At the dinner table is a man, his wife, and a gap where their child used to be. In his heart lies the same hole, a cut-out blackened paper doll of Charlie in the center, filled up instead with blood and symptoms and grief for the dead, dead.
Harvey Finevoice never went to the funeral. He couldn't face it.
He can't go into the cemetery either. Every time he tries, images flash of coffins, cotton sheets, deathbeds exchanged, and he has to stop.
Funny - as a lounge singer, he's got the clout for Access All Areas. But clout and guts aren't synonymous, never have been.
He says 'lounge singer', but he hasn't sung since the death. Not really.
Fly Me to the Moon, If You Should Want the Moon, Swinging on a Star, all those other songs with bits of space in the name. He's got his own space growing, consuming all; he doesn't need reminders of the other one.
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square seems to be okay. Stuff like What a Difference a Day Made, Wee Small Hours, they all clog the pipes.
He won't even attempt Thankful Heart. He can't, not without hearing his boy's fading voice in the harmonies and getting lost anew.
One of his mid-evening stupors ends with him finding a Summons and Petition on the coffee table, and a bunch of other papers too. Maybe they've been there for longer than this, and he just hasn't noticed.
They agree that Christine gets the house, most of the stuff, her life back. He keeps the name.
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree. Crosses, ticks, signatures from tired hands that he can scarcely call his own.
Then she's gone too, and whaddya know? A smaller rented bed and breakfast can be twice as empty as a house if you come at it wrong.
He wakes up some time in March with the breath stripped from his lungs and the thoughts stripped from his head and has to get out and has to GET OUT. LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE
he stumbles through the front door, fighting headaches and nausea every step of the way, with only an incomprehensible cheque to show for his presence. the journey's a blur until he reaches the cemetery's edge again.
one foot in front of the other. Come on, you sunuva bitch, one foot in front of the other, you can at least do that!
...no. even on the edge, on the end, on the six month anniversary, he can't go in closer to see his kid.
chip chip chip. bigger hole than before.
splitting brains, unstable legs | where is he
not where he's supposed to be that's for sure | not with his son
cold and hot and ill and dead and gone | always too young always too late
that should be harvey there not him | is that what this is, a sign of the end
good | let it be that, just let him see Charlie, let them meet let him come back come back
he involuntarily crumples to concrete | he waits for his heart to stop beating
when his eyes force themselves open, he sees his son, but hears a pulse in his skull. a contradiction of pain and relief, one he'll take for his sake.
then the other starts talking, and the former rushes up as bile. it's not him.
he found him right after he collapsed, apparently, and brought him back here to warm up. doctor should be here any minute now to check him over, see what's up with his system (besides the obvious).
the kid, linkara, sits with him until then, keeping him awake with small talk. harvey gauges.
older, that's obvious in the voice, a more noticeable lisp. glasses, not breathing tubes.
but the same hat (different colour though), the same way he fiddles with his hands, the same teeth. and - this gets him the most - the eyes are Charlie's.
the blueish, greenish eyes... Open, alive, windows to the soul.
The doctors don't have any real conclusions to draw, physically. They just tell Harvey to rest up and stop drinking.
Going cold turkey is easy enough; no bottles at the kid's place. He shifts between lying down awake and lying down asleep until the lightning creeps out of his brain the same way it came.
Once he's up properly, he starts taking an interest in what's really going on in this house, with the person in it. ...people.
There's some idiot teenager hogging one of the bedrooms, blasting music into all hours of the night now he knows there's less to disturb. There's a little blue ... thing, a robot, maybe, that hovers in the corners and banters mostly.
They tend to leave him alone at first. He's not sure how weird he's supposed to feel about that.
Strangely, the kid keeps shouting in the living room every Monday. Harvey lets that pass for the first six or so weeks, then he can't hold back the curiosity anymore, and asks about it.
Next thing he knows, he's having a cameo filmed for some Previously On segment? "Yap yap yap, that's all your type ever do."
It's not singing - it won't be singing for quite a while yet - but it's a start. And that's when he knows for sure he's not gonna be leaving this place any time soon.
Things change a lot in the intervening years. Life has a habit of doing that, he's known that for...
Turns out the Kid has more enemies than anyone reckoned for. Robots (more human this time), scientists, conquerors, all from various alternate dimensions, universes, continuities, that run concurrent with everyone else's universes.
...he thinks? Most of this stuff goes over his head.
All he knows for sure is that there's threats to his Kid's wellbeing every few weeks or so. And when aimed right, tommy guns can do a lotta damage, even to the indestructible.
He crops up in the show and the fights again and again. He starts scheduling a new pseudo-tour, mostly small routes for now - hardly Finevoice's Great Comeback.
90s Kid, of all people, reintroduces him to Pokemon around 2010, the stuff beyond even Red and Blue. Like his son before him, he names the Squirtle Buble, and it goes on to sweep the leagues.
Camelot and Die Hard and Muppets come on every Christmas. When he hears the strains of Thankful Heart starting up, the harmonies slip through to wet his eyes and he makes up some excuse about having to hit the hay early.
More cats come, more cats go. The Fourth Wall is a constant.
No it's not. That's a lie.
Once, the Kid disappears for a month out in hyperspace. That hurts, and he worries himself sick some nights, but he comes out the other side okay.
Later than that, he disappears for three months. That's ten times worse.
There's a hologram calling the shots now; it's not the same. Though it's got Charlie's mannerisms and voice and hat, there's none of the compassion that saved Harvey's life in there.
No, THAT is wandering the wilderness, cut off from contact, all alone. In danger, endangering.
He comforts himself with the only thing he knows that'll work: he's coming back. He has to come back.
He wouldn't know how to be if he didn't. He'd stop for good this time.
The four year anniversary arrives. Kid's not there.
He's still gone to the cemetery a lot since beginning to crash with him, and he goes today. He's not sure why; he knows he's not gonna be able to step inside, see the proof that it happened at all.
He's right. Big surprise.
He ends the night holed up in his room, alone but for cigarettes and pictures. It helps a bit.
The Kid does come home eventually, of course, with the gun and a new outlook, and takes down his spectre self. But some thing else comes with him.
When the lockdown happens, it's the scientist Harvey suspects first. Then the idiot, having carried around crap like this in the past.
But when it comes to Kid, that's when his anger rises the highest. It scorches his mouth, clenches his fists, makes those weeks of fear and worry and pain manifest in the sharpest way it can.
How dare he put him through that again for the sake of some magic doodad?! How dare he?!
Trying to get out of it by apologizing, eh? Well, sorry doesn't change what he did, now does it?
He's still got his weapon, and when the shouting rears back round to him, it itches to come out, shut the mooks up. Let's see Charlie turn on him with a bullet between--
Charlie. ... Linkara.
He doesn't know which of those names stops him. And that thought sends a shell of its own into the root of his spine.
the invader turns out to be a Shade, but the metaphor remains, and the lightning's back, crackling, wrackling him with guilt, and he's got to find an escape. tonight.
The one thing worse than ghosts that travel with you is ghosts that travel for you. Harvey finds that out when, at the end of his last show in Gaylord National, a very much long gone Critic appears in his room.
Harvey knows his Christmas Carols, and the songs that come with them. But does it have to be him, now, when he's running and singing and just so damn tired?
Still, he can't shake off this kind of thing any more than the Kid could. So on with the show.
He rehashes the relevant bits of their first collision course. Death, cemetery, collapse, Linkara, life.
He knew all that already, both of them knew it. So what do any ghosts get out of him telling it again?
What does he get, except a reminder of a hole he could never forget? Jack squat?
'Present' doesn't give any straighter an answer. He does bring Harvey home, which is something, he supposes.
Things are going well enough back there. Teen Titans #13 is causing some trouble, but only in an annoyance sense, not a coming-to-life-to-get-at-him or taking-them-all-to-Silent-Hill sense.
Thank god. If pushing him away from his demons had just brought more on, he'd never be able to forgive himself...
...he thinks as if he could right now... Feh.
The review comes and goes without a point to all this. He suspects the last visit will just be more of the same.
In his left eye, the flash of white remains - no, cascades, as heavy snow. In his right, outlines of the living room.
In both, a 'future' that sheds its cocoon, puts on a jacket, a hat, and glasses, and reveals eyes of his own. Blueish, greenish ones.
Old Linkara's, young Linkara's, Charlie's. Trusting eyes.
Half-blind and half-numb, Harvey's unsurprised when he's pointed to the black stone cross in the ground, too close to bear. The predictability is what sets him over the edge, really.
Future, present, blackened past. What good are they to Harvey?
What's the point of showing him what he can't change? What's the point of reminding him of his own mortality, fragility, the slow march of time that separates friend and foe, husband and wife, father and son?
What do they think he'll do? Who do they think he is?
"Harvey... Where do you think you are right now?"
before he can think of the where, there's another shift, and one of the two answers blinks out into bitter winds. so he thinks he's at the grave.
he thinks he's by the grave under a pine tree - by so many graves under a pine tree. by the smallest one in the set.
he thinks he's in the rotten core of the cemetery. a place glimpsed by distance, obscured by fences and time, now larger than life.
he thinks his soul is freezing slowly, from the guts outward. he thinks his feet are not.
he thinks he's being pulled even nearer to the cross, with invisible threads. there's crunching underfoot.
he thinks - he knows - what the grave really says. it's simple, unsentimental, final.
"Charles Finevoice". that's all.
breaking souls, unstable legs | he is there
where they've been pushing him to be | with his son
once hot, now cold, now trembling for both | always too young always too late
inescapable | real
he involuntarily crumples to crystal | he waits for his heart to stop beating
it doesn't | he doesn't
"I don't wanna be here!!"
crying that out doesn't change a thing. tomb, night, as still as themselves.
Linkara keeps talking. like there's nothing else to say.
harvey keeps trying to breathe, to see. like there's anything else to do.
four years worth of tears come forth. four years worth of grief finds its words, its form, at last.
four years worth of lost and found and lost again. it disintegrates all.
four years without a goodbye. for very good reason.
"When do you let this stuff go?" he asks at last, in a voice far away from himself. "When are you supposed to start moving on?"
"Well. What better time than Christmas?"
he can't answer that. there's too much of him to gather.
"This is where you are right now. Where do you want - where do you need to be?"
want and need aren't synonymous, never have been. harvey turns to tell him this, but he's gone.
now the finevoices really are alone. reunited in the snow.
he doesn't know how long he continues to sit there, with his future and present and past. there's no sun to tell him the time, no chime to warn of midnight.
he's stopped crying, somewhat. it's supposed to make someone feel better, but he can't tell if it has.
there's no peace within him, no calm that tells him it's time. there's no miraculous healing of the hole.
but there's no ache of it either. there's nothing.
... maybe moving on is like going in closer to a cemetery, he thinks. or starting a new life in a new house.
it all starts with feeling nothing, feeling empty, feeling at your lowest. then you either put one foot in front of the other, or someone catches you when you can't and makes the decision for you.
one was a beginning. the other, an end.
maybe this is both. maybe, if he sees it like that, he can make that first step for himself for once.
harvey feels a tiny hand on his back. agreement.
and so it goes. and so, softly, he speaks.
to Charlie, his son, his missing piece. "goodbye."
to Christine; to the Linkaras that left and returned without the chance to hear it. "goodbye."
to his kids and his ghosts, living or dead. "thank you."
as he rises, the chill dissipates, and he is back in the living room. One more trick from the spirits.
His second steps are interrupted. A younger, louder voice emerges from around the corner, and there's Linkara, both a son and not a son at all.
With him comes joy, and warmth, and a sense of time. Dinner's happening in the next room - then, no doubt, a movie upstairs or down.
Explanations, apologies, tours - it'll all have to wait. He wouldn't miss this for the world, not right now.
At the dinner table is a singer, a teenager, a scientist, a robot, and the jack of all trades that took them in. In Harvey's soul lies an inkling, a memory, the promise of a new start...
...with a grateful prayer and a Thankful Heart.