On Pain of Failure

He knows that by rights, he should be sitting in the darkness. The chair by the window, or perhaps lying on his bed, staring at the shadows and wallowing in his pain. But he's been insane before, and it never felt like this. Never left claws in his mind, tearing at the flesh of his soul whenever he tried to move away.

He's sat in the darkness for days, doing nothing, moving as little as possible. He hasn't eaten, has barely drunk more than a cup of tea. He's heard only the sound of the answering machine clicking on -- he's turned the volume down and only knows it is Fred calling, because she always calls. The others are leaving him alone.

He's not sure why.

But he's not in his flat, now. He isn't hiding in his darkened room, waiting for the pain to fade, or overtake him. He's gone up to the roof of a building he thought he'd never go back to. Not the Hyperion -- had he shown his face there, his companions would have assumed he had returned to work as promised, and was ready to begin again. He isn't ready, and he isn't prepared to see them.

He isn't sure if he could ever face them again.

It was easier, after the Shroud had made them all crazy. After being fired had sent them all on the spiral, together. It was easier to walk away from Sunnydale with nothing but his valise intact, and not know where he was going. It was easier, because the sound of his father's voice was in his head.

Not on his lips. Not in his heart.

He'd lied, when he told Fred he hadn't wanted to kill her. Not because he had, not because he'd believed what he'd been saying. Not about her. Not about any woman. The words he spoke had not come from Billy, and they hadn't come from an imagination that twisted to fit the feelings brought forth within him.

Those words he knew far too well, and found so easily dropped from his tongue. Not because they were real. She'd been right, in that. Billy's power had forced him to say those words.

But they hadn't made him discover them. They'd already been there.

His father's tongue speaking slowly through a door, telling him he had better....he would do well...he should, he should not, he was and was not.

And he isn't standing here because he believes those words. He's grown enough to know they were lies. Most of them.

He's here because he's heard those words on his lips, seen the look in his own eyes. Discovered just how easy it was to be him. He's spent days -- years -- wondering if he'd learnt too well. And he has.

He's left the wads of paper on the floor, drafts which never quite said what needed saying, in quite the correct way. Perhaps they would understand, anyhow. Understand what he's running from, because there is no longer any place to run *to*.

He's standing at the edge, now, and he needn't look down. He knows what is there. Not freedom, not redemption. Just a way out. A way to stop feeling. If he ends up in hell...perhaps someday, someone will rescue him.

Because it isn't about the pain, anymore. It isn't about what he feels. It's about what he's done, and what he is capable of doing. And in those words he spoke, he knew. He knew where they'd come from, and he is man enough to prevent them from getting out again.

He takes a step forward, the breeze on his face, and the hand that closes around his arm and pulls him back, doesn't even surprise him.