The door to the infirmary slid open in near silence. There was only the sudden draft from the hallway as it pulled the more stagnant air of the room out to serve as warning that the door had opened, and though he was napping quite peacefully, Du’shan was aware that he was no longer alone. He kept his eyes closed, not ready to be chastised upon discovery and ordered to find something productive to do, namely following up on asking Alan about his book collection.
The footsteps that entered were quiet which meant only one of two things to Du’shan: either Jin was going to attempt some suicidal prank on him or he was in someone’s way. Either way, it wasn’t his cousin. Ath’ran would not have cared if he was interrupting his sleep, and might have even pushed him off the examination table if he was in a playful enough mood to incite the backlash that would cause. With hesitation against the light pouring in from the hall, Du’shan cracked open one eye open and waited for the intruder to walk into his field of vision. When it was Nyr who walked past him, he supposed he should have been his first guess.
Nyr had developed a habit of disappearing, something no one had really commented on but that everyone had noticed. It seemed that he and Jin both suddenly had places to go and people to see. It wasn’t necessary for any of the them to remain at headquarters for any amount of scheduled hours--since all of them but Ath’ran lived there, the boundary between work and play were blurred to begin with--but in the month since Nyr had moved in, there had been an interesting shift in his approach to work. He had come to them very eager and curious, practically catering to anyone who would let him for the chance to help with some task or other, and had then suddenly become very busy with personal matters. Du’shan felt he understood why. Much like his own job, Nyr’s was hardly a position that required constant vigilance.
Du’shan watched him reach up into the medicine cabinet and look over the different bottles there, searching for just the right one. Not comfortable secretly watching his coworker’s actions, he cleared his throat and sat up on his elbows, hoping not to startle him. Nyr looked over his shoulder, then dropped his hand from the cabinet without taking anything out.
“Sorry, did I wake you up?”
“Nah. It should be me apologizing, I’m kind of in your space here.” Du’shan stretched and yawned, the bones in his shoulders and neck popping.
Nyr listened to them with a slight cringe. “Did you need me to tend to you?”
“That’s good. I’d hate to have made you wait.” The medic smiled at him and closed the medicine cabinet, still empty-handed. “You can stay in here, if you’d like. I don’t need to work on anything so I’m alright with you sleeping in here. ”
Du’shan’s brow furrowed slightly. “I’m not here to sleep, just to avoid Ath’ran in case he’s looking for someone to bark at about being unproductive.”
Nyr bit his bottom lip, looking worried and uneasy. “Does he get very angry if people don’t meet expectations?”
“Depends who it is. If it’s me, generally.” Du’shan sat up.
“What if it were me?”
Du’shan shook his head, wondering briefly if his new co-worker was worried about his sudden recurring absences. “Nah. He likes you. I mean, I think he likes me too, but I’m family so it’s different.”
“That’s nice to know. Doesn’t really make me feel any better about talking to him about the Surge, though.”
“You found something out?” The Arcadian watched the other man nod and recalled Nyr’s uneasiness at the last monthly meeting. Now it made sense. “That’s great. Why would Ath’ran be upset to hear that?”
Nyr took a deep breath, his fingers tangling together in front of him. “Because I’m not going to tell him where to find him.”
Du’shan blinked at the implications. Nyr had found the Surge, the fist tangible link to all the Gaigulos lore Ath’ran had compiled for their research. He couldn’t help but feel a little excited for his cousin. “Did you mention us to him?”
Nyr nodded again, still looking miserable with guilt.
Du’shan smiled faintly. “That’s all we could ask for in our situation. He’s a person like us, regardless of what he can do and we have to respect his privacy. We just want him to know that we exist.”
The news hardly seemed to lighten the medic’s burden, his round face smiling back only slightly. “I did ask him the things I felt Ath’ran would care most about, about the Shards and the like. He said...he’s the Impulse. He seemed surprised we knew anything at all; I think I might have frightened him in more ways than one.” He fell silent, and though he’d stopped talking, there was no finality to his voice, leaving a pregnant silence in the air. Du’shan didn’t push him to continue, but waited for him to be ready to do so. After a lengthy pause he took a deep breath and began again. “If you aren’t offended by my asking, I was wondering...did you always believe in these things? The things Ath’ran is trying to find and understand?”
“Me personally?” Du’shan shrugged, never having given his beliefs much thought before. “I heard the stories, when I was young. I believe in them as much as I believe in anything, I guess.”
“How does it feel to know it’s all true?”
“The same as I felt before there was no evidence. There doesn’t have to be evidence for something to be true.”
Nyr nodded, his shoulders slumped. “I used to feel that way, but it’s a lot harder now. I'm Catholic. Obviously. None of this has ever crossed my mind. I always thought of the Surge as just another one of God's creatures--blessed or cursed in some way, maybe, but all a part of His plan. There's no goddesses or Shards in Catholicism, but here I find that it's all true. So where does that put my beliefs? If I can say without a doubt that one thing is true, can I honestly say the same for something that contradicts that?”
“Why not?” Du’shan leaned back against the examination table, understanding now what the medic’s melancholy was about.
“Why...? How can they both be real, Du’shan?”
The Arcadian let his head fall back, looking up at the ceiling for a way to say what he meant. He could remember a time that seemed like forever ago when looking up brought the warm kiss of the sun, so bright he might be blinded if he looked at her face. He missed it sometimes, exhausting and painful as it could be.
When he lowered his face again to speak, he did so with a longing for home resting heavily in his chest. “At the risk of sounding philosophical, not everything has only one truth. New Arcadia is surrounded by sand. The sand is our ancestors, but it is also just sand. We venerate it but we have no qualms about walking on it or using it or profiting off of it. Both views are a reality for us. So why can’t two sets of gods be real?”
“I understand what you’re saying, but there's a difference between two different understandings of what something can be and two different versions of the world and your place in it. How can the world be both the creation of a god to whom I pledged my life to and also a place that holds no meaning and no reason for my existence?”
Du’shan shrank from the desperate hope that made his co-worker’s eyes unfamiliar. He wasn’t the one people talked to when they needed the answer to big questions. He wasn’t even the person people talked to for the smaller ones, like where the ketchup bottle was or how to work the coffee machine. Ath’ran was the one with all the answers--or at least he wanted to be. People went to Ath’ran for life affirming reassurance and to Du’shan when they wanted to know about the strange appearance of fist-shaped dents in the walls. He could still remember though that in his first week, Nyr had taken the time to ask around and get him his favorite coffee. Du’shan wanted to help him put his heart at ease.
“Everyone exists for a reason. Take Ath'ran for instance. His reason for existing is to lecture me.” He paused for a moment, watching the medic’s smile break the tension. “It's unfortunate that humans have such short lives. We don't have much time to figure things like this out. But then, we're not really made to know things like this, so one life devoted to a particular set of beliefs, whatever they might be, is the best we can do.”
“So all that matters is we believe in something?” Nyr asked, his hands finally still.
The Arcadian nodded.
Nyr’s smile brightened. “You’re probably right. I'm just thinking too hard, I guess. I mean...Surge is Catholic and he knows what he is. It never stopped him from coming to mass or confession.” He nodded with conviction, the melancholy lifting from him bit by bit. “Thanks, Du’shan. Go on and go back to sleep. I’ll make sure Ath’ran doesn’t find you in here.”
“Uh...thanks. He’s been kind of annoyed at me since the whole...dying...thing.” He hopped back onto the examination table, not about pass up the opportunity to continue resting in peace.
“Oh, right. I forgot about that. You should take care of yourself, you know. This wouldn’t be as nice a place without you.”
Du’shan watched as Nyr smiled and backed towards the door, the same strange feeling he’d felt when he’d found the coffee that had been bought specifically for him creeping into his chest again. He wasn’t used to it, not without the pain that normally followed. It was the feeling that meant someone cared about him and, for the first time in a long time, it didn’t result in guilt. Ath’ran cared for him, did more for him than Du’shan would ever be able to properly thank him for, but it always left him hollow inside. This was a warmth without a trace of hollowness, as warm as the smile on his co-worker’s face. He didn’t care because of pity or family obligation, he just did. That was something Du’shan could return, something he could earn and respect.
He smiled back gently, resting against the stiff padding of the medical bed. “Thanks.”
Nyr waved goodnight and closed the door, leaving him to the darkness to dream. As before, though, his thoughts would not allow him to sleep peacefully. Even when he was avoiding Ath’ran’s physical presence, he couldn’t shake him out of his thoughts since the night of his resurrection.
Ath’ran had, as far back as Du’shan could remember, always known who he was; what his place in life was and what he wanted to accomplish. As they’d aged, Ath’ran had become unshakable and had succeeded in all his endeavors, while Du’shan had ended up with nothing. Ath’ran had a wife and three kids--Du’shan’s last relationship had ended in a police report. Ath’ran had an education and his own business--Du’shan had managed to get by on brawn and skill alone only to end up in his cousin’s employ. Ath’ran had always been the one to come out on top, which was only made worse by the fact that he took no delight in it. If he’d gloated even once about his position in life, it would have made it easier for Du’shan to accept the help. He could attribute it to the further inflation of his cousin’s ego and keep a piece of himself intact. But Ath’ran was far too considerate, failing to give up on him when all others had, and so of course it had to turn out that Ath’ran’s life would be tied to Du’shan’s.
The responsibility was practically crippling. His own life was not something he took lightly--at least not when it came to losing it. He had genuinely been surprised to die the way he had; living rough was one thing, but he would hardly call his brutish behavior risky. He wasn’t one to pick a fight and even when he ended up in one, he knew who he could and could not beat. He had never entertained the idea of allowing anyone he met at a bar or club to be the one to claim his life. No one had earned the right to tell him when he could stop living, let alone to make him do so. His life wasn’t the most enjoyable existence, but it was his and he was going to hold on to it. Only now it wasn’t just his anymore.
All it would take would be one more coward pulling a knife on him and he would make three young children fatherless and widow of a young woman who loved her husband dearly. That Ath’ran’s death would mean his own didn’t really matter; he’d rolled the dice and lost once already, as much as it shamed him to admit it. He had to make sure to stay alive as long as humanly possible now to give Ath’ran the chance to decide the terms of their fate.
He didn’t want to live to be old and frail, though, staying in a guest room somewhere or an nursing home if he managed to exhaust Ath’ran’s generosity in the next sixty years. Sixty years of what, though? He had no ambitions, no great love, just a life he had to maintain for someone else’s benefit.
It occurred to him that he could have shared all of this with Nyr. The other man had felt comfortable enough to share his own misgivings and worries with him, so it was doubtful he would have minded sharing Du’shan’s. It didn’t feel right, though. His problems were his own, no one else’s, and unlike Nyr, there was no resolution for them. They were things he had to come to terms with, things he needed to think over and figure out on his own.
At least in sleep the dialogue ended; no more worries about life and death and the risks involved in both. In sleep there was just darkness, a pool of solid black to rest his mind against. He welcomed sleep and the peace is brought as he willed Nyr success in keeping Ath’ran from disturbing his rest.