I will try not to breathe
I can hold my head still with my hands at my knees
These eyes are the eyes of the old, shiver and fold
I will try not to breathe
This decision is mine I have lived a full life
and these are the eyes that I want you to remember
I need something to fly over my grave again
I need something to breathe


--R.E.M. "Try Not to Breathe"


Kaligo was gone again. Alexandra didn't let it bother her too much. Her guest was prone to disappearing, and usually he reappeared within a few hours. She didn't ask him where he went. Sometimes he volunteered the information himself (flying over the treetops, picking flowers in the fields, tracking small animals through the brush). Other times he didn't say anything, and Alexandra didn't ask.

When he disappeared for long periods of time, though, she began to worry. She wasn't afraid that something had happened to him, no. He was something that happened to other people. No, she didn't worry about his being ambushed by highwaymen. They were the least of his problems. But she had suspected for a while now that her ward had something that might be called a tendency towards self-destruction. She didn't think he would ever outright kill himself--he'd have done that a long time ago, if he'd meant to--but he had a penchant for trying things that would kill a lesser being, simply because he knew that they were supposed to kill him.

Three was a magic number. Alexandra waited until the third day, and when still Kaligo had not returned, she went looking for him. He was not in the meadows behind her house (she could sense him easily enough, he being what he was, and he was not there), nor in the woods. There was only one place he could be, then, and she sighed. Getting there took the better part of a day. If she stepped out quickly, she could make it by nightfall.

Kaligo sat not on the beach but in the water. It was high tide and he was submerged up to his neck. He was not shivering; Alexandra got the impression that his body had probably exhausted itself long ago. She watched him for a moment, sitting in the water with his legs drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around them, head bowed and forehead resting on his knees. The water whispered tentatively at her feet, then decided that it was all right to go on. She went in as deep as her ankles, but no more than that.

"Kaligo," she called, and got no response. "How long have you been there?"

"I don't know," came the quiet reply. Then, "Two days, maybe."

Alexandra had known very well that he had probably been there for two days or more. She had simply wanted to see what he would say. "Well, it's the third day now, and you'd better get out. You'll catch your death of cold."

"No I won't."

There was nothing she could say to that, because she knew it was true. So she sighed, instead, and stood there, and waited. Kaligo lifted his head, at least, though he didn't look at her. He looked instead at the sun, dying its fiery death in the ocean, spilling its dark blood out into the water. He was soaked; water dripped from his hair down his face and neck. He had to be cold. Unless, of course, he had already lost all sensation in his limbs, which was quite possible.

"What are you trying to prove, Kaligo?" she asked at last, because the silence of the waves pushing their way up on the beach was getting to be too painful.

"Nothing. I don't know." He was so painfully young, incongruous though that was. He was, after all, theoretically immortal. But he was young, all the same. Younger than many trees. Younger than herself.

"Well, if you're not trying to prove something, or if you're not sure, then you might as well come home," Alexandra said. "And I'm not moving until you do, so if you don't want me to stay out here and catch my death of cold, then you'll come with me."

At first, Kaligo didn't budge. Alexandra had a brief moment of panic that she might actually have to make good on her word, but then he slowly uncurled and stood up.

He was very thin, Alexandra realized, now that it was made obvious by wet clothing sticking to his skin. She wondered why she had never noticed it before. She would have to feed him more. And, well, sitting in ocean water for three days probably hadn't helped his constitution any. Alexandra suddenly found herself wishing that she had brought a blanket or something; it would take all night for them to walk home, and it wouldn't do him any good to make that walk in saturated clothing.

Kaligo fumbled his way over, legs stiff with disuse, and suddenly he stumbled. She caught him, just barely, hoisting him up (heavier, it seemed, with the weight of water) under the arms. He sighed, and mumbled something into her neck, his arms winding around her neck. She felt a sudden sense of weightlessness, as if the earth suddenly roiled and heaved underneath her, leaving her feet standing on nothing. Then she was standing disoriented in her dark kitchen, still holding Kaligo up.

Silence. Then she said, "You could have warned me."

"I did." Oh. So that was what that mumbling had been.

Kaligo shifted his weight, and Alexandra let go as soon as she was sure he could stand up on his own. "You'd better go get yourself dried off and into some dry clothes." She reached out and flicked his wet bangs out of the way so that she could look at his face properly. His eyes were half-lidded; she couldn't see much else in the dark (not that she needed light to see by, but then, she was not a dragon), but she knew that his eyes would be dark and unreadable. "Don't do that again, okay?"

"Mmmm." Kaligo couldn't lie, so he simply didn't make any promises. Alexandra let her hand fall away, and Kaligo took himself off to his room to change. She watched him disappear, dripping small puddles in his wake, and then surreptitiously lit the fire with a small twist of the fingers. The cottage needed heat quickly, and it was too time-consuming to do it the normal way. Besides, Kaligo had to be hungry.

When Kaligo came out again, Alexandra had whipped together some thin soup (more like broth, really) and it was now bubbling in its pot over the fire. He sat quietly at the table, watching his hands as if they were the most marvelous things in the world (which, perhaps, they were; marvelous things, hands). When Alexandra put his bowl of soup in front of him, he finally spoke again. "I tried to drown myself."

Alexandra thought that she should be more surprised. But instead she merely paused in her serving, and then went on, with the feeling that she had expected that. "Really."

"But I couldn't." Kaligo stirred his soup slowly with his spoon. "I went under the water, and then I realized that I didn't need to breathe. And I tried to breathe in the water, but it. . . didn't work."

Alexandra couldn't imagine why. After all, he did presumably have lungs, even if he didn't technically need them. And they would fill with fluid, if he purposely tried to do so. But then, she didn't know very much about demon physiology.

"Just eat your soup," Alexandra said at last. "If you want, we can talk about this some more later."

Kaligo sighed, picked up his spoon, and began obediently to eat his soup.



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