I feel so shocked at the sound of his voice – Percy's dear voice – soaked through with regret and shame and above all pain. He sounds as though he is about to burst into tears. "Yes, Percy? What happened?" He has just been back from a month-long mission in France, and I fear that it may have stamped its mark on him more indelibly than I would hope.
"Would you please… come over and hold me awhile?"
I get up from the dresser, as I have just finished plaiting my hair, and move over to him, sliding onto the bed beside him with my arms encircling his chest. I don't know how glad I am that he and I decided to move me back into what was once only his room when we reconciled, but I know I am very glad.
He lies down, and I do so with him, nestling my head on his chest. However, Percy will not have it, and instead he nuzzles into my neck, his warm breath tickling my ear.
Dieu, but his body is simply radiating heat! I forgot how like a human furnace he is while he was gone. I hug him tightly and breathe in the essentially Percy scent that I have missed for so long. I feel something icy on my neck and start, only to trace a trickle down my back. Percy is crying.
"What is wrong, mon amour?" I ask softly, bringing his face up to mine. His electrifying blue eyes are filled with rain, the lightning lashing across them like a storm.
"This trip was… so much worse than any other, by Gad," he murmurs miserably. "The air is bad enough when I stay for three demmed days, but for a whole month! A month, little Lady! A month of suffering and death and grief surrounding me –" His voice breaks as he burrows deeper into my arms, looking for comfort.
Once his grief is abated for a while, he lies back, his hands tracing gentle lines on my arm. "I have not always felt this way about the Revolution," he says, quietly. "At first I supported the Republic with my whole heart, for there were some demmed cruel policies about class that I was just plain tired of from the Frenchies – ah well, you know, little woman, do you not?"
He is talking of Armand's beating; I nod.
"Then… then they started the killing. The whole demmed atmosphere changed. Zounds, when I went there next it felt so different I could have sworn it was a different country! Anger floated everywhere; suspicion and distrust and so much fear – I could not take it. I had to help.
"The rest is history, but I have something more to add." He turns his blue eyes to me. "You know why I act like the most wretched idiot to ever walk the earth – but that's not the only reason. I act like an idiot, a fop, a fool, because it is so much easier to pretend all the emotions in the air bounce off of me, that they do not exist, than to show everyone how much I feel them."
His deep tone is a whisper now, the only other sounds our breathing and the fire.
I remember how Percy always seems to make people laugh, how almost everyone seems to smile easier once they have talked to him. He always seems to literally brighten a room simply by being in it, gathering a small audience in no time only by standing there.
"My father used to say I carried the world on my shoulders," he says slowly. "He always said I absorbed the pain from the world and gave it happiness back. I have no demmed idea if that was true, but I certainly feel that way." His face is streaked with tears – when did that happen? I wipe them away.
"I think you do," I reply, recalling the end of our misunderstanding, the mission, the journey back to the Day Dream which must have been so difficult for him, with his poor shoulders. "That night in October… you really did seem to sap the weariness from me and take it into yourself."
The image of his face while he slept that night, waiting to dock at Dover, rises before my eyes. His face then was peaceful and serene, but I felt the tension radiating off of him, as though releasing the pain he had drawn to himself. Looking at Percy in this moonlight, I see past all the layers he has built around himself to protect his heart, a heart so fragile and yet so strong.
His is a sensitive soul that cannot bear injustice and murder, an accepting heart that beats for all humanity, and strong, broad shoulders built to carry pain and humiliation.
It is as though I have never truly seen Percy before now.
I now know the motivation behind his bravery and his honour, and it is even nobler than doing it for its sake alone. He wishes to lessen others' suffering, not so that he will have less to feel, but so that none shall be made to feel what he knows some do.
I draw him in for a kiss; I taste the salt in the tears that have dripped onto his lips, but his taste is there too, sweet and indomitable. That is my Percy, and always will be.
"Everything affects me more than it should," he mutters, pulling away. "I feel me an entire universe, ten times as intense as it should be, and I have no idea whether or not to be grateful that I cry and laugh more easily than most." He smiles his own smile, a shy but persevering little curve of the lips that reminds me of his chosen insignia. The pimpernel is a small wayside flower, but it blooms brightly and bravely.
"It means you are all the more human," I whisper, kissing his forehead. "Mon chéri, I love you for that as well."
"It is not that I feel weak," Percy tells me gravely. "It is that when I rescue people, their fear, grief, and anger explode into me and then it all echoes: my grief and theirs, my anger and theirs. Sometimes I'm afraid that one day I will lose control and… and murder somebody." His lips seem almost turned to stone as they form the words, "And if – when, even – that ever happens, I could never forgive myself. I'faith, the grief and shame would kill me."
"You could never," I reassure him softly, stroking the almost-white hair from his face, though I know his fear is legitimate. "Your honour is such that you would never do that."
"I demmed well might," he protests. "When I go back to France with the revolution thing kicking up dust everywhere – the soldiers – the bourgeoisie – the nobles in hiding – oh God." His voice chokes up as he clutches at my arms as if for consolation. "The suffering and death is overwhelming, Marguerite!"
He buries his face in my shoulder and suddenly begins to sob. I hold him close and the whirlwind of emotions bursting out from him hits me smack in the chest. He is right. Mon Dieu! The sheer devastation envelops me in darkening grey, filled with smoke and dust. How can he bear this? How can he bear to stay aloft in this world knowing that this darkness exists?
Percy raises his head, his sorrow spent, and smiles, his lips meeting mine slowly. His hands trace my jaw, and with his burning touch comes a fiery, blazing scarlet, shining with gold and silver and brilliant green, smelling of clean rain, then flower-sweetness. "That is how, dear heart," he whispers in my ear.
"What is that?" I ask, the image fading away just as quickly as it had come.
Instead of answering, he kisses me again and says, "I love you, Marguerite."
I smile and hold him close, the scarlet image strengthening, then fading into sunrise gold. "Charming as it is to hear of, Margot, I do not live on love alone," Percy quips, his voice gentle and teasing, just like I remember. "There is joy and memory – oh, and fashion and sport, of course." He laughs.
I look past that and see his fear still lurking in his eyes; I have to help. "Share the burden with me," I urge. "I do not want you to carry it alone, Percy."
His brows fly up before furrowing worriedly. "Lud! Are you certain, little woman? This surely is a demmed lot, and neither in heaven nor in hell would I willingly take away your happiness."
Even though I know he wants to protect me, I press on with it. "You deserve that much at least, mon amour."
"I do not think so," he demurs, before he moves closer and touches me more than ever – not even a sheet of paper could be wedged between our bodies, so close were we. His electric blue eyes meet my own darker blue ones before his emotions whirled into me again.
There is a silence so quiet it presses hard on my eardrums, and then the dreadful grey cloaks me again, just as Percy's gentle nip at my ear reassures me of his presence.
Pain - so much of it! - agony, torture, razing my very core, so intense that I struggle to breathe as blotches of colour wash in and out of my vision, weird spots dancing before my eyes. My chest tightens and I lose the feeling in my legs and arms because of the pain. I bite my lip to keep from screaming.
Something moving around me puts something other than the pain into my mind, and my vision sharpens just enough to see poor Percy writhing on the bed, trying to tie himself down; his supressed moans of agony raging in his throat. His slender fingers tighten convulsively around my hands as he gasps for breath. I whisper his name, calling out to him, just as a fresh wave sweeps me off my feet.
It is a wave of pure devastation; despair and death blind us to the world as Percy and I cling to each other, desperate for human touch, human contact in a void of otherworldly distance. The enormity of it all comes rushing down at me, grinding my very bones to dust under its malevolent weight.
Aching grief and longing push through, lances of crimson blood in the smoky grey; a vast emptiness clamouring to be filled, shrieking for what it desires – but there is nothing to fill it with.
The feeling of stumbling through that bloodstained mist is akin to that of an orphan child's upon realizing at last that his parents and protectors are dead. One clutches at air and cries, the gaping pit of loss choking everything but loss. My hands fist in Percy's clothes as I blindly search for the warmth that I know is my only lifeline in this darkness, my mouth forming screams of terror and longing that I cannot hear.
"– mon coeur, please! It is over, it is over! Forgive me!"
It is Percy's voice, frantic, panicked; almost wailing.
Worried as I am, comfort washes over me as the icy cold of the void is replaced with Percy's very human warmth. I sigh and move even further into him without quite realizing where I am, or that I am not blind any longer. His arms encircle me with a fierce speed, and suddenly he is rocking back and forth, murmuring furiously under his breath.
"I told you," he whispers, voice breaking with panic and anger long gone. "I told you, dear heart, that it was such a demmed lot… and now look what I have done."
His tone hardens at the last, and I flinch slightly at his anger before it dawns on me that it is not me that he is angry with, but himself. He said 'I', not 'you'. Mon Dieu, Percy, must you go on blaming yourself for the actions of others?
"What is it, Margot, darling?" He is attentive immediately, pressing a grateful kiss to my lips before allowing me to continue. With a little involuntary shudder at the lightning arcing up my spine at the touch of his lips, I say, "It is no fault of yours, Percy. I wished to see your world, and you simply showed me. That is all – Percy, we are man and wife, woman and husband. If you will not allow me into your heart, then who will you allow?"
He rests his cheek against my hair and remains silent for a while, then saying, "I would allow no one."
"Exactly. I only wished to see you as you see me – bare, transparent to your eyes. Now that I have seen that, I know you a little more – and my love is not decreased, Percy. Oh… Percy, if I had but known…"
"You will never suffer that again, do you understand me?" Percy orders sternly, rigidly.
"You can no more say that to me than I can to you," I retort. "Percy, you… you must share that burden. All that suffering – that despair – is too much for one man alone. You would inevitably crack under the pressure – your heart would eventually burst. As your wife, and as the woman who loves you, I claim that office of sharing it with you."
He rests his forehead against mine, his breath puffing out in relieved little sighs. "That is my brave Margot, eh? Er… Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you." He laughs softly, kisses me again, and repeats, "I love you, Marguerite."
This time, I reply in kind. "As I love you, Percy."