The day would have been clear and sunny if it had been a hundred years earlier. Or maybe even twenty. He can dimly remember them, those once bright times. When sun could still cut through pollution and touch your skin. Warm it. Darken it. Man-made contraptions could never quite compare to that feeling, that brightness. He'd often tell her of it, his sweet Bucket. She'd love the stories, even when they were only half remembered images and sensations of nothing more than a sunrise. Lying together as a sun they could not see now rose and helped to destroy what was left of their hapless world. Skin to skin, back to front, nothing between them and his voice a whisper and her soft laughter their coverings. She'd accepted all that he was, the bad and the good together and cleansed him of his wrongs and his hates. They'd stood no chance in the light of her. Falling away like polluted shadows before the angelic glow of a sun.
The day would have been the same as yesterday if it wasn't for the buzzer sounding on the door at what counted for dawn. The same if it weren't for his father standing on the other side, un-showered, unkempt, and utterly defeated. And he knows, he knows, why his father is so, but he has gone numb. All the way through, all the way to his soul, he is nothing. Nothing. Because he knows.
"Lucas." An exhalation of pain, like there's a bullet lodged in his lung.
"Father." Its not warm or cold, welcoming or dissuading. It just is.
"Can I come in, son?" Low, gravelly, like he hasn't slept in days. There's only reason he wouldn't, but no. Its not so.
"Yeah." The same as the first word and he belatedly realizes that he's only in a pair of sleep pants and the room is cold.
The door hisses closed with a hydraulic push and suctioning out of polluted air. Loud in the quiet and small area of the one room living space. Tiny by standards a hundred years ago and spacious in this wrecked time.
He sits on the edge of his bed, their bed. Remembers through the fog that has invaded his senses that it would be polite to offer his father a drink, something to eat. Its what she would have done if she were there. But she's not and that's why his father is. The numb and the fog wont let in anything else; cant. Can't, can't, can't. Can't be.
The way his father says his name stirs something ugly in his chest. A memory of the last time his voice sounded that way. His son's name a curse and a prayer, a hopeless helpless word against fate and all her cruel machinations. It makes the younger man look away, rub a hand over his face and think about how he hasn't shaved for days, lost in his work like he always was when she was away.
His name again, said the same but with an extra note of pleading.
He turns to look this time and wishes he hadn't. But its to late and he knows he's started down a road he doesn't want to take. But there's no stop signs or off ramps. Just a long cold highway. "Yeah."
Taylor looks away from his son's shock numbed eyes. Can't stand what he's about to do, to say. Thinks belatedly how it always falls to him to destroy the one thing he'd die to protect and never can. "You know why I'm here." Its not a question, but a statement. If Lucas says it first its not him destroying his child.
"Yeah." The reply comes out automatic. No thought because he can't, but he knows its not the right answer. "No."
"Lucas." He has to look again, look at his son's face with his wife's eyes and destroy all three of them. "Its about Skye."
Her names jerks something painful in his chest, rips a gaping hole in his peaceful fog of numb. Cuts, cuts, cuts into his soul that is denying everything. Rips him to his feet, spinning from the father he's never understood, but who's love he's always yearned for. "She called yesterday," he rambles, busying his hands with straightening things already made neat long ago. The movement and words push reality away, make it seem like she's out to pick up groceries. Not thousands of miles away in hostile territory, far from where he can wrap her in his arms and assure himself that all is right with the world. "She says she hates the desert. The sand and the heat." He traces her face on a photograph, beaming up at him like the long lost sun. "She thinks she'll be home by Christmas."
Taylor chokes on the words he has to say, tears burning behind his eyes. Wishes, wishes, wishes, that he'd never met Skye, never knew her father. Never encouraged the girl to enter the military, to be all that she could be. Wished that all she was was a normal girl who didn't go into the most dangerous places on the planet for a living. That her only wish and desire in life had been to live with and love his son. "Lucas, she's not coming home." The words burn like acid, corroding his throat, grinding up his voice so the words come out like gravel.
Lucas looks over his shoulder at his father, uncomprehending. "Of course she is. She doesn't make promises she can't keep." Its a final refusal of life and its cruel designs. A rebuff, a belief that if he says reality is one thing enough times it will be true.
Taylor rises from a plastic chest of belongings; doesn't recall sitting. Reaches out and touches his son's shoulder. Feels a man's bone and muscle under his fingers, but its a boy looking back out at him, begging him not to tell him the truth of the cold reality of life. And Taylor feels something curl and die within him at the knowledge that he doesn't have a choice but to continue on. "Lucas, she's not coming home because she cant."
"No!" He screams it as he knocks his father's hand aside, whirling on him as the fog dissipates in the heat of his anger. The numb wall falling to the assault of his fierce denial.
Taylor sees it, knows it for all that it is. This is a road they have traveled before. One he'd thought they'd never have to take again. "Lucas, she's gone."
"No!" Another fierce refusal and he points a warning hand at the man he has always stood on unsteady ground with. "No. You're just saying that because you can't stand that I'm happy. That I've forgiven myself for mom's death and you never could!"
The mention of Ayani almost undoes him. And he wonders at after six years her death still rocks the foundations of his sanity. But he has to be strong, make his son see the truth. "Lucas..." He falters off, unable, unknowing how to continue.
"No." Its not a yell this time, but instead a broken whisper. "Dad, please. Please."
Taylor feels whatever was left of his heart, whatever had survived Ayani to love the son he'd chosen to live instead of her, die at his son's plaintive tear filled whisper. The vibrant green eyes gone blurry with tears and grief, fighting to stay away from the truth that will shatter him. Taylor curls his hand around the back of Lucas' head. Brings him to his chest and feels how the younger man grabs on. Holds and clings like he hasn't done since the day he was freed and his mother's mutilated corpse was burned in a mass pyre. "I'm sorry, son," he whispers brokenly. "I'm so sorry."
"No, she can't be gone," he cries into his father's neck. "She can't be."
There's nothing to say. Nothing to make it better. Nothing to stop the open ragged wound from bleeding his son dry of all hope and happiness in a now dead future. All he can do is hold tight and pray that Lucas is strong enough to make it through this so he isn't left alone in a world he wont see the point in anymore.
Tears falling from his eyes he doesn't realize are there as he tries to wrap his mind around the fact that she's gone. It can't be. "Oh God," he sobs, wrenching from his father's embrace; falling to the bed. The faded scent of her rising from the coverings, like a ghost to comfort and torment him. "Bucket," he sobs. He cant do this. He cant face a world without her light. She is, was, all that had kept him sane in a world that had been black and cold. She'd been the sun, the elusive long vanished natural light that had chased away the shadows. Unfrozen the ice of his heart. And now she was gone. How was he supposed to go on? "Bucket," he whispered again.
His father's voice. A shadow of remembrance for the man through his grief; a similar time. A memory, sharp and cold and vivid in its sick clarity rising from the dust. Six years earlier and he's nothing but a boy. Sheltered, innocent, protected. Duped to life's truths because he apparently wasn't strong enough to deal with it. It made her death so much worse. In his world it was not supposed to exist, be a possibility. Then cold and stinging reality crushing a child's wish to follow his mother and father wherever they might roam. He was their child. They were a family. They belonged. But life had denied and he'd laid next to his mother, beaten, bloody, barely alive and heard his father say his name and not hers. Heard her scream and beg for death for days and been helpless. A pathetic useless boy who could only think and not defend. And with the silence had come his father and that same pleading broken tone saying his name when he asked for his mother.
The memory curls dark and oily next to his new grief. The loss of the only other woman he had loved. The only other person he'd let close to the tattered ghost that was his heart. And like his mother she had followed his father into her death. Grief and rage boil within like dark exhaust. Just as sullying, as destructive. Swallowing the good memories, the ones she'd been, the ones she'd dug into his black soul to find and bring to the light. She was the light and now she was gone.
He sees his father, small and old. Once so big, so strong. All presence and purpose and all that's left now is a wrinkled husk, to frail to take any more hits from life. Always the harbinger of his son's pain. "You killed her." The whisper of accusation is low and dark, filled with grief fueled conviction.
Taylor was stricken, made smaller by the cold assertion that he feels, feels, feels, deep within. He was a soldier, a murderer by trade in these wrecked times. But he held no gun to her head, pulled no trigger, slipped no blade between her ribs and heard her last gurgling breaths. "Lucas, no..."
But his son is no longer the inspired smiling man of an hour before. He is the tattered remains of a boy whose only way to survive a tragedy he could not comprehend was to lose himself to a consuming rage. A fierce belief that it hadn't been his fault. But instead his father's. "You killed her." Filled with belief in his distorted truth.
Taylor rises to meet his son's wrath. Cannot understand why he does, why he keeps fighting when the last thing he has to fight for is trying to destroy him. "No, son. She was in the Saudi Republic. Her whole unit..."
"You killed her!" Something flies with his scream of pain, of despair and all hope lost. It crashes into the wall, shatters in a million pieces that will never be put back together again. Like him. "You didn't hold the gun, but she's dead because of you."
"Lucas..." Its his prayer, his plea, this word. A name argued and laughed over over nine months of giddy joy and terrified hell. Of promise for a fulfilled life, the final piece in a long striven for puzzle. The culmination of a love that still endured, even though the veil of life and death separated it.
"Don't. Don't you dare." Deep inside he can hear her voice, small and quiet, reasoning through his anger, his hatred. Making him see the other side of the argument he'd had for six years. A silent cold war that father and son had raged in until she'd come between. The peacekeeper in all their meetings, a bridge between two divided countries. But that's all just a lie turned to dust the moment she was ripped from the world. "She loved you. Would follow you anywhere. And she did. To her death. Just like mom." He knows its the worst weapon in his arsenal. One he'd used before. Before she'd come and made him feel guilt for making his father hurt just as much as he did. He'd forgiven her for that. Welcomed her reminders of a humanity he'd almost forgotten. They were a weakness, but a world that she had lived in and his had seemed cold and lonely once he'd touched hers.
There's satisfaction and a phantom touch of guilt at his father's flinch of pain. The way he seems to shrink. To become frail, less than.
Taylor has no defense against the tirade of pain. No will to deny, to lash out with a truth he knows is real, but can't seem to find. There's nothing left to fight for in the face of his son's newly remembered hate.
"Get out," Lucas spits. Acid and corrosion. Destroying the tentative truce that had been forged in the mutual love of one woman. She was gone. It had no place in this hollow world. "Get out!" He doesn't want the taint of the man in what's left of what he has. There's already to much of him and so little of her.
He doesn't see, doesn't watch as the remains of a once proud and fierce man shuffle out the door. Bent low with grief, weighed down in despair. He merely crumbles to the bed when the door hisses closed and wishes, wishes, wishes he'd been wherever she'd been and lay dead by her side.