Not Your Sunset
After breakfast, they played a traditional Japanese game. Cye and Kento were still learning, but that made it all the more fun. It was early afternoon, and they could see the wind had stopped. The sunshine was strong, and opening the door, they found it had turned into a remarkably beautiful day. Ryo, Cye, and Kento decided to go into town for some keepsake shopping and whatever good fun came their way.
“I think I'll stay,” Sage said in response to their invitation. “It sounds fun, but I think I'll take a walk instead.”
“I'll stay, too,” Rowen said, then explained. “I borrowed some books from the Date's library. They're fascinating, but I haven't had much time to read.”
“Well try to have fun without us,” Ryo grinned.
“You kidding?” Rowen said in kind. “It'll be a break! Some peace and quiet sounds good, right, Sage?”
“Yeah,” Sage said. “But I appreciate the good times. Goodbye guys, stay out of trouble.”
“Uh-oh!” Kento said. “He's turning into his mom!”
“We better go before he tells us not to track sand in,” Cye said happily.
With a general chorus of goodbyes, they were on their way. True to his word, Rowen retrieved an old tome and set up before the false fire. It was time. Calmly, Sage grabbed a sweater and opened the door.
“Don't overdo it,” Rowen advised, his eyes glued to the second edition pages.
“I'll be fine soon,” Sage promised, and closed the door behind him.
Outside, he took a deep breath, wondering if the door had always sounded like that. The salty air had no effect on him.
There was a beautiful spot he had loved to visit on summer trips with his mother. It was over three kilometers, but he was sure he could get there. He was still very sore, and his strength and endurance seemed a fraction of what they had been. He could take it slow. He wouldn't be missed for a couple of hours at least. It was in the opposite direction they had gone earlier to relinquish the armors. He was good with that.
The weather stayed kind as he picked his way along the sand and rocks. Seagulls cried as they flew above him, or squawked to each other as they hopped about on the rocks. The tide was low for now, and Sage noticed a perfect shell lying in the sand, and struck by its simplistic beauty, he picked it up. Reflecting he wouldn't need it, he placed it on a high rock for another to find. There was no one else in sight. Sage was blessedly alone.
He'd been counting on that, and he knew this stretch of beach looked comparatively unappealing from the parking areas, discouraging heavy pedestrian traffic. From here, he couldn't yet see the place he was heading towards, but it wasn't too much farther. It was a statistic improbability, but it had always felt like this particular cliff peak was a place known only to his mother and himself.
Sage wasn't entirely sure it was right, doing this at that revered place. He did not want to taint it for his Mother, or ruin the magic nature that seemed to set it apart from the rest of the world, yet he couldn't think of anywhere more fitting. Besides, it would be like taking his wonderful memories of her and their time together with him. Wouldn't she like that? If she understood?
In truth, he hoped none of them would know what he would soon have done. He hoped they would think he'd accidentally slipped in his weakened condition. It was easier to see things this way. He knew they would be hurt, but that couldn't be helped.
The shore seemed to disappear, melting in the shadow of the tall cliffs above. There, at the base, just above the water level when it wasn't high tide, was a narrow path that curved with the rock face. Sage took it carefully. This wasn't where he wanted to let the ocean take him.
It didn't look like it from the side he'd come, but the cliff hollowed out into a lovely little cove. Calm, sandy beach was relieved by a tall, long tongue of rock that went far enough out from the shore. It started low, then raised high at the end, like an outstretched hand reaching to the sky.
He walked slowly along the undisturbed sand, almost enjoying returning to this beloved haven. The sunshine still warmed the air well. He knew from other trips the sunset would be in full view from here. Judging from the angle of the light slanting in, that would be soon. He smiled, remembering times when he and his mother had taken a boat in here, sneaking away from the stresses of the world. It faded quickly. The guys would have liked to see this, too.
Waves lapped the sand gently, their subtle sound echoing still in the shadowed recesses of the cove. It looked the sort of place mermaids would visit on nights watched closely by the eye of the full moon. He could imagine their laughter ringing pleasantly in this hidden retreat.
But if his experiences had taught Sage anything, he believed it was that magic did not exist. Fanciful flights of imagination were nothing more than cleverly lit illusions, destined always to crash upon the solid, harsh edges of reality.
Reality itself was a fleeting construct of energy. A misplaced notion whose bubble would always break on Death's ever present, unavoidable touch. The thought of being free of all illusions was comforting.
For so long, he had fought in the light, pouring all his efforts into preserving its touch, when darkness was the only true taste, after all. Eventually, they would all see this truth. Inescapable. Surely there couldn't really be anything wrong with embracing it sooner?
Wasn't the truth beautiful?
Sage found his contemplative steps had carried him halfway up the slope. More consciously, he reached the lip of the pier. The afternoon sky had not begun quite to change colors. He had time yet. He sat on the precipice, cross-legged, and stared out over the ocean.
He had wondered what this moment would feel like, if he would hesitate, or rethink. As he stared out over the expansive ocean, he felt completely calm. This was the most peaceful he had felt in such a long time.
Soon, he would step off, he would sink into the cold water. It would fill his nostrils and mouth. His survival instinct would kick in, trying against his will to keep him alive. Out here, he was too far from shore to make the swim back, especially in his condition. Likely the current would bear him away. There would be panic as liquid instead of air filled his lungs. The salt water would sting his eyes as he was dragged forever from what could sustain him. He would be lost to the ocean's embrace.
He knew it would be anything but pleasant, but it was sure. The falsely gentle sound of water lapping against the craggy rock was a lullaby, and the only sound in this isolated haven.
The slightest change in color. This was his last wish, to see those vivid colors once more, and that they would be his witness. He was ready. The colors deepened, burnishing the sky with smoky orange and gilded red. On the edges, blue and teal began the subtle transformation to sleepy gray and dusted midnight.
Took the step.
His toes peeked over the edge. His shoulders were firm, his face set. Goodbye.
“No! You idiot!”
Sage was startled as much by the voice as the hand that grabbed his sweater and yanked him backwards, hard. He landed painfully on his still tender back and shoulder. Rowen had fallen to his knees next to him. The sunset had reached its zenith.
“What do you think you're doing?” Rowen gasped, his voice trembling with anger, his body with fear.
Sage groaned miserably. “You wouldn't understand.” He tried to rise.
Rowen pushed him back down roughly with his good hand. “No, not yet. You have to explain this to me.”
“What are you doing here, Rowen? Why couldn't you just leave me alone?”
“That's been the problem this whole time, hasn't it?” Rowen said, regaining control of his breathing. His heart still thumped wildly. “We, I left you alone, and now none of us can seem to get close to you again. Sage, you're not talking to anybody, you've withdrawn. You've been keeping everything inside. It's all been left there to fester. Just talk to us, we want to listen.”
“How could I ever tell you?” Sage's voice was strained, his eyes watering. “Rowen, the things I've done, he did, the things I saw. I just can't face it, I can't live with the horror and the nightmares anymore.”
“Do you think its easy for the rest of us?” Rowen asked in astonishment.
“You didn't do anything reprehensible.”
The colors were beginning their decline. Evening's Dance of the Changing Veil was slowing elegantly to its delicate close.
“Is that really what you think? Every day, Sage, every day, I have to face you with the knowledge that I tried to kill you. Every day I have to face you knowing that I was aiming here!” He stabbed the finger of his left hand to Sage's beating heart. His voice was hoarse. “Here! Kento and Ryo feel almost the same.”
“You were only defending yourselves from me. Can't you see that?” If only he could make him understand that it was he who was the abomination.
“Whatever happened, that wasn't you,” Rowen took his hand away. “Anubis explained what he knew to us. I can't imagine how much of that armor you had to incorporate to survive. That was the armor Sage, not you. As for this,” he held his wounded arm up, yanking the sleeve back to fully expose it. “I am more glad than you know that you did this, to me, and to Ryo and Kento. Sage, we felt you die, or at least we believed we did. So when we saw you, and everything happened, I thought you must have been Dais. We would have murdered you, if you hadn't stopped us.” His voice was fervent as he tried to make Sage understand. “We're still alive, Sage, and you are, too. Because of it. I am grateful for this beyond words, and don't you even think you'd hear a different story from the others.”
“I'm already dead, Rowen, this is just a formality.”
“No you're not.” Rowen said surely. “Guilt, and depression are natural things to feel, Sage. Going to this extreme is not. I've heard you in the night, I know it's all terrible, and overwhelming, but that's what we're here for. You aren't dead, and I will prove it to you.”
Sage gave up hope that Rowen would understand, would see his pain and allow him to take the cure. He still saw only that day, where Sage saw every day and night before it. He briefly considered what Rowen had said, and it was clear he meant it all. But that did not exonerate Sage, that did not purge the nightmares and expunge the demon. Only one thing would. The sun seemed almost to have slowed, waiting for him.
“Why don't you talk to us? It will help you, and we won't think you're terrible, no matter what. We're with you, Sage. We're on your side.”
Sage shook his head. Rowen didn't know what he was saying. There was no way he could confess to them, when their blood was on his hands.
Rowen sighed. “All right then. If you can't talk to me, you should at least talk to your mother.” He smiled. “Okay?”
Only one thing would. “Okay,” Sage smiled back weakly.
Rowen stood back and gave him a hand up. “Let's get you back before it gets too chilly out.” His movement began back towards the beach, not drawing ahead by more than his body's width, but still a suggestion to the other.
In that moment, Sage pivoted quickly and ran for the edge. One step on the solid rock, the next on nothing, and he was falling.
His descent was only momentary. Rowen's good hand latched onto Sage's arm in a steely grip.
“Why, Sage?” he asked desperately, sprawled atop the overhang. “Didn't you listen to anything I said? Do we matter that little to you?”
“You matter,” Sage said, struggling, distressed by the question. “You all mean more than anything else.”
His wriggling was making Rowen's hand slip. “If you don't stop fighting me, I'm going to tell your mother what you're trying to do.”
No, it would hurt her too much if she knew. Sage became still. “Just let me go, Rowen, please.”
Though he had lost weight, he was still a strain to hold on to. Rowen was afraid he would drop him, scared to death he would lose him. “I did that once,” he said, the night he had seen Sage leave one of the greatest regrets of his life. Even at that, it seemed so long ago. “I let you go, without any questions, and I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd stopped you from going on that insane trip. I won't let go this time.”
His hand slipped to Sage's wrist. How much longer could he hold him? He had to stop this. “If you fall, Sage,” he voice hardened in resolve. “Then I'm going, too. If you're that set on this, then I'm going with you.”
Sage's eyes widened. “No! You can't! Rowen, you have so much to live for!”
Rowen grew angry. “And you don't? Do you have any idea how selfish you're being? You're so caught up in your own pain you aren't even thinking about what your death would do to us, to your mother. She misses you, Sage, she told me she would give anything to hear you play your violin for her again. To laugh, or even truly smile, for the haunted look in your eyes to disappear. You've got so much to offer the world, so much to experience. So you can't throw it all away, you owe it to yourself.” Sweat trickled down his forehead. “You are stronger than this, you can get through this!”
“I can't,” Sage said, truths being dragged from him. “I'm not the same Sage that did those things, I'm not the Sage that could. I, he failed, he killed you. Can't you see that he's a monster? The memories,” he shuddered. “I'm not worth anything anymore. I don't know who I am, besides something left over from what he was, I can't bear it! I don't want to live anymore.”
Rowen gritted his teeth as he tightened his hand against the slow slide of Sage's. “That's not true. If you had really wanted to die, you would have already done it. You fought so hard to survive. When I ran to get help, I was sure, with every step I believed you had to be gone. I didn't think anyone could have survived your injuries, but you made it. I don't know how you think you failed, but if you don't take my hand I'm going to make you tell me in the afterlife.”
No response. Sage was still slipping. Rowen couldn't pull him up, he was sure to lose his hold if he tried. Please, Sage, he begged, don't let me drop you.
Sage could feel his hand sliding through Rowen's determined grip as well. Selfish? He supposed it was. But was it fair to ask him to suffer like this, so they could be satisfied? He knew if he didn't do it now, he never would, yet he had trouble doubting Rowen's promise. The American really would plunge in after him, meeting the same fate. Sage sighed internally.
The sun was almost gone, sunken halfway into the limitless depths of the ocean. The sky around it was dark, and it was reflected mirror like upon the water's surface. It was lovely. Why had Rowen had to show up and complicate everything? He couldn't be responsible for his brother's death. That thought was unacceptable. Sage supposed it would mean a life devoid of color, he might never be trusted again, and the shame of this whole attempt would be a constant reminder of his weakness.
He closed his eyes, bidding farewell to the peace he'd promised himself, and grasped Rowen's hand.
With a sob, Rowen stood up carefully, pulling Sage up to where he could grab the edge. Switching Sage's hand to his bad one, he used his good one to grab his shirt and haul him up to safety. Shaky from the adrenaline, Rowen would have liked to simply rest there for a moment, but he didn't trust Sage just yet. He had to get him away from here.
“Come on,” he said and pulled Sage to his feet. He was still angry, and hurt, but he was too glad they were both alive to be rough.
Keeping a hold on the silent Sage, he led them quickly down the cliff.
It was getting dark, but it would be too cold to stay out here for the night. Besides, Rowen did not want to stay in this cove any longer. He struck out across the beach, followed obediently by Sage. Quickly, they came to the narrow path he had followed Sage on earlier. The tide was rising, but it still seemed crossable. “I'm serious,” he warned his charge sternly, eyeing the water. “I won't let go.”
“I know,” the other said quietly, defeated.
Carefully, they followed it around the bend back to the main beach. There was a terrifying moment when Rowen lost his footing, slipping into the water. Without a word, Sage had grabbed him by the shoulders and helped him back to the relative safety of the rocks.