DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. I don't claim rights to any of it, and I'm not using it for profit. All characters and what-not belong to Cirque.
Side note - Gringoire's name came out of nowhere. I just kind of used it for the fic because the singer character bears a funny resemblance to Gringoire from Notre Dame de Paris. So, yeah.
There was a tight knot forming in Gringoire's stomach as he sung, watching the scene transpiring from behind the collapsing fence, dimly lit by hung strings of old, mostly stolen lightbulbs. Letting Zoe's final nonsense song—though it had become less unintelligible by then, with a recognizable Cirquish word or phrase here and there—resonate from him, he tried not to focus on the faces of John or Fritz or even Zoe herself. Instead he let his gaze settle on the family. They at least looked cheery enough.
He knew this would've happened sooner or later. The girl wasn't ready—she was too young to leave her family, and still too rooted in her own sort of reality for anything to work. She had to go home. But with his eyes flicking between the parents and Fritz or John despite his utmost discipline, Gringoire caught himself having to somberly admit that he didn't want to see the girl go either.
Not for his own sake. Little Zoe probably still thought him to be a disembodied voice, or maybe the voice of the Quidam himself. They wouldn't exactly be able to miss each other.
The same couldn't be said in John's case. It would be hard for Fritz too, but he'd be back to his old chipper, take-one-for-the-team self within, Gringoire guessed, about two days. Nothing phased the Target all that badly. John...Well, it was rare to see John down, and no one liked it when he was. But it was inevitable now. He'd spent all his energy for a girl who would only be damaged if she stayed in their world, and was only ever grateful to him a few times, before she got distracted again.
Did Gringoire know how that felt? Not particularly. No one really owed him anything, nor had he ever been in love.
Which only begged the question of was John in love? Gringoire quickly shook his head, almost disrupting the flow of his song, to quiet the thought. John had practically raised him. Deep down, John was still the inscrutable father figure to him. John couldn't be in love.
He instinctively undid his hair, letting it fall springy and bronze-colored around his face, and straightened his coat, suddenly feeling self-conscious. A twinge of relief hit him as he felt the song drawing to a close, and he relaxed a little to deliver the final notes with gusto. He felt several pairs of eyes on him all at once, and stopped mid-belt to stare wide-eyed back at them, mouth still slightly open.
"...They've already gone back, Gringoire," Alys the violinist finally informed him. Gringoire blinked.
"Oh." He looked around, almost seeking proof. "So they have."
There was a slight murmur through what remained of the crowd that might have been a chuckle in brighter circumstances. Toto rolled his eyes and mimed getting high to the nearest group of girls. The Quidam had long since vanished, and John was nowhere to be seen either. Pierrot finally broke the silence.
"So do we just go back to what we always do?" she demanded, arms crossed.
"Yes. All of you." John had returned at some point, and everyone seemed as surprised by his re-entrance as Gringoire was. He was hunched over slightly and was holding a clipboard. He looked tired.
"Well, that was pointless!" Pierrot made a "hmph" noise and kicked over a coat hanger as she strode off. John caught the structure just before it hit the ground and straightened it gently.
At that point, only John, Fritz, and Gringoire remained in the square. Fritz awkwardly held the rubber ball that he and Zoe had played with, looking at it like he'd forgotten what it was. John still had one arm around the coat hanger and was chastising it good-naturedly in a hushed whisper with such seriousness that one would almost believe that it was listening.
With a small sigh, Gringoire unplugged the speakers nearest him and walked around the fence into the square, fanning himself against the stuffiness of the air with the collar of his coat. He gingerly took the rubber ball from Fritz, and smiled as the Target's morose eyes lit up when he lightly tossed it into the air. Fritz caught it easily, now grinning characteristically once again, and threw it back.
John paused his intense conversation to watch as a game of catch began, the life slowly returning to his face, picked up the coat hanger and an abandoned radio, and turned dramatically on his heel before leaving, humming a Saltimbancan folk song as he flipped through the stations.
As the radio static faded into the streets, Gringoire paused, holding the rubber ball in one hand as he stared into the distance at the steel bridge that had arched grandly over the city ever since its creation.
"He's not going to be the same for a long time, is he?" he said, not really as a question so much as a way to let it sink in. He tossed the ball back, forcing himself not to dwell on the inquiry.
He reluctantly met eyes with Fritz, who was suddenly still, and his hopes of finding a remaining spark of vitality despite the city's losses quickly dispersed. There was that same dull, mournful look in Fritz's countenance that Gringoire hadn't wanted to see, and it lacked even the slight spark that John's retained. Was everyone devastated over Zoe's leave? Marelle's relapse? Isabelle's...?
Gringoire shuddered. He'd never seen anything like what had happened to Isabelle. Or...nothing had happened to her. One night, she'd hung herself in yards of red silk from the bridge that framed the city, and Gringoire had been there. That had been the last moment he'd seen her while the soul was still in her body. He'd watched her writhe and entangle and contort herself, suspended in the fabric, desperate to feel again even if the only emotion she could force on herself anymore was pain. Or adrenaline. All the sharp falls she willfully took, only to catch herself again with enough timing to not break her neck. And repeat. It was a desperate, beautiful, horrible thing to behold, and as it intensified, Gringoire had fled from the scene as though his own life was just as in jeopardy as hers, claiming sanctuary behind another broken building. There he had remained shaking uncontrollably until the silks had been taken down, back pressed to the cold wall for security.
The strange look Fritz was giving him snapped Gringoire out of the memory. The past few days kept sneaking up on him, he realized. Remnants of them still lingered around the atmosphere of the city in the same vein as the bits of red silk no one could manage to unsnare from the bridge.
"You don't..." Gringoire stopped, trying to think clearly. "You don't think Zoe's presence was a figure in all this—" he made a broad gesture around the largely abandoned square, "do you?"
The Target frowned slightly, pursing his lips, and reluctantly shook his head. His expression gained a disapproving look to it and he shook his head again, resolutely this time.
"If you say so." Gringoire put up his hands in truce, finding himself almost laughing. Fritz squinted reproachfully at him for a few seconds more. Apparently placated, he picked up the forgotten rubber ball and took off with it, seeking someone less brooding to play catch with.
Brooding. He'd just caught himself using that word as self-description. The absurdity.
So I'm caught up in all this too, huh? He ran both hands through his hair, mussing it, and dropped them back to his sides with a loud sigh.
He gave the square one last unfocused once-over and headed towards a hopefully more distracting part of the city, his pace a few steps above a trudge.
It seemed like the whole city was dead for blocks on, though. It hadn't rained in awhile, but the weather in Quidam rarely let up long enough for the city to properly dry, so the streets were more puddle than pavement regardless. The blacktop reflected the strings of lights better than the murky water did, and the occasional faint roll of thunder would sound without accompaniment from lightning. Most of the city's buildings were falling apart from deliberate neglect. Yet the city held a sort of enduring beauty that was as hard to understand as its inhabitants, but much easier to overlook. Even in his slowly deteriorating mood, it was still something Gringoire couldn't help but admire.
There was a clink as something sailed from one alley wall to the other, bouncing off a drainpipe and skittering to a stop at Gringoire's feet. He picked it up—some old bottle cap, the metal kind. He looked around for the source and spotted a sight that made him freeze.
Marelle chucked another trinket of junk with a whiplike swing of her pale arm and, as it hit its mark on the drainpipe, slowly dropped the limb to let it rest on her knee, her wrist turned up as she regarded it as if examining the veins. She was perched, her back against the brick window frame and her knees folded a few inches from her thin chest, on a broken-down air conditioning system. The thickly-styled spikes in her ponytail drooped and the dark circles progressively forming under her eyes were apparent even from a distance. She didn't seem aware anyone else was present in her alley.
Gringoire swallowed a skipped heartbeat's worth of anxiety and made a move to turn back and choose a different route, but some of the dim light caught the blue of his coat before he could. Marelle's head shot up. She flung the last bit of debris at the pipe and nimbly dropped herself from the window. Her shoes clicked as she landed, but stayed silent as she stepped closer, squinting.
"Out late?" she asked with needless suspicion, leaning her shoulder against the brick wall and crossing her arms.
It took Gringoire a second to remember he had a voice to reply with. "So are you," were the words that escaped him before he could really form an answer in his head.
Marelle drew another few paces closer, arms still crossed, until she too stood under the lights. She was very thin; the way her dress hung off her frame wasn't entertaining the illusion of curves either. The shadows cast in the dim light further defined the athleticism in her frame—vagabond or not, she was still unmistakably a handbalancer. Her eyes were gray. Her hair was dark. Even with the slight platform of shoes, she still only just had the height to properly look Gringoire in the eye.
She cocked her head slightly, her weary expression unchanging. "Oh. Singer," she noted. "It's you."
A good portion of the city only knew Gringoire as "Singer."
"My name is Gringoire," he ventured with a small nod.
"You blink a lot," was all she said in reply. She brushed past him, touching shoulders for a split second, and made her way in the opposite direction down the alley.
Gringoire's hand went to that spot on his shoulder, like a delayed attempt at stopping her, and he turned, looking on as she left.
"Go home, Gringoire!" she called, not turning around or breaking her stride, but as she turned the corner, Gringoire swore he heard her quietly humming "Steel Dream."