"I, Sorey, do solemnly swear, to take thee as my lawfully-wedded wife uh, sorry... as my lawfully-wedded husband, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part..."
Mikleo's eyes flicker slightly as Sorey gives him a suppressed, yet, half-teasing smile. "And I, Mikleo, do solemnly swear, to take thee as my lawfully-wedded husband, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part..."
The Master of Ceremonies gestured to them. "You may now exchange rings to signify your eternal devotion, your faith in each other's love with which to seal your vows of matrimony to each other. If you have any other words to express them, you may say them here, before God and man, and by these words let your souls and hearts be bound as well."
Sorey smiles with his lips and his emerald-green eyes... a smile not only full of love and absolute trust... but one of infinite joy as if he has accomplished something greater than what has ever been done or conceived by any heavenly miracle.
"I love you, Mikleo... I always have, I always will... and I will love you 'til death and unto the afterlife, as far as my soul can reach. For all of me is no longer mine but yours, as my heart, my soul, and my will shall always be yours and yours alone... my love, my dearest, now and forever."
He took Mikleo's ring finger and slid a band of gold onto it, kissing it as he did.
It was now Mikleo's turn to give Sorey his ring.
"I love you Sorey, more than anything the world could give. And if it be possible to love anything beyond everything, more than my heart, my soul can ever give in this lifetime... then let that love be mine to give to you, my husband, my friend, my always and forever, for all eternity."
It has been three days.
Sorey stared into a blank wall though he could hardly see anything through the haze of tears and sleepless exhaustion that overcame him.
Fear, disbelief, unbearable grief... no words could paint the emotional abyss that have sunk him lower than the deepest hells as he turned to the quiet sleeper on the bed beside him.
Next to him was a monitor that hummed a constant sound of danger, of a life teetering between the world of the living and a world beyond which no one could reach.
He kissed the pale, lifeless hand showing beneath the pristine white blanket... the same hand he could not bear to let go even for a minute as he regarded the machine and its muted presence as both an enemy and a friend, threatening to take someone more precious than all the world could ever be at that moment.
Mikleo was not supposed to have visitors, but the head of the hospital was a professor Sorey had known in his undergraduate days, and knowing their personal circumstances, he made allowance for Sorey to stay as a visitor for longer hours than was normally allowed.
Sorey himself used to think he wanted to be a doctor, but his interests took a different course, and he found himself being pulled into an entirely different direction.
Those eyes could pull him anywhere, and he would follow. He would always follow no matter what...
Mikleo... wake up... you can't leave me like this... I won't accept it Mikleo...
Why now... why him... why can't it be me? Whoever is out there... just let it be me... let it be me... I would do anything... just let it be me...
Let me take his place... just this once... I won't ever ask for anything else...
The silence held itself back, as if the answer was a secret not meant to be spoken.
Sorey closed his eyes.
He remembered that song. He had sung Mikleo a song he had wanted to be theirs, a song he had carved in his heart just for that one, special day when he could finally take him in his arms as his own whom no one else could take away.
When did things start to go wrong... when he meant every word, every syllable with every single breath and heartbeat?
It was a song they had once heard in a cafe they had gone to, a quaint yet cozy one overlooking a beach. It was right after their high school graduation, when Muse gifted them with a trip for just the two of them. The song had been sung with the perfect pitch, like it was a piece of music meant to be sung by angels, and tears filled his eyes remembering how he held Mikleo's hand as the serenade went on.
He promised himself that he would sing the same song for Mikleo...
He had planned it, had readied himself for the chance to sing it when they finally get to celebrate their marriage with their friends. Of course, they wanted their friends to be there too for the ceremony, but given the complications of Mikleo's family situation, they decided it was best to keep things private for a while.
Something nudged Sorey's mind, and his reflex made him clench his fist. There's the possibility that Bartlow had a hand in this, and Michael, and...
A slight breeze touched his cheek as if to distract him from those thoughts. He turned to Mikleo, and all the dark suspicions and uncertainties seemed to fly away into some hazy distance.
Mikleo was so beautiful that day. Even now, his sleeping face reminded him how he felt, how proud he was to marry him. The song he wanted to sing on their wedding was called "A Song For You" and it was the absolutely perfect choice as the lines mirror not only his feelings at the moment, but all the storms and heartaches they had been through together.
To say that Mikleo was the keystone that held his life together since they have known each other would never be enough to describe what it felt to see him smile... to see him laugh and cry as they go through all the heartaches, the joys, the losses and victories of their life's journey.
He was able to overcome all the pain and misgivings because there was Mikleo who always believed in him no matter what.
A sudden urge welled up in him, making him hum the first few words of the song. He wished more than anything that Mikleo could hear him right now. Like everything else they have shared, those words have been carved deep into their memories of each other... deep into his heart and soul.
Brace yourself, a storm has just began
Face the music, see what you're running from
You're not alone in this lonely, lonely, lonely universe
Your home sweet home is where your heartbeat can be heard
And if you're hurting, don't try to hide from me your welling eyes...
'Cause only light can color the rain
Only time can wash away the pain
And no goodbye could ever tear this one into two
Only love can come between I and you...
Just like birds uplifted by the wind
With these words we breathe new life again
We're both together in this unpredictable weather pattern
It's not forever so let go of stories that don't matter
And if you're hurting, don't try to hide from me your welling eyes...
Only light can color the rain
Only time can wash away the pain
No goodbye could ever tear this one into two...
Only love can come between I and you...
Sorey closed his eyes and felt his heart twist again, knowing those tears he had been trying to push deep down were not about to be suppressed for long. Just like his feelings, the tears just seem to keep running... as if his soul is a bottomless well of grief that cannot be emptied enough.
Where have I gone wrong? What have I done to make any god out there hate me so much?
If anyone could hear me, why won't you give me a sign... just one sign?
I need to believe that there's some good out there... some miracle... some higher power...
I need to believe in anything... even if that belief will cost me everything... I want to believe you can hear me out there...
I need to believe this is not the end. I'll believe in anything... gods, demons, angels, what does it matter?
But if Mikleo's going to die, what does it matter if any of you out there even exists?
Sorey knew that no matter how often he asked them or how hard, the questions would be left hanging there in the stillness, in the soundless silences of his emptied heart. Right now, his heart is all misery and darkness with nothing left but the howl and fury of desperate yearning slowly slinking into shadows, traveling a road of broken hopes and dreams where even gods and demons dare not tread.
A heavy hand touches his shoulder making Sorey look up.
"Hey, how are you holding up?"
Zaveid and Lailah were standing behind him, a basket of fruit in Zaveid's left hand and a bouquet cradled in Lailah's arms. Their smiles looked sad but hopeful, filled with quiet understanding and tender sympathy. It was easy to feel the genuine sincerity in them.
"He's doing better, isn't he?"
Sorey presses the hand he has never let go for three days. He rarely left the room except for emergencies because he wanted to be the first person Mikleo sees when he wakes up.
"Thanks for coming."
Zaveid gives him a slight push. "Come on, get some life into you! You're not gonna let him see you like that when he wakes up, are you? Likewise, Rose is visiting again a little later. We're all here for you, buddy."
"Oh my, where should I put these flowers? He loves tulips, doesn't he?"
Sorey nods, something in his gut forcing him to swallow the tears that seem to be rising from within him like a tide. He remembers the same bouquet of tulips he had bought on impulse that day he returned from work early... and that similar bouquet Mikleo held to him when he surprised him with it on the night before their honeymoon.
He remembers the room bathed in the white light of the same moon streaming from their window as soft flower petals covered their bed while they made love.
He remembers every kiss, every panting breath, every moan of desire shared in that room as they fulfilled their childhood dream, their future marriage vows, joining their souls and bodies in that union that made Sorey realize the height of happiness that cannot be measured by words.
In the midst of that maddening peak that took hold of both of them, Mikleo's words sounded like a lullaby reassuring him breathlessly that they are one soul now, meant to share forever together.
He knew right there and then that his heart would never be strong enough to forget that moment. He could not imagine himself ever being free.
For certain one day... one day he would die with his last thoughts only of Mikleo, and he would have no regrets.
He would thank all the miracles that brought them together. If only those same prayers could keep him longer by his side...
He would do anything to make that happen. Nothing can ever be too much.
Sorey gives that small hand a squeeze. No, nothing at all can be too much if it will save you...
He looks up at Lailah as her simple question came back to him after that reverie. "Yeah, he does." He took the flowers and put them in a vase on the bedside table across them. "Have you had dinner?"
Zaveid frowns. "Hey, don't worry about us, we're good. But you really look like you need a break. Get some dinner and a good sleep. We're here to take over."
"I'm all right. I'd really rather stay-"
"No, Sorey, that's out of the question!" Lailah interrupts. "You really need some rest, you look awful just now!"
"Hey, no need to be charmingly blunt about it." Zaveid was quick to remind her gently.
"But he really needs to take care of himself too!" She turns to Sorey with widened eyes. "Look, you have to stay strong for Mikleo, all right? He needs to see you in your best form when he wakes up so he'll try to get better as soon as possible!"
"Yeah, I'm sure to do that if it were me waking up to you," Zaveid whispers teasingly.
Lailah hits him with a fan. "Everyone thinks that way, if you must know!"
"Mikleo's strong. He knows Sorey is just right here. He'll wake up soon, I can assure you that."
"Thanks." It was all Sorey could say at the moment.
"Say, I was really surprised when I heard you got married. I never knew you were seriously committed to begin with, I mean, you know me. I would've given you discount coupons Lailah and I get from the hotels we-"
"Zaveid, can you be quiet even for just two seconds? Or should I wait for Rose at the coffee shop and leave you to yourself?"
"What? Sheesh... how demanding of you to say! And to think we're not even married yet!"
Lailah makes a petulant face. "Too bad you need twenty years of practice to be a suitable husband."
"I'll just take lessons from my buddy here, right Sorey?"
Sorey exhales. "Lailah, Zaveid, I really appreciate the concern. You're being here already means a lot, but there's no way I'm leaving him even for one minute. I'll stay right here until Mikleo wakes up."
"And I say you step out for a bit. Get a breath of fresh air. It can work wonders, I guarantee it!" Lailah gives him one of her encouraging smiles.
"Trust her, Sorey. She knows what she's talking about. Besides..." Zaveid tips the outer rim of his hat. "Sorry to tell you this but... it looks like you could also need a bath. I heard this hospital has a cool hot spring, and you know how relaxing that can be. Take my advice."
Lailah looks up. "Hmm.. a cool hot spring, huh? Gosh, that's an oxymoron right there, Zaveid. So simple and nice!"
Sorey shakes his head. "What if Mikleo wakes up..."
Zaveid winces. "C'mon, of course he will, no doubt about it! And that could be as soon as you get here, so if I were you, I'd hurry up and do what I need to do! We'll keep the pretty angel company. Besides, you would know when he's ready to see you 'cause soulmates have that bond, I know."
Sorey pressed Mikleo's hand a bit more tightly, his eyes taking a long look at the sleeping face that seemed calm and unperturbed. The machine hummed quietly like a regular heartbeat, making Sorey feel a little conflicted.
He kissed Mikleo's hand. "I'll be back soon, love."
Lailah's eyes well up. "Oh... oh dear... oh my..."
"Hey, hey watch it!" Zaveid stares at Lailah, looking perplexed and panicked. "Not gonna cry on us, are you? You know how I can't stand that sort of thing!"
"No... maybe... I just feel so happy for the two of them. They're perfect."
"Don't even think of crying on me too, Sorey! Get out of here now, 'cause I ain't gonna have either one of you borrow my shoulder so you can shed baby tears all night, all right?" Zaveid tells Sorey with a flustered look.
"All right, I'll see you."
Sorey looks over his shoulder at Zaveid as he was halfway through the door. "Please text me if anything happens. And thanks..."
"No worries, kiddo. Get some sleep... a proper sleep I mean... and take that hot bath I'm talkin' about... before Lailah and I beat you to it."
Lailah elbowed Zaveid, but Sorey was not around to see it.
"Sorey is such a nice young man. I hate to see him look so hurt and hopeless. And you're mean for saying he needed a bath, how could you?"
Zaveid grinned. "C'mon, if I didn't say that, that kid would still be thinkin' twice about giving himself a little break. He can overdo it sometimes. No, he overdoes things a lot, let me correct myself there."
"Indeed he does. That's Sorey for you..."
"Oh my, why do we all look like we're in a funeral?"
Lailah turned at the sound of that voice only to find Edna at the door staring at them.
"Why, Edna, did you see Sorey on your way here?" Lailah asked, her face all smiles.
"Yeah? Thank god he didn't see me. He seems to be in the dumps. And that's an understatement. Besides, I'm not good at dealing with tragedy. I wouldn't know what to do if he starts crying on my shoulder..."
Edna's gaze shifts to the machine, then to the body attached to it. "This bad, huh? Good thing Sorey could still walk."
"That funeral joke was insensitive of you, Edna, where are your manners, huh?" Zaveid asked, a slight scowl on his face.
"I don't do jokes, I'm serious. You should ask yourselves why you're so depressed about all this. He can't be dead or dying, all right, and thinking that he might do just that is even more insulting, don't you agree?"
Lailah exhaled. "You have a point there, I admit. But uh, what do you have behind you, Edna?"
Edna grew a little red. "Nothing, just some snacks. And some flowers. Can't let the husband think I'm that insensitive and uncaring."
"Oh, right. So tell me, did you get your heart broken?" Zaveid was obviously teasing.
"No, shut up, or roll over and die you big bozo! Which one do you prefer?"
"Don't waste your breath, Edna, he's just poking fun at you. My, these are really nice, where did you get them?" Lailah gushed, reaching out to get the flowers so she could put them in a vase.
"Nothing special. It's Eizen who knows the language of flowers so I let him pick them out for me. I also heard Dezel and Alisha are gonna fill in for you while you're here. Has the boss dropped in already?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but he must've heard about it from Alisha and Rose. In any case..." Lailah breathes in the flowers. "It's so sweet of you and Eizen to get these for Mikleo! And don't you worry... I mean, Sorey's a rare find, but I'm sure there are guys out there who must measure up one way or another. Nothing's really impossible until you do your best to try and find out."
"How did we go in that direction?" Zaveid wondered.
"Always the cheerleader, aren't you?" Edna huffed. "Even if Sorey's the last bachelor on earth, I'm not sure if I'd even consider it. Sorey's just... too stale for my taste."
Lailah looks down thoughtfully. "Nice men always seem that way. But only because no one really bothered to look hard enough."
Zaveid grinned. "Stale... hmmm, not quite sure what you mean. We all have different tastes, but even the most illogical reasons work out fine if we want them to. But seriously, I couldn't help being surprised. I thought of all people, you have the biggest crush on our kiddo."
Edna gazed at Mikleo for the first time... saw the pale lips, the swamp of soft hair on the pillow, the ashen-white cheeks that must have been rosier before.
"I wouldn't want to find a love that kills, that's why," she tells Zaveid in a low whisper. "If you ask me, falling in love is like a gamble between life and death. You let your strength become your weakness, and where would you be when he leaves? I don't wanna feel the kind of love that hurts so bad I start forgetting what it feels like to be happy without it."
Lailah follows Edna's gaze and looks away, tears welling in her eyes. "It's so sad, isn't it? If Mikleo gets taken away from him..."
"Well, that's the way true love goes." Zaveid looks away. "You can't really love halfway and still call it love. It must be all or nothing."
"Now I know what type of man that dork likes so much. It's the type you can't find anywhere else but here... and that must hurt him more than anything."
"Edna, you think Sorey can be himself again after all this?"
Edna closes her eyes. "Stop asking stupid questions you two. Of course he won't ever be all right again. That's why this Mikleo here has to get his butt moving and wake up. I don't wanna see Sorey not get his life back together 'cause I swear, what's left of him is not gonna be him anymore when that happens."
"True," Lailah agrees, suppressing tears but utterly failing.
Edna finds herself muttering. That dork, what is he even thinking! Ill kick his ass if he doesn't shake himself out of his depression quickly.
"I heard from Rose that Mikleo is Sorey's first love," Lailah whispers as if reading Edna's thoughts.
"More like his last too," Zaveid adds. "That kid looked scary serious when he said he'd never leave Mikleo again."
"That's not up to him, but up to this guy right here." Edna glances at the machine. "I feel like tearing some wires and shaking him out of that bed. He's the one to blame for doing this to Sorey. I mean, how can a guy make someone fall in love that bad and die on him like this? He just can't do that and get away with it, you hear me, Mikleo? You can't do that to Sorey, 'cause it would be so unfair, and I'd steal him from under your nose, and let you regret it for the rest of your afterlife, you hear me?"
"Edna, I thought you just said-"
"What? Can't we contradict ourselves every now and then? There's probably no one like Sorey in the whole wide world... and who knows that better than this guy Mikleo, right? That's why it's gonna be his fault if Sorey dies on us... and that's why this angel must quick playing dead and wake up! You better quit playing damsel in distress and get your sad ass here before I kick heaven's door and make you!"
Zaveid and Lailah seem to understand what Edna was trying to say or to do, unable to think of words to deny the resolve they share in their hearts.
Sorey has barely submerged his full body into the hot pool when his phone started ringing. Knowing what he has just told Zaveid before he left Mikleo's side, he lost no time answering it, not bothering to read the caller's name.
"You all right? I tried to get in touch when I heard but- I felt you needed some time on your own for a while so..."
"Thanks, I appreciate this." It was Yurive. True he had been calling since yesterday, but Sorey had been too distraught to answer any calls.
"What happened? What can I do to help?"
Sorey thought about it, not wanting to dwell on those thoughts. Answering questions from police investigators the entire day yesterday took its toll on him. As much as he wanted the case solved right away and the culprit arrested, right now, all he could think of was staying by Mikleo's side to help him get better, to give him everything he needed until he is out of critical danger.
"There were three shots, and he took two of them. One bullet barely missed his heart. The other..." Sorey had to pull his breath. "The other hit his left temple. The doctors said he'll be in a coma until... until his body could recover enough..."
"Dear god." Yurive had to pause, contemplating the damage and what Sorey must be feeling right now.
The other line became dead quiet as if Sorey was just waiting for him to say something.
"Look, I have contacts, the best doctors in the field. I'd send for Dr. Scholwitz, he's a neurosurgeon, one of the best. I asked Miss Diphda for details so I know the hospital. Is that all right with you?"
Sorey nodded, more out of habit than the need to have him see a reaction that was hardly visible on his side. "I'm sure the doctors here are doing their best. But it wouldn't hurt to get another opinion. I'm not thinking straight right now, so please, if there's any help you can get Mikleo..."
Yurive's heart almost broke with the tone of voice that carried those words from the other end. It was neither begging nor desperate, but numb? As if Sorey was already resolved to follow Mikleo to wherever this tragedy takes both of them.
When sadness gets too deep it falls over the edge of an abyss of no return. Just like this...
But I can't let you go there, Sorey. I want to save you more than anyone... just as you've saved me in ways you'll never know.
Of course, having had his own share of tragedies, Yurive would know the feeling of apathy and emptiness and the darkness it harbors within. He had felt the same way too many times for superficial reasons not even worth recalling now.
In other words, he knows what is going on in Sorey's mind. He knows the sound of suicide when one is contemplating it at the moment.
"Look, whatever you do, don't ever lose hope. Trust me, Sorey, I'll pull him out of this, I'll do everything to help him. I already made a personal call to have Police Investigator Reinhardt look into it too. Mayvin is reliable, you can trust him. Of course, if you want some time alone, that's understandable. I asked them to work on this discreetly. I know your boyfriend has family connections in high places so I thought it worth-"
"He's not my boyfriend, I mean... we're already married. Mikleo was shot right after the ceremony, right after our exchange of vows."
The protectiveness dripping from that defense was all too clear. It rubbed Yurive the wrong way for some reason, making him lose sight of his sympathies for a few seconds. Before he could stop himself, he was giving himself away.
"Well, as far as the legality of it is concerned, I heard from the Minister that none of the documents have been signed when it happened-"
"That's true, but-" Sorey stopped.
In his mind it was playing again, that image... that final image of Mikleo falling... falling down, down... one hand draped on his shoulder, the other pushing against his chest. A few seconds before it happened, Mikleo was smiling from across him as he said their vows, but Sorey leaning over to steal a kiss made him turn away in embarrassment, in the hope of avoiding the public kiss Sorey was about to give him.
By then Sorey knew he must have seen something to make his lavender eyes widen like that as his smile froze over, and he did something unexpected.
In the next second, he had pushed Sorey out of the way. And then Sorey saw him falling... saw him sink to the floor, caught by him halfway as he lifelessly allowed himself to be cradled in Sorey's arms with those words leaving his lips... those words Sorey would die to hear again...
"Get away... from here..."
Mikleo was bleeding to death, his face smeared with the same pool of liquid drenching them, soaking them... but all he could think of was Sorey's safety.
He gave him a warning he must have seen for himself but ignored.
Sorey knew Mikleo must have seen who did it... not that he could say anything now. And even if Mikleo might know anything of it, he would have to wake up to be a witness to the crime that has done this to him.
He would have to survive this ordeal to save himself.
Sorey pulled his breath. Even here, there was nothing he could do. It seemed he has never been able to do anything other than make Mikleo suffer.
Like what Michael predicted, all he could ever be was a yoke weighing Mikleo down. How could he have been too blind to see that he was never the person Mikleo needed?
Even now, there was nothing he could do on his own to save him.
Even if he were to repeat all their vows and tell Mikleo how he would always be that one person who mattered to him more than anything he has ever had, it would be pointless. It would be a little too late.
Maybe Yurive was right to hint it too. Their marriage did happen, but it could not have been real from the very beginning, it was just so surreal.
It was just an illusion he tried to carve into his soul out of his own selfish need for reassurance.
"Oh god, I'm sorry." Yurive bit his lip as the dead silence lengthened into a yawning, awkward gap. It sounded as if he allowed his personal interest in the matter to take over his better judgment... that he pried into those details without permission and abused his discretion.
Though a feat, Sorey seemed to be doing his best not to get angry.
"I'll take care of it. I'm sure Mikleo wouldn't object... it's just needless formality."
Sorey sounded hurt, and Yurive knew by then that he has just tripped on a landmine.
"Dammit, I'm sorry. I overstepped some boundaries, I-"
"Mikleo needs all the help he can get. I've no time to bury myself in anger. I'll do anything, give my life if anyone asked, just to save him."
And if I ask it of you, will you give yourself over completely? Yurive wasn't sure if he had voiced that secret wish.
As if those words have been carried by the power of miracles, Sorey's answer seemed to have considered it already.
"If you can save him, I swear my life is in your hands."