THE PURPLEST PURPLE THAT EVER PURPLED
things we do without
Pickles leaves first. He takes two duffel bags and his motorcycle, leaves his booze, his kit, and most of his records. "Right," he says, "I'm done. This is bullshit, guys, it's finished. I'm out of here," and he's gone. He was always the most sensible of them.
Nathan is, of course, inconsolable, despite what he doesn't say. He goes into his rooms, turns the lock and will not come out, not even when Offdensen comes down from his tower and calls for him -- gently, firmly -- at the seam of his massive doors. Skwisgaar watches this with crossed arms and a practised languor to the tilt of his body.
Offdensen gives in to the silence soon enough. He catches Skwisgaar's eyes on him as he leaves and, scenting intent in the air like the prey of a watchful animal, shrugs mollifyingly: "Well, I tried."
Skwisgaar shrugs back, but his gaze never breaks or falters, and Offdensen is forced by sheer discomfort to look away. He coughs discreetly into one fist. "I'm very busy," he says.
Skwisgaar doesn't hear from him again, but he has a feeling he's gone too. Nathan knows; Offdensen will have told him. For days afterwards, the only time anyone hears Nathan's voice is beneath the scratch of a record player through the double-oak panelling that bars his rooms.
Murderface comes by, but his voice is skittish when he speaks and his eyes do not focus. "So I guess we just wait here," he mumbles and tries to take a place next to Skwisgaar on the wall. Skwisgaar doesn't answer him.
He fidgets and farts but drifts away eventually like an unmoored vessel pulled into the sea. Skwisgaar hears him echoing in the halls sometimes, at night, wandering like a ghost that has lost its purpose, waiting to be freed.
They are all lost, but Skwisgaar has always been very good at waiting.
He doesn't see Toki at all.
When Nathan finally relents, he emerges from the dark cloaked in fatigue. Skwisgaar compels himself to stand up no straighter, to project himself as no more anxious, though he has occupied the same spot now for nearly a week. He has long stopped feeling the shape of the stones digging into his back. If anyone should be tired, it's him.
"Hey, uh, Skwisgaar, what's up? Just palling around?" Nathan glances at him once, but then he tilts his head back down again. His hair swings forward like an ill-timed curtain; the show goes on behind it, but it wants nothing to do with the audience.
Skwisgaar nods. He doesn't trust his voice to speak. It has been days since he let anything other than food and water pass his lips, and he isn't sure insouciance is a tone he can manage right now.
"Yeah, uh, that's great." Nathan's huge fists open and close like valves in a heartbeat. He says nothing, but he doesn't move away.
Skwisgaar swallows and hums cautiously before he speaks. "You've been in there a long time." He sounds like he thought he would: raw, unprotected. Nathan doesn't notice but Skwisgaar tries again; it's better this time. "Would you like something to eat?"
Nathan startles. "Oh, uh, no, it's okay." He looks up but looks away again just as quickly. "I had a lot of barbecue sauce left from my, um, endorsement. And Doritos. Listen," he says and Skwisgaar does, forgets appearances for one instinctual instant and leans forwards, his weight on his toes, ready to move. "I've been, uh, thinking a lot and, uh, it's not Dethklok without Dethklok, you know what I mean?"
He meets Skwisgaar's stare at last and it's then Skwisgaar notices the shadow that has sunken into Nathan's face. Grief has eyes for one brief moment and they are acid green and ringed with too many late nights and too many lost friends.
"I'm going," he says. "Do you, uh, want to come with?"
Skwisgaar doesn't have much he wants to take with him. He's never put much stock in memory and so his things are just that: things. They have no history, they carry with them no tales of better times or brighter days. He packs a wardrobe of anonymous clothing. He picks a guitar which is functional and uncomplicated. He leaves everything else. He's always left things, pieces of his life, scattered and buried in the places he's been. Some day they will gather all his abandoned parts and they will say, "Here are the boots of Skwisgaar Skwigelf, here are the hair ties and the toothbrush and the spoons" and they might assemble, in some fashion, an image of how he might have lived.
There's a knock on his door, but he doesn't answer it. "Skwisgaar?" someone says after a moment and pushes in. Skwisgaar keeps his back turned, busies his hands with folding and smoothing, doesn't deign to acknowledge him, doesn't dare to acknowledge him.
"Are you leaving?" Toki moves with a child's uncertain determination, tries to circle around to meet Skwisgaar's eyes but Skwisgaar is skilled in the careful science of moving against someone who wants something from him. "Is Nathan leaving too? Are you going together?" His voice has gained a tremulous timbre. He has the shamelessness to sound betrayed.
"The band's finished, Toki. We're all going to have to leave." Skwisgaar sorts through a chest of drawers for things he wants to take with him. His hands end up knotted in a tangle of belts and shoelaces. He rubs the ornate curve of a silver belt-buckle with his thumb, like he might smooth it down.
Toki huffs. Without Skwisgaar's realising it, he's moved close enough that Skwsigaar feels the dying sigh of his breath against his skin. He jerks away without thinking where he'll go instead. He ends up on his bed, his head bowed, fingers wandering across the lambskin pelt of his coverlet.
"We don't need to be finished." Toki sits down next to him. His knuckles bump against Skwisgaar's wrist. "We can find another drummer, can't we? He won't be as good as Pickle, but we can make him as good as Pickle. Then we don't have to leave, right? Then we can stay together?"
Skwisgaar moves his hand away and wraps his other palm around it, as if he's cradling a hurt. "I'm leaving, Toki," he says again.
"But you'll come back," Toki insists. He moves closer. "Like a holiday. You and Nathan can go on a holiday and look for another drummer, then --"
"Me and Nathan," Skwisgaar says. It comes out much too loud; Toki flinches back. Skwisgaar still can't trust his voice. More quietly, he says, "Me and Nathan, we're going to go find another sound. We're going to go find a new music to play. Nathan might find what he's looking for. He might come back. I don't know what he's thinking."
"But you won't." The pitch of Toki's voice has trembled into liquid. Skwisgaar looks up, alarmed, but Toki's cheeks are dry. His eyes are watery, but they've always been that way, like he's been swallowing tears all his life.
"I never go back," Skwisgaar tells him. "Not when I'm done with something. And I'm done with Dethklok."
"You went back for your mother!"
"That was different."
"It doesn't have to be!"
"Then at least," Toki says. "At least--" Skwisgaar knows Toki doesn't want to ask; he doesn't want to have to ask. He wants Skwisgaar to want him, as he's always wanted Skwisgaar to want him, to be that part of him that he could keep and trust and admire. But Skwisgaar's never known what it's like to be somebody's. He doesn't know how to be somebody's and he doesn't know if he wants that.
"You can't come with me," Skwisgaar says and he watches as Toki's face crumples like a rotted cloth.
"Why not?" he demands. He crowds into Skwisgaar's space, forcing him back against the pillows to keep them from touching. "I'm not Dethklok! I'm not anybody! You don't have to be done with me!"
"I get a say in this." Toki's hand comes up and Skwisgaar flinches, a full-shouldered shudder to the side as if to protect his body, but Toki only pushes his palm into his chest and holds him still, like a pin holding a butterfly. "I never get a say in anything but I will have a say in this. I don't know-- Where would I go if not with you? What would I do? I don't know anything; I don't do anything; no one else is going to want me. I can't go back to Norway, I can't, not alone. I don't want to be alone. What am I going to do?"
"Stop it," Skwisgaar says, but Toki only whimpers, like he's used up all his words now and can only breathe. Skwisgaar doesn't know what to say.
"That's not my problem" is unfair and untrue. He doesn't want this responsibility for Toki's well-being but he feels it, always, souring each heartbeat with guilt and denial.
"You'll be fine" is probably true but incredibly trite. Toki is not incompetent. Unmotivated, uneducated, and crippled with doubt, but anyone who knows what to look for catches glimpses in him of true brilliance. Real genius, not the kind manufactured through endless anxiety and repetition. He would never go without so long as he had a guitar in hand and sensible people to hear him play it.
"Come with me then" is impossible. Were they two people who had known each other in a different time, a different circumstance, it would still be impossible because Skwisgaar will always have a streak of fear in him as long as he is tall. He will never know how to look for what he wants, and he will never know what it takes to ask for it.
The warmth of Toki's hand bleeds through his shirt and into his chest and Skwisgaar imagines he can feel it pressing against the chambers of his heart. He is going to feel this heat forever, he thinks. It has been burned into him now. He has been marked.
"Let me up," he says because he is afraid and he has always been afraid, and then Toki's hand moves away and he can't feel it any more, it was just a handprint after all, how silly he was to think he could take a handprint with him when it's just heat, just dissolves into ambient temperature the moment it's released.
Skwisgaar stands and it takes a moment for him to turn around to face Toki. "I should get going now," Skwisgaar says and waits for more words to come but they don't. He watches instead as Toki gnaws on the inside of his mouth and averts his eyes and tries not very hard not to huddle into himself. Like he's protecting some hurt.
These old instincts, Skwisgaar thinks. They're hard to break, and allows himself to see, not for the first time, that shadow of a kindred spirit he might have raised out of Toki had he ever had the time or the care or the bravery to do something like that.
"Um," he says, and searches his room. He want to give to Toki something because, although he doesn't appreciate the history and the feeling and the memory in things, he knows Toki does.
And he wants to see Toki's eyes again. They've always been a difficult shade of blue to recall.
"Here," he settles on, digs into the front right pocket of his trousers and pulls out the guitar pick he carries there. It's a thin, worthless piece of plastic but for the value someone might put on it. Toki can make it valuable. Toki can keep this part of him and subscribe to it some meaning that might set it apart from all the rest of the detritus and jetsam of Skwisgaar's life. And then some day they might find it and hold it up and say, "This was a piece of Skwisgaar Skwigelf's life" and in it they might see something of what it was to be Skwisgaar Skwigelf, to be loved by someone who loved Skwisgaar Skwigelf, to feel what Skwisgaar Skwigelf might have felt while being loved.
He holds it out for Toki to take, but Toki takes Skwisgaar by the wrist instead, pulls him into his body as he rises. One hand bound to his side by Toki's hand, the other hovering useless in the air as Toki kisses his mouth, Skwisgaar pulls at all the pieces of himself that threaten to burst and fly away. It is a dry kiss, almost brotherly, because Toki may not be a virgin (Skwisgaar doesn't think he is a virgin, hopes he is not, because it gives him a horrible feeling to contemplate it, to think that Toki might have been wrecked like that, or worse that he might have been waiting--) but he does not know how to show affection.
Skwisgaar doesn't teach him. He doesn't know how to show affection either.
It ends when Toki releases him gradually, mouth first, and then waist, and then wrist. He takes the pick from Skwisgaar's hand as he steps back and their hands slide apart.
Skwisgaar has no more words for Toki; they'd always been hard to come by, and Toki's stolen the last of them from his mouth, so Skwisgaar only lifts his hand and settles the thumb into the dip below Toki's lip that had always seemed a perfect place to put a thumb. It is slightly damp there from where Skwisgaar's tongue had touched it. He wipes it away.
Skwisgaar leaves as if nothing has changed in his world. In a way, in his mind, it hasn't. He has always had himself. He has only had himself. Dethklok was just another thing he'd done; Mordhaus was just another place he'd been, and now both the thing and the place were finished. He's lost nothing.
Nathan takes the first shift behind the wheel while Skwisgaar hides his face from the rising sun and dozes. There are a pair of blue eyes waiting there behind his eyelids. Skwisgaar knows the depth and shape of them, but their exact colour is imprecise.