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"I wanted to find one thing that was mine and leave this
behind; but I can't find my way to get far away and bury
these days." -- Fuel

There was no moonlight in Solaris, but the man called Hyuga had never felt the lack. Not until tonight, when he stood -- barechested and barefooted -- to gaze over the plaza outside the window illumined by neon and chrome from the buildings below. Once more, he could not sleep. Once more, he knew that come morning, the tenuous truce he'd worked out with his destiny would be shattered.

Behind him, his lover sprawled across the tiny bed that they shared in secret, the soft glow from the window reflecting off skin that had been roughened by the sun and wind. He slept restlessly, the covers tangled around him -- ~Kahr wonders why my bed is always so disrupted in the morning,~ Hyuga thought, crazily, ~but if he ever saw Sigurd sleeping, our secret would be out.~ He felt the chuckle rising from the depths of his chest, and caught it before it turned against his will into a sob. Instead, he turned back to the window, knowing that if he looked at the sleeping man in the bed one minute longer, he would lose that numbness he clung to as his only last strength.

~It wants moonlight. A scene like this, it wants moonlight.~ He rested his forehead against the glass, his eyes not seeing the scene beneath him. Rather, he felt the press of Sigurd's hands against his body, Sigurd's lips on his own. There had been desperation in that touch tonight, a dark aching that he had never before felt. There had been the hint of something hidden, something that Sigurd was not saying, words unspoken between the two who had not, until now, needed them. The pressing weight of Sigurd's need to touch, to hold, would have given him his answer, were it not for the fact that he had already known.

He did not know how he knew. He did not know if the knowledge was something that he had pieced together, carefully fitting clue to clue, or if it had been something vouchsafed to him in a single blinding flash of inspiration. But he knew, deeper than he knew his own true name, or the feel of his sword in his hand, that in the morning, Sigurd would be gone.

He had not expected this. Had not wanted it, this falling in love; he had known his duty, had known where he would lead him, from the beginning. There had been no question of refusing it, no question of letting the mantle fall to other shoulders; there had been no other shoulders that could have taken it up. That, above all else, he knew. Yet in this tiny room, the clock blinking some obscene hour of the morning, he found himself shaken and off-balance, crying for the answers, unsettled in a way that he had not let himself be for years. Long ago, he had learned not to open himself to those who came and went in his life; the numbness was all he had to shield himself from the play of centuries. How disturbed had he been, to discover that without conscious thought, his emotions had once more risen to betray him!

~Never before have I asked 'why me'. I have always known the answer. Through all the years, all the times I have done things that I cannot bear to remember, I have always had that purpose to guide me. What is it about him that brings me so close to forgetting?~ Hyuga felt the first few tremors of cold beginning to twine their fingers into him, but he did not move to clothe himself further. ~They call me the Guardian Angel for the number of lifetimes I have shepherded the Contact through, but never before have I felt more in need of guarding myself!~

The soft noise from behind him made his shoulders tense, but he did not look behind him. He knew what he would see -- pale hair spread out across a pillow, amber skin half-shrouded by the sheet in disarray, one foot dangling off the bed and one hand twisted up into some position that would as usual leave Sigurd complaining of pins and needles in the morning. He knew that if he looked, he would want to wake him, want to touch, want to imprint the lines and curves of Sigurd's body in his memory for the coming years alone. And he also knew that if he did that, Sigurd would not be able to find the will to do what he must.

~So much like Roni. So much ... I can see Roni's fire in him, banked, but there. And he too feels the pull ... the old blood stirs in him...~ Hyuga sighed, lost for that moment in memory. ~It is not the first time I have met someone who reminded me so of someone I once knew. It will not be the last. Why, then, does it bother me so? Why do I feel as if he should be uniquely his own, and not remind me of anyone else? Is that what love is, this feeling that nothing before or since shall ever be the same? I had thought I knew the meaning of love, but this is .. this is wild and terrifying all at once, this depth of feeling. I would die for him -- if I could die -- and I know that he would die for me. I would do anything to have one more night with him. Anything ... but what I would have to do.~ One hand rose to pinch the bridge of his nose. ~I swore to myself that I would never again love the once-born, and he has disrupted all of my careful promises.~

~And come the morning, I will never see him again.~

He wondered why this parting, out of the tens of thousands that he had lived through, knifed him so deeply. Ever since that first lifetime's span he had lived and failed to die, when he had learned that everything he loved would age and wither before his eyes while he stayed eternally twenty-nine, he had tried to live without touching. The agony of standing by, never able to touch, as those he'd given his heart to lived out their few short years and then turned to dust had worn away a piece of him over the years, until he'd locked that piece away so deeply that he hadn't thought there was a way of ever resurrecting it. He had allowed himself to grow numb, allowed himself to forget that there was any emotion stronger than a casual friendship. And then came along Sigurd, with the eyes of a dead man and a heart large enough to hold the world, and he hadn't even realized until it had been too late what those treacherous stirrings deep within his soul forebode.

~He won me by being human. By reminding me ... reminding me just what it was that I was sent to guard. He invited me into his heart, and showed me with his simple and overwhelming desire to /live/ all it was that I had been lacking. And now ... I must somehow remember that numbness, lest it kill me when I awaken in the morning and he is gone.~

The display on the clock clicked silently over to the next hour, the hour that qualified as too late or too early depending on from which end you were viewing it. Hyuga wasn't sure which applied in this case. ~For me, it is always too late, too late and too long. Always too long...~

What made it worse was that he knew why Sigurd was leaving, and he knew that he could not follow. ~His destiny lies elsewhere, and me, my duty is to stay ... if I went with him, I would be betraying every part of me that has worked for ... Thousands of years, is it now? I can no longer keep track.~ The years and the lifetimes blurred into each other like one disturbing dream upon waking. He remembered, as if a far-off memory of a memory, having been -- born to? created by? -- the creature that many would call God... remembered learning his duty, to keep the one called the Contact (a pair of warm brown eyes, always the same no matter whose body they were residing in, gazing at him with trust and affection) from interfering with God's will ... remembered the way his loyalties had shifted, over that first lifetime, almost without him noticing it. The rest of the memories had grown indistinct over the years, but there had been no question that he had grown to realize his first duty had been to man, rather than God; to Abel, rather than Cain. ~No matter what my persona may dictate.~ Through all he had done, through all the years, his one overwhelming duty had been to guard, guide, and protect the Contact, that he might be able to one day take up the task of saving a world, or destroying it.

And he had failed. That knowledge was bitter wormwood, spreading through his veins like poison. He had failed not once, not twice, but three times. ~The original failure, where his very core had been so destroyed that he would not even wake to the knowledge of his endless rebirth until it was almost too late. The second failure, when I had been imprisoned halfway across the world, where he had been so badly scarred that he vowed to destroy the world and yet might succeed. And this last, most terrible failure, where those who would use him had found him well before I could, abusing him so badly that he might never recover.~ Hyuga had agonized over what to do, and he still was not certain that his plan had any chance of success. He had lost the boy, and at that point did not have the strength to get him back. His only choice had been to return to the one place that had the greatest chance of obtaining the information he needed, and while he was there, sharpen the skills that he had allowed to grow rusty over the past few peaceful centuries. Above all else, this he swore, by all the old oaths that had been forgotten as if they never were: he would not fail again.

He would not let his feelings break him, lest they also break a world.

He stood like marble at the window, ever so meticulously not turning his head again. He could not bear to look upon that sleeping body, could not bear to taste those perfect lips again, lest they tempt him away from his resolution. One crazy part of his mind insisted that he should awaken Sigurd, say his goodbyes as he had all so rarely had the chance to do over the years, but he knew, with a dark, aching certainty, that if he did, Sigurd would not be able to go. ~And I am not that selfish. I ... am not. I can bear this weight; my shoulders are broad enough. I have lived through so many partings that this one, in calm and after such bliss, should not rend me so. I should be grateful for what I have been given.~

Yet, he doubted, hearing the sort sleepy murmur behind him. In an existence that had been filled with doubt and self-questioning, he had never before doubted his ability to return to that duty quite so strongly as he doubted at this very moment, frozen in time and all too aware that time would move without him. He wanted every last minute, wanted to hold this one last night to him for comfort over the years that would seem once more achingly lonely and empty -- but he could not. And he knew, with a knowledge sharper than his own sword, once more why he had decided that he could not afford to love.

Love, he had decided lifetimes ago, threatened more than anything else to distract him from his duty.

~I could -- keep watch over him, too..~ But no. If he watched, he would want to touch; if he knew, he would want to go. Best by far to make a clean break of things. The agony of knowing that Sigurd was alive and elsewhere would not cease to peel away whatever scab could heal over the wound, time and again. This was why he could not afford the indulgence of emotion. Should not have afforded it now, at such a crucial time.

~Should not have tried to be human,~ the inner voice insisted. ~Should not have let myself feel, not again. Should not have opened my heart to the once-born, not again. If I fail in this, it will be no one's fault but my own.~

Oh, he knew. And knowing had been his curse and his blessing, for his entire existence. How often did he wish that he could forget, wish that he could live out his allotted threescore years and ten, comfortably ignorant to the greater fate of the race he had adopted as his own. But he could not, and this too, he knew. No silver or gold could entice him to lay aside his task, but a pair of sapphire eyes and a length of silver hair came too close, all too close. ~Let this cup pass me by!~ he cried, silently, not even knowing whom or what he was importuning. ~Let me have this one happiness, let me have this one gift! I have served faithfully over all these years, I have given all that I could to my duty ... why may I not have this one comfort, for as long as I can!~

But the answer was there already. These few short years while he regrouped and began his fumbling way to repairing what his own failure had wrought had been the gift that he had been given. He could not, in all conscience, ask for more. He knew. And he understood. And there was nothing more he could do.

And he would never again hear Sigurd's voice whispering words of love, never again feel Sigurd's touch, never look into those eyes so bright with humanity ever again.

He bowed his head, fighting back the tremors that threatened to overtake him. He could not let this show. No one knew, no one suspected, who and what he truly was. Not even the one he had been protecting through more years than he could comfortably count had ever begun to realize; not even Cain truly suspected the extent of the depths that lurked deep within him. He had made his way in the world with a polite smile and a faintly puzzled outward demeanor, and those weapons had served them as well in their own way as the sword he'd carried down the centuries. That mask that covered his true face had been worn for so long that after a while, it grew difficult to remember what had once been behind it. He liked it that way, liked the numbness, the distance, the way that the outside world did not threaten to tumble down the blocks he had placed to shield him. It was easier -- O, how much easier! -- for him to face the thought of a life that stretched out until the world cooled and cracked when he did not allow himself to dwell on the fact that he faced those years with nothing more than a child that was born, grew old, and died over and over again without truly knowing the nature of his existence and thousands of walk-on players with bit parts who mouthed their lines and then departed.

He remembered, or perhaps he remembered having remembered, that it had not always been like this. ~When did I change? When did things change? I remember at first, when I embraced each new moment with the delight of having something to learn, having something to feel. When did I stop wanting to feel, and start wanting to remain numb? How did it happen?~

~Was it when I fell in love with Zillah, barely fifty years old by the calendar's reckoning, certain that I could give my heart for those few short years and not be destroyed when I watched her die?~ He sighed again, seeing all too clearly a fall of golden hair, a pair of warm emerald eyes. His own fate had still been uncertain at that time, and he had hoped against hope that he would be granted at least some small consolation for the years that stretched out in front of him. It had not been meant to be, however. Zillah had grown old and died, eaten from within by the pain of a body that could no longer support the fire of the spirit it housed, and he had still been twenty-nine.

Perhaps he had gone mad, then. He was still not certain. The next hundred years were a bit of a blur, a whirl of days waking to reach for a woman long-dead fading into nights where he had stared into the aching darkness, alone, too profoundly alone to even weep for his loneliness. ~And when I surfaced from the madness -- broken free by the reminder that once more the child I had been made responsible for needed me -- I carefully cultivated that sense of detachment from the rest of the world as my way of defending myself from ever going through that agony ever again. I did not think that I could bear it.~ Not even his affection for the Contact, the one emotion he permitted himself (knowing that no matter what, the eyes would remain the same, even if the mask that wore them changed from lifetime to lifetime), could penetrate that armor fully.

He did not know how Sigurd had found his weaknesses and slipped through the cracks in his defenses. It had started with friendship, of course: a shared drink, a late night, a practical joke. He knew that Sigurd had not expected to find his sober classmate had harbored such a sense of humor, no more than he had expected to find the enjoyment he'd discovered at the bottom of a glass while surrounded by those whose lives shone so brightly he was surprised that they themselves could not see it. Jesiah, who had always managed to drag them into trouble without even meaning to, never quite caring if they fell out of it again and somehow making it all seem like a game with no winners and no losers. Sigurd, solid and dependable, always ready to lighten up the evening with a joke at anyone's expense, including his own. And Hyuga, who had been startled to discover that rowdiness and roughplay could be so fun.

That, he supposed, had been the beginning of his end. Slowly, he had remembered the bits of his humanity that he had cast aside, and when Sigurd had haltingly confessed that it was not quite friendship that he was feeling --

Well, he had been just drunk enough to quiet the ghosts that still whispered in his mind.

~And oh, how I have fallen, fallen hard, and I do not know if I can find a way to find myself again. I did not realize until it was too late just what I was doing, and now that I know, I can only hope for a way to avoid the madness again. Because I cannot, this child cannot afford for me to abandon my duty, never again, and so I cannot even mourn for that which I know should never have been...~

"Hyuga..." His head snapped up as he heard the sleep-laden murmur -- not his name, but what he was known by -- and he whirled around, forgetting his resolution not to look again. Sigurd sprawled across the bed exactly as the mind's eye had painted him, dreaming. ~Dreaming of me.~ He took the few steps necessary to bring him across the tiny room, falling on his knees beside the bed.. ~I cannot do this. I cannot, and I must. I must send the one who has taught me how to live again, how to feel again, out into the world, knowing that I cannot follow. And he can never know what he has done for me, what I owe to him.~

~Oh, Lord, if it be thy will, let this burden pass me by!~

There was no response, but he had not expected one. Never before, in all the years he had made the same wrenching plea, had anything changed; he did not expect this time to be any different. Always before, the only answers that he had found were the ones that he had given to himself, and he could not even find the questions anymore.

~I should ... I should go...~ He bowed his head in the light that was not moonlight, though it should have been, and buried his face in the sheets. ~Before I do something else to add to the burden of regret that I carry, before I fail again, I should go. Take up my armor, somehow -- find that detachment again, leave and bury this time so deeply that I will not think of it again until the hurt, the pain has faded ...~

He knew what he must do. As always, that knowing was his bane and his boon. The lessons he had learned meant nothing, would mean nothing, when confronted with this aching reality. And though he knew that he should stand and walk away without looking back, the man known as Hyuga was shocked to find himself sagging bonelessly against the bed that would forever after be too large for one, weeping like a child.

"I held you there, thinking: I would offer you my pulse, if I
thought it would be useful. I would give you my breath,
except the problem with death is we have some hundred years,
and then they can build buildings on our only bones; some
hundred years, and then your grave is not your own..."
          -- Ani DiFranco

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