Fandom: The Vertical Limit
Year/Length: ~1120 words
Disclaimer: If I'd owned him, rather than Sony, I would've looked after him far better.
Author's Notes: Very short. Mercifully short, in fact. Call it a eulogy. I'm not sure what the hell it is, but it's out now. Better out than in!
I never believed much in God.
I mean, I knew that there was one somewhere out there, but I didn't give him much thought until now. I never needed to.
Why would I? My body was strong and fit, and my life was spent up in the mountains that were my joy. I had enough to make me happy - enough of wealth, enough of health, and enough of love. Whatever would I need of anything else?
When I was retained to lead the assault on K2, to wave at a plane that was scheduled to fly overhead, I laughed first of all - well, you would, wouldn't you? By the time there was a million dollars on the table, I wasn't laughing any more. I needed that money, and so did my business.
I'd researched Vaughn. I'd checked and rechecked his profiles. He's a go-getter, and to a certain extent I was pleased that he'd targeted me for his guide on this high profile endeavor. They say pride goes before a fall, and I admit I was proud.
When Vaughn singled me out at the party, I felt so damned good! At last I was getting recognition. They all wanted to be me, to have my job, my skill, and my presence. Me? I was riding high. My reputation was up there with the greats, and I was going to make enough money off this one climb to pay off the debts that had accrued throughout the last year.
The party was good. There were all the folks I've come to know over the years, and I walked among them, sharing good humor, sharing excitement, drinking sparingly because I would need all my energy in the morning, and because dehydration breeds altitude sickness. I felt as though I would be able to fly to the peak, there to stand and scream to the world that I was the best, the very best!
I left the party early. Wick had made comments that everyone seemed to take as a joke. The things he said were not welcome, but that didn't mean they should be taken lightly. I climbed into bed with my brain buzzing. There was something about what he had said that resonated.
Everyone on the mountain knew Wick. He was a man who'd lost his way, and he hadn't left this mountain since his wife failed to come down. I remember her as a good, solid climber who didn't take risks, and who always seemed to be too fragile for her job. When she didn't come down the mountain that last time Wick seemed to go a little crazy. He'd been here since, a faded ghost of a man, a shadow cast by the light of yesteryear, with us, but no longer of us.
The following morning was an early start, and busy. Gathering supplies together for the assault had taken weeks, and now the fruits of my labors were checked off, rounded up, reexamined to ensure that they all functioned, and then stowed.
We were ready a little before 10, and I went, as I always did, to the little shrine at one edge of the base camp to pay my respects to the climbers who had gone before me. It's been a small ritual with me since first I came to K2. There, I bowed my head and asked for safety for us.
No, I don't know who it was that I asked. It was a prayer, but formless.
All too soon the time was past, and we were on our way, climbing easily and relaxed in our confidence. I was capable, competent and this would be my hour.
Whether I was right, or whether I was wrong, it doesn't matter now, does it? I know that I wanted to turn back, and neither Annie or Vaughn would have obeyed my directive. What would have happened if I'd left them and gone back down to the base camp? Especially if they'd gone on and reached the summit?
I don't think I'm a vain man, but I loved my work, and that would have meant the end of it. I couldn't. You do understand that, don't you?
Too late. Too late.
You can't go back and cancel that one split second that pays for all. When we fell, I banged myself up so badly I knew right then that I was a goner, but where there's life, there's hope, isn't that true?
They call her the Widowmaker, my mountain. She's killed more men than people know, and her slopes should run red with the blood of them; instead, she rises, virginal, white clad, awaiting yet another bridegroom.
Here I am. Her latest husband, fumbling beneath the whiteness of her skirts, knowing agony, and knowing that she'll never let me go. I'm hers. It's merely a matter of when she summons me to her bed.
Annie fed me necessary water, water that she should have kept for herself, and she gave me the precious Dexamethasone shots that she ought to have reserved, and I - coward that I was, I took them willingly, gratefully, eager to prolong the moment before I would go to meet my lady.
Of Vaughn, I won't speak. He was merely a catalyst for change. Let him be forgotten.
When he came to me with his syringe, I knew that my time was up. My body, battered and broken, was no longer my own. He owned it.
It was useless to fight, but still I tried, fear of the unknown washing me away in a raging sea of adrenaline, and then, suddenly, the faintest snap of release.
Made new, I stepped free, and went to meet what would come.
We are all here, you know?
I ride the thin air, uncaring that there is not enough oxygen to support my breath. The wind is my breath and the snow is my cold blood. I soar along the dips and valleys, as do we all.
Wick is here. He came to join us, and his reunion with she whom he thought lost was a thing of solemn joy.
I walk the slopes of my mountain, and I follow the new climbers, breathing soft words that carry to them on the wind. I keep them safe.
I soar with the eagle, and roll in the snow like the leopard. My body lies frozen, and will remain here until the end of time. My blood has become a part of this mountain. This is my domain, and those of us who walk here are content.
I haven't seen Vaughn. He isn't here, but then I don't miss him.
This, for me, is heaven.