The morning has already come and gone and the cold has briskly settled in, mounting in the gutters and increasing by the minute along the dampened streets of East Jaundel.
Timo considers it quite fortunate he didn't come earlier - strange as the thought might seem in this one short moment, and given the steady onset of the temperature within both his city and his blood. But, in the least, it's quieter than the norm, when he finds his own thoughts difficult to hear and greatly unsettled - moreover, silence is a blessing, particularly when bestowed in befitting circumstances, so when it's given to him readily he sees little reason to not take advantage.
He's resolved quickly and sensibly to feel no regret toward his unusual timing (any person who knows him well understands his preference for the morning), as several solid minutes of consideration have brought him to where he stands, ankle-deep in snow, and that all seems quite fair enough. Despite having been for much of his life strangely and unchangeably resistant to the cold (having perhaps been exposed to it more times than he has, in earlier years, properly paid attention to, always ignorant as that free-minded child in his first November), he undoubtedly much prefers spring and its breath of warmth, devoid of the fog so rampant in the winds of a far more hostile season.
Gradually drawing into the street for which he has skirted the city's boundaries - the street a path well carved and heralded by dim, keeled-over streetlamps - Timo's steps grow suitably lazier, almost hesitant, all of a sudden tied with the viscous pace of his mind, hastily coming to forget their inherent need for movement. His contemplations, overbearing and criminalising as they are, drift occasionally and haphazardly into casual thoughts - dangerously casual thoughts, ones that certainly do not fit with the frame of mind he knows he ought to have, when a fortnight ago he lingered in the graveyard well into dusk and pondered, with his brother's name on his lips and an odd sort of reminiscence seemingly dominating everything he did and felt through the initial, very dull days.
He'd been so pale-faced, then, with skin strained and eyes reluctant to water, every thought throttled to death by that feeling he despises - that uncertainty, that wretched and overruling feeling of desiring to know and understand things he can never grasp with a righteous conviction. If nothing else at all, that is what he remembers from the funeral, even if he's begun wondering whether he's become such a victim of shock that he has simply made everything an exaggeration of what is realism, and what is believable. Still, though, the feeling remains - creeping, stalking. Gnawing. And that dreaded, hideous tremble in his fingers and his eyesight when the flowers hit the coffin; why is it so difficult to lay it at rest?
Still, it's hard to feel credibility in his mind when he knows, indisputably, they'd barely known one another. Hardly anyone had.
Timo has already done everything in his meagre control to set his regrets, his overwhelming assumptions, and his anxious revelations aside (Lukas had hated mourners, after all, finding funerary practices and preparations exceedingly tedious), going instead to set his conscience new and dreary tasks. Thus, instead, he begins forcing himself to muse over petty, stupid things; things he usually would only attempt to fathom whilst hemmed into his mind by bouts of sleeplessness and idle thinking.
Soon enough, although, prayers for riddance of his grief turn to idleness, and he draws every ounce of his sense and attention to ordinary trivialities, miserably and feebly diverting from the topic it's almost inconceivable to fathom and come to terms about whilst retaining peace of mind.
I'm not like this, he has to think, to pester his mind into accepting, and he shakes his head abruptly, the same moment he brings the fraying leather of his gloves against his chin as though to steady his own head, finding the quaver of his fingers to be immensely unsettling.
He's supposed to be the serene one. He's meant to be the brother with the light-hearted quips on his tongue, and gentle eyes. He is not meant to be shaken, nor driven to repetition and struggle all for the sake of a death he really ought to have readied himself to confront. Death is not an unusual concept, after all, nor a sort of dreadful event he's despised his entire lifetime, not after his parents had met their end. Just what would Lukas think, if he saw Timo in any sort of state of mournful abandon?
It's unthinkable, and undesirable. He is of firmer resolve than that and he knows it well. Even if it is anything like abandoning all traces of thought altogether, in order to dismiss his heaviness of mind, he'll adopt it gladly, in vain hopes of denying any sort of bitter yearning for the company of a man he barely knew.
Yet, it's a relief to see Lukas' home drawing nearer, and he quickens his stride like the enthusiastic figure he knows he is not.
Lifting his chin, grasping for his coat's hem, he takes a sudden and unexpected sense of minor satisfaction in realising how well he knows the path, how the gardens he passes form a familiar arc. Truthfully, he does live on the other side of Jaundel, backed against a wall and with few other worldly goods than a decent mattress and an assortment of coats by which he can convince his neighbours that he does have nerves in his body, but his casual walks often seem, and did seem, to guide him beyond known territory. It's unavoidable, noticing how the paths are worlds away from the less decorated simplicities of the West. As usual, too, it is difficult to exactly say which he prefers, but nonetheless, the thought distracts him long enough that he is hardly aware of the change in pace and the upcoming checkpoint of his short travel.
It's easy to see where the road ends, from where he stands, facing the gate of Lukas' old home; a wall erupts from the ground at the far end of the street, formidable and thick, reaching upwards until it appears to stab the sky. The top edge of the wall and its gate are lined with rows of curved, rusted metal shapes that always remind Timo of cornstalks. It's impossible to see over it without climbing onto a roof, and naturally, that's generally frowned upon; consequently, unless one has proper reasoning to cross over to the East and can prove it, it is near impossible to actually conceive a way that can open entrance to the clearly more opportunistic side of Jaundel.
Lucky that the guards Timo seems to run into when he crosses to the other side are more at ease - he knows what sorts of levels of disdain will be granted, otherwise.
While it is something of a relief to look back toward Lukas' former home, banishing thoughts of the wall from his mind, no sooner has he entered the front gate and swung the slick metal lattice of the gate shut behind him do nervousness and a sharp form of realisation strike him brutally.
It's almost as though he has been slapped across the temple, and all of a sudden he is met with no choice other than to instantly stop in his tracks by the withering garden path and let himself altogether be ambushed by reconsiderations, reality, and the crisp scent of lavender that permanently infiltrates these streets like a disease. His thoughts stop abruptly, and his gloved hand lingers at the rusting gate, hovering over the top rung. It has been several hours since the deeper intricacies of his endeavour have permeated his mind.
Despite having been spontaneous (and almost rather out of character) in his rapid, decisive choice to pass by the home of Lukas' widow, he has never fully considered until this moment the actual implications of the choice, what with the incredible vacancy that has been mounting in him day by day since his brother's death. Usually he'd spend days thinking it over, in order to enact what is the most appropriate and bettering decision, yet in his current scenario he has believed that perhaps a reckless choice will serve him best.
As things turn out, thoughtlessness does not fit him well.
Habitually, almost, he thinks back to his brother's wife - the last time he saw her, she'd been a bleary-eyed, shuddering wraith, seated in the front pew of the church, appearing as though some large part of her had been killed, too, on the way to the funeral, and wrenched from the miserable flesh of her body. He struggles to blame her for it, although - he expects the loss had been swift and unkind, despite the predictability of the whole matter and how it was hard, really, to believe the disease that had killed Lukas had been altogether unthinkable, when it obviously hadn't.
Maybe, his unconditional condolences and pitiful letters had stemmed merely from the fact he's usually brimful of honest, meek simplicities, but she deserves understanding, he supposes.
Steadying himself before the sight of the door, his breath comes in bursts, and he holds his hands out before him, staring at them, fortified to the onset of cold but feeling a tense frigidity seize his mind. He wishes fervently and desperately that he'll find her in such a state as can provide him relief from the sorry widow he witnessed a fortnight ago, and that she will be well enough that he can get a proper word out of her, and speak as he intends about the matters of interest that lie before them without Lukas.
So steeling himself, bracing the bones of his fingers, he raises a hand to rap against the door.
He doesn't wait for long; of that, he is thankful, and he allows himself to relax somewhat, grateful for the lack of waiting he will have to endure. And despite all his premonitions, all his concerns and continual, tortuous thought, a sort of calm acceptance takes hold of him as it becomes clear he has not been disappointed in his expectations, drastically opposed to the vicious dread he has predicted.
The girl that answers the door is a haggard, frail thing.
Her eyes are large and seemingly ripe with tears, her features sunken and dull. A sudden, sharp intake of breath makes its way past her lips at the same moment as he gives a short gesture with his hand, halfway between a wave and something else entirely.
He reaches forward to lightly take her hand in what he wants to be a means of acknowledgment; however, she flinches, and he embarrassedly holds back his hands, rubbing them before tucking them away into his pockets and taking half a moment to observe her face.
She turns to close the door after them, the last warm trace of her breath swallowed by the cold as the door is firmly closed and bolted. Uncomfortably, inconveniently, a thought breaks past the fabric of Timo's mind and nestles there as he stands awkwardly beside the doorway; it is Matthias' clear, confident voice, speaking discriminately.
You're so damn touchy.
He'd been laughing at the time, mirthful in knowledge of Matthias' hypocrisy, but ignorant and regretful of the truth imbedded into the statement. In Timo's present frame of mind, the same feeling is exemplified, the recollection disconcerting and arresting.
Even so, and despite Timo's temporary hesitance and evident timidity in the moment, it is indeed a strange thing that he has come to realise - despite having had a prepared repertoire brimming with possible phrases and questions to offer, he feels himself become rather silent in the widow's presence, and he retreats into his thoughts once more, uncertain of what to say that might steady the brooding, wordless dimness of the room they both share. Momentarily, he grows certain that he favours the outside to the tight restraint of a room sheltered from the cold and yet at the same time brimming with it.
It does not take Timo long to become aware that she has not ceased to follow him with her eyes all the while he has remained by her side, but he pretends not to notice - inevitably, this is of no difficulty, however, as his sight is instantly consumed by other things, and his breath catches oddly in his throat.
The walls are bare. The room is in a flurry of stacked boxes and scattered picture frames, thrown across carpet littered with objects of varying importance. It's almost completely barren in the room - all the furnishings and paintings are stripped from their places, leaving everything as a strange, empty looking space, drained of colour.
He's a second into asking just what is going on in the household he recalls when he takes note of her expression, and decides strongly against it, both his mouth and mind rendered bone-dry when the first words leave her mouth.
"I suppose you're here about Lukas, then. It's nice to see you."
So she can speak, after all. It is a pleasant realisation.
"I'm not sure if Matthias came by."
"Not yet," she answers, very slowly and with a considerably subdued tone, leading Timo through to the kitchen. "Would you like a drink?"
Turning his eyes again to the young woman at his side, he manages to sight the exact moment her fingers fumble with the kettle; fearing she'll easily and unknowingly spill the boiling water in her state, he briskly takes it from her, the looseness of her hold assuring him of her carelessness in the matter, and assisting to remind him once again of what sort of state of mind she is exactly within.
"You should sit down. I'll do the tea," he urges, ushering her gently back toward the main room as though herding a strayed, disoriented lamb. He barely catches her mumble of thanks, and offers her a thin sort of smile, very unlike what he may usually show; he senses her fragility, her paper-thin countenance, and it deeply concerns him, to the degree where he wonders whether he should lay his own disconcerted fears to sleep (temporarily) in favour of addressing hers. Had she truly had a deeper bond with Lukas than he's ever actually comprehended? How impacted has she really been?
Eyes absently looking about the room to take in what remains of this area and the next, his attention is immediately, forcefully drawn toward a nearby box - through the top there is a glimpse of a photo frame, lying beside another that is nearly identical. He blinks, setting down the kettle as he studies the sight, musing over why it is, exactly, that he is thinking about something so ordinary at all; however, he subjects of both frames are familiar and unmistakeable, so perhaps he is justified - one is an infant Emil, the other a young Lukas.
It's difficult to find a lacking similarity in their facial structures and expressions - Lukas had often borne an incredible likeness to the deceased Emil, who'd died of cholera at three, quickly and blessedly. It seems almost ironic, now, seeing as they've both been seen into the ground, and Timo is left wordless and isolated, in the same room with a girl he hardly knows but was somehow married to the cadaver plaguing his mind, one seeming hardly present and one seeming barely ever absent.
The thought makes him stop still, vaguely watching the water spill into the cups as he resumes his clutching hold of the kettle, with a distant stare that speaks of constant distraction and unanswered prayers.
"I guess I should tell you what's going on," she begins, as he returns to seat himself cautiously at her side. Perturbingly, some vague hint of humour, whether or not intentional, unintentional, bitter, or pure, manages to infiltrate her words. "You know, I was going to tell you last."
What an incredibly strange thing to say.
Halting his prepared reply, he hesitates in raising his cup to his lips, the warmth of the porcelain peculiar and prickling against numb skin.
He waits a moment in order to decide how best to respond, then speaks quietly and sensibly when he does. "Tell me what?"
"I'm leaving, Timo. I'm going away."
He doesn't have a clue how she manages to deliver the line so passively, so neatly, so uncaringly.
His protest is immediate.
Scrambling to maintain the usually consistent, undisturbed nature of his speech, he combats his own bewilderment and complete inability to swallow what she has said, with such soft-voiced ease of mind.
He looks at her where she sits adjacent to his position, his amiable smile faded and replaced with soft, unconcluded incredulity.
"I told you - I'm leaving here for somewhere else. Perhaps permanently, and if it is to be permanent... then so it'll have to be. It's just so hard being here. I can't... I don't want to stay around here any longer. I associate a lot of things with this house and Lukas is a major part in that. So I'm going - further than Jaundel. Perhaps overseas if I can manage it, with all I've been left. I want to start anew and be on my own."
Her words tumble from her lips like she has absent-mindedly practised them for hours and then forgotten them halfway through - they're rapid, and effectively melted into one another so that he is entirely unsure as to what she has said. Although, as he later considers, maybe he was simply too shellshocked to understand, anyhow.
He has to shake himself from his dazed stupor, trying to quickly process each of her sentences and finding them becoming nonsense in his mind, each attempt coming again and again to utterly no avail.
When he talks, he feels stupid immediately. "You mean you're lonely?"
To his surprise, her voice remained trained and seemingly controlled. "Not just that. It's cold. It's so strange waking the way I have been. I want to leave. I'm going to move away and be somewhere different, where I have no memories of things that'll interfere." Her explanation is both patient, and yet oddly distraught, and Timo has to stop himself from automatically pulling her into a obviously unwanted embrace as empathy seizes him.
He turns his head away, discarding his tea, looking vaguely toward the decorated mantelpiece as he draws together his thoughts, for what feels like the thousandth time in a minute. "What about the will?"
"In the will, everything aside from what you and your brothers received was left to me. Now I'm passing those things on to you and the others. They know my reasons."
"But you don't want them to know everything?" He murmurs the words, now, very unsure, himself, whether they're too straight forward or invasive. "Are you really... Are you really sure?"
However, she seems either to not hear or to ignore him; yet, as her face is turned entirely away and her eyes seem largely absent, he comes to conclude that her mind has taken a considerable blow. That, or her avoidance is highly evident.
Seeing this, he persuades himself to gather his emotions quickly, and change his tone and approach to both unveiling and understanding where she had derived such an idea. "Do your family and mine - aside from me - know of your alterations, then?"
"They will soon," she replies, smiling faintly, and drinks heartily of her tea despite how it will undoubtedly be burning her tongue.
Already preoccupied with considering her explanation and her obvious grief, he's ripped from those ideas to the new prospect of what her leave will entail. Why would she do something so rash, prepared in such a short amount of time?
"This may be the last time you see me, really. I'm truly sorry. I just can't stay here."
Smiling feels all of a sudden tiring, and largely faked. "I'm sorry that I didn't know earlier. Was there nothing I could have done? You didn't want me to come over, or bring somethi--"
She cuts him short. "This is all resolute in my mind. I thought you'd understand, and you're usually quite a calming influence. You didn't have to worry."
Momentarily, he sense a slight accusation and fears it. Some small, formidable aspect of his conscience dares his tone to falter, or his shock to show through.
"How long has it been planned out, then? Since the funeral and all?"
"Only for a few days. Most of those who needed to know I notified this morning."
"So they didn't try to stop you at all?"
"They mustn't have felt a need. They all seemed to understand where I was coming from with the choice and wished me luck. I guess they were feeling somewhat sorry."
A mental image of a grief-stricken girl, all weary eyes and weary emotion, briefly inhabits Timo's mind before flickering away, a slate washed clean. At the time of the funeral, in truth, he'd barely even considered her capable of resuming regular life amidst her mourning, let alone travel. He can't decide if his thoughts on the topic have yet changed. Why wouldn't she stay back with family and security and enjoy her connections and her neat little rations every day? Why would she force herself to undertake something so sporadic?
Soon enough, an idea has crept into his mind, but he does not voice it.
Not yet. Not now.
Instead, he returns to inspecting her in expectation for further reasoning, feeling slightly guilty for having his suspicions, and yet feeling increasingly curious as to the meanings layered somewhere behind. Her eyes have become downcast and clouded, her fingers tracing absent shapes against the tabletop. They both have assumed silence. Only the wind, howling against the front of the house, seeks to disturb their private contemplations, now. Ice piles at the eaves.
He talks mainly to break the stillness that has swiftly inundated the room, though finds his throat dry. "I hope I'm not prying. I won't stop you - you know, doing this or whatever you want to do is up to you. I just worry that something'll happen along the way. I'm sure we'd both live to regret it."
She must not enjoy the silence, herself, as she responds just as soon as he did. Her fingers clench. "I appreciate it. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier - but I want to make this whole thing as discreet as possible." A grotesque smile crosses her face, but Timo can't conclude whether it's the evident force of the smile or how wrong it looks on her grim expression that makes it appear so repulsive. "Look... You probably don't believe all I'm saying. Maybe it seems I'm being stupid and spontaneous but I really do believe this is right. I'll only be miserable here. I can't stand that prospect."
She almost shudders, for some undefined reason, but habitually Timo lays a alarmingly steady hand on her shoulder, albeit fleetingly, only relenting after she casts him a glance of reproachfulness.
In truth, he realises, she is only nineteen; just a girl, married off young and two years into her arrangement. Is it really so striking that she's been left so delicate, after all that has so rapidly come and gone?
"It's just pretty sudden. It's weird having to suddenly come to terms with this whole idea of you just disappearing. Will you be able to cope alright? Are you sure you want this? I'm not trying to underestimate you, you know... But you'll stay in contact?"
For some reason, he finds his final inquiry ignored as she goes on. "I don't see another pathway. I'm perfectly competent and I'm sure Lukas would agree. Jaundel's not safe."
She falls quite silent and says nothing more, then, eyes returning to their default, mindless stare as she lifts her lukewarm cup to her lips, despite the fact she already drained the whole thing within two minutes of it being prepared. Perhaps in a different situation, quite easily, the sudden fall of silence and the compulsiveness of her movements might make for an assumption of grief-driven inadequacy.
He considers this, extending a hand to take her empty cup - feeling the quiver of her fingers as he does so. Rising from his place with a subconscious sigh, he makes his way slowly back toward the kitchen, throwing his words over his shoulder as he goes, drawing in a wavering, undefined breath that he longs his heart to maintain.
"Lukas never mentioned what a good actress you are."
Even from his place several metres away, he can feel her breath hitch; feel the sudden loss of temperature beneath that blanket across her shoulders; feel the emotion in the atmosphere become so much more real.
He takes his time returning; when he does, there is a confident laugh waiting to break from his mouth, having been pent up far too many tortuous hours, and a cheerier light is thrown into his disposition.
"You were very convincing. Make no mistake about that."
Then, to his immense disconcertion, she laughs.
He wakes to find a needle in his skin and the colour of yellow sluggishly flowing through every crevice of his mind and his vision, and he is unsure as to whether or not he's always been here, surrounded by white walls and seemingly gifted with the incapability to stand of his own accord. The girl who brings him water seems nice enough, and the rounds that the guards do (knocking at other doors, it appears) are pleasantly methodical, but he still doesn't know why it is that he has the recurring feeling of expecting something that isn't there.
"They're checking the windows," is all the girl says, quite lightly and dismissively, before laughing at his answering glance. "Don't worry if they don't come here for a while."
That meagre explanation of all the deeper, more systematic workings of his cell and the ones beyond is what forms the basis of his understanding, and he has an underlying suspicion that the workers have some reason for wanting to flood his body with the yellow fluid, but he is quickly informed that there is nothing more to it, and after all, what liberties does thinking grant?
He prefers to stare at the unhindered white of the wall, anyway.
To a degree, the laugh is a frightening thing (so remarkable, too, when contrasted to her sunken eyes and gaunt appearance), even though it is rich and lovely and so different from anything he's heard in days. Perhaps, although, it is the shock of it all that makes him uneasy, and deprives him of his own initial elation; but regardless, he waits for her to finish with a certain kind of apprehension, eyes trained to her face and fingers suddenly tensed. His pleasure, all his wonder and confusion at having reached the truth, is completely numbed by fear.
"I'm sorry," she breathes at last, and he honestly can't tell whether she's referring to the laughter or the fact she's been toying with him for a good hour, and has undoubtedly done the same to a dozen others without a sliver of regret. "But I did believe you thought me convincing. If all the others believed me, I saw no reason why you would be any different."
"You shouldn't have left that box by the kitchen; the one filled with the photos and stuff. It was pretty hard to believe that a poor widow would just leave a stack of discarded photos lying around, if she loved him that much," he reasons, beginning to think his suspicion was not as solid as he had thought "I guess I couldn't help noticing."
She is, he thinks, taking his poorly supported, simple accusation astoundingly well.
Yet, suddenly, regardless of how he has been the one to call her out, he finds himself quite agitated by her behaviour, as soon as the thought of it registers. He remains undecided and yearning to understand why she has done everything she has, he feels a sort of overwhelming emotion, as well - an enthralled feeling in knowing that out of everything, laying aside the fact Lukas is dead and gone and for days he has been deprived of his usual small joys, she is well. But is it right to be pleased at the knowledge?
Her voice thrusts him from fathomless contemplation into reality, and he resents it.
"Perhaps... Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that you knew. I had it coming eventually. You're perceptive. You always were," she says quietly, and like a curtain falling away there descends a new sort of weariness into her features, her expression - one he has not seen before, not in his time or in any tired face before today. Any attempt to understand it escapes him. "But you shouldn't get the wrong idea - I do miss Lukas. I loved him like he was my brother."
"But not a lover," Timo finishes slowly, delicately, and her face falls. He'd have felt guilt if not for the fact she's believably fooled him for the past hour, and she has, technically, been flaunting her fake attachments for years, and he believes he should be justified in possessing some sort of distrust as a result.
"I have to ask, though - why did you bother putting up an idea that you were a certain way if you were already mourning? Why would there be a need?" He voices his most pressing question, not entirely anticipating a well constructed response.
Understandably, he's particularly startled when she answers; but even without the depth of her reply or the willingness she seemingly has to speak, he still retains nothing more to answer his questions than he did before. "There's no other chance it would've been believable, obviously. I hate to be open about what I'm feeling when terrible things are happening around me. It's awful, being exposed. I can't wear my heart on my sleeve. A girl who's locked up and quivering because she can't get a damn grip on herself will gather more notice than someone who's sitting in their room and staring at a wall."
He can see her breath against the air, despite the heater nearby, and how she is always touching her eyes and face as some form of a way to conceal her vision, and thereby her emotions, apparently. It's hard to decide whether it is that he's subconsciously been doing the same, as a result of having been thrust into the scenario of having a long-winded conversation with a girl he doesn't know.
"I owe you some answers, I suppose. You went to the trouble of coming here and finding me out and I think I should give you something for it. We don't know enough about each other as is." Her voice borders on a murmur, brimmed with conviction.
How odd it is to finally consider. In truth, knowing little about his own brother really does do nothing to improve how much he knows about this girl, and in all the years behind them he has never truly wondered about it. He recalls the small talk they'd exchanged at dinners; the realisation that maybe they shared a couple common interests and other unimportant things. It had never actually struck a chord in him, coming to terms with the knowledge that they were practically estranged.
"I know you were married. Not much else."
Again, she heaves out that same laugh that left him so disrupted before, and Timo almost visibly cringes.
"You're making me feel awful about this whole thing," she says, nearly condescendingly. "But that's only partly true. It was pretty much an arranged marriage, Timo. We didn't love one another as we should have, and we certainly wouldn't have done it if it wasn't made out to be such a good idea by everyone."
He stares, a softened roar in the caverns of his ears. He is oblivious to the pale, exposed whites of his eyes, and the abrupt slackness of his hands as they lie coiled against his knee.
The words he finally manages are instantly deemed to be pathetic by every part of his brain.
"You... Didn't tell me that before. I guess you wouldn't have, but..." He trails off, afraid some other feeble collection of phrases will make it past his lips. He can feel his thinking temporarily halt, before a single question appears from nowhere. "Why?"
"Why?" she repeats dully, looking altogether as equally disbelieving as he must be. "It's not that hard to understand. It's just the way things have been. I have no more importance to you and the rest of your family now that Lukas is dead, so maybe you might say that forms an aspect of the reason I'm going. But Timo..."
The first few seconds, all he sees are the subconscious movements of his own limbs, and her lips as she talks, and there is a certain sort of hollow feeling within his chest, a solid trepidation. He almost completely neglects to hear what she has said, as his mind has drawn itself practically automatically into a desperate search and recollection of past pleasantries exchanged and parties attended - he recalls everything she has ever said to him and breaks it apart, until all he can properly see on the easel of his memories are the kisses and embraces she had with the man who's now precious other than a corpse, it seems. How can it possibly have all meant nothing at all?
"Wait," he says, sharper than intended. "Please, wait. I don't understand. If you never really cared for one another, why bother making it believable?"
If she is becoming impatient, or losing to her own mind's disarray, he does not fully take account of it. "Isn't it clear? I never had a choice in it. Aside from that, I had set reasons for remaining with him, and that's it."
She appears uncomfortable.
"I think I've already said enough, anyway. I have to leave tomorrow morning and I don't have much time." Clambering to her feet, she scurries to collect herself, then halts for a handful of awkward, stiff seconds, as though she really doesn't have a clue what she's doing to begin with.
For the first time all day, he decides against his inhibitions, and snatches for her hand, groping for her notice, and he knows that he has, for a second, lost his mind; instantly she emits a loose wisp of breath, and her eyes meet his in a mutual recognition of shared bewilderment and violated borders. He isn't remotely startled by the time she pulls her hand from his hold and cradles it, maybe without realising it, but he has her attention, in the least. The widow, on the other hand, seems to be miraculously withholding a natural outburst. "What are you doing?"
Rising to his feet, somewhat terrified of the way in which she is studying him, he becomes unnaturally irritated at the ordinary fact that he has always been the shortest one of his brothers, even without being the youngest (or perhaps he is, now). Without a suitable stature to complement his vying for her concentration, he feels vaguely undermined.
"I want to help," he says, knowing that it sounds like the excuse of a hypocrite after he so uncouthly grasped her hand a moment before. "I can tell you're worried about something, and it's obviously more than just being alone here. It's not even just that he's dead, is it?"
She shakes her head in a manner barely noticeable, talking to her knuckles, and he remembers the way she occasionally resorts to not meeting people's eyes in times of awkwardness. She has to keep narrowing and dropping her gaze by the time she has succeeded in raising her chin, and he finds a slight sense of pity for her, renewed again after her betrayal. "I have done everything so far as an act of preparation." He does not know how she manages to give that wistful laugh, all teeth and without humour. "Seriously, I've already said everything. There's nothing for me to do but keep up my act and get out of here."
"But then why are you trying to get so far away? Jaundel isn't that bad, is it?"
"No, it's fine! The scenery is nice here."
"I hope you don't mean the wall." He goes to step away from her, hating himself for being so unwilling to look her straight in the face, at the same time praying he has disguised his concern within the teasing nature of his tone.
She reacts far quicker than he predicts, taking her turn to grip his arms and force him to meet her eyes; he feels as though he is being strangled, hoping to relent, but her voice cracks and her fingers are cold and he has never had such difficulty deciphering a person's expression. His back meets the cool, hard glass of the window.
"Then listen carefully."
Occasionally fleeting memories will strike his mind - rarely can he make sense of them, although, as they are usually still drowned in bright colour or otherwise infested with the same rattling, irritating noise that sounds always like something halfway between gunfire and weak, gurgling cries. Sometimes, however, amidst all of that, he detects the tremble of a voice; all too familiar, and yet faceless. It changes rapidly back into the rattling, although, and so he soon grows to disregard it entirely. After all, he has nothing by which to interpret.
It's a month gone by when he's seated in his cell, limply allowing whoever it is today to pierce his flesh with an oddly painful needle, a prick of prolonged discomfort, and he somehow manages to overhear (through that impenetrable mass of dying thoughts) something they're absentmindedly muttering. He's used to forgetting what it is immediately, but the name being spoken (very plainly and concisely, no less) is familiar; so unbelievably familiar, like the sensation left behind when a limb is cut away, that's too lovely to deem as insubstantial.
"... What she's up to... They never did manage to get her, however that's still possible. But my God, these shifts are exhausting."
He talks only to himself.
But now the man who's seemingly forgotten about his duties becomes aware that Timo is at least half-awake and somehow capable of recognising traces of human speech, and so he plucks the needle free and gathers his things, going onwards to wherever else he is required with an unusual sense of haste, eyes glazed.
"I know that name. I feel like I've heard it before."
It's almost disappointing that the man to which the words are directed has already gone on his way. Stumbling over his own legs in a wild bid to reach the door, Timo sprawls, and before he can stagger to place a hand against the wall he finds that his breath is hot and his skin is stifling whatever lies beneath, and it all fades so quickly to yellow, like blooms of blood against a white cloth; golden blood.
Everything is gilded in gold, but then yellow turns to black, and the cell is molten in his eyes.
"I will," he says, but the words linger in the air around them for a moment longer than he might like, and it's nothing but instinct that makes him sigh when she finally weakens her grip.
"Good, then." She halts to toy with her hair, acting suddenly like a absentminded, much younger girl, making it seem as though she is simply deciding whether it is that she's done the right thing to start with, and is thoroughly questioning the choice. "What do you do, Timo? You're a jeweller, right?"
"You've never really been involved in the government?"
"Not recently - actually, I can't remember if I have specifically. I used to vote."
"So did everyone, before a couple years ago. Everything's gone to hell since then -we're in effective anarchy. They're rationing us for a reason." She looks to him from the corners of her eyes, before dropping her gaze to the floor as she bites her nails, whether from habit or recent stress. "Do you support either party?"
"I try not to get involved," he says gently. He recalls having done rather poorly at politics in years past, despising the exams in school, as well as withholding a natural disinterest through into adult years, never quite considering the matter worth his concern. He's happy enough to take the rations he's doled out, and drink from the designated well, even if he knows he has to boil his water; he's happy to sit by, and allow it to all play through.
"Well, I think it's all about to boil over. I don't want to be around when it does, either. That's why I'm leaving. It's also why you mustn't have anyone but us know what I've said today. I've... Always feared this. Jaundel will fall."
She glances about herself quickly, stopping momentarily to move around Timo, seizing the blinds and sealing them over the window with fitful, quivering movements.
"I wouldn't be paranoid," he stresses, turning again to face her, hoping his words will quell the odd sense of anxiety in his chest that has come to make itself known. "I've never thought the situation was that bad. It's been such a long time since anything's gone awry and you don't want to live in fear."
"You don't understand," is the hurried reply, but then she softly laughs. "Timo, probably the main reason you're so docile about this is that you've never had to fear. You've got a family history of court favour, good bloodline and support of the winning party. On the other hand, when it all goes over our heads and I'm
caught in it, they'll have me at the gallows in an instant. I don't have a chance. When they start delving through my record, they won't like it, and I'm absolutely certain I'm not the only one who's worried, either. They're going to screw us over."
His body is inundated with a cold sense of dire premonition at the suggestion, at the unrealised probability, and he shudders
. "Oh, no. Is that--"
"Yes. That's why I married Lukas. He offered me protection and stability; I knew that while I lived by his side, I wouldn't have the same looming threat constantly, and he knew that about me, as well. I guess it's a bit late to repay the debt, unfortunately, now that he's in the ground."
She buries her head in her hands, and with a start, he notices that he has not seen her this overcome and distraught since the funeral, and the sight of the open casket. He is not accustomed to feeling worry for the undecided, nor being made to develop such foreboding
. Furthermore, how can it be, that she has lived her life with such worrisome, cautious treading?
He wishes he could take her for a fool, dismissing her fears with a casual laugh, pressing her to understand that she is being paranoid - yet, surely, if she is so determined to create the levels of her façade and still be willing to escape the walls of the only city she has probably ever known, he supposes she has the given right to be taken with some degree of anxious prediction.He waits patiently for the young girl whom he has dubbed the 'water-carrier', although finds that he is finding that waiting is becoming steadily more tedious, and more difficult to bear (it used to be so easy, when it was integrated into his mind and he didn't have to worry about the shade of his skin). She comes half an hour later than usual, flustered and pale-eyed. Her gait is slow, pained, and angry red lines are just visible beneath the collar of her dress. The ones upon her face, however, are far more striking, weeping thin blood. They are reminiscent, but not entirely identical to the claws of an animal."The guards will see you tomorrow," she says, and he can't help but note how her voice wavers indiscreetly upon the word 'guards', with almost a fearful emotion."To check the windows?""Oh, whatever it is that they do. I don't think I know anymore."Her weariness is unusual enough to notice. What he neglects to see and hear is the uncertainty, the bitterness, the
furious terror - his mind is too thick to cope with them, slowed and devoured by the fluid in his blood."One of them mentioned a girl's name yesterday, and I think I know her," Timo says lowly, marvelling at how he succeeds in saying anything at all."A guard? What was the name?"He speaks it slowly, carefully, as he thinks he should - it seems right, as it would be cruel of him to defile the name of someone he doesn't know. Her response is a slight widening of the eyes, alongside a look close to reproachfulness. "They've been looking for her for months, now," she murmurs, voice barely audible, and then she casts a sideways glance towards the door of the cell in such a way as reminds him of something he can't place. "Last time we saw her... She was with you. You were brought here after being caught harbouring her, and then she promptly disappeared. It was nearly like it was her entire intention. I'm afraid your family name has been
suitably tainted."He can hardly process what she has said, but he nods, nonetheless, and thanks her as best he can, finding that she is looking toward him in a manner that can only be called pitying remorse. "You mustn't speak of this, or allow them to know I told you," is all she says before leaving again, and he realises she has forgotten to leave behind the water.They inject him later than usual, but he is rather grateful, in the end, as the roar that the fluid creates in his mind is effective at diverting his thoughts from the screams echoing down the corridor; he can almost deny that he is hearing sobs and bone against metal, and that the sounds mark simply another event, no different from the bullets put through the skulls of children and the gunning down of crowds. He begins to time his heaving coughs, appreciating their methodical happening.He never sees her again, but the liquid is heavier in his flesh than before.
"So all this time you've been thinking about these things? You've let so much of your life be controlled by that?" He sees her biting her lip, before spreading them in order to smile rather cordially.
"You do make things seem far worse than they really are. It's never been in control of my life by any means - that'd be pretty extreme. I've just been more wary than most." Abruptly she makes to climb the stairs, saying something else obscure that he regrets not being able to hear; nonetheless, he follows at her heels, eager to coax more out of her.
"But you were worried enough that you married something on that basis alone."
"True, but as you would understand, my life means something to me, and it's not something I want to compromise." Pausing to fold her arms against the polished wood of the banister, her face takes on a certain intensity, like she is seeing him for the first time, and is having difficulty deciding what to make of him.
"So you don't believe you could possibly be wrong? If you are, I won't see you again," he murmurs, and he is sure she has ignored him until her eyes lift, flitting from his own back to the carpeted stairs. "This is insane, even if you don't realise it."
"Any fear I have is real. This entire thing is real, and I wouldn't do this if I knew I wasn't justified, or things wouldn't be better as a result. I know it's always right and it'd probably be more moral and whatever else if I stayed, but can't I be permitted to think about myself, if only once?"
Naturally, he doesn't mention the evident hypocrisy and absurd suggestion of her words; he doesn't tell her that of course, she's spent years of her life lying in order to preserve the safety of something that's never been threatened, but what can he say to a girl controlled by desperation? He can't suggest in the same gentle tone he resorts to that she is lying, and maybe her own selfishness is greater than she realises.
Even so, he knows he loves her, like he loved Lukas and Emil, and loves the city he denies believing will eventually crumble - he is bountiful with only love, because grief leaves him lost as to how else he will manage, and a soft, pliable mind is all he has known. When she is one of three that he still has, what else is he warranted to do?
He's beginning to hate the way he's been thinking lately, especially as it's been growing harder and harder, yet he has been defiantly persisting without justification. Sometimes he can hardly remember how to breathe, let alone wash his eyes out in the morning, hoping they'll be violet as they should be, rather than the filthy colour he's starting to loathe. There is nothing romantic, he realises gradually, about having a clear, undetermined slate for a mind, and dying because someone is enjoying flushing out your blood and forcing out every word of you they can.
When he's not trying to come to terms with the contradicting, uncertain knowledge about the girl he's been told was the one to leave him for dead, although, he is finding it increasingly bothersome and strange that the man designated to deliver his daily injection has become oddly unsettled. Without fretting over Timo or even realising that his patients are steadily expiring and losing their senses entirely, he is trembling in his work; his needles slip from his hands and he mutters fretful words like a man insane.
Timo is barely capable of seeing and feeling by the time the man finally snaps, or perhaps only succumbs and says something he should not(of course, he is still the same man who missed the passing question aimed at him, and who does his duty, unquestioning, without complaint or deviance).
"I remember your brother. You look like him," he says one day, sounding utterly thoughtless as he does so, but shifting his expression to regret as quickly as he speaks the words; he cries out loudly, looking about himself worriedly, finally looking back to the dying patient he persists to treat. He looks somewhat ashamed, and afraid.
"I-It wasn't me - his wife paid me. Wanted him to go by a commoner's disease. I didn't care what happened to him."
It's funny, Timo thinks, that the doctor is so absolute in believing that his involvement is the reason why there should be concern about any of it. It's funny that he doesn't realise that Timo never knew, and is submitting to empty despair.
Tonight, the dying man will weep for the first time in half a year.
For some time, they share an uncomplicated silence, and he leans by the doorway as he watches her turn away, going to rip a scarf from the wall, bundling it up and tossing it aside. He can think of hardly any other half decent things to add or suggest that may heighten the quality of their conversation by any means, and so he resorts to acceptance: she is leaving, and by her prediction, his home is on the brink of tyranny. He doesn't know what else he might think in regard to those happenings and concerns.
Thinking back to earlier in the afternoon, when he was in a reckless state of sombre self-pity and expecting a mourning widow, he can allow himself a wry smile. All of these things, these words and these realisations, have been utterly beyond expectation and so strange to his mind. And yet, as far as her departure goes, very little has changed at all - she is carrying out the same plan, and he is going to have to prepare himself (as odd as it seems) for normality.
What he does not ready himself for is the thought that occurs within him, at first dimly, before becoming possible and yet altogether unthinkable.
Considering it with more amusement and disbelief than proper recognition, he is startled when the widow, now with the scarf flung about her neck, embraces him.
"Thanks," is all she says.
And now the ridiculous thought, the inconceivable and utterly stupid thought born from the farthest corners of his mind has reemerged, and perhaps it is all simply as a result of how stupid it is that he speaks it, because even if thoughtlessness is threatening to him and it will all crumble in the end, what other options does he have?
"(Your Name). Let's run away."
He is dead by December, yellow fluid dripping from his mouth and eyes and nose. They haul the body away to burn it in the courtyard with the others, and no one can tell the ashes from the snow because it's all grey, anyway.
Once the fire is gone, of course, the cold is always brisk to settle in, mounting in the gutters and increasing by the minute along the charred streets of Jaundel.