I, Tantalus

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Title: I, Tantalus
Category: DEATHFIC/Angst
Rating: G
Summary: Mister Reed realises too late what will forever be just beyond his reach.
Author's Note: Just for the record (and it shows up elsewhere also) I've never believed that Malcolm was beaten as a child.

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Historian's note: Tantalus is a figure from Greek mythology. As a punishment for angering the gods he was condemned to eternity in a single grey windowless room with a pool of fresh water, but every time he reached out for a drop to drink, or for some to refresh himself, the water moved just out of his reach. Hence the verb 'to tantalise', which is taken from his name.

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When I first became a father, I stood there in the hospital and I promised my newborn son one single thing; that I would not under any circumstances turn into my own father. I refused to even contemplate treating my child the way that my father had chosen to treat and raise me. And as my wife gently rocked him to sleep at our home a few nights later, I vowed to whatever deity was up there listening to me that I was going to be a good father to my son.

Deep inside I had always resented my own father for what he had both been able to do and what he had been able to get away with; mine was by no means the happiest of childhoods, although I knew no better, I had nothing by which to judge my young existence. But that's how it goes, isn't it? Every child assumes that their home, their parents, their existence... it's all that same for every other child they know, for any other child in the world.

And why would they think any differently? Their parents, their home... that's the whole universe to them... the rest of the world, the galaxy, the universe, it's nothing more than a story they're told at bedtime to soothe them into sleep. And that's all they know.

Until they learn the truth.

The world is by no means a bunch of roses. I learned that lesson the hard way, and somehow... somehow I wanted my son to learn that lesson... but without having to go through what I went through.

But there, right there and only there, lay the root of it all. As he grew older, I learned that I simply did not know how to interact with him... being a parent isn't built into a person. You need to work at it, to overcome failures... but I always strove for perfection, I couldn't handle failure the way that some people can.

Some of the time I would sit and look at him, trying to work this strange little person out, to analyse him, try and work out who he was. And some of the time I would simply retreat into my own world, leaving him standing there on his own. Lord, that sounds so pathetically childish, but that place was somewhere where I was in control... where it felt as though I was in control, and eventually I suppose... I know the lines between fantasy and reality began to blur until the border was so unrecognisable I lost sight of what was real and what was not.

That was the beginning of something irreversible... and look at me now. Now I can see that the father makes the son, not... no, never the other way around. He knew that. He knew that all too well.

My son left the house as soon as it was humanly possible for him to do so, and wasted no time in telling me why. Initially, I blamed them for changing him, for doing something to him beyond what I knew and could understand. Those first few weeks without him I missed him so much, but I could never show that because to show emotion is a weakness, and weaknesses, like so many other things, can be so ruthlessly exploited.

Looking back, I have no clue as to how it happened, but that was one of the first lessons my son learned from me; show no emotions, show no weakness. Something I learned from my father in turn, so I had passed it on.

The one lesson I taught him... the only lesson I taught him. The only lesson I would ever teach him. The only lesson he would ever let me teach him.

Show no emotions, show no weakness.

I'm trying so hard not to do that now, for all the good it will do me, standing here... because where I am now, it shows how weak I was back then, it shows just how much of a failure I am here and now. My daughter's sitting down there with my wife, both letting their emotions show so freely. They cry and are comforted. If I cry I will be scorned, accused... pitied. If I show my emotions I will be reviled...

There are no words, no means of expression for what's happening around me right now. Perhaps there are no words. Or perhaps now I'm too set in my ways to find new words.

I feel... pained inside.

I feel sorrow.

Most of all, I feel regret.

Regret that I never told him how proud I was of him when he finally got where he - and only he - decided he wanted to go. Regret that I will never know how he went, or when or what his last words were.

Regret that I am standing here, looking at a memorial with no body, a service without a soul, a means with no end, an end without a beginning.

What can I say to these people about my son that they do not already know? After all this time, how can I tell these people what I truly feel for my son, my only son, my firstborn child? What can I say to appease the hostile looks of the people who knew my son?

I know what I want to say, but if I say it I will be scorned for not saying it sooner... to my son, while he was still alive. I know what I want to proclaim at the top of my voice for everyone to hear, but still I fear the ramifications of what doing that will mean and what will come about because of it.

I've only been standing here for a few seconds. As long as I say what I want to say in my soul, where nobody else can hear me, perhaps he will hear it, wherever he is, because I know that now it is too late for words.

Only a prayer will do, but now it is time to lay my son to rest.

It's all I can do for him now.

"Malcolm Reed was a man who... "

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