A/N: Love to reviewers and Countess Black
Strange Invisible-verse, this will make no sense unless you've read at least to chapter 49.
This is part one of a potential series of one shots called 'The Things They Left Behind Them'. The Things They Carried with Them' is a famous war novel, so I wanted explore a bit that way.
Rabastan could feel him sometimes. Never with Penko, thank God, but sometimes as he rolled over he could feel the curve of a spine pressed to his front, or hear soft breathing when he knew himself to be alone.
Evan, he wanted to say at those moments. Evan, where are you? He would reach in the dark and find nothing, or else open his eyes and see only darkness. The emptiness of the bed felt confrontational to him, an assault.
He cared about Penko. He treasured his company, loved touching him and being touched, enjoyed being able to help the younger man, gladly gave advice or a bit of disapproval when it was warranted. It wasn't fair to his lover, these midnight infidelities with a ghost.
Not even a ghost. He might have talked to a ghost. This was a memory, or the memory of a memory, tiny glimpses of Evan. His lover never fully came to him, which was a torment all its own; he got bits, the flash of a cheekbone or the softness of hair pressed to his shoulder. He could remember the colour of that hair perfectly when he tried, the flash of russet red behind his eyes as alive, as vital as the last time they had been together.
How could Evan be dead? He felt as he always had to Rabastan, so present that sometimes, even now, he half looked up, expecting to see him and seeing nothing because Evan was dead and had been dead for fifteen years.
Remembering that was to feel it again, but not remembering was worse. Because death was forever, until Rabastan himself died, and he could not go on waiting for his lover to appear, whole and healthy, still young, laughing, forever. It hurt too much, so sweet that it burnt, so fragile and deadly that it cut him no matter how gently he tried to hold it in his hand.
He had never seen the grave. Evan was not there. He was with Rabastan, a presence that never really faded, except when he and Penko were locked together in carnal embrace. That could give surcease, but not for long.
When he got back to England, he would go. Tell Evan to stop, stop drinking from the cup of honey-sweet poison and memories. He would tell Evan that it was forever, and go back to an empty bed that mocked him, or the guilty, shameful feeling that he cheating Penko, refusing him the best part of himself in favour of the memory of skin and a voice that still rang in his ears.
He would tell him, and these things would fade, and someday all he'd have left were a few pictures, a single letter-the rest had been lost, somehow-and the knowledge that he would carry inside him the guilt of the thing, whichever he chose, until he died.
The horror of grief is that there is no guarantees in it. No signposts point the way, no guides appear Virgil-like to lead the traveller through Hell to look at the stars. It is a truly undiscovered country, a place that every man must walk alone in darkness, feeling for familiar shapes to bring himself forward.
Rabastan wondered whether he would ever emerge from it, and whether he wanted to. A person might get used to the dark, he knew, and perhaps in some ways it was preferable to the light, which would reveal the truth, the gaping absence that could never be filled again. Perhaps it was safer, and the safety could become a kind of comfort all its own on dark nights, the smell of phantom cologne on a pillow in lieu of a living man.
If Evan had lived, he would have been forty five. Rabastan tried to picture him that way and couldn't. Evan would always be young in his mind, always have the whole future stretched before him, before them, like an endless vista that had improbably vanished at that one fatal second, the single moment of inattention that had ended it as absolutely as a blow on the head.
It was supposed to be forever. That was what Rabastan was afraid of.