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A White Room

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He remembers his body hitting the damp grass beneath the bell tower. He remembers the feeling of his bones snapping. He remembers the sound of Vanyel's screams.

He remembers thinking that he was dead.

The room is stark white. From walls to floor to ceiling, white. It's like the room where Savil used to train him, but it isn't.

It isn't even real.

Savil is standing, dressed in white, with her hands clasped in front of her and her head bowed. She's focused on something, and so Tylendel waits until she finally lifts her head to look at him.

:You are unconscious, Tylendel.:

He feels a distant burning, like the memory of a headache, too distant to be truly painful. "I'm more than unconscious."

Savil's brow creases. :You're in a sort of coma.:

Tylendel tilts his head and grins. Savil winces. Funny, she used to think that look was charming. "I guess all the secrets are out now."

:This isn't a joke. Don't try to make it a joke.:

"I know it's not." He pauses. "Is Vanyel okay?"

:The lad's alive. I took him somewhere safe.:

His chest feels tight, but it's distant like the burning in his head. Numbed. What did they do to him?

Quietly, he says, "I can't feel anything, Savil. I know I'm sad, but I can't feel it. I know that speaking with you like this is painful, but I can't feel it. Is this... Did you do this?"

She shakes her head. :You did. All of this is you. So far, I've been the only one who could reach you at all.:

"I guess I still have a soft spot for you."

She winces again and looks away. :I want to help you. I want to help you, because I failed you terribly before, 'Lendel:

"But now I'm a murderer."

A sharp pain pushes through the numbness for a brief moment, powerful enough to knock him to his knees. Savil begins to rush toward him, but he shoots her a dangerous look of warning. "I'm fine."

:You're anything but fine.:

He pushes himself back up to his feet, and takes a step away from Savil. He doesn't want to get too close. "That's been true for a while. You never should've brought me here. All those reservations you had about me; you never fully trusted me, because you knew that I was capable of something terrible."

:We're all capable of terrible things...:

"Leave me alone, Savil," he says, and she's gone.

Months ago. Long before Staven was...

Vanyel is lying in his arms, fast asleep while Tylendel's restless mind runs circles. The moment is so delicate that he's sure that if he breathes too hard, Vanyel will stir and something in his eyes will change and he leave and never come back.

During the day, it never feels like that. When Vanyel is awake, he feels more safe with him than he's ever felt with anyone. He feels like this is forever.

But when he can't sleep...

"How long has it been?"

:Six weeks.:

"And you keep coming back."

:I have news this time.:

Tylendel sighs and leans back against the white wall. "Good news or bad news?"

:I spoke with Kellan, and the Companions have decided--:

The sharp pain stabs through him, so overwhelming that he can't tell where it's coming from, but he doesn't fall to the ground this time. He grits his teeth and waits...

Slowly, he says, "What did they decide?"

:They think any punishment would pale in comparison to what's already happened. They think you deserve mercy.:

"Is that what they think?"

Savil ignores his tone. :The Queen is still in talks, but she isn't pleased that Leshara had a spy in her palace, and I suspect that'll keep her from sending you to them.:

"Because he was my only human victim."

:Gala wasn't your victim.:

He closes his eyes and waits for the feeling to pass. It's getting easier. The emotions are getting more distant, although he can sense them still churning somewhere.

:'Lendel...: Her mind voice is gentle and careful, and if he could feel anger, he would hate the way it sounds. :We want to bring you out of this coma, but you've been fighting us. It's not good for you to be like this for too long.:

"What do you want from me? I told you, I'm not doing it consciously." He chuckles. "Literally. I'm not conscious."

:But you aren't trying to wake up either. You're just staying in this safe limbo.:

He chuckles. "So, I wake up and... Face everything I've been avoiding? Maybe lose my mind for good this time? Because you always knew that was a possibility with me, didn't you? You always knew it could end up like this."

Savil's face is red, her eyes bright with tears she isn't crying. :I thought you'd be willing to face yourself. I didn't know you'd be a coward.:

He blinks. He feels dazed through the numbness. Somewhere, her words hurt. "This is like when you used to bring up my-- My family situation to make me angry, isn't it? Who told you to try this tactic this time? It won't work, because I know I'm a coward. What about you? Do you really want to face me outside of here?" He gestured to the white room of his own mental creation. "You can't even look at me if I smile in here. Are you going to be able to deal with me out there? I'll be your walking failure, and everyone else will be able to see what you missed. Everyone will be able to see what a big mistake you made when you brought me here."

:I'm not the one who brought you here; Gala did. Are you angry at me, lad, or are you angry at her?:

Tylendel flinches back, gritting his teeth.

:And what about Vanyel? Will you leave him behind too, so you can protect yourself from feeling anything?:

"Go away," he says, softly, and she does.

It's not just nightmares and crying. That the part's easier, because all Tylendel has to do is hold Vanyel and eventually the fear and sadness pass.

But sometimes it's Vanyel coming back to their room and sitting down by himself, legs folded under him, and he doesn't want to be comforted. He doesn't even want to be touched. It's like torture for Tylendel, but he forces himself to be patient. He tries to imagine how it must've felt like, being completely alone. Even when things were at their worst, Tylendel always had his brother. Who did Van have? A sister who was there when she could be, but not always. Not right there. He must've had to get through it by shutting himself down sometimes--by shutting the rest of the world out.

Tylendel just wishes he could fix it. He wishes Vanyel never had to be alone anymore.

Eventually, Vanyel looks over at Tylendel, and he makes his way to him. He curls up into his arms and finally lets Tylendel tell him it's okay, even though he doesn't understands.

It's not until later, after Staven is dead, that Tylendel knows how Vanyel must've felt in those quiet moments.

It's like falling into ake waking from a deep sleep by being dumped in a pool of water. He senses the gate opening and closing like salt ground into a wound, then he senses Vanyel.

Then, nothing. Like a door slamming shut. He's not even sure if he's the one who put up the boundary or if it's someone else, but he's thankful for it. He needs it. He's not ready.

Savil arrives in his white room, and he can tell what's coming by the look on her face.

"He's back isn't he?"

:He wants to see you. Do you think you're ready, lad?:

Tyelendel looks up toward the white ceiling. It has begun to shift since he'd felt Vanyel come back; still white but sometimes it shimmers almost imperseptively.

"He's already there, isn't he? Sitting over me while I'm in this... this coma, I guess?"

She turns her head slightly, and he wonders if it's because her physical from is looking toward Vanyel. :Yes, he's here.:

Tylendel closes his eyes for a moment, his head still tilted back to face the ceiling. There is an ache in his chest that he can't completely disconnect himself from.

"I wouldn't say no to him," he says.

He counts in his mind; one, two, three, four...

A small, tentative voice, :'Lendel?:

Tylendel shivers, then he opens his eyes and lifts his head.

Vanyel stands next to Savil; she's still all in white, but he's all in black. The last time he saw Vanyel, he'd been so pale with dark circles under his eyes. He'd been so caught up in his anger at the time that he hadn't noticed, but now...

Now, when he thinks back to all the damage he did to Vanyel, he feels sick. Even as numb as he is, he feels sick.

He looks away from Vanyel, setting his gaze on Savil. "Is this the part where you think he can fix me? That worked so well before."

Savil steps forward. :Tylendel, I made mistakes.: Her voice is more steady, more certain, than he's heard it since all this started. :I did my best, but I made mistakes. That's part of being a person. You made mistakes too. Damned big ones, but you aren't alone.:

"Maybe I should be," Tylendel snapped back.

:Both of you stop, please,: Vanyel says. :I just want to see you, Tylendel. We don't have to solve everything right now. It's just been so long since…:

"But why do you want to see me? After everything I did, why do you want to see me? I'm like all the people in your life that treated you badly. I'm like all of the people who abused you. Don't you see that? Don't you see that I'm angry and violent, and that I hurt you, and I killed someone."

Vanyel shakes his head, :No. No, that's not true. You did something wrong--we did something wrong--but you're not a bad person. While I was away, I met a man named Moondance, and he helped me understand that--:

"Did you?" Tylendel snaps. "Did he tell you what to do when your lover becomes a murderer? When he ignores that he's hurting you? When he uses you?"

:He helped me understand that it's not our job to fix each other.:

Pain sizzles through Tylendel's body like lightning. Emotional or physical, he doesn't know. It doesn't matter. "You're all so quick to forgive me, but all I've ever done is lie to all of you. I pretended to be better. I pretended to be stronger. I pretended to be happier. You don't even know me. Not you, Van. Not you, Savil. You now what you wanted me to be, not who I am. I don't even want to know who I am. So just leave me here. Let me be this instead. Let me be nothing."

:'Lendel...: Van begins to say, but in a moment, the room goes black and there's nothing.

"Tylendel?" Vanyel is half asleep. It's a month before Staven...

A month before Staven died.

"Yes, ashke?"

"Tell me why you love me."

Tylendel sighs. "I told you before..."

"Tell me again."

"Because you're you."

"I've been me my whole life, and no one else loved me for it before."

"Yeah, well their loss." Tylendel smiles softly against Vanyel's hair. "Maybe it's also because I'm me. If we were any other two people, we wouldn't love each other as much, right?"

Vanyel nuzzles against Tylendel and, after a while, they both fall asleep.

The darkness is timeless. It's not like the room, where he can sit and think and try to piece himself back together and Savil can come visit him from time to time to tell him how many days have past. He feels nothing in the darkness, not even the numbness, except...

Somewhere in the distance, there's warmth. He stays deep in the darkness, far from the warmth for a long time. But slowly, slowly, he edges toward it until he realizes what it is.

Vanyel is holding his hand.

The darkness shifts and pales until it once again becomes white walls.

"Vanyel... Ashke. Come talk to me."

After a moment, Vanyel appears. All in black still, but so unlike the darkness.

Tylendel shakes his head. "You can just jump into my mind now, huh? No Gift at all, just potential. And then..."

:I felt you die... for a moment. You stopped breathing when you hit the ground, and I felt it. They think it had to do with the link when we opened the gate, or maybe... the burst of energy after Savil closed it. It blasted every channel open.:

Tylendel winces. "I didn't know that would happen."

:I know...: Vanyel says softly. :Neither of us really understood what we were doing that night. I just wanted you back. I still just want you back, Tylendel.:

His eyes are wet with tears, but he interrupts when Tylendel tries to argue. :I know you're damaged. So am I. I've been... I've been in pieces since that night. I'm better, but I'm not really okay yet. I'd thought that I never had to hurt again when I met you. I thought all the things that happened in the past couldn't touch me anymore. But they could. That's why I didn't see that helping you open that gate was wrong; I was so terrified of losing you that I thought I had to go along with your plan so I could keep you instead of doing what was better for both of us.:

"I manipulated you..."

:You were sick. You're still sick. But you'll never be anything but sick if you never face anything. I'm not asking you to come back to me so we can go back to ignoring what we've gone through. Love isn't enough to fix us. Love isn't enough to make the past disappear.:

Vanyel moves forward. Tylendel's instinct is to pull away, but he doesn't have the strength. He wants the contact too much, even if it's only in his mind. He lets Vanyel take his hands, looking directly into his eyes. :We can't fix each other... but we can help each other. Please... come back to me so we can help each other this time.:

Tylendel looks down at their hands. The pain is swelling in his chest again, and behind his eyes, and soon everywhere. It's so tempting to sink into the timeless darkness forever.

"Do you think I could be... I could be good for you? Do you think I could love you without hurting you again?"

:I know you can,: Vanyel whispers. :And this time, we'll let other people help us instead of shutting everyone out. This time, we'll get it right.:

A tear runs down Tylendel's cheek.

Tylendel remembers hitting the ground. He remembers the pain, and the screaming, but he also remembers a moment of relief.

He'd thought he was dead. He'd thought he wanted to be dead.

When he opens his eyes again, there is still pain. The numbness is gone, and it's been replaced with heartache and guilt and fear and uncertainty. But when he sees Vanyel sitting with him, and Savil standing there to look over them both, he doesn't want to die anymore.