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The One the Battles Always Choose

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Eddie has always done it: sometimes more, sometimes less, but he can't remember a time when the idea was new. He can go months without really thinking about it, but in the end it always turns up again, sliding into its familiar place in his thoughts like it never left.

It doesn't always mean anything, even. Lots of times it's just... checking the locations of the exits in case of an emergency. He thinks, oh, yeah, I could get out that way if I need to, but he doesn't actually need to, so it's just a thought flitting through his mind when his gaze falls on something sharp, or something overdoseable, or something that wouldn't budge if he smashed his bike into it. It's just like noticing any other property of an object: size, color, shape, could I use this to kill myself.

And, okay, yeah, there have been times when it meant more than that. There have been times when the emergency felt pretty damn serious, times when he was edging toward those exits. He tested things a few times, just checking to be sure he could when he really needed to.

There are a few fine scars near his left armpit, and along the insides of his thighs. Just checking that he could push a blade through, that he would know how and wouldn't pull back at the first sight of his own blood. And he took too many pills a few times--not that many, just enough to be more than it should've been. Just to see what would happen, how it would feel.

This is why he doesn't like heights. There's no way to test them but the jump, and when he's near them he can't think of anything but jumping.

But he never did jump, never pushed the blade through to an artery. He never actually tried, not like he meant it for sure, even if he gave himself a lot of chances to do it by mistake.

If he were going to admit it to anyone, if he were going to talk about it--spit out the explanation he's reflexively scripted in his head like it's a very special episode of The Brock Report--he'd laugh a little and say it's because he's just enough of a coward. Not that he was afraid of succeeding, at those times when the exit was starting to look really appealing, but because he knew he'd flinch from it at the last second, that he'd make some frantic effort to survive. Dial 911 before he passed out, put on a tourniquet, whatever.

And that's the part he's always known he didn't have the guts for: surviving, having to feel the pain, and face people knowing that he'd tried, and stick around to deal with the aftermath. The truly unforgivable screw-up, the one that would really force people to do something about him. And then he'd have to talk about it for real, not just the monologue in his head where he can make it okay if he can make his imagined audience laugh. There wouldn't be any escape. Not even in his own body, if he managed to do himself some kind of permanent damage.

Or, worse, he'd find out that no one actually gave enough of a shit to do anything about him at all. He'd have to know that for sure.

Whatever it is he's really scared of, it's been enough. It was enough all through his alternately angry and miserable teen years and his truly stupidly reckless twenties. By the time he hits thirty he's pretty used to it as just a feature of his brain: he thinks about how he could kill himself, even plans it out when he's feeling shittier than usual, but he doesn't actually do it. He won't, probably. Statistically, if he's made it this far without really trying, he won't.

Unless, you know. Unless there's a real emergency, someday, and then he'll be ready.

But he's doing fine, honestly. There's nothing to make a big dramatic thing about. Leaving New York makes for some rough moments, but by the time he's settled in San Francisco with Annie, he's okay. He hardly thinks about it all, just every now and then, and always with that overtone of no need, just checking.

And it's only that, only the silent thought. He never jokes about it, or alludes to it, because he learned by the time he was seventeen that people noticed when you said shit like that. It was better if nobody noticed. Better not to have to worry about someone cutting off an escape route you might still need.

So it's fine. Everything's fine. Even when he and Annie fight--or, well, when he does something more stupid than usual that upsets her, and she lets him have it--it doesn't feel like something he's gonna need to escape from. Not really. Because even when Annie's mad at him, she keeps him around. She still cares. And Eddie's pretty good at not making the same mistake twice, so if they stick together long enough he might actually run out of dumb shit to do.

Then comes a fight worse than usual, and Eddie's feeling angry and put-upon instead of just stupid and embarrassed and sorry. He's trying to be good enough for her, he is, and yeah, he keeps fucking up, but she is really mad this time, mad enough for it to feel scary. Mad enough for him to feel like this might be the time she kicks him to the curb.

It's nearly as much a surprise to him as it must be to her when he blurts out, "Fine! If I'm such a worthless piece of shit, why don't I just go ride my bike off the end of a pier?"

It's a stupid thing to say on so many levels. For one, he's long since learned not to say shit like that, and for another trying to make Anne feel sorry for him when she's still mad never works. He's not even trying to make her feel anything, exactly, he just feels like--well, like he's backed up against a big fucking wall and he needs to know there's a way out.

But that isn't a way out he's ever contemplated. It would be so fucking obvious, and so slow. He almost certainly wouldn't die on impact with the water, from just the height of a pier; he'd have to wait to drown, injured and tangled up in his bike, and probably someone would save him. He might even save himself. He's a strong swimmer, and drowning takes so fucking long, he'd never be able to stick with letting it happen long enough for it to take. He'd be bound to fight it.

Plus, his bike never did anything wrong to deserve being treated like that.

All of that flashes through his mind--fuck, I shouldn't have said that, why did I say that, that was fucking stupid--while the color is draining from Anne's face. She's bone-white with shock, the edges of her makeup suddenly stark and obvious. Eddie thinks he might have an opening there to apologize, to deflect, to get this over with, but then shock changes back to anger--cold, hard fury this time instead of the familiar yelling.

"Don't you ever fucking make a threat like that. Ever again. Don't you dare. And don't you dare--" She shakes her head sharply.

Eddie holds his hands up, totally lost now. "No, hey, I didn't--I'm sorry, that was shitty, I didn't mean it."

"Didn't you?" Anne asks, still icy. "Were you just trying to shut me up? Is that the only thing it meant?"

There is absolutely no right answer. Eddie struggles for a few seconds under her ruthless stare before he says, "Yeah, yes, that's all, it was stupid, I'm not gonna do anything like that. Of course I wouldn't, why would I do that? I was just being a shit."

"You swear to me?"

"Yeah, yeah, Annie, I swear, of course."

Anne shakes her head and tells him it's time for him to leave, and Eddie goes home to his studio in the Tenderloin to call himself an idiot and stare at the ceiling. Eventually, hours and hours later, it occurs to him to wonder why, exactly, she took him so seriously. Why she pressed him until he promised he hadn't meant it.

So he does some research, and then he feels more like a dumb piece of shit than he already did. He calls her and gets her voicemail because it's ass o'clock in the morning. Not because she blocked his number. He's pretty sure.

"Annie, I just want to say again, I'm sorry about--about saying that, threatening that, when we were fighting. I just want you to know, okay, nothing like that's gonna happen and if I ever do get myself killed in some stupid way, it's not gonna be anybody's fault but mine. And I'm not looking to. I want to live a long time, Annie, long enough to figure out how to be the guy you deserve. And, uh... I'm sorry, and I love you. Okay? So let me know, uh, yeah. Let me know. I love you. Night."

He actually manages to sleep, after that.

It's another day and night before he wakes up to Annie calling him. She says she wants to talk tonight but she knows he's got interviews lined up all day. He thanks her for calling and apologizes a couple more times before he bolts out of bed, because, shit, the interviews.

But that has to mean it's gonna be okay. She hasn't deleted all of his shit out of her Google Calendar that she keeps meticulously color-coded and fanatically up to date. Eddie happens to know that he's got a really nice blue-green color for all his stuff on the calendar, like she deliberated carefully to get the closest color to his eyes.

And sure enough, that night she lets him apologize for the stupid shit he did that they were fighting about in the first place. She apologizes for yelling at him so much about it, and he figures they're getting close to the makeup sex part of the evening.

Anne leans in close and puts a hand on his cheek, and Eddie's starting to smile, and then she says, "Now. About you threatening to kill yourself."

Eddie winces, squinting his eyes almost shut because he can't help the impulse to hide a little even though he knows better than to pull away. "Annie, I--"

"I want to tell you why I reacted like that," she says. "Why I--"

Something must go over his face, because she stops, and he can see she's onto him.

"I figured it must be something," Eddie admits. "Did some research. Same last name, your hometown, wasn't too hard to spot. Were you, uh... were you close?"

Annie closes her eyes as she nods. "As kids, up through high school--we went to the same high school. We were friends more than cousins, really. We grew apart a little in college, but... she called me. That night. It was my 1L year, I was at the library until two in the morning, but--when I was on my way home I saw that she'd been calling me, and I just--I didn't call back, I didn't even send her a text. I thought I would call her in the morning. She died right around sunrise; my mom woke me up at eight when she called to tell me."

Which means there was a window of about four hours when Anne could've called back and had a chance of changing something.

"Aw, hell, Annie, you know that's not--it wasn't you, it wasn't--"

Anne shakes her head. "I know. I was in therapy through the rest of law school, and... well, I've made as much peace with it as I'm going to, probably, but it's never going to not be there. I'm never getting Kim back, and I'm never..." Anne takes a deep, careful breath, and puts her other hand to his cheek, holding him still as she looks into his eyes.

"So you have to promise me," Anne says. "Don't tell me it was a joke or it didn't mean anything, I'm not going to debate that with you. Just promise me, if you ever--if it's ever not a joke, anytime, anywhere, no matter what--you call me and you don't do anything you can't take back until we talk. Promise me, Eddie, because you know exactly what it'll do to me if you don't. Promise."

Eddie feels the truth right down to his bones, more inescapable than her grip: what Anne means by no matter what is even if I've finally dumped you for good by then, I'll still care and I'll still hold you to this. She's planning for that, even now, even when they're making up. Even though she's keeping him for now, knowing whatever she thinks she knows about him.

But, honestly, it was just a dumb thing he said, he's not gonna do anything like that, and anyway, what else can he say? "I promise, Annie. I promise. I'm not gonna do that to you, not ever. I swear."

"Okay," she says. "That is a binding oral contract, Eddie, I'm serious."

"I'm serious too," Eddie says, and kisses her, and she allows him to end the discussion there.

A month later he asks her to marry him, and she says yes without hesitating. He lets himself believe for a while that that means that that was the last big fight and they're gonna be okay. He moves in with Anne, sublets his place to some interns from the network who split it three or four ways. He's got his desk in Annie's second bedroom and she calls it his office, and his LPs are in the living room and they dance sometimes right in front of the windows. They're okay, and Eddie's okay, and he honestly hardly ever looks at anything and thinks, Oh, I could use that. He doesn't need an escape route now.

A few months later he fucks it up for good, so badly that Annie doesn't even really yell that much, just takes her ring off and tucks it in his shirt pocket and tells him goodbye. He doesn't even know what to do with himself--no job, no Annie, no idea what happens next--so he wanders the streets for a while, his brain a blank, his eyes flitting to the cable cars, to the tops of buildings.

But he can't do that to a bunch of tourists, or people walking around on the sidewalks, so it doesn't matter. He's not looking looking, anyway, he's just... noticing while he walks around. He's too stunned to do anything at all about this. It's not real yet.

It's been maybe three hours when he gets a text from Anne.

I'm going out of town for a few days to get my head together, so feel free to stay in the apartment until Saturday if necessary. Leave your key on the counter when you've moved your stuff out.

And it's not like the ring wasn't final, but that's... that's really final. Eddie notices that he's sitting on the curb next to a newspaper box, curled down over his phone, but that's okay. He's out of everybody's way, at least.

It's final, but it's not actually finished. He has his marching orders from Anne. Now he just has to... get up, and go home to the apartment that's not gonna be home anymore, and pack his shit so he's out of Anne's hair by Saturday. He guesses he does have a place to go, sort of.

The subletters in his old studio have actual lease agreements--Anne insisted--but it's always month-to-month because they're interns and shit happens. Eddie's not completely clear on how much notice he's supposed to give them if he wants them out, but he might as well give them a heads up. He might be stuck sharing with them or in a weekly hotel for a while, but the sooner he starts the sooner they'll be out.

He searches through his contacts until he finds the one with TENANT after the name who he's texted most recently and therefore is pretty sure still lives there. Not totally sure, because they're interns and shit happens, and if the current batch have sub-sub-let their corners of the studio it won't be the first time.

He taps out a message. Hey, gonna need to move back into the studio soon. Let me know how much time you guys are going to need to move out.

It's only a minute before his phone vibrates in his hand.

We heard about what you did. We'll be gone by midnight tomorrow.

Eddie squints at the message, honestly trying to figure out what they think he's done to the studio, and then realizes that they're interns, too full of freshly-minted journalistic ethics to cling to a cheap place to live for all they're worth.

"Okay," he says to his phone. "Well, that's gonna be a learning experience for you."

He feels dimly offended at being treated like a leper. Being a shitty boyfriend and a shitty reporter isn't actually contagious.

Although, hell, Facebook knows who shares his address--it keeps suggesting his intern-subletters, including the ones he doesn't know about until Facebook rats them out. Carlton Drake can probably figure it out. Maybe it is better that they get the hell away from his place as soon as possible.

He gets up and turns his feet toward home--toward Anne's place. He's not actually far away. He checks the time, because the clouds have rolled in and he has no idea how long he's been walking around.

It's two in the afternoon, which just feels weird. It should be the middle of the night, shouldn't it? Two in the afternoon isn't the right time for anybody's life to be falling apart. Everyone who still has a job is at work; the interns are busily interning, or at least pretending to be busy interning while they scour craigslist for a place to move into by tomorrow. But Anne's driving off somewhere and Eddie's just wandering the streets.

Eddie lets himself in, automatically looking for Mr. Belvedere as he closes the door quickly behind him. Anne's gone until Saturday, so Eddie needs to make sure he keeps the cat fed until then. He needs to absolutely not fuck this up, no exceptions; he can't have Anne thinking he took out some spite toward her on her cat.

Except, he realizes as he walks further inside, the apartment is an extra-silent kind of silent. He already sort of knows, but he checks anyway, looking for Mr. Belvedere's dishes and food and his current favorite toys.

They're all gone, and so is the cat carrier. Anne hadn't left the cat behind when she graciously permitted Eddie the run of the place for three more days. She'd taken him along, like Eddie couldn't be trusted.

Eddie sits down on the kitchen floor, right next to the mat the food and water bowls usually sit on, and cries. It comes out of him in wrenching sobs, shaking his whole body, echoing off the tile and the cabinets, and he keeps telling himself to stop, but why? Neighbors won't hear him in this solid old building, and Anne's not coming back anytime soon. He doesn't even have to worry about Mr. Belvedere coming over to hiss at him.

He's alone again. He finally showed Annie just how much of a fuckup he is, ruined her career along with his own, made her believe he didn't even care, and now she's gone. She's gone and she took the cat, and it makes sense but he can't let that go. She didn't even trust him to feed the cat, she didn't--she took the cat and there's no other living creature around to give a shit about him, to even notice him. If he died right here on the kitchen floor, no one would know or care for days.

His thoughts flit to the things he's made mental note of, in the last year or two. The knives in their wooden block. He wouldn't even have to stand up, he could just--

He kneels up and looks across the perfectly neat countertop, and the knife block isn't there.

For a second he can't make sense of it at all. He wonders if someone stole it, wonders if he should look for intruders or other stuff missing.

Then he gets it. Anne didn't trust him with the kitchen knives any more than she trusted him with the cat. He pushes himself up to stand and realizes there's a sticky note on the counter where the knife block should be. It says, Remember you promised me.

Eddie shuts his eyes, folding down over the counter and pressing his cheek to the cool granite. She planned for that. She's probably waiting for his call. She's probably got the hospital she'll have him committed to all picked out. She's probably had it picked out for a long time, probably programmed the number into her phone months ago, so she'd be ready.

Anne prepares for emergencies too.

He's tempted to call her. Not so much because he'll do something stupid otherwise--that flicker of an impulse is already past--but because this is a promise from her, too. She's promising that she'll answer the phone. If he tells her that's why he called, she'll come back. She'll take care of him one more time. She'll care, even if he's a total fuckup. Because he's a total fuckup. He won't get her back for good, but he won't be alone, either.

But once he makes that call, it's not just Anne taking precautions because of a dumb thing he said once that she couldn't risk not taking seriously. If he makes the call then it's true, and he's a person who might really do it--and then he might as well have tried. She won't ever look at him and not see what he might have done if she didn't stop him.

That... that means if he doesn't call, then there's a chance. Not much of a chance, but... not no chance. If he acts like a fucking grownup long enough to do what she asked, get his shit out of here and leave his key on the counter, then... then he hasn't made any more of a mess of things than he already did, and he hasn't been the worst possible fuckup, and maybe... maybe someday he'll run into her again somewhere, and they'll get to talking and she'll smile at him like she used to, and...

It's not much, but it's not absolutely nothing. He doesn't have to call her and he isn't breaking that promise. He won't hurt her more than he already has, or make her angrier than she already is. That's step one. He has to do that first, and then he can figure out the next thing.

He splashes some water on his face and dries it on a patterned kitchen towel, carefully hanging it up again when he's done. Then he goes out to look for boxes.

He sleeps on Anne's couch that night, unable to face lying alone in the bed they shared. He's on the couch the next night, too, and the night after that he's back in the studio, boxes piled everywhere. The interns didn't even trash the place on their way out, or steal anything obvious. He dug up his own sheets and blankets to make the bed, stuff that had stayed boxed up the whole time he was living at Anne's.

He doesn't realize, until he's lying in bed that night not sleeping, that with the minor rearrangement of furniture the interns left behind, he can see the knives on their magnetic strip from the bed. The neon from the sign just outside his windows makes them gleam in the mostly-darkness of his studio. He thinks about going and shoving them in a drawer.

He thinks about having them in his hands, thinks about where else he could shove them. He turns over and pulls his pillow over his head. He's not thinking about it. He doesn't even want to think about it. He's not going to actually do anything; he's not that guy. He's an adult. He's never done anything he couldn't take back, and he's not going to.

He sits up in bed and rearranges stuff on the shelves that partially block off the bed from the rest of the studio until he can't see the knives when he's lying down.

He still knows they're there.

The balcony is there, too, just outside the windows. All the windows are locked, and he put glue on all the latches years ago, when he first moved in. He doesn't check that none of the interns ever scraped it off. The next day he buys a plant and puts it on the windowsill to block his path to the balcony, and the alley four stories down.

He has plans, at first. He'll find another job soon enough, or maybe do some freelance--he could start up his own YouTube channel, with maybe a blog and an Instagram or something. People know his name; he'd get the hits to go somewhere with it.

But every story he looks at writing feels like looking at a knife. Is this something I can use to kill myself? Yes. Yes it is.

There's no point covering the shit that isn't dangerous, and the dangerous stuff, the stuff that was Eddie Brock's bread and butter... he knows what he'd do. Without a producer, without a network to keep him at least somewhat in line, without any reason to give a shit, he'd go too far on something. Maybe not the first story, maybe not the second, but before long he would throw himself right off another cliff. If he's going to mess around with that, he might as well just pull a knife down from the wall, might as well climb out on the balcony. That'd be a lot quicker.

Of course, if he was chasing a story, maybe no one would realize... But Annie would. Annie would know. And he's still just enough of a coward, so he leaves it alone.

He's got some money, anyway. There's the rent the interns were paying--below market, but still twice as much as the rent-controlled rate he's been paying on the studio. And... well, he's not going to need that honeymoon fund he's been building, is he?

He wanted to do something nice for Anne. She's a badass, she takes care of everything--she owns that apartment in Telegraph Hill--and she would've handled the honeymoon, too, if he let her. But Eddie wanted to give her one thing she didn't have to organize, one thing he took care of for her. One time when she could just relax and be happy, with him, without schedules or deadlines or depositions. Without having to remind him to do anything.

Too little, too late. So fuck it. He dumps the honeymoon fund into his checking account, bit by bit.

But he doesn't sell the ring. Because maybe, maybe...

He still hasn't called her. He hasn't burned that one last chance. Their promises to each other are still in effect. He hasn't fucked it up, so there's still a chance. And if he calls her, she'll still pick up.

For a while it's like a vacation, or at least that's what he tells himself. He keeps his gaze averted from the knives and the balcony, and he waters the plant in the window, and he doesn't go chasing stories. He takes care of his bike. He unpacks like he really lives here, like he expects to stick around. He chats with Mrs. Chen at the bodega, and gets to know the current crop of homeless people. He calls 311 about feces on the sidewalk, but he makes sure whoever did it is well out of the way before he dials.

It's something like a life. And if he feels like he's sleeping in the doorway of the emergency exit, well, that just means he doesn't need to look for one. Not that he would, not really. He's fine. He changes the sheets the next morning every time he spends a night crying. He always wears his helmet when he goes out on his bike. He only eyes trees and light poles and bridge embankments to make sure he doesn't hit them. He dutifully starts looking for work when the money starts running out, but he still doesn't go looking for stories on his own. He doesn't pick fights, doesn't have more than a drink or two at the bar. He keeps his head down when he sees a tough guy waving a gun around.

And then this woman follows him into the bodega and tells him Carlton Drake is still killing people, that he's killing more people. And Eddie is, of course, exactly as much of a coward as he's always been. He tells her no. He tells her to be scared. He walks away.

He walks all the way back to Telegraph Hill, to the apartment he left six months ago. The lights are off, but Mr. Belvedere is in the window, so Anne will be back soon. He stands there, thinking that he should just keep walking, that he shouldn't do this, he has no right to do this, and then a car pulls up and Anne steps out in a cute dress and strappy red heels.

There's somebody else with her now, somebody else using that key Eddie left on the counter. A doctor--a surgeon, actually--a good guy. Clean cut, somebody who looks like he belongs with Anne. And it's not even about the other guy, really. It's about Eddie being a fuckup and Anne knowing it.

He's never getting her back.

He walks away thinking, Well, I promised I would talk to you before I did anything I couldn't take back. And now I talked to you.

He walks to the bridge, and for once the height doesn't make any difference. He's already only thinking about jumping. He stands there, holding Annie's ring, the ring he's kept holding on to because maybe...

But there's no maybe. She's done with him. She's a good person, she's kind, and maybe she'll feel bad when she hears, but he's not her problem anymore. She's done with him. She's not coming back. He's got nothing left to lose, nothing to protect, nothing to hope for. He may as well jump.

So he calls Dr. Skirth and throws himself off that cliff, in the hope that he can take Carlton Drake down with him.