Sunlight pours vividly through Marcelin's open window, lighting the bed, the desk, the dresser. A breeze from outside ruffles his hair lightly, but the quiet is profound. He blinks at the empty room, then takes out his watch and checks it. Any minute now, the silence should be disturbed.
A hand falls without warning on his shoulder. "Chéri," in a voice of infinite tenderness.
Marcelin turns and embraces the man who has disturbed him. "Hello. It's quiet as a tomb here without you."
This is evaded, or ignored. "You're looking well."
"So are you," with a smile.
Grantaire grins at him, gamin-like, dark hair falling into his eyes. "Now, you can't be going blind already, at your age."
Marcelin strokes his cheek gently, then pushes the hair away from his eyes. "Not in the slightest."
Grantaire allows this patiently, still smiling. "Have you been waiting long?"
A slight pause, then, in a little confusion, "I don't know."
Grantaire kisses him lightly. "Come outside."
"All right." Without apparent transition they are on the porch, looking out over an untended meadow in place of well-kept gardens. It might be early autumn, or late spring; the light, the grass, even the flowers seem to change before the eye. "See now," gravely in Marcelin's ear.
"What am I supposed to see?" Marcelin turns from the unexpected tableau to his companion. "I don't understand."
Grantaire slips an arm around his waist. "I don't know. Shall we go and look?"
"If you'll come with me." There is a little cleared area at the foot of the stoop, but beyond that, the meadow is trackless. Insects chirp occasionally. A bird begins to sing, but it sounds more like a woman talking than like birdsong.
"By all means."
Marcelin steps off of the porch. When his feet touch the ground, a breeze begins from where he stands and sweeps across the meadow, bending grasses in its path in a grand, expanding circle like a ripple on the surface of a pond.
"Avenging angel," comes the voice from behind him, suddenly mocking. A flash of red and turquoise flickers at the edge of the woods.
"What?" Marcelin stops and turns, questioning the change in tone, but continues into the meadow, backward, and his heel lands in a gopher's hole. "Damn," as he falls, putting his hands out to catch himself.
Improbably, Grantaire is there to steady him. "Be careful," he says, gently again. "You don't know what's out here."
"That much seems clear. Perhaps we should have stayed inside." Another bird sings, this one in a child's voice, mocking and laughing.
"But I can't go in with you, my dear." Grantaire drops to sit on the ground, pulling Marcelin down with him.
Marcelin sits and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Why not?" Again the child's voice, this time in more of a catcall.
Grantaire embraces him without answering.
Marcelin takes this as an answer, or at least as a substitute for one, and returns the embrace. In the distance, there is a crash, as of a tree falling in the forest. A breeze stirs again, rustling through the grass; not loudly, but in a moment nothing can be heard above the sound. "Strange weather," Marcelin comments, though his words do not reach his own ears.
Grantaire's arms tighten around him, nearly painfully. "We can't stay here," silently.
"Where can we go, then?" still drowned by the wind, but certain that he will be heard.
Nowhere. The answer is there, unspoken. Grantaire draws back to look him in the face, dazedly.
Marcelin kisses him desperately. "There must be somewhere. Inside?"
Grantaire does not answer, only clings to him, but a clear feminine voice calls, "Marcelin!" from the direction of the house.
"Chantal -- I have to go. Come with me?" Marcelin lets him go and offers him a hand up.
Grantaire takes the hand mechanically, standing, but there is no understanding in his face, nor very much expression.
Marcelin frowns at the voice and calls back, "In a moment," before putting a hand on Grantaire's shoulder. "Don't stay out here, cher. The weather is odd. It's warm inside."
Grantaire seems not to hear. The wind grows chilly. "Marcelin," from the house, insistently.
"We have to go," Marcelin says urgently, shaking him for a moment, then letting go to cross his arms across his own chest and shiver.
"Marcelin--" Chantal is leaning over the railing. "Where have you been? Come in."
"Wait," Marcelin protests. "I want him to come with me," but when he turns around to encourage him, Grantaire is not there. "I -- God." He trudges through the meadow toward the porch. What had been a few steps away is arduous in reverse, and every step is slower. When he reaches the foot of the steps, he asks Chantal, "Did you see him leave?"
The girl's face is serious. "Of course he had to leave-- what would Maman say? Come inside. It's morning--"
"Oh." Marcelin climbs the steps. When he puts his hand on the doorknob to open it, it dissolves into fabric. The porch disappears in a similar fashion and he finds himself lying in bed, his muscles sore, bathed in unrelenting light from a window that still seems out of place though he has slept in this room for two years. "I don't want it to be morning," he protests to the Chantal in his dream, quietly.
Chantal smooths his hair gently. "It's almost ten o'clock. Did you sleep well?"
"As well as I ever do." He sighs. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you eat breakfast late on my account again."
"It's all right." She studies him a moment. "I brought you tea."
He rubs his eyes. "Thank you."
Chantal sets the cup down on the bedside table. "You're welcome." She smiles a little, then stands. "I'll be downstairs."
"I'll be there soon," he promises. "Go ahead and eat without me."
"All right." She stands, smiles at him again, and goes out quietly. As the door shuts behind her, a light breeze begins to blow through the window, ruffling his hair.
Marcelin covers his face with his hands, sighing.
July 14, 1873.
It has been a terribly long year without you. I can hear what you would say if you were with me, as you always were. Chantal says that I am much quieter than I used to be. She is wrong; I talk incessantly to you. I do not speak the words. I can only hope you hear them nevertheless.
I did mention Chantal. I am staying with her and Etienne now. I could not remain in our house without you. Every room was full of memories. If you haunt it now, I do not know. I gave you as much time as I could before the pressure of the past was too strong. Manon stayed for a week after René went home, helping me clean, helping me take care of the things we would not want the help to see. I was not then conscious that I would be leaving. Perhaps she suspected it. My world was too fragmented then for me to remember to eat or sleep. Our maid was useless. Manon may have dismissed her for a week. I do not even know. There was too much of a void in my life. There still is, but I have had some time to adjust to its presence.
I have not been truly happy in a long time. Whenever I cannot cope with the ordeals of daily life, I withdraw. I can do this because there are few legal tasks here. I have not been working nearly as much as I would be in Paris. It is helpful because I have time to myself when I need it, which is too often. Etienne and Chantal invited their offspring to visit in hopes that they would cheer me. Watching Rosalie, Lionel, little Isabelle, and the twins, Christian and Clarisse, I could see how happy they make their parents, their Grandmama Chantal, and their Grandpère 'Tiennot. It made me wish, perversely, that you had had a child, somewhere. Truly, cher, I know that I would not want to see such a person. My problem lies in knowing that, should something untoward happen to Etienne, Chantal will have this dynasty to comfort her. I have nothing of you but a box of old papers.
I did not know that you kept those foolish letters that I wrote you. I suppose that I will keep this one, if I do not burn it in order to send it to you more thoroughly. Perhaps I will read it to you tonight when I see you in my dreams. I would be so lonely but for that. It is my solace, the only time when I know from the bottom of my heart that I am loved and that you are somewhere in the world. Is there a God? You must know by now. Surely He would not punish me for loving you as I did and still do.
You were so good to me. I never deserved you; I was tremendously lucky to have you in my life. I wish that I could still be your fair-haired boy. I would give anything to have you back with me, vital, amazing as you always were. I love my sister; I love Etienne. Compared to you, they are pallid ghosts who do not touch my heart.
I will see you again. That thought sustains me better than anything else. I know you would be ashamed of me if I wasted the last part of life that has been granted to me. I will not, cher, if I can find a way to feel alive again. You taught me a kind of life, and I lived it. I did not understand, then, that it was dependent on you.
Given the time to live again, I would have accepted your life as gladly as I did in this iteration.
I will see you tonight.
I love you.
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