All it takes is for me to see that look in his eyes. That look. It’s like a punch to the solar plexus. I can’t breathe. There’s panic. It hurts. For a moment the world narrows down to one tiny, sharp point that prods the part of me I rarely use. The one that pumps the blood through my veins.
Then the visions come, rapid-fire and unsympathetic.
I can’t look away if they’re inside my head.
On my knees, his head on my lap. Beneath my palm is a hot, slick mess of blood. I can feel how it pulses out of him. People say blood is sticky. It’s not sticky. Sticky is the drip of honey on your shirt; sticky is the orange juice you dropped on the linoleum last night when you needed something to wash the sour taste from your mouth. Sticky is sweet things that don’t dry.
Blood ain’t sweet.
Blood is tacky. The way drying glue is tacky. Though my palm threatens to slide, my fingers are dry and stiff, and if I were to lift them away, the skin of his neck would stretch a little with the pull. I don’t let go. I wouldn’t.
His eyes plead with me, but there’s no hope. I can hear a chopper in the distance. The smell of blood is so rich and meaty I can almost taste it. There’s a tear on the tip of my nose, but it never falls.
He’s in a plane. I’m in a different one. It’s not like Top Gun; the kites we’re flying have props. We’re making a final pass. There’s a bullet that punches through the cockpit and cuts through my pant leg, but I don’t feel a thing. I don’t know if it’s because of the adrenaline running cold in my veins or if I was just a lucky bastard. My radio gets it a second later, and I’m alone in the sky.
I find my bearings. I cross the Channel. I’m home. I am a lucky, bloody bastard.
My heart beats loud in my ears—a liquid white noise I can hear inside my skull. The touch down is ropey because my hands are shaking. I know I’m bleeding now because I’m cold and my boot is wet. I don’t care, because what cripples me is that I don’t see his plane on the runway, and I can’t see him in the air. I’m only told after I fall out of the cockpit that he was gunned down. Another punch to the gut, and I’m pulled away again.
Is it Nice? Barcelona? Palermo? I can see beautiful water beyond the high patio. Thin white curtains blow in the warm breeze. He’s wearing a white shirt, unbuttoned. Shorts. He’s tanned. His feet are bare.
For once we’re not fighting for our lives. No, we’re playing chess in the sun. That smile always gets me. I can’t help but smile back. The way his hand curls around the piece suddenly reminds me of the way it looks curled around my wrist.
Oh, but we do fight… and fight. Behind those smiling eyes is that darkness he keeps there like a prisoner. I know that darkness well; we’re old friends.
White shirt, white curtains, white sheets. There’s blood on those white sheets; among the tiny, red rosebuds there’s a full bloom. We fight until dawn. Then we’re in the summer sun again, and we play another round of chess. He hates the way I make him feel; I hate the fact that I love him.
I’m on my knees on the ground again. This time it’s dusk, and it’s really fucking cold. There are trees all around me. I’m back in uniform, and my horse has thrown a shoe. The horse isn’t hurt, but I’m wrapping her hoof in my scarf even though the wind blows its ice down my neck. I can hear him get off his mount and walk to me. We’re alone, so when he puts his hand on my shoulder, I lean against him. We’re late getting back to camp. He knows it, I know it. Neither of us cares for the moment. Is he going to die on me again? Will I be the first to go?
More visions. More lives.
I blink, and they’re gone. I can breathe again.
I don’t want to breathe.
We’re never quite in sync, never given enough time. Like twin moons orbiting something built from blood, love, and far too much pain. If I don’t turn away, my eyes begin to burn.
They’re not tears. They’re more like memories of tears.
I push it all out of my head, reclaim the coldness I prefer, and I go back to breathing. Easy as pie.
Problem is, it’ll take at least another beer just so I can look away.