CASEY

He's too silent. It's already time for dinner, but I'm not sure if I should wake him and stuff him with good food to make him feel better or cancel the reservation I made for the two of us at the French restaurant two hours away by bus, and seconds away by, well. Transportation Casey.

I brace myself for even the worst - seeing him sprawled out on his bed dead - and silently step into the room he left the door open to.

Thankfully, he isn't dead. He's sleeping, blanket tightly wrapped around him as usual with the pillow snuffing his head. I sigh, somewhat in relief and somewhat in mild irritation. I carefully pull the pillow off of his face and lift his head, pushing the pillow under him and wriggling out the book crushed under his cheek, the cover creased and folded at odd angles. Ru will be absolutely furious when he wakes up to see his precious book damaged, even if it was technically his fault. I step away and am about to walk out the door and call Hector to see if he's willing to eat something with me. I really don't fancy putting the reservation to waste.

But an open notebook with what I take as Ru's messy handwriting catches my attention, and I quietly pick it up to see what's written.

I've moved past keeping Ru's personal business personal. If I'm dealing with someone who's going to have a panic attack every time it snows - in December, at that - personal or not personal, I have to know what's up.

The notebook is full of handwritten letters to himself. The pages are worn, even those with nothing yet written on them, the ink and pigment smudged and faded in areas, the paper buckled and greying.

To my future self, I read.

It's snowing again.

When do you think I'll start getting used to it?

I hate how I can only feel the panic rising within me, unable to do anything to stop it.

Please let it stop soon.

I don't want to remember anymore.

The letter dates back to three years ago. I hold my breath and turn the pages, careful to keep the sound of fluttering paper to a minimum as not to wake Ru. I find the year I'm looking for fairly quickly, as if the notebook wants me to find it, wants me to know what happened happened to its owner.

The paper here is even more buckled and uneven than the others, in patched areas across the page where the ink blurs the writing. Possible tears, now dried but having left their mark even over the course of time. The letter from then is written in a wilder, angrier script than the more recent one I read earlier.

The script from a wilder, and much younger Ru.

It's hard to picture Ru as a teenager, probably with wilder hair and softer features. I only know the Ru now, and the small kid from the photograph with his mother, very little at that.

I don't know anything about him at all.

The thought's frustrating. It usually takes me less than two meals to know a soul's life story. By the end of the day, I know everything I need to know about them and more, and they trust me to the point of foolishness.

I get the job done. It's clean, it's perfect, it's foolproof.

That's who I am.

But it's impossible with Ru. It's been three days and I still don't even know his favorite food or height. Damn tall, but that's not really a straight measurement. Not that I want to know his measurements. Cerberus, what am I even thinking about.

My eyes fall back to the letter, the hurricane swirling through my head barely getting silenced.

To my future self,

I no longer have anywhere I can go home to.

I can't stay here forever. Mr. Erikson may have told me I can stay as long as I need to, but this isn't home.

Tell me. God, tell me why I had to leave.

Because I don't understand.

I don't understand either. The words make absolutely no sense to me. Where did he have to leave, and why? I'm only getting pummeled with more questions than answers. I slow down, trying to keep chill and focused, and thumb through the letters, carefully reading through everything from the beginning.

The wind howls angrily and causes the front door and windows to bang loudly. The ticking of the clock in Ru's room harmonizes with the pounding, sending a chill through me that makes my body jerk into a shiver.

The words start to blur off the page as I read them. The letters only grow more and more depressing with the passage of time. It's as if he's telling someone, no, begging for someone to listen.

To my future self,

I have to leave this job again.

I need to run away, far away from this place.

Somewhere I can't...

Somewhere he can't find me.

To my future self,

I'm tired.

I want all of this to stop.

This cycle.

This pattern.

Will you be living a different life than I am now?

Is that even possible?

To my future self,

Is it my fault?

Is there really something wrong with me?

Did I really deserve this?

I let out a stunned breath, ragged and shaking, as my eyes trace the curve of his next words.

To my future self,

I want to die.

Plain and final. No scratch-outs. No erase marks. No explanation whatsoever. It's as if he got up one day and simply gave up. As if he had to wake up in the morning and get this out of him.

The letter's from a time four years ago.

Four years.

He's been carrying the desire to die within him for four years. It shouldn't hit me this hard. I've been with other Bombers. I know depression lasts long and suicidal thoughts occur often as one of the main side effects. I know someone can carry this feeling for a long time. I've also seen many flood with emotions too much for them to handle, then end things in the worst possible way, first hand.

But Ru. It's as if he's at conflict with himself. Struggling to live, wanting to die, all on his own, for so many years.

How did he even survive with that feeling for so long?

It must have been so...

Lonely.

I don't want to read anymore. I don't want to experience the pain Ru went through each day, pushing himself harder and harder. My teeth pushes through my lip and I taste blood. I lick the drops away and skip through the rest of the long years to the most recent letter.

The markings for the years disappear, and are instead replaced with numbers scrawled in a more composed and neat handwriting in the corners of the pages.

It doesn't take me long to realize he's counting out the days before his death.

To my future self,

Casey claims he's going to give me a reason to live.

He looked so stupid saying that, all fired up as if he's declaring war on me.

...Wait a second. I should be relieved that the letter is lighter and more full of life than any of the others. But.

He's just bashing me in this!

Everything I've read up until now flies out of my head along with the concern and empathy that was slightly starting to make room in my... Nope.

That all goes in the trash bin.

Delete.

Poof.

I want to believe him.

I want to believe there's still some reason left to stay.

I still have time.

Time I can spend gathering my thoughts and finishing everything I still have to do.

When my time's up, I'll make my choice then.

Hopefully, it's a choice that will get him fired.

No one needs someone as irritating as him to lead them to their afterlives.

"Why you little -!" I spit out, then clap a hand over my mouth and glance at Ru through the corner of my eye. He's tossing and turning, mumbling something too quick and soft for me to register.

I'm careful to leave his notebook open back to the page I first found it opened to. I'll have to read through it properly when I get the next chance. And probably get this snooping under control instead of self rationalizing my reasons every time.

"I don't want to leave."

I freeze at the door, my mind momentarily flashing to several wild scenarios, each containing another spirit taking over Ru and cackling that they don't want to leave their new body. Talk about a living nightmare.

Must be karma out to get me for breaking the law.

For Hell's sake, I don't want to spend another half hour committing crimes, even if it means I'm just doing a good job of keeping Ru alive and also keeping him from really going Rogue.

His eyes are still closed, but he's talking clearly now, his voice laced with desperation.

"I don't want to. Don't make me go. It's cold, it's so cold. Please."

He's shaking. His blanket is still firmly wrapped around him, but he's shaking as if he's in the middle of a blizzard.

Oh.

Oh.

The pieces start to come together, though there are still more gaps than ever.

The blizzard seven years ago.

"I know what it's like to lose the place I've always lived in."

His not so subtle words.

It's starting to make sense.

I grimace and pull out my file, a part of me hoping my suspicions are wrong. My pride kept me from consulting the C-Net for Ru's info until now, but it's high time I put my pride down. Which is, for me, a big deal.

I already cheated big time by looking into his letters. I'm willing to take a mile now.

I wait for the C-Net to give me what I need to know. I swallow hard as words start to appear on the page.

Left home at the age of eighteen.

I let out a frustrated snarl. It won't give me Ru's mother's name, and now it won't give me what happened to him seven years ago? Charlie and I need a serious chat about her illegal network.

Why do you care so much? My brain whispers to me from the deep crevices of my mind. Why do you want to know? You don't have to know anything to do your job, so why bother? It's wrong."

"Why won't you say anything?"

I flinch, as Ru's words, no doubt meaning something else entirely, mirrors my thoughts.

But he's asleep, and I'm very much awake.

I pace near the door, once, twice. Then I sit by his bed and gently shake him awake. It takes him a while to stir, and longer for his violet eyes to finally meet mine.

"Mom...?"

A turmoil of emotions whip through me then, but I give him a small smile. "I don't even know how you'd mistake me for her."

He blinks, then mumbles my name before sinking back into sleep. Whatever he was dreaming about before, clearly faded away. The rise and fall of his chest is even, and he's sleeping again in a peaceful silence.

I lean against the bed and stare up at the ceiling, which is painted into an eternal sunset.

I wonder if Ru painted it himself.

I wonder what he'd think if I pull back a layer of the dimensional slip and make the real sky appear right above his head, every day, so he can look at the bright colors without ever having to go out again.

The sound of his breathing, now soft and steady, fills the room.

I stay by his side, ready to slap him awake should his nightmares return.

Damn.

It's going to be a long night.