Tell Me A Story
TITLE: Tell Me A Story
DISTRIBUTION: Anywhere, anytime...just let me know.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of these characters; those lovely people at Warner Brothers do. I'm just borrowing them for a day or two--I'll give them back in mint condition, I promise.
Tell me a story, she had said. He could deny her nothing. He only knew one story he could tell. His own.
There was once a young boy, filled with confusion and anger: angry at his parents, angry at the world, angry with those who sought to teach him. His rage blinded him to the joys of the world around him and the wisdom in those he came into contact with. For years he struggled with the powerful feelings he kept locked away in his heart, swearing that he would not let them rule him. The overwhelming force of the emotions, however, ensured that he could never truly let go, never truly be the man he eventually grew up to be.
His fate had been mapped out for him before his birth: he had no choice in the path his life took. The boy wanted to be a fighter pilot or a grocer, anything but what he was. His position among his associates was one of prestige and authority, yet those around him knew of his passion and turmoil and mistrusted him. He was sent to a far away place, a land very different to his own: a land filled with sunshine and darkness, strange weird creatures and, as he came to discover, very dear friends. His task was to watch over one very special girl, a girl in whose hands rested the fate of the entire world. The burden was great for one so young, and the man who had been the boy swore to himself that he would help her carry it. He never stopped once to wonder why this should be, only assuming that it was his duty.
At the beginning she infuriated him, confused and enraged him. He could never tell where he stood with her, or how she saw him. He felt she was quite the strangest girl he had ever met, yet she intrigued him as no one before her ever had. He had a duty to perform, but he was mortally afraid that she would see him as old and forbidding, intruding on her life and love. He struggled at first, but on the day when she awarded him the gift of her trust and affection, he felt he had won the greatest prize of them all.
There came a time when the man had to put the life of this girl above his duty, and he saw in a blinding flash of clarity that the reason he chose to do so, instead of betraying her as many might have done, was because somehow this young girl had slipped under his defences and worked her way stealthily into his heart. Her place there had slowly eroded the walls he had constructed, and she gently dissipated the anger he had felt for so many years. His actions defending the girl from danger infuriated his colleagues and he was removed from his position. But rather than slink away and lick his wounds, the man again chose the girl. He remained fighting at her side not through duty or obligation, nor even respect or admiration for her courage. The man stayed with the girl he had watched grow into a beautiful, strong woman because of his love for her.
She was a wonderful soul, strong and courageous, funny and intelligent, and the man wondered at the miracle of her. He saw she loved another, but he hoped deep in his heart that someday she would see him for who and what he was: merely a man who loved her almost more than he could bear. They fought many demons and evils together, as friends, and the man despaired in his heart of ever loving her as she deserved to be loved. He hid his feelings from her, afraid of adding more pressure to the weight she already carried. He felt himself wrong for her, yet he could not stem the love he felt.
One day she was grievously injured in battle, and the man cradled her in his arms as her blood pooled underneath both of them. Her eyes were dimmed, yet he could see the strength in them. Her head gently resting against his heart, she asked him to tell her a story, so that his voice might help her fight the darkness she felt encroaching on their solitude. The man was silent for a long time, unsure as to the wisdom of his decision to speak to her of his love. He was afraid she would think he was letting go, saying his goodbyes and giving up on her. He wanted her to know that this was not the case, that as long as there was breath in his body he would never give up on her. He wanted to tell her that she had brought joy and sunshine back into his life, that she had chased away the dark clouds that hung over his life for as long as he could remember.
"You must fight," he told her. "You must fight in this, your greatest battle. There is so much more for you to do, so much more to see and experience."
He could feel the pain racking her small body as though it were his own, and he wished with all his heart he could lend her his own strength. "Please fight," he whispered, fighting back the desperate tears as he strained with all his might to hear the sirens that would herald the arrival of the ambulance. "If not for yourself, then for me. Fight this. What am I without you?"
In response she murmured words he barely caught. Tell me a story. She smiled up at him, her red red lips the only colour in the pale of her face. If she were fated to die on this day, the man could only thank his lucky stars that he would be the one who was with her as she drew her last breath. As she clung onto life, he whispered to her of his life, his love for her, his secret hopes and dreams for their future. Through it all she smiled, and when he finished the name forming on her lips was not that of her erstwhile lover, but of the man who had been standing quietly at her side for many years.
When the ambulance arrived, the man had to stand back as they worked swiftly and efficiently, as efficient in their job as he and the girl were in theirs. Neither of the green-suited paramedics could even begin to understand the evils that had left such a devastating mark of the girl, and he could not explain it to them. Their minds were too small, too concerned with the trivialities of life. Neither would ever have an inkling of just how great a debt they owed the small slender girl fighting for her life before their eyes.
All through the interminable ride to the hospital, the man never removed his eyes from her pale face. It was as though their link was the only thing keeping her alive, and he would not break it if his life depended on it. What was his life against hers? The world would not miss his passing, but hers...? They were separated at the building where so many fought as the girl fought now, every breath monitored and recorded. The cold sterility frightened the man, and he paced up and down in a ceaseless motion, his head lifting at every movement made around him. She did not belong in a place such as this. The unfeelingness, the cold, the death was not part of her life. She was sunshine, she was moonlight, she was the one thing stable in a universe going to hell.
He heard his name being called, and for one sweet moment he could have sworn it was the girl. But no. Turning he espied two young people, no older than the girl, heading towards him. A redhead and a tall brown-haired boy. His friends. The panic and fear on his face was reflected on theirs, and he knew their love for the girl was as strong as his. There was no need for words between them as the young redhead slid her arms around his waist, and offered herself as something for him to cling to. The boy placed a warm supporting hand on the manís shoulder, and the man smiled his thanks.
The three remained in the hospital all that long night and all the day that followed it. The progress reports they received were never sufficient, and the man felt he would go insane if he did not lay eyes on the girl. She was the one thing that grounded him, that kept him focused and sane, and he could not be without her. He did not close his eyes to sleep for a single hour, although he urged his young friends to do what he could not. Watching their quiet slumber he wondered at the miracle of the fates that had brought his life into collision with theirs. He knew that their existence was as necessary to his own as that of the girl he loved. He wondered if they knew this. He wished he could open his heart to them, and tell them all he had told the girl, but he knew he could not. He was not strong enough to bare himself so.
The girlís mother arrived two days after her daughter had been brought in. She had been away and had rushed home as soon as he could. The woman was angry and bitter, and she blamed the man for the damage done to her beloved daughter. The man stood silently under the barrage of insults and aspersions, and, in the depths of his heart, forgave and forgot instantly. Were he in the womanís place, as he indeed was, no doubt he would have done the same thing. He recalled a day when he and the girlís lover had stood face-to-face, in a situation very similar to this one, and he felt again the hot flood of hatred. Yes, he could understand the woman.
It wasnít until three days after the dreadful accident (if it could be called such a harmless thing) that he was allowed to see the girl. She lay on a hospital bed, silent and unmoving. The doctors explained to him that she was in a coma, but the words went only skin-deep. They could not penetrate his heart. He could not come to terms with the fact that his love might never regain consciousness. It was impossible. Others, yes, but her? No, never. She would wake, he knew. She would open her eyes and smile up at him, and he would find out how his story ended.
The girl hovered between life and death for another long week. The man never left her side. He whispered to her, read to her, played her favourite music, and sat holding her hand. She hovered between lives, and he knew he would not lose her. The bond between them could not be broken: if she slipped into another world, he would simply follow. There was no debate in his heart over this--he knew it to be true.
The room in which she lay was filled with flowers of all varieties--so different to the blood where she had lain previously. Their heady scent made him nauseous, but he would not remove them. The nausea reminded him that he was still alive. He felt as though his heart were suspended in time, between one beat and the next, as though the blood had frozen in his veins. Only when she opened her eyes, he felt, would he live again.
Many people came to visit her, more people than he had ever thought she knew. She had managed to surprise him again, and this thought brought a rueful smile to his lips. They felt odd...he was unaccustomed to the movement. He thought at one point he would never smile again. Even those whom he had thought would be happy to see the girl dead came. One man, a tall pale bleached blonde with an accent similar to his own, sidled into the room hesitantly at the dead of night, aware of the steely gaze of the man before. The man was afraid the blonde wished to do the girl harm, but the pale man simply smiled half-heartedly, touched the girlís forehead almost tenderly and left.
She opened her eyes the day after the blonde manís visit. At first the man did not see, so quiet and still she remained. His shoulders were hunched, his head bowed, resting on the bed by her hip. Tears ran silently down his cheeks. When he felt the butterfly-light touch on his head, his first thought was that he was dreaming. It would not be the first time. He lifted his head, the despondency showing on his pale gaunt features, and looked directly into her blue eyes.
His heart leaped from the depths it had been languishing in so fast he thought for a split-second that he was having a heart attack. No better place for it, his mind spat out, punchy from the lack of sleep. His astonishment and shock must have shown on his face, because the girlís face split into a wide smile. Her hand slipped down from his head to his cheek, and he pushed his face into her palm like a cat. He felt he would be purring in a minute.
"Hey you," she whispered, her voice rough from lack of use. She coughed once, and the man reached across the bed to the glass of water that stood on the table. He pushed it into her hand, and helped her unsteady hand as she drank eagerly. Such a simple action, and yet his heart swelled within his chest for the joy of it.
"What happened?" she asked, as he replaced the now empty glass to the table. Her voice was stronger now: she was beginning to sound more and more like the girl he had fallen in love with. He knew that as long as he lived the image of her unmoving, bloody body on the dirt ground would never be erased from his mind, that it would be replayed over and over in the dead of the night, but none of that mattered now. She was alive.
"You took on more than you could handle," he told her, his voice rising slightly in his belated anxiety. "Why didnít you wait for me?"
The girl coughed again, her hand reaching for his. He let her take it silently, watching as she turned it over and allowed her delicate fingers to trace the whorls and lines in his palm. "This is why," she whispered, her fingers stilling for a moment. With her free hand she gestured to herself, the hospital bed, the machines displaying her heartbeat and breathing. "I can survive this. You couldnít."
The man felt as though his heart would burst out of his chest. The pain and joy squeezed at his chest until he was afraid he would suffer cardiac arrest. For him. She had risked her life for him. He was torn between the desire to kiss her or strangle her, and knew secretly that he would only ever do one of those. He was expendable: she was not. He bowed his head, eyes squeezed tightly shut to hold back the hot tears. He could not allow this to happen again.
He rose to his feet, disengaging his hand from hers. The girl looked upset, and he wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms and wipe the memory of the past two weeks from his mind. He explained gently that her mother and friends were outside, would want to know that she was awake. The girl shook her head, reaching forward and catching hold of the cuff of his jacket. Even severely weakened as she was, her strength was still considerably greater than his own. Held in place, he turned back to look at her.
"The story," she said quietly, so quietly he barely heard her. "The story. How does it end?"
They remained locked in position, a silent tableau, whilst thoughts rushed at a frantic pace through the manís head. He had half-hoped she would have forgotten the story he told, or chalked it down to some pain-induced hallucination. He should have known better with this girl. Her eyes looked up to his, as, he realised, she had always done. For years he had assumed she saw him as merely someone to rely, a friend but nothing more, even a nuisance at times. He had grown resigned to being taken for granted, but at this moment he felt he was seeing her for the first time. Strange how one could see a person every day, but never really see them.
There was only one answer he could give her. "That all rather depends on you, I think," he told her solemnly.
The girl patted the side of her bed, freeing him from the hold she held on him. She smiled as he took his place at her side, the smile widening as he reached for her hand this time. She took a deep breath, feeling the oxygen fizzing through her veins. It was a good feeling. Exhaling slowly, she began.
The girl was confused about her stance in life. She knew she was different from others her own age--she could see that for herself--but she could not understand why she was the one who was marked to stand out. It angered her, and she grew resentful and embittered. All she wanted was a normal life, but it seemed even that was too much to ask for.
When the man entered her life, she saw him as a symbol of all that was different and wrong about her and she was hostile towards him. Though he had done nothing to deserve her animosity, she was unfriendly and, at times, downright cruel in her conduct towards him. Yet he never reproached her, never contradicted or pointed out the unfairness of her behaviour. Perhaps if he had it would have been easier for the girl to hate him, as she dearly longed to. It was easier to cope if she had a target. The sensitivity and tolerance he displayed in the face of her worst moments merely made her admire and respect him.
The man told her many times that she was special, that her birthright was ancient and proud one, but she could not--or perhaps would not--accept this. She longed to be one of those she protected; yet in her heart she knew this was not possible. It was the man who slowly helped her to understand this. No matter how wrong or reckless she was, he was always there, patiently guiding and forgiving her. She could not understand why he did this, and candidly called him a fool. But in private she did not feel worthy of his regard.
The many months of close proximity to one another fostered a close attachment between the man and the girl; a bond that, although she would never admit it, was perhaps the most important thing in her life. She gradually began to learn to see past the layers of tweed and British reserve that cloaked him to the living, breathing man underneath. She discovered, with some surprise, that she liked what she found there. She found a man she thought she could love.
On the day the girl discovered the manís deception, she felt sickened and shocked. The man had been the one person she thought she could always rely on never to let her down. Finding out his betrayal had rocked her world more severely than she could ever express. She knew from the look in his eyes that he loathed himself for his actions, and she wanted to tell him not to. She had always known he had a duty that came before her, but somehow she had convinced herself this was not the case. She realised that her feelings for the man had paved the way for her own self-deception. She had wanted to believe he did it all for her. In truth, her anger was directly solely at her own person.
Nevertheless the man came through for her once more, risking her life, his job and his reputation. At that moment the girl saw that she had not been deceived, and when he asked her to forgive him she replied in all honesty that there was nothing to forgive. In that moment she saw that she loved him, and she would forgive him anything.
The girl finished her story with a quiet sigh, avoiding meeting the manís eyes. For a long moment the only sound in the room was the beep of the machines that charted her life. She could feel the warm pulse of the manís heartbeat through his hand, and she was terribly afraid that she had misjudged him, that with her hasty impulse she might have lost him forever.
When he leaned forward and tenderly covered his lips with his own in a soft kiss, she knew she had not been mistaken. The contact was brief and fleeting, but she read in the warm velvet of his mouth a promise for the future. She read his love for her. As her two boisterous friends and her quiet, tearful mother piled into the room, fighting for the privilege to hug her first, the girl looked over their heads to where the man stood at the door, watching her as he had always done.
There was no need for words. She could see all she needed to in the renewed light in his green eyes. There was no need for anything more.
Tell me a story, she had said. He told the story with his lips to hers, and she told it back with her own.