Goodbye

From the Story Arc: Three Days In December

Previous Story in the Arc: Flowers by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, December 14, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Rendesvous by Belladonna Aura (Tuesday, January 02, 2007)

(posted Friday, December 15, 2006)

Bella was not going to risk her brand new, full physician’s license by self-prescribing. But there were plenty of physicians at Chiron and the other hospitals she had worked at who were only to happy to press ‘scrips on her at the moment. If she’d taken them all, she could have started a nice little drug business.

If she’d taken them all…and filled them…and then took all the pills at once…

No. He wouldn’t have wanted that, and neither, really, did she. Not when so many people still needed her, needed to see her be strong so they could be strong. Needed to know that…

That Saviour had left CCCP in the right hands after all.

So she took just enough to numb; just enough to get through the memorial ceremony.

She looked out across another sea of stricken faces, but this time she could give them no song of hope. It wasn’t in her. She had words for them. She didn’t know if they would comfort, but at least they would honor.

She cleared her throat, gently. “Many people in very high places urged me to hold this ceremony in Washington. They had very persuasive arguments; they were going to bestow all manner of honors and name Zachary Marlowe a ‘True American Hero.’ I told them no. Because that would have been wrong, and Zach…Zach would have hated that.

Let me tell you about Zachary Marlowe.

He was given away by his parents to a faceless corporation with a contract to create super-soldiers. He’d made a mistake. His powers had hurt someone. He was just a little boy, and he had no idea that he could do that. He didn’t understand why people were suddenly afraid of him. We’ve all heard that same story too many times; what was different about this one was that this little boy was sent off to become an experiment. That loving, caring, frightened little boy was treated like a lab rat, deliberately kept from human warmth, turned into a feral thing. He escaped from that environment into the streets, where he became an uncommon thug who enjoyed the fear of others, because he had been made to fear so much himself. He preyed on the weak and avoided the strong; made few friends, and none of them for long.

Then, one day, he encountered something he had never seen before. The strong helping the weak, in a very meaningful way. Not just knocking down a purse snatcher, but offering a helping hand. A warm meal, a job, a place to learn, help whenever and wherever it was needed, no questions asked, no payment taken.

He encountered the CCCP.

They—we—gave him what he most craved, most needed. We gave him family. We gave him acceptance. We gave him something to live up to and something to believe in. His home, his heart, were here, with us. He was in Washington for us, and for those like us. His passion was to serve the people. He was given many honors and countless accolades, and he kept them all in a box. He never displayed them. For Zach Marlowe, no badge, no medal, was the equal of one little old lady’s ‘thank you.’

That was Zach Marlowe the hero. Zach Marlowe the man—“ She shook her head. “Was one of the kindest, funniest men I have ever known. He had a heart so big not even what had been done to him as a child could stunt it. He was braver than anyone I have ever known. He never thought of himself as wise, but he was. He always had time for the newest, rawest of his comrades. Most of all, he was passionate. He took big bites of life, and shared what he had gladly, not just material things, but his zest for everything about being alive. He was…our star. Not like a Hollywood star, but the star you look to at night, to show you the way.

For him, the way always led back here, to us, his comrades. That was why I wouldn’t let them have this ceremony any place other than here. His home was here. His home will always be here, with us, in our hearts.”

She stepped down from the podium and went to Chug, who was standing quietly by the memorial stone newly-set into the side of HQ. She handed Chug the Hero of the City badge she had taken from Zach’s medal-case, one of the little name-tags from his uniforms, and his red and gold CCCP Commissar’s insignia. Right now the stone had only Zach’s real name, his hero name, and the dates chiseled into it.

“You remember what we did, right, Chuggie?” she whispered. The paving stones of the garden were now ornamented with discarded bits of insignia where they had practiced an hour or two ago.

Chug nodded solemnly,

“OK. Be very careful. Put the first one right here.” She held her finger beneath the name.

With infinite gentleness, the most powerful member of CCCP pressed the nameplate and the two medals into the stone. The power that could crush anything slowly fused all three into the rock, making them a part of it for all time. Heat came off the stone in waves; heat released as the rock was compressed and almost liquified.

“Good job, Chuggie,” she said warmly, holding back her tears. Not yet. It wasn’t time to let go yet. Chug held her hand as gently as a child’s as the rest of the ceremony went past her in a blur.

She did not stay for condolences; she left that in the hands of John Murdock, Thanh Ha, and Communard. She had been taking condolences for three days, and however many more people there were who wanted to tell her how sorry they were, there was nothing more to be said, for numbers would not change anything. She had given all the comfort she could, now; the well had run dry. she was spent and empty. Tomorrow the well would fill again, but for tonight there was nothing left to give them but her own pain. She vanished instead into HQ…literally. She’d taken a stealth unit from the armory and switched it on, heading for the roof.

In the blue dusk she watched the crowd below disperse. The important, the dignitaries, all made their photo-ops and snaked away in little knots of black-suited security. That left only the friends and acquaintances, slowly drifting off, to whatever destinations they had planned after this. Home. Patrols. Maybe dinner or a movie, something to lift their minds out of sadness. There were places in the crowd where there were two pairs, obvious pairs, rather than singles. A flash of red hair beside white told her there was KC and Waterlily. Johnny and Sera were so attuned they even moved together. She spotted Aura and Criofan, Boomer and Rory, and uncharacteristically sober rather than gold and scarlet were tiny blonde Vickie and tall Red Djinni…couples…couples holding to each other in the wake of her dissolution. And truly, she did not want them to mourn one instant longer than they had to in order to heal. Whether she ever would heal herself…she couldn’t tell right now. She had no experience in this kind of loss. But they must. The sooner, the better. Life would go on, and it would be better going on with them than with them swirling in some stagnant, back-water eddy. There would be joy for them, and yes, more pain, and they would all help each other over the latter and celebrate the former.

And she would go on, too. In pain, or not, she would go on. Removing herself from the world was not an option.

She caught the faint empathic caress as Sera looked up, but did not betray her location.

Finally, they were all gone, and the Row was silent.

Music had always been her refuge. She stared out over the silent streets, and tried to find some comfort in it….

Hello young lovers, whoever you are,
I hope your troubles are few.
All my good wishes go with you tonight,
I've been in love like you.

Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star,
Be brave and faithful and true,
Cling very close to each other tonight.
I've been in love like you.

I know how it feels to have wings on your heels,
And to fly down the street in a trance.
You fly down a street on the chance that you meet,
And you meet -- not really by chance.

Don't cry young lovers, whatever you do,
Don't cry because I'm alone;
All of my memories are with him tonight,
I've had a love of my own.
I've had a love of my own, like yours-


Her voice faltered, choking on her tears.

I've had…a love of

She sobbed the last two words.

…my…own.

“Bella is sad.”

The voice startled her. She turned, eyes streaming, to see Chug standing on the roof behind her.

“Chug sad too.”

She turned off the stealth unit, wiping her face with the back of her hand. “I know, baby, but—“

“Chug wants to be sad wiff Bella.” He held out his arms. She went to him, and he folded them carefully around her as they sat down together on the roof. “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay. Cuz it make stuff better.”

He began to rock her, and she cried and cried at last, and cried until she had no more energy for tears, on the sturdy, patient shoulder of the only creature she knew, in all of the wide, achingly empty world, that she did not have to be strong for.

Fin


((Lyrics: “Hello Young Lovers” Oscar Hammerstein))