we smoked the screen

to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory
and at once i knew
i was not magnificent
–– holocene / bon iver

/ / /

ren·ais·sance [ren-uh-sahns] (noun): a renewal of life, vigor, interest, etc.; rebirth; revival

/ / /

You used to go by the philosophy that "you only live once" is the most rubbish excuse for justifying anything that you've ever heard – if you're really meant to be reckless and live as fast as you can, you should live more by "there's a million and one ways to die." Explore them. Investigate them. Enjoy them. Cherish every one of them, especially that stupidly exhilarating split second between when you lean back in your chair and it hangs midway in air so close to the ground that you can't help but think this is it.

Cherish that moment and keep it in the back of your mind forever, because it is the feeling of nearing death while still being alive. It's the only feeling in the world that counts. And you can repeat it thousands of times before you actually meet your end. That's the beauty of it.

But once Freddie's gone it seems like there's only one way to die, and that way is slowly, the way you're hardly living through it right now. Everything is empty. Colorless, even, if you take the time to pay attention to colors. Your life never really had much of a meaning but now it feels as though you're not really living at all. You have the desire to do nothing, and perhaps the capability to do even less. Your hollowness is getting old at its very best.

You are Effy Stonem, but barely.

/ / /

The field a few blocks down from your home is one of the few things saving you from complete insanity, and the closest thing to welcoming you can find. The grass is dry. Cook is there. He doesn't say anything. But you never say anything. There's a huge difference between you two – the contrast of the moment. His episode of silence will pass and eventually he will open his mouth again to speak, if only for you. On the contrary, your moments are all the same, repeated day after day like the broken record you swore you'd never turn out to be. You snap out of it occasionally, but hardly long enough for someone to notice, not to mention that no one bothers to stay and pay attention and then notice. You can't count Cook in that, though – you can't count Cook in anything, because it seems that Cook never leaves.

"Hey princess," he says with a grin after the long pause following you approaching and sitting down next to him. You were right about it. It took a while, but his quiet ended. "Spliff?" he offers, which is his usual secondary form of greeting. He holds his hand out for you to grab it. Like always, he doesn't anticipate a verbal response.

You nod, reaching out to take the smoke from him, but you don't bother lighting it. You can't think of a reason you'd want your quiet to end. Nonetheless, you've suddenly found it in you somewhere that you will talk today.

You gesture wildly to his arm. It's a cut. Why is there a cut on his arm? You breathe in, and once you breathe out you've opened your mouth to let out a noise that sounds nothing like your real voice. You're not quite sure what you used to sound like, but it definitely didn't resemble this. "You've got something – there, you've got something there."

He looks confused, but only slightly fazed to hear actual words come from your lips. Something like he was expecting it to happen one day, though maybe just not today. "What?" he questions, staring down to where you're pointing, "what're you on about?"

"Right there," you repeat, and there's only so much that keeps you from shrieking out of terror. It should be easy for him to see and for you to say. The red, all of it, flashing brightly in its entirety, a reminder of the times you tried to end it but couldn't because even trying takes effort and the blade never cut deep enough.

"Eff, stop joking around, man. There's nothing on my –"

– Recognition.

He pats you on the shoulder. It should be reassuring, but instead it's unbearable. "Oh, this? It's nothing to worry about," he shrugs, "I just got into a bit of a scuffle earlier." Either accidentally or purposely, he still doesn't say the word. He can sense that it will set you off, but it's too late for that because it already has. You don't need to hear the word itself to initiate a reaction.

A small shudder escapes you. It's a wonder how you're still coherent. "The blood, Cook, the blood," you say in a rush, "doesn't it consume you?" It all slips out. You didn't mean for it to.

He stares at you. There's no motive behind it, since he had you all figured out long before you could manage to think Maybe Cook sees right through me and do something about it. No, he just stares – not inspecting or assessing or judging – only staring, and possibly realizing why it's this particular night that you chose to speak.

"I don't think it does, actually," he responds, raising a brow as he lights up his own joint, "even if I knew what the fuck that meant, I still don't think it would. Consume me, or whatever it is you said." He's turned his attention back to his spliff, but it feels like he hasn't stopped staring at you. People were always supposed to have a rough time getting into your head. But with Cook, he's already gotten in and gotten out to go back into his own again, with enough time left over for some cannabis at the end.

You swallow. You have nothing left to say. You're inhaling death, it tastes like at the back of your throat, though your joint is still unlit in your hand. So it's merely air you're breathing in, not the scent of death. Essentially it's the same thing.

Exhaled smoke. "Why did you always try that shit? Trying to kill yourself and all that, I mean?" he asks sullenly. He genuinely wants to know.

Why did you? Past tense. He's referring to lifetimes ago, not your recent clashes with knives that go unnoticed as you clutch to your long sleeved shirt – his scars are visible but yours aren't. Still, it's not hard to be frightened by the question he poses. What used to be common knowledge about your bouts of illness is now a lost concept to you, right in the immediate distance but too difficult to grasp and understand.

"You say that as if I'm depressed. Depressed people commit suicide. I wasn't – I'm not depressed," you tell him blankly, "I'm not anything. I don't feel anything anymore." It's a lie but it's also the closest thing to honesty that you've ever dared to use, although it seems as if it's more of an excuse. You forgot to answer in terms of past tense. He was asking about then, but you've answered to now. It's like the puzzle pieces will never fit.

"You don't feel anything? Not even for me?" he fires off impulsively, his words falling just short of a whisper. It's not something he would usually say – but then again, it only seems like yesterday that there wasn't something terribly wrong with both of you and the world had a proper balance to it. Not anymore, it seems, as you steal a glance over at him. He's disheveled, but that's not unusual. It almost gives you joy to see him this way, as if things can maybe go back to normal one day, if normal is the lives you used to lead without any fears of crushed hopes and dreams.

You can see it in his eyes and the near wild look he's got about him that he wants to shout out his lungs, maybe even tell the truth like Remember when Freddie promised to take care of you but he didn't because he couldn't and now he's gone, he left you again like all those times before and he left me too even though he said he never would, and now we're both all alone. But he won't, because he knows you already know.

"No," you tell him after the terrible moment of hesitation has passed, turning your attention to the sky again because gazing at him has gotten old, "no, I don't."

He is James Cook, but not quite as he was before.

/ / /

Some days the field of the grass is wet, but you still go. Perhaps that's a testament to how Cook provides you with your only thirst for human interaction. You've started talking more often since the time you can slightly recall when the grass was dry and there was blood, for some reason – the blood is always the clearest to you, pulling you back in through your intoxication induced hallucinations and even reality.

You break the quiet first. It doesn't feel right.

"Are you proud of the life you're living, Cook?" It's a simple question, effortless enough for you to come up with and prompted simply by his eyes, which look swollen and bloodshot – red, so so red that you can't help but make the observation and comment and wait, what's that? A bit of worry. Little enough to shove under the blankness and nonchalant formality, even though what you've put forth is the furthest from formal.

He snorts. "The fuck do I got to be proud of?" he answers fiercely, "this life – well, it's interesting, I s'pose. There's no one in the world who is proud or not proud of me, so why should I think about it? Why should I care if no one else bothers?"

He's right, admittedly, but for some reason it seems like you should fight with everything you've got left in you to prove him wrong, to make him believe in something bigger than yourself.

"What about me?" you say gently, like it's a statement instead of a question. The confusion evident on his face leads you to contemplate that maybe he's truly broken and doesn't want to listen, or perhaps he's just lost track of the conversation. "You have me," you add. The words are foreign to your tongue. They taste bitter and sound like something Freddie would have had the nerve to say to both of you, if it came down to that, but apparently he's now in a place where he can't say anything to anyone at all.

"Didn't think you could be anywhere for me, considering you can't even be there for yourself," he shoots back. There's an obscene pause after that, unlike all the other natural lapses of silence that you two go through and accept with an uneasy calmness on every other occasion.

For this once, you laugh. It's a bit manic and the same effect could have easily been achieved with a small smile, the one that you'd grown up hearing your mother call "that Effy smile," but it's emotion and it's the first real thing you've felt in beyond forever so somehow it's all worth the agony it took you to get there. You feel alive for a second, but only a second.

You almost forget about Cook being there next to you in the sheer rawness of it all, but he's still there and always will be. That's the sole reason you're able to feel this way, like you can move on but still be the same as you were before, oddly. That's what he does, Cook. He doesn't give a fuck about anything. Cook sees all the blood – acknowledges it, possibly takes a tiny taste of it just for laughs even when things aren't funny in the least, and then he turns around, away from all the blood and tears and pain and he's dead, Eff – Freddie's gone and walks in the other direction without a single look back. Just because he can't see the blood anymore doesn't mean that it never existed, but for him it might as well not have. Possibly next time - because oh, there's no doubt going to be a next time – he'll even be ready to face it like he made you face it this time around.

For a minute it seems like fun and games, but then you start screaming. You've been looking for the ghosts that haunt you all around outside you, and it took you this long to realize that everyone else is irrelevant because the real ghost is you.

You are Effy Stonem and he is James Cook.

/ / /

He can still hear your manic laugh, the first official sign of your return during the times when you'd both resorted to desperation, loud and echoing in the distance as it bounces off the trees that overshadow your tombstone that people – all the insignificant fuckers, as you would have described them – crowd around your grave. The grass feels strange beneath his feet.

During the ceremonies he makes sure to not shed a single tear. After they all leave, not even bothering to spare him anything but one or two suspicious stares, he weeps.

He stops frequenting your grave after the first few months, solely because that's exactly the way you would have wanted it. He's always known that he'd have to die with that thought and one other buried deep inside.

The two of you were always Cook and Effy.

/ / /

A/N: Please don't favorite without reviewing, I'm begging you!