Ficlet: Tower of Strength

Title: Tower of Strength
Summary: You want to cry, you want to scream. But there are Rules.
Notes: Written 6 August 2011; no prompt other than Real Life

He folds and re-folds the letter in his hand. The creases are razor-sharp; it’s been opened, read and re-read, filed away then pulled back out again more times than he can number. He doesn’t know why. The words never change. They’re never going to change. This is what his world has become.

So small a thing, he thinks, to change so much: a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, a shadow no larger than a dime. Tiny, barely detectable, and yet, at the same time, so huge that it eclipses his entire life. It is his whole life now: just him, and the thing that’s growing inside him.

A hand touches his shoulder. His partner, moving close, arms reaching around his chest, cheek nestling against his own.

“So,” a voice murmurs in his ear. “Now we know.” The arms tighten, as if to give comfort, reassurance; as if they could. He hears a deep breath, a catch in the throat, and then comes the inevitable question: “What now?” 

For an insane moment, he thinks of telling the truth. I’m tired, he’ll say, I hurt, I just want to lie down and have it all be over. But you can’t say that. There are rules. You have to be cheerful. You have to be brave. Right up to the end, and maybe even beyond, you can never let them see how scared you are. The disease is yours, and so is the responsibility.

So he reaches back, takes his partner’s hand in his own, squeezes it reassuringly when he feels its slight tremor. Only one of them’s allowed to break down at any one time; they agreed that long ago.
This time it’s not going to be him.

“Now?” he says, his own voice calm and steady. “Now – we fight.”