This comes from the 64 Damn Prompts on LiveJournal (by rashaka). I will, most likely, be working through all 64, because I can't bear to leave such a lovely thing unfinished. I will also include the song that helped me write it/find inspiration/that I thought fit the mood.
P.S ~ Italicized lines belong to Shakespeare. I'm borrowing them, because he is an absolute genius, and it's my favorite play of all time. I'm not sure if this story makes sense—but then again, it's not exactly supposed to. You pick the plot-background-details and fill them in to your satisfaction.
Prompt 22: Crumble
Music: Karma Slave, by Splashdown
Sometimes the days felt endless. Even more often, the hours did, crawling by with a slowness that was agonizing to the point of tears. Skyler felt it, that dull, burning pain that throbbed in time with his heart—all the more so at night, when the rest of the world drew back behind the safety of locked doors and shuttered windows. And nights like this, when even the moon vanished, were all but unbearable.
Soft footsteps sounded in the otherwise empty room, and Helena approached the window ledge Skyler was seated on. She paused behind him, and he could all but feel the tension and concern in her small frame.
After an endless moment of silence, she asked softly, "What will you do now?"
Skyler looked out over the lights of the city spread out below his perch, just inches away from a thirty-story drop. Across the busy street, the windows of the hospital glowed bleakly, figures passing to and fro behind the lighted squares. In one of those rooms, on one of those floors, within one of those sterile, empty wards, he had finally returned.
"Now?" he repeated softly, and the word was bitter, and sweet, and full of longing, and full of apprehension, terrified and hopeful and sure and uncertain all at once. The red-haired man laughed, and it emerged like a strangled, choking sob. "I'll watch his first breath. I'll be there for his first word, and his first step, and his first smile. I'll be watching on his first day of school, and his first crush, and his first kiss. Whenever he's happy, or sad, or hurt, or at peace, whenever he falls in love or gets his heart broken, I'll be just a few steps behind him, watching everything. Isn't that all we can do anyway? Unless he remembers on his own, the curse will never be broken."
"Oh, Skyler," Helena whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her head against his shoulder. "You know that our lord would let you go if you asked him. He's been worried about you. If you wanted to just…go to sleep, and not have to worry any more, that would be all right. All we want is for you to be happy."
Skyler ran his fingers through her short, golden hair, then shifted over, pulling her up to sit next to him on the window ledge. "I know, Helena. But I can't. I love him, and all I want is to stay with him, even if he never knows I exist."
Helena sighed and settled up beside him, tangling their fingers together where they rested on his stomach, and together they watched the night head towards morning in silence.
The others found them there, trickling in through the door one at a time. Tariq was first, and dropped to the floor beneath the window with a soft exhalation of breath. He leaned his head back against the wall but didn't speak, his silence saying more than words ever could. After him came Calliope, a stern, straight shadow who kissed Skyler on the forehead with all the warmth of an adoring mother and leaned back against the molding, her arms folded under her breasts and a tight-lipped look of commiseration on her face.
Nero followed a few minutes later, freakishly tall and skinny, and patted Skyler on the head before going to sit on the room's single bed. Hayden came, too, and didn't even say anything about his sister being wrapped around Skyler. Quincy was more overt, kissing Skyler's cheek and patting his shoulder before joining Tariq on the floor. Pierce slid through the doorway after a little bit, doing the same and then settling on Tariq's other side. Even Xenos came, slouching back against the wall in one corner of the room and offering Skyler a comforting glance before returning to his silent contemplation.
For a long, endless moment, the silence in the room was like a living, breathing, pulsing thing.
Then an infant's cry shattered it into a thousand bits.
Skyler closed his eyes as though in pain, bowing his head, and Helena tightened her arms around him. Calliope flinched and her expression tightened even more, while Tariq sighed and ran his fingers through his spiky brown hair. Hayden touched his shoulder and seemed to be about to speak, then just placed his other hand on Skyler's arm. Quincy was grim, Pierce mirroring her expression. Xenos ended his meditation with a soft, weary sigh, closing his own eyes and shaking his head. Even Nero looked glum.
"So it starts again," whispered the tall, regal man in the doorway, sliding his glasses off as if in mourning and bowing his head, brown hair falling into his eyes. Behind him, the faintest impression of wide, bright wings glimmered in the light from outside.
Skyler nodded slightly, looking out the window and towards the hospital again, where a newborn baby with a fluff of black hair had just witnessed his first sunrise.
"Yes," he said in quiet agreement, and there was equally quiet agony in his voice. "It does."
"Still sulking?" Tariq asked, sliding onto the bench beside Skyler.
The redhead cast him a withering look, then returned to his book. "I'm not sulking. I'm just worried. He's only seventeen, and they're sending him off alone? It's not right."
Looking amused, Tariq crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed the black-haired teenager bidding farewell to his parents at the entrance to security. "And how long has it been since you were seventeen, Sky?"
Without glancing up, Skyler turned a page. His lips were compressed into a tight scowl, though, and his grip on the leather-bound spine was deliberately careful. "Fuck you, Tar," he growled, slouching slightly in his seat. "I'd tell you, but you can't count that high anyway—last time I checked, 'ten' was still giving you trouble."
Tariq's eyes narrowed, a frown crossing his face. "Careful, bastard. I didn't have to come and comfort you. I'm doing this out of the goodness of my heart."
Skyler muttered something that might have been "What heart?" and kept reading.
The humor finally faded from Tariq's grey eyes, and he scowled as well. "Fuck you, Skyler," he retorted sharply. "We're worried about you. If you don't shape up soon, Calliope is gonna come kick you out of this funk, and she won't be as nice about it as me."
That just got him a politely raised eyebrow in reply, and Skyler kept his gaze fixed firmly on his book.
"Skyler—" Tariq growled, working up a nice head of steam for his next rant.
Hearing the very real warning in his voice, Skyler sighed and finally looked up, meeting the other's irate grey gaze. His own green eyes were weary.
"It's…not like that," he said slowly, turning away to look back at the black-haired boy striding through the airport towards the flight monitor. "I'm not sulking, or moping. Not really. Maybe I'm just…tired. It's been a long time, watching him grow up, grow old, and then die, while I never change. And his life is so short. Like…a few days of sunshine in the midst of an eternal storm." He sighed and raked his fingers through his blood-red hair. "I talked to Lord Azrael about…just going to sleep for a while."
Tariq blinked at him, momentarily at a loss for words, then slumped back in the seat. "You did?" He sounded shocked.
Skyler gave him a wan smile, closing his book and setting it aside. "I know. I used to swear to Helena that I would never do it, but…" He shrugged. "Pierce, Calliope, and Hayden have agreed to take over watching him for me, whenever they can, and he's never actually needed me until the end of his life. And I'm tired, Tariq." The smile became painful, and he leaned over, dropping his head against Tariq's shoulder. "I know it's pathetic, and selfish, but I just can't do this anymore."
With a soft sigh, Tariq placed a hand on the bowed head, running his fingers through the brilliant silken hair. "Oh, Sky," he murmured. "You've been selfless for so long. It's all right to stop, even if it's just for a few years. We'll take care of everything for you."
A soft, muffled noise was Skyler's only response as he dropped quickly into a restless sleep.
Tariq let out a long breath and leaned back on the bench, closing his eyes carding his fingers through Skyler's hair. It wasn't fair, he thought grimly. It wasn't fair that all the rest of them were fine, able to live so easily no matter how many ages passed, while Skyler, the youngest of them all, was trapped, incapable of moving forward, unable to change how things had been and recover the past. His control, his sanity, was crumbling, and soon it would be gone, like so much ash upon the wind.
And all because of a stupid coincidence, a one-in-a-million happenstance. We should have killed the bastard when we had the chance. Tariq felt a growl building in his throat at the thought, and pushed it away.
And then footsteps came to a halt in front of them, and Tariq opened his eyes to stare at the very subject of his thoughts—tall, broad, built like a brick shithouse, with a shock of jet-black hair and sapphire eyes. Tariq felt his face settle into hard lines, and glared up at the seventeen-year-old.
"Yes?" he demanded with barely constrained venom.
The kid blinked at his tone, then jerked a thumb at Skyler. "He all right?" he demanded gruffly. "Do you want me to get a doctor?"
Almost in spite of himself, Tariq looked down at his friend, and felt his face soften. He kissed the furrowed brow, faint frown present even in sleep, and smiled sadly. "No," he murmured after a moment, all but forgetting his audience. "He's not much longer for this world, but maybe after that, he'll finally be able to rest." He stroked Skyler's hair, then whispered softly, "'Your daughter here the princes left for dead: let her awhile be secretly kept in, and publish it that she is dead indeed; maintain a mourning ostentation, and on your family's old monument hang mournful epitaphs, and do all rites that appertain unto a burial'."
Skyler stirred in his grip, and returned, "'What shall become of this? What will this do?'"
Chuckling, Tariq shook his head and then looked back up at the confused teenager, and his expression was resigned. "Go, kid," he ordered. "You'll miss your flight."
The black-haired teen hesitated for a moment, and then turned and stalked away, looking for all the world like an offended cat told off for being friendly. Tariq watching him go and chuckled softly again, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling. "Here again, Dane?" he asked, even though there was no one to hear him. He tightened his grip on the redhead in his arms, closing his eyes with an expression close to pain. "Maybe this time, things will be different. Maybe this time, you won't make the same mistake."
Even as he spoke the words, however, he couldn't bring himself to believe them.
Not after centuries of hoping the very same thing.
Dane Michelson paused at the edge of the boarding area for his flight and looked back. The strange, scarred man with spiky brown hair still held the smaller, red-haired man, but somehow, Dane couldn't make himself think of it as sexual. They were intimate, definitely, but it seemed more like the intimacy of good friends, close family, rather than lovers. He's not much longer for this world, the dark-haired man had said. Did that mean the other was…dying? Yeah, he seemed pale and a little tired, but wouldn't Dane be able to tell—able to see something—if he was really dying? It seemed wrong that someone could be so close to leaving the world entirely and that fact would hardly mark him at all.
He's not much longer for this world.
The thought repeated itself, pounding against the inside of Dane's skull, and he winced, casting another quick glance behind him. The pair of men were still sitting there, the scarred one staring at the ceiling, the other curled against his chest as though exhausted.
He's not much longer for this world.
And then what he had said—Dane recognized those quotes, those lines, though he couldn't seem to recall where they came from. They were obviously well known to the pair, though, especially for the smaller man to be able to quote them in his sleep. Were they actors? Stage actors? Drama freaks?
The thing that puzzled Dane most of all was why he felt like it mattered. The play was special, the redheaded man was special, and Dane knew he was forgetting something absolutely vital—even though he had never seen them before, didn't know them, wasn't supposed to care. There was no reason, absolutely none at all, why it should matter.
But it did.
When he looked back one last time, even as his section was called to board, the two men were gone.
That ached, just a little, no matter how much Dane tried to deny it.
He's not much longer for this world.
The heavy iron door swung shut, sealing the crypt where Skyler now lay in a deathlike slumber, and Pierce gazed at it with unhappy grey-blue eyes.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," he said quietly.
Quincy took his hand, rubbing it soothingly between both of hers. "No," she agreed gently, "it wasn't. But they knew the consequences when they started this, and neither of them can go back now, no matter how much they might want to."
"They defied the Elders," Hayden added, but instead of his normal dispassionate tone, he sounded defeated, as though watching a strong spirit like Skyler's crumble under the weight of ages was too much for him to bear. "Choosing to go against them, to try and leave the Family—one had to fall, and one had to watch." He paused for a moment, and then slowly shook his head. "I could not say which would be worse."
Tariq shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, glaring angrily at the ground. "It's all that damn bastard's fault," he muttered darkly. "He was the one to convince Sky to go through with it. Without him—"
"Skyler would not be the person he is now," Xenos cut in, habitually expressionless face for once touched with anger and sorrow. He turned stark green eyes towards the setting sun, and they narrowed slightly as he took in the figure standing at the edge of the graveyard. Nevertheless, he said without inflection, "Someday, Dane will choose to remember him, and the curse will be broke. Perhaps soon. Perhaps not. All we can do is wait."
"Then we'll wait," Helena decided firmly, taking her brother's hand and turning away from the tomb. "Wait for Skyler to wake up, and for Dane to pull his head out of the dirt and see what's actually going on. And then we'll beat both of them up for being such stubborn idiots."
Calliope took her other arm with a silent nod, and Quincy released Pierce to grab a hold of Nero, pulling her (moping) husband out of the graveyard. Tariq and Pierce followed after a moment later, with one final glance back at the white marble crypt.
As the autumn wind rose, Azrael pulled up the collar of his long coat and sighed, then looked at Xenos. "Shall we?" he asked, and there was a not of wistful sadness on his face. "Skyler will not be stirring any time soon, unless something changes drastically from the normal progression."
"It already has," Xenos said in quiet monotone, staring at the figure silhouetted on the hill. All the same, he bowed to Azrael and walked away, leaving the lord to follow him with a soft sigh.
None of them looked back, so none of them saw the tall, black-haired man approach the crypt with hesitant steps before squaring his shoulders and striding straight up to the door.
"I've been dreaming about you," Dane said, and it was almost accusing. "For years now, ever since I first saw you in that airport. I saw this, saw the whole thing. Why? What did you do to me?" He closed his eyes for a moment, then recited softly, "'I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?' I used to say that to you, and you would laugh, and call it our play. How come…how come I know that?"
Like a ghost, a pale form slipped through the heavy steel door and came to stand in front of him, reaching up to cup his jaw in one hand. "'As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you: but believe me not; and yet I lie not; I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing.'" Then the crimson-haired shade smiled, and whispered, "'Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.'"
"You've said that before," Dane whispered back, feeling something swell and catch in his throat. "Whenever we fought, you would say that. But…"
With a small smile, the shade placed a nearly intangible finger against his lips and beckoned to him, then slipped back through the door.
Dane took a breath and followed, hauling it open with a scream of protesting hinges. The ghost was waiting, perched on the edge of a black sarcophagus, and when he saw Dane, he smiled again and fell through the lid, vanishing into the thing. Steeling himself, Dane gritted his teeth and shoved the cover partway off, then leaned over.
The red-haired man he had seen only once in real life—but so often in his dreams—lay within, eyes closed, face pale, not breathing, looking for all the world like any other corpse. But Dane felt the draw, felt the need, and leaned over, pressing his lips ever so softly to the blue-white lips presented to him.
And as he did, he remembered.
All of it.
He was whole again.
In the black sarcophagus, Skyler—his Skyler, who loved Shakespeare and hated rain, and cared for his family as though they were real family, and not the group he had been brought into by sheer chance—Skyler opened his eyes, took a breath, and smiled at him.
"Dane," he murmured, "I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love."
Dane smiled back at him, knowing that this was an age-old game between them, to use the lines of that play—their play, where they had first met, as actors during its first production—whenever they could, and answered, "And thereupon I will kiss thee."
It was a kiss that bore the loneliness of their separation, and the joy of the return, and the regret for what had happened, and a thousand other small emotions. Skyler broke from it with a soft gasp, letting Dane pull him upright, and laughed softly. "You remember," he said with something like glee, or delight, or disbelief, and Dane grinned back at him.
"I swore, didn't I?" he asked. "I told you that no matter how many times I was reborn, I'd find you someday. I know it's been a long time, but…can you still accept me?"
The wicked half-smile that he remembered so well resurfaced, and warm green eyes sparkled at him. "Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take thee for pity."
Dane laughed, because he couldn't remember the last time he had been so close to his lover, had seen that look in his eyes, had known that, despite their separation and ages apart, it was still Skyler, the very same person he had fallen in love with so long ago. They had defied the Elders for each other, Skyler for falling by love with a mortal, Dane by convincing a Guardian of Death to run away with him into the human world.
"Peace! I will stop your mouth," he murmured, and kissed him.
Around them, the world stopped crumbling.
And so the curtain falls.
(On the first act, at the very least.)
Another one. So…who knows what play these lines are from? (Don't Google it, that's cheating.)