Hey guys, I'm back from my hiatus. Yeah, this is probably not what you are expecting. I owe you the second part of "What is love?" that no one deserves and no one needs. Sorry about that, the piece turned out to be much more cringey that what I fathomed, so I had to rework it a bit. Meanwhile, there's this instead.
Warning: This is a dream sequence. A crappy dream sequence. Thanks for reading (this warning)!
He opened his eyes. What was this?
He looked around, and realized that he was somehow his younger self – he was shorter, and his palms less scarred. Surrounding him was the once familiar, nostalgic scenery of his childhood – the old Kinkou Temple, in peace and tranquility, with gentle sunshine bathing the yards and murmuring voices of the young disciples. He blinked. Everything was so real.
"Shen?" the voice asked again. It was another voice he recognized instantly – the voice he didn't know he secretly craved to hear.
Zed was standing at arm-length to him (he was so close) in his child form. He was yet indomitably tall and frightening as his adult self, but everything else was almost a carbon copy: tousled black hair, bright golden eyes, and easygoing yet observant disposition. Zed was grinning widely, carefree and innocent. It evoked a small pain within Shen's chest – how could the boy standing in front of him be the cold blooded man who murdered his father?
"I was looking for you," said Zed, unaware of who he was actually speaking to "I just asked Master Kusho, and he said we can go fishing by the water fall – just 'be careful'." The boy quoted, mimicking the Master's usual upright tone. "Which we will, right?"
That was when Shen realized it was all a dream.
It was a strange feeling, knowing that he was dreaming. He looked around in confusion again – should one not wake up, when they realized what they saw was simply nonexistent?
No such luck, then.
Why would he dream of this? He wondered, and then brushed the question off – of course he would. He regarded this period the happiest in his life, which ended in nothing but betrayal. People often dreamed of things like that, right?
(He had not had dreams for a long time.)
"Shen, are you alright?" asked Zed, unadulterated concern in his voice "if you don't feel well, perhaps we can put off fishing."
He felt sick. He felt angry.
Had it been the old days, he'd gladly accept Zed's invitation. They'd probably have a hell of a good time, chatting while waiting for a fish to get baited. Then, if Zed had the evening free, he'd be treated to a heavenly meal featuring what they'd got their hands on, which was several times better than the standard meal served down the cafeteria.
But times had changed.
Zed had betrayed him.
Every single memory with him had been painted with betrayal. Shen would not look at him with any fondness. This boy betrayed them. His mind did not register that this Zed probably knew nothing of what he'd do – he was simply an innocent boy. Shen did not care.
It was his dream, after all – he thought selfishly. Who cared what Zed felt? He was not real – none of this was real. He could do whatever he wanted in his dream.
"No," he said harshly, giving into his emotions – anger, fear, hate. It flew through him like a storm and washed his common sense away, and he welcomed it. "I don't care what you want. Go away!"
"Shen?" asked Zed, appalled. Was he hurt? Shen couldn't tell. He could care less.
"You betrayed us!" he cried "you betrayed me!" he accused angrily. It felt… surprisingly good, admitting his true emotions "Father shouldn't have saved you. You never deserved it. Get lost, before I have to make you!"
He might have dashed at Zed, but realized that he was without a weapon. A vile thought occurred to him – what if he could exact his vengeance here, if he could strangle Zed with his own hands? How would that have felt? It was his dream, right?
"Shen, what's wrong? What are you talking about? Why are…" the boy reached out with his hand, but Shen forcefully pushed him away.
"You betrayed everyone! For your selfish cause, you killed many students! You killed my father!"
He yelled, and his hate intensified.
"I hate you!"
When he woke up, he'd probably deny everything. But not in his dream – he'd live with his true self in his dream. He hated Zed. That'd never change.
His bottled up anger began to subside, and Shen realized Zed had not spoken a single word. He caught his breath and looked at his enemy. The latter had wisely taken a step back, far from his reach. Shen expected him to be outraged, indignant, or better, hurt. Instead, his face was simply… indifferent. It only served to anger him more – to be fair, anything Zed did would do that.
Shen'd failed to notice, that there were so many things behind those eyes.
Then, Zed vanished from his sight.
The dream did not end there.
After the encounter with Zed, things just progressed like the old times. Time must work differently within dreams, for he seemed to be living in his past self's life, falling in line with the training, studying, and playing routine of his childhood. Everything was the same, except for Zed. He could not be seen anywhere within the Temple. He did not attend classes, trainings, nor could he be found at the library, or his usual 'refuge' in the woods or even his own room (which was their room, for they shared one as children). At first, it didn't bother Shen; in fact he was quite happy with this. Zed had been got rid of from his dream. He could enjoy the happy, carefree days of childhood without the constant reminder of Zed's betrayal.
For a short while, it was fine, until he realized his childhood was so happy and memorable because Zed was a part of it. Zed was a constant his life. They'd been inseparable as children. And Shen was reminded of that absence, every second since the moment he realized this fact. Without Zed, everything seemed so empty.
It'd not do, too, if everyone around him constantly asked where Zed went.
Shen feigned ignorance. He truly did not know where he was – he must've been deleted from his dream. But then, why would everyone still remember him?
He tried to talk to others, too, but it never sat right with him. He just couldn't hold conversations, or engage in usual activities with any other disciple at length, because he was the grand master's son. Only Zed had talked and played with him.
"Zed did not go to class today?"
He shook his head. The desk behind him was still empty.
"That's so strange! He loves math. Thought I wonder how he could have."
"Shen, you really don't know where he is? You're always with him."
That statement sat uncomfortably with him. It did not evoke the slightest sense of indignation – his anger had died down quite a while ago. He sat with his head down, an unnatural weight in his chest. Why was he feeling this way? Did he not claim he hated Zed?
Without Zed, there was no one by his side. There would be no more training and playing in the woods. There would be no adventures inside and outside the Temple. There would be no board games at night. There would be no more sneaking up an attic and eating oden while a blizzard howled outside…
Without him, what was even meaningful in this reality?
Of course, he told himself, things were meaningful. His father was alive. His friends and fellows were alive. The order remained. For all of that, he could exchange Zed. He could…
His eyes turned to the opposite desk in his room and sighed, his breath shaking.
He was that happy because Zed was his friend.
Shen laughed at his own emotions. He hated Zed, but now he missed him?
He could almost imagine Zed occupying the other desk, with his back turned to him, immersed in some scrolls even he could not feign interest. He'd lean back into his chair, almost rocking it back and forth, with his feet on the table and his eyes fixed on the page. When he blinked, reality hit him again. Zed was not there.
Zed was gone.
(Because you drove him away)
It was not fair. That Zed was still a child – the boy he had loved. And he ruined it, with his temper and unjust anger. He felt guilty and painful at this revelation. He could've enjoyed a truly good, lighthearted dream with the Zed he knew…
He shot up from his chair. That was right. Zed was only a child. He must have been upset and angry at Shen - that was why he was avoiding him. Zed was really good at hiding, far better than his own peers. Only Shen was able to find him.
Well, he was about to do so now.
He remembered how Zed had looked before his disappearance – indifferent, neutral. That was not a face he'd associate with Zed. Why would he look that way?
He'd find Zed. He must be sulking in a corner somewhere. He'd apologize to him. Zed would forgive him. He would forgive him… right?
The sun had begun to set over the horizon. Shen's steps faltered. He caught his breath. Zed was nowhere to be found. No matter where he had looked, he seemed to have vanished all together. The thought left him a little hollow inside. Why would he feel this… empty?
It is just a dream, Shen told himself, biting his lips, it will be over soon.
Yet the sense of dread did not escape him. Shen exhaled. Why?
Zed was not here.
Zed was gone.
Had it not always been so for the past five years? If so, why only then, in a dream, did it hurt so much?
"Shen," he heard another familiar voice – tranquil, calm, and almost burst into tears "what are you looking for?"
He turned around immediately and ran into his arms.
Master Kusho raised an eyebrow at this sudden display of emotions. He put a hand on Shen's shoulders.
"What's wrong? Have you been fighting with Zed?"
"Are you looking for him?" asked Master Kusho, crouching down his eye level.
"Then you'll have no luck. I cannot sense the boy's aura anywhere within the Temple. He must have left the Temple's grounds. I heard he was gone for two days now."
His father said worriedly. Seeing him like that sparked indignation within his heart - his father was worried about the person who had killed him. All of his anger resurfaced, and he was sure his father didn't miss it.
"You two have never fought each other this severely," the master mused "you are angry, my boy. Come, tell me – what happened?"
Shen looked into his father's eyes – blue, like his own. He could not lie to him. The Eye would never be fooled.
"He killed you, father!"
So he told Master Kusho everything – about how he and everything were only a dream, that in reality Zed had betrayed the Kinkou and killed him, and that Shen had let off his anger onto this dream's Zed, thus resulting in his disappearance.
"It's only a dream," he insisted "there's nothing to be worried about."
Master Kusho regarded him with an appreciative gaze. He seemed thoughtful. Only then did Shen realize that it was kind of a dumb idea.
"I know it's hard to believe…"
"I believe you, Shen."
"You tell the truth. If I currently am just a part of your imagination, I must accept it as it is," said Kusho wisely "that does not mean I am not who I am, right, Shen?"
He frowned a little. Philosophy was not his strong suit.
"You're angry because of what Zed had done in the real world," Kusho continued calmly "do you hate him?"
"Yes," he answered fiercely. Seeing his father only brought up the truth – the bitter, painful truth.
Zed was not worth it. Had they never met, had he not existed in their lives, his father would still be alive.
"Then why are you seeking him?"
He looked down, guiltily.
"Because without him, everything was not the same. Without him, I was not the same."
He turned his head up again.
"But this is all a dream, father! The Zed within this dream is not the Zed outside. He killed you, along with many others of us."
"I heard you, Shen."
"Then why are you so calm about this?"
"I am in your mind, Shen," he replied with a small smile "I do what you expect me to do."
Despite the tension, Shen laughed. Indeed, that would be his father's reaction, to even the most ridiculous of tales.
Kusho took a deep breath.
"Do you know why, Shen?"
"Why did he kill me?"
"He wanted the forbidden techniques in the Box. He wanted to satisfy his craving for power…"
"You truly believe this is the case, Shen?"
"That's what happened! You banished him for using the forbidden arts. He built an army of his own and came back to reclaim it. He killed many of us for such thing."
Kusho was still staring at him thoughtfully. He was neither angry nor upset. He only seemed a bit wistful.
"Is that what he told you?"
"I don't have to be told. I saw it."
"You've not spoken to him, then?"
"Why would I even want to speak to him?"
Kusho shook his head.
"Perhaps the man I truly was in real life was different from the one in your mind," he said. After a short pause, he continued "only when you've let your anger go, you began to miss him, correct?"
Shen nodded hesitantly.
"Do you really hate him now, Shen?"
"Hate is a powerful word, Shen. When you've hated someone, you've chosen to see him incompletely. You've chosen to see only the vilest thing from him. If you hate him, then you've already lost him…"
"I lost him."
"Yes, on your own accord."
"Listen to me, Shen. Have you ever truly thought about the reason he did it? Do you really believe that the boy you grew up with did something like that, for a reason as mundane as power?"
"People do change, father. That's why I…"
"That's why I told you you'd already lost him. You no longer cared what drove his resolve. All you saw was the betrayal he committed, not the reason he did it. You've not even made an attempt to know his feelings. Then why are you surprised he's not part of your dream anymore? He no longer matters to you."
"That's not true!"
He tried to answer, yet could not find a suitable one. His father (or was that himself?) was right. Not once did he think of Zed's feelings during the last five years. He only assumed that Zed had changed – that he didn't matter to him anymore.
Was it, in fact, the opposite?
"Zed is a surprisingly sensitive individual," his father was saying "he sees a lot, and feels a lot, yet expresses little. He's driven by a strong sense to do what is just and right. If I were you, Shen, I'd not turn my back on him. I would want to know why he chose what he did. Because I am sure that, if he had done such a thing, he would blame himself even more than you do."
This was wrong.
Everything was wrong.
It was true that he never strived to understand his friend anymore.
How did Zed spend his past five years? Was it painful? Was it lonely? Did he achieve what he wanted?
What was left of him?
How could he have claimed he cared about him, when he could not have brought himself to ask these questions?
It hurt. It truly hurt.
Shen felt his father's hand reaching up and cleaning his tears. He sobbed.
"You are not without fault, Shen. It's important that you recognize them." His father sighed "perhaps the real I had the same flaw – that must be why I drove him away. Do not make the same mistake."
"But… what if he had truly changed?"
"Men never truly change in nature. What changes is the way they regard themselves. Zed must think that he is a terrible person. He must've accepted it as the truth. Does that mean he's truly a terrible person? No."
Master Kusho stood up.
"If, against all odds, he has truly changed, then you know what must be done. But mourn him, as a friend. Show him that you've not abandoned him, even up until the end. You would know what abandonment would do to him, wouldn't you?"
Whatever happens, I will always be here.
He had failed Zed.
"Do you think… I can?"
"If he has truly never been gone, then of course," his father smiled "I can't say it will be easy. It's been five years of him in solitude. Yet if you do not reach out, you will never know what you have lost."
Shen stood up as well, drying his eyes.
"Think about it, Shen. You don't have to forgive him right away. But do not give up on him. He needs it, as you do. You know this as well. After all, this is your dream, is it not?"
Shen was standing in his room again. Everything his father said seemed a burden in his chest. But he could not deny it now. He had to face it. He had to try to understand.
He had given up on Zed. That was why he'd lost him.
But he'd changed! He reasoned. He's become something else: cruel, coldblooded, inhuman…
Did Zed really not matter to him anymore?
Shen held his head in his hands.
He'd never thought about it, but… had Zed truly been misunderstood, he would have accepted it.
Zed had always been quiet and lonesome, despite how enthusiastic and carefree he might seem. Only Shen could talk at length with him. He'd never asked for something out of his own volition. He would do everything he saw necessary himself. If he wanted to have good food, he would learn to cook. If he hated the cold, he would study the best way to set up a heating system himself. Shen couldn't recall a moment Zed had actively asked for unconditional help. It would always be an exchange. Zed would not bother anyone with his problems. He would deal with it himself.
Shen smiled painfully. How had he never taken this into account before?
Zed expressed love by making those important to him think as little of him as possible – of his problems, that is. He was extremely good at doing so, that Shen never wondered twice. They never wondered twice.
He walked over the Zed's desk, looking at every little item the young boy had owned. Their owner was still missing.
If he wanted to see Zed now, would he come back? Would he let him say sorry?
He had to wake up. This dream had been too much.
He looked back at his futon. Somehow, in a dream, he wanted to sleep.
Maybe if he had slept in a dream, he would wake up in the real world.
When Shen opened his eyes, it was the middle of the night.
He was still dreaming. This accursed dream would not let him go.
What kind of persistent dream was this?
Something moved. He shot up, looking at the source of the noise almost too excitedly.
He stood, frozen in horror.
What met his eyes was Zed, yet wasn't Zed.
The boy lay lifelessly, leaning on the window pane. Sakura was blooming from his flesh, his blood turning into plants. Zed's golden eyes were lifeless and blank.
Shen shivered. He couldn't place exactly what he was feeling. He only knew it was the worst feeling in the world, even more so than what he had felt the night his father died.
"Zed!" he cried, dashing towards him. He was so cold… so cold. This was not Zed… this was not…
Were they destined to be apart?
"Zed, I'm sorry," he cried, holding his friend's lifeless body tightly, as if the act could somehow reanimate him "I'm so sorry! I loved you!"
Flowers continued to sprawl out from his body, against every of Shen's pleas.
"Please! No! Don't leave me!"
It was futile. He was already gone.
He'd already been killed… by the Golden Demon?
Shen couldn't even care. He only knew that Zed had died. He was truly lost forever… forever…
"I love you…" he whispered weakly, and everything faded to black.
Shen's eyes snapped open. He sat up abruptly, hyperventilating. It hit him that he was in his current room, and he let out a sigh.
It was a dream. It was only a dream.
Yet… even in a dream, even when he was perfectly aware of the fact, it had hurt. Seeing Zed dead hurt.
What would he have to do?
He could still recall the coldness of Zed's skin, as he had held onto him in his dream. It made him shudder. Zed would always be alive.
He could not hate Zed anymore. He never could have, truly.
None of this was right.
The aftermath of the dream still hinged uncomfortably in his chest. Something was wrong, deadly wrong. He shivered at the thought of Khada Jhin. It was… only a metaphor was it not? The Golden Demon couldn't have possibly escaped.
He had to see Zed. He had to tell him.
Please wait for me. You have to.
I hope I made it believable at least dream wise. Yeah who am I kidding of course not. Well peace.