do not fight
This is what Ludwig Wittgenstein knows:
1. He must fix this.
1.1 If he does not fix this, Russell will never speak to him again.
1.11 If Russell never speaks to him again, he will die.
2. He must fix this now.
So he finds himself, through logical deduction, hammering relentlessly on Bertrand Russell's door at three in the morning, stopping only to worry briefly about angering Russell further. He is just about to contemplate leaving but it is too late, because Russell creaks open the door, bleary-eyed and still in the midst of pulling on his bathrobe. (But for what purpose exactly? Ludwig finds himself wondering. There was nothing indecent about one's pyjamas, and even if there was, wearing a bathrobe only seemed to announce to the world that one was wearing pyjamas and draw more attention to the fact that there were pyjamas underneath that bathrobe, but it's not like Ludwig was thinking about what lay under Russell's bathrobe anyway because he was here to apologise.)
"For god's sake, Ludwig," Russell sighs, and leans heavily against the doorframe. The exasperation in his voice makes Ludwig cringe. "What is it now?"
Ludwig cowers inwardly, beasts of regret already beginning to gnaw at the ends of his nerves. But he steels himself, and speaks.
"When you said that we should not speak of logic earlier, did you really mean we should stop speaking altogether?"
"Oh, Ludwig, plea--"
"Because what I meant was I simply see things differently, and even though I think you are wrong, I did not mean any disrespect."
"Can we talk about this tomorrow, Ludwig, please?" Russell has his eyes squeezed shut now, his fingers massaging deep circles into his temples.
"No, we cannot. We must talk now."
If they do not talk now, he cannot fix this.
If he does not fix this, Russell will never speak to him again.
If Russell does not speak to him again, he will die.
So they must talk now.
"Now," Ludwig says again, panic threatening in his voice.
Russell sighs. It is the third sigh since he's opened his door, but Ludwig is beyond counting sighs.
"Very well, come on in." He steps aside reluctantly and beckons Ludwig in.
"Thank you," Ludwig says, and Russell sighs again, closing the door behind him.
He is half-sitting, half-kneeling on the cold wooden floor of Russell's room, papers strewn all around him, shirt unbuttoned down to his chest and gesticulating wildly in the air, stabbing at one of Russell's books with his pen when he realises that he is, for the first time in his life, truly happy.
Ludwig looks over at Russell, who is sprawled out in the armchair in front of him, going on about propositions and ad hoc statements, looking more weary than Ludwig has ever seen him but Ludwig smiles at him anyway and Russell pauses mid-sentence and smiles back.
The first time he touches Russell, he regrets it immediately.
He yanks his hand back and his head chides himself furiously - stupid, idiot, what have you done what have you done, here you’ve gone and ruined everything as always, as always. He hangs his head in shame and his stomach churns. He thinks of turning around and marching straight out of the room, out of Cambridge, and never coming back. Yes, he'll leave that very night; he can go back to Vienna and get a new job-- a job without logic and without philosophy and without Bertrand Russell.
"Ludwig," Russell says softly, and there's more tenderness in that voice than Ludwig can ever remember. No exasperated hiss of breath after the last syllable. It's soft, and gentle and it's enough to make Ludwig crack an eye open to peer up sheepishly at Russell.
When he finally meets his gaze, Russell is smiling.
He can't quite stop thinking about Russell.
He lies on his back in a ditch and even though the sound of rifles and grenades explode all around him, his mind invariably strays back to chilly Cambridge mornings and the warm pot of tea he knew was always waiting for him in Russell's living room.
There is no doubt about Ludwig's genius. Even if he could never see it for himself, it was what Russell had first noticed about him. It had stood out the moment Russell laid eyes on him; like a halo of light or a scar across his face. And how endearingly naive he had been about the whole thing! So sadly ignorant of his own potential! The very thought that the boy had needed him to assure him of his brilliance-- Russell had found it irresistible.
Russell is tired of the pretentious boys who swagger into Cambridge, all carbon copies of each other with nothing more than their inheritances following them about. But this boy, Wittgenstein, he is something else. He is something special.
Yet for Ludwig’s genius – and his beauty – Russell knows there is something not quite right with the poor boy. Ludwig has been in Cambridge for long enough to attract the attention and gossip of the apostles, and Russell’s heard the whispered rumours about the Wittgenstein family: five sons, three dead by suicide, and all of them brilliant boys in their own right. How long before the family curse caught up with this one?
It is three in the morning and Ludwig Wittgenstein is pacing around furiously in Russell’s living room, his face twisted with anguish, wiry hands clenched into tight fists. Russell’s heart hurts for him and drums with the cruel, dangerous assurance that if he were to let Ludwig leave, he would never see him again. That it is only the confines of his room that is keeping Ludwig alive. So he steadies his terrified heart and says quietly:
The pacing stops momentarily and the room is eerily silent in its absence. Wittgenstein looks up and blinks at him with eyes like a doe's-- sad and dark and heavy-lashed.
“Are you thinking about logic or about your sins?”
The pacing resumes.
Russell is growing tired of Ludwig, but he’ll never tell him that. He has enough sense to know that the gravity of such a statement would crush, and quite certainly destroy him. But Russell has to draw the line somewhere. He cannot keep guarding Ludwig’s sanity at the expense of his own.
It all comes to a head when Ludwig barges once again into his room, barely waiting for Russell to open the door before pushing his way in and exploding immediately into one of his manic diatribes.
“I have found what is wrong between the both of us,” Ludwig declares, his breath coming hard and his hands quivering like a man possessed. “We are too different. We can no longer be friends, I think. Our ideals are too different. We can talk about the weather and our lives, but we not of anything else that requires any sort of judgement. If we did, we would no doubt fight.” He pauses to take a long, shuddering breath. “And I could not handle that.”
Russell is more than a little taken aback to say the least. Yes, they did have a little disagreement over tea a few days ago and parted on considerably bad terms, but Russell had not thought much about it. He had no idea Ludwig would take it so close to his heart. It is a lesson that Russell will learn in time— Ludwig’s passion for him far exceeded his for Ludwig.
“Come now, Ludwig,” he tries. “I do think you are overreacting. What happened earlier was nothing more than our nerves getting the better of us. It is the damned heat, I say. Anyhow, I apologise on both our parts, so think no more of it. I assure you that everything is all right at the bottom of it all.”
“That is another problem!” Ludwig cries out despairingly. “I never know if you are speaking honestly or if you are merely being polite. How can I tell?? You treat everyone the same way, always speaking in that horrible, polite way of yours.”
Now, this is the last straw. Russell lowers himself into his study chair and remains silent. Ludwig, however, continues his rant.
“I would much rather you be honest with me than polite. Rudeness I can handle; dishonesty I cannot. Tell me now, for I cannot bear to be kept in secrecy anymore. Do you really think I should keep up with philosophy? Am I really a.. genius-” (he spits out this word as though it is a curse, and perhaps it is) “-as you keep telling me? Maybe you were just being polite!”
Russell wants to take him by the collar and shake him until he sees sense, or pin him to the wall and slap the sense into him. But Russell refuses to say another word. With exaggerated patience, he picks up a book on his desk and blindly leafs through it, the words barely registering in his mind.
“Well? Are you going to tell me the truth or not?” Ludwig demands viciously.
Russell takes a deep breath.
“All you want,” Russell says, drawing out the syllables with measured self-control and hissing them out through gritted teeth. “Is a little self-control.”
Ludwig storms out in silence.
Dread, Russell learns, is a most marvellous thing. It begins in the dead centre of the heart, as a pooling, gripping lump of freezing cold poison that soon spreads through the waterways of your blood vessels to every part of your body – to the stomach, where it solidifies heavily into fear; to the limbs, which it makes sluggish with its cold venom; and finally to the extremities of the body, where it turns fingers and toes as numb and cold as ice. It sickens the body and paralyses the soul; dread does, like an illness, or a deadly plague.
Ludwig had asked him to a concert that very evening, and when Ludwig doesn’t show up, Russell’s anger sublimates to a sudden sense of fear and worry. He gets up halfway through the opening concerto and all but runs out of the concert hall, a sickening terror devouring what little dignity he has left.
He fights the disease of dread as it crawls to every nerve in his body, and forces his limbs and brain into working order. Ignoring the irritated exclamations of the ladies next to him, he pushes his way out of the aisle, out of the concert hall, and into the cold night air. His eyes search the lobby wildly, hoping against hope that he will find his ferocious Austrian skulking among the pillars, eyes ablaze and brow furrowed.
“Ludwig!” he shouts, and the empty, resounding echoes mockingly assault him like the cruel taunts of school children. Russell’s heart begins to hammer relentlessly against his chest, throwing itself ferociously against his ribcage.
Wittgenstein is not here. How strange. He had been talking about this concert for months – Russell still remembers the look of glee on his face when he’d agreed to go with him – and for him to miss it—what on earth could tear Ludwig Wittgenstein away from his beloved music? Ludwig loved music more than life itself, and for him to miss a concert he’d been so looking forward to, Ludwig must--- oh. Oh. Panic seizes Bertrand Russell almost immediately, and he tears out of the theatre, jumps into the first cab he sees, and shouts at the driver to get him back to Cambridge as fast as humanly possible.
The speed with which they race along the road can hardly compare to the rapid pace of Russell’s thumping heart, which is beating faster and faster as they draw closer to Cambridge.
Death has haunted Bertrand Russell since he was a child; claiming first his mother, then his sister, and then his father too had followed it like a loyal hound. In all the years he lived with his grandmother, he spent many wondering when Death would come for her too, until Death finally did. Death has taken so many of the people he’s held dear to him, and now here it comes again to claim another.
But this time, Russell will fight it. He will race against it, and beat it before it takes away Ludwig Wittgenstein. He has to. Whether for philosophy, or for posterity, or for himself, Russell does not know or care. But he knows he must save Wittgenstein, no matter what the cost.
These thoughts run through Russell’s head for the entire duration of the cab journey. They pound through his head like the terrible roars of war drums.
They finally arrive at Cambridge, and Russell is already halfway out of the cab when he shoves a ten pound note into the cab driver’s hands. He runs all the way to Ludwig’s rooms, a sickening terror devouring what little dignity he has left. He sprints up the road, tears across the courtyard, and stumbles up three flights of stairs in his stiff suit, and by the time he reaches Ludwig’s door, he can hardly breathe. Yet, he gives no thought to his lack of breath. Without pausing to catch his breath, Russell pounds forcefully on the door, the urgency of his pounding mirroring that of his own heart.
“Ludwig!” he shouts when he hears no footsteps approaching the door, his voice hoarse from anguish and exhaustion. He calls out Ludwig’s name again, broken desperation beginning to creep into his voice. He paws furiously at the doorknob, and is surprised when it gives way without much resistance.
The door swings open.
Russell creeps in, already beginning to feel dizzy with fear. In his panicked state earlier, he’d forgotten about the dread in his veins, but now it is back, and he is already beginning to feel its ice-cold grip on his chest. He flips the light switch on, half expecting to find Ludwig sprawled on the floor or hanging from a beam on the ceiling.
But instead, and to his tremendous relief, Russell finds him sitting silently in his armchair, face cupped in his hands, still in the clothes he’d been in earlier.
“Ludwig?” Russell ventures tentatively, drawing closer when the figure shifts away from the light.
The insane thrumming of his heart has abated somewhat, so Russell goes up to the armchair, and kneels before it, like a repentant sinner seeking forgiveness from a furious god.
“Ludwig, I’m sorry,” he whispers. He places an apologetic palm on Ludwig’s knee, and squeezes it lightly. “I’m sorry I got cross. It was my fault. I ought not to have been so cold. I really am very sorry, Ludwig.”
"Everything is alright, Ludwig, please," Russell begs pathetically, his voice breaking with desperation.
Ludwig says nothing, but allows himself to fall forward onto Russell until Russell is the only thing that is holding him up and keeping him from landing face-first on the floor. Russell wraps his arms around the boy, lets his fingers trace the delicate ridges of Ludwig’s spine through his thin shirt and thinks: even a life of sanity is not worthy of this moment.