Five years of sobriety had fallen down the drain.
All it took was one look and Drew had served him the bitter liquid he detested.
The taste was as awful as he remembered it to be but it helped numb the pain. It was almost toxic, poisonous even.
Rubbing alcohol and death.
Well doctor, the back haired man whispered to himself, repeating the words once again as he finished yet another glass of amber coloured alcohol, the kind Mick used to adore, I wasn’t the one who died young.
Drew kept staring at him from behind the bar but never said a single word. He didn’t need to.
He knew Mick wasn’t coming back.
Salt had been poured over Ax’s wounds and he finally understood what true pain was.
Salt had been poured over Ax’s wounds and an eternal mystery had been solved: monsters can, indeed, feel pain.
He drowned a whole bottle without thinking about the consequences, without caring about how it burned his throat, how it killed his emotions slowly. He was in the middle of the second bottle when a certain man walked inside the pub, heading straight at him.
There was something mildly depressing about an empty bar without the addition of two men in mourning. Especially when one of them looked nothing like his normal well groomed self.
His eye, the functioning one, was bloodshot telling stories of spilt tears. His scuff had turned into a full beard and he had lost weight, his cheekbones sharp enough to cut you. The clothes he wore belonged to his normal self, and yet, there was nothing that would indicate that the man was anything but a drunk with a lingering sadness in his eyes.
Xavier walked heavily, the weight of the world resting comfortably on his broad shoulders. In his hands he held a small metallic box with a silver lock. On the top of the box a sentence was painted on with a sharpie: For when I’m gone, it wrote. Xavier might not have truly been lifting the weight of the world but it sure felt like it.
He took the seat opposite from Ax, never looking at him. “Stop drinking that shit.” He told the black haired man, grabbing the bottle and moving it to his side of the table, sniffing its contents briefly and grimacing as its scent reached his nostrils.
“It was Mick’s favourite.” He replied weakly, drowning the rest of the contents of his glass. “He was an odd fucker. You know, he used to recite pages after pages from books and poems he had memorised to me. I never knew why he even bothered to learn that shit.”
Ax lifted his gaze and gave his ally a long look filled with despair. “I should have told him how much I appreciated those fucking poems when I had the chance.” Ax reached from the bottle but Xavier moved it away before his rough fingers could wrap around its neck.
“I’m sure he knew,” Xavier stated, shaking his head as he saw the waitress move over to them. He didn’t need to make any more movements. She turned around and went to the back of the pub, not even bothering to hide her interest in their conversation. “You’re a fucking mess, Ax. What are you going to do, drink the pain away? You, of all people, should know that it doesn’t work like that.”
Ax would never admit it but the younger man was right.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to drown the sorrow.
“Do you want to know what really happened?”
He shook his head. “No. I don’t want to know. I couldn’t bear it.” He confessed, afraid that those two sentences would make him appear weak. Ax had no one he could confess the truth to, it appeared. “Did you tell Aurelia what happened?”
“I did.” His good eye turned glassy, finally matching the other one. “She broke down. She screamed, she cried, she fell down and clutched her stomach at one point, whispering something unintelligible.”
“She’s pregnant.” Ax let the information fall from his lips, knowing exactly what Xavier would think: why would anyone want to raise kids in situations like these? “Mick told me the night he died. He is-was going to be a fucking father, Xavier. That’s all he ever fucking wanted, to have a family and Bruce took it from him.”
Xavier did not know how to respond, he was too numb to think of making an intelligent thought. “So, what now? Do we find a new plan?” Xavier let his fingers trace the bottle, capturing every small droplet of water that tried to get away.
“We are not going to do a single thing.” Ax told him firmly. “I am going to kill Bruce. You will not be involved, you helped enough but after I’m done, you’ll take command of them.”
You’ll take Mick’s place. It didn’t feel right to say those words.
Xavier felt his eyes widen. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’ll need help to take him down.”
“And I will find it, it just won’t be you. If you die too, your father will come after me and he will, most certainly, end me. I don’t want to die.” Why couldn’t he just confess that he didn’t want Xavier to die too? Why did he have to put on a facade?
Xavier groaned and took a gulp from the bottle, grimacing as the liquid burned his throat. “So you will kill Bruce, just like that?” He cocked an eyebrow at the man in front of him.
“Yes.” Ax didn’t hesitate at all. “I’m doing it for Mick.” Xavier nodded, finally looking at the truth in the eye. “He’s going to suffer for what he did to him.” A menacing grin appeared on his stubbled face. “I plan on winning this game, Xavier.” He told him before once again reaching for that wrenched bottle, only to have it moved away from him once more. “I hope you know that you are playing this game with me, kid.”
There was no other choice.
“I won’t fail you.” Xavier vowed, his head bowed.
Ax gave him a hard look before removing his eyes from his and turning them to Drew. “Don’t fail Mick, failing me is not something you should concern yourself with.”
“Drew, can I have another fucking bottle?” He called out, not caring nearly enough to even check and see if he was bothering the other clients.
“I’m not your errand boy,” The owner replied and no matter how hard he tried to disguise it there were traces of sadness in his deep, cigar smooth voice. “If you want, you can wait until the waitress comes back from her break.” Ax grunted in response, sulking like a damn child.
Xavier looked around him, staring at the few customers; they were all looking at them. If his hair was longer, he would run his hands through it, the same way Ax did, just so he could release some frustration in the most nonchalant way possible.
Taking a deep calming breath, the younger man slid the metal box towards Ax’s hunched figure. “This is for you.” He told him when the older man’s attention had been focused on it. “Mick told me to give this to you in case something happened to him.”
If Ax was surprised he sure as Hell didn’t show it. He remained calm as he regarded Pandora’s box, as if it wouldn’t release every evil being on the atmosphere the second he opened it. “Why did he give it to you?”
“Who else was there, Chris? Do you think he would have given it to you?”
“Why you?” The brooding man repeated, his dark eyes fierce and painful to look at.
“He gave me my letter that day. He made me promise I wouldn’t open it, unless something bad happened.” A lone tear fell to his cheek but Xavier did not wipe it off, he didn’t care about appearing weak. “Read yours and give the rest to the others. Remind me to give you another box in three years.” He stood up, finding the strength to command his feet not to fail him. “A word of advice, don’t drink any more, Mick wouldn’t want to see you like that.”
“Do you think he knew?” Ax asked the man that was leaving quietly, fearing the answer.
Xavier shrugged. “Of course he knew, it was all part of his plan.”
Celia found him near the back of the half-empty pub.
His hunched figure was being caressed by a vulture with a waterfall of blonde hair and an Oscar worthy smile. Marissa.
Only, she no longer viewed the woman as competition.
She strode over to the pair, after nodding at Drew, anger flying off of her in waves. She didn’t know who she was angry at more, Ax and his inability to stop himself from falling back into old habits or that fucking witch who found him vulnerable and took advantage of him?
She decided on the latter.
“Get away from him.” The young woman commanded, her body only a few measly centimetres away from the blonde, who was rubbing Ax’s thigh in a mock attempt to comfort him. She would cut that hand off in she needed to.
The man in question was had not even registered her presence, he was too busy clutching a piece of paper to his chest, his eyes glassy.
Marissa lifted her gaze only to give an impolite glare at the small woman. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, you heard me.” Celia offered her a smirk, one that would have made Ax proud if he was able to realise what was happening. She was fighting for him, even if that battle didn’t particularly count. “Remove your talons from him and step away. Go find someone who is desperate enough to screw you.” She met her glare head on, only caring about taking Ax home safely. “He’s mine.” She touched her stomach carefully, afraid to apply too much pressure.
Her hazel eyes narrowed but her smile intensified.
Victory tasted very sweet.
Thank fuck the pub had a smart, sensible owner who enabled her to taste victory.
Drew had somehow managed to take Ax’s phone and find the number he had called last. It had been inconvenient, seeing as Celia was at the doctor’s office who had, just a few flimsy seconds earlier, confirmed her pregnancy. Once Drew had told her what was happening, she ran to find her wounded monster, leaving the doctor confused but also mildly amused.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Celia didn’t have the time to respond.
“That’s my dove.” Was Ax’s slurred reply. Needless to say, the small female felt her heart strings tightening painfully as a wave of emotion tore through them. Marissa retreated slowly as she felt his body tense beneath him. She had lost, after all. The worst part was that she finally had to admit her defeat. “Leave now, Mar.” He continued, finally finding himself again. “I mean it, don’t fucking bother me again. There’s no one else but her.” Everything else was background music, even movements.
Marissa’s intelligent eyes widened, taking in the mechanic’s every slurred word.
Her proximity had elicited no reaction.
She had failed and it bothered the Hell out of her.
It sickened her to think that she had grown too old to play these kind of games.
The blonde stood up with a huff, never breaking free from the character she was impersonating. She looked at Celia with a mocking smile. “Oh, well he’s too much of a train wreck anyway. Hope you like them damaged.” After that, she sashayed away, taking a seat at the bar, not daring to spare another glance at the couple.
Ax ran a hand through his soft black hair suddenly growing mildly sober.
The alcohol did not help, after all. It had only made matters worse. Reality came knocking on his door the minute she appeared. Up until that moment, he had been numb, he hadn’t even been able to distinguish reality from fiction. In fact, the lines were so blurred that he almost believed he was nothing but a figment of someone’s imagination.
You’re going soft, the voice whispering to him had been Mick’s, for that he was certain but was it really? Or was it the only way he knew how to cope with reality?
Is that bad? Ax played the game and asked the voice.
You’re the only one who can answer that, chico.
Don't give me that scarface crap, he told the voice, however, the words remained unreserved. The Mick inside his head was as much of an asshole as the real one had been.
Marissa had shown up at some point, completely unannounced. She had taken the seat next to him without even bothering to ask but he did not care. She sat next to him for a few minutes before making the first attempt to touch him, see if he would send her away, he still didn’t care.
When she started to play, Ax did not move.
Not because he didn’t want to but he had been on the third bottle and her touch seemed eerily familiar and he was dying for some familiarity.
“Ax, put that down.” The black haired creature told him carefully, each syllable leaving her mouth hesitantly. Perhaps, she was trying to figure out what kind of a drunk he was.
Without a word of protest, he lowered the bottle to the table.
He was avoiding her gaze, he didn’t want her to see him in that state. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to see himself in that state. “I’m sorry.” He knew she could tear him to pieces if she wanted to and he wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
The thing is though, he wanted her to tear him apart.
She closed the gap between them with only two steps. “You shouldn’t be sorry, you’re grieving and it hurts, I understand.” She took one of his hands in hers, squeezing it softly, reminding him that she was there. “But please, find something else to do. Don’t drink.” She was offering herself in a silver platter, that’s what she was doing and it was one of the best decisions she had ever made.
“It hurts so fucking bad.” Somebody was ripping his heart from his chest but there was no physical evidence of the assault. She squeezed his hand again, a bit firmer this time. “I know.” She whispered and no matter how she didn’t want to let them, the memories flooded her broken mind.
So much fucking blood and shards of broken glass.
She knew exactly how Ax was feeling.
All he wanted to do was drown his sorrow but what he didn’t know was that it wasn’t as easy as he had initially believed. “Let’s go home, Ax.” There was something dejected about her tone, she was too tired and in pain. She might not have known the man with the Scotch coloured eyes well but he had imprinted himself in her brain.
He would never leave.
He would never truly die.
The brooding man stood up, his movements oddly calm and collected, it was as if the whole thing was nothing more than an out of body experience. “Home.” He repeated with a bitter chuckle. The paper in his hand was burning his flesh.
“Where is that, Celia?” He knew that he had made the exact same question to her but it seemed that eons had passed since that night.
She hadn’t given him a satisfactory answer back then.
She only hoped she could redeem herself this time.
“Where do you want it to be, Alexander?” His only response was a sharp inhale. Ax shook his head, dazed and completely unaware of his surroundings. Bloody Hell, he was losing his self.
Would changing the topic help him gain some self control? He could only hope so.
“Mick wrote letters to all of us to read if something ever happened to him. Yours is in the box if you wish to read it.” He motioned over to the piece of metal, which was resting peacefully on the table, an ordinary object that held so many secrets.
“He wrote me a letter?” She asked the disorientated man, who managed to give her a weak smile.
“He really likes- liked. He really liked you.” He had forgotten everything had to be past tense from then on. He dropped a small, gentle kiss on her forehead, at the small space that separated her lovely shaped dark brows. He let his lips linger there for a few moments, closing his eyes and forgetting.
It was easy to forget when she was around, at least for a while the world stopped being so damn loud. “Don’t allow me to fail you.” He whispered as he unwillingly severed the contact. “Please, don’t allow me to fail you.” If anyone asked him where that vulnerability had come from he wouldn’t know what to say. He didn’t know.
Celia tilted her head in order to look into his dark stormy eyes. “You won’t.” She reassured him, her eyes fierce.
Ax shook his head. “I already have.” He confessed. “Bruce knows I’m with someone. If he suspects that I was in on the whole scheme he could use you to hurt me.” Even breathing hurt. “You have to come live with me, I can’t protect you otherwise.”
Celia shuddered involuntarily. The feeling that suffocated her in those moments appeared comically similar to fear. “We’ll talk about it once you’re sober.” For some reason he didn’t tell her that he had come to that decision long before that dreadful night happened.
Her arms wrapped themselves around his waist, drawing him even closer. He groaned and laid his head at the nape of her neck, forgetting that they were in a public place. Well, he didn’t exactly forget, he just didn’t give a shit. “I don’t want to lose you too.” He admitted. He felt her breathing turn shallow as he pressed against her small body, every curve melting into him. With a flick of his wrist the band that held her ponytail in place disappeared, leaving the inky black waterfall to fall around her shoulders. “I don’t want to stand over your lifeless body and be haunted by what could have been for the rest of my life.”
Celia didn’t know what she could possibly say to him. She remained in his arms, motionless afraid that he would find a reason push her away.
He sighed, his hot breath hitting her skin. “Let’s go home.”
Not that they would ever know but sharp, calculating brown eyes followed their every movement from a half-secluded part of the pub.
“I’ve been fascinated by birds and the way they act for years. I think I had been about four years old when I understood just what their purpose was.” His words were slurred but still coherent. “My mom had a tiny little dove and I used to always find excuses to look at it. Stare at it as if I was trying to understand every little detail about it.” He captured a lock of her hair and begun caressing it. “One day, as I was watching it, I saw the sadness in its eyes, it longed to leave its cage. I opened it for the dove and I saw it fly away without ever looking back. My mom had asked me why had I opened the cage but I didn’t have an answer, I just had to do it.” He confessed, letting his bloodshot eyes fall on the unmade bed they had made love on countless of times before.
“The day when we first met I couldn’t help but think how similar you looked to that dove. That look in your eyes held the same kind of madness, the same desire to be free.”
“Doves represent freedom.” He said simply, not bothering to elaborate, even though the meaning behind his words was quite clear. “And while I’m not much of a believer, I do believe that it wasn’t pure coincidence that we met.” He played with a strand of inky black hair that had managed to escape from her ponytail. “You became mine the very day I left that place, of course you represent freedom. You represent my freedom.” His strong arms were wrapped around her waist, brushing against her stomach.
They had been laying on the bed for a few hours now. During the drive back, Ax didn’t stop holding the box for a second, as if afraid it would disappear. At some point Xavier’s words rang through his ears and he made Celia stop outside of Aurelia’s house so that he could give her the letter Mick had written her. He got out of the car, after giving Celia another kiss on her forehead.
Doubt flooded his being the moment he reached the house.
And like the spineless coward he believed himself to be, he didn’t even bother knocking on the door, he simply slid the letter underneath it and left.
He wouldn’t have been able to bear her tears.
But that’s not an excuse. He snarled to himself.
Celia’s curvy body was draped over him, her fingers tracing his tattoos softly as she listened to him. Celia was slowly yet steadily nodding off, her body as tired as her mind. So much had happened over those past few days that she didn’t have the time to process a single information, not even the fact that in about eight months she would be welcoming another human into that dirty, hopeless world.
She couldn’t process it because she couldn’t share it with anyone. Her few friends would not understand and Ax was in no position to hear such news, who knew how he would react.
“Sleep, little dove.” She heard his voice but she was already too far gone. In her sleep she saw the letter Ax had been carrying. It was only in that dreamlike state she could admit to herself that the moment Ax left her Impala, her eyes fell to his letter.
The eyes lie, chico. The title read.
Mick was still there, hiding in one of the dark, dusty corners of his mind.
He wanted to remember the kid that would always smile and try to make everything alright, even though life never stopped getting her kicks from knocking him down.
He didn’t want to remember his best friend as a bloody carcass, void of soul and pieced too many times from the bullets that had decided to meet his vital organs.
In Ax’s head he was already buried.
It is a known fact that when we bury our dead we do not do it mostly out of respect for the body of the soul that we once knew. We do it for closure. We want to forget and so we believe that by the ancient ritual of burial we can bury the bad memories along with our loved ones. All that, so that we can feel better, less troubled, less at fault. We need to know that, at least now, they are safe. Human vanity created all the theories about life after death because we cannot possibly accept that this is all there is.
Ax wasn’t God fearing or even remotely religious for that matter but he hoped that if there was a God out there, he had created a place for the souls to go after they abandoned their frail earthly bodies.
For If there was one person that deserved Heaven, that was Mick.