all i wanted just sped right past me
while i was rooted fast to the earth
i could be stuck here for a thousand years
without your arms to drag me out
It's a timeless sort of time.
To be fair, this observation of Gilbert's is neither sentimental nor metaphorical. A word like "timeless" isn't spent on nostalgia and that curious feeling that your life is spinning and blurring out of your control; no, in Gilbert's mind, it simply applies to the fact that this is the hour between the last gasp of night and the first wheeze of morning, before the smog settles like a dirty chemise over Leberou and the noises of trolleys whirring, horses trotting, crows cawing, and children laughing collect atop one another in a monstrous jumble of ruckus. This is the time before the beginning, when all is washed over in a dewy amber glaze that speaks of rebirth and purity, in which Gilbert can only purse his lips at and think, And ignorance.
Having watched the transition from night to this state of half-morning (yet another fit of sleeplessness; surely this depravity can't be doing his body any favours), he has resorted to sitting upon the windowsill, one leg flopped over the edge, and sipping black tea bitter enough to make his sinuses sting. He winces with every swallow, but it warms his unsteady stomach, which has been growing tighter and sicker by the hour. It reached its peak at around midnight, where he'd been reduced to a shivering, white-faced thing crunched up in the corner of the kitchen. His inventory of cigarettes was almost entirely depleted by the time the sun began to bloom, and he regards his last one with an arbitrary grimace as he twirls it idly between his fingers.
His only relief anymore comes from the gentle plumes of smoke rising from the tip of a cigarette, spineless and sublime, a poltergeist in a satin gown. This incubus, it dances and sways, beckoning him into oblivion and the rare but beautiful state of indifference. Gilbert's always cared a little too much, felt a little too much; the smoke mellows him out, puts him on a balance beam for evaluation until he's able to breathe without tasting something even more bitter than black tea in the back of his throat.
It's a bitterness that's lingered with him for – gracious, how long has it been now? – ten years, and now it's manifested in the form of a fair-haired somebody sprawled out longways on the couch, cheeks pallid and pale, eyelids sunk shut, lips slung in a frown small enough to pass off as imaginary.
He's considered that word an awful lot lately. It's not like "timeless", which he can play off of without any strings attached or any emotions involved; it doesn't have the connotations that make his chest tighten and his fists clench. "Imaginary" conjures images of something having been real and tangible and here, in corridors, in visions, in hearts, only to vanish and leave behind memories, blackened and charred in their shock, and golden eyes fixed on the space that a boy with a gaze as bright and wild as the dawning of spring had once occupied.
Gilbert winces another swallow of tea down. He won't look over at that couch. The brief glances he's already served it have done nothing for his stomach, even though he reminds himself that he's only checking so often in order to monitor Oz's breathing, to make sure he's not trembling from the cold, to ensure that no nightmares of Abyss or clockwork scars or any levels of darkness are disturbing him. He's not entirely sure what he would do in the latter case; waking him up would be a generally sore idea, serving him tea would only result in exclamations at how vile the taste is, and Gilbert's never been all that adapt in the art of cooing frazzled beings, seeing as he is one himself.
And so he sits. He sits, and he sips, and he waits, wordless, hands shaking, and eyes set on everything, anything, but Oz.
He can look at...the sky. It's not jumping any fences to vanish from his world, after all. Or perhaps...the wall. It's a nice wall, to be sure, a perfectly appropriate wall; it's not crumbling, for one, or being torn down and dragged into a world where ten years can pass in a breath, and it's spat back out into the universe it once knew, eyes as bright as they used to be back in a time of golden suns and sweet tea, and it's reaching out to you, and it's murmuring, "Gil...?", and everything has changed, everything has changed-
Gilbert squeezes his eyes shut and raps his head on the windowsill, just enough for his skull to smart. The pain brings him back to earth, and he drains his teacup with a complimentary shudder of distaste. It's always the ugly things that ground him the firmest; tea without sugar, an ache in his head, blankets of tobacco clinging to the walls of his lungs.
And as for the beautiful things, the things that are honest and good, bursting with life and promise; oh, these are the things that weaken his heart to the extent of wishing he never had one.
He wonders, if not for just a fleeting glance of a wonder, if being heartless would have its appeals. Where would he be now if he hadn't spent the last ten years waiting for some sort of heavenly and victorious return of the boy that had shown him loyalty and understanding? Oz had taught him how to burn against the stars and blaze through infinity, white-hot, immaculate, and even though Gilbert had never quite picked up the boy's fashion of fire, he had been more than content with watching the young master flit through the years on his own flame.
But now, things are different.
Gilbert, that is, is different.
He doesn't quite know how or when it happened. As far as he can remember, it's always been this way, but not as deeply-seated as it had been when he was a child. The admiration, the security, the heart, the things that have existed ever since his first meeting with the boy, have been edged with a lace of darkness now, perhaps even hysteria, because there's something else evident in his blood now that hadn't been there before. It's something without a name or face that's beginning to char his insides until they scald and twist from the heat, writhing for relief.
Goodness, relief. He thinks it's time for that cigarette after all. Enough cherishing and stalling; if he's ever going to smoke this last one, it'll be right now, slouched atop a windowsill like a raven in a duke's clothing, suspended above a city he doesn't love and seven feet away from the boy he shamefully does.
The watercolour glow of outside washes over into gold. It braids through the inkspill of Gilbert's hair, warms his chilled face, and slips through the gap in his lips in which his cigarette waits to be lit. A flick of a match later, there's a timid flame grazing the tip, and he takes his first glorious drag of the day. His lungs welcome the carcinogens with a sigh. His heart welcomes the relief with a shiver.
And from the couch, just a few strides away, Oz is stirring. He's scratching the back of his head, hair unruly and sticking up this way and that, and Gilbert forces his gaze to be something reminiscent of calm waters instead of a panicked tempest rising, rising up his chest and into his eyes for the whole goddamn world to see -
Through all the gold, Oz's eyes find Gilbert's.
He could say something brilliant right now. He could change everything twice over, make it all okay, make him understand.
But there's a question in Oz's eyes that doesn't correlate with Gilbert's, and really, things are backwards enough as they are.
And, in a voice that betrays every sense of despair mounting in his chest, Gilbert says, "You're awake."