this is really and truly terrible and late, but is had to rewrite it five times since yesterday, as my phone kept deleting it once I'd gotten to a decent length, and just urgh.
The lieutenant was agog. Aghast. Or, whatever it was called. Language had never been his metié.
At any rate, he felt his heart pounding a steady drumroll in his breast, his hands cold and clammy at his sides, his jaw slack as he stared at the motionless body before him.
The girl had moved.
But, that was impossible. Corpses did not open their eyes, did not lick their lips and flinch and stare blearily at one only to sink back to the bloodstained Earth and sigh through icy, blue-tinged lips, "Ah, but you are not he."
At least, the lieutenant would like to think they did not. Would very much like to think not - think anything else. Most likely, he reasoned with himself, he was exhausted. A simple case of exhaustion following a traumatic bombardment of a barricade, the death of a child, the execution of countless of his fellow countrymen, men he could neither excuse nor condemn. His mind was exhausted. His eyes, spasming in their sockets as he cast another petrified glance at the corpse before him, were itching with exhaustion. His feet as they carried him from the side street to the gutted out entrance of the wine shop that he vaguely connected to the name 'Corinthe', dragged in exhaustion.
A simple case of exhaustion. Tired hallucinations. Corpses dressed as living bodies, girls dressed as boys - he needed a drink to clear his head before searching out someone who could explain what had happened since the ricochet of the revolutionary's bullet against his canon had put him to sleep.
The fact that the building was in ruins evaded his dulled comprehension as he stumbled through the doorway. He noticed neither the utter silence of the place, nor the jerks and twitches of the corpses beneath his boots as he strode across them to climb the dilapidated staircase.
Someone had hacked up the stairs, but that was hardly a hindrance. The lieutenant found that, despite his utter exhaustion and pounding headache, his body seemed capable of maneuvering itself with a foreign strength and agility. He clambered, fingernails scraping against the rough floorboards, onto the first floor.
The smell of wine was overpowering, and its source announced itself with a hacking cough.
"Ah!" said the man, glancing up quickly. His bloodshot eyes pierced into the lieutenant's, blazing with more than just the effects of a bottle or so of wine. He seemed to deflate quite suddenly, his gaze flickering to a stiff form laid out on the only surviving table. "Not he," sighed the man, and the lieutenant stumbled hastily to his feet.
"Are you expecting someone?"
The Drinker offered him a glass of wine in response. He gulped it down, returning the glass for a refill, which the Drinker poured out without removing his gaze from the prone form on the table. "He does not wake," said he man. He gestured vaguely and smiled at the lieutenant, his gaze tender. "I have been awake all morning. I cannot sleep any longer - could not sleep so long as I felt the warmth of his hands in mine." He drained his own glass and sighed. "But, his hands have long been cold, and still he does not wake. What keeps him? Shall he not also come here? Has he survived? But, he cannot have survived. Eight bullets!"
The lieutenant's head spun. He drained his second glass, grimacing at the metallic taste the wine left on his tongue. Exhaustion. This man's words made as little sense to him as his nonchalant presence in the gutted wine shop.
"I shouldn't expect him to wake," he offered slowly, his spine stiffening as he thought of the girl in the street outside. "He is a dead man, a corpse. The only awakening he shall be -
He was cut off by a sudden, rasping cough. The Drinker was in the throes of filling another glass, and it took a moment for the lieutenant's numbed mind to process the way he held it to his own, blood-soaked chest. The wine that trickled from the torn skin was thick and deep, black-red. A metallic aftertaste. He felt his throat closing in on itself, the toes of his boots scraping against the floorboards in the direction of the broken staircase.
"Ah," said the Drinker again, his voice a hoarse whisper. His eyes again softened; he frowned with the same tenderness at he lieutenant as he had at the form on the table. "You have not yet realised, you have only just awoken?" Hope. How he was sure of it, the lieutenant did not know, but that was hope thickening the Drinker's words, turning his eyes again to the body on the table. "I was not the first, but I shall not be the last. He shall awake, if you have awoken. And when he does, I - " The Drinker stood suddenly, shoving his glass across the table. Straightened his shoulders. "I shall not be drunk," he said firmly, and nodded at the lieutenant as though to confirm this.
"No." Dragging him back through the hole in the floor, catching his fall; the lieutenant's legs were stiff and leaden beneath him. He shook his head, uttered a final, "No," in condolence and fled the wine shop as quickly as his body allowed. Stumbling over corpses that were beginning to stir, his arms pumping like wind-mill; he arrived, panting and red, in the little side street.
She had not stirred.
Exhaustion? He shook his head, fell to his knees at her side, and heaved her to his chest.
"Awake again, if you must!"
She was cold and heavy and stiff in his arms. Her lips blue.
"Have I gone mad? I don't care! Awake, and show me that I, too, have died!"
Her head lolled against his breast. He shook her, pinched her, pulled her eyelids back to stare at her glassy eyeballs, but she remained as still and cold and unyielding as before. A corpse. He had gone mad. He had begun to hallucinate as a result of exhaustion, or a head injury. His fingers reached into his hair, dug across his skull until they found the jagged edges of splintered bone, the squishy, rubbery texture of his brain beneath.
The lieutenant sobbed. His sobs were dry and wracked his chest. Her body heaved against him.
"I have died!" Had his voice always echoed so hollowly, so loudly against the paving stones? Had the sun always burnt into his back with such force, tearing through his clothes, searing his skin, his bones, his hair? "Dear God, I am a dead man!"
He recalled, fleetingly, the rosy cheeks and soft hands of a young woman, a fiancée. White-washed walls in a comfortable little flat. A warm bed. Scratchy sheets.
His hands fumbled again for the collar of the dead girl. He kissed her roughly, smashing his lips against her forehead, her marble cheek. "I am dead," he said.
She awoke in a flutter of eyelids and the cracks of a smile across her blue lips. "Monsieur -"
"I am dead! You are dead! The Drinker is dead, and his corpse shall awake and be dead, and we are in Hell!"
"No, Monsieur." Smiling still, she took his hand. Kissed his brow. Brushed the hair from his sweat-slicked forehead. "We are dead," said she, and laughed far too gayly. "We are dead, but have left Hell behind us!"
It was all he could do to keep from crying out as she sprang to her feet, dragging him up after her. She danced like a child, a splay of spidery-thin limbs in their tatters. Her voice was the vulgar scratch of an old drunkard's. Her smile pure. Her laughter a trill of pure delight as she lead him to the barricade and, wrapping herself in a bullet-ridden scrap of red cloth that he distantly remembered to have been a flag, cried out: "Monsieur, we are the kings of Paris! You are a soldier, but I am dead, and you can no longer shoot me, no longer kill me. Oh, m'sieur, it is heaven! It is Paris and summer, and I am not the least bit hungry, and I haven't killed him. He shall have his pretty, little lark, and I shall have my barricade and my city. I shall have red gowns made of all the flags we raised. I shall sleep anywhere I like - it is warm, and it doesn't rain, and I have not killed him, and I - "
She froze to study him, her grin fading into a tight frown.
"Shall I have you?" This she asked of herself and not of him, muttering, her eyes swiveling from side to side. Exhaustion, he wanted to think. But, the warmth in his pallid skin and the weight in his limbs told him otherwise. His chest heaved.
Without thinking, he echoed her question, the frayed edges of his voice crackling in the air between them: "Shall you have me?"
Why should she have him? Was he really dead? Was he hallucinating? She laughed suddenly, loudly, gayly, and wrapped the flag around his shoulders. "Monsieur, I shall have you as my very own! You are handsome, and you wear a uniform. I hated uniforms before, but I shall love them now. We mustn't think like we used to. We are no different now, you and I. We are both dead!" She clapped her hands, and something in her gaiety inspired a smile from his own lips. His head felt too light; the world made no sense suddenly, but he found himself too exhausted to bother. Her gaiety eased the tightness in his chest, softened the hard lines of his blue mouth, lightened the leaden weight in his legs.
She thrust an arm through his, laughing still, skipping at his side, and ordered, "M'sieur, you must take me for a walk through the Luxembourg. And then to the dressmaker's - no, to the barricades. I meant what I said, I shall wear all the flags that have died with us, and then we must go for another walk, so that I can show off my new gowns. And you shall hold my arm quite tenderly, just as you do now, and I shall say to you as proper as anything that I should like to sit on a bench for a good while and watch the birds, and if there are no birds, we shall simply have to pretend. A pox on birds! But you must hold my arm just as you do now, and when we sit, you shall keep your hand in my lap and gaze at me, and you shall call me your darling Éponine, and I shall think of you as my lieutenant, and we shall be the happiest pair of kings in all of Paris! Oh, m'sieur!"
She threw herself forward; he followed, his head swimming, his skull throbbing. The heat, the stench of decay and festering flesh and her sweat, the tang of her blood in his nostrils as she pressed herself close to him were overpowering. They were dead and alive, blue and stone, but moving, walking, laughing. Nothing else seemed to matter, suddenly. In the Luxembourg, there would be shade and a bench upon which they could sit, and he could stroke her rough hand in his, and she could laugh and awaken the blood congealed in his veins, the stiff muscles in his legs. Pulling her arm closer, he lead them through the flotsam and jetsam of the Rue de Chanvrerie and into the street beyond. "Please, mademoiselle," said he, "do call me René."
And she did.