I Wasn't Born to Walk on Water
Martin sat on the centre of a table in the back room of le cafe Musain, wondering if his landlady had noticed that he hadn't come home. His knees were drawn up to his chin, which he rested upon them, light brown trails of hair broke away from the leather strips tying them back, and his long fingers were curled around his calves, holding himself together. He blinked back sleep, and considered if she would do anything. The owners of the boarding houses he stayed at had a tendency to like him and worry over him if they were older, and if younger, to take meals with him. His looks and manner had a way of charming anyone, although he'd never made any impression on his mother's cook.
He straightened again, feeling stiff and weary, but unwilling to sleep. It was only lately he'd begun to have nightmares; only lately that his moments in slumber were haunted by shadows and fragments of strange hells. He could win, though, he could win. He would win. It wasn't so hard to stay awake, and, he thought wryly, the table was quite uncomfortable.
One hand rose from its place, slim, pale fingers brushing lightly against his silky sand-coloured moustache. He smiled faintly, moving the hand down to stroke his lips, cracked and bleeding in places. Foolishness. That was from the winter - his skin always became dry and sometimes painful, rubbing off easily. It only transposed to his mouth, and it would be gone soon, later, eventually, and it didn't matter. He still took pride in his appearance, but it didn't occupy so much time any longer. There were other things to duel against; there were other things that challenged his body. At times, his smooth chest and neck would bruise of their own. He was too tired, a little too worn down to care. It kept on. It was far to him to question why. He was perhaps too proud to ask, but perhaps too resigned, or even too lost. If only just the dreams would cease, he could bear anything else. He could spare the time to worry over his slowly dying once-handsome health.
Dreams were different from anything else. Dreams were as unreal as could be achieved while at the same time being so wholly true that he might as well not try to run from what chased him. It was madness, but it was sanity. It was fear with nothing to argue for his side. He could not sleep, and there were the moments when he could not even close his eyes. Dreams were vivid. Dreams were alive. Inside the fishnet of glass slivers, red blood was more than red, a glowing, breathing river of crimson fire, devouring what it passed over. Tears were smashed crystals moulded together once more, floating in the river for a second or half of one, then dissolving into the ever-hungry whirlpools.
In dreams, he captured by the memory of a girl, a girl who when he was small he had played at children's fantasy with. A girl he'd christened wife with a bottle of his father's champagne. A girl he'd left behind years ago. A girl whose thin, white face carried almond-shaped eyes that bored into his back wherever he went. Nané. She was dead. He wrote to his mother to find out. She drowned, hanging flower wreathes on trees over a brook, for May. Like damned Ophelia, he thought. She had no right to watch him now; she had no right to intently question his ideals. She had no right, and wouldn't were she alive, to ask him if the revolution he was part of was correct. It was never her place, and in his dreams, too, was no place. What was it to her soul, he demanded angrily, if he killed men to save men?
His heart raced a few beats faster, the soft drumroll playing gently against his ribs. Here he countered sleep with fury. Here the waves of weariness were driven back by the winds of resentment. The sea met the sky and smashed itself to the clouds, killing itself, falling back with a death cry into the breakers of its own phantom waters.
He straightened his back again, arms feeling suddenly weak. He clenched his fingers, then wove them together, and finally drew one hand into the warmth of the neck of his waistcoat, surrounded by a scarlet silk cravat and white linen shirt. He sighed, and gritted his teeth on a renegade yawn.
"Awake, Martin. You know you'll be pinned to the floor and your throat ripped out if you sleep."
It was the first he'd spoken in the hours since the others had left him. His voice sounded hoarse to himself, strangled and broken as though his throat had already been torn away. He coughed a little, licking dry lips, feeling the roughness where the skin had split, and then the faint surprise of blood, sharp though faded, clear though clouded. His eyes hurt, and the free hand travelled up once more, touching his cheek, then his eyelashes, soft and dark. He closed his eyes to make it easier, and wished he hadn't, as Nané's gentle, smiling child's face was printed on the ink-black of closing.
He wrenched them open again, staring around the room, a sweat breaking on his forehead. The annoyance at his rebellious senses billowed again, and he began to unfold from his protected curl. He stood, leaving the now-warm, grained wood of the table.
"I wish I had a candle."
The room was dark. A moonslash shining through the window and cutting the floor was his only light. He walked to the glass, peering out into the shadows. His head ached, steadily, and his calves; his body felt slighted, everything burning in some pale way. He undid the cravat and pulled it off, unbuttoning the top of his shirt to look at the skin at his breastbone. Another bruise, spread from the morning's smaller one. Without warning, a single teardrop, spun of salt water, pulled itself from one hurting eye, dripping down his cheekbone. He startled, then sighed again, wiping it away quickly, pressing to the window in a hope of placing his too-hot face to the soothing, cold panes.
Without any warning, without even the noise of a door opening to alert him, he heard a voice behind himself.
He turned too fast to see, and was hit hard with dizziness, collapsing to the floor, clinging to the wall with his hands and chest, nails digging in. "Oh, God..."
"Am I?" The voice seemed too faraway to be his own. He wasn't dying, and the voice's master must be.
In a moment, he felt arms around his body, holding him up, gathering him up. There was sternness in them, and worry, incomprehension and reprimand.
"What are you doing here?"
"Keeping the night... Of course... Vigilance..."
"And you're raving, as well." The words were grim. "Where will we find a doctor at this hour? God, man."
All right. He wasn't. He relaxed into the arms, resting his aching head against a firm shoulder. The shirt felt soft against his cheek, pleasing and accenting his tiredness, his desire, overwhelming, to sleep. He was supported, carried. But he couldn't... he wasn't supposed to... surely...
"Perhaps Joly will see to you." Tinged with consideration of the idea. "If he doesn't mind being woken up at this hour."
"Why did you come?" he mumbled, hoping talk would stave off his weariness.
"I left a book behind. Be quiet. You're in some condition."
"Oh. 'M sorry," he repeated. He blinked rapidly, feeling himself sinking. "You angry?"
"No. But you're inconvenient."
The arms shook him slightly, jerking him. "Stop talking. Why don't you sleep?"
"Yes, you can. Learn to discipline yourself. If you empty your mind, then it can be easy. Or, you may prefer to think of something tiring. But you can sleep."
Ignoring this advice, he closed his eyes tentatively, letting himself go limp. "This is like being carried... by Maman... when I was younger..." He thought he felt a slight rigidity in the arms as he spoke. He laughed a little inside his head, tucking himself together. He didn't need to think or empty. When he had last closed his eyes, the images weren't there. He smiled rather. All he needed was his mother's warm embrace. For the feel of someone concerned. It wouldn't be so hard to sleep after all. He wasn't saved forever - the dreams would return. But at this moment, he was safe from everything but peace.
"Thank you, Enjolras..." he whispered, nearly captured.
"You're welcome," came the short reply.
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