Oh, The Places You'll Go

Five Times Darren Nichols Avoids Being Committed

Notes: Written when blocked from a prompt by sansets. I struggled with it for the longest time and then suddenly out it came. Must be what giving birth feels like. Light spoilers for S2.

WARNING: Potential triggers for self-harm/suicide

1. Darren is seventeen when he cuts his wrists for the first time. He's delighted by the patterns the blood describes on the dreadful mauve carpet in his bedroom. He lets his parents know immediately, of course. Death is not the point; this is merely a cri de coeur, a dramatic rendering of his inner despair at not being chosen to take the role of Othello in the forthcoming school production.

How could he be cast as Iago? There simply isn't a Machiavellian bone in his body.

His father wants him committed "for his own good," he says. Since when has that bourgeois merchant known anything of the good of Darren Nichols, pure heart and auteur? It is then fortunate that the admissions doctor is a great fan of Bernard Shaw and Darren uses Pygmalion to illustrate the many reasons why he should be a free man. It works.

Darren displays his scars to anyone who stands still long enough to look. He uses the whole appalling experience to inform his portrayal of Iago. It is a triumph. Of course, Othello is far from pleased, and indeed punches Darren in the nose for upstaging him, but Darren knows no genius is appreciated in his own time. He is content.

For now.

2. It is four in the morning when Darren is discovered walking down the middle of the road, stark naked but for a single lily tucked behind one ear.

The policeman who stops him has some trouble getting him into the car as Darren insists they wait for his friend, Geoffrey, who is just behind him. There is no one there. The policeman repeats this patiently several times but Darren will not be convinced. This whole escapade had been Geoffrey's idea and Darren has felt his somewhat intoxicating presence behind him since they cast off their clothes and inhibitions. The policeman mutters something about it not being this Geoffrey doing the intoxicating but Darren is cold and confused and submits to being manhandled into the vehicle.

Shut into a cell and huddled in a blanket words float towards Darren and he catches them and twists them into meaning. "Shrink", "delusions", "psychosis" and "institution" are not four words he wishes to hear in conjunction with himself. Where the hell is Geoffrey? Darren shivers.

When the officer returns to take his statement, Darren turns on the charm and lets the blanket accidentally slip off.

Less than an hour later he is walking home in borrowed clothes. He's glad he remembered to pick up mouthwash yesterday.

3. Darren arrives in the market square in rags, dirty and bleeding. He finds a spot, hunches over and begins to rave. His performance of an escaped Jewish prisoner of war is a tour de force. He has listened to the Nuremberg Rallies for weeks, crash dieted until he lies on the edge of seriously under-weight and chosen his arena most carefully. This sleepy little German town will not know what has hit it. There are only two things Darren has forgotten to do: inform the authorities of his intentions and learn the language. Mere trifles, he believes, standing between him and his audience.

He does gather an audience, among them a local doctor, an educated man with enough English to understand what Darren is attempting to say. He is horrified. There are factions in this town that would tear this man apart if they understood his accusations. Two policemen loiter by the market stalls, the doctor calls to them, explains the situation and before he can react Darren is being frog-marched to the doctor's house.

Darren has immersed himself in this role so thoroughly he almost believes he is being taken away by Nazis. The kind doctor sits him down and gives him coffee and tries to explain but Darren misconstrues the broken English and leaps to his feet, coffee cup smashing on the floor.

"Do not touch me!" he cries, cowering from the concerned touch of the doctor's hand. "I will not go to your gas chambers."

The doctor tries again, but begins to be concerned about this man's sanity. In calm tones he suggests Darren accompany him to the hospital. He gets his bag and takes out a syringe.

Darren remains aware enough of reality to know that this is a very, very bad idea. With a wild yell he leaps over a chair and is out of the house before the doctor can react. He runs pell-mell through the streets and does not stop until he is far into the countryside.

The next weeks pass in a blur. Darren finds shelter in a barn where he is discovered by a kindly farm girl who brings him cheese and ham and chatters to him in a guttural language that Darren either finds charming or unbearable depending on his mood. He gathers his strength and the day comes when he decides to return home. His money and passport are lost to him now but Darren releases a prayer of thanks to Stanislavski, the god of The Method and carefully, carefully pulls a gold watch out of its warm, dark hiding-place. He wrinkles his nose at the smell, but needs must when the devil is at one's heels. Wiping it clean he smiles. This should get him at least to Calais. After that, ah, who knew? People could read about it in his memoirs.

4. The swift change of heart from emotionless grey void to touch me, hold me, love me, grandiose sweeping passion had been, in retrospect, too much. And now the run is over and Darren is bereft.

Somehow he finds himself sitting in the river where swans had eaten Oliver, naked but for one of those ill-advised chess pieces atop his head, clutching his knees and sobbing, salt water tainting the fresh stream. He cannot stop. Floodgates have been opened and he has no idea how to turn the wheel back the other way.

There is a gentle splash accompanied by grumbling and then the weight of a body sitting down next to his.

"What exactly are you doing, Darren?"

"I'm running mad," declaims Darren through his tears. In his secret heart he is glad that it was his Nemesis that has found him; he will know what to do.

"Yes, well, I can see that. Your normal wrap behaviour is to attempt to sleep with any male on the cast below the age of 25. This is more like-" Geoffrey pauses. "It's more like me, Darren, and flattering though that is, this town has only room for one resident madman. Come on, pull yourself together."

"I caaaaaaaaaaaaan't" sobs Darren. "I can't stop."

He feels a sharp sting across his face. He stares at Geoffrey in shock.

"You, you, you hit me!" he exclaims through fresh tears.

"Fuck it, it didn't work." Geoffrey grabs Darren and shakes him. "Listen to me, you half-baked hominid, this is not a game." He shakes him again. "Do you understand? If anyone else had found you it would have been straight into the straitjacket no questions asked. And I'm telling you that room service in the lunatic asylum is not all it's cracked up to be. You're the wrong kind of insane, Darren. Now snap. The fuck. Out of it." He punctuates each of his final words with a shake.

And, much to Darren's surprise, his tears stop as swiftly as they had started. Geoffrey nods, pleased and releases him. Darren throws his arms around Geoffrey's neck and hold on tight.

"Geoffrey. My enemy, my saviour," he mutters fervently into Geoffrey's ear.

"Stop being so dramatic," chides Geoffrey, peeling Darren off him. He strips off his jacket and lays it around Darren's shoulders.

"Let's get you home," he says.

And the river is left to the swans and a chess piece floating gently away.

5. Darren is fifty-five when he cuts his wrists for the second time. He wakes on his birthday to find himself still alone, still lost. It is enough, he is weary, it is time to go now.

He has lived his life amongst beauty and he wants to die there, so he walks to the park and sits down under the spreading branches of a weeping willow. It is poetic, he thinks.

He takes out the razor and turns it over and over in his hand, the sun glinting on it, striking beams into his eyes. Dazzling. As death should be. He holds the sharp blade to his wrist but cannot cut. He knows he is a coward. He has always known this. He is struck with amusement — too cowardly to take the coward's way out. He doesn't deserve to live.

He presses down and the blood wells up, his life flowing across his skin. He cuts deep and long, trying to see past the pain. It is done. He leans back against the tree trunk and watches his blood seep into the ground. It will feed the tree when he is gone. From earth he came, to earth he returns, it is a delightful circle and the thought comforts him. He closes his eyes. He is ready.

There is a shout and suddenly someone is pressing down on his wounds and calling. They are terribly noisy and unnecessary and Darren wishes they would go away. He tries to say so, but his mumbles are ignored. He fades out of consciousness.

When he comes to someone is asking his name. Hamlet, he says, tragic prince of Denmark.

"Another one for the nuthouse," he hears in rough accents. Ah, the comic relief is here, he thinks. Too late, too late. They should never wait until the final act.

"I shall go quietly into the dark night. No raging," he mumbles, eyelids flickering. It seems such an effort to talk now.

"Eh?" Of course, these rude mechanicals do not understand poetry. Their lives are practical, earth bound. They shall never fly with the angels.

"No nuthouse," Darren clarifies. "No anything."

He smiles. And the stage fades to black as the final curtain comes down.

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