Blood – Death – Anger – Hate – Blood
It was an endless chain, an interminable bond that held everything together; a bond he wanted so desperately to break, to saw through and throw all the pieces into the opaque blood that stained and tainted his mind.
He could feel his bones straining under the weight of the million other lives he could have been living, crumbling into dust that fell into the cracks of the floorboards, eventually sweeping him down with it in some sort of sick release. But to his dismay, he was still intact, each piece of his body bound to another, keeping him tied to the life he’d sacrifice anything to throw away.
It wasn’t his body he cared about. His body was nothing but a mere shell, keeping a lid on what he really felt, what he really hated, an ever-changing skin that morphed with his constant enmity. There was no control. The cap he claimed to keep on it all was never really there. It was a lie, a lie that he cowered from each and every moment.
He cowered from himself. Petrified of not only what he could do to others, but what he did to himself. Each time engraved a new scar in his conscious, and each of those wounds eventually made their way to his skin, lining his arms and legs and waist and any other place he could find that wasn’t already marred from the previous years.
He hated it. He couldn’t stop. It was a horrible addiction, and every time he feared the Other Guy would come out and play, force him to stop, rip him to shreds, but rarely did he make a peep. Scarred, battered, loathing, the monster left him alone at the one time he almost wished for an outbreak, as if the beast were laughing mercilessly at his pathetic attempts to escape.
And there he was again, sitting on the edge of the tattered quilt on his bed, turning all of this into blood that dripped down his pale skin. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could almost hear it. He could hear the dull cackling of the beast, taunting, urging him on. One more, the monster drawled, one more slide of the razor, and maybe you’ll be out.
But he wasn’t. He come close before, but not close enough – there was always that one little thread, that one stupid little nuisance thread, that kept him there.
On that thread were each of the lives he’d taken between his hands, crushed until they were a bloody mess of vengeance scattered across the ground. That blood was on his feet, under his fingernails, running through his veins and down his skin. It was the blood that went to his brain, keeping him alive and thinking of all of this, regretting what he knew he couldn’t even try to control.
Eventually he found himself on the cool wood of the floor, and suddenly the blade he’d been holding was no longer between his fingers. Only the heavy air of the room was in his hands, splayed upwards towards the ceiling. He couldn’t think. No, he could think – he could always think, even when it was his own worst enemy. It was this moment he always dreaded the most, like he was falling, spiraling down into nothing, never seeming to hit the ground and black out. Everything spun but never stopped, everything blurred but never disappeared.
Maybe it was the blood; maybe it was the anger that wasn’t enough to bring out the inner beast, the one lurking and taunting and laughing at the pathetic man on the floor, struggling to swallow air as if he actually wanted to live.
Maybe it was the fact that he did want to live.
In the whole scheme of things, his quest to find the one thing that could end him was nothing but a requirement, an assignment he’d made unto himself, and one on which he'd horribly procrastinated.
But maybe this time, Bruce, he thought to himself, somehow able to form words in his brain through the thick sheen of black and red that clouded his head, maybe this is the time it’ll work.
Defeated, he let his eyelids slide shut, hoping that somehow the simple gesture would make the whole thing faster. Whereas he’d been falling before, he was now floating, sinking, and painfully close to the bottom, but his fingertips couldn’t quite brush it.
He wasn’t sure if it was all part of the dreamlike state he’d taken on, but suddenly the floor vibrated beneath him with the steps of another person. They came closer and eventually stopped beside him, but he didn’t open his eyes. There was no use. He was done trying. It was so close he could almost taste it – it wasn’t like anything he’d tried before, he’d never gotten this result. This sort of… peace. That’s how he wanted to go. Peacefully. Not violently or in vain, but in peace and quiet, with nothing but the sound of his own breathing, and maybe the voice of the one he loved softly coaxing him into the sleep from which he'd never wake.
But the voice wasn’t calm or quiet or soft, it wasn’t rocking him gently to where he wanted to be. It was urgent and strained, and Bruce thought it was probably overwhelmingly loud too, but he didn’t care. All he heard was a kind of echo of jumbled words, his name occasionally thrown into the mix. A hand was on his shoulder, and he could faintly feel it shaking his body, but his only reply was a low groan. Hoping, praying to the deity he didn’t believe in, that Tony (it had to be Tony) would understand what it meant.
Time seemed irrelevant now, and Bruce didn’t know how long the other man had been present, but eventually he found that his back was no longer touching the cold floor. The warmth of Tony’s lap seeped through his shirt and onto his skin, and he thought, yes, this is nice.
Then there was the sting of the hand on his blood-soaked arm, fingers tracing the thin cuts he’d made, and he jumped, but somehow the pain and the stinging seemed so delightfully horrible.
“Come on.” The words were starting to make sense now. “Please. Please, Bruce. Don’t. Don’t let go.” Sense was the last thing he wanted. Death did not involve sense.
Shaking again. The warm hand on his arm squeezed and he thought he might have cried out in pain, but he wasn’t sure. If he did, it was a sign that he was still alive, and though he knew that’s what Tony was looking for, it wasn’t exactly in his agenda.
“It’s not worth it, Bruce, you know it’s not.”
Nothing is worth it, Tony, that’s why I’m here. In your arms. Dying.
“There’s so much more to this. So much more you need to see. So much more to live for.”
I’ve done my share of living. It was nothing. Nothing compared to what I could have been.
“You don’t want this, Bruce. No.”
You and I have always known exactly what I wanted.
“I love you.”
Somewhere, Bruce knew that. He knew that Tony loved him, and right at that moment, he wanted more than anything to believe it. He did believe it, he always had. He loved Tony, too, but love was tainted. Love was for children.
Eventually the words stopped coming, and Bruce wasn’t sure if his heart had given out or if Tony had given up. Having never been in this situation before, he’d dove into it having no idea what to expect, except for the Other Guy making an appearance, and through everything else piled on top of him, Bruce thought that odd. He’d made it this far without a visit from the beast, and found himself relieved, hoping that maybe he’d finally succeed.
Until he felt a cool drop of water on his cheek.
He didn’t know whether the tear was his or Tony’s. It may have well been a mixture of both for all Bruce knew or cared, but in the back of his mind, he hoped that it was his.
Then the hand was no longer on his arm, and he felt Tony’s fingers on his cheek where the tear had been a moment before. He felt another cool drop roll down his other cheek, and heard another hit Tony’s hand, and it was at that point he realized that both of them were weeping, for reasons Bruce knew not of.
This was not how death was supposed to be; death was not sad. The notion of suddenly ceasing to exist was not what people feared – they feared that nobody would notice their absence, that their life meant nothing to those surrounding them. But now, lying in Tony’s lap, his face covered in tears and his arms soaked in blood, he realized.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, finding Tony’s face only inches above his. Tony’s swollen eyes met his and held it in his warm, brown gaze, and for the briefest of moments, a grateful smile sat on his lips.
And that, the faint, broken smile, was what gave him faith.