Content Warning for: death, suicide, drug overdose, use of a homophobic slur (by a gay character recalling an event in his life)
It was a beautiful setting meant for such an occasion. Twinbrook always looked so nice in the midst of a snowstorm.
Annette thought about her original wedding. How generic and dreadful it was. How awful she looked, four and a half months pregnant at the time. How she spent her wedding night watching Dirty Dancing instead of getting intimate with her new husband. If she could redo it, that would be nice, for the sake of having something to look back on fondly in the horrors of immortality.
She built a wedding arch and even chairs for guests at the pond. What was stopping her, then?
The idea appealed to Bill too: if they loved each other, they deserved to say it from their hearts. Not out of obligation and for the sake of public image. And if their marriage itself got a second chance, then their wedding deserved it too.
The surface details were nice enough. Annette got a form-fitting dress in her favorite color, and Bill a suit in his. They even bought new ceremonial rings to start fresh with. But Annette told me this: she couldn’t help but think of a bad happening during the whole ceremony.
It was maybe two weeks prior. And before that was the night Annette’s secret basement hideaway got discovered, and where other bad secrets got spilled too. Regardless, Annette thought that Harwood would feel better after sobering up. She locked up her own liquor storage and hoped for the best. He said that he probably had quite a bit more life left in him. Keeping him past his 100th birthday would be great! And Shark would appreciate more time with his partner too. She just needed to make sure that he stayed out of death’s way for that time. But she had hope.
It was still a stormy winter, but Annette had to get to the diner somehow, which left childcare to someone else. Or two others working together.
“I’m not playing Opeth to a kid,” Harwood said, seated on the ground with a guitar. He used to play it when he was younger, and took it up as a hobby again some years prior. “Not even with those puppy-dog eyes of yours, Shark.”
“Just an acoustic song of theirs? Please?” Shark begged.
“A real acoustic one. And you’re singing.” He got started on the strumming pattern, having chosen the song he remembered the most from when Shark showed the band to him.
I can’t see the meaning of this life I’m leading I try to forget you as you forgot me~
It got Franco smiling, and not crying, which is what mattered the most to them.
Annette walked in right during the last sung verse.
At times the dark’s fading slowly But it never sustains Would someone watch over me In my time of need?
“I guess you could have made a worse choice,” she said to the guys after they finished the song. She then scooped Franco up off the ground.
“Oh darling, did your gay uncles do a good job tonight?” she cooed as she gave her toddler a snuggle.
“I’m too tired to address everything that is incorrect there,” said Harwood. “He’s a good kid and we love him to pieces. But I think you might want to get him to bed. He seemed kind of tired.”
As Annette walked towards the nursery, Shark went up to Harwood to give him an affectionate cheek stroke. “Now that we’re off babysitting duty, you want to piss off my uncle more and do it in your bed tonight?” The two rooms were next to each other, after all, and sound tended to travel well in the house.
Harwood gave him a cheeky laugh. “Maybe tomorrow night. I have some things to finish up in the studio.”
“Fine. You promise?”
“I mean, I’ll do my best.”
Annette overheard all of that, and started to worry for Harwood again. She kept her promise and didn’t bring any of that night up, especially not to Shark, who would be worried out of his mind. But she noticed that everything in the sculpting studio was finished, and hauling the pieces out was a two-man job. He had nothing to do in there, except for maybe vacuum the floors. But without a vacuum waking her up that night, she made a mental promise to check on him in the morning.
She had to wake up early that morning anyways, to go to work again. Ingredients wouldn’t prep themselves.
Shark slept alone, and still did when Annette woke up and peeked her head inside his bedroom. The whole house was silent, eerily so, even as she tiptoed downstairs. Franco slept, Sagebear did too, and only the hum of the fridge from the kitchen filled the air. She still had to get ready for work, so she dressed in her jeans and apron. But still, that silence made her afraid of what she might find, she walked with caution towards the sculpting studio, and looked in through the glass door.
It was unlocked. Sometimes it wasn’t, but Annette’s gut sank with the bad feeling an unlocked door gave her that morning.
She looked in the corner to confirm her horrifying suspicions. “Oh no, oh shit, don’t tell me that you did,” she whispered, before kneeling down to investigate the scene.
Harwood sat up against the wall and slumped over, right next to a letter, two pill bottles, and a finished bottle of alcohol. Most of his limbs looked relaxed and limp. Annette felt him. No usual human warmth.
She took his body and put two fingers up to his jugular, to check for a pulse. Not a beat. She took one of the pill bottles. Diazepam, 5mg. Just a blank label, so they weren’t meant to be his. And the alcohol was a rather cheap bottle of whiskey. Diazepam was difficult to overdose on, but combined with a drink like that, there was little hope for the guy. As much as Annette wished she could save him, he had to have been like that for a couple of hours, at least. There was only one course of action, and it was to prevent her house from smelling like a corpse.
Annette took his body from under the arms and pulled. She struggled. “Damn, you are a heavy bastard.” Granted, it was only in comparison to her. Shark could easily pull 150 pounds of Harwood out of the house.
But that was a job she wanted to leave to anyone else but him.
She dropped the cadaver on the ground and instead decided to read his note, folded like it was for an envelope.
I know you’ll be the one to find me. I like how you care. But I thought I would forget…stupid me for remembering. I haven’t been able to get her off my mind ever since. And it hurt more than this will.
I wish this could have ended better.
Bill brought her mind back to the present. He held up the golden ring for her. A snowflake also fell directly on the tip of his nose. “My years are limited, and I’m not wasting what little time there is being a mediocre husband. I promise to now treat you like an equal. Like my best friend, which you have been from the moment we met.”
And as he slid the ring on, it was hard to think of happy things again. Limited years, which he may have been right about, for all she knew. And how would she handle it? Who could she turn to for the pains of loss?
Unfortunately, she had a new person to ask.
Shark woke up and walked into the sculpting studio, expecting another normal day. He noticed Harwood’s body as soon as he walked in, though. Annette rushed to try and explain.
“Shark! I…come on, I wasn’t expecting it. There was nothing I could do,” she said. But the mournful look on his face grew.
“There has to be a mistake,” he said. “There has to still be hope!”
“Check for yourself, but that was the first thing I did.” Shark, not listening and maybe hoping for a last good-bye, was on the floor with his lover’s body in his arms.
“Oh god, you’re right,” he said. “But…he seemed so happy…and he was in great health…I…I…this is my fault, isn’t it?”
“No! It was a long-seated issue,” said Annette. “Please don’t blame yourself for this.”
Shark seemed almost unable to cry at it. “I should have seen it first. I should have been the one to help,” he muttered. “What even happened?”
Annette bit her tongue at first, but then had to tell him. “He told me about this, and believe me, I did everything to try and stop him. It was just some long-seated sorrow he kept bottled up. Something about his ex-wife.”
“He never told you about her?”
“No, he did, but…you know, he seemed past it.”
“I wasn’t able to see this happening,” she said.
“I don’t want to blame him for it. But…he…he meant a lot to me too.” Shark seemed to break down at that, but stopped before crying. He started, instead, being angry at the situation. “I never felt for anyone like I felt for him! And he…I know I had to expect it one day…but he took that away from me. He did.”
“Don’t hate him for it,” she said.
“I don’t. I just hate a lot right now. I hate myself, even.”
“You can have a good cry about it,” said Annette.
Shark got up, still looking gloomy but not as broken down as he could be. “I guess I need to do something with him. I feel like I need to,” he said. “Because I couldn’t even say good-bye.”
Annette, however, would never know what it was like to be in her early 30’s and carrying her lover’s corpse to its final resting place. Thankfully, she got too old for that to apply to her. But some of it haunted her second wedding night. All the pain of bereavement, she didn’t want to think of that.
Shark spent a long time that night at the foot of Harwood’s grave, mourning and still asking himself why it had to happen that way. All he could do was believe in an afterlife and hope that Harwood found peace beyond their world. Not that it helped much, as Shark became worryingly depressed. Annette felt bad leaving him at home with only Amy making sure he was safe. Her problems didn’t seem to matter. She could legally marry the love of her life and expect to at least celebrate her 50th birthday before he left the mortal world.
So what could she do for Shark that night? Not much while she was getting married.
Bill finished his vows, and took Annette’s hand. “And I take you to still be my lawfully wedded wife,” he added.
I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine, they said in unison.
And with that, Bill lifted her up off the ground for their wedding kiss.
If Annette wasn’t spending the night worrying about Shark, then she would have considered that kiss a wonderful fairytale beginning (or what she wanted to regard as a beginning) for her marriage.
But she decided that she had to keep it out of her mind, thinking about the wedding night re-do ahead. The original was bad enough so that it made sense to focus on that and not on her grieving nephew. Perhaps.
They walked down the ill-defined and snowy aisle, asking each other what to do next. Annette might have had some champagne stored at the bar. Bill suggested doing it in the bathroom afterwards.
“Look, there’s something I need to do at home,” said Annette, with a smile to mellow a request on such a special night. “It’s urgent.”
“Is this about Shark? He’s always been mopey and moody. Let him be,” Bill said, trying to give her a sad look to convince her to stay.
“You know what…no, not if there’s gonna be blood on my hands if I stay here.” She ran to the van and left Bill there to hail a taxi, or get some well-needed exercise walking home. If he wasn’t going to care about his nephew, Annette had to step in.
Even if he was still alive, which was the first thing that she was begging for, he was still in that depressed state she left him in. Shark had worn the same black and red pajama pants for the past few days. His eyes were glazed over and his mouth lay limp and agape when Annette found him, but it was an emotional response. His chest still rose with regular breaths, and the only drinks near him were some cans of soda.
Annette got down on one knee next to him. “Still rough?” she asked him. Without an answer, she could still assume that it was. “Hey, where’s Amy? She was supposed to be there for you.”
While his voice was weak, he had an answer to something, at last. “Upstairs. She has a guest.”
“Well, let’s not mind her. I was thinking about you all night, trying to understand your pain-”
“Fuck off. You don’t understand it,” Shark snarled.
“What isn’t there to get? I’m gonna have to watch all my friends die. I’m going to get this hard with almost everyone I know, almost everyone I’ll meet after this. I get this pain because I have no choice but to watch the world die.”
“How about this? I lost the first guy who treated me with respect. You’re not gay. I dunno, you’ve never had your uncle call you a fag and burn out a cigarette on your chest? You haven’t. Imagine if I said that I knew what it was like to be a woman, or whatever exotic ethnicity you’ll claim tomorrow, or a demon. You don’t know what it’s like having a normal relationship and some GODDAMN RESPECT for the first time!”
He doubled over, seething with rage after that.
“You’re right,” said Annette. “And I can’t speak for what Bill did to you. But…I know how much Harwood mattered to you. Or I can’t even comprehend it. But I want to help.”
Shark got up, trying to walk away from her. “You’re on his side, and I know you never liked me.” He didn’t get far before he felt a hug around his chest.
Annette rested her head on the back of his shoulder. “Well, you’re pretty great to me. And I’m not dropping the ball this time. I want to get you all the help you need through this.”
Shark spent the whole time before that stopping short of crying. He’d brood and storm and even rage, but without any tears. Annette felt one soak right through her glove.
A/N: I have this weird problem where Harwood’s death, even a simple in-game death, really saddens me. Why I decided “yup, suicide,” is anyone’s guess. Shooting this chapter took a number on me (and not just because finding the right poses was a pain of its own!). 😦
If you are feeling that way yourself, please refer yourself to a suicide hotline (whether you’re in the United States or International. Also, here is a small list of LGBT-specific hotlines) or get professional help elsewhere.