Maniar slammed the door shut behind them, collapsing on the singular sofa RT owned. Tian fell to his knees, the shock finally registering. Was RT dead? Oh god… RT was dead. A normal human couldn’t survive getting shot in the head. Tian’s hands shook as he slid down the door. What would they do now?
Maniar stared at him from across the room, tears dripping down his pale cheeks. But he was unable to sob, he couldn’t cry the name he desperately wanted to. Tian shuffled to his feet before pulling the boy close, and patted the long ebony hair. Tian choked back the tears, he couldn’t afford to let the boy see them. He had to be strong for RT’s son.
“RT?” A little girl asked, and he could hear her tiny shuffling. Maniar’s eyes widened as he turned to stare at the little platinum haired girl. Her blue eyes stared up at the two in wonder, finally settling on a familiar face.
“Maniar,” Tian whispered as the boy pulled from his embrace. He stumbled towards the little girl, pulling her close as a new set of sobs racked his body.
“What’s wrong? Are you sad?” Eonak asked, but she didn’t pull away. “Don’t be sad.”
“Eonak… do you remember him?” Tian questioned but the little girl shook her head.
“He’s like me?” Eonak asked. “But his hair is darker than mine?”
“Eonak, he’s your brother.”
The girl froze, wracking her young memory for the boy. Her hands stilled as she stepped back from the boy with widening eyes. “Maniar? I thought RT…”
In Tian’s hands weren’t just random pieces of paper, they were faces of people he didn’t recognize. Horror burst throughout Tian as he stared up at the walls, which were filled with hundreds of drawn images of people’s faces. Hanging up, facing towards the door so it was almost impossible to miss. All in various expressions, mostly fear or pain. The more he studied the images, the more some looked familiar on the bottom of the walls. He then knew, the village Maria had been telling him about? Those faces where the chief and his families’ who were all dead. There was a pile of drawings sitting on the desk still, with familiar faces peeking up. Maria’s was there, too. Tian reached forward and picked up the picture, anger boiling deep in his gut. This had been the last face she’d made before they’d killed her.
“What the hell are these?” Tian asked in horror.
Maniar grabbed his arm before flipping one of the drawings over and nabbing a pen. RT remembered every innocent face he killed. And he drew them so he’d never forget. He was good at drawing.
Tian died inside as he realized just what RT had been doing to himself. “You torture yourself over every death?” He whispered, but no one answered. Tears welled up deep inside Tian’s throat and pain clawed its way up like a poison. Once more the dark and cold personality RT donned like a cape had slipped off. The true man lay bare in front of him once again, and this time, he couldn’t even hug RT.
One day, Tian had asked the other man about his job. Why he killed people and enslaved them, and the answer had been heartbreaking.
“I wasn’t put on this planet to take lives, I was put here to protect them, somehow, I’ve lost my way. The mission took me farther than I’ve ever wanted to go,” he said finally, voice small and choked. “The people, they want their slaves and it doesn’t matter how they get them. The other men, they don’t… they don’t remember their faces. They don’t remember the people they kill. But they do it because they have to make a living and feed their own families. I don’t even have that for an excuse. Isn’t it fair enough that I am the one that remembers?”
That’s when Tian realized that the more the man stayed in that room, the more he broke down. The more his soul would be whittled away at like a piece of rock given to a carver. An inexperienced one at best, who kept breaking large chunks off and never being satisfied with their finished project. He was plagued by the fear of forgetting. Memorize and never forget. He was a warrior, top of his class, but RT truly didn’t belong there
RT was standing in front of him with his soul barred, despite the thousand secrets the man had, Tian knew that this had been his truth.
Maniar shook his head before pulling the girl back into his embrace once more. Tian could practically hear the questions bouncing off the boy’s skull. Tian got up, pushing his way into RT’s bedroom. The window had been opened, and some of the drawings had floated to the floor. Tian sank down, trying to gather them. Someone else kneeled beside him on each side and three sets of hands were desperately piling them.
“RT’s gone,” Tian whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. His hands stilled, filled with a tiny stack of portraits. “I’m sorry, your dad’s gone.”
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back,” Eonak answered simply, sitting up. “He always comes back.”
Tian watched RT get shot once more in his head, watching the man’s body fall. Lifeless, so lifeless. Tian clutched the drawings until his knuckles turned white. “Eonak… he’s not coming back.”
Maniar made a hum of agreement beside him. Tian reached over and slid the portraits from the little girl’s hands and added them to his own pile.
“I used to think like that, too. But it’s ok! He will be back!” Eonak exclaimed before jumping to her feet. “He made a promise! RT doesn’t break promises! We pinky swore!”
If it comes to it, Tian, and you have to choose your destiny over my life. I want you to choose your destiny. You bastard, you didn’t even give me a choice. Tian thought bitterly, tears brimming once more on his tan cheeks. He was interrupted with the sounds of frantic scribbling before an empty piece of paper was handed to him.
“Eonak must know. Maniar can’t bear her saying he come back.” Tian nodded, squeezing the boy’s hand before looking over at the 7 year old. Oh god, how was he going to tell her?
“Eonak, RT has…” RT’s body fell in his memories once more. Limp and dead. “He died Eonak.”
She was too young to understand life and death, it would be a long time before she realized what it meant. As soon as she realized RT would never come back, the better they’d be off. Tian’s heart squeezed painfully and he shook as the girl looked at him. Perhaps she did understand death.
“But he promised he’d come back!” Eonak screamed, clutching her tiny fists. She shook and blood started to seep from her nose. Maniar cried out in alarm, catching the young girl as she collapsed. “He has to.”
“I’ll keep you safe,” Tian whispered, lifting the girl from Maniar’s arms. She was unconscious as soon as they left the room. Maniar snuck ahead of him and blindly opened doors until he found her room. Tian passed through before laying her in her bed.
Maniar helped tuck her in, smoothing out her long hair against the pillow. Everything around him was pink and filled with ponies. Maniar pulled something out of his pocket before pressing it into Tian’s hand. Tian looked at the paper in shock.
It wasn’t paper, but a black and white photograph. Maniar scribbled quietly before handing what he wrote over. “Only picture of RT.”
Tears streamed down Tian’s cheeks as he held the picture close. He didn’t care where it came from, but he was too afraid to let it go. Someone must’ve snuck up on the man and taken a picture of him beneath the cherry blossoms in the courtyard of the castle. Because he sat there, completely oblivious to the world.
Tian pulled Maniar down to hug him once more. “We’ll stay together, alright? Nothing can happen to us if we stay together.”
Tian managed to get Maniar asleep, covered up by a thin blanket. RT’s apartment was cold, but Tian tried not to mind. He sat with his back against the wall, being soothed by the quiet snores of the kids. He pulled the picture out absentmindedly, and the tiny slip of paper RT had given him had gone with it.
The number. He was supposed to call it. Tian rested his head against the door miserably. He finally let the sob go, pulling his knees up to his chest. He had so much fucking strength, and RT still fell. They should’ve run away. Tian shouldn’t have called out to him. If he had enough time, he would have been able to figure out how to escape. He caused RT’s death.
The gunshot bounced around his skull, over and over again. It didn’t stop. He could still hear the shocked wheeze right before RT’s massive form fell. Tian screamed, hands sinking into the one table RT’s had. He flipped it over, sending it careening into the kitchen. Jars and glasses fell. Maniar jolted awake with fearful eyes, glancing towards where the table once had been.
Tian met his tired gaze. “Go back to sleep. It’s ok.”
Tian shook his head as his legs gave out once more. RT wasn’t dead. There was no physical, possible way he could have died. He was imagining things. It felt like someone had carved deep into his chest and cut his heart out, leaving the bleeding organ lying in front of him. There was blood on Tian’s arms, but it was so brightly colored red that he knew whose it was. It had long since cooled and Tian scratched at the bits that had dried into his skin.
“Bastard,” Tian snapped, shaking his head. He felt so numb, so listless at the same time as wanting to scream. Something thick congealed up in the deepest part of his throat, dragging tears out that Tian didn’t dare let fall. RT fell once again, deep inside his head. This time, he didn’t get up. His corpse lay haphazard in a puddle of his own blood. Tian bit his lip, wiping the tears that spilled. Bright light illuminated his face and Tian’s eyes widened in shock. The lines on his arm were bright white, glowing out into the dark. It only got brighter and brighter the more Tian got upset. Tian got up and stumbled his way to the bathroom. His hands rested against a bottle of shampoo that sat precariously on the marble sink’s edge. Tian picked it up and could smell the pine flooding through his nose. He dropped it with a shake of his head. Tian looked up into the mirror and he let out a piteous sob. Staring back at him was RT. His face was broken in and bloody, swelling up on one side. Sitting right in the center of his forehead was a large bullet hole, seeping blackish blood. Tian reached out towards the figure, the lines on his arms glowing even brighter than before.
“Wake up,” Tian snapped as he reached the mirror’s edge. His fingers ghosted through the reflective material. He pressed his palm against RT’s cold, stiff cheek and he couldn’t stop the tears that flooded down his cheeks, dripping onto his shirt. He sniffled, nose full of ugly mucus.
“The Kukouk are closely connected to those that die. Their loved ones especially. They can see them, after death. Forever.” RT had once said but Tian didn’t want to be reminded. Not after everything else. He tried to tell himself to let go, but his hands didn’t obey. He remembered his mother’s cold, stiff body and he choked up at the thought of RT being the same.
“Let go of me!” Tian sobbed as he felt the man’s icy hands wrap around his own. It almost felt like he was being pulled in and Tian braced his other hand against the mirror. He yanked his hand back and suddenly RT started to fade away. He smiled at Tian, softly, closing his eyes as he started to sink deep into the murky depths of the mirror.
His heart skipped a beat before he was thrusting his hand through the mirror once more. The lines on his arms were brighter than ever before, and his eyes glowed. He grabbed a hold of RT’s arm with a cry. “Wyatt… don’t go.”
“I haven’t heard that name in forever,” RT whispered, his voice seemed sluggish and thick. Almost like the man was asleep. He reached his other hand up and tried to pry Tian’s hands from his arm. “Let go.”
Tian shook his head desperately, climbing up onto the counter for better leverage. “No! I can’t, I won’t. You’re not dead, you’re not!”
“I have to go,” RT said ever so gently, he turned to face something behind him. “My father is waiting for me.”
“You can’t go,” Tian sobbed, latching onto RT’s other stiffened, cold arm. “You can’t… its not fair. Maniar and Eonak…”
“You’ll take care of them.”
“ME. Come back to me, please. I’m begging you, I can’t… I can’t. Wake up, please, please!” Tian sobbed so hard he could barely see RT’s beautiful, scarred face. Tian stepped closer, his chest pressing right up against the glass of the mirror. He couldn’t push any further and RT was only slipping further and further away.
“WAKE UP!” RT’s face was starting to fade away into the darkness, leaving Tian half way inside the mirror. “No!”
Power surged through Tian’s whole body, following along his arms and bleeding into the mirror. RT’s body jolted as if he’d been electrocuted. Finally, his eyes seemed to focus on Tian. And then Tian was thrown back against the wall, leaving the mirror far behind. He groaned, rubbing his head as he sat up. He looked at the mirror, but RT was gone. Tian jumped onto the sink counter once more, pressing his hand against the mirror. This time, the mirror was solid and wouldn’t let him pass through. He wailed as he put his fist through the mirror. It shattered all around his fist. Glass lay around him and his purple blood dripped onto the small shards.
The bathroom door flew open and Tian turned his head. Maniar stared down at the wounds on Tian’s hands and the shattered mirror. He walked up to Tian numbly, picking up the pieces from the floor. He set them up near the baseboard with a sigh. He turned to Tian and held the older boy’s hands.
“It’s ok,” Tian whispered, the light fading from his arms. “It was just…”
Maniar nodded as if he understood. He pulled the necklace out from his pocket and held it up for Tian to see. Almost as if to say grief. He felt a sense of duty settle over his shoulders as Maniar opened one of the drawers. He doctored Tian’s wounds up quickly before heading out of the bathroom and towards the room where Eonak slept. Tian followed numbly.