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He feels...

Well, ... nothing.

Or, rather, Marius is not sure how to feel.

He is sitting in the living-room of Courfeyrac’s apartment, leaning onto the edge of the sofa and his thoughts are on hold, his brain is empty. The phone on his hands has turned itself off at some point in the interval between the phone call and now, but Marius cannot bring himself to care. Right now, he is floating. His head is jammed full of fog and clouds and there’s something bubbling in the back of his throat, a sound, he is sure, but he does not know whether it’s a sob or laughter.

Either way, to him, there would be no difference no anyway.

Sometimes the emotions in his chest don’t correspond with the logic of his brain, and it takes a few hours for them to in line up again, and sometimes it takes tricking and arguing with himself to make his body feel a fraction of some emotion his brains deems appropriate.

Maybe it’s a shock.

Marius takes a deep breath but the air feels ragged in his throat. He thinks that breathing feels a lot like drowning, and there are stone in his lungs, solid and heavy, making him uncomfortable and weighing him down. Maybe this is one of the signs for distress.

He is not sure.

His eyes are burning from staring unblinkingly for so long, so he closes them for a few seconds and when he looks up again, the world shifts back into focus, sharpening around him with uncomfortable clarity. The sky has shifted to a cool violet colour.

 


 

They ask him if he is fine and really, he is.

Yet his thoughts are running in circles, and the circle of things he should feel and the circle of things they expect him to feel don’t intersect, and in the space between, there’s is him, and there’s guilt for not fulfilling either of those.

People call, and people mail, offering words of comfort and well wishes, and he is patient, thanks them, and smiles and nods and writes back. The actions are stiff and mechanic and Marius’ heart is cold and indifferent and he hates himself for it.

Sometimes his friends tell him it’s okay to be conflicted and they sit with him and reassure him, but it is mere pretence because his situation is not like Éponine’s or Cosette’s or even Grantaire’s, and equating those to his own situation is a dismissal of what they all went through.

It’s nice to pretend that they are alike after all.

 


 

The hospital is crisp and clean and consists entirely of window panes to the entrance side, leaving the forcedly cheerful reception open and vulnerable to the public. Lights and flowers and books decorate the entrance hall, and occasionally a patient is being escorted to their next destination. Marius bites his lip to keep it from twitching.

The room is on the first floor and Marius takes the stairs. He needs more time because there is no escape from this now. In the safety of his room at Courfeyrac’s apartment, he can pretend that the world outside doesn’t exist, that his grandfather doesn’t exist, but now faced with the immediate and unyielding reality of it, his heart beats a mile a minute against his chest, and he wants to run. He doesn’t, though.

His aunt greets him in the corridor with her hairdo unravelling and a red blotched face. She grips him tight and hisses in his ear like she used to do when he misbehaved. She blames him for this and to be quite honest, Marius cannot blame her.

Her voice is cheerful when she opens the door to the stuffy room. His grandfather lies on the bed and there’s is an IV in his hand. He looks older, and frail, staring at the ceiling, not quite smiling but contentedly unaware.

His aunt pulls him to the bed.

“Father, this is Marius. Do you remember Marius, your grandson?”

His grandfather turns to look at him, and for the fraction of a second there is a frown in the old man’s face before he smiles brightly.

“Marius!” he exclaims as if Marius’ mere presence could heal him, and Marius thinks that it’s not fair. “Come closer. Let me see you.”

Marius moves closer, to the side of the bed and his grandfather takes the hand he is offering, like they used to do when he was a child. There should be concern, his brain tells him, and tears maybe but his eyes are dry, and there should be emotion but all the emotions have burned up in the wake of the nervousness from before and Marius feels nothing more than mild pity and annoyance.

His grandfather is talking and Marius is back at the mansion again. He is seven year old and his grandfather is sitting with him at the bedside, telling him a bedtime story and stroking his hair soothingly until his frantic heartbeat riled up from the storm outside has calmed down and his fears have dissipated.

It is not so different now. His grandfather is holding his face and pinching his cheek slightly and affectionately like grandfathers do, talking about home and family and old times, how he misses Marius, and wondering when Marius will return to the mansion, and the guilt lodges itself deeper into his chest, like a hot dagger melting away the arduously crafted distance and stability he has acquired over the last year.

Marius carefully pries the hand from his face. It’s a familiar hand, and even if they have not talked for a year, and even if his grandfather has disowned him, they are still a family, they are still grandfather and grandson by blood, broken as they might be, and Marius can’t help but to briefly wish to be back at the mansion and for things to be as they were before.

And when he presses his lips to the back of his grandfather’s frail hand, it feels like defeat.