Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest / White is cold and always yearning, burdened by a royal test / Black the beast descends from shadows / Yellow beauty burns gold...
~Red Like Roses (Red Trailer), Jeff Williams and Casey Lee Williams (RWBY, Vol. 1, 2013)
Phil blinks, and the crimson shades fill his head once more. Every beat of his broken heart sends a flood of angst and regret through his hollow bones; every fibre of his being silently begs for normalcy.
Phil can hardly remember what that word means, let alone what it looks like or how to pretend to be it.
The “normal” part of him died the second he agreed with Dan.
Dan stares at his study notes, his head pounding.
How can you kill something inside you?
He can practically feel the Shadow running in his veins, can feel it twisting and distorting his genetics. It will only continue to eat away at and destroy his DNA, manipulating the human genomes within him until he is no longer himself.
On the outside, he is normal. He is alive and thriving, but hidden deep within him is a monster.
It’s only a matter of time before it claws its way out.
Phil gives Dan a small smile as the younger boy enters the room.
"Hello, you lovely person," Phil greets, leaning back in his chair.
"Hello, carbon unit Philip," Dan returns, pushing Phil back up. Phil turns, running a hand through his hair.
"Where have you been?" Phil asks curiously, studying Dan's face. Dan stiffens.
"Nowhere," he lies. Phil frowns, but doesn't push further.
"I was thinking," he begins, standing up, "you and I should go get dinner in the city this weekend. We never get to hang out anymore; that can't be good for our relationship."
"Well, learning how to hunt and kill monsters doesn't leave you with a lot of free time, does it?" Dan asks venomously. Phil flinches.
"Excuse me?" he replies, sounding hurt. "I didn't choose this, Daniel! I didn't ask them to move me up without you!" Dan opens his mouth to snap back, but he stops cold, and Phil catches the panic in his eyes.
"I-I should go," Dan stammers, turning to exit the room. Phil grabs his wrist, and Dan immediately swings, the back of his hand connecting with Phil's cheek. Phil yelps and lets go, his blue eyes blazing with both fury and pain.
"No." Before Phil can fully comprehend what he's doing, he slides in between Dan and the door, blocking him in. Dan snarls.
"You don't control me!" he shouts.
"I'm not going to let you leave with you're this upset!" Phil argues. "For the last month you've been edgy and impatient and unstable. Talk to me; tell me what's going on! Please! What am I missing?"
"Let me go," Dan begs, his voice wavering. Phil shakes his head. "Phil, please!"
"Talk to me," Phil pleads. "I want to help you!" Dan lets out a harsh laugh, the sound grating to Phil's ears.
"You can't." His voice is low and dark, his tone hushed. "There's no way, unless you kill me. I won't make you do that, though, so don't worry."
"So, what? You think I'm just going to let you kill yourself?" Phil shrieks. "You must be out of your goddamn mind!"
"I'm a Shadow, Phil!" Dan blurts. The blood drains from Phil's face, leaving him paled and looking sick.
"No," Phil denies, his blue eyes sweeping over Dan's body quickly. "You- you can't be; I would know-"
"There's a reason I never became Ruby Class, Phil," Dan chokes out. "Every time they took us in- er, out- for field work, th-the monsters, they would-" Dan trails off, shrugging sadly.
"They connected you to the Hive," Phil realises. "You got close enough and they robbed you of your free will, made you into a puppet like the rest of them." Dan nods, not meeting Phil's eyes. "The Shadow... if it's taking hold- that explains your mood swings. How long, Daniel? How long have you known?"
"Years," Dan admits. "The mutation came up first when I was thirteen, when it normally does. No one thought too much of it- plenty of kids end up with it, but their bodies always fight it off. Except that pesky two percent who turn into monsters." He tries to force a laugh, but it comes out as a choked sob. "It only became more pronounced instead of fading. And last year, we finally realised that, oh shit, this is actually happening. I'm going to die. The doctors warned that being near monsters would only worsen it, speed up the process, but I was already enrolled here at Kadic, already accustomed to the environment, already in love with you." Dan wipes his eyes quickly. "I couldn't just leave you. I made my choice a long time ago, Phil, and it's always been you."
"This can't be happening," Phil moans, pulling at his hair. "The options are...?"
"It won't let me kill myself," Dan says slowly. "So either someone does it for me, or I become a monster.”
“Fuck,” Phil swears, shaking his head. “This can’t be happening.”
“I wish it wasn’t,” Dan whispers. He picks up Phil’s rapier from the corner, unsheathing the sword and handing it to Phil. “Unfortunately, it is, and you’re going to have to do this for me.” Numbly, Phil accepts the sword, gently pressing the tip of the blade to Dan’s throat. He sees Dan flinch slightly, obviously scared, but he doesn't move away.
"Dan," Phil breathes, his voice choked with grief. "I can't."
"Please," Dan begs, his brown eyes filled with tears. "You have to, Phil. Let me die myself, please!"
"I-I'm sorry." Phil drops his rapier, stepping back from the weapon like it's radioactive as it clatters to the floor. "I can't kill the only person I've ever loved."
"Phil, please!" Dan is shouting now, his hands balled up into fists as tears stream down his face. "You don't- I can't-" He screams, a wordless howl that breaks Phil's heart into a million pieces. "You can't let me become one- one of them!"
"Dan," Phil whispers, swallowing thickly. "I can't do it. I'm so sorry, but I can't."
"I-" Dan cuts himself off, nodding as he wipes his eyes. "Okay. It's okay. It's fine." He draws in a deep breath, hiding his face behind his long black sleeves for a second.
"You have a chance still," Phil explains. "I can't- I can't take that away from you. It doesn't have a complete hold on you; you're still Dan. If you just... hang on a bit longer, maybe you can still fight it off." Dan looks like he wants to laugh in disbelief, but he nods.
"Yeah, maybe." He picks at the white embroidery on the hem of his shirt like he wants to rip it off, but he lets go. Dan reaches out and touches the black trim of Phil's red shirt sleeve. "I just... oh, God."
"It's going to be fine," Phil says gently, hugging Dan tightly. Dan stiffens, shoving Phil away and snarling in a way that reminds Phil of a wild animal, or-
Dan's eyes widen as he notices Phil's expression of fear.
"Phil," Dan whimpers, his hands balled up in fists around his black and white sleeves. "I can't let-"
"I know." Phil's words are almost silent. "But I can't kill you, either."
"Then make me a deal," Dan pleads. "You don't have to kill me yet, but the- the mutation. It'll make me... not me. I'll be nothing more than a monster, Phil. I'll hurt people. You can't let that happen. When... when it takes hold, kill me."
"Okay." Phil can't believe he's agreeing to this, but he rationalises it as something that's hypothetical. "I'll... I'll do it."
"Thank you," Dan whispers, his voice quiet and choked with fear and pain. "I love you. I love you so much, Phil."
"I love you too, Dan," Phil returns, smiling sadly.
That's why I'll never be able to fulfil this promise, he thinks bitterly. I'm so sorry.
I'm so, so sorry.
Phil can't. He can't do it.
He can't do it when Dan begs for death over becoming a mindless monster.
He can't do it when Dan presses the sword to his hand.
He can't do it as Dan becomes more and more unstable, even going as far as to try to strangle him.
He can't do it even as Dan screams in pain, shrieking that he'll never forgive Phil if he doesn't.
He can't do it when Dan disappears right before his eyes.
Phil is too selfish.
Phil swallows nervously as he watches Dan wearily. The younger boy growls, baring his teeth in hatred. Phil pushes back the red and black hood of his cloak, his right hand wrapped around the hilt of his rapier.
Suddenly Dan lunges, snarling and clawing at Phil.
"Fuck!" Phil swears as he feels the skin of his cheek torn open by Dan's unnaturally sharp nails. He touches it with his left hand, his fingers coming away sticky with blood. "Why?" he whispers, trying not to lose focus.
Dan doesn't answer, and Phil whimpers in misery.
He looks into the souless black eyes of a Shadow and sees Dan's warm russet ones. He looks at the sharp, clawed hands and remembers how they should look, and how they felt against his skin. He looks at the pale lips of Dan- the Shadow, Phil reminds himself- and remembers how warm and soft they felt against his own.
This is torment of the worst kind, ripping Phil open from the inside out.
Shadow-Dan lunges again, but this time Phil quickly slides out of the way, his red cape trailing behind him.
"It's not fair," Phil continues, finally unsheathing the sword. "It's really not. The only person I have ever loved wholeheartedly, turned into a monster that I of all people have to kill." He blinks back tears, reminding himself he has to keep composed.
Phil and Shadow-Dan circle each other, each carefully watching the other's movements.
Phil knows he could call for help. He could have any of the other Ruby Class students come kill the Shadow, but he doesn't. To them, it would be killing just another monster, done in the blink of an eye.
To Phil, this is still Dan. This is still the young man who has everyone's best interests in mind. This is still his boyfriend, still the person he loves.
Phil can't distinguish the differences between Dan and the creature in front of him. The lines, in his mind, are so blurred they're almost non-existent.
Shadow-Dan, on the other hand, doesn't have that issue.
He lunges for Phil, catching the raven off balance and knocking him down. Phil yelps as his sword clatters to the floor, his hip connecting with the floor painfully. Dan growls, baring his teeth in anger and hatred as he swipes. Phil rolls quickly, Dan's claws barely catching the hem of his red cloak. Phil scrambles for his rapier, picking it up and quickly skirting away from Shadow-Dan.
"Fuck," Phil swears under his breath, panting quietly.
He's killed enough monsters over the year to know they disappear upon death. Phil isn't ready to live in a world where Dan does not exist. He's not ready to never see Dan's warm brown eyes and dark curls. He's not ready to never hear his laugh, loud screech, and posh voice.
He's not ready to drop "Dan and" to become just "Phil" again.
But, it's time to end this, Phil, he tells himself. It makes him sick to even think about doing that, but he can't keep dancing around the inevitable and hope something changes. He'll die if he does, and Shadow-Dan will probably kill innocent people if he's allowed to escape the small room where he currently is.
"I'm sorry, " Phil whispers, pulling his hood over his head and concealing his weapon beneath his cloak as he watches carefully. He stands so that his right foot is back, allowing him to move quickly and giving him more stability. "I'm so sorry, Daniel." Shadow-Dan growls, racing at Phil with murder in his eyes, and Phil makes his choice.
He throws his cloak back, readying his rapier before meeting Dan in the middle, the sword piercing Dan's skin deeply. He hisses in pain and Phil yanks back, moving away. Dan holds his hand to the wound, snarling at Phil. It breaks Phil's heart into a million pieces to hear and see, but he has no choice.
Dan is gone, and Phil has to accept that.
"I'm sorry," Phil repeats as Dan collapses to the ground, black blood pooling around him. Phil kneels several feet away, watching silently as he resheathes his sword. Dan growls, glaring at Phil with dead black eyes, and Phil breaks. He sobs brokenly, hitting the concrete floor in grief. Pain radiates through his hand and arm, but he does it again.
"It's not fair!" he screams, throwing back his hood. Phil notices the blood on his hand matches the colour of his cloak- ruby red. He wipes it off on his black trousers, crying harder. "I'm so sorry, Dan!"
When Phil looks up again, though, the body is gone.
All that's left is a single black rose.
Phil shuts his book, resting his head on his desk. He can't focus.
It's just not the same without Dan telling him he's a nerd and coaxing him to take a break.
Phil sits back up, his eyes falling on the black rose sitting on his bedside table.
It's been three months since Dan's death, but the flower is still alive. Phil's never seen a Shadow leave anything behind, let alone a flower, but no one's been able to offer an answer. Phil keeps it by his bed in tribute to Dan. Similarly, Phil's left all of Dan's things just the way the younger boy had them, unable to pack it all away.
It's far easier to pretend that Dan might walk through the door at any moment than it is to accept the reality of what happened.
Phil is in hard denial.
He knows that fact in the back of his head. He knows he won't be able to keep it up forever, too. For now, though, it hurts too much to think about the truth. So he tells himself that what really happened was just a dream, and that any day now, Dan will return.
He never does, though.
Eight months pass since Dan's death, and Phil is still grieving. It's painful to even think about, but Phil forces himself to move through life like any other student.
"So, I was thinking, maybe we could go grab dinner or something?" Lucy suggests, grabbing Phil's arm and pulling him closer.
"I-" Phil swallows nervously as he pulls away and looks at the small brunette girl in front of him. "I can't tonight."
"We could go out another night if you're busy," Lucy offers. "Or just grab a coffee or something." Phil freezes, nausea in his stomach.
"It's just- I'm not looking for- for a relationship right now," Phil stammers. "With the whole- and- you know?"
"Oh, okay," Lucy says, her face falling.
"It's not- it's not you," Phil assures her quickly. "It's just that-"
"Dan." Phil flinches as Lucy says his name- it's the first time he's heard it in almost six months. "You're still in love with him, I get it."
"It's-" Phil can't form the words to explain what he's feeling. "It's complicated," he finally gets out. It's as close as he can get to the truth right now, anyway.
"Don't sweat it," Lucy tells him. "Maybe later."
Phil doesn't think so, though.
Dan's birthday comes, and Phil spends the day crying in his room.
Out of habit- or perhaps wishful thinking- he bought Dan a present and wrapped it. He even bought a cake and placed candles on it- black, like Dan always wants.
The reality finally crashes down on Phil, and he sobs.
It's not what Dan wants anymore. It's what he wanted, past tense. That's what death does. It shifts the present to the past and separates people from those who loved them.
Phil curls up in Dan's bed, clutching Dan's duvet to his chest as he cries. It still smells like the brunette, and it sends pangs of longing through Phil, but it's comforting in an odd way.
When Phil wakes up several hours later, though, the smell has faded.
Dan is still gone.
"Phil, you have to move on!" Isaiah cries. "It's been almost a year, for God's sake! He's gone!"
"I'm-" Phil shakes his head. "It's not like- I can't just forget him!"
"No one's saying forget him," Ren argues. "We're just saying it's time to quit sulking."
"You used to be a lot of fun," Isaiah says, shaking his head. "You would be the life of the party, man, always cracking jokes and being a cool guy. You're just a broken shell of a man now, Phil. The first step you've got to take is accepting what happened."
"I-I can't," Phil whispers. "He... Dan never deserved what happened."
"No, he didn't," Ren agrees. "But he'd want you to move on, Phil."
"You don't know what Dan would have wanted," Phil snaps, glaring as he straightens up. "You two never liked him, anyway. You're glad he's gone; you want it to go back to how it was before him."
"What?" Isaiah and Ren cry in unison.
"Phil, that's not true!" Ren argues. "You can't actually think that."
"Yeah, Dan was a bit of a dark cloud at times and I wasn't his biggest fan," Isaiah allows, "but I never wanted him dead or to become a Shadow! I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, and Dan certainly wasn't that."
"Whatever," Phil scoffs, shaking his head. "I'm done."
"So, why are you here?" Phil blinks, looking extremely uncomfortable as he sits across from Dr. Kay.
"I'm- I was told to meet a friend here," Phil explains. "I'm sorry if I bothered you."
"Phil Lester, right?" Dr. Kay asks. Phil nods, biting his lip as the woman looks over a paper. "I actually have you down as a person to talk to."
"Excuse me?" Phil cries, standing up. "Who- I'm not crazy!"
"No one said anything about crazy," Dr. Kay assures him. "I'm just a little concerned, that's all."
"Why?" Phil asks, narrowing his eyes. He sits back down, but he's still on edge.
"I looked at your records, Phil," Dr. Kay explains. "You're incredibly talented and very intelligent. High grades, good marks, Ruby Class." Phil doesn't reply. "That was a year ago. Around mid-December, I notice your grades started slipping, and your friends say you isolated yourself."
"I didn't," Phil argues. "I just didn't want to be around certain people; is that a crime?"
"I did a bit more research," the doctor continues, folding her hands and resting her arms on the desk. "December 13th." Phil stiffens.
"It's not... that."
"What's significant about that date, Phil?"
"Don't make me say it. You already know; I know you do."
"I know, but do you?" Dr. Kay asks gently.
"He- I-" Phil still can't get the words out, so he doesn't even try. Instead, he takes a deep breath and forces out five simple words he hasn't dared speak in a year.
"His name was Daniel Howell."
Phil stands immediately after, exiting the room with tears in his blue eyes.
Phil stares at the black petals of the rose in his hand, chewing on his lip. The colour matches his trousers and the trim of his shirt, but they couldn't be more different in Phil's eyes.
The black of the rose is a pure shade, reminiscent of the personality of the person who left it.
The black on Phil's clothes is black because it is tainted, just like the person wearing it.
"I'm sorry, Dan," Phil whispers. "I'm trying my best. I really am, but I..." He draws in a deep breath. "I miss you. I miss you a lot.
"I think you'd understand why I feel the way I do," he continues, "but I also know you'd probably tell me to get the fuck over it and move on with life because your death doesn't give me an excuse to implement my own." He laughs for the first time in weeks. "It's not the same without you, Dan. It really isn't."
Phil stands, turning the flower in his hand. A thorn pricks his finger, a drop of red blooming on his skin. Phil lets it drop onto the rose, the bright red standing out against the black.
"There you go, love," he says softly. "Red and black, like you always wanted. I told you you'd make it one day, that you'd trade that black and white uniform for a red and black one." He sets the flower back in the vase, but he doesn't wipe it off.
"I love you," Phil whispers, "present tense."
Phil can't believe his eyes.
The young man standing across from him... he is the splitting image of Dan.
Brunette curls lie across his pale forehead. Long fingers tap nervously on the table in front of him. Coffee eyes watch everyone carefully. He's even the right height.
"Phil, no," Isaiah says quietly but firmly. "He's not Dan."
"He looks just like him," Phil breathes, not taking his eyes off the boy. "Christ."
"He's not him, though." Ren grabs Phil's arm and pulls him away. "Phil, listen to me." Phil tears his gaze away for a second, meeting their green eyes. Ren sighs, tugging on their red and black shirt.
"It's hard," they begin. "I know it is. I'm sorry. I- my... sister. She also- and it's hard, I know." Phil's eyes flick back to the young man across the room, and he sighs tiredly. "It's not him, Phil. Dan is gone, and I'm sorry."
"I miss him," Phil breathes, his voice wavering slightly. "I miss him more than anything in the world."
"I know." Ren hugs him tightly, standing on their toes in an effort to reach him. "I'm here for you, though."
"Thank you," Phil whispers, hugging Ren back. "Thank you so much, Ren."
Some days start filmy, like there is a veil of depression hanging over everything. Sometimes they end that way as well. Phil's alright with that, though, because sometimes the fog clears, and he gets a taste of what he really wants.
A taste of contentment, or of okay-ness.
A taste of what he wants to be like again.
Phil hums softly as he waters a small rosebush by his window. The sunlight hits the petals, illuminating the red beautifully. He smiles, setting the watering can down on his desk.
And suddenly he's back in that grim room, Dan snarling at him.
Phil steps back, knocking over a glass jar filled with pens. It shatters, the glass spraying across the floor as Phil drops to his knees. The glass shards slice open his hands and legs, but Phil can't tear his eyes away from the bright shades of red that flow down his pale skin.
Red like roses fills his head, all the time. It takes him back to that horrible night a year ago and hold him there.
Black the beast descends from shadows, and subsequently, returns to it.
Phil's eyes widen as the thought occurs to him.
"Oh, my God," he whispers, standing quickly. He grabs his cloak, throwing it on before running out the door.
He leaves a trail of blood like rose petals behind him.
It's Ren that finds Phil hours later, curled up in a corner of the basement. He looks horrible, and Ren's heart aches for him.
"Hey," they whisper gently. "It's okay, Phil. I'm here." Phil sits up, blinking blearily. "Oh, God, Phil. What have you done?"
"Dan," he whispers, his voice choked. Ren shakes their head, hugging him tightly.
"No, Phil," they reply. "Never again, I'm sorry."
"I just want him back!" Phil sobs, clutching Ren's shirt like a lifeline.
"I know," Ren murmurs. "I know."
Phil traces the thin cuts on his hand with his finger.
Contentment- what is it, really? Feeling happy? A lack of sadness? Phil doesn't even know anymore.
He doesn't really care, either.
He's given up on trying to find the meaning.
It's several weeks before Phil can speak of what happened that night to Dr. Kay. It's another couple sessions before he tells her about the flower.
"You still have it?" she asks. Phil nods. "Why?"
"It reminds me of him, I guess," he admits. "That night as well, I suppose, but..."
"It's okay not to forget him, Phil," Dr. Kay assures him. "However, you can't keep this up."
"I know," Phil whispers. "I know."
It's a rainy Wednesday evening when Phil finally decides to pack Dan's things. Issac and Ren help him, each silently placing the things into cardboard boxes.
Phil cries a lot.
He can't help it- packing up means moving on, means new beginnings and change. Phil's always been sentimental about the smallest things, so it's only natural that his emotions get the best of him now.
But feeling something is better than feeling nothing, he thinks.