Lyrics: "Weight of the World" © Citizen Soldier

Garden of the Broken

Chapter Twenty-six

October 15

Sucking in a deep breath, Jason held it for a moment as mismatched eyes critically wandered from one guitar to another, fingers tapping out a restless rhythm where they'd planted themselves on his hips. When he finally exhaled, the breath whooshed out of him with all the force of a ruptured lung, and his indecisive frown deepened. He was probably going to regret this, but even now, with the sun sinking below the horizon and nightfall lending its ashen hues to the sky, the perpetual pain in his ass that happened to be Yami Richards was still MIA. No one had seen hide or hair of him outside of his bedroom all day. Texts and phone calls went unanswered, and although neither Rori or Julian could be found by the time Jason had gotten home – delayed by an impromptu practise session with the band after school – the girls had confirmed that while details were scarce, the general consensus seemed to be that the half-breed was still bedridden. Still sick.

Still falling apart at his militantly reinforced seams, while Jason had been sawing gleefully at the fraying edges with a pair of rusty shears.

Submerged once more in the guilt that had flooded his mind that morning, Jason had finished his cold pizza with a sense of mechanical obstinacy – he might as well have been chewing cardboard for all the joy it gave him – before he'd retreated upstairs to discard his plate and wander into his room. He'd been standing in the middle of his refuge, staring at one wall or another, gaze lingering on random points of barely relevant interest, for longer than he cared to contemplate, waiting for an answer to provide itself to him.

And now he was staring down the only feasible option his mind had fetched up against.

But, Christ… He'd only be lying to himself if he said he didn't feel like an absolute and utter fool just for considering it. The girls would certainly never let him hear the end of it if they found out.

But beggars can't be choosers, can they? He sourly thought to himself. God, I can already feel my dignity shrivelling up like Tutankhamun's ballsack.

Scrubbing a hand irritably through his hair, mouth tugged into a tense, slanted line as he begrudgingly resigned himself to the task ahead, a low, rumbling whine escaped from his throat and he marched forward to pluck his acoustic guitar off the wall. Instrument in hand, fingers locked in a white-knuckled grip around the guitar's neck, he made his way over to his bedroom door and poked his head out into the cavernous corridor, checking both ways to ensure that none of the others had come upstairs – listening intently for anything that might indicate activity elsewhere in the Manor – before he slipped into the hallway and tugged the door shut behind him. Everything was deathly quiet, save for the blood pounding in his ears, and without even fully understanding why, he found himself awkwardly loping on the balls of his feet towards the Grand Foyer, sneaking through the Manor like a thief at midnight.

Just don't get caught, don't get caught… He slowed to a halt behind the cover of one of the large marble statues situated at the end of the stair's balustrade, keen ears trained on the silence, listening for even the faintest hint of voices or movement. When the hush remained unbroken, he backed away from the stairs and craned his neck for visual confirmation that there were none of his more soft-footed housemates traveling between floors.

Nothing.

Jason hustled around the statue and, gripping his dog tags tight to keep them from jangling together and creating a ruckus, vaulted up the stairs two at a time, his guitar suspended a safe distance in the air at his side. Chest heaving as he reached the top of the second flight, winded from his attempt to be both fast and quiet, he took only a moment to try and regulate his breathing, choking back the arid lump in his throat, before he padded along the landing and slipped around the corner into the corridor of the eastern wing.

The gloom in the hallway began to deepen with the sun's last, dying light fading below the horizon, blocked by the peaked roofs of the Manor's western wing, with little more than ambient twilit murk seeping in through the large windows lining the left side of the corridor. It was in turns both surreal and serene, and Jason felt the tension gradually draining from his muscles as he made his way past multiple doors towards Yami's room. His nerves were getting jittery in earnest, now, and he was forced to switch his guitar from his right to left hand to rub his sweating palm against his thigh as he closed the last few meters to the half-breed's door. Someone had stuck a note to its surface, and even in the half-light, it was impossible to mistake the spidery scrawl upon it for anything other than the Red King's handwriting.

For the safety of all involved, do not disturb Yami under any circumstances until further notice. - R

Great. So not only was Jason putting his dignity on the chopping block, but his neck as well. Well, fuck that. He drew in a tremulous breath, and shook the nerves out of his spare hand. You made a promise, and you're sticking to it. How much damage could those twiggy little arms of his do anyways? Can't be any worse than Rori… Still, he found himself loitering, shifting restlessly from foot to foot before he whirled on a heel to pace. Less than half a step away, Jason wheeled back around before he could second-guess himself and rapped his knuckles against the half-breed's door with more force than he'd initially intended – it took everything he had not to cringe at the seemingly explosive volume of it in that deathly hush, or the way it echoed through the empty halls.

A single fingernail picked frantically at the outer seam of his pantleg, and the longer he waited, the more certain he became that any second now, one of the other tenants would appear in the mouth of the hall; it was impossible not to keep his eyes from sliding to their corners, dreading their arrival and the ensuing debacle of his fumbling excuses…

But no one came.

Heart hammering against his ribs, Jason took another deep, steadying breath and knocked again, softly, this time. There was no answer. Knowing full and well that his only options were to retreat or brazenly charge onwards, Jason steeled himself and tentatively tried the door's handle. Unlocked. He switched his guitar back to his right hand and let himself into the dhampir's room with his left, gradually easing the door open with his senses on high alert, listening for Yami's sharp retort, waiting to see him perched upright in bed only for those lurid scarlet eyes to skewer him through in reproach. Instead, where he'd expected lamplight, there was darkness, deeper than the gloom that had settled in the hall behind him. The drapes had been pulled shut, and he could make out the shape of the half-breed's bed thanks only to the feeble light he left behind.

Come to think of it, this was the first time he'd ever even seen Yami's room, much less set foot in it.

"Hey. Porcupine-head." The words were scarce more than a whisper in the hush, and as he leaned across the threshold, he was accosted by the faint scent of sweat, and the odor of something foul, and rotten. Pressing the back of his wrist under his nose, he peered around at the faint shapes in the darkness. It was as spartan and clean as he would've expected Yami's room to be, but that smell… Jesus, what the fuck's happening to you? What is that? Clearing his throat of the cloying smell, Jason spoke up again, struggling to smother a grimace. "Hey, you awake?"

There was a vaguely human-shaped lump on the bed, but if Yami was awake, he made no response.

"'Kay, well… I'm comin' in." He slipped into the dhampir's room, but as he turned to close the door behind him, he froze at the sight of the varying sigils, glyphs, and runes that looked as though they'd been carved into the doorframe, and the grimace faded to be replaced by a frown. What the fuck…? Trailing a finger over the scrawls, wood trenches rough under his touch, he followed their engraved path along the moulding, growing increasingly confused and perturbed when he realized that they completely surrounded the door, with what looked like another, more intricate set of arcane symbols painted above the lintel. The hell is this shit…? Glancing back at the half-breed's immobile form, staring at him long and hard as his mind struggled and failed to put the pieces together, Jason dismissed it with a brusque shake of his head and eased the door shut. Not what he was here for, whatever they were, but it was a resounding reminder that there was still much about Yami that remained a mystery, even these many months after his arrival.

Crossing the room with confidence bolstered by the half-breed's almost obsessive penchant for cleanliness and order, Jason groped his way around the heavy wooden chair that had been left near Yami's bed and reached over, hand slithering under a lampshade, to turn on the light situated on his bedside table. As he leaned his guitar against the edge of the bed, warm ivory illumination flooded the room, and revealed the half-breed's inner sanctum to Jason's wandering eyes. Gunmetal blue walls, like Jason's own room, but there the resemblance ended. Unlike Jason's room, Yami's was utilitarian, barren of clutter or decoration, with the only real accessories being a writing desk, several bookshelves, an antique-looking settee, and – perhaps the items most curiously out of place – a box of toys and a cat tree for the half-breed's belligerent Siamese.

Suddenly reminded of the ever-present threat posed by Yami's pet, Jason sent a long, intent look around the room, scanning the dark corners and nooks and crannies for any hint of those disproving blue eyes, watching him as though debating whether to dismember his extremities now, or later. The fact that Mana hadn't come racing out of the shadows hissing and spitting the second he'd set foot in the room was a miracle, and he couldn't help but drop to his knees on the floor to peek under Yami's bed, just in case.

Twin points of eye-shine greeted him from within the shadows, a menacing growl resonating from the masked loaf of cream fur – the low, throaty, inimitable threat of imminent mutilation that all cats employed, and that Mana enjoyed using on him in particular with perverse regularity.

And there you are, you malicious little bitch. He didn't even know why she hated him so much. He'd certainly never given her any reason to, but from the very moment since her introduction to the Manor, when Jason had tried nothing more than to give her a welcoming scratch under the chin and gotten a lacerated hand for his trouble, she'd made it her personal mission to make it exceptionally – and painfully – clear that he was on the top of her shit-list, with none other than Rori for company.

"Nice kitty, good kitty," he uttered in a low drawl. Little ball of hate. Easing himself away from the edge of the bed and slowly crawling back onto his feet, he tugged the heavy wooden chair another half-foot away from the edge of the mattress, just to be safe. Fucking guard cat. Sliding into his seat, feet mindfully tucked as far back from the bed as he could manage to reduce the likelihood of losing any toes, Jason spent one last long moment staring down at the menacing gap in which Mana lurked before he heaved a sigh and returned his attention to the reason he'd come here, risking the integrity and continued attachment of his digits in the face of Mana's wrath, in the first place.

Yami hadn't moved. Hell, he wasn't sure the half-breed was even breathing until he'd stared at the rise of his shoulder long and hard enough to witness the tiny, incremental shifts that confirmed he still counted among the living. Posture wilting, gaze lingering on the back of Yami's head of ink-dark hair, mussed and unruly above the barrier of his blankets, Jason tore his eyes away to watch his fingers pick at one another in his lap, his thoughts crowded clear out of his mind by the smothering hush.

Expression scrunched up into a grimace, he scrubbed a hand over his face in vexation. Fucking hell, where do I even begin?

Hand flopping limply back down into his lap, waging a losing war against his own mind, Jason couldn't count the number of times his lips parted with the intent of saying… something, only for him to clamp them shut once more, a pointed breath escaping through his nose. It didn't help that he hadn't even the slightest clue as to how long the dhampir had been ill, but including today, he'd been visibly struggling for three days. At least three days, during which Jason had been so wrapped up in his own melodrama and self-pity that he'd barely even taken notice of the fact that something was obviously very wrong in the half-breed's own world. Something considerably far worse than Jason's tumultuous emotions and their relationship with everything around him.

And yet, Yami had still fought to maintain some semblance of peace within the Manor while the recent hardships had threatened to rip the tenants apart. Still, he'd played mediator and guardian of their little wayward flock in Rori and Julian's absence. Still, he had been concerned for Jason's own well-being, and Jason had mocked and antagonized him for it. When Jason had been loitering on the stairs after Julian's attack, drowning in fear and misery, Yami had tried, however awkwardly, to comfort him… and in the following days, in return for his rare show of kindness, he'd all but spat in the half-breed's face.

Guilt flooded in, cold and brackish, sucking Jason down beneath the surface as surely as cinderblocks lashed to his ankles. Overwhelmed by the shame and misery of that realization, bowing over his lap until his elbows found themselves on his knees, he couldn't even bring himself to look at Yami's back – suddenly so small and frail, curled up under his blankets the way he was – as he wet his lips and forced himself to swallow past the noose cinched tight around his throat.

"I've been a real asshole lately, haven't I?" The words tumbled from his lips in a flat, husky utterance, staring down dejectedly at his hands, a white-knuckled fist clutched against his opposite palm. "I…" A harsh breath huffed itself out, his posture crumbling under the weight of the sheer ridiculousness of what he'd realized he was about to say. A bitter smile hooked at the corner of his mouth. "Christ, I can't even say I didn't know. I did, on some level, and I still…" His throat clicked in the hush when he tried to swallow, choking on the ugliness and selfishness of that admission as though it were a bone lodged in his esophagus.

When he finally managed to tear his eyes up from his hands, he found that Yami hadn't moved a muscle, every crease and fold of his bedding the same as it had been when Jason first came in. Mismatched brown and silver irises flicked over the tiny details in the lamplight all the same while his fingers flexed restlessly around his fist, brows tightening into a frown. "How long have you been sick for, Yamz? Why didn't you just ask for help instead of trying to fucking… hide it or ignore it? I mean, I know I've been an asshole. I know I've been so wrapped up in my own shit that I… That I stopped… fucking caring about anyone else, stopped seeing anyone else as anything other than an enemy over the tiniest, stupidest shit. But…" Trailing off at an utter loss as his head shook itself in frustration, mismatched eyes helplessly roved the atmosphere, looking for the words while his tongue darted out to wet his desert-dry lips. "I would've tried," he finally croaked. "I would've tried to help. Maybe it wouldn't've amounted to anything," he confessed with a jerky half-shrug. "Maybe it would've just wound up with us getting into another stupid fucking fight over nothing, I don't know. But I would've at least tried.

"So I guess…" Brown and silver eyes flicked down to obsess over the details of the green and blue tartan blanket, mussed and rumpled, at the edge of Yami's mattress, sucking in a long, slow breath before it heaved itself back out in a sigh. He knuckled one of his nostrils, sniffled in retaliation to the itch in his nose, the sound loud and inelegant in the hush as his hands worked against one another between his knees. "I guess I'm here now to apologize. 'Cause that's all I can do, now. And because…" When the words trapped themselves behind his teeth, he scrubbed at his scalp in agitation before his hand fell limply into his lap, and he forced himself to give voice to the thoughts that had been tumbling around his head in one way or another since that morning. And as he did, his voice softened to little more than a shame-faced murmur in the silence. "Honestly, because you deserve it. Because I've been an absolute shithead to you and probably everyone else in the process, even if they didn't do anything to deserve it."

He couldn't remember a time when he'd wanted so badly just to hear the dhampir's soft, breathy scoff, to see those cynical scarlet eyes reproachfully pinning him in his place from beneath dark, severe brows. He couldn't remember ever earnestly wanting to be subjected to one of Yami's dry, razor-sharp retorts, delivered in such a light, dismissive tone that were it not for the words themselves, one could almost mistake it for a comment on the weather.

But if Yami had anything to say, he wasn't sharing. If he was rolling his eyes in disgust or disdain, he refused to let it show. If he was even awake, Jason never would have guessed. The half-breed was so silent, so still, that he might as well have been dead, and he had to listen long and hard, ears straining in the hush, to catch even the faintest whisper of the breaths rasping in and out of Yami's chest. Once he heard them, though, there was no ignoring the accompanying rattle, dogging each exhalation like the plague, or the way the half-breed wheezed with every phantasmal inhalation, and the weakness belied by every breath made him inescapably sick at heart.

Christ, if I'd known what you were fighting, I would've done things differently. I would've done better.

As much as he wished it were true, as desperately as he tried to convince himself of its validity as a fact, he hated himself for knowing in his heart that such a sentiment was a lie. He knew the chances were only fifty-fifty that his conduct would have changed in any significant, meaningful way. Maybe he would have pulled a few of his punches; maybe he would have bitten his tongue more often; maybe he would've refrained from actively antagonizing Yami. But there was no denying that as much as he'd been struggling to reclaim some sense of normalcy, deep down, something in him was still broken and hurting, still trapped in that endlessly defensive cycle of reacting with anger and hostility because of the festering wounds that Rori had left in him. And it made Jason sick to know that he, in turn, had begun taking his hurt out on the people around him.

Because he kept picking at the wounds. Because he made stupid decisions in a desperate bid for the status quo. Because he was angry at Rori, angry at himself, and angry at the world in general with a complete lack of any constructive means to defuse it. Because he'd made himself a victim, and he'd allowed himself to wallow in conceit and self-pity.

Rori hadn't laid a finger on him in any way in over a month; the vampire could barely even bring himself to look at him. And yet Jason had taken every single perceived slight, whether real or imaginary, and used it as an excuse to feed that anger that had begun eating away at him as surely as a disease. And then he'd started turning it on his friends, the very people who'd strived to aid him, to comfort him in the only ways they knew how.

That knowledge alone was enough to make him want to hit something.

Yami, however, had endured unspeakable acts at the hands of the coven who'd made him that brought Julian to tears and left even Rori tight-lipped and terse. He had seen the half-breed's scars, the tattoo on his neck, his back, and his forearm, branding him like a prisoner at Auschwitz. Reducing him to a number – 25011309 – and little else. He could only imagine what Yami's life had been like prior to the Manor – and Jason knew only the sparse snippets that their guardians had shared during Yami's acclimatization – but it was evident to anyone who had eyes that the half-breed, as stoic as Yami was, had buried his trauma deep. But even for all of his suffering, for all of his trauma, Yami had refused to break, refused to let his past poison his present.

Yami had consoled him after Julian's attack, touched his shoulder so gently in a gesture of both compassion and solidarity. Yami had been (rightfully) concerned that Jason was out running amok, being stupid and reckless too late at night in the wake of recent events, knowing a predator was on the prowl. He'd cared enough to chastise him like an unruly adolescent. And back in September, by Artemis's own admission, Yami had been the first of the teens to check on him after Rori had…

Christ. Lids winced shut over his burning eyes, fingers laced into a white-knuckled web between his knees as he turned his face away from the memory, his throat working uselessly to swallow past the barricade the sudden onslaught of shame had erected. A moment later, he found himself leaning into his steepled hands, fingers pressing against the sting in his eyes. He must think I'm such a fucking child.

Sniffling back a loud, labored breath, Jason knuckled away the moisture gathering on his lashes and straightened, struggling to compose himself while the hurricane of emotion – shame, regret, and despair – continued ripping at his heart. "I don't know if you're listening," he croaked at Yami's back, "or if you even care, but I guess you can consider this my way of saying sorry. 'Cause, y'know," he managed a frail, choked huff of self-deprecating laughter, "I'm a douchebag like that." Collecting his guitar from its resting place, Jason settled the instrument in his lap and drew in a long, slow, quivering breath, eyes sagging shut as he positioned his fingers over the fretboard and over the strings, ready to birth the melody he could feel rising to the surface of his being as a muse. Something for him, and something for Yami. Something that simply felt… right, as the breath trickled out of him. Something for the pain that had made of them allies without either one fully realizing it.

His lids cracked open, pools of earthen brown and mirror silver staring into nothing, and everything, and he began to play. Chords strummed themselves into the silence, and his mind tipped over into the oblivion of the music as wires bit into his calloused fingertips and rasped against his nails. His voice waited, patient and silent, for its own cue following that soft, somber entry, and when the conductor that directed his very existence discreetly flicked just the right finger and the spotlight beamed down, it inhaled, and it sang with melancholic gravity.

"Feel the weight of the world
Over me, tonight;
If I break, if I break down this time,
Hope you know I tried…"

Just like Yami, the dhampir who had ignored even the potentially fatal knell of his own body's bells in the interest of holding the house together, until he couldn't any longer. Who tamped down his traumas and walked ever onwards without once lashing out at those who simply were not part of them.

"My mind's such a mess,
I can't handle it,
I'm at the end of my rope;
I'm so sick of this,
Just so over it,
Why won't you let me let go…"

-x-

Rori had just finished putting Potatoe to bed, heart aching over the child's tentative inquiry in regards to Julian's true wellbeing – and making a note to have any further conversations fully out of her observational range – when the first whiff of Jason's pheromones wafted his way. Fresh, scarce more than minutes old. Severing himself from his place outside Potatoe's bedroom with one last lingering touch to the mahogany wood of the door, wishing her nothing but sweet, peaceful dreams, Rori turned into the hallway, quietly sampling the air until he could determine the direction that the muse had gone. Inwards, further down the corridor.

And immediately, he knew where the trail would lead him.

Irate that he'd have to scold yet another one of the tenants for ignoring his warnings, Rori marched down towards the dhampir's room – his next stop regardless, as Yami was due for a feeding – and he had every intention of barging in without warning and with a sharp reprimand ready on his tongue when the sound of Jason's guitar, and his voice, reached him. It was the way every note, each swell and dip of his voice was saturated with heartache over the strumming chords of his guitar that banished the reprimand from his thoughts entirely and drew his attention more completely.

"My neck is breaking, body shaking
Sometimes it's so hard to breathe
But no one sees, it follows me
I always end up underneath,"

A breath.

"The weight of the world…"

Lured by both intrigue and concern, Rori willed himself into an insubstantial mist, swimming into the wall until he could see the interior of Yami's bedroom without being seen in turn. Even so, he swept himself into the shadows for better cover and settled himself to observe. He could see little more than a sliver of Jason's countenance unless the muse turned further towards him, but even so, he could see the emotions etched in every line of his face; the furrow of his brows, the way his lids would cinch themselves tighter shut as though in an effort to restrain the feelings swelling inside of him. Even knowing how music devoured the muse whole regardless of his own emotions, knowing how beautiful it was to witness the muse's role as a vessel for the music he played, this time it broke his heart to see Jason's face so riddled with pain as he strummed his guitar.

And as he dipped his mind into Jason's own thoughts, that pain merely intensified. There were memories there buoyed by the music, memories both good and bad, of both himself, and the dhampir, a heartbreaking montage of every thought summoned by the song.

"I don't like, like myself very much
Despite all your kind words…"

Jason felt small, childish, and unnoticed except for the purpose of mockery. So he fought, knowing full well that it was a juvenile, bull-headed endeavour. He bruised his face and bloodied his knuckles to feel something, anything but the war inside of himself, to feel well and truly alive even if it meant accumulating a nearly ever-present collection of bruises and abrasions. To take all the rage and frustration out on those who deserved everything he'd suffered more than himself. To make the pain of all of his stupid mistakes, and stupid, petty, childish reactions visible in a way that others might understand, and to punish himself for those actions in the first place. To punish himself for sins even he was not fully aware of. To punish himself for not being stronger.

"Can't explain why I'm hurting myself,
But it feels deserved…"

Yami, always denying his weaknesses, always ignoring his pain to his own detriment, just as he had before he'd begun going into withdrawals and forced Rori's hand. There was sorrow here, a fleeting moment of the dhampir's hand on his shoulder for a brief, reassuring squeeze, sorrow that the cool, calming presence that acted like a balm for the other tenants was suffering in such suffocating silence and solitude. How he couldn't seem to understand how much they cared for him, worried for him. He felt undeserving, unworthy of their love and admiration, knowing just how many he'd failed, how many he'd hurt, before this strange new life had begun.

"My mind's such a mess,
I can't handle it,
I'm at the end of my rope;
I'm so sick of this,
I'm so over it,
Why won't you let me let go…"

When Rori's own countenance drifted forth in Jason's thoughts, it was hardly even a surprise. All of their interactions – the way Rori teased him, manipulated him, took advantage of him – flashed before his mind's eye. Part of the muse was exhausted by the games. Part of him wanted things to go back to the way they were before the night Rori had very nearly taken his life. Part of him just wanted everything, all of it, to simply… stop.

"My neck is breaking, body shaking
Sometimes it's so hard to breathe
But no one sees, it follows me
I always end up underneath –"

The muse's voice soared higher in desperation, and Rori could smell the tears pricking at his eyes long before he became aware of the tension in the brunette's throat, the stinging of his nose, face twisted and etched with the pain the words laid bare in his soul. The pain that he and Yami shared, different but in so many ways the same. They were merely living portraits, depictions of wrathful destruction and cool stoicism in the face of those tragedies that kept them awake at night, restless with disquiet.

"These thoughts won't rest,
I can't forgive,
I overthink until I'm sick,"

Until that moment, submerged within the very depths of Jason's mind, he had never before realized how often Jason had simply sought refuge by curling himself into a tiny ball and weaving his arms over his head, waiting for the wars in his mind to reach their own conclusion. His own mind tortured him, torn between hate and something deeper, and Rori had been adding fuel to the flames consuming him whole. The very notion of it seemed to crush his heart in his chest.

"I'm too damn tired,
Too worn to fight,"

The tide shifted to Yami, to things Jason couldn't have possibly known about the dhampir and yet did. The pain he'd been enduring since his escape from the Atrium, the agony he'd experienced even here, in the Manor. Nearly crumbling on the stairs, clutching at his abdomen as though gravely wounded; his pale, clammy face hovering over a toilet bowl as he held back his hair while his rotting viscera threatened to expel itself. The black outs. The cravings. The feeling of being a threat to everyone around him. The hiding. He was tired. He was just so tired of having to live this way. Hell, one could barely even consider it living. Yami existed, even in this new life, and that was all.

"I don't feel strong enough
To leave on the light;"

Gods, how badly they both just wanted to give up sometimes.

A breath, before singing soft and dejected,

"To leave on the light…"

The musician continued strumming his guitar even as his voice faded down to a melodic hum in the hush, and eventually, as Rori's heart cramped in his chest for both of his young wards, Jason's humming slowed to a stop, and his fingers fell still against the strings. A loud sniffle erupted in the silence, but Rori could do little more than watch the muse's back as he reached up to roughly swipe at his nose with his knuckles. He cleared his throat, still tight from the emotions that had overcome him during his song, and merely sat in the silence, head bowed, for a long, thoughtful while, before he seemed to dare to speak up again.

And when he did, a thick, cynical chuckle escaped into the room. "Christ, I come in here to apologize, and that's what comes out. Fucking hell." Jason allowed the room to fall into silence again, surveying the dhampir's back with sad, world-weary eyes. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and fatigued, and utterly self-deprecating in a way that made Rori yearn to abandon his hiding place and reassure him in whatever way he could. "That must sound pretty pathetic to you, huh. Just another self-pity party from the local muse." The brunette's head dipped. "But it's true, isn't it? If you were listening at all, you must've felt something. I don't think I get these songs for no reason."

Pausing, Jason's voice escaped him sounding even more strangled than before, and the instant he smelled the salt of the tears pooling in Jason's mismatched eyes, Rori wished more than anything that he could hold the muse close and soothe his mind – but he knew that if he abandoned his hiding place now, it would do nothing but stoke the boy's ire. And that was the last thing either of them wanted just then.

"Look, you're not alone anymore, okay? Even if I'm being an asshole, you have Julian and the girls and even Rori probably to help you. Whatever you've gone through before, you don't have to do it alone anymore. Suffering in silence is in no way better than being weak in the company of friends. Trust me," Jason gave a pained, incredulous huff of laughter, "I would know. Remember, we've both got a history with vampires who can't take no for an answer."

Rori retreated deeper within his shadow, an agonized grimace twisting his countenance as he withdrew into himself.

Yami never moved a muscle, his breathing the same slow, unsteady, rattling pace as Jason gazed at his back.

Shoulders wilting, a sharp sniffle escaped, and a single tremulous sigh slipped into the atmosphere. "But I guess that's it for me for now. Just thought I'd come see how you were doing, apologize and all that. And now that I have…" A wan grin. "Guess I should probably get outta here before your guard cat decides I've overstayed my welcome." The muse pushed himself to his feet, turning to go and pausing a brief moment before he faced the half-breed's unresponsive back once more. "Hope you don't mind if I leave the light on for you." And then, more softly, in a tone Rori had rarely heard the muse use before, "Get better soon, 'kay?"

It took everything Rori had to restrain himself from breaking free of the shadows on the wall and sweeping the muse into his chest, holding him close and tight in the interests of consoling him, soothing his broken heart the way he had so long ago in the kitchen. For a moment, Rori found himself debating whether or not he should pursue the muse. But it wasn't long after Jason left, quietly closing the door behind him, that another sound drew Rori's attention.

It had been the tiniest, most strangled gasp of breath, and when his gaze wandered back to the bedridden half-breed, he was surprised to find Yami's body – still in the same position it had been during the entirety of Jason's visit – now rigid in its ball under the covers. Head cocking itself, Rori swam onto another wall where he might get a better look at the half-breed's face, and what Rori found there shocked him and obliterated his heart in equal measures.

Yami had clamped a hand so tightly over his mouth that it made his knuckles ache, eyes cinched shut, as another choked breath through flared nostrils made his shoulders judder. His mind was a whirlwind of fire and the hiss of the ocean parting against the bow and steel and sunlight and screaming and loss, his heart tied into a painful knot in his chest, his head pounding as though in a bid to fracture itself… but none of it was from the withdrawals. Jason's voice haunted every image to cross his mind, his guitar a heartrending companion to every thought.

Rori could do little more than watch as the first tear slid free from clenched lids, slipping over the crinkled bridge of his nose, before Yami eventually clutched with clawed fingers at his head and crumbled into a wracking sob. He wanted to stroke the half-breed's hair back from his face, to whisper soft condolences in the darkness, but instead, he resolved to linger in his shadow, silent, sympathetic, and watchful, to let the half-breed privately grieve for the first time over everything that had been taken from him, a pustule lanced by Jason's voice and the words it had sung.

The feeding, he decided, could wait. And until then, so would he.

-x-

To Be Continued…

-x-

So, like it? Hate it? Wish it would spontaneously combust? Leave me a review and tell me all about it! C'mon, I wanna hear everything!

I won't lie. When I was writing Jason's dialogue just before he started singing – the "I don't know if you're listening, or if you even care" – my brain immediately switched to "God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My brain would not accept anything else. (This would basically be the way Jason would behave in "real life". Give him the slightest opening and he'd bust out into song.)

Mercury Angel II: Sorry for the belated reply, but thank you so much for the kind words if you're still reading! I love vampires, myself. They're my favorite kind of supernatural creature. I'm actually playing with a couple of ideas where vampires are actually more numerous than humans, but I'm still not sure if it'll go anywhere, haha. I'm super happy to hear that you like the band – Rachel was actually designed to not be likable, but much as I try to make her basically a walking cliché, my brain hasn't been allowing it, and has been humanizing her as much as most of the other characters. XD

Anyhow, that's it for me right now. Next chapter has been started, but we'll see how fast I can get through it considering I need to do a buttload of research into Tarot card meanings. Take care everyone!