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Pences Povr Moye DV

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He could always remember him by his legs, the ankles bony and wraith thin, Richard climbing sure-footed, toes gripping branches, grass, sand. The way he ran, nimble and always a little ahead, Henry already stiffer, warier than his cousin. Always ahead, and above, the boy jumping two-handed for a bough, swinging his leg, his body over and up, standing with his arms already reaching overhead, one leg dabbling in air, as if he’s teasing the water in a pond. Careless, a boy in a tree and he’s never coming down.

Ghosts, as Henry understood them, were cold and measured, stone-stepped and taciturn, ghastly as monks and always on watch for an intermediary, a vessel for their tale.

Ghosts had never been this rushed, this breathless, brimming with hot words at his ear. Not wind but weight playful against his spine, and he almost knew there would be arms slinking round his stomach, a boyish too-close-yet-not. A pull and push away. Not close enough, not ever.

Who knew these existed? The ghosts you want to seize and beg of, even as your hands slip through their wrists into blankness and your voice cracks, every word lost, even then. Stay.

They were children, once, he remembers. Richard climbing a tree again, under blotchy sun, light scattered, all of him green. A boy’s arching laughter, both arms out to balance and with his head back he throws a shadow that looks like a curse. The canopy, branches splayed high and reverent and the way Richard can’t have known the radiance that settled about him. The way Henry can’t have known he would relive this, still.

Sometimes he wishes he could turn towards a ghost and make it laugh, bell-clear and limitless.

Aumerle looked penitent and no longer trembling. There was no need to touch him, a sound, a shift would be enough make him look. Henry had no need to lift his face. A bitten-back caress, a finger cruel in the softness under his jaw. Their thoughts were tinder. Speechless. The end of Richard should be thus, a touch, a gaze, someone he might have loved.

 It was, it must, it will be, a man he might have loved.

Ghosts in narrow corridors, slender, slipping ghosts that begin as wisps in moments then they have him by the neck. Not the hackles and bony fingers way of legends. This flutters at the pink, hidden hollow of his throat.

His small, bony toes locked over the branch. Fingers trailing in the stems, flicking mocking leaves loose. Henry daring him to fall. Throwing sticks, just wide. Willing him to hold.

He must have known that Henry didn’t mean fall but follow. And years later, still, Henry meant that Richard hear his speech but read him, see the instant for what it is and go, and stay sly and contrary just long enough to save them both.

(Henry wakes now, leaden. He wakes and feels a disruption in the air, reverberation, seconds beating where there should have been wings. The Centre’s toppled, gone now. As good as never was.)

It’s a late month of summer and this coast is still a mirror of his return, still conjures the smells and chill and the utter misgiving that each step back on land had, the relearning of place following the sea journey, the conviction that the earth was pushing him back, foot to knee to hip unsure, the strangeness all the way up to his breast, every step. The waves are quick today, the wind pitiless, while his voyage had been becalmed, eternal on the approach.

He was home and a stranger. Home, forbidden. He’s home and he’s entirely alone, yet every scrubby bush, every frail stalk of grass is echo. Is wrist and angles, is overdone and showy yet still, is crouched and ever watchful.

He stops, out on the shore and stoops as if for a shell. The wet sand under his palm is solid, still as cooling skin.

Henry sees him barefoot in light snow, in his ivory robes, meandering then a half-skip, but slow. He trails a hand like he’s strewing invisible flowers. He has his head tilted, lips parted. Perhaps singing.

He turns, still walking and smiles or sighs or smirks. Henry feels a sound strung between them, high and taut.

It’s never not Richard’s voice, and it’s never entirely a voice at all, but most surely, Henry will swear upon it, he is certain to the bone it is his words.

Aumerle looks haggard, lamp-lit in the morning sun as he brings Henry Richard.

Aumerle stands tall, but Richard — Richard lies folded into himself, tousled in ripped linen, not a trace of peace about him save for his crossed ankles — delicate, clean as a child’s in this box for a bed. A coffin already. Henry will not gasp, or turn, or speak. That’s not paint under Richard’s nails this time. And his skin so bruised, each place could be a kiss. He slaps Aumerle. Strikes out and wheels an arm towards the doors to bid him go.

They are both sleepless wretches, Henry Bollingbroke and Aumerle. Neither light nor darkness, chill or sunlight salves them. As Henry rests, some nights, it’s on him, weighted and sudden, a hollow yearning and a bottomless regret. The feeling, exact and infinite, of boyhood, of two boys, one lanky, one stolid. One golden, one pale. One him and one — Cousins, nonetheless.

Cousins, both children. Under a tree in a meadow, in England, Henry’s hands stronger than he should on Richard’s arms. He has him pinned, shoulders in the dirt and Richard grins, a flash of quiet glee and he twists a leg around Henry’s, upends them and has his hands — one at Henry’s throat, the other in his hair, his eyes alight, his tongue curved over his lip. Quicksilver, unfathomable, he has Henry speechless. Richard watches, his face a breath above his, watches Henry like this, frozen, aching, aglow. He has Henry and he’s never letting him go.