Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I think it's best to make that really, really clear. And I don't normally do pairings like this, but the idea just would not go away. Please don't hurt me.
Playing With Matches
Violet is the only one who comes to see him these days. Among the volunteers he is respected, even admired, but at the same time not spoken of much or thought about. There is an acknowledgement that his work saved them all, that he is the one who brought the truth to light and saw to it that the villains were condemned and the innocent exonerated, but in the process uncomfortable realities were dredged up. Acts that were maybe not as noble as they might have been. And so he is pushed to one side with a yes, but still… like an unwelcome pang of conscience.
Or maybe that's not it. Maybe he drives people away of his own accord, maybe it's not guilt that makes them uncomfortable but the loss and misery he carries round him like a shield. Maybe it's just that he makes it clear there's nothing they can do for him and, all things considered, he prefers his loneliness when there's no one around to emphasise it. Even his publishers have stopped asking about the vague promises of "another case" he once made to keep them placated. It must be clear to them now that he has nothing more to say.
Violet is the exception. Violet comes and he opens the door and welcomes her, not with a smile but always with genuine pleasure in seeing her. She is glad to see him too, even though her face is also solemn. They walk to the living room talking of nothing much, chatting as any two friends might as she sits in the armchair by the empty fireplace, while he takes the decanter from the cupboard and pours them each a glass of brandy. (This is the only time either of them drinks. They have never discussed it, but both of them know what can happen to a person who drinks alone and they have made separate vows not to go down that route.) They sit and talk, and gradually the conversation turns to deeper matters.
Most days it is Violet who talks the longest. Her life is still in motion, still changing, new trials every day. Lemony is still now. After decades of running his life has become quite static, which he supposes he should be grateful for. He has security, even a home. His conversation tends to revolve around the past, and there's little enough of that he wants to remember.
Violet talks about her home, the flat she bought with her share of the remaining Baudelaire fortune. She talks about Klaus, how long it has been since they last spoke, the rumours of his work with the volunteers. Her voice is cold as she says this, because Violet is not a volunteer and never will be. (It was what our parents wanted, Klaus insisted, it was their life's work, you can't just turn your back on it! and Violet shouted Oh, can't I? Everything that's ever gone wrong in our lives, Klaus, has gone wrong because of that organisation!) She will not speak to any of them except for Klaus. And Lemony, of course, but they both know without ever saying so that he doesn't count. He still calls himself a volunteer only because there's nothing else he knows how to be.
She talks about Sunny. When she talks about Sunny it is the end of the evening and the decanter is at least halfway empty, and her hands are knotted together in her lap to keep them from shaking. She talks about the place where Sunny now lives – that is what she calls it, "the place", she will not say foster home. Lemony made the mistake of using the term, once, and she slammed her glass down on the table hissing that is not her home and walked out before he could speak. She forgave him, though, she knocked on the door the next morning and apologised staring down at the green eye on the welcome mat. He told her she didn't need to be sorry. He was sorry. They never brought it up again.
It was strange to see her in the daylight. She looked smaller somehow, younger, more like the girl he remembers from his research, from old photographs and new illustrations. Of course she is not a girl any more, she is a young woman of twenty-three. There are things that make it – surprisingly easy to remember that. Her cheekbones. The way her hands move when she speaks, the way she crosses her legs at the ankle when she's sitting down (although there's nothing branded into her skin). He tries not to think about it – it's morbid and sentimental and Violet doesn't need to be burdened with it – but sometimes when the light grows dim it slips out, unawares.
You look so much like your mother.
And Violet, for a wonder, doesn't object. She even seems interested, taking a delicate sip from her glass and saying Tell me about Mom.
She has a right to know, really. And perhaps he has a right to tell someone. He rarely speaks of Beatrice these days, because it was all so long ago and everyone knows the story already without him inflicting himself on people who weren't even alive at the time. Brooding on the past is best done in private. But he doesn't mind telling Violet. Even crying in front of her is not so bad.
He can tell her everything.
Maybe that's where the trouble starts.
Things like this grow underground, they break out like wildfires in odd places far from the source. They can't always be traced back. The evening Lemony comes to think of as the start, though, Violet is agitated. She gets up from her chair, paces, waving her hands and pulling at strands of hair as she talks. She has seen Sunny today, and Sunny as always told her how she hates her new life, wants her family, wants Violet to care for her. Sunny is growing thin and pale and has few friends. That place is destroying my sister, Violet says, spinning around and knocking a vase over. Greenish water splashes across the carpet.
Lemony goes to get paper towels. When he returns Violet is kneeling by the fireplace, staring into the blackness of the grate. Her shoulders are shaking. Lemony lays the towels down over the stain and kneels down beside her, one hand on her arm. He tries to think of words to comfort her, but schooled in grief as he is, he knows there are none.
I'm sorry, he says.
Violet looks up at him, eyes red and blinking too fast. I lied, she says. Her voice is flat, the words abrupt. And so did Sunny. I found out today. She told me she hated it there, but… Her hands twist at her skirt. They're kind to her. She has lots of friends, there's a library, she's going to gourmet cooking camp… She wore baggy clothes whenever she saw me. And put powder on her face. She said she – she didn't want to upset me. She doubles over sobbing, arms crossed over her stomach.
Lemony puts an arm around her shoulders. She curls up tighter, muscles stiffening under his touch. She still needs you, he says. She won't stop needing you, or loving you.
Are you going to tell me I should be happy for her? Violet says from inside her huddled ball. That I'm being selfish?
Lemony winces. Of course not.
I'm supposed to take care of her, Violet says. Make her safe and happy. But it turns out the best life I can give her is one without me.
Lemony swallows, hard. His eyes are welling with tears, but he holds them back. He has no right. This is Violet's life, this is Violet's story, and it's not as though the iron hand wrenching at his insides is anything new. It can be done, he tells her. You are far stronger than I ever was, Violet, and you can survive this.
Is that how it was with you and Mom? she says. You left to protect her, didn't you?
As I said. It can be done. He looks down at the carpet, hands clenching involuntarily.
Violet raises her head, wiping her eyes. But Mom was meant to be with you, she says. That's what you told me. That's why everything went wrong.
It sounds awful when you put it that way. He sighs, puts a hand to his face. I never meant to sound as though I resented your parents' marriage. They – they loved each other deeply. They were truly happy. Besides, you wouldn't exist at all if it weren't for them.
Violet shakes her head. That might not be what you said, but it's true. You were supposed to be together. That's where all the trouble started.
Even if that were true, Violet… He takes a deep breath, composing himself. There's nothing anyone can do about it. Even you can't invent a way to turn back time.
She turns her head slowly, gazing into his eyes. Maybe I can, she says, her voice curiously distant, and then she leans forward and her lips brush against his and Beatrice is kissing him, holding him, pulling him to her and twenty years and more melt away as her hands clutch his hair as her tongue gently parts his lips as her body twists and arches against him as they are crashing to the rug, their legs entwined together pressing them deeper into each other as he caresses her, one arm cradling her body as the other hand trails along her thigh and she shivers and groans into his mouth her hands now tugging at his shirt wanting to make him hers again and he will be hers he will love her with every part of him he will give her everything she wants, everything she desires, finally, finally, oh Beatrice…Beatrice…
But Beatrice is dead.
Lemony pushes himself away so fast he nearly falls backwards. Violet stares at him wide eyed, her cheeks flushed, her lips warm and red, hair tangled round her face. What? she asks as he grips the table and pulls himself upright, shaking and dishevelled, watching his blurred reflection in the varnish because it's easier than trying to look her in the eyes.
You should go, he whispers, voice hoarse and trembling. You should go now. Oh God, Violet, I'm so sorry. I wouldn't – just go. Leave me. Please.
She stands, steps towards him. He moves away, behind the table, still holding on to it. Just leave me, he croaks, and she does leave, the door clicking behind her as he sinks to the floor, terrified, sickened, returning in spite of everything to her fingers tangled in his hair.
The next night comes, and of course Violet won't be coming, and as the evening drifts on he reaches the conclusion that he might as well start drinking without her. Knowing full well as he tilts his head back and feels liquid burning in his throat that this is a dangerous step to take. Right now, though, all that matters is clouding the images that play in his mind with such dreadful (wonderful – dreadful) intensity.
His judgement is clouded too, because when he hears the knock on the door he goes to answer it without thinking. All he knows is that whoever it is will be a distraction, something to think about unrelated to last night.
He realises his mistake at once and tries to slam the door, but Violet's already pushing it back. Her hair is scraped away from her face and bound in one of her customary ribbons, her jaw set in a determined and all-too-familiar frown. Her eyes look through him, seeing but not seeing, pinning him like a butterfly as he backs away into the wall. Raising his hands for protection he tries to say Violet, why – but the words are trapped in his mouth as she presses her lips to his again, pulling his arms down and pinning them to his sides. He struggles, resists, he tries, but it feels as though she's been away forever. It feels as though he's grown old waiting for her but of course not, they're both young, barely more than teenagers still and they have their whole lives together and now he's helpless under her touch, crushed against the wall with the whole length of her body as her hands slide up and underneath his shirt, hands stroking across his skin claiming everything they touch as hers. He's melting into her, breathless with need and longing, aching for her so badly that he's almost in tears. She can't have been gone from him so long, she can't have, but it's as though they've been apart for an eternity, it's as though he thought she'd never come back, it's
among the hardest things he's ever done, and this is no casual statement, but he wrenches his mouth away from hers, gasping for air. Bea – V-Violet. Please. We – we can't. This has to stop. He tries to sound firm. Someone with a trace of self-control. It isn't working.Why not? Violet asks, and why not indeed? Lemony can scarcely remember. He knows, deep down in his mind, that there is some terrible flaw in this invention of hers, this mechanism that can reverse time and conquer death and dissolve loneliness into nothing, but the detail of what it is eludes him and behind her eyes he can see the gears of her inventor's brain are all lined up and in motion. Maybe if his mind was clear like hers he could find the words, but there's no way to order his flailing thoughts, even if his hair were long enough to take a ribbon.
Why can't we? Violet asks again, drawing even closer, warm lips almost brushing his cheek. Lemony whimpers, hands scrabbling at the wall as he tries to pull away – impossible unless he can pass through solid matter, doubly impossible when his whole body is straining towards her, heedless of the panicked voice in his head that keeps screaming this is not right! He has to end this, to say something, anything, before…
You're not… His voice sounds ancient, far away, as though weakened by time and smoke. It isn't you I'm – I can't just pretend that you – that you're – I can't do that to you.
But I want you to. Her arms are wrapping around him. He needs to lean against the wall. And you want to, I can feel it. And you're shaking.
The world swims and he's having to hold her now, hold on to her coat just to keep upright, keep from drowning. So much… he whispers. I do want to, so much… more than anything… oh Violet, I'm sorry…
Don't be. Her eyes are clear. She gives a soft smile, smoothing the hair back from his forehead. You're a good man, you'd never hurt anybody. So it can't be that dreadful, if it's something you want so badly.
Something's wrong with that, that last fading voice in his mind tells him. There's a flaw, he knows there's a flaw. But just for the moment, he can't work out what it is.
And just for the moment, he doesn't really care.
Beatrice, he breathes. You – you're –
She strokes his cheek gently. If you like.
You came back. He grips her tighter, buries his face in her neck. You came back to me. I knew you wouldn't leave me all alone like that. I knew… But this is no time to talk. This is the time when needs and wishes and desperate, hopeless desires are finally fulfilled, when all tears are kissed away and all pain is silenced, and he falls into her for the third time and, at last, lets himself believe he can find happiness.
Beatrice has changed, but this is only to be expected. She seems taller, more angular, and the taste of her skin is subtly different, but these are minor variations, they are of no consequence. More disconcerting is the way she will not look him in the eyes as they make love, and while she clutches him against her with a grip that is actually painful in its intensity she will no longer call out his name, biting her lip to keep from letting a single sound escape her. But if that is what she wants that is how things must be. It's enough that she is here, he has no right to demand more. Enough that he can please her, adore her, be part of her once again. Enough that the nightmare was an illusion, that she didn't die.
Afterwards, curled warm and safe against her, he drifts into the deepest, most peaceful sleep he has ever known. My love, he murmurs into the back of her neck as his eyes close. My love. My darling.
In the morning he is alone.
In the morning his mouth is dry and his head is fuzzy with a vague, unfocused pain, and a cold draught blows underneath the door. He sits up slowly, wondering what about his dream last night was so important that he has to remember, wondering why a quiet shiver of fear runs through his body – what could be wrong? But something is very, very wrong.
He turns his head. There on the pillow beside him are two long brown hairs.
Lemony curls into a ball, claps his hands over his ears, squeezes his eyes closed. No, he whispers, no no no no no no, but the memories flood back to him anyway, stark and undeniable. So much for eternal faithfulness, they sneer, so much for devotion, so much for your true love.
He staggers into the bathroom, turning the shower on full blast and as hot as he can make it in hopes of being able to clear his head, cleanse his body, drown out the accusation in his mind with the sound of running water. It doesn't work. She tied her hair back, that's what he keeps remembering, but now he sees it wasn't such a new invention after all. The world is full of middle-aged men hiding their age and their loneliness in young girls' bodies (it wasn't like that! he protests, but what's the difference? I am not the sort of man who sleeps with his dead fiancée's daughter, he insists, but the buzz in his head and the nausea in his throat remind him that of course that is what he has just done.)
Through the cloud of steam filling the bathroom he sees his face in the mirror, fading into an undistinguished blur. If only it were that easy to fade away. He sinks to his knees in the bathtub, holding his head in both hands and feeling the scalding water wash over him. Beatrice was the world to him, his love for her was the one thing he had left, the last thing driving him on when all hope had fled, the reason for his life's work and his final, eventual, more or less victory. How can he have thrown all that aside?
Those nights with only the memory of her, though – a timid voice in his head speaks up – they did get awfully cold. You've spent most of your life being lonely. Beatrice left you, Jacques died, Kit –
That's no excuse.
And so the day goes on. He doesn't eat much, can't concentrate to read, spends most of the day huddled in an armchair listening as his guilt goes round in its miserable cycle again and again and again. Pouring glass after glass from the now almost empty decanter. (He's a wreck already. Might as well go all the way.)
It's close to midnight when the knock on the door comes again.
He shouldn't answer it. He knows, knows what a terrible idea that would be, feeling what he feels, wanting what he wants – despite himself, despite everything – but at the same time he can't leave her to stand outside in the cold and dark. Besides, he owes her an apology. Maybe she will shout at him, hit him, tell him at any rate that he is a despicable man and she never wants to see him again. That would be fair. He stands, the room lurching around him. Makes his unsteady way to the door, rehearsing in his mind – Violet, what I did last night was unforgivable. Violet, I took advantage of you, I used you, Violet, used you for my own ends, my own gratification, it will never happen again, I swear, I promise, never again, Violet, I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am…
He gets out Violet, what – as the door opens, but then her arms enfold him and her kiss is softer and more tender than it's ever been. No, wrong, he has to pull away now while he still can and in his panic he slips and falls, smashing his head into an occasional table. Purple-black stars blaze around him for a moment, and when his vision returns Violet is kneeling beside him, stroking soothing fingers across his bruised scalp, and Beatrice whispers Darling, be careful…
Darling, he echoes, feeling himself begin to fall again, and a dark voice murmurs so be it, then as he reaches for her.
And another night passes, and then more. And she is alive, and he is alive, and they are together, and they love. None of that is wrong.
Except in the days, when he is alone again and the light is too bright and tells him that it is all an illusion. But they are adults, and willing. Aren't they entitled to illusions?
(and Beatrice is too dead to object)
(He Does Not Believe That! He's never believed that!)
He wonders who Violet's illusion is. Knows he can't ask her – who are you thinking of? Whose name don't you call? Maybe she'd say "Quigley" or "Duncan" or some young man he's never heard of. Maybe "my father" – if she's Beatrice perhaps he is Bertrand – but she said they weren't meant to be. (She said.) On the days when the light is most searing he knows she'd say "Olaf", knows he's no better than the monster who first tried to exploit her beauty, violate her this way. But that's not why he doesn't ask.
Mostly, he's afraid that she'd say "you".
He's drinking more, or maybe he's just sleeping more, or maybe he just forgets about the days because they all blend into one another, bleached pale by guilt and sunlight. Only the moments when they hold each other are real. Although he must be eating and washing and all those things because the nights are turning into weeks, weeks into months.
One morning he wakes up early and she is still there, peering into the mirror beside the bed in the dim morning light. He turns the light on for her and she jumps. I didn't want to wake you, she says, twining a strand of hair around her finger.
Violet, he says. His voice is faint and scratchy and he swallows, trying to make his mouth less dry. She doesn't answer or maybe doesn't hear him, stooping to pick her bag up from the floor. Suddenly it's important that he speak to her before she goes, it's utterly vital that he say something, ask her something, and he can't think of a single word. Something comes to him, a vague memory. How's Sunny? he asks.
Violet blinks. She's – she's fine, she says, glancing towards the door. Look, um… I don't really want to talk about that right now.
He nods. He understands. Violet says see you later and slings her bag across her shoulder and heads for the door.
She looks smaller in the daylight.
Would you like to move in with me? The words are out before he knows he's going to say them. Violet stops in her tracks, not turning. He doesn't know why he would ask that, except that maybe if she was still there when he woke up, the light wouldn't hurt so much. Maybe she'd still be there when she wanted to speak.
Violet turns, slowly. Her eyes have that odd distant look that they had the first night, and something else – guilt, could it be? But why would it? I don't really think that would work, she says after a while, and she turns away again, and she leaves.
Lemony pulls the covers up around him and lies there. He thinks he'd like to cry now, but his tears seem to all have dried up in the sun and he's not really certain why he wants to, anyway. He has his Beatrice back, if only for brief moments, and while the blank space between those moments is growing wider and greyer and emptier he finds that he can live in them well enough, if he remembers to close his eyes.
Still, he misses his friend Violet. She never seems to come around here any more.