Notice! Warnings applied to this story are the following: Slash, death, total angst, attempt(s?) at suicide and other possibilities. Rated M for safety. The right to add more warnings without prior warning is retained. The right to blow you off entirely if you decide to read this despite the listed warnings and then flame it is also retained. You are on notice! (You have been warned!)

.beginning of part one of a two-shot story.

Location: Apartment Complex, Prescott Valley, Yavapai County, Arizona, United States of America, Earth

Date: The Present

Time: T - 0 Seconds

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Iseabail Katz, Izzy to his friends, blinked open his eyes, squinting in the harsh light of the early-morning sun. They really needed to buy some new curtains. He turned over onto his back, staring blearily at the ceiling, attempting to gather up enough strength to leave the bed and get ready for the day. Izzy let himself close his eyes for a split-second before determinedly hopping to the floor, absently thanking Ta for buying a rug for the wood-flooring that covered the expanse of the apartment. Otherwise it would be pure, unadulterated torture on such a cool day like this.

As he stretched to rid himself of the remnants of sleep, Izzy glanced over at the stilled form of his partner with a small, fond smile. The shorn black hair that peeked out from underneath the comforter was all that was visible of him. Tham-Boon Sanitwong Na Songkhla, Khun Ta to his friends, and just plain Ta to Izzy himself, was the best thing to ever happen. Ta was sweet, hard-working and just an overall amazing person. Everyday he woke up next to the other man, Izzy counted himself lucky to have him.

That was why, today, Izzy had specifically turned down a late-night movie viewing in the living-room-cum-dining-room-cum-kitchenette in order to get up early to get a breakfast meal set-up for Ta's first full week at his new job, something of a good-luck feast of sorts. There'd be just enough time to get it ready before Ta got up if he hurried. It was with this thought in mind that he padded into the other room, taking care to shut the door quietly behind him.

Humming rather tunelessly to himself as he readied the table, nothing fancy, simply two paper plates and some slightly tarnished silverware he'd gotten second-hand at the local Goodwill store. He ran the faucet as he looked out the small narrow window above the sink. The world was still caught in early-dawn slumber, some birds, species undetermined, flitting and fluttering about here and there. There was a squeal of brakes as a trash truck sputtered down the street. Some joggers, few and far between, ran along the roadside, beating the desert heat that would surely come, despite the winter season. Maybe they'd be able to get a tree... Or at least a cactus, though would the angel stay on the top? Mismatched glasses were moved from the counter to join the other eating-ware on the table, butter and syrup added to the mix. Standing there, his hand still hovering above the tub of butter, Izzy jumped out of his thoughts when he smelled the beginning of smoke from the pancakes on the pan.

He gave himself the first batch of burnt pancakes, flipping them unceremoniously on the plate, leaving the somewhat less-charred ones for Ta. He felt slightly bad for letting himself daydream as he chewed on his lower lip and surveyed the table. It was a bit bare, but it would have to do. Or at least until he and Ta got their bonuses for working through the season. They'd both agreed to work the Christmas holidays and celebrate early. Or later. Or maybe both is the money was particularly good.

Once again falling into a long moment of slow thoughts, Izzy munched on the end of his share of breakfast absentmindedly, staring blankly ahead of him at the wall. It wasn't until his eyes slid down to the lone clock that he noticed the time. With a skip and a hop, he hurried into the small bathroom, treading lightly to keep from waking Ta up. Though... The man wasn't one for sleeping in late... He'd just wake him up when he finished shaving.

Not bothering to finish wiping the remaining shaving cream from his upper lip, Izzy grinned to himself as he silently snuck up to the bedside. "Wakey-wakey!" He cried and gleefully flopped forward on the covered form, wrapping his arms around the other. "Time to rise and shine, Ta!"

There was no response.

"Ta?" Izzy raised an eyebrow curiously, and a bit amused, burrowing closer, finding an ear. He blew a whisper-soft breath on rim, waiting for the full-body shudder it always induced.


"Ta?" A fair bit concerned now, Izzy jumped off the bed and yanked the covers back. Tham-Boon lay in a stiff-haphazard manner from the previous rough-housing.

Izzy stood there for a long while, comforter still in hand, staring down at him. Maybe... Maybe Ta was still asleep? He did take sleeping pills sometimes for insomnia, and that had always made him groggy in the morning. Half-heartedly, Izzy shook the still man's shoulder, not paying attention to the light tinge of blue that tainted the tan face. "Ta... You have to get up. I made breakfast..." He tugged ineffectually on a lukewarm arm. "You have to complain about how I burn everything... And then you have to go to work...Ta..." The words faded off into a drawn-out whine before Izzy collapsed in on himself and fell against the far wall, yanking the comforter to cradle to his chest.

Noises of the busy family of five trickled down through the ceiling vents from the apartment upstairs. If he closed his eyes and listened closely, he would be able to hear what was being said from room to room. He couldn't close his eyes.

The sunbeams slowly slunk across the bed, highlighting Ta's still form. There was a stir in the air as Ta's cell phone began to vibrate in the pants that lay crumpled on the floor by the door. The muffled sound startled Izzy from his stupor and he clumsily stood, creeping across the floor on his hands and knees to shakily grab the phone and flip it open.

"Mr. Songkla!" It was a shrill voice, laced with a delicate mixture of annoyance and cool. Izzy turned to stare at one of Ta's feet that stuck out from under the sheets. He slowly reached over and ran a finger along the callused pad. He was cool too. Maybe even more so than the voice on the phone. "Hello?! Are you listening to me?! If this is how you're going to act this early, then you might as well not come in at all! what do you say to that!"

The man blinked as he stared ahead. "He's dead?" The words were a bit light, lifting to end in a tentative question.

"What? Who is this?" The voice demanded from the other end.

"He's dead. Excuse me. I have to go." The words felt hollow, even to himself, though not nearly as hollow and empty he felt. Not bothering to listen to the baffled cries of alarm from the cell, he let it fall from his fingers as he got dressed for work.

Outside, there were sounds of the school buses driving by.

Location: Party Bar, Prescott Valley, Yavapai County, Arizona, United States of America, Earth

Date: The Present

Time: T + 259203 Seconds

It was the third day. It was the day of the burial. Izzy leaned against the wood. Was it still a burial if the body was cremated? Third day or not, Ta certainly wouldn't be rising again. He was an atheist, after all. Besides, even if he was, the most he could rise up as was a small pile of ash. He giggled a bit hysterically at the thought of a moving pile of ash, even though it wasn't very amusing at all. Would the ash be grey, or would it be the same deep tan of his skin? Ta had always been proud of his natural 'year-round' tan and had always enjoyed teasing him for having to sun to get bronzed.

There was probably a fair amount of people gathered in Ta's family's house in Carson City. If he remembered right, Ta had said something about his family's traditions when his great-uncle had died. Something about feasting to memories or something like that. He took a small sip of whatever the waiter had given him. He'd forgotten already. Even though he wasn't at the funeral, he'd drink to his own memories of Ta. Dressing Ta in the morning... Undressing him in the evening... Eating together... Drinking together... Watching crap on TV together.

SADS. That what killed Ta. Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome. That's what the coroner written on the flimsy paper slip before moving onto the next corpse.

The man sighed heavily as he lifted his head to stare vacantly at the glittery wall-length mirror that hung across the bar. For once he was dressing as conservatively as his mother would have wanted, though the color was probably not something she'd agree to. The black turtleneck and black pants only made his skin look more sallow, his frame more lanky and awkward, and the bags under his eyes only looking more purple and puffy. He turned away from the rather unpleasant reflection and leaned against his hand, his fingers tangling in the dark curls, mussing them even more. Izzy wouldn't've minded if the earth suddenly opened beneath him and swallowed him whole. In fact, he would have welcomed it's embrace.

He had been told that there had been nothing that he could have done to recognize it. It was something that Ta had inherited, though past that point Izzy had stopped paying attention. What did it matter how he died? It wouldn't bring him back, so why know?

He peeked a red eye at the throbbing crowd before him. Damn bastards. How dare they be so happy. Didn't they see that he was miserable? Why did they have the right? Izzy sighed again and stared back at the wood beneath him. Why had he even come here? Sure he'd enjoyed the crowd before, but that was with... With a swift shake of the head, he threw the thoughts from his mind and downed his drink, lifting up to look for someone to get him another.

Antonio DeMario noticed the empty glass out of the corner of his eye and zeroed in on it with the intention of retrieving it to fill it back up, but when he looked at the owner of the drink to ask what it was, he paused. "Sir, is something not to your satisfaction tonight?" He clasped the round, black tray with both of his hands and leaned down. A wisp of his inky black hair strayed from its place behind his ear, which was moderately annoying, as it had already strayed earlier from the small ponytail he had the rest of his hair tied up in. "How may I be of service to help change that?"

There was a strained bit of pause before Izzy's eyes focused. He blinked for a moment before nodding slowly. "Just get me another one of whatever this was. Or maybe something stronger. Yeah... Stronger sounds good."

"Stronger it is, then." He took the glass from him and went off to fill it, carefully avoiding the other patrons and waiters. He filled it with one of the more stronger drinks and returned as quickly as he could manage. "Here you go, sir. Just let myself or any of the other waiters know if there's anything we can do for you to make your stay more enjoyable." He winked and straightened up, inclining his head to survey the room for any other empty glasses.

"Mm..." Came the absent reply as the man already turned his head to the bar.

The dirty-looking liquor hurt as it slithered down his sore throat, burning small holes it felt like. It was a nice feeling. Sadly it only lasted a few seconds before the glass was void of liquid once more. Feeling more distressed than before drinking the alcohol, he folded his arms and laid down his head.

It was a fair bit of time later before Izzy looked up to see the same waiter from before leaning against the wall patiently. "Hey..." He said, voice a bit ragged, and lifted the empty glass. "You got anything stronger? Give me the strongest you got..." He blinked blearily, trying to clear his head.

Antonio gently took the glass from him, a conflicted expression on his face. "Our policy normally would have me refuse service to you, as you've had plenty of alcohol already, but you seem to be in need of it tonight... so," he lifted his index finger to his lips. "just this once, all right?"

There was a nod before the bedraggled man looked up, reddened, tired eyes not really staring at the waiter, but instead that bedamned mirror on the wall. "Do you think there's life after death?"

Antonio blinked, somewhat startled by the question. "Life after death? I don't know for sure, so I'd rather be safe and assume there's not and enjoy this life... if there's another life waiting for me, then I'd just enjoy that one, too."

Another nod, a bit more heavy than the ones previous. "Thanks. I'm going home." With this announcement, the man stood up with a slight wobble. He started from the table, pausing for a moment to rebutt any offers for help. "I don't need help. I didn't drive here. I'll walk home."

That night, Izzy sat in the bathtub, his knees hanging over the edge, and tried to slit his wrists with a nail-file. He would have used the nail clippers or a razor, but he couldn't dredge up the energy to get them out of the medicine cabinet. He paused in his ministrations to glare at the ugly monstrosity. It probably hadn't been changed since the apartment was made, way back in the seventies, when puke green and mustard yellow reigned supreme. It used to be a funny aspect of the building that was a frequent butt of Ta's bad jokes that he was fond of telling. It wasn't very funny anymore.

He turned back to his wrist, which had been rubbed raw by the roughened file. There was a fair bit of splotchy driblets of blood. Nothing even remotely lethal, just enough to look quite painful. Which it was. Enough so to even rend into the blurry haze of drunkenness. Dammit...

Izzy leaned his head back onto the chipped porcelain and let himself close his eyes and cried until he fell into sleep.

Location: Apartment Complex, Prescott Valley, Yavapai County, Arizona, United States of America, Earth

Date: The Present

Time: T + 1584000 Seconds

The frantic ringing of the phone in the living-room-cum-dining-room-cum-kitchenette woke him. He started to move, but instantly regretted it. Even without the crick in his neck, the ball of knots in his shoulders and the pain in his joints from the uncomfortable position, the exploding lights in his head would have forced him to the floor, if he wasn't close enough to it already. He should have moved to the bedroom...

For the past two weeks, he had slept in the bathtub. It wasn't comfortable in a physical sense, but it was in all the other ways. It wasn't so bad, really. Sleeping in a bathtub that was half his length. Some blankets from the closet and Ta's jacket and it was just like the real thing. If he closed his eyes, dug his face into the jacket and pretended really hard, it was like Ta was right there. He'd already gone through half of Ta's clothes, trying to keep that soothingly masculine smell in his head.

The phone finally shut off. Thank God Ta had never gotten them an answering machine.

Pretending was even more upsetting than being reminded of Ta every time he did something. Why the hell did Ta have to do so much?! Why could he have just lived on the bed?! Izzy couldn't even throw away the kitchen trash without a flood of memories. Not that he'd emptied the kitchen trash, mind, or any of the trash to be honest, but he knew he'd be reminded about something if he bothered with it.

"Dammit..." he grumbled to himself, immediately regretting saying anything, so he thought the curse very loudly instead. Outside the phone started to ring again. It echoed rather unpleasantly under his skull. Izzy simply clenched his eyes shut, feeling vaguely grateful that he hadn't slept in the bedroom. The sun would have been painful, maybe even more painful than being in an empty bed. He'd have to get rid of it when he could... Or maybe, on second thought, he'd leave it there and never touch it again.

He laid there for a bit longer, though he began to regret it as once the stressed muscles were brought to his attention, they only got worse.

Maybe he would go to that group grief meeting. His mom and the few friends that bothered to come by had all said he should do it. In a sporadic fit of insanity, he had even logged online, using the laptop that used to be Ta's. It took an hour to open the internet browser, to tear away from the desktop background image of the two of them on the one trip they'd managed to take the year before last.

Looking up 'grieving', Izzy had received a ton of hits for 'how to grieve well.' How did one grieve well? He'd heard that the Lady Kennedy had, but he had neither her strength nor her make-up skills. Anyone could look like they grieved well if they had her wardrobe. Maybe that was the fine print. You didn't grieve well, but simply looked as if you were.

He had to get up now.

After many a false start, Izzy managed to sit up very, very slowly, one hand supporting himself, the other trying to crush back down his aching skull.

There no way he was going to binge-drink again. He'd done it once or twice after passing a particularly grueling literature test back in college, but not since then, and certainly not for this long. Though, he didn't remember the hangovers being quite so bad as it was right now. No. There was no way in hell he'd do that again. All the drinking did was make it worse later.

Stumbling some, he walked on shaky legs to get ready for work. He had to shape up and get back on his feet. He had reached the end of his leave for mourning. He wouldn't be paid from here on out if he didn't clock in. Time to face the world again. Without Ta.

Location: Party Bar, Prescott Valley, Yavapai County, Arizona, United States of America, Earth

Date: The Present

Time: T + 1710185 Seconds

Izzy stumbled into the bar despite his earlier misgivings from the previous day. He also decided to ignore the calls from home inquiring on his health, as well as the queries from co-workers when he tried to show up in a decidedly slovenly manner. It didn't help that he still had alcohol on his breath.

Reaching the table from the last time he'd come, he sat down with aplomb and looked around, prepared to drink 'til he dropped.

Antonio noticed the man when he walked in through the door and waved off the other waiters that tried to approach him. "Sir," he said, practically floating into place beside him. "you seem to still be worse for wear. Is it possible that I can help you in another way than just serving you drinks?"

He jerked back, his hands absently moving to soothe his clothes and hair. He probably wasn't in good shape to even go see anyone, let alone leave the apartment. Maybe he should become a hermit. Could one be a hermit in an apartment, or did you need to live in a cave? Either way it didn't seem so bad. Being a hermit. Atleast as a hermit, he didn't have to worry about bathing or cutting his hair. Plus he'd get all the hemlock he could drink. "Huh? Oh. I'm fine. I just want something strong." He finally managed to spit out.

Antonio obediently retrieved the wanted drink, but sat in the seat beside him after setting it down. "I can be a good listener, and I have a feeling there's something on your mind." He rested his chin in the palm of his hand and offered a light smile. "What's your story?"

Izzy stared at him, eyes wavering for a moment. He had been told to go to therapy... And that was just talking to people... This guy was a person, thus this would be enough to get everyone off his back. He could say he'd been to therapy.

He took in a deep breathe and stared at the drink. He drank it in one fell swoop, the sudden warmth that quickly filled his body giving him that extra bit of courage. "My partner died."

As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt totally overwhelmed, as if by saying it, it was suddenly much more than reality. The loss was suddenly that much greater. Why did it hurt so much more when he said it aloud? God knew he thought it enough. He hunched his tall frame over himself, grasping for his knees before deciding to covering his eyes with his hands to hide the tears that came unbidden. Being sloppy was one thing, but to cry in public was just damn embarrassing. Even so, he couldn't help but spew more word-vomit. "H-he died. He's dead. Totally dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead."

Antonio's smile faltered at Izzy's words. "Really... I'm terribly sorry to hear that." He straightened up some. "Let's get you away from all this noise. There should be a couple rooms available in the back that you can use to clear your head. I'll bring a bottle of our strongest..." He did his best to smile as he stood. "Please follow me."

Not particularly feeling any reason not to, Izzy nodded lightly and let himself be guided to a room in the back of the building. As he entered the room, lights flicked on by the waiter was he stepped in, an unwanted thought crossed his mind. "Why do you care?" He couldn't help the words, even though they probably sounded rather hurtful. He wasn't even sure if he cared to be blunt.

"Why do I care?" He paused in the middle of pouring another glass for Izzy. "I don't care about you, specifically, but I have a soft spot for people who are in pain." He smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "I care that you're hurting, because no one should have to feel that way."

Izzy nodded as he held the glass gingerly in his hands, mentally debating if he should be getting drunk with a perfect stranger. Of course, when he thought about it, it wasn't as if anyone was waiting for him. He downed the glass easily.

"He died over two weeks ago..." he finally started after a long pregnant moment of awkward silence. "I couldn't even make myself go to the funeral. Not that I think I'd be allowed by his family. I never really knew them."

"Did you ever meet them?" He tapped his chin, leaning back and resting his weight on one hand against the bed. "No, forget about that. What was he like?" He reached out to refill the glass.

Izzy was silent for another long moment, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. "He... He was amazing." His voice cracked. "I was so lucky to have him. His name was long 'cause he was Thai... I called him Ta, but..." He rubbed his nose fiercely and looked up with a frown. "I don't want to remember him. I want to forget."

Antonio frowned lightly. "I don't know if that's entirely healthy or possible. The most common way to try to forget someone is to replace them, and that tends to fail, as you'll start to compare everyone to him." He did his best to smile as he lifted the bottle. "But if you're sure that's what you want to do, then this isn't the solution."

Not entirely paying attention, the other man pulled up his knees for comfort. "I just want it to stop hurting. I want to get over it. I can't not go to work, because I've used up my leave, and everyone's ready for me to get over it. I'm ready for me to get over it, dammit!" He clenched his legs close. "I don't know what to do anymore. I wish Ta was here to tell me what to do."

"You just said what to do." He set the bottle down and stood to be in a more dominant position, but leaning down to be eye-level despite. "You're ready to get over it and stop hurting, right? Then stop telling yourself that you don't know what to do and get to work. I recommend you start coming to this bar to find a new partner rather than wallowing with drinks."

"But I don't want another fucking partner, you asshole!" Eyes flaming, Izzy glared at the other.

"Do you enjoy feeling alone? Even if it's not perfect, having someone to be with would be more satisfying than this, don't you think?"

The man stood, just over-topping the other in height. "You act as if Ta could be replaced, just like that?!" He stood there seething for a moment before completing a not-so-well-aimed punch.

Antonio stepped back to avoid a second punch. "You the one who wanted to forget, right? How can you be replacing someone you don't want to remember?"

"How the fuck am I supposed to know!" Izzy snarled and turned on his heel. "I'm leaving." he announced, readying to stomp out. He made it home without anymore trouble than what was usual these days. As he slammed the door behind him in a rage, tears rolled down his cheeks.

How dare he. How DARE he even suggest, even think for a single moment, that Ta be replaced by someone else! No one could do that! There was no way anyone could fill the void that was left behind! As he continued to work himself into a frenzy, Izzy threw his bundled jacket to the floor, where it joined empty beer cans and other refuse. How dare he! That twice-be-damned waiter! That prick! And damn everyone else to! He could damn well take as long as he wanted to mourn! They'd been together for five years! How are you supposed to just forget five whole years and go on with your life?! Why was he expected to just get over it?! How did you get over it?! Widows could take as long as they wanted, so couldn't he?! Was he not allowed the time just because he had lost a male partner instead of a female?! How did that make a fucking difference?!

Finding himself on the bedroom floor, and feeling more than a little confused as to how, when and why he landed there, Izzy unclenched this hands from where they held on tightly to the mattress above. Pulling himself up, he laid his head on the bed, Ta's side of the bed, and cried.

Was there really life after death? If there was, if sure as hell wasn't amounting to very much.



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.end of part one of a two-shot story.