It's been three weeks, more or less, since Tom's untimely demise and it seems like the friggin' bon vivre of the city went with him. The snow seemed to go from virginal, marble white (cold and sterile and untouchable) to dirty and grey and tired nearly overnight. Not uncommon for the city, not in the least, but Sebs doesn't remember it ever looking this devitalizing before. It would have depressed the hell out of Tom if he'd been here to see it. The ground matches the buildings matches the sides and tops of the cars and taxis, everything drained and dull. He's surrounded by defeat, frozen like a black-and-white picture in living color.
He's lived here his whole life and his city has never felt so cold.
He sleeps without resting, nights marked by laying on top of his sheets or sitting on the couch until blackness takes hold and he finds himself awake with no memory of anything but the feeling of numbness.
Except for the times he doesn't.
The times he wakes up clammy and breathless with images in his mind's eye; of fire and bloodstains in a place he's pretty sure he's only seen once, tops, and a feral, hungry look in Tom's eyes that he's not sure if he's seen, ever.
The conflicting images won't stop running through his mind.
His friend, the victim.
His friend, the killer.
His friend, dead.
Sebs isn't sure which is worse, the days or the nights.
He goes through the days without paying much attention to the world around him. They all blend into each other and at the same time, the amount of time Tom has been gone remains painfully memorable. It feels like years. He dives into work because that's what he does, he works. He's the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night. He becomes more efficient, catching mistakes no one else sees, suddenly fixed to his work like a man possessed (and maybe he is). To everyone else it must seem like he hasn't changed much. He shows up; he does his work, he plays nice. And if he's a little quieter or his clothes aren't as neatly pressed as they used to be or his hair's a little out of place, well, no one's going to say anything.
And if they ever did…
Who cares what they think anyway?
When he looked back on it later, Sebs couldn't quite identify just when he lost his all-powerful control over his own actions.
They started small, little aberrations; finding his stapler in the wrong spot, putting a sock on inside out and only noticing after his shoes were on…Disconcerting, of course but not an indication of anything serious.
It's just an ordinary day, as far as ordinary days go post-Tom. He's coming home from the bank and the post office, his stupid Saturday chores. Sebs feels too-cold as he walks and futilely tries to swallow the thickness in his throat, both uncomfortable mementoes of spending a night sleeping in the snow, along with the dull ache in his chest. He coughs a rough, wet cough that must sound like it hurts (it does honestly but Sebs doesn't really give a shit) and he's about to head for the crosswalk after the changed light…
He realizes he's looking up and his head's supported, which means he's lying down. He feels cool stone under him and prickly pain and wetness. He touches his hand to the back of his head and feels stickiness, the smell of iron quickly flooding his nose.
"You alright?" Someone asks.
"Of course he's not. The guy just fell down out of nowhere."
"Did I slip?" He hates that has to ask. He turns his head, looking for ice. It's January, of course there's some damn ice around here.
"Just fell. You had, like, a fit."
He keeps looking, there's got to be some damn ice around here.
"You don't have, like, that paralysis disorder, do you? That fainting thing?"
"He wouldn't be able to talk if he did, dumbass." The original says.
It's not just them, though. There's a small crowd and it's growing.
"Are you okay?" someone parrots
"I'm fine," he says, trying to pull himself off the ground with as much dignity as possible, "I'm fine." He knows these words are both technically true and not true at all because it doesn't matter and all he has to do is get the fuck out of here.
"Maybe we should call an ambulance," suggests another
He scrambles to his feet (so much for dignity) and hightails it out of there as fast as he possibly can without actually breaking into a run.
He spends the rest of the night looking for the well-chosen words that the Google box uses to lead him to more words, words like 'hysteria' and 'panic attack' before saying 'it can't be, it can't be' and pushing all thoughts from his mind ("emotional reactions can delay in manifestation for weeks after the incident"). He drugs himself into a dreamless sleep with pills he'd bought weeks ago (after the first nightmare) but had refused to use (until now).
You shouldn't need those.
He tells the little voice in his head to shut up. It sounds annoyingly like Tom, at least in the way that it cares.
So he mutes his brain and for a while, maybe another month, half a month, he's numb. His thoughts cease, and his mind quiets, though he still doesn't feel rested. He's at some work function when it happens, some social lunch at a nice restaurant that takes itself more seriously than it has a right to. He's picking at a garden salad he doesn't taste when he smells the overwhelming odor of meat (red, specifically) coming from his left hand side.
Sebs used to enjoy a good fillet, until his best friend got turned into one.
The smell brings back an instant memory of char and gas and human flesh that invades his nose. He tastes it in his throat. The bile starts to rise in his stomach. He tries to ignore it but it starts to burn. He reaches for his water glass, trying to wash the sourness out of his mouth but all that does is move it around. He puts the glass back, harder than he intended because it makes a startling 'crack!' as it hits the table. Must have been squeezing it too hard as well because someone screams and suddenly he's blinking glass and ice water out of his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he says, over and over again, "I'm sorry" He apologizes more than he ever has in his life but the damage is done and everyone's looking at him like he's the damage and he needs to be removed.
He shakes off the overly concerned waiters (but accepts the towel) and apologizes to the angry looking ones who are picking up the pieces. He leaves before anyone can say anything.
Walking home briskly and without acknowledging anyone else, he's minutes away from losing it.
He lies on top of his made bed (practically hospital corners for fuck's sake, he's disgusted by his own neatness but at the same time he doesn't want to disturb it), setting his mind to white noise and trying his best to not to hear the dull roar of his own thoughts.
He doesn't remember falling asleep and wakes up to an email from his boss telling Sebs to meet him in his office later. Telling Sebastian to meet him in his office later.
This is the 'you're fired' type of meeting. He's suddenly very sure of it.
He absently wonders if it's legal to fire someone over 'irreversible humiliation of everyone you're supposed to make look good' before he realizes that the idea of getting fired bothers him very little.
Not at all, actually.
It's cold certainty.
Cold power. He has the power of not caring and it feels nice. The first thing that feels nice since.
He puts more effort into getting ready than he has for longer than he can place in recent memory. Picks his clothes carefully, makes sure they're smooth and flawless. He takes a long look at the familiar reds and blues of his ties before settling on the one green and yellow one. A birthday present from his sister years ago, due to his preference for green. He's never worn it to work.
No time like the present. He'd be tempted to smile if he didn't feel like his face wasn't capable of such things anymore.
He feels the cold energy running through him on his way to work, practically buzzing like something so freezing that it burns. He's a little surprised that other people can't see it on him…he feels like he must be glowing but then he remembers that ice doesn't give off any kind of light, it only filters it. Especially when it's internal. That's what it feels like. Ice. Not even ice water. He's solid, frozen all the way through. Frozen over.
He looks up at his building, thinking it might be the last time he ever sees it as an employee. The thought almost makes him giddy. Proud. He takes in the marble and the hardwood, seeing it as an outsider for the first time since the day of his interview. It's nice on the surface but devoid of personality, trying to cover up its fundamental weakness by looking better than it is. It's douchey. He likes thinking that; this building is douchey. It's a thought that fortifies him all the way up the steps and halfway towards Mr. Hayward's office when he gets stopped by Maggie the paralegal.
"Oh, Sebastian," She says, "I'm so sorry.""
She says his name like his mom might, elongating the syllables deliberately and following the determined up and down of the letters. It's practically musical, in comparison. Most people say his name like sticky marbles they want to spit out of their mouths as quickly as possible, running letters together, tripping over the foreign sounds.
It doesn't make him feel good though. There's no rush of pride or appreciation. In fact, it kind of pisses him off a little. A lot.
"I heard about all that unpleasantness. I'm so sorry."
The fact that his friend is dead or the fact that his friend was a murderer?
He felts a soft force hit him somewhere near his mid to lower chest. He feels fingers and long fake nails coming into contact with his back. She's hugging him.
What the fuck?
"Just ignore what everyone else is saying…"
Sebs can only guess what everyone else is saying and all he knows that he really, really doesn't want to think about it anymore. He tries to release himself from her grip. It's a selfish hug, perpetrated without the consent of the other person, him. There's no embrace, just cling, and so, not comfortable. She's clinging to him in order to feel like she's doing something, like she's part of the solution rather than the problem. She's not. She's trying to reconcile the person she thought she knew with the one that she's presented with.
Sebs knows the feeling.
The hug is would-be motherly with nails in his back and the soft words and the thoroughly enfolded quality and somehow that pisses him off even more than just her pity and confusion.
"You don't have to feel alone. You know. I'm here for you." She speaks in an overly dramatic, punctuated way that's annoying the hell out of him. Well, it generally does but especially right now.
She also doesn't seem to have noticed that he hasn't said a single word. He intentionally stiffens and hopes she takes the hint. She pats him on the back (he really hates that) and walks away.
It's not a victory, but it's over.
He massages his temples and heads to the bathroom to clear his head (and his bladder) before the meeting. The firing. That's what it is. Damn straight, it is.
He takes care of business and goes to wash his hands, scalding himself slightly with the touchy faucet. These bathrooms used to intimidate him when he first started working here; too big, marble and granite everywhere, stainless steel stalls. The little metal soap pump would continue to leak soap after you released the pressure on it. He'd been so flustered the first time, trying to clean it up had proved nearly impossible since a layer of soap determinedly clung to the surface, keeping it slick no matter how he wiped it. He glances at the top corner of the sink where the familiar pink pearly puddle is forming. He had since developed a tendency to get irritated when people didn't at least make the attempt to clean it up. Today, he's leaving it. He runs the water cold, wets his hand and scrubs it over his face to wake himself up a little or, at least, to inspire the appearance of alertness. As he raises his head, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, something that hasn't interested him in quite a while. He pauses, takes a second to study himself. He looks different. His golden skin has lost its luster and he's looking more than a little sallow. Thanks to his shower from earlier, his hair is no longer greasy the way it had been but simply looks course and lifeless, most closely resembling old straw. His hair and skin both look dull. Dry. A memory that seemed faded from god-knows-how-long-ago washes onto the shores of his mind, clear as day but with a wall of mental fog still surrounding it; Tom had noticed a bottle of some lotion-moisturizer stuff on Sebs' bathroom sink. After suffering through the obligatory bad joke about what Sebs would being doing with lotion, (it was cheap store-brand stuff with a Vaseline base so he wouldn't have been using it for said purpose anyway but Tom wouldn't know that and Sebs had chosen not to enlighten him), Sebs had reluctantly admitted that he'd a bit of a dry skin problem only to hear Tom crowing about how girly such an issue was.
" 'Ooh, look at me. I'm Sebs. I'm de-el-i-cate.'"
"I totally don't sound like that."
"You totally do."
"Some of us care about how we look, Tom."
He winces and then keeps his eyes shut, shaking his head slightly in the vague hope that he can erase the scene like some kind of Etch-a-Sketch. It doesn't work but he pretends that it does, meeting the mirror's gaze and wetting his hands in order to repeat his ritual from moments ago. His face is sharper than he remembers. He washes every trace of emotion from it and leaves without looking back.
He is composed.
He is confident.
He is getting his ass fired.
The rooms feel unnaturally silent, even including the low rhythmic tapping of keyboards and the hum of the copier. The murmur of small talk and phone calls seems nonexistent or maybe he just can't hear it. He makes eye contact with no one and no one else makes the attempt.
Mr. Hayward's office door is closed, as usual. It's an intimidation technique to keep anyone under him respectful and distanced. Sebs has always kept his open despite the fact that he'd prefer at least the illusion of privacy sometimes. He knocks because he's polite and this is his last day of playing the game so he might as well play it right.
The last time he'll ever hear that gruff, arrogant voice.
"Sebastian," his composure seems to break a little, his voice dips.
"So, I suppose you know why you're here," he sounds reluctant rather than disciplinarian.
Sebs would scoff at his attempt to be sympathetic if he didn't know that it was at least somewhat genuine. With a decent work ethic and a direct, serious disposition he had managed to win the appreciation of his boss as much as the stern man managed to offer. It was a victory, but not one Sebs particularly treasured. Though there were some things Sebs respected about Mr. Hayward, Sebs was neither appreciative of his general callousness and cynicism, nor his specific intolerances. In the past, he'd made it clear that he considered Sebs to be the exception rather than the rule.
"Look, I understand that things are…difficult. Right now. These kinds of situations are…difficult. Stressful." His voice is softened and the words aren't coming easily. Sebs almost wants to laugh at the fact that this seems to be the most concern he's shown for anyone in a while. Could well be; Sebs has seen him with his wife and kids.
"I don't know what your….relationship to this person was but it's obviously affecting you. We've all noticed."
"I do my job." He sounds firm but neutral, not angry. Good.
"There's more to it than that. You're responsible for other people. You to have provide them with terra firma. They have to trust you."
Sebs keeps his face as blank as he can.
"It's just that you're not the same anymore. You blow up at people without warning for stupid mistakes; sometimes I see you by yourself, looking like you're reacting to things that aren't even happening. " He almost sounds a little desperate, like he's pleading for Sebs to understand. "We're worried about you, son."
Once upon a time, Sebs might have bristled at such an assuming attempt at forcing guilt and intimacy. Would have responded crisply (but not coldly), keeping his power and refusing to yield. Now, it's all he can do not to laugh. You poor, stupid bastard. It's Sebastian you're concerned about. You want Sebastian back. Sebastian's dead. I killed him. He's in the bottom of the Hudson with cement blocks tied to his feet. All that's left is Sebs, raw and bleeding. No, no longer bleeding. Dry. Hard. Frozen. He's almost sorry for this man, who wants something that was a shade at best and an act at most. Sebastian never really existed. Get used to it. I have.
"There are steps that we take in this kind of situation…"
Here it comes…
"We want you to talk to someone."
"We have a…specialist…for these issues."
Finally found another word for 'situation', Mr. H.?
They're sending him to a shrink?
Sebs opens his mouth, hears no words and shuts it again, in what he's pretty sure looks like a good impression of a suffocating fish.
Mr. Hayward continues looking at him sympathetically and nods with finality as if something has been accomplished. Sebs leaves the office with a name and a number in his hand and confusion in his head.
The number turns out to be a room number, as he finds out the next day when he finally opens it. The boss had sent him home 'to rest' after the events of yesterday, where he had sat on the couch, reading a book he couldn't remember past page one, until he recalls gaining consciousness again. It seems that the 'specialist' is in their direct employ, in their basement in fact. That seems somehow ominous even though the basement of their building is as modern and well lit as the upper stories. If it wasn't for the lack of windows, someone might believe himself to still be above ground. He heads down the several flights of stairs until he hits the bottom, following the long narrow hallway. He stops at the appropriate number. The door is open. He takes a perfunctory glance inside.
" Come on in. I don't bite."
He hears a female contralto voice coming from within. He covers his surprise (or at least he thinks he does) and proceeds. There's a lot of…space.
The room is done in blues and yellows. Intended to be calming, he supposes. There's a small table against the far wall where a window would have been, a few half-bookshelves, the obligatory degrees on the wall, a corner desk where a laptop rests and two large chairs.
Big, overstuffed, soft-looking armchairs.
He doesn't like it. It's trying too hard to be inviting and unintimidating.
"Hello?" He finally sees the source of the voice, the reason he's here in the first place, "You look like you're not quite here right now."
I know I'd rather not be.
"No," He says, "Not Sebastian." He feels a rush of pleasure; the statement almost makes him giddy.
She gives him a look like he's being difficult. It's a look he recalls seeing from his grade school teachers on a regular basis. Maybe he is being difficult. He's entitled.
"Mr. Favreaux." She doesn't change the pitch of her voice. She isn't giving an inch. This should be interesting. She's older than him, but not by much, maybe early to mid-thirties. He guesses that she's attractive, objectively speaking. Were he interested in women, he might have found her to be good-looking.
"Why don't you tell me why you're here…?"
"Surely they've told you that much, doctor." Neutral, polite. You couldn't detect the insincerity if you tried. As if this question isn't on the first page of the eponymous textbook used by the global network of headshrinkers to get your patients into the proper sharing and caring mood by giving them the illusion of choosing to open up. He can play a nice civil game of 'let's exchange insults disguised as witty sincerity'. That's his favorite game, as a matter of fact.
"I know what they told me. I know that you've been erratic and unpredictable and that you've gone through some kind of personal distress. I know that you're not very forthcoming about what's wrong nor have you been able to talk to anyone about it or even confront it. You seem like you're building up a classic case of denial and I know for a fact that it would help you to confront the reality of this situation."
He stands his ground. He knew this was coming.
"I've experienced a loss, yes, but I believe that that's my personal business. In fact, I'm certain that it is." He smiles his tight, shark-like smile, the one that has become something of a legend between any coworker who has challenged him one time too many. The one that says 'I'm going to neatly rip your spine out through your asshole and feed it to you. Unless you do this my way.'
It's served him well in the past.
"There's more involved than your comfort level and your privacy. You have a responsibility to everyone else."
He really wishes that they would stop telling him that. He's been hearing about his responsibility to others since before he could walk or talk. It's getting old.
"You're a liability."
'I don't think that word means what you think it means'…
"The company has decided to enlist me in helping you, they clearly believe that you need it."
"The fact that they believe it doesn't make it true," the firmness of his words is interrupted by a sudden, hacking cough. Dammit. His throat stings from the pressure.
She seems to wordlessly acknowledge the cough, taking it to prove some kind of point.
Taking it as a sign of weakness.
"If nothing's wrong then what are you so afraid of? If you sit through some questioning, and everything's fine, I should notice, shouldn't I? And you'll be free to stop wasting your time and mine?" She has a game-face of her own, a dangerous smirk that shows no teeth. It doesn't reach her eyes.
"There are people who are willing to work with you and accept your help. I'm not one of them. It only makes sense to focus on the people who need such guidance. I can decide whether I need it for myself." He hates that he's reduced to emotional appeal. The cough bubbles up in his throat again but he manages to swallow it. Mostly.
She inclines her head confidentially.
"Let me tell you something, Sebastian, treatment has already started. I have permission not to set you free until I've deemed you to be stable again. And I take a lot of convincing." She has an intensity that combines jocularity and seriousness in the most unsettling way. It borders on manic.
She straightens up, businesslike again.
"I'll see you Monday, then? Same time?"
He nods, bites his lip when he's facing away.
"And do something about that cough." She calls to his retreating back.
He opens and closes his fists as he walks, wishing he had something to break.
He takes care of some grocery shopping on the way home (though he's not entirely convinced that he'll eat it) and fumes silently the entire time. When he gets home, he thinks. He thinks about 'how dare she' and 'this isn't over' and that irritating smile and that nauseatingly calm, even voice.
He drugs himself to sleep and doesn't wake up until sometime past three on Saturday.
He spends his weekend sleeping, and making a feeble attempt at cleaning, though there isn't much to do. It's hard for a place to need cleaning when you're never in it. That's going to change, he supposes, whether he likes it or not. On Sunday, he's taken aback by the sudden realization that he's not going to work tomorrow, but still to the office. They've put him on some kind of leave, probably out of vacation time. God knows he has enough of it. Not like I ever go anywhere. 'Sebastian doesn't have a life…' The managers and the paralegals can handle it; at least for the few weeks or whatever that this is going to take. They're better than he gives them credit for, even though he often finds himself annoyed by their frequent oversights and more frequent laziness.
He falls asleep suddenly but is assaulted by nightmares whose details disappear the next day when he tries to recall them.
On Monday morning, he realizes that he hasn't showered since Thursday, when the only other constant in his life was pulled out from under him. This suddenly and inexplicably starts bothering him. A lot. With a strange determination, he heads for the bathroom. He completes his regular hygiene processes and then realizes that he has nowhere to go for more than a few hours. He stands under the hot water, having no will to move, feeling the release of muscle tension he didn't realize he had. It's relaxing and the steam has the positive side effect of making his head too muddled to think. He remains in the shower until he feels weak from the heat and the steam (he had closed the bathroom door beforehand). It occurs to him that he needs his wits about him this afternoon and then he decides that he doesn't care very much. Maybe if he doesn't talk much, or at all, she'll just give up. She'll know a losing battle when she sees one.
He sees someone walking a Rottweiler on the way to the office. A lump works its way into his throat.
She's smiling when he gets there, that keen, irritating smile and he wishes for a second that he could smack it off her face. The surge of anger surprises him a little but there's a lot about him that surprises him these days.
She takes a seat and indicates that he should, too. He does, because he picks his battles and this particular one isn't one of them. He has to play along, at least.
"So, how was the weekend?"
He's pretty sure that he literally glowers at her.
"I'm kidding, of course. You look like this is the most you've moved since Friday."
Not counting the first appointment, Thursday. But who's really counting anyway?
He folds his arms and does his best to look unimpressed.
"You want to hear how my weekend was?"
"I did some shopping, I cleaned the bathroom and then I did some research about your little situation."
He must have reacted because she seems to break her tone.
"It is little, you know. Kidnapping and manslaughter's not as bad as it could have been. If you were friends with, say Jeffrey Dahlmer and he had you over for beer and poker every weekend and you never noticed the smell of bodies coming from the basement, well, then you should be concerned. I'd be concerned, at least. You'd have to be a sociopath or terminally oblivious."
He doesn't like her.
"That is what you're concerned about, right? How could you be friends with a killer and not even know? Wondering if maybe you've got some aggressive tendencies yourself that you're unaware of? Maybe you're as unstable as he was? Another time-bomb?"
He really doesn't like her.
"Well, I wouldn't be too concerned. I've been saying terribly offensive things to you ever since you sat down and the most you've done is glare at me. If you have any physical aggression in you, I think it's buried deep. Any child would have reacted more than you're doing right now."
He doesn't appreciate the analysis, or being compared to a child.
"Reaction is a natural thing, one doesn't have to train it or learn it. You'd have to train it out of you, to unlearn it and someone trained you well."
He feels a stubborn pride burning in his chest and chooses to take it as a compliment. Damn straight.
"What I don't understand is why."
He's forced to open his mouth.
"It's more efficient, more reasonable."
"According to everyone who knows you, you've been slowly falling apart for the last six months. You were pulled out of work because you're scaring your coworkers and you can't even manage to have a simple conversation with me. What part of that is efficient? What part of that is reasonable?"
"If no one else were concerned with my behavior, it wouldn't be a problem. I'm in control. I'm not hurting anyone." He immediately regrets the last part, feeling a sick curl of guilt in his stomach.
"'If no-one could see, I wouldn't be blind' says the blind man. That's really great logic, I can see why Columbia just snapped you up."
Something in his brain snaps into focus. She's been through his file, his records.
Of course she has.
He swallows the feeling of violation and draws himself up, mentally as well as physically.
"Is this really necessary, doctor? Cheap intimidation tricks…too much of a luxury for us to talk like adults?"
"What does that mean to you? 'Talk like an adult'? Does that mean me letting you put up your walls and allowing you to talk at me like you do everyone else? You don't like being the one who's talked down to for a change? There are other people in this world besides you. Something tells me that you just lost one of the only individuals you pretended to consider to be one of them."
He grits his teeth but refuses to rise.
He won't give in.
"I don't think going to get anywhere until you can open up that big mouth of yours and tell me what's going on so unless you're willing to say something-"
"You're wrong!" He hears his voice ring against the cement walls, and he hates how desperate he sounds, how insistent, but he plows on anyway. "Would I have stayed overtime almost every night if I didn't care about what we're doing here, or the people doing it? Don't you think I would've just let them fail? Would I have tried to be there for Tom every time he had one of his 'bad days'—" He breaks off, embarrassed, his ears flushed.
She smiles that horrible smile as if this is exactly what she wanted.
"I think we'll call it quits for today. You seem a little overwhelmed."
Suddenly he's standing in the hallway with no memory of how he got there.
He studies the name on the door, Evelyn Ortega, and trudges home.
He pulls out his laptop and 'Google-stalks' her, as he and Tom used to call it. Nothing deep or dark, no evidence of a damning past. Just some publications, a few mentions of her academic accreditations, a boring social network page; the obligatory kind that only has the bare minimum.
So far, all he knows is that this normal, boring, perfectly average person is turning his life upside-down.
He sits on his cold, overly soft couch in his empty home and thinks about how in another life he might have been talking to Tom right now, through the computer. Or maybe Tom himself, in person, if he had been in one of those moods he got in every so often and ducked out of work claiming illness. Tom had often told Sebs that he should be able to claim 'terminal boredom' instead.
It wasn't so funny now.
Sebs is getting tired of the silence that seems to pervade every inch of his life but there's not much he can do about it.
He feels his chest sting as he starts to cough, the cough that seems to have been coming and going since (that day) two months ago. He idly wonders if he should attempt to get some antibiotics, something but ultimately he decides he doesn't care enough and he has enough doctors in his life right now anyway.
"Welcome back," She says, the next time they meet, "I'm glad you came back."
"Where else do I have to go?" No self-pity, just truth.
"Point. But it says something that you acknowledge it."
You always have to have the last word, don't you?
"Let's try something new today. What do you want to talk about?"
He remains stubbornly mute, waiting for the trap.
"Come on now, don't make me force you, a-hah-ha!"
She laughs a short, maybe intentionally girlish laugh, the a-hah sound emphasized. It annoys him. A lot.
"There's nothing on your mind? Not a single thing you want to talk about?"
"You want to talk about silence? That's poetic."
"Everything is silent now."
"Up until a few minutes ago, you weren't helping with that."
He refuses to explain what he means.
He goes home that night with a journal he's supposed to use to write down anything that might be relevant to his current situation. Anything that he thinks of. He stares at it for a moment, then opens it, runs a finger over the snowy pages.
He toys with the pen for a moment and then writes:
He smirks and then continues
I think this is fucking stupid. It's a waste of time.
He feels satisfied by this somehow, reminding himself of the rebellious child he'd attempted to be so long ago. He stares at it like it's some kind of accomplishment and it is, really; the most he's done in at least a week. He sleeps without the pills and doesn't dream.
It must be their fourth or fifth visit when Dr. Ortega asks him (abruptly) what he thinks a friend is supposed to do.
He stares blankly.
"To you, what does a friend do?"
"Help? Help each other, I guess." His word choices are getting colloquial, lazy. He's not too concerned with impressing anyone anymore.
"Why 'help'? Out of all the things I'm sure you do with people, why 'help'? You like helping other people? You like being helped?"
He says nothing.
"I know you act like you don't like being helped. I'm looking at it right now. But you think that people should help each other. You've said this before. You talked about 'being there'…what is that really? What is 'being there' to you?"
"It means…talking to someone when they need you to and even when they don't but they want to anyway. It means doing something for someone even when they don't ask but you know they'd want you to and maybe they don't want you to but it's good for them anyway."
"You sound like an angry Hallmark card. Seriously, did anyone ever tell you that? Because you do. You have some very strong and very impractical ideals. You ever read Simone De Beauvoir in your big shiny Ivy League education?" She doesn't wait for him to respond. She's making a point. "She talked about how every woman wants 'the ultimate, soul-searing love'. It sounds like you're looking for some kind of "soul-searing" friendship. Like the reason you don't get close to people is because you want someone you click perfectly with so you can have some kind of thoroughly co-dependant bromance. Call me crazy, but that doesn't seem like it works too well."
"Weren't you just telling me not a too long ago to stop 'not feeling'?"
"It's all or nothing with you, isn't it? Maybe read between the lines, see a middle ground?"
"Do you do this with all of your patients?"
"Treat them like they have functioning brains? Only if I think they deserve it."
He has no response to that.
Sebs starts taking walks. Long walks. He's got nothing better to do. He walks for hours, sometimes ending up in parts of the city he's never seen before, which is rather impressive, considering.
He walks and he watches. He watches people; the way they move and the way talk to each other. Some of them are in a hurry; they walk fast, talk fast. Frantic gestures and forceful words. He idly wonders what they're rushing for. Others are too slow. Overly cautious, everything contemplated and measured. Those people frustrate him. And then there are the painfully normal people, the people who seem to be doing everything at just the right pace, no more, no less. They confuse him because he's pretty sure he used to be one of them.
"And then we-"
"Why're you so talkative today, Sebs?"
He snaps to attention, startled by the use of the long-unused nickname. He's pretty sure if he were some kind of cartoon character, his ears would literally be perking up.
"Why'd you call me that? Where'd you get that from?"
"You said it yourself "And then Tom said to me 'Sebs, why do you always have to second-guess everything…'" I asked you to tell me how much time you spent together and a few sentences later you're telling me this stuff about standing on a roof, howling at the moon…."
No one calls me that, not anymore, he wants to say but he doesn't because she'll know.
"Looking at you, I have to say it's pretty hard to imagine."
"We did all kinds of crazy shit together…" He realizes that he's smiling but it fades quickly. It feels inappropriate, wrong.
One of his walks takes him out in the late afternoon. It's starting to get dark of course but not so inky that he can't see anything. His feet absently lead him in a direction he's pretty sure he never wanted to go again but he can't fight it. He knows exactly where he's going but if someone were to ask at that moment, he couldn't, wouldn't tell him or her. Can't explain himself anymore. When he sees the gates he feels a flood of determination as if this is what he meant to do all along. He passes through, takes his familiar place in front of the black stone and all of a sudden he's pulled back to this moments months ago. This time he feels empowered, rather than helpless.
He stares at the thing angrily, not that it makes any difference.
The anger tastes good in his mouth.
"Why'd you do that? Seriously. What were you hoping to accomplish? Where do you get off just leaving me here to clean up the mess? You couldn't have held out a little longer? You know that's all it takes for your crazy highs to come down again. You never could. Wait, I mean. You were always so damn impatient. Was this what you were rushing towards? Was this was what you were waiting for this whole time? The grand finale? Let me tell you something, if this were one of your beloved classics, one of your stale overwritten novels, this would be a really shitty ending. Where do I fit into the story? I am the Holy Fool? The Sidekick? The hapless bystander? What if I didn't want to be in your story at all? Maybe I had my own damn story. You ever think of that? Maybe you just fucked up my story. "
The warmth of his anger carries him all the way home. It isn't until he's back in his room that the heat fades into bitter chill. He's cold an awful lot these days. He starts digging through his closet idly, looking for a sweater or something. He's become rather apathetic to the majority of his clothes, lately. Somewhere, shoved in the back, he pulls out something long forgotten. A muddy brown sweatshirt, the faintest circular logo on one corner of the chest revealing it to be from his college. He hasn't worn a sweatshirt since then, at least, and maybe not even at that point. He stares at it for a moment, then says 'fuck it' and puts the damn thing on. It's warmer than it looks.
He dreams a long detailed dream and wakes up against his will, fighting and grasping to salvage the details. He and Tom were sitting and talking…for what must have been hours…in a room that looked both totally familiar and not at all. He can't remember anything they said but they had been so engaged. Any attempt to produce a concrete memory is like watching a silent movie. His stomach twinges with guilt. Then he hates himself for wishing it could have lasted longer.
"Can I ask you a question, doctor?"
"You can, you may and you should."
"You ever just think you have no goddamn reason for being on this earth?"
Sebs starts using the journal, but he doesn't write notes, per se. He makes lists. Words that come to mind, maybe a phrase, that get stuck in his head. Sometimes a string of words at once.
Words like random or feral or explosion
There's a day when the only thing playing on the radio is Elvis. He simply writes fucker.
"What kinds of things do you think about when you think about Tom?"
"Was that an attempt at being a smartass? You're losing your touch."
"Tom is death and death is Tom. This whole thing, our whole…everything. It was just so he could die?" There's an unintended question that emerges and he resents his voice for betraying him.
"Pretty much. Everyone's "whole…everything". I hate to tell you, but that's how this whole mortality thing works, buddy. You could drive yourself crazy trying to explain it beyond that. Lots of people have."
One night, Sebs is restless, his legs itching for movement, his walls too confining He starts to walk, as usual, with no conception of where he's heading. He finds himself down familiar streets whose memory is just on the tip of his brain. He comes to a halt when he sees something undeniably familiar. It's just sitting there like a goddamned relic of ghosts long past.
The bar where he met Tom.
It isn't busy. Hadn't been that night either.
"Ummm…hey. Thanks for that."
"Not a problem. That guy was a dick."
"I'm Tom," he says, holding out a hand like he's a kid being introduced around by his parents. The sincerity of the gesture, none of the typical force or power behind it makes Sebastian want to smile. The guy is nervous but not because of him. He seems like nervous is a perpetual state with him. Not true fear, just nervous energy. Antsy, as his mother used to say.
"I'm," the heaviness of his name weighs on his tongue as it sometimes does. He's played around with the idea of nicknames but he's never had someone to be that casual with. Seb? Sebs? That sounded like something casual, something someone would call themselves, "Sebastian."
He couldn't do it. Damn.
"Sebastian. Seb-astian." Tom makes a face like the name is twisting his tongue.
He's used to it.
"Can I call you Sebs?" It isn't much of a question and now he's wondering where that hint of force came from.
He swallows the thought and walks in, slowly and deliberately like he's at some kind of shrine. It's a shitty little dive; dark and dark wood and pervaded by the smell of stale beer and smoke, even though smoking's been banned for a while now.
He sits at a table, by himself, and orders a drink. He's not really in the mood and hasn't been for some time but that doesn't seem to matter right now.
He drinks and tries to drown out the sounds of memories in his ears.
He sees and hears Tom in what might have been a true recollection or maybe entirely fabricated, doesn't make a difference at this point, hears him scolding.
"Dude, take it easy. I don't wanna be carrying you tonight."
If it really were Tom, Sebs would have stopped, would have burned with embarrassment, maybe tried to change the subject.
Sebs tells the voice in his head to shut up and tries to find something else to focus on.
"Wear my ring around your neck" is playing. Tom used to love this song.
He's sitting in the bar where he met Tom and Tom's music is playing on the sound system and the whole thing is so fucking absurd he could just die.
"Aren't you gonna ask me about my childhood, any of those typical shrink questions?"
"You watch too much TV. Besides, I'm not a Freudian."
"What are you, then?"
"I'm special. Besides, I feel like the things that patients let slip when you just let them talk are more important than anything that could be coaxed."
He wanders into a drug store, vaguely contemplating doing something about the pain in his chest cough when he catches the sight of the quintessential greeting cards off to the side. All of the standards, and then, confined to one narrow column. He looks because he's curious, morbid curiosity. He wants to laugh but doesn't. He skims the words
He was a good man.
The Memory Lives On
It won't fucking die.
Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies
That one rings ominous to him despite the more positive connection it's supposed to draw, echoing in his mind. What never dies, really? Loneliness? Hurt? Confusion?
What kind of psychopath comes up with these things, anyway? Sentiments too heavy to be appropriate in any other venue and too vague to matter.
Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies.
"All my life I've had a goal. I didn't have to specifics of how I was going to get there, but I knew what it was. It wasn't a purpose in any kind of spiritual way, but it was a goal, it was something. Then I realized that there was no big sense of triumph, no final satisfaction. I just had to keep it going, forever, and ever, amen. I was just setting myself up to…continue…for the rest of my life. Then, with Tom, life wasn't about deadlines or papers anymore. It was …fun. Suddenly, there was someone to do things with and a reason to do them. There was someone who would care if I had a bad day and I could care about his. There was someone there. I liked it, maybe I needed it but I don't know how to look for it and I just…don't want to hurt anymore."
She takes a long look at him, her expression unreadable.
"I think we're done here." She says in a toneless voice.
Sebs is too exhausted to do anything but nod.
He's walking to work when it finally hits him. He's been deemed sane enough to work again, though it feels less like victory and more resignation, on both ends. Someone trips him accidently, too many feet, too close together. He falls flat on his face and shakes off anyone who shows him the slightest hint of concern. He separates himself, moving off to the side and checking his clothes for tears (miraculously none). And he suddenly realizes it. He's right back where he started from and not a thing has changed. In one moment, life seems as pointless, as absurd as the most pessimistic philosopher could ever wish, the whining complaint of every squealing death metal band, every angsty teenage poem and every real one too. He starts to laugh, quietly at first but it slowly increases in volume, becoming more erratic, more intense.
'And he laughs the laugh of the damned…' Some quote from his undergrad years that he's probably butchering but he couldn't care less right now. He laughs until it feels like his lungs are going to break, the bitter pleasure giving him the strength to ignore the pain.
He finishes, straightens up and takes his place back in the crowd, back in line.