A/N: I can't believe it's been two years since I last updated... seriously! If you have read my author's page previously I was having a hard time writing, especially with this chapter. I would keep coming back to it, editing it and then becoming stuck, overthinking it. And then there's life interfering. Since I've been gone from this story for so long, it is nerve wracking to come back. Please leave some feedback after you're done reading LOL. I thought long and hard about providing a summary since its been two years, but I can't will myself to write it without it cheapening the story. There's a lot more to tell!
For everyone who has stuck by, or to anyone who is new to this story, thank you for your support!
Chapter VIII: Kurt Burnt Out
Two Years Prior, one Year after Separation
Afternoon of the captured photograph
No thoughts passed through.
Only the sight of a white hue blended with faraway tones of sepia appeared.
A sheet was over her body and head. Above her, the dispersed specks of dust danced in the air. With the sheet over her face, her soft breaths were visible. The fabric ever so slightly sucked into the hollow of her mouth.
The mind was blank. For once, the consciousness was a deep absence.
Nothingness was enveloping her being. Weaving in and out, loosening then becoming taut.
If she could remain this way forever, then maybe, she would drown in godforsaken bliss.
To the world she would be dead, to herself, she wouldn't even know who she was.
Because her ties to life would have been cut short.
Except, that was not the case.
It came slowly – the reawakening, the seizing of her body's shell.
Consciousness had spread throughout her being, like ocean waves lulling onto smooth sand. It came slow, as if not wanting to disturb a falsified death. But like the waves of the sea, the rhythmic flow must always be caved in by the tempest.
The tempest will grasp, and pull. It will seize a violent hold of the waves, thrashing the azure around as if it were only to be controlled by them.
For her, the tempest came in the form of pain.
An excruciating amount of pain, akin to rusted wires squeezing her entire body, binding itself so tight that her skin could have been swelling right before tearing. Screaming was her first instinct, but her voice abandoned her. Her throat was empty, the tongue parched. Pain had seared right past her throat and mouth.
Where was this pain coming from?
The memories ripped across her mind, gashing away at the protective barrier of fruitless inexistence.
There he was.
His hands were still everywhere.
They were the pain rippling in her battered body.
You didn't let me die, Miguel.
Her staggering breath. Her heart needed to escape her chest. Burning tears.
The most insufferable pain came from somewhere else:
A site of pleasure, transformed into a destructed site of her femininity.
It was then that she realized that he had done more.
A final wish had occurred in her.
I want to die.
The only source of light inside was a single bulb that hung like a noose on the ceiling.
Minimalistic graffiti had stained the red walls of the recording studio's underground washroom. There were distasteful phrases sprayed on in the two stalls. Messy scrawls were hidden behind others, their letters twisted and tangled with one another. They were bolded by the vibrant colours they were written in.
The washroom was nearly empty. Except for one stall. A young bassist occupied it. His body was hunched over the toilet seat. Head hovered above its dirty waters. Hands were clutched onto his stomach. Squeezing it, he dug his fingers in, needing the churning feeling to go away.
The visions started to hit him again. Possibilities of what had happened to his friend lurked darkly inside his mind. His horrified imaginings were explicit in their nature. These imaginings seemed, however, not far from reality.
Conscience kept stabbing him, accusing him of being a coward for running away. If only he did not bare any witness to her limp body.
Yet… that was so selfish of him to think of such a thought. Cagalli was more valuable than the guilt that resided in him. Shinn began to be more disgusted by himself. How dare he care more about his feelings than the damage of her body and mind?
But he didn't want to see her eyes lose light. He didn't want to see her eyes appear vacant…
Vomit rose up to his throat.
When he had first been alone with Cagalli, he noticed the way her eyes shone like fresh honey on a warm spring day.
Initially, he had been intimidated by her presence during the times he's seen her with Miguel. Often Miguel's hand was placed on the small of her back like a statement – an X mark on her body. She hadn't seemed to care. She humoured him with lively smiles, bantering with him about trivial matters. Though, Shinn had always felt that there was something absent within her, like something had been pulled out from inside her chest and thrown away, waiting to be retrieved. For a short while, he couldn't quite place what it was.
It was one day, backstage, when they were left alone together. Managers and band mates had rushed out to the sound booth in attempt to figure out why there was a malfunction on their instruments' sound. Cagalli and Shinn had been sitting across one another in folded chairs. She smiled at him then and her eyes matched that smile in brightness, drawing out this strange urge to let out vulnerable pieces of himself to her.
The story he revealed was one of how he dropped out of high school and used to busk on the streets with an empty stomach. He had felt pathetic for chasing a dream that could leave him dead. Everyone he knew had thought of him as foolish and had abandoned him for his stupidity. But somehow, Cagalli understood all this. She did not judge. The compassion that came forth surprised Shinn with such intensity that it shook away his verbal restraints.
Soon after, their relationship evolved from being mere acquaintances to a friendship. He began to learn more about her, discovering that she too had dropped out of university after a year. Her reasoning stemmed from her desire to see her former lover succeed in his craft. As well as the aimlessness she needed to get rid of.
Cagalli's father had thrown her out of his care, cutting her off everything like she was never his daughter in the first place. A politician with no daughter was what her father had become. Izumi Nara Athha accused her of losing her own dreams for her lover. But Cagalli was never a person to have her own dreams. Her whole life, other people's dreams were pushed onto her, pressing away the dreams she could have had. She didn't even know what her dreams were anymore. She only knew whom she wanted, and who she wanted to be.
Brightened eyes were seen from her when she spoke about this. It seemed that she had this internal need to give someone special glimpses of a past that was so hidden. It was then that Shinn had vowed that he would try to draw out the liveliness of those eyes. But somehow he knew that deep down that brightness wasn't always going to be there.
Bile spilled from Shinn's mouth, its putrid, acidic taste tainted his tongue as it spurted out into the toilet. He was gasping. The tears in the corners of his eyes were close to falling. A mix of his salvia and vomit dribbled down his chin as his head rested on the toilet seat. The horrible scent streamed into his nostrils.
"Dammit," he managed to mutter, staring at the chunks of puke.
The memory of Cagalli lying limp on that bed haunted him. She was the flower that had been violently ripped from the ground, left to wilt in the burning sun.
"Fuck!" His harsh scream echoed, sounding unlike his own.
Please Cagalli, please be okay. Please.
The washroom door then opened with a low screech.
Shinn's breath stilled.
He stared into the pool of vomit beneath him. His focus transferring to the sounds that reverberated in his ears. Whoever entered had soft footsteps. They were slow in pace, as if their legs were weak and about to give out.
Then they suddenly stopped. That sound was replaced by the sullen squeak of the faucet turning, following the hard gush of ice-cold water against their hands. Their breathing was uncontrolled. Every time they attempted to take a deep breath it wavered.
They were scrubbing their hands together with vigor, pulling at their calloused fingers. Then they splashed their face with water multiple times.
The person muttered out panicked curses.
Shinn grimaced. He knew who stood in that enclosed space with him. Who else could it be?
"…She'll be alright. No one's going to fucking know. Absolutely no one."
The cells of Shinn's body numbed. Dizziness started to grasp his vision. The water mixed in with the vomit didn't even look the same anymore. They became blurry duplicates that fiercely shook.
A gross chuckle came out from the person outside the stall.
The person that Shinn called a friend, the person who found him on a street corner and recruited him for his band – ignoring his inexperience and youth. He had been Shinn's savior, the promise out of his shitty life. He was someone who had appeared out of nowhere. Gravity had pulled them together, but…at the same time, there was something within them that was unsettling to Shinn.
Miguel Aiman was a mental torturer – that edged into a physical one.
"Hell, she got what she deserved."
The hard stream of water was cut short.
That was when Shinn heard a low snigger.
Beads of sweat formed on Shinn's forehead. His eyes rolled up to the walls of the stall. The graffiti was moving, spinning sporadically in front of him.
The sniggering worsened, becoming like a terrible distortion between wails and laughter.
Stop it. Stop laughing. Shinn's stomach kept heaving. The sweat on his body seeped out his pores. Miguel, how could you fucking do that to her?
The laughter rang on the tiles and the rusted walls.
His body couldn't take it anymore. A grunt, and then vomit rushed out of Shinn's mouth, like blood spilling out of a fresh wound. He felt that he had emptied out every thing he could.
"Alright! So who's the poor guy who had too much to drink?!" Miguel Aiman's tone was scarred with amusement.
Shinn's throat dried. He didn't know if he could speak. What would he even say to Miguel? He looked at his hands that were on the side of the toilet… they were shaking. He wanted it to stop, but they kept at it. He suddenly imagined his knuckles caked with blood. They were ready for it.
"C'mon, answer me. I wanna know who had too much fun last night."
Just shut the hell up, Aiman.
Miguel's footsteps staggered closer and closer to Shinn's stall. Shinn heard him click his tongue. The footsteps stopped. He was standing right outside.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are."
A kick slammed open the stall's door.
Shinn's eyes shut tight.
For a moment he pretended that none of this existed, that nothing ever happened. Cagalli was only a hallucination, along with Miguel who stood right behind him. Whatever he saw was a nightmare, not adhering to reality in any sense. That's right. Cagalli and Miguel were a fine, beautiful couple, with neither of them possessing an internal brokenness.
Unfortunately, that moment of make-belief was too brief.
"Shinn, you poor bastard."
Eyes flying open, Shinn saw the shadow that masked him, the darkness almost swallowing him. An icy coldness sank into his veins. His chest felt tight. The hot sweat that had coated his body ran cold.
Slowly, Shinn turned around. As he did so, the blood drained from his face. What he saw made his stomach stir. It was a dark feeling that did not arise from his body's biological need to throw up.
From the short time of Shinn knowing Miguel, he had been intrigued by that natural confidence. The confidence that reined his band mate's composure was simply comprised of two things: the easy grin that was usually on his thin lips and the haughty eyes which evoked the thought that nothing would ever destroy or come into Miguel's way.
Hours ago, when Shinn had found Cagalli, he had not attached Miguel to the stifling cries he heard. It was not as if he did not know that it belonged to Miguel. The visualization of it appeared impossible. Somehow, weakness could never coincide with Aiman. Yet as he saw the expression baring Miguel Aiman's face, he was able to connect Aiman's voice to a visual he had previously thought he would never live to see. It ridded every impression that the man standing before him was ever a self-assured person. Instead he appeared like a man who had been weak his whole life. Maybe, this was true, or perhaps this man had carved himself a new mask, reworking it until he was able to deceive – not just the people around him, but also himself.
To make others believe in your persona, you must also believe in it too.
Miguel's open mouth was twisted downward in anguish at the same time it appeared entertained. The faint light that glimmered on his face exposed its streaky wetness from his previous sobs and laughter. The piercing redness of his eyes was struck with a painfulness that would make anyone feel sorry for him, but Shinn knew better.
Aiman stalked further into the stall.
Shinn was still on his knees, with his gaze on the other man. There was no fascination in it, only a realization of who Miguel really was. His hands then closed into fists, his nails sank into his palms, the ache that came with it was unnoticeable.
Miguel bent down to Shinn's level, face to face.
"Asuka…" he murmurs.
"There's something you got to know about women." Miguel's eyes held onto his in a steady way, the way an older brother would do to a younger one. "Sometimes… you got to hurt them to make them obedient. You will feel a little bad after, but not so much." The corner of his mouth tweaked up. "Oh God! You must know how beautiful a woman's pain is, especially if you're the one who inflicted it! I still feel good but I feel bad for feeling this good… It's an ugly feeling you know? But hey, at least you got the bitch in your control."
Visions of Cagalli played through. The hems threads were too loose to have been recklessly pulled. They were yanked in haste. Her lips swelled with blue and purple, her neck a nebula of bruises that ranged between the colours of ruby and navy. Droplets of dried blood were upon her mouth and on the sheets.
Shinn crawled up off his knees. He grabbed Miguel by the collar, almost ripping the cotton fabric. Spit flew out his mouth as he yelled, "What the fuck is wrong with you Miguel? How dare you!" There was a loud bang. He had shoved him against the aluminum stall. "You're a piece of shit!"
Miguel's head lazily cocked to the side. A forced smirk developed on his lips. "Hey, hey, let go of me Shinn. Calm down. You don't know what you're talking about! Do I look like a monster?"
Shinn gritted his teeth, his grip on his collar tightened.
"C'mon Shinn – aren't we all a little fucked up? Right now… everything is so fucked up! Everything. Don't say anything al-al…right?" There was a large crinkle in his brow, his eyes were pleading. "…Do I look like I could do some fucked up shit like, like that?"
Shinn knew he didn't. Outer imagery was as deceptive as the way one can falsely carry themselves.
Hauling Miguel's body, ignoring his desperate pleads for affirmation, Shinn hurled him across the stall, ignoring the wincing sounds the other man made when he landed hard on the tiles.
Shinn didn't even bother taking one last look at Miguel's pathetic form.
All he could see in his mind was Cagalli.
I need you to be alive.
Barging out the washroom and out the building, his feet carried him faster than his racing thoughts.
She didn't know what she was doing anymore.
Everything was happening in a blur.
Her body kept moving automatically, giving her no time to think of what to do next.
The water hit hard against the tub behind her, deafening to her ears, like it was coming from the inside of her head, plowing into her skull. She had already washed up her body – scrubbed hard enough that her skin now was raw. She felt perpetually dirty. She was dirty. When the hot water almost scorched her skin, she had seen blood drip in lines down her legs travelling onto her feet. She wasn't screaming at that time. Instead, she was crying, bent down. Her fingers were pressed up against everything that was aching. She had wanted to make the pain in every spot worse, so that it was excruciating enough to disappear.
She already shattered the lamp that was beside the bed. She had grabbed it then rushed into the washroom, banged it on the sink, avoiding her own reflection entirely. The mirror itself was framed by fake gold. The walls around it were white. Tiles in a hexagon shape were white. Claw foot bathtub, white, open shower curtains, gold. White and gold – purity and holiness. Soon it will be sprayed red. She didn't care, what she needed was it all to end.
Glass sprinkled the floor in a trail leading up to her.
Slumped down against the tub, her body was fully covered, concealing pretty colours that should never be peeking out through a woman's skin. She had put on all the small amount of clothes she'd found in her suitcase. Layered herself, then took the spare – the clean, bed sheets and wrapped it around her shoulders after she finally got out the shower.
Her wrinkled fingertips now held the thickest shard from the dismembered lamp. The hand that held it aimed at the opposite wrist that drooped over the tub.
She was ready.
Her heavy gaze was on the thin veins on her wrist. They were straight lines that diverged the higher it reached the end of her palm. Intricate, the veins were. Faded purples and greens, indicating different routes.
For once, she realized, she was choosing something for herself. It had been so long. And the feeling that arose was good, too good.
Cagalli was going to end it.
Then there he was, appearing in her mind, like a vision from the present him she didn't know of.
Closing her eyes, she spoke inside. How do you look now? I want to know how you're doing. I get scared that I'm going to forget your face. C'mon we've been together for so long, Cagalli! Spent days like little eternities together. You can't forget me, you've kissed my lips, ran your fingers through my hair, have felt my heartbeat. We've done everything. Athrun, I hate myself… I really do. I'll love that hate away. Don't you worry…You won't be able to do that. Oh, I will.
She knew her fingers were no longer her own, her body not even hers to have.
As the fingers clutched the thick, smooth shard, ready to break open skin, she was interrupted by a loud noise.
How much crueler can the world be? If you want to kill me, do it already. I'm tired. Send Miguel. Or even better, send Athrun. I'm scared now. I want to end me. Eyes still shut, she turned away, wanting to mute her thoughts.
Someone was calling out to her, but she couldn't register the voice. Her head was hurting. Everything ached. The body had failed her. She was used to the pain, experiencing it inwards so much that it spread outwardly. Yet she only heard the pain that gnawed at her head. It kept saying her name, yelling. She didn't want to look. She knew if she did her eyes would become blurry with tears.
"Stay away from me!" She screamed out. Because if you come any closer I won't be able to finish what I started. Her hands shook as they felt the emptiness of the air. Where's the goddamn shard?
At that instance, arms clasped around her shoulders and pulled her inwards, their chest bumping into her head. She attempted to push them away. She tried to kick. She tried to bite. But they secured her in this hold, making her feel trapped all over again. When her eyes burst open, she couldn't even look at their face.
They kept repeating her name like a fucking ritual to wake her up from this hell.
She was so close.
"Look at me! Please, Cagalli."
"No, no, stop let go!"
Then their hand took hold of her jaw. They were gentle as they turned her face to theirs.
She could no longer resist.
His hair was as dark as the sky during the midnight. Watery eyes shone like murky green rivers. A small pitiful smile formed on his chapped lips. "It's me…Cagalli, it's me Sh-"
"Ath-" She was only one syllable away from transforming it into his full name. Though the first part of his name slipped from her mouth, the man who held her had his hair like the darkest of shadows. His eyes had lost the vivid colour. They were instead a brownish burgundy…
Cagalli recognized him now. "Shinn?" Her voice was quiet.
Shinn held her closer, embracing her small body into him. His warmth made her feel conflicted. She didn't know if she was afraid or sad.
Then he murmured, voice reassuring and calm, "I'm here for you, Cagalli. I'll take care of you…I swear."
Gazing back at him, she witnessed the tears that were being withheld in his eyes. Cagalli nodded, feeling her own tears fall down her cheeks. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she let her head rest onto the crook of his neck. Shinn placed his head atop her shoulder, interlacing his fingers into her hair.
For a while, neither one of them wanted to let go.