The two are sitting in Connor's plane—well, not exactly. Hayden's lying on Connor's bed while Connor sits across the room. Connor seems concerned, while Hayden's attitude is just as playful as ever.
"This is pretty unnecessary, you know. It's a few bruises, it doesn't mean I can't sit in a chair." Still, Connor's mattress was more comfortable than his bedroll in the ComBom. "Even so… I could get used to a bed like this."
"I didn't ask for it, and I'd let you have it if I could. But everything's about creating an image, isn't it?" Connor crosses his arms loosely over his chest, feeling tired now that he was in a relaxed environment. "And I'm not keeping you here because I think you're badly hurt. I just want to talk."
"You know I'm not one for serious conversations," he reminds him. "Unless they're about you… which I highly doubt is the case here."
"You're right, this conversation isn't about me. But you should know better than to fall asleep on top of a plane. Do you realize what would've happened if you didn't fall off that thing and you slept 'til morning? You'd be dead of sunstroke by now." Connor silently rests his gaze on the blonde—the scratches on his face from the sand, the bruises on his arms.
"Aw, your concern is touching. You're like the older brother I never had." He acts like he's joking as he speaks to the other, but somehow, he feels like it's possible he meant every word he said. And to him, that is the scariest part.
Attachments to people were frightening. Especially in a time like this, when people could so easily be taken away from you, so easily turned against you. And who's to say his own life wasn't at risk? He was still an AWOL, wasn't he? Weren't they all?
"Y'know what, Hayden?" Connor's suddenly forceful tone drags him out of his own mind. "I want to know something. And I kinda want a serious answer, if you can give me one." He pauses slightly, letting the atmosphere take in the silence. "Is it that you don't want to take anything seriously, or that you just… can't anymore?"
The question catches him off-guard, and it shows on his face as he stares up at the ceiling in thought. He never thought of it that way. For Hayden, being the jokester, the know-it-all… was just the way things were. It was his way of dealing with people, the way he manipulated others and tested their intelligence.
He'd always assumed it was his decision to act this way, to wave his hand swiftly over the flame. But never did he consider the flame might catch him; perhaps just at the fingertips as he tried to pull away one day. For some reason, that never seemed like an option. Neither did blowing the flame out.
This candle was his protection—few people will voluntarily come so close to a burning fire, will they?
So… this was Connor's test, wasn't it? A test to see if he'd keep the flame burning.
'I don't know,' he wants so desperately to answer. It's true. He doesn't know. But then again, did he ever bother to think about it?
'What do I want?' he asks himself. But he knows what he wants is not the same as what he thinks he wants, which is also different from what he needs. So which question should he really be asking himself?
"Give me a minute here, Connor. I might actually need to think about this one," he says with a genuine smile which, to Connor, is a good sign.
First, answer the easiest question—what did he think he wanted? 'It's simple; what you want, Hayden, is to be alone. To have zero relationships on this earth. To be strengthened by your lack of bonds to anyone but yourself. That's what you want, isn't it?' Suddenly, he feels like he's being tortured by his own mind. 'If it's not what you want, then you're in trouble, because it's certainly what you're setting yourself up for.'
Next, answer the second easiest question—what did he really want? 'What do I want? What do I really, truly want?' This one took him a while. 'I want to stop laughing, and for someone to see me. Not just the clever and witty Hayden—even though I'd want them to see that, too—but also the serious side of me. The side that's hurting too much remember it exists. The side that's falling apart and will never be whole again, even if I am a Wholly.'
Lastly, the hardest question… what does he need? 'I don't need anything. No one needs anything. After all, the worst that could happen is death, isn't it? Or unwinding. But I'm already doing my best at that one.' Still, that couldn't be true. Everyone needs something. 'I guess, if I needed something, it would be for someone to love me. Not necessarily in a romantic way… though, a cute girl may not be so bad… but I just need for someone to love me. But most importantly, I need to let myself love someone. That's what I need.'
Now that that's out of the way, he must figure out what's in his control, and what isn't. 'I can be serious on my own. But it's harder around other people. It's hard to show them something I've spent so long trying to conceal. They say they're here for me but I'm scared. Yes, the boy who looks at everything as a joke is finally frightened. And he's frightened beyond belief.'
'He's frightened that they'll lie or they'll leave. He's certain that any love or sincerity must be coated with multiple layers of deceit. This boy is also frightened that he's lost all control over his life; that he'll never find his way out of this maze of painful happiness he's made for himself. But at the same time, I do know that's not true. I'm capable of thought. I'm capable of speech. I can control myself.'
In his thoughts, he doesn't realize he'd started to cry… right in front of Connor. Yet, Connor said nothing. No consoling words or concerned questions. He just sat there; and somehow, that's better than anything he could have said.
At last, he opens his mouth to speak.
"W-Well, Connor," he stumbles on his words, feeling his voice quiver slightly. He takes in a deep breath, then continues stronger. "I can stop acting this way any time I'd like. But I would rather just have someone figure me out on their own, so that I don't have to show them. It would spare my pride." And even if his words are gravely serious and he has tears in his eyes, he smirks.
His answer surprises Connor though. He pauses before answering, because he knows that anything he could possibly say to console his friend would damage that pride he worked so hard to build up. So, he doesn't say anything at all, other than, "You can sleep here tonight."
And with that, he leaves the room knowing he's said enough.