A/N: My first fic in a really long time. My muse, after much pleading and begging, has finally decided to be nice and make me write a fic instead for a poem. I started this quite a while ago, and just never finished it. Until now, that is. And, by the way, it's not explicit slash. Not really. Just a little bit in part IV, the rest is just hinted at. ^_^

Acknowledgements: Extra big thanks to Amber, who rocks. And to Marine (NitroGlycerine, check her out!), who rocks sum' more, because she Beta'd this and gave me ideas about part IV (hell, she practically wrote the damned thing – at least the original idea for it). With memories of getting off topic and being torn over cute kittens. ;D) And, not to forget about The Used, because listening to them made me finish it. Really, I am a Bon Jovi-girl at heart, but The Used have wormed their way to my heart and won't go away. Not that I'm complaining ;P

Feedback is welcome (constructive criticism with chocolate and cake, flames with scoffs).

- - - - -

FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL

Hear the tolling of the bells
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!

Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells

Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

- - - - -

IX.

"Why can't you leave me alone?!" Noah all but spits. His gray eyes are glowing like they haven't for six months. Glowing like the pits of hell. "Just get the fuck out of my life!"

"No." Alicia looks around at the mess that is his room and sighs. She'll be damned if she doesn't fix this. "You killing yourself won't help anything. Even if it would, I frankly don't think Satan would have you. And besides, your sister needs you, and you need to accept the fact that Gabriel –"

"Don't." This time his voice his broken and he won't look at her. "Don't say his name."

"– won't come back from the dead," Alicia finishes, and although she has never liked him, has never gotten along with him, she almost wishes she hadn't finished that sentence when she sees his crestfallen expression. She sighs again and, after one last look at the broken man in front of her, starts walking to the door and decides to try again another day.

--

we stood before a door we'd never seen before

--

I.

When he is twelve years old, Noah Graham meets Gabriel Reeves who teaches him that having a friend does not necessarily make you weak. Of course, he has had friends before (acquaintances his mind whispers with a voice that sounds suspiciously like the one of his father), but no real ones. And even so, he never actually liked them, and he doubts they liked him much either.

That is fine. Splendid, in fact. He has Gabriel now. And anyway, he disliked them first.

Gabriel has eyes like dark fire and Noah fancies that they burn everyone but him. Especially his father, who every time he sees them together scowls and gets a disapproving look in his eyes as he tries not to glare too obviously at them. Noah wishes that he didn't need his father's approval so desperately, because when the summer in which he got to know Gabriel is over, he makes up excuses as often as he can and can actually feel the burn injuries he fancied he was the only one to never receive from Gabriel's gaze.

He doesn't know why his father doesn't approve of Gabriel, but it doesn't really matter because Jonathan Graham has a sixth sense when it comes to what is good and what is bad for his only son (he never says anything like that to his only daughter, though, and whenever Tracy's eyes become glistering wet at their father's ignorance, Noah closes his eyes and turns away), and who is he to question that?

The excuses continue for a couple of months (four months and fifteen days, actually, but it's not like he's counting), until one day when he reckons Gabriel has had enough and corners him.

"This has got to stop," Gabriel tells him firmly. "If you're not going to break away by yourself, then I'll just have to drag you out of this fucking prison you've locked yourself in."

Noah is about to ask what he meant with that, but then he just closes his mouth and shrugs. They continue like normal after that and never talk about it again.

But Noah still cringes every time his father's scowl lands upon them, and he still turns away from Tracy's silent pleads.

II.

Five days after Noah's fourteenth birthday they meet Alicia.

Noah has never liked girls, has never understood them, in fact, the only girl he can tolerate is his little sister, and Alicia is no exception. Rather, he thinks that Alicia represents everything he doesn't like about the other gender.

When he says this to the girl in question, though, she just smirks and turns away with a cough that sounds suspiciously like, "Queer," which he delicately ignores.

Gabriel, however, comes with the most infuriating answer yet:

"You can't stand her, and she can't stand you, I might add, because you're both far too much alike."

"I am nothing like her!" Noah hisses indignantly. The nerve of that boy!

Gabriel just grins wryly and pats him on the back.

"Whatever you say, pal, whatever you say..."

III.

Starting high school turns out to be not nearly as exciting as Noah and Gabriel had imagined. In fact, it was pretty much the same as before, Noah thinks with not a little disappointment after the first week of school for the three of them.

Well, it would have been the same as before if not this random girl at this party they were at ("If there's one thing I love about high school, it's the parties," Gabriel had declared with a satisfied smirk) had kissed him (and no, not just a peck on the lips; she had to shove her tongue down his fucking throat! Noah reflects bitterly the morning after), or how Gabriel, somehow, got a date with a cheerleader.

Noah doesn't know quite what to think about that. All he knows is that it gives him this funny feeling in his stomach.

IV.

Noah closes the door behind him as if in a haze and walks over to his bed, sinks down and stares blankly at the wall. The mattress slopes under his weight, the weight of all his regrets and mistakes, dark things, things behind the sun.

If things were different, he would have laughed at this "woe is me" act, but they're not, and laughing seems like something from another world. Innocuous. Out of place.

But then again, everything in his life kind of does.

Now, in hindsight, he realises that that feeling in his bones must have been him catching the scent of his destruction, his defeat. And, knowing that, he can't help but wonder if this couldn't have been stopped, somehow.

Everything seems so easy in hindsight, and, following the long trail of history some time after the potency and the existence and the shadow in between, you realise that it's like a fucking set of Domino bricks. A chain reaction.

He opened his mouth to speak, to defend himself, but closed it soon again, staring at the other boy; Gabriel's eyes dark and burning; Noah's eyes suddenly failed him, and he found he could not speak.

The darkness in his mind is thin; so thin, so fragile, that he could reach through and break it, push it aside, if he only knew how.

Closing his eyes, he drags a hand through his hair and sighs. Amnesia would come in handy just about now. In fact, said amnesia would be welcomed to stay for the rest of his life, as long as it would stop him from remembering.

His last coherent thought is that committing sins shouldn't feel like this; this must be wrong, somehow, and ohmygod, his father will kill them if he ever finds out, but then Gabriel's murmuring Noah's name on his skin; Noah's hands tangled in his hair, and the feel of him against him, the way his mouth fits against Gabriel's is something that's almost, almost, right.

Does wrong always feel right?

Sighing heavily again, Noah opens his eyes and looks at the bed to his right, noticing how perfect it is. Gabriel always makes his bed right after he gets up, unlike Noah who definitely isn't a morning person and rarely, if ever, makes his bed.

As he gets ready for the night (please, oh god, let me sleep), he wonders if Gabriel actually won't come back, if when they crossed the line (the line that's there for a reason; do not cross or you'll end up in a mental institution), Edgar Allan Poe's bells tolled for them and now they're doomed.

Silly, of course. He's spent way too much time reading.

And when he slides under the covers, not a bit sleepy but so tired that everything aches, he wonders if the darkness always have been this thick, suffocating and bruising him. His eyes never leave the door but it never opens, and eventually, the Sandman gets down to business and blurs the line between reality and dreamland, and the wish for dreamless sleep is never granted.

--

When he wakes up the next morning, it's raining, and Gabriel's bed is as perfect as it was the night before.

--

V.

As soon as Noah closes the door behind him, he can feel that something is different. It's something in the atmosphere, something shifting, changing.

He's not sure – no, he is sure that he doesn't like it. Not one bit.

The room is dark, but he makes out the figure of Gabriel on his bed, the ember of the joint between his lips that lightens up his eyes every now and then.

"Noah," he acknowledges, his voice nothing but a murmur.

Noah doesn't reply, just continues to gaze at the dark figure half-lying on the bed. He stands still, not knowing the rules of the game (is he allowed to move, to talk?), and not wanting to break them.

It is dark outside. Darker inside. This is not the release he had wanted.

"What?" he asks, finally, his voice unsteady. He forces himself to shake off this- this unnerving feeling and his voice is steady when he asks, impassive, "What do you want?"

Gabriel slowly gets up from the bed, his eyes burning and his voice low.

"I want you to react and show some...emotion, you damn statue."

Noah frowns but says nothing, because he knows, he knows that it's a self-made hell he's walking through.

But knowing that doesn't make the fires any colder to walk on.

He decides to ignore the comment, even though it stings, and instead focuses his attention on the joint in Gabriel's hand.

"I thought you quit."

"You're changing the subject."

"I just don't want you to get hurt, Gabe."

"Well, it's little late for that, isn't it?"

The words hang in the air between them, like fireflies on a summernight. Noah doesn't know what to say, what do to, what to feel.

Maybe this was what they were always warned about.

Or maybe they were just warned about life.

The bible teaches us that a jealous God created this world so he could watch Eve take a bite out of that damned apple, so he could grow tired of the choices we, His people, made and would save us all from ourselves by drowning us all in a forty day flood - and yet He still expects us to have the ability to forgive and forget, when we were only made in His image after all, and He had been the first to break His promises.

Noah feels like he has got to move (will he break the rules, or perhaps a promise, by doing that?), maybe not towards Gabriel – no, definitely not towards Gabriel, but somewhere. His legs hurt from standing still too long, so he tentatively takes a step to the left of him, where the window is. He glances over at Gabriel, his face unreadable and just stop. Standing there in the middle of the room and he can do nothing but stare at the wall, searching for all the answers of questions not yet asked.

"I can't, Gabriel, I just –"

What he can't he doesn't know, but he feels like he is breaking into little pieces. He can't be bothered to care, though, because falling apart doesn't feel much different from the way he felt before.

Children break things to learn how they are put together and maybe we grow up believing that the only way to know something entirely is to have broken it first.

Gabriel says nothing, but turns to the door as Noah bows his head and draws deep, shuddering breaths, sucking in the damp air of the room as he holds the tears of desperation in his eyes and does not let them fall.

Outside, the night is cold, the sky moonless and Bible-black, and streetlights measure the distance that lengthens between them.

--

this is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper

--

VI.

"Don't you get it?!"

"No, obviously I don't!"

Noah holds the phone as far away from his as possible without being unable to hear what his suddenly bold little sister's got to say. She had called him ten seconds ago, drunk, and started screaming about him being an arrogant, ego-centric asshole (and other things he wasn't able to distinguish from her screams). He knows that most of it is probably true, but that doesn't make the pain hurt any less. He, who always prides himself with not giving a fuck about what everybody says about him, is hurt by what his drunk little sister is screaming at him on the phone.

"Of course, you never did, did you? Not once did you care, way too busy with finding flaws in dad's ideology to ever care or even notice that you and Gabriel weren't the only ones living in this hell they called earth! God damn it, Noah! I'd hate you if there was something left to hate!"

He doesn't even notice that she hangs up, doesn't notice his hands shaking or his lips quivering or his heart breaking. He should have predicted it, of course; he deserves all of it, because all of what she said is true. But knowing that doesn't make his heart stop breaking.

She's his little sister, damn it! She's not supposed to behave like this! She's broken every one of their unwrittwen, unspoken codes (don't ever talk about it, don't ever think about it in each others presence, don't ever let it matter) and it's all wrong now. It's all fucked up.

Noah closes his eyes (itonlymattersifyouletitmatter) and swallows thickly, ignoring the taste of bile and the sudden nausea. Choking on his breaths, trying to get them under control. Has to get them under control. Before – before something happens that he can't –

"Hey man, what's up?"

...Fuck.

As much as Noah might love (no, no,no...like) Gabriel, that dude's got the worst timing.

He doesn't, can't, open his eyes because if he does, he'd break, he knows it and he can't break. He needs to make Gabriel leave, so he can pick up the fallen pieces and put them back into place.

"Noah? Are you okay?"

No, I'm not! he wants to scream, he wants to scream for Gabriel to get out, because it's in here that he's hidden from the world, in here he keeps the tears and the laughter and everything in between close to him and concealed with FBI worthy security measures.

"Not really," he answers after a few seconds, voice thick.

There's a silence, long and strangely uncomfortable, before Gabriel finally says, a bit hesitantly:

"I've got something to make you feel better, if you're up to it."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"Hold on a minute."

It takes less than a minute for Gabriel to come back, handing him a needle. Noah stares at it, but decides it's better not to ask.

He wonders why anyone would ever do anything as stupid as becoming addicted to heroin when the rush is over, he's thrown up the dinner he ate God knows how many hours ago and now he's wavering between consciousness and unconsciousness like a flickering lantern.

The look on his face must give him away because Gabriel says, his voice slurred:

"It's love, man, not skag...just love."

Noah's last coherent thought is that (those bells tolling...it is for him, isn't it?) he'd rather die than doing this again, Gabriel be damned.

VII.

Five months later, Gabriel OD's and dies on the way to the hospital.

Noah spends the entire night in the bathroom, puking his guts out. When he's done doing that, he stares blankly up at the ceiling, wondering why.

VIII.

Noah's body aches with a bone-deep pain of weariness; every step he takes feels like dragging a log behind his back, every breath seems to require too much effort, all too much effort. Deep sea diver tiredness, dragging his limbs slowly up from the sinking sands. The shadows under his eyes have become black like coal-pits; his closed eyelashes merging into the chequered shadowy skin.

School, school is hell, breathing is hell, living is hell, and he makes it through his classes, barely, sleepwalking, slow and shattered. Sad. There's no other way to describe it, as banal as it sounds.

He thinks he's falling apart.

It's not as obvious as Gabriel being , but it's clear enough. It's so clear that whenever he goes out, to the grocery store or to the bar to drown his sorrows in company (like in those movies Gabriel hated), people glance at him twice, he's sure, and feel pity (which he hates, oh he hates it, but maybe not enough).

What Noah wants is someone who'll agree with him when he says the world is still fucked, that nothing has changed. Someone who might even understand when he voices his confusion and says that maybe, maybe, he wishes he had followed Gabriel into the world of drugs and gone down with him instead of just having him in his, Noah's, life again.

Sometimes, he wonders why there isn't any sad tunes playing whenever he stops and have to fight the urge to sink down on his knees and just waste away. He thinks that there should be, because right now, his life feels like movies with subtitles and actors everyone forgot when the papers declared that Jennifer and Brad had split up.

Thinks that maybe this is the end, the funeral, or at least the beginning of the end.

Or at least it's something. Isn't it?

--

It should have been something other than this; it should always have been something else, some other way.

--

X.

He doesn't know if he's relieved or disappointed when Alicia doesn't show up again. He should be relieved; he did throw her out, after all, but in a way, it was comforting to have her there, to know that someone gives a damn. Not that she ever did, of course, but he knows her well enough to know that she could never leave a dying animal on the road (and he's amused that he finds himself thinking of himself in that way).

That amusement slowly fades away and is replaced by the well-known grief. He doesn't think that the grief and the anger and the melancholy is a part of him as much as it is him, but he knows it doesn't make a difference anymore. It can't make a difference.

He lies on his bed, a bottle of whisky (the expensive kind) in his hand and stares up at the ceiling. He finds himself doing that a lot nowadays. Perhaps he is waiting for someone or something to show, to explain everything or to show him the way over to the Light side. Or maybe he's just expecting Death to make an entrance any moment now, to take him away. And anyway, being dead wouldn't be too bad; at least the dead do not grieve for themselves.

But, when he thinks about it, death wouldn't need to come, because ever since that day, death has stayed with him like his shadow. Not because he is a martyr or a saviour of a victim - he is none of these things, not one to be honoured or pitied, no. He is a witness. Only that, and nothing more, but it's enough.

And so he stays the way he is, not crying, not ever crying, because –

Because he is sick and tired of being sick and tired and because there is never any point and he isn't sure that if once he started crying he could ever stop.

Perhaps he should feel like that china doll Alicia hid under her bed once upon a time, but then again, he can't see himself as a china doll, an arm broken off, merely needing some superglue to fix it back on, and then everything could be as it was before with a tiny crack to show that perhaps it's not as unnaturally perfect as it looks. He feels instead like a Ming vase, thrown against concrete, dashed into thousands of tiny pieces – the irreparable end of the art of a dynasty.

He turns his head to the side, facing the window. It's beginning to grey, just a little, at the horizon. His eyes hurt because he doesn't sleep so they burn softly, brightly. To dream means to remember, and to remember means to relive and to regret. He refuses to do either.

As the sun rises, finally, he rubs more than just sleep from his eyes.

- - - - -

Credits: The title is borrowed from Ernest Hemingway's book For Whom the Bell Tolls. The subtitle, "We stood before a door we'd never seen before", is from Haruki Murakami's book South of the Border, West of the Sun, and the second one, "This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper", is taken from T.S. Eliot's (Favorite. Poet. Ever.) poem The Hollow Men. Also, T.S. Eliot's passage about the hyacinth girl in his masterpiece The Waste Land inspired the line, "Gabriel's eyes dark and burning, Noah's eyes suddenly failed him and he found he could not speak" and The Hollow Men inspired "the potency and the existence and the shadow in between". And, of course, "sick and tired of being sick and tired" is an AA saying.