Author: The Manwell
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Formatting Notes: ::narration:: //memories & thoughts//

Essence of Life

- 4 -

::I could not comprehend an existence such as the one he described to me. I could not imagine the loneliness that drove an immortal being to allow himself to knowingly suffer through lifetime after lifetime after lifetime watching the mortals he had grown to care for die. He could not remember anything about his origins. Nor did he anticipate anything from his future aside from the endless march of days. He was a god but he was powerless over his own existence. That was his life... and he abhorred it. He could not seek his own death: he was immortal; he had always existed and would always continue to exist. But for that lonely eternity, he wanted a companion. Someone to measure his existence with. Someone who -- in existing alongside him -- would remind him that he was real. And he chose me.::


<resume>


The soft, insistent beeping of an incoming call drags me away from my dreamless warmth. I roll over the edge of the bed in a controlled wind-mill motion and take the tangled sheet with me. Only one person could be calling me. And I doubt he would enjoy seeing me in my birthday suit.

I rub at eyes still crusty from a long, deep sleep and try to work up the energy required to crawl into the chair in front of the phone.

Dimly, I realize it must be Thursday. It's Trowa's turn to call me.

Trowa...

I pause at the thought of him, trying to remember something... perhaps something I was going to tell him...

And in a hot, panicky rush, it all comes back to me: waking up alone with only my own scent to greet me, hiding from the sanity that had ruthlessly clawed at my mind, aching for the return of the dream... of Duo...

And in a second wave of adrenaline, I try to remember if I'd felt the heat of another person beside me before I'd forced myself out of bed a moment ago. What will I see if I look over my shoulder right now? Is he still here? Or had it all been another dream? Has sanity come to make me suffer again?

I'm afraid.

My hands are shaking from where they're poised over the phone's keyboard. The beeping is incessant. My fear is intensifying exponentially. Surrounded by this rundown hovel, hounded by the constant trilling of my caller's summons, I can only react. Focusing on nullifying at least one of my torments, I reach forward to connect the call.

Luckily, I'm prevented from following through with it.

I stop. My entire body is completely motionless. I doubt even my heart beats. I stare at the strong fingers wrapped around my wrist, suspending my fingertips over the keyboard.

"Do you need to answer it, Heero?"

I close my eyes. The sound of his voice caresses my bare skin, coaxing the tiny hairs along my arm to stand on end. I exist in the moment of his touch completely until he pulls away and lounges back against the warped mattress.

For another, less pleasant moment, I stare at the vid phone as it continues its annoying summons and wonder why I shouldn't answer it. After all, irritating the holy fuck out of my old friends has been the sadistic highlights of my week for years... But then I think I understand.

My hand drops to my side.

The call goes unanswered.

For the first time in three years, I don't need to answer it. For the first time in three years, I know the caller can't possibly be Duo. For the first time in three years, I realize I don't have to linger here, waiting and hoping for Duo to come to me.

I turn away from the rickety desk and drink in the image of my lover. The arm holding the sheet to my body drops away and the soft whisper of tumbling fabric shudders through the space between us. I don't even notice when the vid phone stops beeping.

I only notice Duo. He of the long, slender, powerful limbs. He of the cascading, silken, straight hair. He is pale and powerful. He is perfect. He is here. And he is mine.

And I want him again.

His eyes sparkle with mischievous anticipation. "Again?" he echoes, his voice warm and soft.

I don't care that my need is written across my face. I don't care that I've given him everything I am and will ever be. I just want to feel him moving in the darkest places of my body... and my soul.

I lean over him until I've trapped him to the mattress that will probably smell like the both of us for years to come. I smile.

"Yeah," I tell him. "Again."

He sighs, a sound that's both loving and reproachful. "You're still sore," he whispers. His fingertips are a phantom touch in my hair.

"Mm," I agree as the fingertips of his other hand trail between my opened thighs and touch me gently. I does hurt, but... "I like it," I confide on an inhalation of breath.

The backs of his fingers slide over my lips as the touch at my entrance intensifies.

And he whispers in reply, "As you wish."


<reset>


When the vid phone starts beeping every six hours for fifteen minutes straight, I shut it off. My arm seems to be comprised of heavy, limp noodles and the sound it makes as I roll back toward Duo's warmth and let it plop down across his stomach only supports my theory.

With my head once again pillowed on his shoulder, Duo resumes his careful excavation of my scalp. The soft, lingering brushes of his fingertips are soothing. I close my eyes.

"Heero..." he hums.

I grunt softly to indicate that I'm still conscious. I can feel the warmth of his answering smile and find myself displaying a grin of my own.

"They're going to be worried."

I nod. I know this. "Yup."

I can almost hear Duo's grin widen. "They've probably already booked their flights."

"Uh huh."

"May even be en route at this precise moment."

"Hm."

He turns his face toward me and rubs his cheek in slow, gentle circles over my hair. "What do you want to tell them?"

I snort. "I suppose the truth is out of the question."

Duo hesitates slightly. "Not... entirely," he admits, albeit very reluctantly.

I sigh as I imagine their reactions to learning Duo is... Never mind.

"Not the truth," I decide.

He is silent, waiting for me to decide on a palatable lie. But I don't want to lie. Not really. I remember that Duo used to pride himself on never being guilty of telling falsehoods. Although I know he'd lie for me if I asked it of him, I don't want to ask him to change such an integral part of the sixteen-year-old kid I fell in love with.

And then it comes to me.

I summon up what is left of my meager supply of energy and lift my head up from his shoulder. I smile for him and lean in for a lazy kiss.

When I pull away to hover over him, he is smiling. "Well, that clears everything up," he declares playfully.

"Doesn't it?" I agree, grinning. I shift away from him and slide out of bed. "I'm going to take a shower and then I'm going to pack," I tell him.

"Ah..." he replies. "So we're running, not lying?"

I chuckle. I'm thrilled that he's leaving it up to me. This little bit of control is steadying and substantial after the years of drifting. And it doesn't hurt that he has no clue as to what I'm planning. "Nope," I tell him.

He rolls his eyes. "Let me guess. Our plans are available on a need-to-know basis and right now I don't need to know?"

I can't resist stealing another kiss. Against his lips, I grin and murmur, "And he's psychic, too. I'm so lucky."

Duo laughs out his surprise. But then he sobers and warms me with his assurance, "We both are."

I'm smiling all the way to the bathroom and I keep smiling for the entire duration of my shower. I reflect on his words and marvel at the truth in them. We are both very lucky to have met each other. And I am very lucky that Duo had thoughtlessly given me the gift of his name... just as Duo is very lucky that I'd grown strong enough to recognize and adapt to our bond. I close my eyes and lean into the shower spray. Whatever happens now, I'm ready for it.


<reset>


Some things are inevitable. Death comes to mind. Most people hate death. Fear it. I never have and I find it hard to believe that I ever will. But there is something I do hate... something I do fear:

Sanity.

It's back and I can't stop the pain this time. Could I stop it last time? I can't remember. The blurry, dark moments are the pinpricks that bleed my soul between Duo's visitations.

I look around the tiny apartment, taking in the obvious fact that I am alone. Again.

I begin to shiver even though I am not cold. My stomach shrinks and hardens until there's no point in trying to swallow the thick, nauseating juices that fill my mouth. I turn away from the bed I imagine smells like the two of us and our passion. I retreat to the bathroom, to the one place upon which I haven't imagined him leaving his mark.

I can't do this. I can't survive like this. I can't withstand the sudden and irregular reversals of my much-longed-for madness.

I sit down on the closed lid of the toilet, ignore the damp and cooling towel around my waist, and shake.

Deep down I'd known this would happen. It had been in the back of my mind the entire time I'd been with him. I'd known it had to have been nothing more than a dream. I'd known that I would have to wake up again.

No one has yet coined the phrase for the particular species of fool I've become.

And as I sit there, trembling in my threadbare towel, balanced on the toilet seat, that's when it happens: my day gets immeasurably worse.

I jump at the sound but steadfastly ignore it. Ignore them. I have no interest in answering the door, in trying to talk to my friends, in listening to them demean my existence. Yet again, I try to summon up the hostility required to damn Duo for leaving me. And yet again, I fail.

The pounding on the flimsy door continues. If I don't answer it, they'll break in.

I swear. I close my eyes. I breathe deeply. I can do this. After all, I'd known this would happen. Ever since I'd let the vid phone ring that Thursday evening, I'd known. I... just thought I wouldn't end up doing this alone.

I tell myself I shiver because the droplets from my shower are rapidly cooling on my skin. I tell myself I am strong enough to confront them long enough to send them away. I tell myself that if I can just close my eyes in the darkening silence of the apartment, I'll be able to call Duo to me again. I tell myself this moment of sanity is only temporary.

With the front door open, the chilly draft lingering in the hallway easily invades my dwelling. I ignore it and glare at the three young men clustered around my doorway. I forego the pleasantries and, as Quatre takes a moment to study my sallow skin and thinner frame, he disregards his no doubt pre-planned greeting as well.

"Heero..." he murmurs, sounding heartbroken, sounding defeated, sounding like an audible echo of my own dismantled mind.

I can see him sift through his own shock enough to say what he's come all this way to tell me. "Come with us, Heero," Quatre nearly begs from the other side of the threshold. "This waiting is killing you. Let us help."

I pull myself together. I glare. "I don't want your help," I reply sounding defensive. Wufei steps up behind Quatre and pushes firmly on the door. I chafe at the thought of allowing them inside but I know I can't keep them out. And, perversely, I don't want to. I want them to see and smell the rumpled and sex-scented bed. I want them to find the stray strands of Duo's long hair that ought to still be lying so dark and motionless against the pillowcase. I want to prove to them that he is real. And perhaps if they believe it, I'll be able to convince myself that I'm not living in a fantasy world created by my own starved imagination.

"Yuy, this cannot continue."

"I never asked you to care about what happens to me," I tell them.

I watch as Wufei fights against his temper.

Quatre interjects, "But we do. Come with us, Heero. Just walk away."

I almost laugh. Just walk away, huh? And why would I do that now? Why would I leave the only thing capable of consoling me? Why would I invite the sanity that rips me apart with every breath?

Quatre frowns at the sight of my deeply amused, crooked smile. I've confused him with my humor. Wufei is trying not to snap at me for being such a self-centered, delusional nitwit. And Trowa... Trowa still says nothing. He simply watches. And I see something in his eyes that tells me perhaps he's noticed the scent drifting up from the linens and the stray hairs on the pillow. And it fortifies me. Maybe... just maybe...

"You don't need this, Heero," Quatre continues and I'm surprised to hear a ghost of desperation in his voice. "You deserve better than this... lingering."

I arc a brow at him. "I don't mind it at all." Especially recently. I briefly touch upon the memories, on the incredible feel of Duo moving deep inside me.

But the warm rush this brings me is shattered by the sudden, hot sheen of tears in Quatre's eyes.

"Damn it, Heero! Stop shutting me out like this!" He actually hits me right in the center of my chest.

I grunt softly in surprise but it doesn't hurt. Not really. But then, he's not finished with me yet.

"Just drop the fucking control for one damn minute!" he shouts. His hands curl around my shoulders and he shakes me. "Let me feel your emotions and I can help you!"

I stare at him, baffled by what he's saying. I can see that the hold he has over his own control is tenuous at best. He's a breath away from exploding. I know that the silence will bring it out, so I say nothing. Perhaps I'm curious. Perhaps I'm cruel.

I wait.

And I am rewarded.

The fight simply disappears from him. "We've lost you," he murmurs quietly, his shoulders slouching. "We've finally lost you... I can't feel you anymore. You're... dead to me."

And that's when I get it. That's when I understand that I am beyond his empathic reach. That's when I realize that I've changed, that Duo has changed me. Somehow, Duo has changed me.

I smile.

"It's okay, Quatre," I tell him softly. "This is what I want."

"But no one wants--"

"I do," I reply firmly. "I called to him and I will follow him until my soul is worn away to nothing."

Quatre shakes his head, defeated.

Wufei regards me with angry confusion.

Trowa simply... watches.

For a moment, I consider throwing some sort of annoyingly enigmatic remark into the remains of the fray. I shiver as the breeze from the hall whispers against my bare back. At least the towel I'd thrown around my waist -- although not warm -- is better than nothing. In the end, I decide to say, "I'm going now." I pause and, reconsidering my choice of words and what they imply, amend, "We're going now."

Frowning, Wufei opens his mouth to no doubt ask what I'd meant by "we" but he is rather smoothly interrupted.

"Is that so?" a quiet voice purrs just over my shoulder. I feel the warmth of him against my back and discover myself releasing a long breath as well as the last dregs of my fear and tension. I had resigned myself to the possibility that I might have been imagining Duo after all. But he's here. He's real. And he's mine. The words to describe the intensity of my relief have not yet been invented. I lean back against Duo's chest and feel one of his arms encircle me.

"And just where did you think you were going without any clean clothes?"

I blink as he holds out my duffel bag, packed with neatly folded clothing still warm from one of the driers in the laundromat three blocks away. I make a mental note to have a discussion with him about the dangers of disappearing without telling me first. My borderline psychosis doesn't need the encouragement, thank you very much.

Storing all of that, I retort, "Not very far, obviously."

He chuckles.

When I return my attention to the others, I note Quatre's complete lack of expression. After an awkward moment -- during which I wrestle with my burning desire to say "I told you so" -- Quatre says, "Duo. It's good to see you again."

"It's been a while," he agrees blandly.

"What... brings you here?"

Duo tightens his arm around me and nuzzles my ear. He tells Quatre succinctly, "Heero."

I love his way with words.

Wufei's look of wary puzzlement melts into something more confrontational. "I find it hard to believe it took you three years to find your way back to your own apartment."

Poor Wufei. He's probably thinking of all the Sundays he's spent placating Quatre. Every Sunday for three years... wasted.

I have to bite back a grin. "He came as soon as he could," I reply for him and am rewarded for my creative truth-telling with a soft kiss on my temple. "Now, if you'll excuse us, I need to get dressed. We have a flight to catch."

"Where are you going?" Wufei demands. The question is also mirrored in Quatre's eyes. I don't have to look over my shoulder to know Duo is wondering the same thing.

I finally allow the smile to come through. Lifting my hand to Duo's and interlacing our fingers, I hold his embrace around me and say, "Back to the beginning. We have a lot of catching up to do."


<restart>


The beach still doesn't look exactly the same as it had that day he'd touched me, but with his presence beside me, it's a closer resemblance. The sunlight still sparkles with mesmerizing enthusiasm on the sighing surface of the water. The sand has even somehow managed to sift into my shoes. I lean my shoulder against Duo and relish the feel of his hand entwined with my own.

I tell him, "I died here, you know."

He glances toward me, curious.

I smile and continue, "When you approached me, everything I had experienced before that moment became obsolete. With the sound of your voice promising me friendship, I died... and then you touched me... and breathed life back into me."

For a long moment, Duo is silent. It feels a little strange to be standing with him here like this. I remember his energy, his wit, his indomitable spirit, not this timeless patience. I feel a surge of anticipation: there is so much of him I have yet to discover.

Finally, he observes, "I hadn't told you my name then."

I agree with a quiet smile. "No, you hadn't... but I was already yours."

After another long moment, Duo leans in and breathes against my ear, "Thank you, Heero, for consenting to be my freedom."

I squeeze his hand at that, acknowledging the truth therein. The moment I had grown strong enough -- or perhaps desperate enough -- to accept the ownership he had offered me over him, I had become his escape from the monotonous anguish of eternity. And for as long as I am willing to bear this bond between us, I will remain beside him, unchanging and immortal. There is little else beyond that to be known about what we have done; he has no knowledge of this -- of a god giving himself to a human -- having ever been done before.

There is no escaping eternity. There is no hiding from forever. While the rest of the world lives on, Duo and I will remain locked away in our bond, each depending on the other completely. Just as Duo is the only thing in this world that is real for me, I am the only thing that is real for him. I understand this as I had understood that I could not deny my essential need for him. And now I am voluntarily trapped in timelessness with him. And all for the sake of freedom.

Freedom.

Two mere syllables of sound: The first is open-ended. If you had the breath, you could shout it out once and have it go on forever. The second half is finite. Final. Combined, they are an escape and a promise. A plea and a decision. A celebration and a capture. That Duo had chosen me for this, I will be forever awed.

Even now, as we face both the uncertain consequences of our actions and the certain doom of an ever-enduring existence, I have no regrets. I have him. And with him I have everything that has ever meant anything in my life. Some people search their entire lives for that one thing which defines their existence. Most die without ever having glimpsed it... without ever having held it in their hands.

I close my eyes and draw in a deep breath. I find myself not savoring the scent of the sea, but the scent of my mate. He is all-encompassing. Overwhelming. He defines me as nothing else in the universe has. As nothing else can. For me, he is... the absolute essence of life.

I smile and decide that when I open my eyes I should tell him that.


<infinity>

++

end

++


LYRICS: "The Tower" by JADE REDD from the album: Rivers of Stone

No escaping... no denying...
No escaping... no denying...

She's the voice of the woman every man wishes for
Keeps her locked in the tower holds the key to her door

She's the face in the darkness every man's waiting for
Silhouette in the moonlight virgin wanting more

No escaping, no denying
There's no exit only entrance to the tower
Is his own imagination
Where she opens to his passion
Through the door that has no exit
Only entry

She's the keeper of the secret every man's yearning for
Hiding silent in the tower kneeling down at his door
She's the voice of the woman every man wishes for

No escaping, no denying
There's no exit from the tower
Only entry to the tower
Is his own imagination
Where she opens to his passion
Through the door that has no exit
Only entry

No escaping, no denying
There's no exit from the tower
Only entrance to the tower
Is his own imagination
Where she opens to his passion
Through the door that has no exit
Only entrance to the tower
Is his own imagination
Where she opens to his passion
Through the door that has no exit
Only entry

No escaping... no denying...
No escaping...

[part 3] [back to The Manwell's fic]