Title: For Neither Ever, Nor Never, Goodbye
Disclaimer: I just don't own at all… but I desperately wish I did.
Rating: T- for troublesome themes, violence and imagery, and implied something-or-other in the future
Summary: Do you believe in fate, Mr Huntsman? And he does now, as his dreams of a girl with raven-black hair start to take shape in reality and he's traveling across the country, in search of her or truth -although he's not sure there's a difference. But he's learning that mistakes and guilt can haunt a lifetime, and every lifetime after. And sometimes, we are doomed to curses of our own making.
Characters/Pairings: mostly Huntsman/Snow, heavily implied Huntsman/Sarah.
Notes: (on setting-) very alternate universe, set as modern day as you can get it. Eric Huntsman is a paramedic, working in an as yet nameless town. (on block quote/italicized chapter starters-) this has a soundtrack in my own head and sometimes lines pop out at me. If applicable, they will be posted at the beginning of a chapter they complement. (on story-) inspired by both a strange imagining, and some idea I am sure I have seen mentioned elsewhere. Acknowledgements, apologies, and accolades all go to the idea and its creator, if they do indeed exist, though I have forgotten now who it might be. Either way, this is something different for me, and I am supremely excited to see how it ends up. (on author's own failings-) a warning: I am impressively talented at taking forever to update, so I charge my readers with this: motivate me. This is a story I want to tell, but I need to know people want to hear it. So read, and please review. Thank you! :D
Dedication: to DorianGrey91 for being an amazing author… and for inspiring me to break out of my one-shots. Also: go read Dorian's stories, because they will blow your mighty socks off.
then you took me by surprise
i'm dreaming 'bout those dreamy eyes
i never knew - i never knew
. . .
Eric dreams of her again. The girl with the braid of black hair.
It is a different dream every time it comes to him, although the edges remain familiar. And she, always she, stays fixed and true regardless. A beating beautiful heart in the center of his recurrent imaginings.
Here, now, there is a field through which they wander. The tips of her fingers trail across the blossoms of the wildflowers. He follows her, content to follow, and to watch.
There's a heavy scent of summer to the air; all his dreams are as full, as real as this. He can feel the heat of the sun, see the shimmer it brings to the skin of his arm. He can taste the fragrance of the flowers and the soft air, touch the coarse tops of the tall grass. Even a snatch of her hair or a fleeting touch of her hand feel as real to him as anything he's ever known. More than real in fact.
She leads him to the edge of the field, and the shallow stream that runs between a man made channel of soft-tilled earth. They stand, letting the cool water wash upon their legs. Her dress is hitched up around her knees -a gingham that he loves so well- and there's a joy swept across her red lips.
Lips reddened by his own. Kisses he's shared, and will share forever.
The sunlight dances off her skin and her shining eyes. She drops one knot of her dress into the water and places a pale hand across his eyes.
Her voice is a whisper, a laugh. "Come find me," she tempts.
Her hand slips from his face. He opens his eyes and she is gone.
. . .
Eric woke. The stiff chair of the waiting room dug into his back and he stretched. Every muscle cried out in protest. He rolled his neck and reached for his Styrofoam cup of coffee. Still warm. He'd only been asleep for maybe ten minutes then.
It was just after four am. Possibly a Tuesday. Although he couldn't be sure. Those ten minutes of reprieve had been the only of it's kind in the past twenty four hours, and naps such as that the only kind of real sleep he'd been getting since Sarah had left.
Without her, things didn't feel right anymore in the apartment. The bed was too hard, the TV echoed off the empty walls, food burned easily under his inexperienced hands. He noticed the little things that filled the silence now instead of her voice, and her laugh: the lonely drip of a faucet he'd meant to fix long ago or the squeak of a loose floorboard. Everything was settling unfamiliar around him in the wake of her absence like dust clouds in sallow sunlight. It was hard to sleep, or sleep well without her beside him, and three weeks of unrest were doing it's job.
Part of him wished desperately for her return, but thoughts of that nature were unkind and he didn't like to dwell on them.
So he'd been forced to a steady diet of service station food and Janice's coffee these past weeks. The prepackaged burgers and turkey sandwiches were passable, but Janice's coffee only truly refreshed. He didn't know how, but that woman could work wonders with a coffee pot. It was a crime that the third floor of Mercy Light Lutheran kept her talents all to themselves. The waiting room she kept lovingly filled daily felt a half mile walk from the cafeteria, but worth it.
"Another double?" Janice inquired from behind her horn-rimmed glasses. She wasn't old enough to wear the monstrous eyewear out of habit so Eric determined she did it for nostalgia. Because everything about Janice screamed of a bygone era: her clothes, her hippie hairstyle, her bluesy taste in music. She was an eclectic mystery bag of decades past. But working the night shift gave her more than enough leeway to be who she wanted, right down to the fresh set of fake flowers she brought in every Sunday. Janice was highly allergic to nearly every real flower imaginable but she thought the presence of something bright did wonders for the patients.
Eric swished back a hearty gulp of coffee and nodded. He couldn't remember the last time he hadn't been on call or covering for someone else, much less the last day he had off. He'd already been on ten hours and he had another six to go.
Janice shook her head, tsking her tongue like some greater misdeed had been done than Eric working a few extra hours. "You're work too hard darling. Are you sleeping well?" And he didn't miss the way her face took on that look that everyone's did recently: that look that said they were more worried about him than they should be, although they wouldn't say it aloud. Most of them knew about Sarah leaving; she'd been a part of his life for six years and the look they gave him made it clear they thought it was only a matter of time before it broke him. Maybe they were right. Either way, Eric had begun to hate that look.
"Not really," he admitted, determined to remain honest, no matter their silent suspicions. "But Dr Muir hooked me up with something to help me sleep and I'm not on call until Thursday so I plan on being thoroughly out of commission until then."
Her fears were satiated. Janice was overly compassionate like that. "Good," she said. "Because I saw you dozing off in that chair and that just won't do. You're gonna get an awful neck ache."
As if on cue, his neck twinged. Eric broke into a laugh. "You're a sweetheart for caring, Jan."
The woman smiled and it made him feel a little better, considering.
But just like that, his break was cut short. Eric's radio buzzed then and Tom's voice broke through from the ambulance. "Eric. We're needed out. Pile up on the old highway. Marie called it in. Sounds pretty bad."
Eric heaved a sigh and bid Janice goodbye. Traffic accidents were always bad.
. . .
And it was. A mess of steel and shattered windshield all over the intersection of Hayworth and Old 12.
The intersection was infamous. It was too close to a freeway exit, lacked a four-way stop, and boasted a blind zone that would make anyone pray to their maker before venturing out. People and paramedics alike had complained for ages that the corner was a death trap. Eric hated to be right when it came to things like this.
From the look of things it was hard to tell, but it could have been the old pickup that caused it. Or the shiny silver sedan now thrown off into the brush, its side crushed in like a soup can. Or the black-in-the-almost-sunrise Volvo, it's front bent wrong around the frame of the pickup. Any one or all three. Regardless, it was a disaster.
Another ambulance from Mercy was already on the scene; Eric spotted Duke and Freeman across the blacktop. Cop cars and onlookers alike gathered around the perimeter. Lights flashed and strobed in the darkness. Tom swore as they approached the scene but they wasted no time in rushing out to help. Duke seemed to have a hold on things already, barking out orders like the fifty year old veteran he was.
The pavement was still warm from the skid marks of the Volvo, and the broken engine tinked around the frame of the pickup. It was a sorry sight and he was sure, from the way Freeman carried on, that the driver wasn't going to make it.
Eric gave himself to the service of Duke while Tom went off to help Freeman and the cops; he was sure he wouldn't be any use on his own in his current state of mind. He could feel his resolve and energy slipping. The coffee wasn't holding its own after all.
Eric was on a run back from the ambulance, when his eyes caught the flash of something and stopped in his tracks.
It couldn't be.
She was there, among the wreckage. Trapped between the Volvo and the truck, pinned so perceptibly he didn't know how anyone could have missed her before -perhaps she had been thrown through the windshield and lost somehow in the chaos of response. With a cry he rushed across the ground, falling to his knees beside her. His heart pounded, but his head cleared in a rush as he turned the side of her face toward him.
It was her. The girl in his dreams. Impossible as it may have been, he could mistake her features for no other.
She was a far cry from the happy young thing she had been. Now, she was broken and mangled, her pale skin turned pink and marred with wasted blood. She was a wreck of bruised skin and dying breath. Eric felt his heart clog his throat and his stomach do a sick turn. She was beautiful, even in this last moment before her death.
He shouted aloud as she came to, suddenly, her eyes flickering fast as she faded, her body kicking out the last resources of stubborn life. There was a haze of pain in her green eyes, a look so foreign from that of before. She seemed only to notice him and then forget him in the same instant.
He shouted again, barely aware of the frantic sound to his voice. He tried to look for ways to stop up the blood, seal up her wounds, to move her without damaging her frail body even more but his searching hands were calmed by the grasp of her own. She clung to him as if he were life itself, her grip a frenzied demand for his attention. Blood gurgled in her throat from ruined lungs as she expelled what strength she could in a last breath.
"Save me," she whispered, her voice as soft and broken as a winged prayer.
Eric went cold and numb. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and resounding shouts, but all afar off, as though he were sinking slowly underwater. He stared hard and fearful on her faded face until hands brought him out of his trance -heavy hands jerking on his shoulder and a voice shouting his name. He broke free and looked away, eyes wet and tears running down his face.
"Help her," he begged, his own voice a ruin of its own.
It was Duke who had answered his call and stood at his shoulder. His movements were slow, slower than Eric thought they should be, as he looked from Eric to the cause of his distress. It was almost imperceptible then, the slowly slink of something firm and guarded rising up into his weathered eyes. His face transitioned quickly from shock to a sadness beyond words and years. Duke placed his wide old hand again on Eric's shoulder, this time reassuringly, and Eric felt the difference in the man beside him, felt him change.
"Eric," he said, his tone clear-cut and without guile, "there's no one here."
It was true. Eric turned to look, quick and disbelieving, but no body lay wasted before him. His hands held only empty air. She was gone. He was alone amongst the rubble, shouting help for the ghost of his weary dreams -nothing more than a hallucination of his exhaustion.
A new fear gripped him hard and merciless and he stumbled backwards. She had never been.
. . .
The call woke him sometime in the evening.
Eric rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and sat up quickly enough to remind him that he wasn't quite sober from the night before. As if the multiple beer bottles on his nightstand weren't enough of proof. He viewed them with a scowl as he fumbled for his cell phone; Sarah hated when he left garbage lying around.
Marie was on the other end of the line. She sounded stressed, and worried. He knew the tone well: she'd used the very same on him less than a month ago.
"Last night…" Marie began and then paused, deciding on a different lead in to the bad news. "I think it would be wise for you to take the rest of the week off."
Maybe it was the pill the Dr Muir has prescribed. Or the case of beers he'd washed it down with. Maybe it was just the everything of the past month finally catching up to him -including but not limited to, yet perhaps hinging most upon, the events of the past morning. But the reason was of no matter, for when Eric opened his mouth to argue, all he said was:
Marie didn't even bother to hide her sigh of relief.
"Ok," she answered. "Just take the weekend to do something for yourself. I don't want to see your face until Monday. We can discuss matters then." She had paused somewhere in there near the end, obviously searching for the right word even though the papers of his looming termination were possibly staring her right in the face. After all, one couldn't go around hallucinating victims and expect to keep their jobs.
Still, he was able to strangle out a, "Thanks, Marie," just before she hung up.
Eric stared at the cell phone and then off into the darkened bedroom.
He didn't deserve time off. In fact, he hated time off. He needed to be in constant motion, never a dull moment into which unpleasantness could sneak. Yet it was true: he needed this, no matter the way in which it came; he was in desperate need of a vacation. Maybe more than he'd realized before.
Mo nudged him then, crawling and stretching out from under a mound of covers. The feline was already purring, his mottled fur standing up in all directions from the static electricity. Eric scrubbed the underside of his chin absently as he established the ultimate problem with a handful of time off:
What was he going to do?
"What do you think, Moses?" Eric asked the cat. Mo, as expected, gave no reply but to redouble his demand for attention.
The cat had been just another of Sarah's strays. She had such a penchant for forlorn things and Eric was sure that was how he'd fit first into her life: he was lost, and she had guided him home.
His heart ached suddenly, like it did always at the thought of her. Mo and him: she'd left them both behind.
Eric scrambled out of bed, and away from the unpleasantness of his wandering thoughts. The floor tilted only slightly but he made it around his apartment without much difficulty. The motions of the everyday came as second nature; he didn't need to give them much thought as his brain was working steadily on other things, his suddenly free weekend, and as far as possible from his lapse of togetherness from the previous morning.
He was halfway through heating up a found Hot Pocket, and three-fourths down a list of things he'd been putting off for just such a weekend as this -way beyond convinced one of those things needed to be a revisit to a shrink- when the apartment phone rang.
He'd made it a rule long ago that all land-line calls would go first through the answering machine and he wasn't about to change that honored tradition now. Four rings and the machine picked up: it was a Sarah's voice that asked callers to leave a message. He'd yet to find the strength of heart to change it, even if she didn't live there anymore.
The caller was Tom. And he was calling to make sure Eric was OK. He'd heard about Marie's decree then, or perhaps known it was inevitable. Either way, Tom finished his message on a lame note: offering a half-hearted invitation out fishing that weekend, the familiar turn of pity twisting his tone.
The microwave dinged as though a bell of fate had just rung. Fishing. Eric hadn't been out on the lake in, well, quite too long. His father had always gone when the going had gone difficult so why not his son? The idea was appealing, in a way he hadn't expected. He could already see himself on the highway, heading out to the cabin, where the air was clear and the world less than pressing. It was just what he needed perhaps, clear air and open space. He could already feel himself moving away from everything, from dreams and exhaustion and queer looks, and toward something better, something he'd been desiring unconsciously for a long time.
"Well, what do you think, Mo?" He inquired again, biting into the warm flaky crust. The cat brushed against his legs and meowed expectantly. Eric dropped a chunk of cheesy ham to the linoleum and Moses wasted no time in pouncing upon it.
"Yeah," Eric sighed, "that's what I thought too."