Title: Haunting the forgotten

Chapter 24c: Together


The thought was like an insistent scratch, irritatingly impossible to ignore. She held on grimly against its demand and crawled away from him, inch by torturous inch.







It was exhausting. The moment she let her concentration slip, she was beset with the compulsion to touch, to hold, to join, to become completely one with him.

I can't...

I musn't...

but I want to...

so, so much


In an attempt to distract herself, she diverted her thoughts to concern for him. She was at a disadvantage because she couldn't take the risk of getting too near him, but she called his name, softly at first, and then more loudly in rising frustration.

It had the desired effect. He opened his eyes, blinked, sat up sluggishly.


"Jay?" He looked around in confusion, even though she was within his field of vision. "Why is it so dark?"

Of course. He can't see in the dark anymore.

"Here." She threw the seeing-disks into his lap.

After a while, he worked out their significance and put them on, speaking as he did so. "What's happened, Jay?"

"How are you feeling?" She didn't answer his question because she just didn't know how to.

When his eyes finally focused on her, she gave him a shaky smile. "Peekaboo, here I am."

He started to move towards her, but stopped when she held up one hand... which began glowing.

The appalled expression on his face told her everything she wanted to know about his opinion of the situation.

"It's weird," she said irrelevantly.

"No." He shook his head, his entire body slumped in despair. "It wasn't supposed to be like this!"

I want to hold him, tell him it's fine, everything's going to be alright...

But I can't.




He responded to the panic in her voice. "What is it?"

"Please leave now."

He looked at her as if she'd said something in an alien language.

"Go!" she urged. "Get out of here."

He got to his feet, looking torn. "But..."

"Listent to me, Mach. You have to leave. Now. Before I lose control."

The desperation in her words mobilised him at last. He took a few obedient steps, and then turned to look at her again, open mutiny on his face.

She waved her hands weakly, lacking the strength to do anything more rigorous. "Leave me here."

He did the exact opposite.

"Stop!" she cried when he'd come within arm's length. "Don't come any nearer!"

"Jayyeas..." She had never heard him sound so helpless.

"It's the only way, Mach." She tried her best to sound sensible and reassuring. "I can hold it down, but it's taking all I have. And we can't tou..."

"No!" he interrupted savagely, taking another half step forward.


"Mach, don't!" She closed her eyes, fighting to keep the inner rebellion down and attend to the outward crisis at the same time. "The Sacrifice... I almost killed him!" Her whole body began shaking with the renewed trauma of the memory. "I can't... I won't ... I don't want to kill anyone."

He called her name again in anguish.

"Please, Mach..." She opened her eyes with a gigantic effort of will in order to lock gazes with him. "You have to leave me here."

"How... can... I?" His eyes were bright with suppressed tears.

She held the eye contact, as if trying to burn her words into his head.

"The same way you were ready to die for me, Mach... Now live for me."

"I can't..."

"Just this once, Mach, do as I say!"

The exact same command that he had given her. Only this time it ended with their roles reversed; not with Jay meekly giving in, but with Mach crying, Mach stumbling backward away from her, Mach disappearing into the gloom.


It's over. He's gone.



You'll never get him back.



Oh, give up already!



The inner voice was silent at last. She kept up her vigilance for a while longer before finally giving in to a brief moment of grief.

I'd wanted so much to continue our friendship where it'd been interrupted...

And maybe go a little further.


I guess I'll never know how that ends.

She sighed, leaned back against the rock behind her. The consciousness within her stirred, put out tentative feelers only to withdraw in disappointment at the absence of any trace of Mach nearby.


The thought felt tired, defeated, as if the Golden One had given up. She smiled grimly, but in the midst of the satisfying sense of triumph, there was a hint of sympathy.

Yes... I understand.

The desire for union and completion...

I've felt that way before.



I know what it's like wanting something more than anything else

and knowing it'll never be yours.

It's hell.



I wished I'd kissed him properly when I had the chance.


The darkness closed in around her, feeling somehow comforting and accepting where it had been antagonistic and threatening before.

Well, I guess there's nothing more to do now.

Just wait.


More waiting.




She no longer had the strength to move, but even without opening her eyes, she knew he was there. She sensed his continued approach until she could hear his breathing and by that, know that he was right in front of her.

She waited for the presence inside to flare up into insistent demand, but it was quiet. It wasn't completely gone, but it was so weak as to offer no more resistance to her imposed will.

It'll be dead soon... and probably...

So will I.



He took her gloved hand.

She couldn't even open her eyes to look at him. "Why..." It took all her strength just to breathe out the word.

Stupid Mach. Why didn't you leave?

He seemed to understand her unspoken question. "Because I just couldn't."

She struggled to show a response, but only managed to flutter her eyelids and make a weak, incoherent sigh of a sound.

"Hush. Save your strength."

He had taken her into his arms, by the feel of it. She supposed he was fully suited up like she was.

He cradled her gently, rocking her like a baby.


She listened to his ragged breathing...

"Ever since that time... we read that story..."


...felt the drops of moisture on her cheek...

"All I wanted was to live my life with you... happily ever after... just like it said in the story."


...felt the trembling in his arms as he held her tightly, as if afraid she would slip out of his grasp again.

"Dammit, Jay, if I can't have that..."


Her breathing was becoming increasingly shallow, but she hung on to the shreds of her consciousness, to catch every one of his anguished words.

"If I can't live together with you..."


She couldn't feel her body anymore.

"At least I can die together with you."


She tried to smile, but it was only in her mind that she could do so.

"Together," he repeated.


The darkness was perfect, unbroken, relentless in its conquest;

it rose to meet her, comforting and serene.




Writer: And that's it. With the repeat of the first line from the beginning of the story, I bring you THE END at last. I'd love to hear from you on which of the endings you liked better.

Thank you all for your support, especially Alaeryel, TMSantos, crazyinabottle, 4everandalwaysme and all the others who took the time and effort to review HTF so thoroughly. I love you all!

My next project: another sci-fi adventure, "Just A Tool". Do check it out. Here's the summary for you:

Xi has just two friends: Ayn and Piqa. One would always be there for her; the other would die for her. Ayn wants to be more than just Xi's partner, yet he doesn't know how to be anything else but that. So he keeps her safe, and takes care of Piqa, and tries not to think too much. The ties that hold them are complex and strong. But if Xi makes a choice, can this bond survive?

And here are some highlights from the story:

From Chp 4 (Ayn's POV)

I could stop caring about many I don't think I could ever stop caring for Xi.

Xi and Ayn; for as long as I can remember, it has been that way. She has led and I have followed. One of my earliest memories is of being in a pile of wriggling, crying toddlers dumped all together into a shallow pit – the strongest and smartest made their own way out, the weakest died, crushed or suffocated. I remember making my laborious way out of the mass of soft baby limbs, only to find my leg trapped. I remember reaching and stretching in vain for the edge of the pit until a sturdy hand took me by the wrist and yanked me up into freedom. It was Xi; she had found me and ever since then I have never let her go.

From Chp 7 (Xi's POV)

Whatever mess I have ever made of myself, Piqa has taken care of it. Without ever complaining, without a single word or even look of reproach. Throughout everything I have ever put the two of us through, he has remained the one constant in my life. That's why I would do anything for Piqa. Even die. But there is one thing that I just can't do, no matter how I try.

I just can't seem to stop hurting him... whatever I do or don't do.

Neither of us had chosen to be bound to the other, and yet bound we were, by apparently nothing more deliberate than a random matching of names way back at the beginning of it all. And now we are joined by ties too deep and too strong for me to even try to describe.

From Chp 11 (Piqa's POV)

Sitting here like this with Ayn... feels all at once impossibly strange and yet completely right. I want to jump up, apologise and run away. But at the same time... I really don't mind staying like this for a few more hours.

I don't know if such a paradoxical feeling is even possible.

The sheer strangeness of it all drives me into speech. "You don't have to do this, you know..." I venture, and then in case that is mistaken for a complaint, I add, "You have a schedule to keep too."

I can't see Ayn's face, but I feel him shift to enclose me a little more protectively with his limbs.

"You're always taking care of Xi and I," he says softly, his breath tickling my ear. He smooths my hair with both hands and tucks the unruliest bits behind my ears. "Let me take care of you for once."

"I'm a Brush," I say after a long pause. "It's my job."

"You're not just a Brush." He sounds choked up somehow. "You're Xi's Brush."

I feel his breath on my scalp as he murmurs into my hair, "That makes you my Brush too."

This is so far beyond weird it's practically surreal. Brushes care for others. But nobody cares about Brushes. And nobody would want to own a worthless Brush anyway.