Word count: 2,000
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers up to 1.21 ("The Hard Part"); character death.
Summary: Sometimes, life hands you another chance.
A/N: Written for liritarofrohan, who supplied the pairing and the prompts paint, unfinished projects, and life isn't a comic. Originally posted anonymously in the rare_heroes Fic Exchange. Thanks to runningondreams for my lovely banner :) and fantasticpants for providing super-sekrit beta.
Life isn't a comic.
Life isn't a comic because, if it were, right now there would be a speech-bubble coming out of Hiro Nakamura's mouth, or maybe a thought-bubble above his head, showing bold kanji figures intended to convey astonishment.
But there is no speech-bubble, no little cloud of thought. Instead, Hiro merely stares.
But that's now; let's go back in time a little. Discontinuity indicated in a carefully-lettered panel, top-left. EARLIER ...
The artist slumps on his hotel room floor, head in his hands. His hair is brown; tangled curls that sag forward above shoulders bent in frustration. He's fading into the background of inoffensively tasteless peach and sea-greens; camouflaged in pale skin and a clean white t-shirt.
He shifts, and we see a close-up of his arm: track-marks in the soft pale skin. The message is clear: the artist is an addict.
You don't stop being an addict; you just stop doing it. Whatever it is.
Isaac is blocked.
He's tried everything— everything but that. It's a gift, being clean, and he's not going to fuck that up.
But Jesus, it would help him paint.
He's staring at a half-finished sketch, and it just won't come.
Here's what it used to be like, when Isaac would shoot up and try to paint, even though he knew the heroin was no good for him and would probably kill him sooner or later. What it was like, was sex. Agonizingly good, languorous, mindblowing sex that never really reached a climax, but just spat him out afterwards in a fuzzy, fucked-up mess.
Fucked-up but for the paintings. The paintings were great - better than anything he'd painted in his life.
He barely remembered painting them, afterwards.
Let's go back there. TWO MONTHS AGO; time-travel achieved in the simple turn of a page.
Here's the artist's girlfriend. Pretty woman, always beautifully dressed in sculpted clothes; strong shapes and bold colours. Anxious dark eyes and a mouth that shows every emotion.
They take off their clothes and for a while, the painter is happy, awash in a landscape of pale sheets. Enfolded in delicate brown limbs. When she tells him that she believes in him, the colours on the page become a little more vivid, a little brighter. Nobody has believed in Isaac for a long time.
Addiction never really goes away.
It comes creeping back; sneaks into Isaac's veins in all the worst, leering, insidious ways.
It's a heavy, grey afternoon. We catch a glimpse, in the corner of one panel, of leaden skies outside. Dark and menacing; the perfect emotional landscape for what is about to transpire.
The artist sees himself - some strange, sepia dissociation - tightening the tourniquet around his arm. Resignation and despair tighten his jaw. He flinches at the sour jag of adrenaline when the needle pierces pale skin; rides it out, hostage to the sweet, desperate promise of the numbness to come.
Grey afternoon fades away; Isaac lies on the floor, eyes white and unseeing, body captured in a helpless, full-page spasm of chemical pleasure. A silent choir of blank canvases in the background awaits inspiration.
And then, when the first intensity of warm sugary browns has abated, we see the paintings: great bold, swirling colours that depict lives and events unknown. Isaac's hands scrabble desperately at the paint; fingers smear colour, forming shapes with a sculptor's touch. Vision too urgent, too immediate, to pause for brushes.
A fire blazes, contained behind eyes that do not see; mirrored in the death and destruction on the canvas before him, and in the other paintings hung around the room. Bright oranges and reds; incendiary shades that flicker and illuminate grey surroundings in sickly yellow hues.
Weeks pass before he realises what they are.
The artist dreams, a cloudy landscape where everything is less well-resolved; watery colours that blotch on the page. This reality - if it is reality - is mutable, uncertain. He's shooting up again; legs splayed out across the floor and the tourniquet tight around his arm. But it's not heroin that seeps into his veins, but paint - white swirling with turquoise and purple.
A rushing in his throat, and Isaac rolls onto his side, one hand pressed against his roiling stomach. Retches, and then spews out an entire painting; implausible dimensions hinted at in swirling lines and distorted colours. The corners of the canvas hurt his throat as he coughs it up - lines of pain streaking the corners of his eyes and a shining tear staining his cheek.
We see the painting, fallen face-down on the paint-stained studio floor. Close-up of a trembling hand reaching to turn it over.
It's him - just him - shooting up in a corner of the studio; there is paint in the syringe, a rich, nauseating shade of puce.
But he's not in New York now, and he's not dreaming, either.
He's in MIDLAND, TEXAS. EARLIER TODAY.
There's a young man - two young men - from Japan. One of them gives him a big smile and the Star Trek vulcan salute.
At least, Isaac thinks they're from Japan.
It's been a pretty weird day, and Isaac is so used to living in hollowed-out expectation of his next fix that now it's being clean which feels unreal. Maybe life is a comic. So far today, it's had a lot more in common with comics than the thing he used to think of as reality.
The diner is cozy, a warm environment in peaches and old-fashioned browns. Hiro - the shorter of the two Japanese, with a too-round face, round glasses and eager smile - shows Isaac the copy of Ninth Wonders, and suddenly we are dizzy, vertiginous; looking at a comic within a comic within a comic.
This issue of Ninth Wonders is one Isaac hasn't drawn yet, and for a moment his face is wiped almost blank, just thin lines of ink to capture his astonishment. The comic is his - a hand pauses under heavy lettering on the inside back cover. It's definitely his.
Isaac can't believe it. Thumbs through the pages, stung by the colours. The pages are vivid, hyperreal; shades of the 1980s but in modern, electric form. Japan is an orgy of vivid and deep blues, pinks and greens; worlds away from the brick-reds and blacks and flesh-tones that typify his recent work.
Isaac's never even been to Japan.
Hiro, even in the flesh, is foreign: exotic colouring almost untouched by the warm Texas light. Black and white, a piano amid woodwind and strings.
He's captured, sitting across the table from Isaac, round glasses shining, mouth open in the middle of halting, enthusiastic English, declaring that he will save the world. His expression that of a serious child, albeit one capable of sublime wisdom.
Ando - the other Japanese guy - looks over at the waitress, face caught hopeful in pursuit of coffee and a smile.
Isaac wants to save the world. It seems the right thing to do, now that he himself has been saved, baptised, given another chance.
Hiro hesitates. "I saw you on the floor. You were dead. With your head ... cut ... off."
Life isn't a comic, because if it were, the next thing Isaac says would be WOAH.
Instead, we catch him, rendered all in browns like a skinny, modern-day Rembrandt, leaning back in his chair. Elbows wide and hands gone to his head to try to hold in this insane, ridiculous information.
"You say your mission is to stop the bomb. In New York."
"Yes, uh ... our destiny"
Isaac looks up at Hiro, a different man from the Isaac who painted, alone and high, in a studio in New York. Beardless; hair clean; luminosity that we haven't seen for a long time in clear brown eyes.
"I think it may be mine, too."
Sometimes, life hands you another chance.
Ando is in the diner attached to the motel, gone back to chat up the girl behind the counter.
And life isn't a comic, can't be a comic, because the comic-book Hiro Nakamura would never lean up and kiss Isaac on the lips: a quick, soft, chaste press.
Hiro steps back with a faint smile that borders on apology. "I think you are - berry good man."
"I'm not." Isaac runs a hand through his hair. "I've ... " He's been a bad person; a bad friend; a bad lover. Everything sacrificed for another hit, or in Isaac's stumbling search for meaning, for purpose.
Hiro puts a hesitant, warm hand against Isaac's cheek. "You are - trying, yes?" Owlish eyes glint wise behind spectacles.
Hiro nods, a tiny, certain gesture. "Trying is - most important thing."
Isaac wonders why he ever bothered getting high when all he had to do was come to Texas, meet a Japanese guy with a Vulcan salute who's claims he's been to the future, and kiss him in a motel room. Very little has made this much sense in a while, and that's pretty strange.
He reaches forward, expecting Hiro to blink and pull away. But Hiro surprises him. Doesn't flinch; lets Isaac's hand rest in his hair.
They make a peculiar tableau in this tall, thin panel that takes up two thirds of a page's width and all of its height. Isaac is all lean grace; a panther's curves in white and shades of brown. Hiro, shorter and more compact, and lacking that physical poise, is made up of broad strokes in black and navy blue. Elbows sticking out awkwardly as his hands reach for Isaac's face, drawing him down in a kiss.
The expression on Isaac's face, in close-up, is one we know from an earlier panel; doped-out bliss. But this time, the shades on the page are different: his face reflects light, the scowling colours of his New York studio replaced by gentler shades. A moment of peace.
"I don't think I can do this"
"Yes you can. Concentrate."
Hiro believes in him, and Isaac picks up the brush.
He's warmed, though he barely realises it. Bathed in the glow of purpose, alive now with the capacity to see. Perhaps even change the future by the mere act of observation. An act that used to reek of self-destruction now become absolution, lending him hope and power.
We look over Isaac's right shoulder as deft, dynamic shapes appear, sketched boldly in black, building outwards in an explosion of rich browns and deep greens.
We're nearly at the end of the story now. We know this because we're back where we came in: Hiro is wearing an expression of unguarded astonishment, the facial equivalent of an exclamation mark, as he looks at the painting Isaac has made.
Another Hiro stands there, sword ready, facing down a giant lizard. Tyrannosaur.
Hiro stares; life is not supposed to look quite this much like a comic.
"We must go."
He reaches out, a hand on Hiro's arm. Ando is already turning towards the motel room door.
Isaac and Hiro are caught in a moment, stretching across the page in horizontal lines. Barely touching, but unified for a moment in glossy browns and healthy pinks; mutual focus. The motel room in the background, dark apricot insignificance.
There might be space, top-centre of the panel, for a speech bubble. It might read something like "You saved me."
But that's not quite the end of the story.
Thumb forward several pages, past tales of visions and hidden agendas and invisible men rendered in translucent swirls of blue-black ink, and there it is: the last page.
The sky outside is cold and grey; inside is dark, and we can barely make it out until we resolve the differences between indigo, maroon, dark brown.
Life isn't a comic, because Isaac Mendez lies dead on the floor of his studio, paintbrushes snapped through his wrists and blood spilling from the empty cavity of his head, and it's entirely real.
(originally posted anonymously here)
x-posted to heroes_fic