As always, a big Thank You for her support goes to the lovely maineac.
He finds himself in the castle he used to hold court in.
The woman, when she comes to him, is tall and strong.
"Kneel", she says.
Her voice is steel, dripping with honey.
He looks into her face, searching for kindness, but finds none. All he sees in her green eyes, which are the same color as her sleek silk gown, is ice. Not a sliver of mercy.
"Kneel", she says again, the honey all but gone.
He opens his mouth to offer at least a token of resistance but his voice fails him. Slowly, awkwardly, he lowers himself to the cold marble floor.
He looks up into her beautiful face, asking the question his voice is unable to form.
Her skin is the color of the marble floor, what is it called again? A nearly translucent white… His mind feebly gropes for an answer but comes up empty.
"What is it you want?" a voice behind him asks. He knows the voice, knows it so well he doesn't even need to turn around. His fellow traveller is back. Idly he wonders what the man's role is today.
Instead of turning towards the voice, he keeps looking into the woman's stark face, into those dark, cold eyes. His hands are inches from the hem of her gown, the silk tantalizingly close. The shimmer of the fabric, cool like water and dark as green moss, pulls him in. His fingers move of their own volition. Just to touch this smooth green for a second – but it dissolves into liquid before his very eyes, his hand reaching into nothing.
When he looks up she is still there, and her eyes are as cold and forbidding as ever. She is regarding him without any kind of recognizable emotion.
"What do you desire?" the raspy voice sounds again from behind.
What do I desire?
Sleep is what he desires, even though he knows he is asleep right now.
He is unable to vocalize his deepest wish, and yet he knows the woman is able to grant it – if only he could find the words to ask for it. Only she can grant it, because she is the source. She is his deepest desire and his deepest pain. She is his sleepless nights. She is his being, his heart and his soul.
Even now he has to contradict his own thoughts – I have no soul, I sold that a long time ago to a raven-haired gypsy woman who came through town and left with everything I had.
"Yes, you do", the man contradicts his unspoken objection. "You do have a soul. You cloak it well, though. You show yours only when you're sure nobody will notice."
"Speak your desire", the woman interrupts, her voice soaked with impatience.
He nearly chokes on the words.
"I want you to leave me."
An agonizing silence descends over him. His heartbeat stops for an eternity, or maybe he has simply gone deaf and can't hear it anymore.
He needs to look up. He needs to see.
Her eyes are still as dark and as green as before. Her pale-blonde hair shimmers like spun silver.
"I will if you so desire", she speaks. "If you're certain that this is what you want."
He hears the man behind him step closer.
"She will leave you if you ask for it. But she won't leave on her own. She'll take something else to make up for the freedom she gives you. You have no choice what this will be. Make sure you have nothing you want to hold onto as much as what you're asking her to take."
This isn't a subtle hint. He knows what's at stake. They have talked about this before, in another dream. Or maybe it wasn't a dream? The presence of the woman lets him keep what little he has left. For years he's made this decision, over and over again, dream or no dream, no difference. And he's always decided in favor of keeping what he had left. Not anymore. Suddenly he isn't worried anymore. Take it. Take it all if you must. Just leave.
If this is what you want.
He wants. Oh, how much he wants.
He has never wanted anything as much as this. And he is sure there is nothing in his life he could not live without.
He has known her for so long now, reveled in her beauty, cried in her presence, feared her, loathed her and sometimes, in a twisted way, even desired her. Now he has just one wish – to never set eyes on her again.
"I … want … you … gone."
He speaks the words slowly while he looks into her eyes. A feeling of power washes over him as he utters those four words. She does not blink but he sees something glint in the deep green.
She gives a small nod and then lifts her right hand in a gesture that could be a benediction or a warning - or both. That instant a pain flashes through every fiber of his being – a hundred times sharper than he has ever felt, a thousand times brighter than any flash of lightening he has ever seen. It sears his own pain away to nothing.
When the light is gone, the pain has vanished with it. The woman has disappeared, and she has taken with her what she brought all those years ago.
Still kneeling on the marble floor he suddenly feels every muscle turn to water, he is that tired. Exhausted, he falls forward, his cheek turning over to rest on the cold tiles.
John Henry is still there, when he finally lifts his head. He looks up at him, into his kind, dark eyes.
"Why are you still here?"
A hoarse chuckle accompanies the answer.
"You know why. I'm always here. The lady and I were companions, yes. But she's left me behind as a reminder. You may think you have gained, but don't forget what you've lost."
When he gets up slowly and nothing, absolutely nothing, hurts, he realizes he doesn't care what he's lost.
His heart lifts and he takes a deep breath, so deep that every cell in his body fills with oxygen and he feels he is actually beginning to float, just a tiny bit.
And because he has nothing else to do, he follows John Henry who is leaving the big hall they are in. Looking at John Henry's back he rejoices in the fact that he walks without a limp, his leg doesn't hurt and neither does anything else in his body.
He runs a few steps – just because he can.
John Henry ahead of him has begun trailing his hands along the furniture in this hall – a strange place. There are chairs and tables, some chests and wardrobes. Everything is old and dusty.
With surprise he notes that, as John Henry passes and lets his hands glide over the surface of the furniture, the dust disappears and the pieces begin to shine and shimmer.
What's even more amazing, though, is that John Henry's touch elicits sound from these items – tiny little tinkles, sweet tones and deeper resonances from the big armoire in the corner. Their progress down the hall is almost musical, but he can't quite put his finger on what the melody is.
Following their progression, the air fills with music and colors, the furniture lighting up with John Henry's passing touch.
Synesthesia, his mind interjects and then immediately goes silent again. The strange music fills his heart and his whole body begins to hum with it. He marvels at the colors swirling and lighting up the air around him – air so rich he can almost taste the colors with every breath.
This is a cool place! A little smile forms on his face and, like a child, he reaches out to imitate John Henry.
But at the touch of his fingers, the top of a table instantly loses the shine instilled by the other man's hand and turns dusty again. The hum it had created stops and it's simply an old table again, just as before.
A chill running down his back makes him stop dead in his tracks. His hand goes back to the table, which only seconds ago had been resonating with a gorgeous deep hum. He touches it again. Drums a little tattoo with his fingers.
Nothing. Dead. No sound, no colors.
He looks up at John Henry's steadily retreating back.
So that's it. This is the price he has to pay.
He can still see and hear the music John Henry is evoking from everything he touches. But he knows; the minute John Henry disappears around that corner, everything will be silent. Everything will go back to being drab and gray and dusty.
A heavy feeling settles in his gut.
He doesn't know if he can stand this. Live like this. Live in a world devoid of music and beauty.
So he opens his mouth to stop John Henry from leaving, willing sound to come out. Nothing.
Helplessly he watches John Henry disappear as he takes the sounds and colors with him.
She has taken his music.
True to her nature she didn't take what he had finally been prepared to give up after all these years. No, she turned around and fooled him once again. The woman he's loathed and loved for so long has given him the greatest gift and pronounced his death sentence at the same time.
Just as John Henry said. Make sure you have nothing you want to hold onto as much as what you're asking her to take.
He knows there is no bargaining now; there is no way the woman is going to come back and renegotiate. The deal is struck. This is it. Biggest mistake of his life.
And with this realization, the castle begins to crumble. Debris is falling all around him but he remains standing in the midst of it all, unhurt.
The moment the dust settles around him and he should be seeing the surrounding countryside, is the moment he wakes up, gasping for air.
It takes him a heartbeat to grasp that he is back in his own bed, in his apartment. Home.
Even though his leg hurts like hell and this in itself is more than enough proof it was a dream, that heavy feeling is still there.
He needs to know.
Once he has made his way to the piano, though, he just stands there, still a bit drowsy with sleep and nauseous with dread. The polished wood shines as gloriously as the woman's hair, its darkness in stark contrast to her paleness. While his hand glides across the cool surface, an unreasonable fear settles in his stomach. He doesn't dare touch the keys. What if he does and nothing happens?
Only one way to find out.
He sits down heavily. His hands hover above the keys. When he looks up from the slight tremor in his hands an empty scotch glass and a half-empty vial come into view right in front of him, remnants of last night's desperate attempts to get some restful sleep. Having swallowed two pills he looks at the keys again, his heart beating loudly in his chest.
Finally his hands touch the keys. But he doesn't dare depress them. He knows he is being irrational. He doesn't do irrational. But then, he doesn't do dreams either.
And yet, for some stupid reason he can't fathom, right now this scares him more than the prospect of losing his diagnostic skills would. Apparently, in his dream he had accepted that he could live as a run-of-the-mill doctor. He was never a master musician, so being a mediocre one doesn't scare him. But a life without any music at all?
Frustrated with his own fear, he finally presses a random key. He smiles at the crystal clear sound floating up towards the ceiling. Not so random after all. Gently, note by note, he continues to tease out bits and pieces of the melody he can still recall from his dream. Sweet music fills the room.
Then his head sinks forward and comes to rest on the cool, dark wood, as relief floods through his whole body.
He would not give this up for anything in the world.
The music House remembers from his dream is Ray Charles – I Surrender Dear watch?v=sMSvjUCWm6Y
(Unfortunately, fanfic doesn't like us linking stuff, so you'll need to put this rudimentary link into Google - you'll find the YouTube video that way. It's worth that little bit of hassle, trust me.)