Title: Liberate Your Sons and Daughters

Fandom: Fahrenheit 451

Pairing: GuyClarisse if you squint

Disclaimer: I don't own Fahrenheit 451 or T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men. Forgive me for the bit of artistic license I took about his life, by the way. :)

Every walk he takes with Clarisse is different. She always talks, yes-but never about the same thing twice. She's airy and beautiful, but not ignorant. The topics she speaks of are always diverse. But they all lead back to roads he's never walked and paths he's never taken. She has, though, and she never runs out of things to say. Until a crisp morning scented with kerosene.

"Why?" Guy asks, breaking the silence and his promise to himself all at once.

Don't ask questions.

Questions mean answers.

Answers mean doubts.

Guy Montag can't afford to have doubts.

"Why? Why what?"

He takes a deep breath in, but it doesn't calm him. The air is perfumed with the remnants of fire. It's in his hair and his clothes, on his skin like a brand.

"Why are we like this?" A pause. "Why are we so scared?"

Clarisse smiles, but only a little.

"Do you really want to know?" she asks, already aware of his answer.

He doesn't want to, but he needs to.

Guy doesn't respond.

She continues anyway.

"There was a poem," she says, "written not long ago-not as long ago as they'd like us to think. It was called The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. My uncle says he could have been one of the best English poets there ever was."

Clarisse stops a moment, pondering.

"He died of emphysema. People claimed it was from the cigarettes." She looks him in the eye sharply, directly. "We know better."

Montag doesn't know who this "we" is referring to. Her? Her uncle? Him?

"He died two months after inhaling the smoke of his burning words. Because that's what they're really burning, Guy. Words. Not books. Books are just paper, ink, and binding. Words are what's dangerous. Words actually mean something, form something. They combine together and can become something beautiful...or something horrifying. Or something worse than both of those—truthful.

"Back to that poem, though. There were some lines, at the end. My uncle says they were what really got him killed. 'This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.' Our universe—it's those words, amplified. It ends with a whimper and begins with a bang. We've always been afraid, you know. That much hasn't changed. What has changed is that we've lost our ability to cope. Before, when we feared something-war, love, conflict-we had no choice but to conquer that fear—keep on keeping on. But now...now, we just ignite. Ignite and burn. Burn everything until we don't fear anything.

"Books used to be a sort of salvation—an escape from the darkness of reality. But when reality ceased to be recognized as dark, that distinction wasn't clear anymore. Without evil, there is no good, and so books were no longer considered good. They were a source of information-a picture of how we used to be. And that was a portrait no one wanted to view. Consequently, people stopped painting them."

"Except you," Montag says with a quirk of his lips. The smile-it's barely there, but Clarisse notices it. She notices everything about Guy Montag, the mysterious fireman. He could be her hero or her villain; she doesn't know which yet.

But she hopes.

"Except me," she agrees with a matching smile.

Oh, how she hopes.