past or any dark part to his personality that would have given her a list of good reasons to do so. According to all that I'd seen about him, he was just about perfect, and he made me want to be just as adored, just as well-liked, just as special as the ladies in all these films knew him to be.

Only...only there were some lewdies on this island, lewdies like Alex, who didn't like their shaika members having these thoughts in their heads. Malchicks like him would wait for weeks, months, years on end until finally, they would get the chance to make someone like me break their promises to themselves and do just the opposite of what they had once vowed. He must have loved the minute I came in on him beating Mr. Alexander, that piece of cake in my one hand and that mug of cold beer in the other. I hadn't expected to get hungry at all during that time, but there it was, and so I saw no other way to fight it then to visit the family's refrigerator and hope for the best.

Like some modern version of forbidden fruit or a twisted take on Holy Communion, there was that slice of cake wrapped up for later and that frosted mug of beer, still very fresh and so delightfully cold that there was no way for me to refuse. I thought I could take both of those things upstairs with me and enjoy them without the others knowing. The moment I came back into that room and saw two of my not-so-friendly shaika members preparing to harm the Mrs., though...that was enough to make me choke on that second or third bite, and then he had to go and look at me with that deadly glare that could and would only ever mean one thing. I'd gone against his order to check the rest of the house for all the money and valuables. And if I couldn't handle a normal order...

"Drop that mounch. I gave no permission."

...Then I'd have to deal with a twisted, nasty one instead.

"Time for that other veshch, Pete, and Bog help you if you don't finish."

_

A/N: Yes, I know this is extremely unorthodox, but there was this part of me that wondered what would happen if I left in a piece of dialogue from the novel and altered it a little to flow better with the movie. One day I mulled this over, and lo and behold, the idea of Alex twisting Pete's arm into participating in a rape session as punishment for finding snacks instead of treasure moved into my head and refused to go away. Not only that, but I guess I am truly fed up with the idea that attractive guys are somehow saints on earth, and that the women involved with them have to cater to their every need even when they start breaking that woman's bones, spirit, mind, and so on. Some of the Alex romances have gone into this territory, and I really don't think I like that any more, so...I hope nobody on this website thinks that's supposed to be what a real romance is supposed to look like, because you're putting yourself in danger of an early grave and traumatizing your family for decades after the fact if you do. No matter what certain authors of certain novels that shall remain nameless tell you...if he beats, he isn't sweet. Guess that's all of my two cents.

ps—The song 'These Comedians' was what I listened to when the idea for 'Don't' first popped into my head, which...ended up spawning a line of Pete fanfictions, as you can see. Hope this song continues to inspire me for some time yet.

pps—This just might be the first of two halves of my latest update, because I finally realized just in time that breaking it into two chapters would be a better idea than just one. Hope I had the right idea in doing this.

=Weasley=