When next Sylus awoke, he was floating in darkness. Light, gentle, freeing… Everything was at peace. Devoid of any cohesive thought. Silence. Calm.
Lights shimmered in front of him as he was joined by another presence. A mirror image of himself stood before him.
“We need to talk…”
“I-I know… I-I’m…”
“Don’t apologize, but I think we need to go over this.”
Sylus shook his head, “I can’t. Just… help me shove it away again.”
Qaitax shook his head. “I know what it’s like to have thoughts you can’t vocalize…”
“Can’t you just look into my mind and make it all go away?”
“The divide between us is thin. If I breached it like that there’s a chance I could break the barrier and we could lose ourselves.”
“So what? Just do it. We’d function better if I was fixed.”
“There would be no ‘we’, Sylus. There would be neither of us.”
“How do you know? Isn’t this all new to you?”
“You are not the first consciousness I’ve shared my body with.”
Sylus shook his head in dismay.
“Anything else you care to tell me?”
“Is there anything you’d like to say to me?”
They stared at each other, grinding their teeth, broiling with animosity.
“What are you hiding from me, Qaitax?”
“What are you hiding from me, Sylus?”
“It doesn’t matter! Nothing matters!”
“Then why are you asking me?!”
“BECAUSE IT MATTERS!”
“THEN ANSWER ME!”
“Why do you care?”
“Why don’t you?”
Sylus shook his head.
“Why don’t you care, Sylus?”
“Because I can’t.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
Long, drawn-out, painful silence.
“I just can’t, Qai. Please, leave me alone.”
“Sylus, if you don’t care about yourself, then there’s nothing either of us can do.”
“We’re worthless if you can’t give a SHIT about yourself!”
“CARE, SYLUS! FUCKING CARE!”
Sylus pulled back. It was as if he was yelling at himself. All the cadence and collection of Qaitax was gone and replaced with an enraged version of himself.
“There are people who care about you. I… I…” Qaitax took a deep breath, “I care about you.”
“Because you actually care or because youed have to?”
Qaitax stared at him. “Does it matter?”
“Do you care about me as a tool or…”
Qaitax pinched the bridge of his nose. “Both.”
Sylus sighed heavily. “Honesty. Thank you.”
“You’re more than a tool, but I can’t function if you can’t. I need you to care.”
“I do care…”
“My son. Jeron…”
“And that’s it?”
“Isn’t that all that matters?”
Qaitax took a deep breath, “I can’t say otherwise because all I ever cared about was Saari. I could live or die, but Saari… She mattered more than I ever could.”
“Then you understand.”
“But it can’t be that way, Sylus.”
Sylus stared at the Voidlord.
“What I… Saw… Felt… I recognized it.”
Sylus was taken aback.
“Distant, disconnected, but… Unwell…” he paused, “Broken.”
Another long pause between them.
“I don’t remember my past, Sylus. I don’t know why I felt the way I did. I can never explain it, but something still haunts me. Something vague and distant.
“I can’t say I truly understand mortal suffering. I’ve caught glimpses of it from sacrifices, but I have never truly experienced it. However, what I saw from you was easily recognizable as traumatic.”
“Don’t do that. I know what having your will and freedom stripped from you feels like.”
Sylus scoffed again.
“You want me to explain things about myself, yes? Then I need you to start explaining things about yourself.”
Sylus stared at him, completely paralyzed.
“It must go both ways.”
Once more, Sylus scoffed.
“Why can’t it?”
“Because I’m not ready!” Sylus bellowed, “I’m not… Ready to go over this shit yet. Not with you. Not with anyone.
“If it paralyzes us like this then…”
“I won’t let it,” he huffed, “I won’t. I-I’ll get it under control.
“You can’t do that alone, Sylus…”
“Well I have for thirteen years, I can keep it up a bit longer.”
“And then what? Another crash? We can’t afford this kind of outage, Sylus. You know that…”
“I know…” his voice began to shake, “I fucking know! It’s all me! I’m the weak link! Always have been and always will be…”
“You’re not weak, but this approach to dealing with detrimental experiences is a weakness. One you must overcome.”
“And so must I…”
“Well then? Lead by example.”
“Look, I get it. I understand we have to talk things out eventually, but I really can’t right now. Right now I have to wake up and make sure everyone knows I’m okay so they can stop worrying about me.”
“Sooner than later, Sylus. We cannot even begin to work on figuring out our capabilities until these subjects are addressed.”
“You first, then. You’ve had thousands of years to think it over. Go ahead. Open up.”
“I-it’s not that…”
“Easy?” Sylus snorted, “Of course it isn’t.”
“Very well… But when the time comes, I expect you to be open with me.”
“And I expect the same from you.”
“Then we are in agreeance.”
“Perhaps I am not the one you need to speak to first.”
“You have a mortal in your life who just wants to understand you. Not you as a Voidlord, but you as a person. Perhaps you should speak to them. When you’re ready.”
“Won’t you just listen in?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
“Would kill two birds with one stone…”
“I only understood that phrase because you passed on your understanding of it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what that meant.”
“So I’m seeping into you?”
“I have very little in the way of personality or personal presence, so it was inevitable that I would pick up on some things and add them to my own understanding of the world.”
“Like that blast you gave me before?”
“I-I truly do not know where that came from… It was very… Out of character.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
Qaitax sighed with a smile, “Maybe later. Once I’ve had thousands of years to mull it over.”
“You know, we are very much alike, Sylus. That may be to both our detriment and our benefit. Only time will tell which.”
“It’ll probably be both, if we’re being honest.”
“Most likely. But it’s time to wake up. Next time, we will have to talk.”
“Yeah. Next time.”
Eyes fluttered open to a dark, empty room. He was alone in his bed. Everyone was gone. Of course they were. Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes.
“What is wrong with me…”
Sylus sat up, startled to find Jeron sitting on the far corner of the room.
“I grabbed a book off the shelf. ‘Moving On: How to Deal with Abandonment and Loss’,” he closed the book, “A bit on the nose, huh?”
Sylus’ eyes burned.
Jeron sighed, “Sy…”
“What are you saying no to?”
“Whatever you’re going to say.”
“Can I at least say it first?”
Sylus sighed as he slid back onto his back.
“We need to talk.”
Sylus threw his hands in the air, “Of course.”
Jeron sighed. “Sylus, in five words or less, what just happened?”
A million answers swirled around his head. He had to pick one and reduce it to its simplest description.
“I…” he sighed, “I’m a fraud.”
“Under five. I’m impressed. But how are you a fraud?”
Sylus folded his hands over his stomach. “Because none of this is real.”
“N-no… It’s all an illusion.”
“Oh come the fuck on, Jeron. Me. My body. It’s all fake. A facade…”
Jeron shrugged, “Well… Isn’t that what every body is? A facade hiding an entire complex series of thoughts and feelings?”
“We are who we are not because of how we look, but because of how we feel. We can affect how we look based on how we feel, but at the end of the day, you could lose an arm or a leg and you’d still be you.”
Sylus scoffed, “I mean, yeah, but I can’t lose limbs. They’d grow back. Right?”
“Can you shapeshift?” Jeron inquired.
We cannot. Not without completely deconstructing.
“Not casually, no.”
“So this is how you look? All the time?”
“So this is who you are.”
“Yeah, but you’re not a writhing ball of tentacles wearing a human mask.”
Sylus burst out laughing.
“You know… Daniel would show me these pictures and shit online. I didn’t get most of them, but one of them that kinda helped put it all into perspective was this picture of a human nervous system laid out on a table. Buncha branching tentacles if ever I saw one.”
“Really, Jeron?” Sylus couldn’t help but grin.
After a long pause, Sylus took a deep breath.
“Th-thank you, Jeron.”
“For being there for me. For trying to relate. For, well, everything.”
Jeron stood up with a small groan and sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed. Pulling his legs up, he laid down next to Sylus.
“We’re both fucked up, Sy.”
Sylus shook his head.
“We’re both fucked up and broken, Sy.”
“You’re perfect, Jeron…”
“No. I’m not. I have a lot of problems.”
“Then how the hell do you put up with mine?” Sylus forced a nervous laugh.
“Because it’s how I’d want to be treated.”
Sylus rolled onto his side and wrapped his arms around Jeron.
“Come here,” he whispered as he pulled Jeron into his embrace.
At first, Jeron resisted. He didn’t know what to do. Was this right? Was the timing right? Was he ready for this? Did it matter? He wanted it, no, he needed it. Rolling onto his side, he let Sylus bring him close. He pressed his face into his lover’s chest. It was devoid of a heartbeat, but still, a breath coursed through it.
“Warm,” he breathed.
He leaned up and looked into tired, violet eyes.
“Warmer than I expected,” he smiled.
“So how’s it feel otherwise,” Sylus tightened his embrace.
“No heartbeat is kinda weird, but…”
Suddenly the very thing that was missing filled Sylus’ chest.
“Grew a heart?”
Sylus shrugged, “Qaitax put something together on the spot.”
“It’s a bit slow, though…”
“Just gotta listen to some Beegees and we should be able to sort that out.”
Jeron couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh my god,” he rolled away.
“What?” Sylus leaned up on his arm, “Did I…”
“No no no no…” Jeron chuckled. “It’s fine, Sylus. It really is.”
“Are you sure?”
“I just…” he rolled back over to face his partner, “I’m just…”
Sylus gazed at him nervously.
“Take your shirt off.”
“Take it off.”
“Do it, Sy.”
After a moment of lingering gazes, Sylus sat up and swiftly did as he was told.
Sylus balked, “Jeron, hey I’m not sure I’m…”
“Not your underwear, don’t worry.”
He sighed with relief.
“What about you?” Sylus muttered as he undid his belt.
“Way ahead of you.”
He turned to find Jeron sitting up in his underwear.
“Helps I live in sweatpants.”
Sylus shook his head.
“I’m not the suit and tie kind of guy, Sy.”
“I know, I know,” Sylus smiled as he laid back down. Jeron was quick to join him.
There they laid, comfortably still, arms folded across their chests, staring at the ceiling.
“This is nice,” Jeron breathed.
“Is it?” Sylus turned his head to look at him.
“Yeah,” Jeron took a deep breath, “It is.”
“I missed you so much, Jer.”
Jeron sighed, “I missed you, too, Sy. A lot more than I’d like to admit.”
Sylus closed his eyes with a smile, twiddling his thumbs on his chest.
Jeron turned to him. “Can we hug again?”
Sylus’ smile widened, “I was hoping you’d ask.”