01 - Pressure
It woke him up.
A pity, since he had wanted to sleep forever.
Even if his dreams were filled with odd rushing and running.
He opened his eyes and colors from that terribly lit room rushed at him so fast that he didn't realize at first, that he couldn't seem to open his left eye.
And touching the soft cotton of the dressing around his head seemed to cause the world around him to come crashing down.
Sitting up, Nex fumbled for a moment with the bandage, trying to find where it ended or at least where it begun.
He stood then, searching for the source of that sound and simultaneously trying to rip off the white cloth wrapped expertly around his head.
"Nex…Nex. Where are you??? Where the fuck are you??? Stop disobeying orders and get your ass over here now."
It was so distant, that forgotten command; it couldn't – shouldn't – have been there, hidden behind a gauze of broken memory.
And the tapping was forgotten and again that strange rushing, rushing, rushing crashed over him.
He'd taken a wrong turn. And he was going to pay for it. Dawn was fast approaching and the raid, at least, from
Nex's perspective, had gone terribly wrong. He didn't know where the others were, he didn't know where he was himself. He'd lost
contact with everyone and worst of all, he was beginning to panic. He looked around him, looking for an exit, anything.
didn't recognize glowed steadily up ahead, signaling fast approaching enemies.
It was only a matter of time before he was found.
He was breathing hard now. He had to avoid being seen at all costs. Looking up, he saw what probably was his best bet at that very moment. Jumping straight up, he managed to grab on to the exposed beams above him, and slowly, carefully, he pulled himself up. Crouching low on the beam, he shifted slightly so he could get a better look at the approaching figures.
Four in all, Bloodletters. Suddenly Nex was desperately thankful to the Powers that Be, that he was unscathed. Stupid and almost completely brain-dead, Bloodletters with their faceless heads swathed in an odd sort of mask that both protected the soft tissue and gave them better access to the Argon in the air; were a great asset in war – regardless of the fact that they were so stupid, it's surprising that they had the sense to walk through doors to get from one place to another. Mindless drones that followed instructions of a Trainer, they didn't need to be paid. They just needed to kill. They were fast creatures, and could probably chase down the best runner. Most of all though, they were merciless.
And they could sense the wounded.
Nex shut his eye, breathing hard, trying to block out that startlingly clear memory. The fear still stung him in the throat. The need for escape still clogged his arteries. His eye opened for one moment of complete irrationality – of liquid adrenaline – and his gaze dragged over to the door. He would have made a run for it too, if he hadn't caught sight of himself in the mirror.
The bandage gripped at him, taunting him, and his fight against it picked up once again in earnest.
That's when Koha walked in.
And there stood Nex, tearing at the bandage wrapped carefully around his head; harsh red bursts of blood staining the white over Nex's eye – like a scarlet geranium slashed across a field of snow.
It was that thought, which carried across the room to Nex.
Nex froze then, arms first dropping limply to his side as he turned to look at Koha. And like a love letter discarded, Nex folded and bent and sat limply at the edge of the bed, head hanging low.
"They took it." He said, a whisper that brushed against Koha's ears.
In a few more steps, Koha was standing over Nex. He hesitated for a moment.
All that blood…
"Yes." Was all Koha said.
Was all Koha could say.
Nex's hands came up to his head again, fingers pressing against the dressing.
"I'll do it."
And then Nex's hands were brushed away by surprisingly cold ones and slowly, the bandage came off. As the final layer of cotton lay matted on Nex's upturned face, Koha's hand came round to support Nex's head as his free hand carefully peeled that last layer off.
Nex didn't move, but he blinked several times, as if just waking up from a long, dreamless sleep, and the sun was in his eyes. His left eye lid was unmoving, dried blood crusting around it.
"How is it?" The question was shaky, afraid of its own answer.
"Still bleeding." Then, as an afterthought: "Slowly."
The pressure of Nex's head on his hand disappeared then, as Nex's head fell forward, and that terrible, terrible hopelessness set in. Nex's shoulders began to sag and it seemed to Koha that Nex was aging right before his eyes.
Koha took a step back, not knowing what to do. His hands felt suddenly useless then and he began to wind the bandage up into a small, neat roll in his palm. A few moments later, the heavy steel door creaked open.
Sano stepped in, dark eyes glancing over first at Nex's dark head then to the roll of cloth in Koha's hand. Something akin to annoyance flashed in Sano's eyes. The medical officer frowned, gave Koha a what-the-fuck-did-you-do look before making his way over to Nex, kneeling before him.
"I made him take it off." Nex interrupted.
Even to Sano, whose ability did not lie in hearing, Nex's voice fell flat and strangely numbing to hear. He wondered for a moment what Koha heard.
Nex lifted his head then and looked over at the bandage Koha was holding.
"It's uncomfortable." Nex stated simply. He turned then, his eye met Sano's for a moment before it came to rest on the wall behind him.
"I want you to burn it."
And suddenly they weren't talking about the bandage anymore.
"That won't be necessary – it'll heal itself."
Nex wasn't sure who had said it. He wondered why they bothered when they knew he wouldn't listen. He glanced over at Koha, who was strangely colorless to him, green hair dull in even the odd light of his room. Koha was being Koha.
Distant and cold and unassuming. Yet still. Nex could still feel the brush of fingers against his skin and, although the memory was distant and oddly burnt at the edges – like a photograph of someone who had died very suddenly, too suddenly – Nex remembers those same, cold, distant arms wrapped around him; that cold, distant chest pressed against his cheek.
And all that blood…
"I want you to burn it shut."
Nex's head cocked to one side as he regarded Sano.
"Burn it shut or I'll do it myself."
Sano's eyes widened for a moment, before he turned to look at Koha who was regarding Nex with an odd mixture of curiosity and disbelief. He'd heard it – that icy steel in Nex's voice that was never ever there before. That completely foreign rage that was so out of place coming from Nex.
Nex, who always smiled.
Nex, who cared about what everyone thought about him.
Nex, who risked his life that night to save those last children.
Koha had barely cared. He had looked over at the children; all so desperately malnourished and maltreated that they were all just waiting at Death's front steps, waiting for him to open the door for them. Worst of all, most of them were completely strung out.
But Nex had wanted to save them. Herded them with the others and had them move out with Loc and Uva. He stayed behind to give them a head start. Koha was too angry that Nex had disobeyed orders to stay with him. Besides, he had thought then, Nex can handle it.
And Nex did. For a while, at least.
Sano's lips pressed together in a thin line. Koha did not need Nex's eyes to see the strong disapproval in the gesture. Sano straightened up, standing slowly. He glanced over at Koha, a frown of worry creasing the man's forehead. He sighed, almost inaudibly, before glancing over at Nex once more and then making his way to the door.
"What is that???" Nex's voice pierced through the rhythmic tapping.
Koha nearly flinched.
That wasn't Nex's voice.
Sano only paused for a moment before deciding to not answer the question. He pulled the door open and walked through, closing it behind him.
Koha made his own way towards Nex's door.
"Good. Leave." The stranger said.
Koha pulled the door open and would have, if he hadn't heard that soft exhalation – that premature sound trapped between a sob and a sigh, a laugh and a cry.
The door closed and the empty space besides Nex was made use of.
"What is that?"
This was Nex. Slightly unsure, and slightly afraid. But still. It was Nex who had spoken – it was really him.
"Nothing." Was all Koha said.
Was all Koha would say.
Nex's one eye clouded over for a moment with resentment, before he turned away, to look at the floor.
For all Nex could see with his strange aqua eyes, Koha could see even more within them. Nex had said once that it was unfair, that Koha could read him so well and Nex had trouble reading him most of the time even though his gift lay in that field.
"I'm dead on the inside, Nex. There's nothing to read anymore."
Koha had said that once. Nex had laughed when he'd heard that. He didn't realize till much later that Koha had been serious. Had always been serious, would always be serious.
"Look at me." It was whispered.
Nex didn't move and for a moment, Koha thought Nex hadn't heard him. He was going to say it again when Nex turned, head still hanging low, face framed by the dark curtain of his hair. His hands threaded through those locks of hair, brushing them away from the pale skin that it hid.
As the hair was brushed away, Nex seemed to come out of his shell; his eye suddenly becoming an open book for Koha to read. But the glistening blue wasn't what held Koha's attention. It was the harsh purple and red that painted itself across Nex's left eye.
"You have a new scar." Nex whispered, a mild anxiety creeping into his voice and surprise that he hadn't noticed the scar earlier.
Koha didn't reply as he stared at that painful kaleidoscope of a wound. Nex nearly pulled away but Koha's hands closed down, cradling Nex's head gently but firmly; each thumb pressing against the hollow of Nex's cheeks, fingers splayed out in an unconscious effort to touch as much Nex as they could.
"Koha. The scar."
Nex was as unrelenting as Koha. He eyed the angry raw gash across Koha's right eye.
"What happened?" Nex whispered.
Koha was about to formulate some half-assed explanation that an iac had managed to inflict some damage on him. He wondered for a split second if Nex would believe that an iac could get to him with their large swords and inflict the scar – as livid as it was, it wasn't deep enough. Besides, iac favored dismemberment. But Koha didn't need to lie. Nex was on to him.
"What went wrong?"
The billion dollar question. Koha's hands fell away and this time, it was his turn to recede into himself. Nex knew that the scar was self-inflicted. A scar to add to the piercings.
And while it was decoration to most it was self-mutilation to Koha. The shiny metal gouged into his flesh all painful remembrances of unsuccessful raids and hurtful losses. It was surprising that Koha wasn't covered in metal. Testimony to just how good their team was.
But this wasn't a piercing. It was a scar. And instantly, Nex was worried.
"Koha. What went wrong? The children?"
And Koha froze, relief hidden by a wave of guilt.
"The children. What happened to the children?"
Koha was quick to give an explanation, glad he wasn't telling the truth. About the scar at least.
"We lost eight. They were taken."
By bloodletters. – it was unspoken, but heard anyway.
Nex was visibly shaken. "And –" He licked his lips, pausing for a moment, trying to remember what he had wanted to say. "And, the other six?"
"Four are in the infirmary." Koha answered.
"…The…The other two…where—where are they?"
"The other two belonged to the group you wanted to take back with us."
It seemed explanation enough, Koha had thought.
And suddenly Nex seemed to realize.
"They're in confinement." Koha whispered.
Nex knew. That tapping, would escalate to a loud thunking beyond his steel walls. That thunking was caused by the children, beating against the metal walls to be let out.
"They tried to hurt the other four."
"You – you did separate them? The two aren't together?"
Koha nodded and Nex looked away, before bringing his legs up on to the bed and lying down – he curled up into a ball, back to Koha.
Koha nearly reached over to touch Nex's back.
"Good." Nex said. "Good." A pause. "Then they won't hurt each other."
Koha's hand was still centimeters away from Nex's skin. But the contact was never made.
A few seconds later, Nex's door opened and Koha stepped out into the darkened hall, closing Nex's door behind him.
And Nex was right, the tapping there was thunking here. And to Koha's ears, the little cries and nails scraping at metal rang loud and clear. But it was easily – too easily, maybe – ignored.
So Nex thought the scar was for the children. Koha didn't bother to correct him, didn't want to. It didn't matter because Nex didn't need to know the truth. Losses commemorated by piercings. Koha almost smirked. But this was a scar and Nex saw the importance behind it. Of course, Nex saw almost everything. But Nex, eyes all-seeing didn't see what was clear to everyone else. Nex, with Senoris blood running through his veins, who could detect Ka and other energy forms through lead if need be, hadn't seen what the scar was for.
That thin laceration that sliced through his eye without truly damaging it. He'd wanted to. Wanted to gouge his eye out. An eye for an eye. But Uva had stopped him. Had told him Nex was coming to. Nex who saw everything. Almost.
Almost. Because Nex couldn't see that the scar was for him.