(try not to breathe)

By llamajoy

i will try not to breathe
i can hold my head still with my hands at my knees.
these eyes are the eyes of the old, shiver and fold
i will try not to breathe.
this decision is mine. i have lived a full life
and these are the eyes that i want you to remember

He is barefoot, at the summer's edge, walking the cusp of the sea and the sand. In this town there is no one to stop him; the pier is their own. Coat, boots, gloves and all discarded; only in his uncuffed pants. He does not notice the seawater seeping in, he does not feel the salt-sting cold.

His eyes are only for the horizon.

That, at least, has not changed.

The sun is breathless in the blinding sky, that hour before the cool of evening, before the soundless splash of sunset. The sea holds the sunlight, faithful, casts it back again, throwing the world into dream-shadows, stark and golden. (you wonder how i can stare at the sun you must know i crave the brightness)

His footprints fill with each murmur of tide, the beach falling silent and empty behind him. Every wave, whispering up to him and retreating again, catches at his toes-- tiny urgent promises of depth and solitude, the sweet ease of falling all the way down. (cut me drain me burn me just don't bury me in that darkness)

He knows he cannot go back, he cannot undo what has been done.

He knows by heart the ending of the world, the sundered time. He has replayed the scene in his mind a hundred times, more than a favorite childhood dream or a tired old movie. No battered wooden sword, no silver-screen hero, no ballad sung can change the echo in his eyes, the edges of his smile more tattered than the hem of his well-loved coat. His face is fraying, how long till the dream unravels and the sun descends? (it's over and finished my part has been played and the credits have rolled i have so little to offer to anyone least of all to you)

He lifts his hands, his arms outstretched-- to call down destruction, to reach for a dragonfly? to trace the invisible stars?-- and his fingers make love to the sky.

He does not know that she is watching.

i need something to fly over my grave again.
i need something to breathe.
i will try not to burden you.
i can hold these inside. i will hold my breath
until all these shivers subside,
just look in my eyes.

She sits on the pier, her legs folded under her, caught up in her own speechlessness. Her own shoes sit beside her, toe to toe, her pantlegs rolled deftly to her knees. But she does not dangle her feet in the sea; she is already numb and aching with the cold of it.

Her face is burning, more than shame, pale hair bleaching paler still in the cruel summer afternoon. Yet she makes no move to head inside, to the unquestioning welcome of a simple hotel receptionist, to the curious unpresuming smile of a friend.

So she watches him there, with his feet in the ocean. She has watched him tilt, and stagger, and fall. She has felt the weight of a thousand thousand molecules of air, all balanced on the quiver of her lip, all waiting for a simple breath. (i am holding my breath if i keep it inside will you need what i can give you there are not words will you take it willing from my mouth)

She wonders if he will take ten steps too many, if he would will himself under, and swallowed alive.

Perhaps that is her own secret, wishing and terrified to forget to breathe.

She wonders, briefly, if he has been drinking. Only once did she ever see him drunk. She could not count the bottles on the garden floor, the shapeless amber stains in the fine galbadian carpet, the wildness in his eyes. Of course it would not take away the dreaming, he cried, roughly clutching her shoulders. Nothing makes it any easier to fall. She stood her ground as he leaned over her, grey dragonleather crushed to her face, buoying him. His breath was warm, sweet-heavy with the scent of alcohol, speaking without the words to make her see. Her arms bore purple bruises the next day, shaped like two splayed desperate hands, the grip of a drowning man. (no one asked, no one dared, i could not tell them you had not hurt me)

His steps are steady now, though, a deliberate signature in the waiting warmth of sand. She considers: the deepest mark there at the heel, resting on his weight before taking another step-- not the forward cadence of his former confidence, when the stressed syllable would be the reach and the grip of his toes.

She has learned to hear words in unspoken languages; the gift and the curse of her silence. They have not spoken for weeks. (i can't ask you will you let me in you damn fool almasy i'm not asking for your dreams i'm only asking for you)

He has paused, his hair redgold with fire as the sun hits it, his eyes like the impatient sea.

Resting her head in her sunburnt hands, she does not notice him watching.

baby, don't shiver now
why do you shiver now? (i will see things you will never see)
i need something to breathe

He kicks the pier with the side of his foot, tentative. "Hey. You awake?"

"...Hey," she says, after a moment, not to him but to her hands-- because somehow in all this glorious summer evening they have grown cold, and the warmth of her breath is soothing.

"Did you want to maybe go back to the hotel?"

She doesn't have to think about that one, an easy enough question to answer. (first time we stayed at that hotel i was your commander you never spoke three words to me lost in the dreaming) Without lifting her head, she says, "Not really."

"Stubborn." He tries for a smile and doesn't succeed. (i can see the flush on your face you must be miserable out here in the sunlight dammit why couldn't you stay in the nice airconditioned hotel so i wouldn't have to-- have to worry about you?)

Those feelings that were already spoken hover in the air between them, like a sorceress' black-winged bird, until the silence could explode--

"You said you--"

"Sorry," she lashes out blindly, not letting him finish, knowing the path of his thoughts as they mirror her own. "Not what you want. I know. But I can't just--" (leave, i can't, or can i? maybe that's all that's left for me to do, to turn around and fall as far as i can... it worked for you...) Slowly, she raises her eye to the sea.

"I never gave you this, did I." (as if i haven't carried it inside my fucking skull, feeling my memories ebb around it, feeling the pull, it's hungry to breathe and it's greedy for you... it's all i can do-- if you should refuse--)

"Gave me what?" Nothing in her voice at all, flat and vacant. He wants to grab her shoulder, wrench her around to look at him, dammit. He swallows.

"This," he says, off-handedly, and before she can turn, to question, he says something-- no more than a single breath--

Wind spins suddenly behind her eyes; ragged and desperate and dizzy. Too late she tries to get to her feet, but up is down and the sky is reeling giddy. She thinks she is dying, thinks with remarkable lucidity that she has spilled the last of her air, and will dissipate into the broad sweep of sky. (breathless-- dammit fuujin you turned your back one too many times-- afraid-- if you've been killing me slowly all along why should this be such a surprise to me-- and it could not even have been my own choice--)

But the tornado catches her up with it, until she is floating, not falling. And then something huge and unexpected folds its wings in her mind and fills her full of the sky. (sweet hyne-- pandemona--!)

By the time she manages to say "oh!," she realizes she is shaking and his hands are warm on her shoulders, keeping her upright. He is laughing; how long has it been? It almost hurts to watch, the glory along his edges, the satisfaction in his smile. He thinks that there was simply an argument, and that he has won.

She tries to say, "Don't you understand--" but her ears are ringing full of wind, and she knows it is only his grip that is keeping her standing, her bare feet trembling on the boards. Pandemona home. She cannot stop shivering. "How long--?"

"You're welcome," he says, to her forehead. Only for the support, she tells herself, as she wraps her arms around his chest and tries to balance herself. Only for the steadiness he affords. "God, the sound you made." He chuckles into her hair, and then he is still, as if the laughter had never been. "Since meeting up with Leonhart."

"Weeks ago." If there is reproach, only he can hear it.

"I thought-- you might need some time to catch your breath."

(i was suffocating without you, don't you know by now?) "Inexcusable." And yet she finds a tremulous laugh fluttering like captive birdwings in her chest, and she shakes her head against his chest. "Idiot." (doesn't matter that you're not a knight in shining you're my every only you're my--) she says, "breathe."

And she catches his head in her hands and kisses him fiercely. He closes his eyes but she does not, watching him, giving him her breath and thirsty for the taste him, desperate for a dream of his that might not spell their end.

The afternoon turns weightless around them, the sun too bright and the sea-sand beach scalding hot-- but the shared bodyheat between them is a different kind of warmth, and the greedy generosity of their mouths spreads like slow honey through their quickening blood. The curve of her shoulder and the angle of his neck, together they shape something tentative, sheltering the twin-voiced heartbeat thrumming there.

"Now will you go back to the hotel?" he says, and though he is teasing, his own cheekbones are flushed and his hands are not steady.

She is breathless like a miracle, for the first time unafraid.

i will try not to worry you
i have seen things that you will never see
leave it to memory me. don't dare me to breathe.

The little girl with her hair in braids, the hotel owner's daughter. A broken crayon lying in two fragments on her palm. "It's in p-pieces."

He lifts the smaller one from her little hand, the bright blue stick dwarfed in his large dark fingers. "So, one for each of us, ya know? We're all covered."

She sniffles, looking dubiously at her half-crayon. But the idea, once planted, blossoms swiftly. To share? "But, what about your friends?"

He laughs, and finds that he means it. The closed hotel room door, the timbre of the quiet within. The silence he never thought to hear. "Oh, it's all right. It's just the two of us. Now, what would you like to draw with that blue crayon?"

"The sea," the girl says, proudly, shaping sketchy waves with its point. Then she purses her lips, and he sees more a child's thoughtful pout, sees the world unfolding in her mind. "...and the sky."

i want you to remember oh (you will never see)
i need something to fly (something to fly)

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