Title - Might Be
Author - Kourion
Fandom - In the Flesh
Summary: 'My brother still has his contact lenses in. The ones that disguise his death, his changes. But he's removed his cover up mousse. So all in all, he looks like Kieren, but he looks sickly, and too-pale, and ready to drop.'
Author's notes: this story is set from Jem's perspective, and starts towards the end scene of the miniseries - once Kieren has come home and is trying to reconnect with his family.
"Forgiveness is the final form of love." - Reinhold Niebuhr
My dad has his face cupped in his hands. He's breathing deeply, and I cannot stand the sight of him like this.
I don't know what to say, though. I never know what to say.
"They will find him, Dad," I start softly, feeling my voice break off in my throat. "He wouldn't leave us again."
Dad makes a note of discomfort and I can only sense a slight edge in the noise. The sense of burgeoning terror. He was, of course, the one who found Kieren "that night." The night that changed everything for us. So much more than the day when I learned my brother had come back. Even that day, with all its unnaturalness - wasn't as shocking.
For my dad, the greater trauma, I suspect, has something to do with finding Kier all bloody and grotty. No bath for three days, cold and toppled over in that spooky cave that the boys liked to hang out in. Wax candles melted down. Photos of Rick. A morbid sort of death-shrine. And there must have been blood under Kieren's finger tips where he had scratched at his skin.
I know, because I've seen it since.
Blue scratching on his arms. Scratches not deep enough to do anything, really.
Not 'The Attempt.'
But scratches that never healed - because then he went and DIED.
Just barely repressed rage and self-hatred.
I saw two days ago, by accident, when I went to use he washroom, and Kieren had removed his jumper and was vomiting cords of black spray into the toilet.
My anger had immediately departed, and I almost ran to him - what, with his top off and his skinny body all horrible blue and white and cast in colours no living body would ever display. And when I touched him, he was cold.
Colder than ice, and his body was shaking, and I felt a part of me break inside. I didn't even see his cuts at first - too absorbed by the sheer amount of blackness coming out of his body while he wiped at his mouth furiously, his eyes blinking off into space.
"I'm okay, I'm okay - it's okay, Jem," and the words flew from his mouth without force, because he was never okay.
Hadn't been okay in a long time; I tended the think that whatever Kieren said these days, that the very opposite should be considered. Or taken as being something a little closer to the truth.
A few minutes pass - mine spent in recollection. I realize Dad still hasn't moved.
I want to do something rather than sit here, feeling antsier and antsier by the second - so I decide to go make tea in the kitchen.
I make it ritualistically, now.
All four cups. A cup for each member of the family. "Our" cups, each.
Daddy's - dark blue; a Dr. Who tardis mug that turns colours as it heats up.
Mum's - floral and light; a fine China from a little road trip to Bristol the year before Kieren killed himself. When everything was still Good.
Mine - a gift from my brother on my 13th birthday; a "The Ramones" mug, large and used more for coffee than Earl Grey or anything else. Chipped and beloved. Even after he killed himself. Loved even more then, as much as it hurt.
And then I take out the other cups and mugs until I find what I am looking for.
At first I think it's missing, or maybe packed up with Kieren's old things. Secluded away in storage - because for the longest time, mum couldn't even look at anything of Kier's without crying. But I need it now. I know I need it now; that if I do not find it, and do not make his tea just the way he always liked it when alive - something bad might happen.
It's magical thinking of course, and I know it - but I can't get over the strength of this need to find Kieren's cup. I almost feel like every second counts (If I find it - he lives. If I don't - he dies again. This time for good).
Then I see it. A couple places behind the other items, stashed behind the Tupperware. Out of obvious view, but not discarded, thank God.
I pull at it and it clinks over the other plates and dishes, and for the oddest moment of intensity, I want to bawl.
I didn't even cry during his funeral.
But as I pull out the oldest and most battered of the porcelain, I feel a stranger sense of loss. Deeper than learning my brother had died. Because it is a loss of innocence that I'm grieving, now.
A monkey cup. The tail for a handle, one ear chipped. Black and brown with cartoon eyes. The base of the mug has yellowed writing that reads: "The London Zoo."
Kieren would have been five at the time. I was a year and a half old.
There's a photo I found in grand mum's things two weeks after he had died. The photo showed a little boy with a black string around his tiny hand, holding onto a purple balloon. Me - in a carriage, peeking out. My brother was smiling: all baby teeth and childhood happiness. Before his problems with depression had begun, and when he still was sensitive, but not destroyed.
Before his problems with life. No bullying, no anger, no loss. Just a little boy holding onto a balloon and posing with his baby sister.
The cup even was named. Dippy. Silly name, but a name chosen by a child. And even as we turned into teenagers, Kieren would still ask for his tea to be poured into "Dippy." Just another one of the odd things about my brother than made him always seem child-like, even when he was no longer a child.
"Hey Dippy," I whisper to the monkey mug now, while I root around for boxes of tea. Mum and Dad like Rose Red. I like Chai, and Kier always liked Pu-erh. It's stupid, really. I know he can't drink it anymore, but I make it all the same. Three lumps of sugar, cream, a little plate on the top to keep the heat and aroma in.
And there we have it: four steaming mugs of tea. I take mine and Dad's for the moment, and return to the family room.
"Kier's and mum's are in the kitchen. For when they get back," I add needlessly.
There is no 'maybe' in my words. No - 'he might not come back, but just in case...'
I know my brother.
I know he is a sweet person. A kind person. And that he would never put us through that again.
That he didn't, originally, mean to put us through anything. He just couldn't see the way out.
He just couldn't eclipse his feelings with reason.
Because that is what depression is. More feeling than reason.
And more bad feeling than good. More hopelessness than hope.
And more yearning for death, than life.
I know it wasn't personal. His suicide.
I know it's not because he didn't care for me.
But I was still angry at him.
For a very long time.
'You better be okay, Kieren,' I think to myself. I beg of the universe.
"Dad - they'll be home soon," and I want to add an "I promise" to my speech. But I can't wreck everything... if the worst is true.
I don't know what it would do to my Dad. That promise.
That broken promise.
He lets out a pent up breath. Mutters a soft, "thank you, love," and I nudge just slightly closer to him on the couch.
"Mum's great at getting through to him. Remember... remember when he was nine, and those boys were bullying him? I was only in Kindergarten, but I remember it so well because he was so smashed. They had broken his ship? The model he had made with you in the summer? Sunk it in the stream back in the woods, on Driftwood? And how upset he was? More so that you made it with him, I think, and they had taken that away from him...even more than the fact that they didn't like him, or were bullying him. 'Member?"
Dad doesn't speak for a long while. When he does, I frown. I don't like what I hear. The anger, deep down. The frustration, never expressed. Anger with Kieren, anger with myself for not fixing him.
"Your brother was always too sensitive for his good. It was never healthy."
But that's not fair, either.
We always knew how sensitive he was.
"It's not healthy to not be hurt when you're picked on for years by everyone either, Dad. Do you really think that Kier could have been...who he is - and not have cared about everything so much?"
Dad rubs his hands on his pants, then reaches for his tea.
"I don't know, love. I don't know what I wanted for him. What would have been best for him. Obviously, I didn't know anything."
And there we have it: the tone of blame.
I knew he blamed himself, of course. Blamed himself because he didn't ask me on the first day that Kieren was absent... where my brother had gone.
Because I heard the flittering of conversation since Kieren died.
I knew the estimated time of death of my brother. I knew that if he had been found 6 hours earlier, he would have been fine. Well, not fine. But not injured. Not physically.
And if they had found him 5 hours earlier than they had, his heart may have still been beating even though he would have made the attempt by that point.
Oh, of course - it would have been a mess. There might have been blood everywhere, still - but he would have still have had some heat left in his body. He still would have had some chance...
"He'll be back soon, Dad. Mum and him, both."
I don't promise, though.
I never promise about anything anymore.
Because promises make things worse.
Promises make bad things happen.
At quarter to ten we hear the lock turn and the door open.
I can tell based on the sounds of the footsteps - that mum has returned.
A moment later, I hear a second pair of steps, of unique patterns on the wood, on the carpet.
I let out a sigh I didn't even realize had been constrained.
I can almost envision Kieren removing his jacket, and hanging it on the hook - save for the fact that my brother never actually left home with his jacket today. Despite the fact that it's still bitter cold outside, and wouldn't have needed it one way or the other.
In fact, I don't even know if he can feel temperatures anymore.
Can he feel cold inside? Heat from a touch? What can he feel?
I haven't asked him, and part of me doesn't want to.
When the main entry door to the family room opens, Dad finally stops looking down at the carpet.
His eyes are red from where he's tried to hold in his crying.
Mum is absolutely quiet.
"The prodigal son returns," Dad tests out calmly, his voice covering up the recent anxiety he experienced. It's false levity, and we all know it; Kieren most of all, because he was always sensitive to the moods of others.
I don't look at my brother.
I don't know if it's because I am furious with him, even though he's still here. Or if it's because I want to feel strong, and I can't do that if I'm looking at him.
Kieren's voice sounds hollow and tremulous.
"I'm sorry, Dad."
Dad stands a little taller now. The relief is palpable.
"Not your fault. You've been under a lot of stress."
"No," and I hear the shudder in my brother's voice. "I don't want you to let me off that easy."
I turn in surprise, because I'm used to my brother apologizing for things, but departing quickly.
This time, however, he's apologizing and staying. I almost don't want to get my hopes up. I let my sight flash over to his form. Just a bit. Just to his legs, his feet. His shoes are muddy, but he hasn't taken them off. Canvas sneakers. Green and brown.
A couple more breaths, and I can sense the near-fear in the sounds. My brother has always been scared of confrontation. And I can tell he's still scared of it - but he's not leaving.
"I just...left you. No phone call. No nothing."
And he could be speaking out for today, tonight. Or he could be speaking about four years ago, to the time when he died. And it almost doesn't matter, because I sense he's trying to apologize for both times.
"Well, yeah," Dad begins, "you'd do that."
If it's supposed to be a consolation, it has the opposite effect.
"Well, I wasn't thinking!," Kieren exclaims, "I-I didn't think! About mum's feelings. Jem's. About your feelings."
And part of me wants to tell Kieren to drop it. Or to leave it for another night. Another night, after dad has calmed down.
Part of me wants to tell him that tonight is already harsh and bleak enough. There is already too much sadness and regret and deep, deep down - there is way too much anger.
"I suppose you didn't," Dad says calmly. Too calmly. Too calmly for a night of tears, and gut-sickness so profound that he could barely sip his tea.
But I can't speak, and I can barely move. And the fact is, my brother rarely speaks so freely. Not about distasteful things like feelings. He experiences feelings, but he rarely talks about them.
So part of me, and it's a split part - but part of me wants to see what happens. I know neither Kieren nor Dad will really lose their cool to the degree that anyone will get hurt.
I don't think the conversation will turn ugly or mean - but I don't know what is going to be said, and that's a little disconcerting.
Since my brother has died, everything has been library-quiet, and regulated, in the house.
"So I want you...to tell me off," Kier begins, and I can hear the slight apprehension mixed with the greater need. "Give me a piece of your mind. Give me hell."
Dad takes a step closer to Kieren. The carpet crackles with the pressure of his feet.
"'Kay," and I can sense it is starting. "Yeah. You're grounded," Dad says firmly.
Kieren...what are you doing?
Stop it. Don't push him.
Don't push any of us right now.
"What do you think you were playing at?," Dad continues, and this time I can hear the slightest edge of anger. Of disappointment. "You had your mother worried sick!"
"And you had your sister worried sick and all!"
"And I was going to call the police!"
I can hear the rapidity of Dad's breathing. Forced out.
Kieren can't hear it. He musn't. He wouldn't keep pressing otherwise.
The old Kieren certainly wouldn't.
This Kieren exhales, and says: "Wooo...you would've been right to!"
My Dad takes it as an accusation. A betrayal. And I don't know why. As if Kieren is goading him.
"Because I was concerned, son!"
"Yeah, I understand that! I understand that now!"
And a microsecond of pause from Kier, but when he speaks, he voice warbles. Like an old tape, baked in the sun.
It sounds like him, and it doesn't, and it sounds like he's testing Dad on all things that Dad should never be tested on.
Or about the past. A past, darker than midnight.
"Why?," my brother asks.
And that is the one question that could cause everything to topple, and the one question that we've all felt and asked every single day since he died.
Why. Why why why why why?
Why did he do it?
Why didn't he talk to us?
Why did he kill himself?
When I look back to my Dad, his face has taken on a look of incredulity.
"Cause...you know why!"
"Tell me!," and there is grit in Kieren's words. Like an axel grinding against steel. It's almost painful.
"Come on Dad! Come on - harder! Come on! TELL ME!"
And for once, he sounds furious. Kieren. Not my dad.
Absolutely furious. But that doesn't make sense. Why does it make sense?
Kieren took his own life.
Why is he so angry with us? Why?
Because we didn't stop him in time? And he's like this now? A PDS sufferer?
Or because he didn't think we cared enough to sense how close to the edge he had been?
"Cause I was worried sick!," Dad explodes. "You just go out! Don't tell anyone where you're going! No contact - for days!"
I look at my brother. Finally look at him. Not at his feet, muddy and bleeding into the carpet. But at his face.
His gaunt face, his gentle eyes. He's nodding his head, quickly. Encouraging my dad to keep talking.
To not stop talking.
As if he needs this. As much as my dad. Maybe even more.
As if he needs to hear these words.
About how he died. About how he was found.
"Jem thinks she knows where you might be. And she tells me...so...I put on me jacket, I grab a torch, and I go up in the woods. I get there. I get to the cave. And there you are. You're sitting down. You're leaning on a rock."
And my hands feel cold. My stomach feels cold. Because I know what comes next. Mum knows what comes next. Kieren, in a distant way that isn't life, and isn't living and isn't knowing - because he was dead, then - he knows what's coming next too. And he starts to close his eyes, in guilt, in grief.
And in sadness for what Dad had to live through.
Dad's voice is gravelly now. He's never talked about this, and I never thought he would.
"I think - "thank God, he's okay. He's okay!""
My brother lets out a sound, faint, soft. Like a sob. A sob that he's holding in his throat.
"Then I get close. I see that Swiss Army knife I got you for your birthday. It's...you're...you were covered in blood. So much blood. I take you in me arms. I run...with your arms...and I run and I run and I RUN. But - I can't!"
And Dad's staring at his own arms now. His own forearms. As if they are Kieren's. As if under the cotton and fabric, he can see the cuts and the blood, and remember the weight of my dead 18 year old brother, being carried almost all the way home, stone-cold gone. Dead for hours at that point, no hope, no hope. But Dad still wanted to run. In case there had been hope.
"Because...you're...," and Dad begins to cry. Begins to sob.
Kieren steps forward quickly, and grabs ahold of him, hugging him.
"I can't," Dad cries into my brother's chest. "Jesus son!"
Because he couldn't save him then, and he always blamed himself, and we always knew.
But could never talk about it.
An hour later, two - I wander upstairs.
Light is spilling from under Kieren's door.
I enter without knocking. It's atypical for me. I always knocked on Kieren's door before, and he always knocked on mine.
But I'm too tired to keep up the act. The act of everything being okay. And yet, everything is more okay tonight than it has been in five years.
My brother still has his contact lenses in. The ones that disguise his death, his changes.
But he's removed his cover up mousse. So all in all, he looks like Kieren, but he looks sickly, and too-pale, and ready to drop.
I deposit the monkey mug on his desk. It went cold hours ago, but I want him to see it. I want him to know.
He gulps down recognition, and wraps his arms around his midsection.
"I can't...drink that. Not anymore."
I sit cross-legged by his bed.
"I know, Kier."
He lets out a raspy breath. "I'm sorry, Jem."
The sound is barely audible.
"I know," I say, and it sounds plain, and that's stupid. Because what he did impacted us all and always will impact us all.
"I understand if you can't accept my apology," he whispers.
I want to tell him off for being stupid. I want to smack him.
"I do, though," I say after a moment of deliberation. Because I love him, and he's hurting.
"I don't know why you would," he mutters. "I don't."
I inch towards his bed. Thick wool socks top his feet. The type he hated when he was alive, because he was so sensitive to the wool and it made his skin welt.
"You can't forgive yourself?"
And it's certainly not a hard concept to grasp. Not intellectually. But the words feel unfairly foreign and non-sensical.
"Mmm," Kieren breaths out. "No. I don't know how."
"Mum and Dad forgive you. I always did. I-isn't that enough?"
And it's not like he can kill himself again, can he?
But it matters to me. That he's hurting in this way.
He continues to stare at the mug of now-cold tea, and picks it up.
"Kier - you don't have to."
He raises it to his lips, opens his mouth. Swallows it quickly.
I look away, feeling a little badly. Feeling as if by presenting it to him, as some symbolic gift - I've forced it upon him. To consume. Even though I know that within the next hour, he's going to be vomiting up blackness in the bathroom.
"It's okay, Jem."
"No. It's not okay, Kier! You're going to be sick."
You know that.
So why would you do that?
"It's more self-punishment," I say evenly. "Don't you think you've had enough of that?"
He doesn't respond.
I reach for his hand, and he doesn't pull away.
It's the first time I've really touched him. Since he's been back.
"You're so...cold, Kieren."
He smiles. Crookedly.
"I'm dead, Jem."
I frown at the words. Not liking them one bit, and refusing to admit that they are partially true.
"Only partially, dead. And more alive than dead, to me."
His next smile is truer.
"Okay. Only partially," he agrees, and I watch him a moment longer. Sense the anxiety when he looks back at me. When he removes his contacts. When his eye colour changes from beautiful brown, to milky death-white.
"Do you feel really bad?," and the words are so bare, it could mean almost anything at this point.
I don't know what it's like. I just know what I've read in the PDS brochures that the hospital in Norfolk gave us when Kieren came home. How PDS sufferers cannot cope with normal food and drink. How it makes them extremely nauseous.
"I don't feel sickly, if that's what you mean. I don't feel much of anything."
But that's a lie.
A total lie.
"I know that's not true. Why would you even say it?"
Kieren sighs. "I don't ever feel warm inside, Jem. Not ever. I don't ever feel hungry, or thirsty. I can't even cry. Not even when I want to."
I give him a look.
"Well, that sounds like a feeling. That sounds like something. A need. If you want to cry, that's something."
"Maybe," he agrees. "Maybe it's something."
I resist an impulse to kiss his cheek.
"And it's enough for me," I say sharply.
He smiles at his hands.
They're blue and the nails are ragged, and the cuts still haven't closed. The black string from the funeral parlor people still is woven through his arms. I know it. I know it, but I need to see it.
I reach for his jumper, and pull back the cuff.
And he sounds apprehensive.
I roll up the shirt - push it along his thin arms, until his forearms are exposed.
The skin is mottled. The skin never has scabbed or scarred.
I touch one still-gaping wound with my fingertip. It feels crusty and hard and not all like my brother's skin.
"Does it hurt?"
Kieren looks at me, wide-eyed. Not knowing what to make of the questions. The intensity of this night.
"No. I can't feel anything."
I imagine I'm a magical nurse. That a single touch of mine can close the wounds, close them right up, and get his heart to start beating again, get his blood to start pumping again.
"Did it hurt?"
Kieren pulls the sweater back down.
"I don't remember."
"You don't remember?"
"I was very depressed, Jem. I felt numb, and then I felt angry, and then I felt numb again. I think, right before - before, you know - I was pretty drunk."
And a slight fizz in my brain at that. A memory, then. A whole bunch of bottles, missing. My Dad asking, two days before he even started looking for him - what had happened to the alcohol. Where was the alcohol?
God...what was wrong with us?
How did we not know what was coming?
How come we didn't even entertain the concept?
We knew he was depressed.
Kieren had taken it, and he was drinking it away. Probably sitting in that cave alone, crying his head off - and we had understood he was alone, and we knew he was hurting, but we thought he just needed some time on his own, to cope with everything.
Why didn't we go out sooner and check?
Why did we assume he could keep taking sadness, and not break from it?
Why did we assume that just because we loved him, that would be enough?
That love would be enough?
Author's notes: I have no idea how to end a one off for this show. I could, potentially, add to this. We will see. I'm marking it complete for now. If you haven't seen the show - definitely give it a shot. If you want to learn more about it, check out the BBC3 website.