A/N: This chapter is my shortest yet, but that's intentional. They're probably going to be pretty short for a little while, but full of developments. I hope it isn't boring for you guys!
Öyleyse iki mezar kaz, çünkü öldüğünde,
yemin ederim yanından ayrılmayacağım.
Beni cehenneme sürükleyebilirsin,
Bu senin elini tutabildiğim anlamına gelirse.
The familiar tune played all the way through and Rook did nothing to interrupt it. He stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom and sighed. He wanted to say that it felt crushing to wake up there again, like he had a weight on his chest, like he was carrying the universe on his shoulders, like he was ready to pull his hair out from frustration. But none of those were quite right. In truth, Rook felt nothing.
He wanted to. Rook would have liked anything similar to guilt or indignation or determination, but the longer he laid in bed, the deeper he seemed to sink into hopelessness.
Normally, Rook was the last person to give up, but what, exactly, was he supposed to do? He had no idea how time loops worked. If getting Ben to turn into Alien X hadn't been enough to fix it, and Clockwork couldn't even handle existing, and Gwendolyn's spells came up empty, then what options were left to Rook?
There was nothing to try. Rook scrambled for some idea, a haphazard plan, a crazy thought, some reason to get out of bed… But it was futile. What did it matter?
Time passed achingly slowly. Going back to sleep was tempting, but also impossible. Rook knew without having to try that he wouldn't be able to manage it. He had failed. He had let Ben down. For the first time in his life, Rook felt completely and utterly useless.
His clock ticked on, unbothered by Rook's distress. He hadn't turned his alarm off, but it ended on its own when the song was over. Rook laid on his side to count each minute passing. It seemed, to him, to take both an eternity and no time at all. He blinked, an effort that took what felt like thirty minutes, and an hour had passed. A funny thing, eternity was. It was supposed to be incomprehensible to mortals, but Rook thought of every day from then on being exactly like the five days previously and felt like he was getting a pretty good idea for the enormity of the concept.
At seven thirty-two, Rook's communicator rang, just as he knew it would. He ignored it, along with the subsequent calls, and at seven forty-four, the door to his room was pushed open. Rook didn't have to look to know that it would be Ben standing in the threshold. He couldn't bring himself to lift his head and look, let alone actually give a damn.
"Rook!" Ben shouted his name, a mix of concern and frustration. Then there was a pause. He must have noticed Rook still in bed because there was the soft pad of Ben's tennis shoes on the floor as he came to stand at Rook's side. The silence stretched on between them until, finally, Ben reached down and gave Rook's arm a shake. "Hey. Rook, are you awake? Are you sick or something?" He leaned over the bed, inserting himself into Rook's line of vision. The sight of him brought a swell of tears that Rook was quick to blink back. The fondness choking his throat only worsened when Ben's expression turned to genuine worry. "Woah, Rook, you look awful. What happened? You're usually up before the sun."
How was Rook supposed to answer that? All of a sudden, he was exhausted and he had absolutely no interest in explaining the same thing to Ben for the fourth time.
Rather than answer, Rook groaned. He pressed a hand over his eyes and turned onto his side, away from Ben. "I would rather not talk about it," he forced himself to say.
What was he supposed to do? Preventing Ben from dying again seemed rather pointless when he was just going to be alive in the morning again anyway. The thought of the loop breaking on its own though, stopping after the one time that Rook had given up, made him shudder with dread.
Ben thought about it for a moment, quiet. Rook thought that he was going to leave but was surprised when the bed dipped with Ben's added weight as he sat down at the edge. "You don't have to talk about it," he said sympathetically. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
A surge of frustration hit Rook and quickly died out. He wanted to laugh and cry. How was Ben so excellent? He tried so hard every day to be a good person and do the right thing, and this was how the universe saw fit to treat him?
With a brief burst of energy, Rook sat up and turned to face Ben. He opened his mouth but snapped it shut again. For a moment there, Rook had almost wanted to ask Ben to stay with him. If they could spend the whole day holding each other, or even just sitting in the same room, Rook thought that would be perfect.
He had forgotten himself, though. Ben was a dead man walking and he was Rook's best friend, but their relationship wasn't like that. To ask something like that would be forsaking the last bit of professional integrity that still existed between them. They weren't emotionally vulnerable with each other and they weren't anything like lovers. And Ben wouldn't be comfortable with it. He was barely okay with hugging Rook.
And who's fault was that? Rook could have hugged Ben at any point during their friendship, but he hadn't because… Because why? What was he so afraid of?
Finally, Rook had to look away and give a shake of his head. "No. I think that it would be better if you left, Ben," he said, though that was the last thing that he wanted.
"Left?" Ben looked surprised, but then he rolled his eyes good-naturedly and put on a smile. "Oh, come on, Rook. I know you're upset, but just tell me what you want right now. I can help! I want to help."
But he always wanted to help, didn't he? Rook chuckled weakly. "As if you know how to do anything else," he muttered.
Caught off guard, Ben stared. Then he turned faintly red. "I don't… What?"
Without needing to think about it, Rook reached up. He set his hand on Ben's cheek, appreciating the contrast of the fur and skin without his gloves in the way. "All you ever want to do is help others," Rook elaborated. He was staring at his thumb, brushing along the corner of Ben's lips. "And I am beginning to think that we do not deserve it, such kindness. I think that you are too good for this world and you have earned far better than what you got and…" His gaze flicked up to Ben's eyes, wide and staring at Rook as if they had never seen each other before. Rook swallowed thickly and forced himself to continue. "...and this world does not deserve you."
All at once, the spot next to Rook on the bed was empty. Ben had jumped to his feet, tearing away from Rook. His face was bright red and burning. "That's not…" Ben sputtered, floundering for the right words. "My hero work isn't…! I— I mean, I'm not…" He gave up with a groan and buried his face in his hands. "I'll swing by and check on you during lunch, Rook. I'd better go let Grandpa know that I'm doing my patrol alone. You should get some rest."
Something heavy sank in Rook's gut, not unlike longing, but he only nodded. "Yes," he agreed, watching Ben hurry to the door. "I think that would be best."
At the threshold, Ben paused. He turned back to look at Rook, hesitating and still red in the face, but eventually just shook his head and left. The door slid shut behind him with finality, like the closing of a coffin. Rook knew already that Ben wouldn't be back for lunch.
He told himself that it didn't matter but couldn't bring himself to believe it.
It was back to watching time pass. Rook's communicator buzzed a few times, on schedule with the events that he was missing, but no one came to bother him. Ben must have done what he said he would, then. And he was going to handle the day's missions by himself. He was going to die, again, but for the first time, it would be alone.
Rook had left him alone. He knew that he shouldn't care, that it didn't fucking matter, but it was getting hard to breathe through his guilt. At least that was better than feeling nothing. Not even hunger seemed to be bothering Rook.
It was past noon when his door opened again with a slam. Rook had been dreading it, but he couldn't help the wave of relief that went through him. It felt like Ben had been dead the whole time and this was only the confirmation. The finality of it saved him the exhaustion of worrying and thinking until he eventually forced himself to sleep and rode through the next day.
Gwendolyn was in his door, with Kevin right over her shoulder. She looked like she had been crying. Rook sat up in bed, watching her. He already knew what the news was.
Taking a few steps forward, Gwendolyn muffled a sob with her hand and collapsed onto the edge of Rook's bed. She took a moment to gather herself, then set a hand on Rook's shoulder. "I… There was an accident," she whispered. "It happened while Ben was out on patrol. There was a fire. The paramedics arrived, but… They were too late. It— it wasn't your fault, Rook—"
"Ben's dead," Kevin said stiffly, cutting through Gwendolyn's rambling to get straight to the point. Like ripping off a bandage. When Rook didn't outwardly react to the news, Kevin scowled. "And unlike her, I do think that it was your fault." He crossed his arms, jaw clenched and hands curled into fists. Kevin was shaking. "What the fuck are you even doing? Just laying in bed all day while your partner— while Ben is risking his life like it doesn't even matter to you, like you don't care."
Blearily, Rook thought that Kevin was going to punch him again like he had one of the other days. Was that the second or third day? It was getting hard to differentiate them.
"That's enough, Kevin," Gwendolyn snapped. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, but Rook didn't think that the tears made her glare any less intimidating. "It's not Rook's fault. And Ben wouldn't—" Her breath hitched. "...he wouldn't want us to start fighting like this."
"Then how should we fight, Gwen?" Kevin demanded, stepping closer as his voice got louder and louder. "I don't care what Azmuth says! The Omnitrix failed, and Rook failed. There's supposed to be fail-safes, there are supposed to be things looking out for him when we can't! This shouldn't have happened!"
It was cranking up to be a hell of an argument. Personally, Rook didn't care if they fought, he would just prefer it to not be in his room. However, something that Kevin said stuck in his mind. Gwendolyn opened her mouth to respond and Rook beat her to it.
"Azmuth?" He questioned. Kevin and Gwendolyn both snapped their heads around to stare at him, completely opposite expressions on their faces. Rook didn't care how they looked at him. "What did Azmuth say? Is he here?" Of course he was. He had to collect the Omnitrix, didn't he?
Hesitating, Gwendolyn eventually nodded. "Yeah, he's in the main room, talking to Grandpa right now. But why do you—?" She jolted when Rook stood up, brushing past her and into the hallway. "Rook, don't interrupt Azmuth!" She tried. When he didn't turn to acknowledge her, she groaned and called after him, almost exasperated, "You're in only your underwear, Rook! Just get back in bed!"
Of course, Rook didn't listen to her. He knew that Kevin and Gwendolyn were following him, but they didn't try to stop him, and neither did anyone else that Rook passed in the hall. He didn't even have the presence of mind to be embarrassed about being half-naked in front of his co-workers. Yet another thing that didn't matter.
His bare feet carried him to the main room purely on muscle memory. Rook wasn't even paying attention. The communications center was as crammed with busy and noisy people as always, but it wasn't hard to find a floral print t-shirt through all of the standard uniforms. Without a second thought, Rook started over. The room had gone quiet at the sight of him and he didn't care.
When Rook approached Azmuth and Magister Tennyson, they were locked in a heated conversation. About what, Rook had no idea, but he didn't consider it. He was interrupting some of the most important people in the galaxy and he didn't care, he didn't care, he just could not care. "Azmuth," he said, speaking a lot more firmly than he felt. Surprised, both Azmuth and Magister Tennyson stopped talking. Rook didn't spare the Magister even a glance. "Ben is dead," he said matter-of-factly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Max flinch and forgot to feel bad about it. "Why? Why did the Omnitrix fail him?"
He needed to know. It was the question that had haunted Rook for weeks, always at the back of his mind, always impossible for him to answer. The Omnitrix was supposed to be perfect, Ben was supposed to be untouchable, so why? Why had it all gone so wrong?
Ruffled by the interruption, Azmuth looked at Rook with indignation before giving in with a sigh. "Well, as I just finished explaining to Magister Tennyson, the Omnitrix is incredibly powerful, but still only a machine. When Ben was electrocuted by the power cord, the Omnitrix absorbed that energy and released it in the quickest, least dangerous way possible: by triggering the detransformation sequence. Then it ran a quick system scan to be sure that nothing had been damaged." Azmuth huffed, stroking the filaments that acted as a beard for him. "Honestly, this whole situation is ridiculous. If Ben had just kept himself alive for a few seconds more, the Omnitrix would have resumed operating at full capacity and he would have been fine."
It was so quiet in the room that you could hear a pin drop — not that Rook noticed. He couldn't hear anything beyond his heart slamming in his chest and the blood that was rushing through his ears.
"I see," he said softly. "So you are saying that it was Ben's fault."
Rook didn't make the conscious decision to move. There was a flurry of voices and colors as everyone lurched into motion, shouting, and the next thing that Rook knew, his clenched fist was aching and Kevin was holding him back by the shoulders. Gwendolyn had thrown up a mana shield around Azmuth, to protect him. To protect him from…
Shrugging Kevin off of him, Rook unclenched his fists and dropped his hands back to his sides. He was trembling.
There was a long moment where no one spoke, not even Azmuth. He was staring at Rook. Azmuth wasn't scared, exactly. More aptly, he seemed unsure. It was as if Azmuth didn't know who he was looking at. Frankly, Rook didn't, either.
It was Magister Tennyson who eventually broke the silence, dropping his hand away from the blaster on his hip to set it on Rook's shoulder. Kevin stepped back and Gwendolyn hesitantly dropped her shield. "You should get some rest, Rook," Max said gently. "I know this must be difficult for you. Don't worry about patrol or reassignment or any of that for today. We can discuss all of that in the morning."
Right. Through all of the confusion and frustration of the past week, Rook had nearly forgotten that he still had a job. He was supposed to be a professional. Ben was never meant to be his friend, only his partner. Nothing but a contractual obligation. Thinking about it left a sick taste in his mouth.
He almost told Magister Tennyson not to bother, because Rook was retiring. But then he thought about it a second more and Rook realized that it didn't matter. Nothing fucking mattered anymore. He could kill a person and it would be erased by the next sunrise.
Looking down at his hands, Rook was sickened with himself. He dragged his gaze back to Max's and settled for a nod. "Yes, sir," was all he managed, a whisper.
Just a few more seconds and Ben could have survived.
He turned and started back toward his quarters. Out of the corner of his eye, Rook noticed Gwendolyn try to follow him, only for Kevin to put a hand on her shoulder and mutter something that Rook couldn't hear. Whatever it was, it got Gwendolyn to leave him alone and Rook was thankful for that.
He locked the door to his room behind him and stood there for a moment, looking at nothing. Rook's vision grew blurry and he blinked. Tears dampened the fur on his cheeks and he whimpered. Just like that, the numbness that had haunted Rook all day cracked and gave way to sorrow. And he cried.
Leaning against the door, Rook rested his forehead on the cool metal and let himself cry. He didn't sob or scream or hit things. The tears came without his consent and there seemed to be no end to them. As much as he hated crying, though, Rook had to admit that it felt good. He had been so miserable the last few days and too busy trying to undo it to allow himself something as simple as a mourning period.
Maybe he stayed there for a minute and maybe he stayed there for an hour. Rook wasn't sure and, in the end, it didn't really matter. He did his best to pull himself together and turned away from the door.
Staring at his bed, exhausted, Rook chose to do something that he hadn't done willingly in a decade. He got down on his knees and held his hands to his chest in prayer. If he had a candle, he would have lit it.
"Brallada… I cannot believe I am doing this," Rook muttered to himself. He wasn't the religious type anymore but, well, he was desperate and more than a little bit scared. "Please… Allow me at least one more repeated day. Not because I deserve it, but because he does."
Rook felt like an idiot. Not for praying, but for not seeing the truth of the matter sooner. Even if he couldn't do anything to solve the issue, Ben was all the reason that Rook needed to get out of bed in the morning. He had been for years. In that sense, it was almost like nothing had changed.
But, of course, everything had.
He wiped away the last of his tears and got up, climbing into bed. Rook wasn't sure how long it would take him to fall asleep, but when faced with the potential eternity in front of him, it didn't seem important. He closed his eyes.
A/N: I'm a staunch atheist, so if this chapter offended anyone, then remember that I offended myself during the writing process.
(And then remember that the next chapter is going to be a lot worse.)