Author: KhalaniK
Title: Limbo
Chapter: 3/11: I Think I Hate You
Pairing: Past Treize/Zechs (made present-tense via flashbacks)
Spoliers: Series, EW Warnings: Death themes, intoxication, male/male sexual situations, naughty language, grief, angst, cynicism, debatable instances of sap. Flashbacks throughout. Little kid-ness. Rated M for swears and dark matter.
Archive: Fanfiction.net under the name KhalaniK
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW. No monies have been or will be made off of this thing.

Please see Limbo 1 for very important notes.

Limbo 3: I Think I Hate You

I spent the entire months of March and April in an extraordinary place, where memories, dreams, and reality comingled, entangled, and pulsated with ethereal vibrancy. My belly was warm, my muscles relaxed, every breath a contented sigh. I might have been smiling. Sleep and waking daydreams meshed together in a smooth continuum of surreality. How wonderful it was, how simple and replete with goodness. It was an ice cream cone in August, melting just a little, dripping onto my fingers...

This trance held me closely, only loosening its grip when hunger grew so intense that it penetrated the thick haze of my reverie. To my best estimation, this was about once every two or three days. Perhaps more. There was no way of knowing. Always, always, there was food in my refrigerator. Fresh foods. Homemade foods in glassware. Yogurts, butter, and cheeses occupied a whole shelf, and there was always fruit and bread in a small basket on the kitchen counter. Into the kitchen I'd float, cut a slice of bread, spread the easiest and most convenient thing onto it, if anything at all, slouch against the counter or sit in a chair or on the couch, chew, chew, sustain, sustain, drink some water - well water, metallic like blood - and float somewhere else...

In my terrifically self-absorbed state, I never once thought of where the food came from. It, like my bed and my drugs, were constants that I didn't consider limited. They were infinitely giving companions, better friends than any others, never asking in return. Never leading me on. Never asking the impossible. Sometimes I'd meander into the bathroom and take a shower, but only because I was raised in a First World country where one is expected to bathe at least once and a while. Sometimes it's difficult to forget a mother's words, a little song about taking a bath, clean the body, clean the soul, something, something...

Bed -- my comforting, soft bed -- was my new life. It was a cradle and I was a child, a young boy with the world at his feet. A country. A mother. A father. A palace. A future. A destiny. I was loved, supported, cuddled, validated, and encouraged. The love from our parents is something that we all take for granted. Not everyone recognizes it. Not everyone gets to hang onto it. I had it, if only for an instant, the briefest flicker of an eyelid. The love for our parents is the precursor to the love we'll reserve for our lovers, a love that conditions our hearts, lets us know that we have them to begin with, hints at just how large they are. How precious. How easily breakable. The love of my parents... sometimes I forget that I had it... but then, I did tend to confuse the issue...

+

"Isn't she beautiful, Milliardo?" my mother whispered, her voice saturated with excessive caution, fearful of disturbing her new baby.

It didn't look like anything would disturb that girl, the way she was sucking madly at my mother's naked breast, her tiny hands wrapped around that plump flesh as though someone would try to snatch it away at any moment. She made little grunting sounds, like the ravenous little animal she was.

I didn't get what was so great about it.

"I guess so," I replied, slowly backing away from side of the wooden rocking chair and making way for my father, who was in line to admire the newborn for the thousandth time.

"You were small like this once, son." My father's voice was so deep that it seemed to shake the windows in their panes. It had the fascinating quality of reverberating in my chest as well as his, which could be the most soothing or most terrifying sensation depending on whether I had been good or bad. He and I used to sit in that rocking chair, me on his lap, my head resting against the broad solidity of his torso, his heartbeat so strong in my ear. He'd read to me, and I'd feel the vibration of every word as I followed along, each syllable lulling me into calm, until I was so sleepy that I had to be carried to bed.

And now she was in our chair being held - by my own mother, no less.

Father edged closer to them and very gently touched his baby daughter's baby-fine hair. I looked up at him and saw him smile in a way I'd never seen before. His eyes were soft and unguarded.

Was she beautiful? No! I couldn't stomach that little usurper. She was only a few weeks old and she already had full command of every single adult in a way that I could only dream of having. She was the apple of my father's eye and my mother's new obsession. Every whimper, cry, and facial expression was noted aloud by at least one person -- oh, somebody's not happy! -- and tended to immediately. To me, the firstborn son, it was a travesty of cosmic proportions.

One afternoon, when the baby was sleeping and my parents and nonnie weren't around, I sneaked into her room and stood next to her crib. I eyed her with disgust, my hands grasping tightly onto the white-painted bars that kept her in there like a zoo creature on display.

"I'm bigger than you," I whispered, as though that statement of obvious fact would make her disappear in a cloud of pink baby powder. If only I knew a wizard, I thought. Then I would be able to remedy this little sister issue. My thinking in those days oftentimes drifted beyond the stern limits of this world and into the realm of fantasy, where I was, naturally, a knight who had a host of friends with magical powers and otherworldly abilities. Were one to analyze this, they might find it telling that I always chose to be the knight and never the prince.

Her cherub lips puckered and opened to form a small 'o.' I imagined she was dreaming about eating from my mother, draining away her love for me and hoarding it for herself. The thought made me even more revolted. When my mother was pregnant, she had explained to me that I would soon have a sibling but that I would still get "lots of love and attention," something she'd no doubt paraphrased from one of her dozens of maternity books. I'd readily accepted the idea of having a new baby in the house. The way my mother made it sound, we'd grow to be the best of companions, and I'd still be her special boy, no matter what. But as soon as I heard that first cry, that terrible shriek that set the whole house on alert, I learned the shocking, bitter truth of what it meant to have a new baby in the house.

I could hear my mother's long, confident steps as she walked down the hallway, no doubt coming to check on the baby. Again. Like the envious snot I was, I doubted that I got checked on half as much when I was three weeks old. I cast one more baleful look at my sister and sneaked out, quiet as a mouse, narrowly averting an interrogation.

My jealousy remained stubbornly steadfast until one day, nearly a month later, when my father called me into the baby's room. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Relena in his arms, gently bouncing her. Her blue eyes were transfixed on his face, and her little fingers tangled in his beard. It was disorienting to see him like that, for he was always "up" to me. Always in a higher chair when we sat. Always towering over me when we walked. Sitting on the floor, he was, no doubt purposefully, on my level. He saw me in the doorway and smiled.

"Come over here and have a seat, son."

After a moment's hesitation, I crossed the nursery, careful not to drag my feet and make my distaste evident. I took a seat on the floor across from him and we sat in silence for a while. We were both looking at the baby, but I was more looking through her than at her. I might have been plotting. I did that sometimes, though I never enacted any of my wicked ideas. I merely stored them in a dark part of my brain that would have made my parents shudder if they could have seen it.

Father looked up then and sensed in his omniscient paternal way that my mind was somewhere else. "What are you thinking about?" he asked, his tone concerned. My father consistently treated me like an equal, even though -- as a four-year-old child -- I was clearly not. Obvious exception to this treatment was when he was spanking me for being a brat or for running off without telling anybody where I was going. Even then, he made certain afterwards that I understood exactly why I had been punished, a fairly typical rationalization parents use when hitting their children.

I almost said something but stopped myself, though not soon enough to avoid making a small sound that died behind my teeth. I started picking at my sock, tearing off those teeny tiny little balls that form when washed so many times -- a nervous habit I'd adopted some time that year. My nonnie hated it because she was sick of finding pickings and holy socks stashed in various corners of the house, hidden evidence of my secret anxiety.

My father waited almost a minute to see if I would confess what he undoubtedly already knew: that I hated my sister and wished she had never been born. When I refused to speak, I expected him to give a disappointed sigh and go into a pedantic about the virtues of honesty. Instead, he only nodded.

"Hold out your arms, palms up."

Like the mostly obedient child I was, I did just that. Imagine my surprise when he stretched out his long, strong arms and carefully handed the baby over to me.

"Make sure you support her head -- try using your elbow... yes, like that. Just like that."

I think "overwhelmed" would best describe how I felt about the amount of trust that had literally been given over to me. If there was one thing I learned since Relena was born, it was that babies are very delicate things that are not to be handled in just any fashion by just anybody. That I had been chosen as one of the trusted bearers of Princess Relena Peacecraft was an honor, a fact that I kept close at heart long after she'd ceased being an infant.

She was heavy, so I let the bulk of her weight rest on my lap while I cradled her head in the crook of my arm. She was very warm and limp, like giant hot water bottle. She whimpered at first, but grew steadily sleepier with each passing moment in my charge. Holding her for the first time, I realized that I'd never truly looked at her with vision unclouded by the negativity I assigned to her so early on. She really was beautiful; I could finally see what my parents were always talking about. I think I would have been content to sit there all day with her, to watch her fall asleep and stir every now and again. She was so tiny. Helpless. Her limp smallness made me want to hold her tight and scowl at anybody who came too close.

"I don't know if you realize this or not, Milliardo," my father said in a hushed voice, "but you have taken on a new and very important role. Do you know what that role is?"

At that age, I only had a vague sense of who I was and what I was meant to one day become. At that time, my parents studiously avoided any talk of my having to rule the country of Sanc like Father did -- whatever that meant. I did know that there was a certain flavor of ceremony that surrounded me. Adults bowed in my presence, Pagan and everybody except my parents and Nonnie called me "Your Highness" or "Your Grace" and addressed me to others as "the prince." Of course, I thought these things were all quite normal until the age when my parents began inviting other children to play with me. Only then did I have a concept that I was different, maybe even better than them.

Concerning my father's question, I looked up at him and shook my head.

"You are Relena's big brother. Big brothers are some of the most important people in this world. They are the protectors and role models of their younger siblings."

He had a sober look in his eye, one that told me that this was not some sort of made-up role like "Mama's Special Helper" or "Nonnie's Bravest Spider Killer" (I never actually killed them -- I just caught them and let them crawl out the nearest door or window).

"Relena will need you to watch over her, from now until maybe forever. Will you be willing to take on that responsibility? " He paused for effect before delivering the crippling stroke: "Will you be your little sister's knight in shining armor?"

Oh, my father knew exactly what to say to pique my interest. All he had to do was mention something as noble and medieval as a knight in shining armor and I was immediately hooked on the idea. In my head, I had this vivid image of me riding a white horse, with chainmail armor and a shield emblazoned with my family crest, oblivious to the irony of it all. I would have a magnificent sword with which I'd cut through my enemies like a warrior-beast. Oh, yes, Relena's Big Brother, gallant and fierce. I would rescue her from a castle dungeon and she would hug me and thank me for being such a wonderful guardian and protector...

"I'll do it," I said, brimming with heady confidence. I looked down at the baby in my arms and felt something quite the opposite of jealousy: pride. I was proud to be a big brother, proud to be a guardian and a role model. When my fantasies mixed with my father's coveted approval and my new, pleasant feelings towards Relena, I couldn't help but smile at how suddenly perfect the world was. I heard a 'click' and looked up to find my father holding up his digital camera. Like me, he also had a wide smile on his face.

"We'll definitely have to frame that one," he said.

+

My mouth was dreadfully dry. I lay there on my side, thinking about how much I wanted a drink of water. There was a full glass on the nightstand, but I couldn't convince my slothful hand to reach for it. It was maddening torture made exponentially worse by the fact that it was self-imposed. I glanced at the clock. In eight more hours, I could take another pill, which was sitting there next to that glass of water, waiting for me -- practically smiling at me. Wink. I know you want me.

I had to do something. Lift arm, grasp glass, sit up just enough not to choke, and, if possible, replace. What could be simpler?

I watched twenty-two minutes slip away before I finally reached for it, and it was almost as difficult as I imagined it would be. As a reward to myself, I washed down my water with a little Tetracontin. Just a little early, nothing but a trifle... and then back, back, back to that place I loved to be... the warmth of a fire... the touch of my mother's hand... .

+

My mother's craft room was enormous. It was her favorite place in the whole house, her haven from politics and propriety, where she sewed, knitted, upholstered, scrapbooked, painted, and I couldn't imagine what else. She was the Jack of All Crafts, possessing abilities both innate and honed. She had a giant, bedroom-sized walk-in closet filled with fabrics and ribbons and drawer upon drawer of thread, yarn, paper, and craft tools of all sorts. My father wasn't allowed entrance, nor was Pagan or any of the other palace staff. Those in the past who had tried, even with the best of intentions, earned the rare and questionable privilege of seeing my mother angry.

It was two days after my fifth birthday party, and the whole household had spent the entire time since the celebration fussing over my concussed head. It was mild, the doctor had told my parents. No need for concern. Of course, they concerned themselves anyway, watching me in shifts, offering me leftover birthday cake for breakfast, oh-so-gently smoothing my hair, as if my brain would fall right out if they touched me too hard. They'd kept me awake when I wanted to sleep and kept me indoors when I wanted to play outside. I'd had quite enough of it and said so rather bluntly that morning over a plate of blue icing masquerading as something more substantive than a giant sugar bomb. With a succession of "Sweetheart, are you sure?" and "Only if you feel one hundred percent better," they finally afforded me the personal space I oddly desired at such a young age.

At present, I was in the midst of a very serious engagement with the new construction set given to me by my mother, who had seen from an early age my talent for forging order and a creativity that lent itself less to artistic pursuits and more to problem-solving. Late that morning she came to my bedroom, where I sat surrounded by neatly organized piles of parts, the instruction and project-suggestion booklets spread across my lap. She startled me when she knocked on the door frame.

"Having fun?"

I, in fact, was not having fun. I was frustrated beyond belief at my inability to read at a higher level. The set had come with sample designs of bridges, buildings, and working mechanical contraptions, all of which I was dying to build as soon as humanly possible. I had plans. Big plans. But at that time, a combination of being five and having no prior experience with such toys was quickly dashing my dreams of being a master civil engineer.

"Yes," I said and cracked a false smile, not wanting my mother to know what a dolt her son was.

Mother leaned against the door jamb and crossed her arms over her chest. She was dressed in khaki slacks and a fitted, white, button-down shirt. Her golden hair was in a ponytail, and she let her bangs fall fashionably in her face instead of brushing them aside like she did for parties. This was her typical casual fare, and she wore it exceptionally well. Though she never would have admitted to such a description, she was something of a tomboy, not at all unlike Noin. She could don a gown and outshine every woman in the room with her beauty, composure, and grace, but she preferred slacks to skirts, straddle to side-saddle, and liquor to liqueur.

"I know you just got your construction set, and I'm certain you are enjoying yourself tremendously, but I'm going to my room to do some knitting and I wouldn't mind some company," she said, a small smile on her lips. My mother was the paragon of level-headedness. She never raised her voice and never panicked, and not because she was naive or uninitiated into high-stress environments. At times in my adolescence and adulthood when I felt wielded by my passions and temper, I thought of my mother's face, her perpetual half-smile, her level gaze. I tried to imitate it, even though I knew I had no right to do so. She never would have approved of the man I've become.

My agitated mind appraised the situation: continue this embarrassing struggle with beams and bolts or take up a rare invitation from my mother? It wasn't that my mother didn't spend time with me -- quite the opposite. She didn't do much in the way of political work, and aside from fulfilling her special philanthropic roles, she rarely left the palace grounds. She proudly considered herself a housewife and full time mother. I typically enjoyed being left to my own devices, a fact she respected, but she made it a point to connect seriously with me at least once a day, if not more. Sometimes we played games or watched a movie together. Other times, when the weather was fair, we would tend to the flowers or vegetables in one of the palace's many gardens or go for a walk through the nearby forest. We also spent a good deal of time with Relena, which wasn't entirely horrible. She was entertaining at that age, and she thought I was the funniest person in the universe. I could make her laugh her little head off just by holding her stuffed duckie up to her face and making quacking noises.

But time in my mother's craft room was different from our usual time together. Asking me to join her was like asking the devil to attend Christmas Mass; it just didn't happen. It may very well have been post-concussive guilt she felt for not stopping me from climbing a tree in the dead of winter, but that fact notwithstanding, how could I not accept?

"Do I have to put this away now, or can I wait 'til later?" I asked, as though my answer to her invitation would depend on whether or not she let me be lazy.

She tilted her head to the side thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose it can wait, but just this once. I don't want you to start getting sloppy like your father."

My father wasn't a slob, but he had a habit of leaving things out. Whenever my mother asked him why his desk was covered with file folders, he told her it was because he was just setting them aside for a little while -- but he was still working on them! Honestly. One time she secretly catalogued all of the things on my father's desk, updating the roster every week when he was away at parliamentary meetings. One of the files, detailing a district revitalization project that had ended months prior, stayed in the same corner of his desk for over six months. My mother stopped tracking after a while, bored and resigned to his idiosyncrasies.

Having agreed on the terms of my visitation, we went straight to the inner sanctum of the craft room to pick out yarn.

"What color would you like to use? Blue?"

Though it was my favorite color at the time, I shook my head and pulled a sizable ball of vibrant red. "I want to use this one." It was a shocking shade of red, one that wasn't meant to be an item of usual clothing. Maybe a winter hat or some other accessory.

"Oh, my. A bold choice, young sir! I will pick... " she made a small sound of consideration as she traced her finger along the length of the drawer, "...lavender. " She took the ball of yarn in her hand and held it up against my shoulder. "I think I'm going to make you a new jumper."

She must have seen the fear quite plainly in my eyes, because she started laughing.

"Honestly, Milliardo, what sort of mother do you think I am? I know you hate the color. I'm going to make a blanket for your sister. I think she likes it."

Mother pulled two overstuffed chairs close together near the window. Outside, the grounds were covered in snow, and a chill was creeping in. I helped her start a fire, telling her that I had seen it done enough that I could probably do it on my own next time. At this point, I'm sure she mentally noted never to leave me unattended near a fireplace.

She taught me how to finger knit, which she assured me was so simple that Relena could do it. Technically, yes, it was a simple concept. Realistically, it was almost as big of a nightmare as my construction set. I was trying to make a scarf for my father, but so far it was looking like a heap of bloody intestines. I grunted and unraveled the whole thing.

My mother watched me struggle as she effortlessly knitted a long and professional- looking blanket for Relena. "Honey, that's the third time you've started over. It doesn't have to be perfect," she said, her voice soft and limitlessly patient. "You just need practice, that's all. Everybody needs practice to be good at something."

I felt that I should be exempt from this obvious fact. Not being good -- no, not being the best -- singed my fledgling pride. In my mind, if I wasn't the best, I might as well be the worst. Of course, it didn't help that I had pathetically few peers to compare myself to, so I measured my skills against the adults in my life: Mother, Father, Nonnie and Pagan. More often than not, such unrealistic comparisons led to deep disappointment and vehement wishes for faculties well beyond what could be realistically expected for my age.

I huffed and crushed the yarn in my fists as if punishing it for getting the best of me. "Can I try this again later?"

My mother gazed over at me and smiled in that smooth, mild way of hers. "I'll tell you what -- next time you want to work on it, you let me know. You can come back and try again."

"Okay," I replied, remorseful over succumbing to temporary defeat because of my ineptitude. I rolled the yarn back into a neat ball and put it back in the closet. As I walked towards the door, Mother stopped me.

"Hey," she called, twisting around in her chair to face me, "maybe you can convince Nonnie to go outside with you. I think the snow should be perfect for snowmen."

I pursed my lips as I considered this most seductive suggestion. I loved being outside no matter what season, but I especially liked playing in the snow, pretending that I was exploring the new, uncharted territories of the North or South Pole (not that there were any uncharted territories left on Earth). It was unfortunate that, despite growing up in the wildly extreme weather of Sanc, my mother hated the cold. She would have made an excellent snowy day companion.

I found Nonnie in her room, where she was hunched over her desk with a book and her notebook computer, reading and typing. She was a student of everything she could get her hands on, one of those rare people who love learning only for the sake of it and not to impress anybody else. She had an insatiable appetite for the literatures of many nations, and considered it her personal mission to turn me into every bit the voracious reader she was. Nonnie was a very recent university graduate - the daughter of my father's friend - when she came to be my temporary nanny after my last one had a paralyzing stroke when I was two. My parents tried to take her away from me and replace her with somebody with the credentials to help raise the future king of Sanc, but my incessant crying and begging for Nonnie's return compelled them to have a change of heart.

And I was glad. I loved my nonnie as much as I loved my parents. Relena had her own nonnie. My nonnie was mine alone.

"What's on the menu today, Captain?" she asked when she saw me at the door.

We'd recently finished reading a book about Captain Wellesley, the seafaring adventurer who loved to discover strange new races and cultures and subvert them. He was no man to idolize, Nonnie told me, but there was something distinctly appealing about heading out on the ocean on a ship with nothing but the wind and the capricious sea.

"I think we should explore the frozen North today," I told her, walking to the window to survey our prospects. The winterscape was idyllic, so crisply white and clean. The coniferous trees of the forest held the snow nobly, as if protecting their smaller leafless cousins from a weight they were too cold and weak to bear.

"I take it you mean that literally and not in the sense of sitting by a warm fire and just reading about it."

I frowned as I grasped fruitlessly for the definition of the key word in that sentence. "I don't know -- what does 'literally' mean?"

She closed her book and computer and looked over at me. She had short, dark brown hair and sharp cheekbones. There was a perfectly-placed beauty mark just above one corner of her mouth that compensated for the plainness of her other features. She wore glasses at one point, but my parents bought her laser surgery for her twenty-third birthday.

Nonnie paused, thinking, trying to figure out the best way to explain it to me. "It means actually or truly as opposed to something non-actual. Like if somebody is literally going crazy, their brain is actually changing in a way that's making them insane. Where as if somebody is just very stressed out and says 'I'm going crazy,' that's non-literal. A figure of speech. They're just stressed, not insane. Or so they think."

I let her words permeate my mind, making what little sense of them I could. Sometimes she lacked the ability to simplify things enough for me to understand them, which, of course, I turned back on myself as a testament to my stupidity.

"I would literally like to go outside and play in the snow," I stated clearly, still unraveling her definition but fairly certain that I'd used the word properly.

She smiled in acknowledgment. "Fine, but we have to have hot chocolate when we get back."

As though I would argue with that.

Downstairs, she was bundling me up when Father passed us in the hall.

"Goodness, Heike, you can barely see him under all of that. He'll overheat the minute he gets going out there." Father's tone was light, but there was definite criticism there. I now know that there's a word for this sort of behavior that he so often exhibited: passive-aggressive.

Heike -- Nonnie's real name -- pulled a woolen hat over my head unapologetically. She was entirely unmoved by my father's disapproval, having been raised by a man who was remarkably similar in every way except social stature. I'm sure that's why the two men were friends. "I'm certain that he will be fine, Your Highness."

"Sometimes you worry too much, I think. Just remember, no hide-and-seek -- and no climbing trees, of course." He looked down at me and his face brightened. One of his large hands patted me gently on the head. "Have fun!"

"We will!" I said, my voice muffled by a thick scarf.

With that, he walked away, no doubt off to work. He was a certifiable workaholic, which is the reason why his desk was so messy. He was no lay-about monarch, much to the chagrin of the parliament, which preferred to govern the country without his legislative intervention. He did so much crucial policy work for the country that one couldn't seriously chastise him for his disorganization.

"Sometimes you don't worry enough," Nonnie muttered. And then to me, "You heard that. No hide-and-seek, so don't even ask."

"Why?" I was sure that I knew the answer, but delighted in having it explained to me repeatedly. I'm not sure why I liked hearing about my multiple infractions of the rules, but I think it had something to do with the typical juvenile belief that I was right and everybody else was wrong.

"Why?" she repeated, straightening her own wool hat -- made by Mother, of course. "You know why. I don't know how you do it, but somehow you manage to slink off the property whenever an adult's back is turned. I'm not going to court your father's wrath... ."

+

"I'm going to die," I mumbled as I sat on the edge of the bed, contemplating a quickly depleting supply of drugs. I thought this even as I was shaking pills into my hand. Yes, pills. Plural.

Very few people believe that they're actually going to die. Most people flat-out refuse it and hold onto some silly hope, an expectation that a last minute appeal to some higher power or fate will be answered. These people expect that they'll pull back a curtain and see there's just a figment there, manipulating, fear-mongering, and they'll come to the understanding that death is just a figment of that nasty figment. A joke. Ha-ha! You almost fell for it. Don't tell anybody.

For those few who think they can accept death, it's only by way of bargain or caveat. Yes, there's death, but then there's some magical afterlife filled with dead pets and virgins and chocolate waterfalls. And that flip-side? That fiery lake of burning sulfur thing? There's usually a way to weasel out of that.

Who believes in death as a terminal point? A finality? A null set? It's a bleak and terrifying notion, which means, of course, that it's the belief I subscribed to.

There was a prominent part of me that didn't care about overdosing. Whispers from the back of my brain told me that my life was already atrociously inappropriate, directionless, and generally pointless. This part waged battle with another that insisted that I stay alive and suffer for Everything. "Everything" was a nebulous, all-encompassing term that encapsulated all the wrongs and losses that I couldn't bear to face individually. Everything was a black, looming mass of shame, grief, and guilt that pressed against my forehead from the inside, threatening to burst, threatening to destroy me. That was the sensation that I was killing with Tetracontin.

I'd ignored my deeds. I'd ignored my thoughts. I'd ignored Him most of all, with greatest skill, with perfect and stalwart dedication. Every time a thought of him tried to creep into my mind, I choked it. Choked down a pill. Choked down some water. And just like that, the thought collapsed and faded, like a blossom that failed to open, choked by the lack of sunshine.

I knew it was almost over, that I'd soon run out of meds, but like most addicts, I couldn't stop. I wouldn't stop. I refused to stop. This pathetic excuse for a life was no more terrible than I deserved. And when this nightmare was over, there would only be another one waiting, like a beast, snarling in the darkness, mouth frothing in anticipation of my fall. I would be consumed by the Everything that I'd been putting off for all those months, the Everything of everything before Christmas of 195.

Nightmare after nightmare after nightmare.

That seemed to be the sum of my life.

All I could do was suck the marrow out of each and every beautiful dream until there was nothing left to taste but misery. By the grace of opium in an easy-to-swallow pill form, I lived like a dying man, savoring each moment of sweet denial like a last breath of oxygen. Grim reality was the reaper in waiting at the foot of my bed, watching me, patient as my mother.

I'm almost ready, you son of a bitch. Just a little more time...

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