Warning: This story contains instances of a character contemplating suicide. Proceed at your own discretion.
On the better days—well. There are no better days.
On the good days, there are no nightmares. He wakes without DECA's alarm, and if he doesn't feel quite rested then at least the bone-deep exhaustion has let him be for awhile. His mind is awake, too, shaper and more alert; when he runs through his training sims it doesn't feel like going through the motions, and he feels a sense of satisfied completeness when he defeats the last enemy. The feeling carries over as he showers and eats, because on the good days he doesn't have to force himself to eat. And if the food doesn't quite taste good, at least he's hungry.
On the good days, when he sits down and pores over the maps, it doesn't seem like a futile, hopeless search—look, he tells himself, here are all the places where you know she isn't, and there are more places where she isn't than places that she could be, so he must be getting closer.
Later, when he sits cross-legged on the floor (facing the chamber door, because even on the good days it's hard for him to spend too much time looking directly at the cryo tube) and talks about his day, he doesn't feel like he's only talking to himself, because on the good days he can almost believe that his friend is listening.
On the bad days, things are harder. He drifts restlessly in and out of dreams, haunted by failure and regret even in his waking moments, and when lasting sleep finally comes it claims him hard but leaves him more exhausted than he was to start with. DECA wakes him on the bad days, and when he forces himself out of bed he is sore and aching all over as if he's fighting battles in his sleep.
He runs the sims even when his heart's not in it, because what choice does he have? And when he takes a hard kick to the stomach that nearly knocks the wind out of him, or a bruising hit to the shin, he welcomes the pain because he deserves it, and lets himself be beaten awhile before he remembers and then he grits his teeth and finishes the battle.
He eats only because when DECA worries over him, she does so in the most obnoxious ways possible and he hasn't the energy to fight her. He's not hungry and he cuts off his emotions at the throat, so he eats little and it aches to swallow.
These are the days when he stares at the maps and knows that the reason he hasn't found her yet is because she's dead, and when he whispers the fear aloud later into the cool darkness of the cryo chamber, he doesn't dare hope that there's anyone listening.
On the worst days, he stares long and hard at his blaster and wonders if he shouldn't just do it, because he can't bear being alone and there's no one left to miss him, anyway.
Today starts off a good day, becomes a bad day, and ends as a worst day.
Andros dreams of Zhane, and it is more vivid and real than anything has been in a long time. When he wakes, the pain is just as visceral and it hurts so much that it brings tears to his eyes, but just for an instant he swears he feels the whisper of another mouth against his and that ghostly kiss strengthens him.
He takes it as proof that Zhane is still with him, and sets about his day.
(How long has it been, he wonders idly, since anyone's touched him that wasn't trying to kill him? He's honestly afraid of the answer, but it's been long enough that even he aches for any sort of friendly touch.)
Today he is focused and determined as he trains, and when he sits down to breakfast his stomach rumbles in appreciation.
The troubles come later, when takes his seat on the Bridge and with a sigh reaches beneath the neckline of his shirt. The locket is warm from resting against his chest but his fingers feel cold. This part never gets easier. Losing Karone is a soul-deep wound that's never healed, and he's lost her over and over for the last twelve years.
Today's the day when he's struck with the realization that's she's been gone twice as long as she was ever there, and it breaks his heart one time too many.
"Andros?" DECA always watches him closely when he searches for Karone. He's not sure which part of her medical and psychological certification alerted her to his distress, but now she's definitely watching him too closely for his liking.
He drops his head forward into his hands. "Leave me alone."
Would he even recognize her now? he wonders. There are days when his parents' faces are blurry in his mind, and it's a knife to the heart to know that he can't recall the pitch and rhythm of Zhane's voice.
He feels his heartbeat in his ears.
"Andros," DECA says, more urgently. "What's troubling you?"
"Nothing," he says, and stays as he is for what feels like a very long time. Long enough for that ever-present thought to call to him.
What does it matter, really, if he goes on? Who's left to care?
The chamber is cool and dark as always, the air heavy with excess moisture from the cryo tube. The silence is broken only by the quiet, reassuring beep of the monitors and Andros's own ragged breathing. Today, he approaches the tube.
Zhane's coffin, his mind whispers, and he closes his eyes.
Need overwhelms him, and he steps closer than he's dared in a long time, maybe ever. One step, then another, until he stands directly before the tube with his hands hovering uncertainly in the air. Slowly, he lays his palms atop the ice-cold glass. The frost melts at the warmth from his touch, and with the sleeve of his jacket Andros rubs away enough of it that he can see through the glass.
Zhane's helmeted head stares back at him.
For a moment, he wishes that he'd frozen Zhane unmorphed. But no, the suit speeds his healing, he knows, and how much worse would it be, to see Zhane's face like that, eyes shut and his skin deathly pale? He's not sure he could bear that, either.
This is hard enough.
Andros swallows hard, whispering "I'm sorry" around the ache in his throat. It'll never be enough, but it's all he has.
Bowing his head, he presses his forehead against the glass and breathes slowly through his nose until he can swallow again. Then he straightens and unclenches his jaw, shaking his head.
Because as much as he knows that Zhane will probably never wake up, there is a part of him that still believes. Because that's the part of him that asks: when Zhane wakes, what will he do when he sees that he lost all these years for nothing because Andros went and died anyway? Because Andros wants Zhane to live more than he wants to die.
He stands there awhile longer in silent thought, then stoops and kisses the glass. "I miss you," he says. There's more; there's all the things he should've said when Zhane was alive, all the things he curses himself for being too afraid of saying, and all the things he swears to himself he'll say if he ever has another chance. "Please hurry."
Andros leaves the chamber without looking back. He's chosen not to die, and if that's not the same as choosing to live, well. It's as far as he'll get today.