Two Midnights

Midnight, June Fourth

It was just a kiss. I only meant to wake him, not to scare him out of his wits. I would have let him sleep if we had not had so much to do, so much that could not be put off. I asked him to forgive me. He only looked at me. He was so confused.

But he wasn't scared. He smiled at me, and then he took my hand and pulled me close and kissed me back. I nearly fell onto the table -- not just because of the strange angle, but the strange angel who had somehow replaced my best friend. I care for him. It is safe to call it that. I look after him. I might as well be his nursemaid, but whose governess ever gave in and kissed them awake? I wanted to help him. I needed to help him. He looked so innocent.

He doesn't kiss innocently. That frightened me at first. I did not know he had ever kissed anyone or anything except in prayer. After all the times hešs berated my friends -- our friends, I would call them, except it's not that true, they're not his friends, they're his disciples, they're my friends and what does that make me? -- he yells at them for talking about women, or, no, he goes all quiet and won't say a word until they've left. Sometimes I have to comfort him and try to draw him back into conversation. I hate doing that, but I do it. For him. Because I care for him, I do any number of things, even if they make me worry or make me uncomfortable.

The kiss was quite comfortable, thank heaven -- not the first, but the second. It made me wish he fell asleep over his homework more often, or sooner, at the very least. But no homework pillowed his head. He was planning the celebration of a funeral before he fell asleep, and I was helping. I always help him. I help him plan, I help him stay awake. I help him learn.

He let me go, too soon, and I had no breath. Neither did he. I gave him a questioning look, but he didn't look at my eyes, just back at all the papers on the table, and he started sorting through them again and reading them off as if he'd never fallen asleep in the first place.

I handed him a cup of coffee, and we kept going. There was so much to be done. There was no time to think about what we'd done.

* * * * * *

Midnight, June Fifth

He told them to sleep. He told us to sleep, really, all of us, everyone who followed him so blindly into this oubliette of a barricade. Did we listen? I, for one, did not, but I had a reason. The others may have had some kind of reason, too, but they did not share it with me. That is only fair; I did not share mine with them.

He knew why I was awake. How could he not know? I was awake to give him solace, to hold him in my arms in the back of that dark alley and hope to God that no one saw him mourning. Not that he mourned all that much, really. It was a bit late for that, except that he was mourning then because he knew he would not have another chance. He had finally made a mistake I could not help him fix, finally offended someone, something whose temper I could not help soothe. I offered to pray with him. He looked at me with those eyes of his, so recently full of fire and tears, and kissed me again, as he did the night before. I did not understand why, but I could not deny him the comfort. I could not deny him anything, not the hours I'd spent helping him attain this insane, lightning-fast dream of his, not the gentle words I'd used so many times to smooth away the effects of his sharp tongue when he wounded a comrade. Seeing him in pain twisted my stomach and made me worry. It always had. It always would, as long as I had time left to worry and he had time to make mistakes.

I would say it did not matter to me that he was embracing me and pressing his lips to mine, but of course it did. It mattered more than the dank hallway between buildings where we stood, more than the piles of trash and cobbles dignified with the name of barricade, more than the men caught within the trap he had ordered them to fashion, more than the fact that I, too, was trapped. I was trapped with him, and he was clinging to me, for whatever incomprehensible reason. I never understood his reason for doing anything. That always bothered me; I prided myself on being able to understand people, and his motivations evaded my attempts at understanding, time and again.

It mattered that he took the time to kiss me before he died. I knew, then, that I had helped him, somehow, that he cared for me, whatever he had said, that he needed me, sometimes, for there he was, when he should have been at the pinnacle of his power, depending on me. His arm was around my waist, holding me to him so tightly that I could feel his heart beating. His hand was on my shoulder, keeping me prisoner to his kiss, to his whims -- as if I could have left off kissing him, as if I might have wanted to abandon him.

He chose the moment to let me go. He chose everything; I would not have dared to presume what he desired. I have admitted that he made no sense to me, and this did not change. He let me go. I could only look at him, then, his blue eyes with their pupils wide in the dark and lines of worry between his brows, his lips parted, then pursing as he looked at me as intently as I gazed at him. I wanted him to kiss me again. I wanted him to need me. I wanted him to do anything that would mean he stayed where I could keep him safe, away from the guns of the National Guard, away from the ravages of time and reality that would destroy his beautiful dreams, his beautiful speech, his beautiful face.

He did not stay. Of course he did not stay, for he understood me no more than I understood him. He could not hear my pleading, and I could not call out that I wanted him to remain with me, to cradle him securely in the circle of my arms where nothing could touch him. I could not explain that. I did not try. I did not even ask him to turn back and face me, when he turned away and left me standing there in the alley, watching after him, praying to God and all of the saints to keep him safe, to protect him from himself and what he in his idealism had wrought for the world.

I did not spare a word of prayer for myself. It was far too late for that. I was lost. I had followed him.

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