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History Repeating

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“It’s not your fault, Henry,”  Jo said for the umpteenth time, watching Henry paced the rubble-littered room.  

“I think it’s the definition of ‘my fault,’ frankly.”  

His voice was hoarse from calling out for help.   The ceiling above them creaked, and a trickle of dust showered down over them.  Henry stopped and looked up at the cracks, running his hands through his hair, and then set to pacing again.  

Jo tried to sit up, but the pain in her leg made her cry out.  Henry hurried over to her.  

“Don’t move.”  He tightened the strips of cloth from his ripped shirt that were wrapped around the long gash again, and she winced.  “If you move, you’ll start bleeding again.”

Judging by the bright red everywhere and her faintness, she hadn’t stopped bleeding at all.  Henry was sweet to lie and comfort her, but reality was hard to deny.   

“Prop me up.  I’m sick of lying here.”

“No.  You need to stay still, Jo.”   He took hold of the frayed tail of his dress shirt and ripped another long strip off, and tied it as another layer around the makeshift bandages already there.  Every movement was agony, but Jo grit her teeth and let him work.    

“Why did you follow me?  Why did you have to follow me?”  he hissed, and Jo wondered if he were speaking to her, or to himself.

“I wasn’t going to let you chase after an armed suspect alone,”  she said.  

Henry was an idiot, chasing a murderer into a condemned building.  Maybe it had been the wild gunshot the suspect had sent their way, or something as simple as the slammed door the guy had thrown, but it had brought the wall down on them.  They were trapped by a pile of rubble, and dammit, it was Henry’s fault.  He had no sense, no understanding of his own mortality.  It was only fate that sent the room down around their ears instead of Henry getting himself shot.  If there was any justice in the world, the suspect had died in the collapse.  He’d been ahead of them, and it was impossible to know.  

But she wasn’t about to tell Henry any of it.  He knew already, and they were both trapped in here without a single bar of cell reception.  No need to make him feel worse.  After all, he’d probably be the one who’d have to live with whatever went down today.  Jo wasn’t so sure about herself.

Once again, Henry started to claw at the immovable rubble.  Same as before, nothing significant moved.  He grunted in frustration, and prowled the edges of the destroyed room.  

“Henry, sit down.  You’ll wear yourself out,”  she murmured.  She was getting sleepy.  “You need to save your energy.”

Henry knelt next to her head, and with gentle hands checked her temperature, her pulse, the dilation of her pupils.  She’d been knocked hard by the collapsing cement, and knew she’d probably bleed out here long before anyone found them.  Whatever he saw, he smiled encouragingly—or tried.  His worry was poorly concealed.

“I have to get you help.”  He stroked her hair back from her face.  “I can’t delay any longer.”

She snorted.  If that was a joke meant to make her feel better, it was way off the mark.  He was unfailing, as always, at saying just the wrong thing.  

“Okay then, off you go.  Stop procrastinating.”  

“I am going to do something, and I need you to trust me.”  He wore that same sad, worried smile.  He took her hand and squeezed it tight.  “And I promise it will be fine.”

She frowned.  “What is it?”

Henry pulled his hand from hers, and then there was a tug at her side.  He sat back, and had her gun in his hand.  He flipped the safety off.  

“Hey!  Henry—“  She reached for him, managing to brush against his knee before he shuffled back further from her.  She tried to roll towards him, but her leg was agonizing, and she cringed.  “Henry, what are you doing?” she managed.

Henry licked his lips, balancing the gun in his grip.

“If I could think of any other way, I swear to you, I wouldn’t do this.” His hand was shaking, and the gun trembled.  “But I need to get you to a hospital, and if I wait any longer you are going to bleed to death.  I am not going to let you die because I—because—”  He cut himself off, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

She managed to get to her side, panting from the effort. He was scaring her, his off-kilter rambling not quite making sense.  

“Henry, give me back my gun.”

“Jo.”  He opened his eyes, having calmed himself again.  “I need you to remember what I’m saying now.  It will make sense later.”  He took another deep breath.  “Now, I am going to shoot myself in the head. I’d prefer you didn’t watch.”

He said it with such terrifying, matter-of-fact calm that she took a moment to process what he meant.  

Jesus Christ, he was having some kind of psychotic break.

“No—no!  Henry, give me the gun.”  She reached for him again, but Henry stood up and walked away to the corner of the room.

“Listen to me.  I am going to die, and my body is going to disappear.” He sounded apologetic more than anything.  “But I won’t be dead—not permanently, anyway.  I’ll have help here in an hour, maybe two.  I promise you.”

“For god’s sake Henry, that is not how death works!  It’s not a goddamned video game!”  Jo felt dizzy, and her arms gave out on her.  She didn’t have the strength to get to him, and she was going to spook him if she kept shouting.  Suicide negotiation training came to her in small snippets, and she gulped for air, trying to calm herself, make her voice steady and soft.  “Oh my god, okay, okay—let’s talk, Henry.  I know it seems hopeless right, now, but—“

“Please, trust me.”  He lifted the gun to his head.

“Henry!  Henry, please!  We can talk about this, I—“

He squeezed his eyes shut.  

“I’m so sorry, Jo.  Try not to move.  You’ll bleed faster if you do.  And I promise, I’ll be back for you as soon as I can.  Please don’t watch.”  His words were frantic and tight, rushed out in a single breath.

“No, no, Henry!  No—“

He turned around to face the corner of the room, turning his back to Jo.  The retort of the gun was deafening in the small space, and blotted out Jo’s cry.  Henry’s body collapsed to the floor, the gun clattering as it hit the cement, falling from his useless fingers. Jo looked away, gagging at the gory sight.  Oh god, Henry—

She looked up again, and the blank corner stared back at her.  She sucked in a breath and held it.

Filthy cement, dust, bits of rubble.  No blood and bones and brain sprayed on the wall.  No Henry.

She propped herself up as well as she could, adrenaline and fear damping the pain, looking wildly around the room.  Nothing.  She was alone.  No indication Henry had ever been here.  Nothing but the torn strips of blue dress shirt tied tight around her wound.

The wooziness hit her as the adrenaline peaked and faded, and she collapsed back on the cement.  She stared at the corner, at her gun lying three feet from the wall where Henry had dropped it as he fell.  Where she was sure he’d fallen.  The place where there was nothing.  

By the time she lost consciousness about fifteen minutes later, she’d almost convinced herself she’d imagined Henry being there in the first place.  Delusions from loss of blood and pain.  

But those makeshift tourniquets on her leg—they refused to go away and let her embrace the comforting lie.