Title: Memento Mori

Author: Ashantai

E-Mail: ashantai@hotmail.com

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I own nothing and nobody.

http://devoted.to/x5


MEMENTO MORI

"Lydecker's the one guy that knows what's going on in this freak show body of mine...

Whether or not this barcode has an expiration date."

~ Max; Prodigy


Sometimes I think maybe he knew all this time, and he was just keeping it from me and all of us to protect us. He must have known, or at least suspected; after all, what would Manticore want with old soldiers? He hates being here on this bed, shaking, weak. He doesn't want us to see him like this and he wouldn't let us call Max. I hate him for that.

"Zack," I whisper. "I love you." His eyes open, clouded, and they take way too long to focus on me. Then he smiles; it scares me because he hardly ever smiles. His cold, clammy hand comes up and touches my face. I grasp it, hold on tight. "Don't die," I whisper to him. He looks away.

"I'll wait," he says. "I'll wait till you go."

"Well then you won't be able to," I choke out. "Because I'm not going anywhere."

"Syl," he says, then sighs, drops his hand from my cheek. He closes his eyes because the light hurts them. I turn it off and lay down beside him so I can rest my head on his chest. His fingers stroke through my hair gently as his ribcage rises and falls with his ragged, laboured breathing. Every time his hands stop moving I reach up and squeeze his shoulder because I'm afraid he's slipping away, and even though he must be exhausted his hands start up again, every time. I raise my head, look at him. His thumbs brush the tears from my cheeks but more just follow them. I cuddle up close against his side and put my head back on his chest, holding him tightly, and his arms slip around my back. We used to do this when I was a child and had a nightmare, and now we do it because he's dying. So much time has passed, but not enough, and I cry.

"Don't die," I whisper to him, clutching at him.

"Shshsh," he soothes. He doesn't want to lie to me. He hates lying, so he doesn't speak, and I just cry harder and hold him close.

Sometimes I fall asleep and then jerk awake, and I'm terrified he'll be gone. He's holding on, though, I'm not sure why. Is he afraid? I'm too selfish to help him find peace, because if he does then he'll leave me. So I just lie here and listen to him breathe and smile at the others when they come into the room.

Sometimes Jondy sits by the bed and stares at Zack as though she can't quite believe what she's seeing. Then Zane comes in and takes her place or sits with her, and he just cries without sound, tears slipping down his cheeks as though he doesn't even notice they're there. Krit sometimes comes in too, but then he always ends up kicking something and he has to leave again. There are several dozen places where the drywall has been hit squarely by his boot, and a few of them by his bare foot. Those ones have blood on them, dried against the wall, cleaned by no one. I stare at them sometimes when I'm too scared to think.

I keep waiting for Zack to give one last shuddering sigh, sit up, and say, "Okay, I'm fine now, it's over. You guys have to move out because it's too dangerous to be all in the same place." But he doesn't. He just lies there and shakes and tries to die in a way that won't scare me so much. And I just keep crying, so much that I don't even have tears anymore, I just have grief and it comes out in little sobs or the shaking of my shoulders or nightmares the times when I can't help falling asleep.

After a while he starts being unconscious for long periods of time. I hate that. I can't stand him being somewhere I can't go, too.

"Stop scaring me," I whisper every time he snaps out of it and looks at me. "Please stay here." He tries, I know he does. I'm not being fair. I should let him die. But I can't. What would we do without him?

"I'm so tired," he whispers.

"We need you, Zack," I say in a shaky voice. He sighs and nods and closes his eyes again, and again he doesn't die. He's in pain, I can tell. I'm evil, I'm horrible, but I love him and I'll be damned if I give him permission to go. After he's unconscious once more, or maybe just sleeping soundly as I pathetically hope, Jondy comes into the room. Her hand is soft against my hair.

"I'll stay with him," she says gently. "Go eat something."

"I don't trust you."

"I'm not going to kill him." As soon as she says it I know that's exactly what she's going to do.

"If you want me to eat then bring the food in here," I say.

"Syl," she whispers. "That's my brother, too. But he needs to go."

"No," I say stubbornly, hugging my arms around him. His skin is cold and clammy and his body shakes with painful spasms even in sleep. "Get the hell out of here." Jondy sighs a little, but obeys and closes the door behind her.

Later when Zack wakes up I say, "Tell me a story."

"I was never good at that," he manages. I glance away. The ones who were good at that are gone now.

"You could try."

"I'm too tired," he answers. He looks up at me, struggling to see my face through his haze of sickness or death or whatever it is that has so suddenly claimed him and will one day claim us all. "You should eat something." I can't help it; I laugh. What the hell else can I do now?

"I love you, Syl," he whispers. "I know I've been hard on you, but..." He coughs and almost brings up blood. Then he forces out, "I love all of you."

"I know." I hold him close, sobbing. "I know."

"You're going to be fine."

"No."

"Yes, you will. I taught you all everything you needed to know a long time ago." He lets out a little sigh. "I shouldn't have tried to control your lives for so long."

"It's okay," I whisper back. "You needed us, too." He nods, closes his eyes. He's going to slip into unconsciousness again, I know it. "Zack," I say firmly. He struggles to open his eyes, to look at me. I'm crying again, hot tears that splash down against his clammy skin.

"Shshsh," he whispers, and he tries but fails to raise a hand to brush them away. I grab it where it's fallen and lay it against my cheek for him. He smiles a little but it fades almost immediately and his eyes flutter.

"Zack," I say. He looks at me and I try not to sob. "Listen, I'm going to go get something to eat, okay?" He's staring at me so thoughtfully. Slowly he nods and I know he understands. I hug him close, kiss his cold forehead, look down at Zack, at Krit and Zane, at me and Jondy. All of us, one day, will go like this. I stand up from the bed, touch his cheek. "I love you," I say once more. I'm not crying now.

"I love you, too," he says. "Go eat something."

"Okay," I whisper back, heading for the door. I don't turn around because I realize suddenly that I don't want to see, and he knew that. His breathing, so loud and laboured that I can hear it in the hallway, is gone as soon as I close the door. Krit looks at me as I enter the living room, touches my shoulder. Jondy and Zane walk over and we all hold each other close. Our big brother is gone now, but he was right. We'll be okay.


A/N: So this was my metaphorical way of making peace with the loss of Dark Angel. :)