written for the Valentine's Romance Gift Exchange at fledglingquills.

lest we forget

summary// and everything is right again

It is like he is dancing through water in the dark, alone. Everything around him is slow moving and heavy, everything but the sight of her, red silk blur of the dress, the one he bought her not long ago, betraying the white slits of her legs. She spins again and again, but she is not dancing with him. There is some unknown figure, black as pitch and tall, too tall to be real, but he is inexcusably so. His arms hold her tight, fingers digging into skin that he had so often claimed as his own.

When he reaches them, finally, he holds out his hand to touch her thin sleeve, but instead he falls, pitching forward and surfacing only when he is back in his bed. He can't catch his breath, and he never, never thought she would give him nightmares.

He calms down eventually and notices that his room is completely quiet, except for the sound of his evening breath and the rustling sheets. When he stops to think about it, he is almost surprised. In the apartment next to him, through the paper wall, there are two newlyweds who can't make the rent and can't seem to understand that nobody else can, either, so their problems always end up resting quietly in their neighbours' living rooms after the arguments are over.

The man below him can sing like Sinatra but can't keep a steady job. He sings in the stairwells because it sounds better, and no one ever tells him that he can't, because it's nice to hear something real, sometimes. Everyone stops him to talk on their way to work, just because he always talks back without hesitation.

There are others, too, other people that he's never had the occasion to meet, but their words will occasionally drift up to him.

She used to sit on the carpet with her ear pressed to the cold floor, just listening. Sometimes she could piece things together, and she would tell him stories about them, long twisting things that never ended up sounding real but were nice, anyway, just because she smiled that happy crooked smile when she told them.

He shuts his eyes tight while he gets dressed, pulling on warm clothes and shoes that are only a little bit too small, and only opens them again when he is in the hallway. When he passes Mrs. James's door, she is standing there and asks him how Grace is doing. He smiles and looks down, shaking his head, giving her one significant look before walking away. She murmurs a sad response, and he hears her door shut as he starts down the stairs, listening to the leather of his shoes click in time to the man singing on the landing below him.

He reaches him, but he only smiles and tips his hat, a bit contritely. The man watches him with knowing eyes. They say something that he can't quite place, and that frightens him, forces him to back away for a moment before finding his balance on the next flight of stairs. Outside, there is no one left to face but himself and the snow falling down around him, landing in small damp circles on his jacket.

Down the road, he walks with his back straight and his head just less, hanging so he can see in front of him but no specifics, just blurs of images and people, all shadowed in a grey white from the sky above them. At the steps of his office, or, more likely, the office that he works in, he sees a small figure dressed in red and a familiar jacket that is too long on her. When she stands, it brushes against her knees.

He wants to say something, anything, I missed you, I loved. . .love you. Please come home. He wants to say it, but he can't. She must not be here for him. It's one of the other boys. Tom, Jack, Sam. He just divorced his wife, the poor girl, it must be Sam.

She is moving, though, and her head rests on his shoulder.

"I tried to go dancing." she says, into his shirt. He doesn't say anything. "I couldn't without you."

When he kisses her, it is finally, finally right again, like dancing at midnight, like stories and familiar faces and singing in stairwells.