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i.

She dreams she isn’t him. Not counting the things they share, things Cary is too, it’s just her now.

He isn’t even here and this is where that’s coming from: they do things they never did before. More things in a month than they used to do in a year, from a Middle Age of their existence they’ve crossed right through to the Modern Times. She isn’t sure how she feels about that, but nobody asked her. No one asked him either, that is, if you don’t count a conversation thirty-something years ago when Kerry and Cary separated in front of Oliver who smiled in turn and asked them to join him. Cary nodded, once, struggling to keep a smile from his lips, to seem solemn instead of outright giddy, honoured to be asked and half in love. “No” was not an option, ever.

Oliver’s suggestion wasn’t matter of fact but then Oliver was never that. Cary nodded a single time and here she is, decades later, forever surviving the repercussions of a span of a moment decision.

Cary makes those all day now, every day. A lot is happening at once, she doesn’t want to participate in everything. So certain choices are his alone.

But he isn’t here now and she is lost.

Kerry has seen enough through his eyes to know she does not want to live life as it happens, as it’s supposed to: slowly, boring, in order. She is acutely aware of the missing pieces though. Not really missing, but his. Put together, if she were to get all the emptiness scattered around her into one, they would feel like Cary.

Cary is many things. One of them is not here but that’s for later. He is comfortable in his own skin, fidgety and anxious and stumbling, but in place. He is all she refuses to be.

Without question, without judgement, he takes what she throws away and makes a personality of it. Graceful in his defeat, Cary manages to convince that he is the real one, the one who ought to be. He gets her worst and manipulates it into a passable human. Jealousy, a capacity for a blind adoration, a tendency to obsess over little things mixed with an eager mind that would try to find a cause before and often instead of a solution. She knows every corner, impulses and edges, shapes and questions and Kerry never looks for answers, knows them before he speaks them.

He is a thing she shares consciousness with, a growth around her she accepts. A beautiful thing that exceeds her in some ways, and yet cannot for the life of him catch up.

When she dreams, now, right here, Cary does not exist. In between subconscious and fantasy, Kerry is in charge of a life that’s just hers. Untainted.

Her mind puts together a complex set of circumstance, an inspired, intricate copy of what they have been through. She is making mistakes and paying for them. Her own faults conspire to screw this up, and it doesn’t add value. It takes something away.

You could argue she is out of practice, never had any. But watching Cary should have been practice enough ever since she sometimes longed to crawl out and change his answer, correct his pattern, do better.

Kerry gives in to her impulses, figuring them out after they’ve manifested. Then she tries to go down the wrong path, intentionally. Brakes a vase, oversteps. Little acts of rebellion that amount to nothing. She seems disappointed.

Being on her own subtracts confidence, adds guilt. People get around her, crowding her into a corner and she is grateful for walls behind her not asking something of her. A crowd awaits her decision, watches her every move, they scream and they beg and it needs to be made now.

She makes a terrible choice, doesn’t realize whether it’s the wave of her hand or the look on her face but it’s done. In silence, they nod and gesture to a bonfire. She thinks “Unforgivable,” doesn’t know why, knows it’s true.

Kerry turns in hope of disappearing. Cary, she thinks. Where the fuck are you.

She doesn’t like how it felt, waking up she climbs out of Cary and puts her arms around him. Solid, here. That’s something Kerry knows. That, she has.

She doesn’t want to trade.

I’m here, everything about him screams. It's deafening, her favourite kind of white noise.

He understands, he had seen it too. They leave a distinct aftertaste, things that are just hers, or just his.

 

ii.

He dreams he is alone.

To be fair, he is. Kerry is on a mission and he is so exhausted he falls asleep on his own.

Usually, she hijacks their subconscious, their dreams are hers by default. (He gets their life, he’s not greedy.) Right now he is alone. There is a different pace to everything, a reality alternate that looks and smells and tastes real but isn’t. He anchors himself in what’s known.

When he sees Kerry for the first time he has the same thought as when he was eight: she is made up, not really here.

It’s a glimpse of a feeling he usually doesn’t acknowledge.

She is different here, bright and sure and strong. Has a kind of presence that comes from always being here.

Kerry doesn’t look at him except when she does. Her hair is a lighter shade, her eyes are mean. She is on her own, surrounded by others, Cary hears her voice and she doesn’t listen to his sorrow. He manages to catch her eye eventually and she turns her head away after a while. She doesn't know him.

There is liberty to that: he has lost her and he has yet to meet her. He can do it right, he could not do it. He could do it all wrong and not count it as a cornerstone, because she can be anybody. That is dreams’ virtue. No promises, no conditions. No history.

He wants to go to her. I know you better than anyone, a truth, a confession, and when he says it out loud it’s a threat.

There are a lot of things he can not say to this Kerry. To a woman that doesn't know him. To a person in her own right who didn’t share anything with a man thrice her age. Here she must have been born years after him, doesn’t have memories of the war or opinions on people he had crossed paths with.

Cary wants to know her worst nightmare but then they’ve lived through it already. He wants to put his arms around her knowing she won’t disappear.

She smiles funny, different, more open and less so at once. He feels he has lost a lot more than just her. He can’t figure out who he is without or whether he can count himself as a whole. They are their own people precisely because they are not. Their characters grow in relation to one another, and if a possibility of a reunion is out, there are parts that are torn away from him.

Even here, he doesn’t want to be a second best, a lesser evil, a consolation prize, a price and not a choice she makes. He doesn’t want to be here, nor does he want to be there, alone or along for the ride. His pain is loud, the grief is overwhelming, the rage blind and deafening but she doesn’t hear it, she doesn’t know. It rises up and invades all that's left of him which is not a lot, a torn piece of a creature not meant to wander around alone. And then it leaves him, sips into the air and makes static electricity sparks light up. The sky crashes down like a roof in a storm, the strands of her hair turning into twigs of a tree, her heart falling out of her chest covered in blossoms and blood.

He does not know what to make of it.

The imaginary world crumbles in on itself and he lives another day.

 

iii.

And then he dreams he is young. About her age. Exactly her age. He walks over and kisses her, a reflex, something he does, his hand on her hip in a crowded place. That’s okay, he tells himself, as her hands move up his back. They are different people. She has never disappeared inside of him, he has never had her scars.

He can’t pretend to be scandalised. He knew. (They keep secrets from each other in places they would both rather not look themselves. But he looked, found that, turned around and left it there.)

She knows him differently, laughs at their similar names, asks him to dinner. Nothing is proof she is the closest to him in the entire world, he just feels it. On his own. By choice.

The thought is violent, his fingers twitch and then they are flexing around her paper-thin skin, her blue veins chasing blood to limbs underneath his fingertips. He brings her wrist to his mouth, she tells him about her day, a thing so pure and awkward and new, with no intimacy to it, it’s still Kerry and she hates having to explain, he would need to guess and he would need to guess right, to phrase his question in words she likes.

They eat and it’s very clearly an again, one of many. He watches her bite and swallow, usual motions in an unfamiliar place. Cary leans in and asks her about those other times. Asks her like it’s a secret, a privilege, surely.

Kerry tells him, boredom behind every sentence. What purpose does the question serve? She crosses her arms, leans back on her chair, empties her glass. And talks.

It feels like an interrogation and it probably should, he is intense, weird. He guesses it’s okay from her smile, but he isn’t sure. Which is enticing all on its own.

Everything around reflects how little he knows of her. Nothing about her is changed, same Kerry, but her home is made of corners, sharp edges and hidden places where Cary is not invited, he is a separate entity. She builds her own space around just her.

And when it's done she invites him in, chooses and welcomes and makes him stay. Don't make me leave, he thinks. Put me in your bed, which she does.

He tugs her closer and closer in an attempt to split her bones and knows it’s a dream then. He'd never allow himself to tear between her ribs, would never lay fingers on her chest as a means to an end.

He knows he is dreaming, feels his real leg tingle, feels himself waking up to the footsteps outside the room. And it takes everything to ignore, to come back to a place where she is a compilation of things he’d picked up over the years to feed into a generic fantasy.

The parts where she puts her hand on his chest, gets closer and pushes, her fingernails scratching him in the process, those are generic. But the nails are painted bright white, she is exactly her height, exactly her strength. She is not generic, she is Kerry.

Too many possibilities intertwine here, nothing is real so ultimately, nothing matters. Cary is used to knowing what to make of anything, based his life on drawing conclusions from a set of circumstances. The thing here is- it’s not real. He has a minute, ten, if he tries really hard, an hour. Time is dissipating, he can do what he wants and should really do it now, and he wants, everything, everything and then nothing but for her to want this too.

Cary puts one careful hand on her back. Her hand is on her bare stomach and when he presses into her it’s on his too. She is this close and she isn’t her, she isn’t, she isn’t even real.

He moves in her and he thinks one, three more pushes and he is going to be wiped out. It’s too much, and he is not even sure it’s good. But it’s her skin, her legs around him, her heels pressing on his muscles. He wants to eliminate distance and not let her inside. As close as, just not the same. It’s never going to be the same, is it.

Even this he’s won, cheated; a nice enough word for almost getting what wasn’t ever supposed to be his. How many of this is consciousness by now, elaborating from a messy set of random patterns? She is half of him, of course, she is in his dreams. This is trespassing though.

He is fucking it all up.

It’s one of the human rights, surely. To be able to lie to themselves. Kerry though, she’ll know at some point.

A dream which is not a dream breaks, time stops mid-sentence. There are two windows in her bedroom, one lets in the sunlight, the other offers a glimpse of a night skyline: this place does not belong to the usual span of hours; it’s telling that here he wants to think of time as an abstract.

Something begins to slip from the walls, a strip of wallpaper turned shadow turned alive.
There is a voice attached to a set of limbs, a thing beyond gender or a single entity. It’s all the broken pieces of discussions that were going far and not far enough, scraps of words that have fallen flat, statements he was glad to retract after a single look. This shadow of a being approaches, a single idea at work. Talk. The voice sounds like Melanie’s, her unmistakable ability to downright freeze the blood in his veins betraying the omniscient image.

“I don’t- I don’t want to die without her.”

Syllables fall from his mouth one after another, unburdening him from a weight he did not know how to eradicate, its shape only now coming into light.

You don’t tell her now, you’re going to be terrified forever.

Familiar words in a familiar voice, it’s a conversation he’d had one too many times. No need to bring it up again, he isn’t built to reach a different conclusion, isn’t ready, will neve-

A shadow covers everything in sight, it’s own equivalent to gesturing at their surroundings: It’s a memory, a flicker of a thought, an uncontrolled yearning, you'll never be safe.

All of this he knows. There is nothing Kerry doesn’t know apart from the things that she does not bother looking for. This might seem interesting though. Because it is.

You are going to be afraid for the rest of your life. True. But he’s been afraid for a better part of it, he gets fear like Kerry gets fight, gets terror because she took all of the bravery. But I will live.

Do you think you’ll die without her? This one comes from a place that's just curious, no agenda, dismissing context at a whim. It just wants to know whether he thinks he’ll survive.

He takes his time, a split second, a fracture of a timeline that is beginning to collapse on itself, but he considers his words carefully.

I think I’ll want to die then.

He hears footsteps again, feels a tug in his chest, knows she'll wake in a moment and he should too. He tugs at this Kerry's hair, touches her neck and wrist, and then he is awake. The connection breaks and this Kerry disappears. No trace to her, no weight in his chest gone missing. A single disaster of an idea rippling through him: Don’t make me live without you.

Cary does his best to push it down, imagines her pushing it away like a plate of food. This belongs to you.

Take it.

I don’t want it.

Cary wants to say the same. He can’t blame her for his affection but he also can. He isn’t that fond of himself. All his amazing, brave, electric things are locked into one and it’s Kerry. Things Cary could love about himself are hers and maybe sleeping with her won’t get him all those qualities, but he doesn’t think that matters much. He can’t quite tear this feeling away from himself. It’s all of her that’s left.

He doesn’t dream alone after that, fearful and deliberate at keeping it a secret. He’s terrible at that but he is doing his very best to shut it out and not let it ruin their life.

He thinks he’d rather wait for it to become some random shit he can’t remember. Maybe this way, one day he’ll run out of things to hide. Maybe he’ll wake up feeling something different.

It’s unfair. And it’s real. And it’s unfair how real it is.

 

iv.

Kerry dreams she is not him, again. She is no one. She is the air in the room, the sweat on tired arms, the muscles that keep flexing, running. She is the dust on a shirt, a strand of grey hair, she is many pieces of broken glass. A string of words with no end and many beginnings.

She is tall and fragile and covered in bruises that are not hers.

She is no one and she is still him.

 

v.

For a while, many things happen at once. Over time, they end up feeling the same, inscribed into an era just before yet another big thing and are later defined by that alone. There is no time to take anything apart and make something of it, to build meaning into its structure.

At night there is a longing underneath all longings, an idea shared across more minds than theirs. People dream the war is over.

The war is over is a full feeling by now, one Cary has imagined would taste like sleep and salt: everything is slow and whole, the world isn’t damaged. Nothing more to it. Just the absence of terror.

Just that.

Kerry dreams about someone else. It’s a shared idea, but they live it out on different nights, separately. The first time it happens she still feels stuck with someone else. But it’s an enhanced version, one that is filed under a different name that doesn’t sound anything like hers. One that is a specific compilation of skills and traits, an overall perfect thing to be around.

This happens a few times; a pattern emerges if one was careful to read into it. Cary is. He approaches it as another study so as not to be blindsided. He analyses it to a point where he knows (even if he had made a point of not thinking about) what his answer would be. So he includes those in his study too.

Prominent front-runners are another fighter and then, to him, someone older, open and kind, easy and polite, willing, lonely even. And then, to her, someone who might set a thing on fire, light a match, win a match or two, someone who won't circle around a question for a goddamn eternity.

Across their respective diagrams of personality factors, those ideals are set to correcting the flaws. Everything that annoys, bothers, upsets and irritates is tossed away. It’s quite nice, really, as wishful thinking often is.

Sometimes they dream they are not alone on a larger scale. That there are other people in the world who are tied in two, made into one, given no choice and surviving. Or that there is a set of clear rules, underlined, some in bold, several in italic. A guidebook to existence so they wouldn’t have to extrapolate from what’s acceptable to others, so there’d be a frame of reference for fucking something.(So he would not leave her alone again.)

Things they end up arguing over feel like a betrayal of a code that was never revised or consulted and arguably written down at all, but a betrayal nonetheless.

They dream of choice mostly, many versions of it, because he’d take any. Kerry doesn’t give it much thought. Cary wants free will, being bound by that alone without nature indicating their paramount importance to each other. It’s not subtle in them. They have been screaming this is me, here I am before the question was ever asked.

They dream they are lost, know exactly what part is missing, feel it could be just a nightmare. The state of perpetual terror is not a viable condition, they look at their respective shapes and deduce their age. This old and scared like it has just happened, like they have just lost something- There is a distinct inkling that they just have to wait long enough to wake up. To find everything in its place. Everyone.

But she starts searching for him in a blank space around. He runs, runs to wherever he thinks she'd meet him halfway; solitary beings searching for the other half, it’s too cliché for what it is. If Aristophanes was ever right, the rest of humanity is spared. They know not what they’ve lost.

He knows the shape, the weight, the noise. She knows the structure, the texture, a flicker of kind eyes.

Waking up washes over her like a wave. Waking up feels like a gift.

 

vi.

He kisses her then, a reflex, but this time true. Undeniable and increasingly terrifying as the reality of it settles in. It’s not thought out, it’s a pattern, a thing he does, a thing he so clearly did. She pushes into the feeling and sees bits of memory rearranging themselves into a confession.

An I want you full of grief and shame and blame, sorrowful and broken in advance. An ugly thing caught in knots nobody bothered untangling.

”How could you not tell me that?”, rips itself from her and into him.

His arms get away from her as if broken, burnt, they fall down his sides and stay there.

She wants to see what’s what, Cary tries to tug it back into shape, cover it up as fast as he can: clumsily, feverishly. He steps away from the bed, puts as much distance between them as the room allows all the while piling things up, weaving her reaction into every piece of them he’d kept to himself. Rearranging things she had already gone through until they turn unrecognizable and she has to go through them again.

It’s just shy of mind reading but it shouldn’t be; it’s hers.

He gives up. It’s hardly a decision, so sudden he thinks it might be hers but she is still occupied. He wishes then (just as suddenly, a whole lot more desperately) he didn’t have anything to hide. Wishes for things to not be there when she finds a place he had stored them in, wishes for them to not be true. Wishes he didn’t have them, never had the option of sharing.

He takes a step away from her and when she doesn’t notice dares to take another one and then three more, turns and prepares to run. Kerry tilts her head and that alone stays his hand. She's not asking a question, she’ll find an answer on her own soon enough; all he can offer are excuses, which he has to offer now, right the fuck now, when they are not yet a sacrilege but a shield. Capable and full and true; untainted by what she’ll see. He might sway her opinion, present it, explain it, defend, defer, put the blame elsewhere, so many things, right the fuck now. She is in his head, her sharp fingernails scratching at the corners with “keep away” signs on them.

He says something, she doesn’t hear. Words are redundant, she has got as much from his memory. She stares blankly into his eyes and he wills himself to keep staring at her, too bright in this light, too certain.

“It was an accident,” Cary says instead, as one would, pointing at a car wreck and ignoring the damage. At least, at last, he admits it. Because that is the truth you want to hear. "You asked," he offers when she is still not quite pleased.

He had made a habit of being honest, made a point of it, scolded Kerry for hiding bruises from him, I need to know what I am getting into, Kerry, well, he has fucked up now.

There is a long static silence when he is finished. He is not even halfway through but it is pointless now, she had seen everything there was.

She taps her fingers on the desk, a gesture she undoubtedly picked up to pass as an ordinary person, yet it’s so off key he pities her. Her half-life, her own insecurities, her youth even. Kerry is painfully notold, as if that’s a word. Right now it’s nothing but proof she has been leaving Cary alone for half a lifetime. Still, she surges up whenever and demands to be taken into account instantly, owed everything in full.

What would be a point of me without you, he wants to yell. I am half of you, a layer. I’m everything that we are that you are not. There is an emptiness in his core, it’s embarrassing.

He wants to say it but doesn’t, can’t, would never. She catches it nonetheless.

That can’t be how you see it. Her voice in his head breaks. (Her lips are pursed, her fists are caught in the fabric of her coat, it’s been years since he’s seen her cry.) There is such sadness behind those words, a smidge of grief, a trace of blame. He’d thought she was everything they wanted to be and he was everything that was left. But she is half-empty too.

Right now everything about her adds up to a single silent “And?”

“Can you give me a moment?” He is exhausted from her digging around his head, from her in his head, from the dreams he hates having and wishes he wouldn’t, didn’t have them, didn’t hate them, he’d settle for whatever. But she just looks at him, angry and glaring questions and beautiful and his favourite person in the world and he wants out, out.

He’s stuck in this infatuation, stuck with her, stuck in this conversation. She could end it, if it’s too much Kerry’d leave him alone in this room, dissap- No. Not now, I wouldn’t.

She is right: she stopped trusting him nine and a half minutes ago, she wouldn’t just-

Her ears are turning red, Cary’s brain is screaming attack. It's hers: her impatience, her blunt lack of tact. But it finds its way into him, makes him question his strategy. They must look alike right now.

He doesn’t often get to experience it, she usually takes it away before he can settle into the feeling. So it takes time to recognise it for what it is. Fury.

“Why are you angry?” she snaps rather quickly, attuned to him, pinpointing exactly what he is.

Because I am not supposed to think that, because it’s a lot of pressure, a constant tension on everything I do; because I don’t know why I do, because I don’t want to ruin our lif-

“You didn’t ask me!” she interrupts his thoughts, scanning them for a brief moment, irritated, seeing nothing of value, blind to his reason, impatient to put it all past them-

You think we could?

“What?” she says, suddenly very lost, thinks “Rude” at being interrupted.

“Kerry, tell me. Tell me how we can put it past us.”

She says nothing and for a while, he searches for meaning in that but comes up empty. Dares himself to ask.

Well, would you? His out of place interrogation has undergone a change. It shifts into a plea, a matter of an emphasis, one syllable adjusting the narrative.

She crosses the room, her footsteps a perfect echo to his heartbeat, to their shared breath and he doesn’t hear it, doesn’t see it, knows it without sense, would know it anywhere, every step reverberating in him, right in the middle of an empty space around which he exists.

Kerry looks up at him. Up close this ugly thing he has been hiding, well, it’s not that ugly. Divorced from shame it’s just warm instead of careless. Kind without being good, shy and vulnerable and weak and gigantic.

She finds she doesn’t mind.

She angles her head, a predator listening in on her prey. And then she says “When you didn’t ask me- Did you want to pretend I’d say yes?” Says it out loud, making an effort of formulating exactly what she wants an answer to.

Of course I did, he thinks. I am human. I am alone and I am old and I am in love with you- No. Not that; no, that and many other things.

That and an inability to imagine you saying no and then, after, moving on from that. (Full of grief and shame and blame. Sorrowful and broken in advance.)

This is mine too, he hears.

Kerry doesn’t say it, doesn’t think like that, but puts her hand on his chest, applies pressure and he can feel the buttons of his shirt press into his skin. Her hand is there with no particular intention. An experiment. A bravery he could never ever amount to.

What he feels are weight and warmth. Imagines the fabric of his shirt on her palm, the buttons pushing into her skin too.

The silence lasts a moment and then another and then a while. She is still here and she knows.

Cary’s terror begins to subside, he tries to hold on to it. There is no telling what comes next. But even this is enough, still waters and her not leaving, eyes searching for the rest of it while his are trying to avoid being blinded by the earnestness. (People should be able to lie to themselves.)

Her hands move along his sides trying to untangle those threads. She traces the lines in search for loose ends, both inside his mind and along the contours of his body.

And it spreads to her, and grows, and gets real too fast too soon; she feels stuck much like he does, unable to turn back or turn it off.

It's mine. This and this and this, until she reaches for his chest and the space between his ribs where his heart is supposed to be, where she is supposed to be. Her hot fingers underneath his shirt, he thinks it’s one or the other or both but certainly not nothing. He forgets what one was and can’t quite know what he means by the other, but this, this is not nothing.

She thinks mine, as her fingers trace the seams on his trousers, the lines on his shirt, the contour of his glasses.

Oh, she thinks. This is up for the taking too.