Given the chance to spend all those nights talking again, or take the other choice of just going to bed, I’d never change my choice. Instead I’d try and change what I said. It wasn’t the best, hell it was actually the worst, and I know in my heart part of it was laced with poison, for I did hurt and it wasn’t you who hurt me but that part of me still wanted to hurt someone and that is why I hate myself, because that part exists, I can’t extinguish it. Worse- people tell me that the part doesn’t exist when it’s all I see when I look in the mirror. I’m not a saint, I just try to fight on their side as penance and because I seek forgiveness.
It had been a few days since finding Shade, the three had taken up refuge in the remains of a collapsed building. The building was one of those tall towers at one point, now it was laying on it’s side in the middle of what probably was a road. Inside everything that had been in there was completely thrown about, light fixtures that should have been on a ceiling hung from what is now a wall. The glass that would have been side windows looking out into the city now were a skylight above them. The view above of them was peaceful night skies. Stars littering the black expanse and a quarter moon. It hung low in the sky but illuminated all it could. Finding kindling for a fire tonight was pretty easy seeing as there were so many things remaining in the building from when it was occupied and standing up right. Alexi was just thankful that for the third night no one had shown up on Echo’s scanners. He knew it wouldn’t last but every day it did was a day he cherished.
Echo constantly was on patrol and scanning for threats, a few times stopping only to try telling Alexi to rest. However Alexi couldn’t. A machine wouldn’t understand and he envied it for that reason. Powering down to recharge like Echo wasn’t possible. Humans didn’t completely power down, they instead shut down all non needed systems and the few remaining ones seem to go into overdrive. The mind became far far more active in sleep, even if he didn’t comprehend why. Instead he would sit against a wall, crossed legged and staring at the floor. The disassociation, or depersonalization was frequent for him. Sometimes it’d feel as if he was a stranger inhabiting his own body, not understanding anything about how it worked. Not literally but in the sense of how did this person get to this point, why did they allow all these things to happen, and why wouldn’t they simply fix things. However as time alone grew his disassociation became by mood swings, flashbacks, time loss, lower then normal depressive episodes and panic attacks. Right now he was facing the depressive episode and time loss. Flashbacks were soon to follow, he was getting good at predicting when those would happen. Chalking it up to the simple loss of time around him causing his mind to search for anchors of time, memories, to bring him back to reality. Unaware obviously due to the mind doing it out of survival not malice, but the memories always brought him pain. Shade slept a few feet nearby, huddled in a ball near the fire and breathing slowly and calmly. Thankfully she was still a growing dog, it allowed Alexi to ensure food he never ate wasn’t wasted. Echo would probably panic if it saw that he hadn’t eaten anything and given it all instead to Shade who innocently devoured all the food happily. Knowing he had to eat- simply he didn’t have it in him.
“You need to eat!” She chided, pulling him out his meditation. His eyes wandering around the room, slightly confused about what was going on before looking up to her, sheepishly smiling.
“I’m simply not hungry, I’m fine I promise.” He tried to reassure her.
“What is the last thing you had in the past 24 hours?”
“I…” He started but caught himself because he realized he had no idea, nothing was coming to him and obviously lying wasn’t an option.
“See! Alexi! What am I gonna do with you? I know you’re not into food like me, it’s fine. But please, eat something, I worry, it’s bad enough you forget to take of yourself sometimes and depression is the cause but please- for me, don’t forget to stay fed…” She wasn’t chiding anymore, she was actually pleading. The worry in her voice surprising him.
“…” He remembered saying her name but the memory was mute at that point
Was he forgetting them all? Suddenly panic came rushing to him, he had been gone a while he knew but he couldn’t forget all of them! With shaking hands and a pounding heart that was getting faster and faster he scrambled to grab his phone, pulling it out and finding the voicemails, hitting play on one and tried to regulate his breathing while listening to it.
“Hey, it’s me. Kaden called asking if you were ok. I had to tell them what happened. They reasonably freaked out, said they’re gonna ring your neck. If you left because of what we talked about- please don’t be gone too long. I don’t blame you. I promise. I am a bit confused though because you had never seemed so rattled until last night, was what we talked about that difficult for you? I know it sounds nagging but if it was please tell me. I didn’t mean to bring that out that way.”
After it ended he brought the phone back to his lap looking at the screen, the picture of her smiling while squishing his face to hers for the picture and him looking confused was her display image, above it simply Natia. He inhaled hard pushing back the feelings to try and regain his composure. He would beat this, he had to survive.
Looking over and watching Shade, the slow breathing and peaceful sleeping was sweet to watch. For a moment this creature was able to find peace and not be struggling in this place. Ever since he entered this place that people had called The Brink, he was always fighting to survive, not always literally, the place did something to people in it, made them face things deep within. Maybe it was just the solitude though. He couldn’t be sure. Reaching down to his left arm and grabbing one of the hair ties from his wrist he pulled his hair back into a quickly done tail, a few strands here and there not quite being long enough resulting in falling back in front of his face, grabbing the wooden sword off the ground and standing he walked toward an open area and closed his eyes, breathing slowly then began to practice with it, going over the forms he remembered from home.
Meditation was not always sitting on the floor, closing the world out while opening up yourself to the universe. Sometimes it was this- slipping into the naturally flowing forms of a martial art. Giving up self and allowing the spirit to guide your movements as you perform what would look like a dance to others if they were not aware. The body stepping precisely while the weapon- an extension of your arm was guided from one stance to another, blocking unseen attacks to striking invisible targets. Flourishing the blade between steps would have seemed silly but in combat sometimes all that will do is buy you a second because a well placed flourish distracts the enemy, sometimes granting your movement what it needs to put yourself or your weapon when it should be for the next strike.
Shade lifted her head slowly hearing the sound of Alexi practicing, watching curiously, the movements and actions lost on her, but there was no danger so she saw no need to get up and assist him. The animal obviously was not unaware of everything, but she was aware that at the moment her new master needed this time alone, she’d be right there when he returned to sit with her.
Echo had taken a break from patrolling and instead simply increased their scanning abilities to remain in one place, conserving energy. Doing so allowed them to watch Alexi as well. The digital brain of the machine tried to understand the actions. Data in the memory banks couldn’t determine if he was dancing, practicing or having a nervous break down. Seeing as dancing required music of some sort, and Echo could not pick up the music from it’s companion’s device. Practicing seemed likely but to the standards that Echo summarized by studying Alexi since awakening- practice was not needed, he was fairly proficient in combat with his chosen weapons. What practice is he conducting? The nervous breakdown could have been likely as well. The Brink according to Echo’s experience and study was not a place that many could or should be in long term. Not alone anyway. Humans needed other humans. They were social creatures, and here was this one who seemed intent on avoiding any and all of his kind. Maybe the stress was finally reaching a head for him? Echo would ask when Alexi finished whatever it was he was doing. Memory banks determine that humans find it rude to interrupt another when something is happening. Besides, it was not like he was hurting himself or others, this inquiry could wait a few cycles.
Alexi’s mind was less turbulent after practicing, his breathing seemed a bit more regulated and his anxiety was dropping a bit. It wasn’t until he opened his eyes and turned back to the fire he noticed Shade and Echo watching him. Not in a judging manner but simply watching. He hadn’t been watched like that in a while and though he knew it was not anything to worry, he did feel that same embarrassment he felt with Natia would sneak into his practice room and watch him train with that proud smile on her face. He never understood her fascination with watching and always declining when he offered to teach her. Maybe it was just a Natia thing. She always said he was oblivious and would explain it one day. Usually while laughing cause he would get so flustered.
Taking his hair back down and returning the hair tie to his wrist, he slowly crossed the distance from where he was back to the fire next to Shade, sitting in his original spot and petting her.
“How did I look? Probably silly right?” He asked, Shade responded by nuzzling against his petting and inching closer to him, resting her head on his leg and yawning. “Yeah probably was boring compared to our fighting those guys before huh? Sorry.” He looked up to Echo who remained still. “No comments?” He smirked. A few curious tones and beeps came back at him.
“It’s a form of meditation Echo. I do it to refocus everything, help me make sense of some things. When I’m not in the right head space- or not feeling all right up here.” He explains pointing to his head. “See because I am so practiced in that, doing it when stressed is a reset sort of, I am able to do it without thought, without worry of slipping up. It allows me the reminder that I can do something even when everything else seems wrong. Sometimes it takes more than what I did to fix whats wrong, but for now I’m ok.” Echo beeped a few more times, this time seeming concerned. “No! No, Echo, I promise, right now I’m good. I guess I just feel a bit lonely. Not that you guys aren’t great, I love having you two with me. I just miss someone.”
Echo surprised Alexi by rushing toward him and positioning itself under his free arm opposite of Shade and moved in a way like it was trying to nuzzle him like Shade had done. Alexi, taken aback for a moment smiled and closed his eyes before a few tears escaped his eyes beginning the inevitable crying he had been holding back all night. The stinging of his eyes came but he ignored it.
“Thanks you two, I needed this right now.”