"The Loneliest Number"
by pari106

pari106@hotmail.com ; http://www.geocities.com/pari106/damain.html ; Disclaimer: DA
is not mine, the lyrics included were taken from Aimee Mann's rendition of "One", as it
appears on the "Magnolia" soundtrack; Rating: PG; part of the "Inspired By: Dawg Day
Afternoon" collection; Code: vignette. Summary: Joshua, after Annie's death.

A/N: Corny? Sappy? Lame? Let me know. Or if it's good, let me know that, too ;)
This is longer than the usual additions to these collections; it's more fic-length than
drabble-sized or short. But it fit here so here is where I put it :P

Key: // indicate beginning and end of flashbacks.



The Loneliest Number
by pari106



"One
is the loneliest number
that you'll ever do…"

- Aimee Mann
"Magnolia"



Joshua had thought he'd known loneliness.

Loneliness like no one else could possibly know. The loneliness of living a life in
darkness and isolation. Hiding in the basement and the walls of Manticore, eluding the
guards. Or hiding behind the walls of Father's home, eluding the world beyond. The
loneliness of living with a face that world couldn't possibly accept.

But he hadn't been lonely. Not really. Because he'd never known what it was like not to
be alone. And he'd never met someone who really made that fact unbearable.

Then he met Annie.



"…Two
can be as bad as one
it's the loneliest number
since the number one…"



When Annie was gone, that's when the true loneliness set in. And that's when
everything changed. Everyone changed. Or maybe it was just that he had changed. And
the change was so profound, Joshua couldn't bear to be near anything that was the same.
His home. His books. His friends.

He couldn't be around Max or Alec. Not without acknowledging the fact that they
weren't Annie, and they never would be. And he would never see Annie again.

He couldn't stand it.

Couldn't stand the sameness of it all. Couldn't stand to live the same, lonely life, day
after day; to breathe the same air. To sit and stare out the same windows.

So he painted them black.

He couldn't stand to paint anymore, either, the same way he always had, to express
himself. What would be the point? The things he felt inside because of Annie's death
weren't the sorts of things he wanted to express. And even if he did… He'd only be
painting pictures Annie would never get to "see"…



//"…and that's green, like your eyes."

He glanced over at her, shyly, as her eyes roamed somewhere just left of the canvas in
front of them.

He knew he shouldn't, but he thought that perhaps, for not the first time, that it was good
she could not see him. Besides for the fact that he looked so much different than she
might expect…there was also the fact that he was grinning like an idiot. He just knew it.

But he couldn't help himself. He'd been painting now for sometime, with all sorts of
colors. Complicated colors that took time to mix and coordinate.

But now, holding Annie's tiny wrist in his large hand, guiding her across the canvas of
his painting… Feeling the softness of her skin and the fragile bones beneath it… Now,
as he watched her lovely face, he realized that he'd never seen a color more beautiful
than that simple green, processed by Annie's fingertips and translated into her radiant
smile.

"It's beautiful, Joshua," she told him, absolutely sincere. Still gazing at her smile,
Joshua had to agree.

It certainly was. The most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.//



"No
is the saddest experience
you'll ever know
Yes
it's the saddest experience
you'll ever know…"



First had come the ascension.

That heady feeling of falling in love for the first time; the feeling that you've risen above
yourself and all your problems. Because you've found "the one", and you know she's the
only one you were ever meant to find. And for the first time since the escape…Joshua
felt like he had left the basement. He'd been out in the world for nearly half a year. And
finally he felt like he was living in it.

He didn't know enough to realize a fall would come next.

Or maybe he did.

He knew enough to try and keep his paintings of Annie away from Alec, for as long as
that was possible. He knew he couldn't mention Annie to Max. Perhaps he already knew
that there couldn't be a future for the two of them. At least, not a pleasant one.

He just hadn't wanted to accept it.



//"Send her away, Joshua. Just send her away."

"Annie's not like other people, Alec. She's different…"

Joshua knew arguing would be futile. He knew Alec was right. But he argued anyhow.
He didn't think he could let Annie go; not without a fight.

Even if he was only fighting his own better judgement.

"You're different!" Alec said back, urgently now.

And he knew saying it would hurt Joshua; Joshua saw that pain mirrored in Alec's own
eyes. Alec didn't want to hurt his friend. But neither could he stand by and watch him
get himself hurt even worse.

Because Joshua *was* different than other people. He was better. Innocent;, good. And
Alec had seen innocent people, good people, hurt before. Badly. He'd seen people he
had been close to get hurt. And he couldn't let Joshua invite the same situation on
himself.

"Send her away. Before she falls in love with you; before she wants you to meet her
family. Before you get yourself killed. Before you get *her* killed…"

Alec's throat tightened as he said the last, memory making his voice thick but no less
persuasive.

"Send her away."//



So Joshua had sent Annie away.

But not before she'd asked him to show her one more thing.

She asked him to show her himself.

He could still see Annie's face in his mind, the way it had been as she'd stood there.
Those green eyes, that brave smile. He couldn't remember anything being quite so scary
as Annie's hand had been at that moment, reaching out for him. For the face he couldn't
let her "see"; the secret he couldn't let her expose.

In the end, he had backed away. And Alec had taken his place.

It was Alec's face Annie's fingertips memorized. Alec who received Annie's touch, as
Joshua watched.

He watched Annie's hands travel his friend's features, and he watched Annie's face as
she saw "him"… And he would never know how much Annie's "seeing" had cost Alec,
as well, knowing what Joshua was going through and hating to have to play a part in it
all. Joshua would never know that as he stood there, crying, Alec was swallowing back
tears, as well.

He openly knew that, as he watched Annie with Alec, he saw the same smile on her face
that had been there as he'd shown her his painting. He could hear her words in his head.

"It's beautiful, Joshua."

He could almost hear her thoughts.

"You're beautiful, Joshua."

Only he wasn't. It was Alec's beauty she admired. He would spend the rest of his life
picturing Annie's face in his mind…

And she would only ever be able to picture Alec's in hers.



"…because one is the loneliest number
that you'll ever do
one is the loneliest number
much, much worse than two…"



And at that point, Joshua had thought nothing could ever be as painful. Nothing could
hurt as bad as loving Annie, and not being allowed to pursue her love. Nothing could be
as frustrating as knowing she was out there, not even so far away, and not being able to
go to her.

He had thought losing Annie was the worst possible fate he could have endured.

But he'd been wrong.

He'd been very, very wrong.

Because there was a worser fate. There was a greater pain. The pain of Annie's death.
There was a greater frustration. The frustration of knowing her killer. And knowing that
he was the one that had left her down there – down there in the sewers – with White.

The greatest pain he would ever know, was knowing that Annie was dead.

And that it was his fault.



//"Are you sure?"

Annie smiled…//




That same smile. Always the same, beautiful smile. So open. So calm. That smile was
going to haunt him…



//"Joshua, it's alright if they find me. It's not alright if they find you."

He didn't want to leave her. He could hear her frantic voice, the way it had been on the
street, when they'd been cornered by those thugs and chased down to these sewers,
repeating itself in his head.

'Don't leave me, Joshua!"…//



He would hear that same voice in his dreams, in his nightmares, for a long time to come.



//…but now Annie was asking Joshua to do just that. The thing was…he knew she was
right. And there was no other way. He might not be able to make it out if she came
along, and he certainly couldn't just walk out with the cops, like she could. Annie asked
Joshua to leave her behind and he knew that he had to do it.

He couldn't quite make himself walk away, though. And he didn't know why. Except
that, in all his long, difficult life, walking away from Annie had suddenly become the most
difficult thing he'd ever had to do.

"I'll come see you tomorrow," Annie told him then, sensing his hesitancy; urgent for him
to go. She could hear the police off in the not quite distance, even better than he could.
And they were getting closer. She couldn't let him stay there and let them find him. Not
after all this. Not because o f her… Whatever else they had to say to one another, they
could say later. She'd decided there would be a later for them.

"Promise?"

Annie had to laugh at the unmistakable excitement in Joshua's voice. Just at the prospect
of seeing her again. And she'd thought, when she'd found out about Mantiocoro, that
he'd been lying to her because he hadn't really wanted her company…

"I promise," she told him. And she meant it.//



She'd meant it.

Joshua knew she had. But he'd been wrong – wrong to leave her down there. Wrong to
bring her there in the first place. Wrong to seek her out at all.

He should have done what Alec had told him. He should have done what he'd told
himself was right. He'd sent her away, and he should have stuck to that decision.

But he hadn't.

And his weakness for Annie had done exactly what Alec had said that it would. It had
gotten her killed. Murdered by White, down in that dark, lonely sewer, her death blamed
on him. On Joshua, who now knew he'd loved her more than he'd ever loved anything in
his entire life.



"One is the loneliest number
that you'll ever know
one is the loneliest number
that you'll ever do…"



Now Joshua's realized he can no longer live his life the way he had been before. The
same. He has to do something different. To be somewhere different. To be with other
people; people like him. People who are different.



"One
is a number divided by two…"



Now he knows what it's like to not be alone. And he knows what it's like to be truly
lonely. And he's torn between the need to and the fear of escaping that loneliness. He's
afraid of needing someone again the way he came to need Annie. But he's afraid of
never knowing someone the same way again, as well. It's a fear that divides him. As
does his feelings for his "Father".

He'd loved his father very much; he'd been obsessed with finding him again. His father
had always made everything seem okay. Even Manticore, even the guards. Even his
self. His very much different from the "upstairs people" self.

But things are different now. Joshua is different. And he's torn between wanting to be
accepted by the world he lives in now; a world unable to understand things that are
different; unable to accept…and his dedication to his father. His father who had taught
him that being different was what made him special.

Special. First…

It occurs to Joshua that, if he'd had a designation, it would have been one…

Just one.

Alone.