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A Guideline to Armand

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I could write a book about them, if it wouldn’t get me hanged.

 


The complex, intricate set of rules and regulations that is Armand Cardinal de Richelieu.

I could write a manual for the devilish clockwork of his mind, if I had a lifetime to spare.

A Guideline to Armand.

 

It’ll have to start, not by the rules he set for the rest of the world, but the rules he made up for himself.  
The countless layers of control he wrapped around his skin.

An armor of Protocol, between his thin frame and a merciless world.

 

Sometimes, there are so many they can’t be counted. Even he doesn’t know. It’s just a dazed state he puts himself into. Every fiber of his body, every flexion of his voice, from the way he signs to the way he sits, everything is measured, planned, explained. He needs control as he needs air. That’s the way he gets work done.

Sometimes, there is only one. One purpose, one aim.
The means to achieve it may know no limit, no restraint, no sentiment. It may be a wild, rabid chaos of pure resolve, but it never lacks coherence. Because no matter the rage, no matter the fury and violence, there is always at least one rule. That’s the way marches to war.

 

I sometimes see them all clearly, like iron bars around his skin, as thick ramparts around his heart, crushing him. Choking him.
I often see them though, as the only thread keeping him upright some nights. As the only light keeping him alive some days.

 

This is it, nothing more, you see. Du Plessis Richelieu is no devil, no possessed, hell bound warlock. There is no dark power, no magic in his flawless victories.
There are only sleepless nights of carefully documented preparation, fueled by one of the most brilliant minds of this century and an insane amount of anxiety.
There is only the smooth mechanical spinning of maniacal gearwheels.

 

He only looks unearthly because no one dares to step closer and take a look at him. That’s how he wants it, after all, that’s part of his game.

In fact, as long as the Red Man understands more of you than you understand of him, you are doomed to fail.

 

Some of his closest friends may have learned a few notions about what makes him tick, but can only rarely use them to their advantage.
With time and precaution, they might have squeezed a good seat at the Royal Ball from him, or a good wedding for their daughters, because frankly, he couldn’t care less.

The King knows a lot more, but he’s barely aware of it, and his use of that knowledge is hasty and blurred. It fails almost every time. The only thing I’ve seen him earn from Armand is time, delaying the inevitable, and once or twice appealing to Richelieu’s docility or fatherly love with mitigated success. To Louis’ defense, I must admit the audiences with the King are the ones Armand prepares the most. Precisely, because he does care a lot.

Joseph knows almost all there is. But of course, there is too much raw adoration in this man for any kind of trickery. Everything he knows, everything he senses, he only uses it to soothe him, calm him down, make him sit down and eat, accept a cup of tea. Those two never disagreed about anything essential anyways. They both were carved in the same stone.

 

But only I know everything.
Now, wouldn’t my book be worth a fortune?

 

A map for all the traps you need to avoid if you want one chance, at the end of it all, for him to whisper “yes”.

A Guideline to Armand.

 

 

The could even be a few footnotes, glorious footnotes, about those other rules.
The footnotes only I could write.

 

The rules he caged his feelings into.
The code of law he tamed his love with.

There is a path, a narrow winding path between barriers and gulches, from the cold and ruthless Red Man you see in the Louvres to the magnificent devoted creature Armand can be in bed.

It is not overly dangerous, but you have to be careful. You must watch your step. Pick a hundred locks, defuse a hundred bombs. Each failure means starting all over again. Too many failures and you might go home hungry.
It takes time and it takes bloody technique, but trust me, it’s worth every second.

First, only he decides when and where we meet. He sends me notes at least six hours in advance, almost all of them coded, and there is no arguing about the hour or the place. My plans, my schedules, my moods have been deemed lower than his from the very first day. I don’t mind. This is true, most of the time.

I have to know where to sit, where I can lay down my coat. He decides which food is on the table, which wine in my glass. I have to know when to keep quiet, when to talk. How to circle around him until I find a breach to slide in.
Sometimes he just opens his arms wide as soon as I close the door. Sometimes he’s in such a state it takes hours of siege before I can touch his hand. Intimate Armand is a wild cat.

But at some point, if I’ve spoken the right words, if I’ve noticed all the signs, if I’ve been careful enough, a few locks click open in a triumphant victory march, and he lowers his eyelids, slumping slightly in his chair, his quick, deft tongue peeking out to lick his lips.

And even after that.
Even then.

 

Even when he slowly lets go of his Cardinal stance, his Minister sneer. When he gently retreats into something softer, something pliant.

Even when he submits to me, as he always does when we’re alone at last, and the worst of his anxiety has faded.

 

The path isn’t finished. Not even halfway through.

 

I know I have to start slow. Most of the time I have no choice, anyways. Because of the robes. The blood red silk required time. They have their own will. They’re gauging me, testing my patience, asking me in hissing whispers if I am ready to pay the price for what lies underneath. They had me cursing more than once, but Armand always kisses my brow then, and there hasn’t been a time where I haven’t found the strength to wait.

I know he prefers the bed, but I am allowed to stop at the table or his desk chair if there is no time to lose. His work desk is out of question, because if he ever hears the sound of paper being torn or ink being spilled, the night is over for me. He only made an exception once, as he may have drunk one glass too much, and we ruined the only draft of a treaty he spent weeks working on. His distressed, anguished fury is not something I want to witness twice.

I know he likes me to be pressed against him. My skin reassures him, I don’t know why. He needs to grab me, throwing his arms around my neck, making as much contact as he can. He feels for my heartbeat, and when he finds it, every inch of his skin follows the rhythm, his own breath synced with mine, and the sight of it is maddening.

My eyes can’t be out of his sight, not for a second, because from the moment this armor of red silk falls off his shoulders, and his frail, white skin is revealed, he’s more than submissive, he’s vulnerable. He doesn’t need to watch me because he’s afraid I could hurt him. He trusts me, of course he does. No, he needs to watch the desire in my eyes because it pushes away the black void of his self-loathing long enough for him to reach pleasure.

 

That is why, I suppose, he stubbornly refuses to let me kneel for him. He may do it for me if I insist a little, but every time I tried myself, he hauled me back up with a growl.
He hissed away all questions why. “This is undignified” he just whispered once, and when I asked why he did it for me then, he looked away and fell silent.

That is why, I guess, he cannot bear to turn his back on me neither. I don’t mind much, though I think the angle might be good for him. I understand. I have more than enough with what he actually allows. I mean, what that amazing bastard can do with his fingers is…

 

Anyways.

 

There have been no exceptions. He has suffered none. Each time I tried to struggle free from it, I have banged my head against a wall. He hissed in anger, threw curses and insults at me, or worse, closed himself up like an oyster and didn’t give me a hint about what I should do to make amends. The unwritten law is holy, the tacit rules are carved in every stone of the castle he built around the two of us.

 

I don’t mind. As I said, it is worth every twist and turn, every second of waiting. At the end of the path, my Armand feels safe, he feels loved, and relaxes deep enough to hand me his own leash with a wicked smile.

The price I earn, if I’ve been good enough, has me begging for more for seven years.

 

I don’t mind, I know him like an old song, I have my book after all.
I have the book I’ll never write.

 

 

The book he’s burning to embers tonight.

 

 

 

Well, I’d be a pathetic liar if I dared to pretend to be surprised.
He’s burning my whole book tonight, and it’s all my fault.

 

 

I had audience with the King today at noon. Louis was exceptionally good-humored, and insisted upon me sharing his dinner. It wasn’t planned, as the King usually only eats with his closest counselors, Armand rightfully sitting at his side, but Richelieu beamed joy at the idea, and made arrangements for a seat to be placed on Louis’ other side. That put a few courtiers in a state of rage, but their burning glares slid upon the red robes like rainwater on glass. I felt a warm, ecstatic surge of pride as Armand literally pushed the Court aside to make space for me.

Louis asked questions about my Musketeers’ training, and the recovery of a few wounded men. Richelieu watched us with delight, silencing anyone who tried to cut in with a deadly look. There has been a point where I ended up explaining battalion positioning strategies using saucers and cakes to an overexcited Louis, under the quiet vigilance of a perfectly happy Armand.

 

I felt worthy. I felt important, and maybe I am, but I should have known. That’s something all men of Béarn share, we tend to let ourselves be carried away.
I should have known, but the King was praising me, looking at me like a hero in the flesh, and I am a soldier, after all. As long as I hear the drums, I march on.
I march on, even if the drums, sometimes, are nothing more than my own heartbeat.

That recklessness has earned me glories on battlefields in every war the King has sent me to fight for him, but the Louvres isn’t a muddy ground.

The Louvres isn’t simple, the Louvres isn’t fair, and here, even the slightest carelessness can destroy lives.

 

 

I may brag about writing a book on Armand, but this man has written a whole library of Protocol, where every action and every word is ordered, prioritized, coded and ruled. This is his life’s work, his legacy. A vast, coherent, organized library of law, covering the whole country in a blanket of peace and order, from the loneliest provinces of the South to the King’s own sitting room.
Richelieu wrote the laws that make the planets circle around the Sun Louis is in perfect sync. Laws that define status and rank, favor and forgetfulness, who lives, who dies.
Laws that ensure his everlasting place at the King’s side.

 

Each rule is a battle he fought and won, each law is an acre of land he won over the Grands, the Lords, the ancient times.
His cherished Protocol is the consecrated ground his power in the Louvres is built upon, and I’ve ignored it with a bloody shrug.

 

For as the dishes and plates were pushed away by the servants, the real audiences began. The heartwarming, authentic meal I felt so safe in was over, and Protocol was back in order.

Richelieu’s Protocol.

Yet, when the King asked what the audience was supposed to be about, I spoke first.
I spoke first, and God, I should have known.

 

It may have seemed only natural to me, as my conversation with Louis was barely over, and he was still giggling about my saucer-and-cake demonstration, but by speaking up, I did nothing less than slap Richelieu in the face.

He is First Minister. He fought for this place all his life. First Minister is not a uniform you wear, or a title you sign with. First Minister is defined by nothing else than Protocol. He is nothing but the first and last man to talk in the King’s presence.  By disregarding that rule like the Gascon war horse I am, I almost humiliated him, and it wouldn’t have mattered so if the whole King’s Council hadn’t been around, and if half of it hadn’t been made of Richelieu’s sworn rivals.

 

Thrilled by Louis’ undivided attention, I failed to notice the gasp of shock around us. I failed to see Armand turn white, his steel dark eyes narrowing to vicious slits.
I failed to see the faces of Richelieu’s enemies split into a large grin of pure enjoyment.

 

Fool I have been. I should have known.

 

I not only spoke first, but I spoke too bloody much. After the small request for horse equipment I needed the King’s signature for, I even dared to bring up the highest, more delicate matter of the incoming siege of Arras, suggesting the bravest and more experienced Officers I know for the battle, because I knew Louis intended to select too many young reckless sons pushed in front of him by their fathers.

Then, I think, I saw a glimpse of Richelieu’s furious face, and I may have realized I overstepped my boundaries by a bloody gigantic leap, breaking Protocol, and stealing Louis’ attention from him for almost a goddamn hour.
I know, though, I perfectly know how obsessive he is about his dear Louis. How he can put himself into states of physical, genuine sickness each time he has to share the King’s stare and speech with anyone. I know, of course, that Armand has seen Louis grow tired of so many people, sending them to exile, sending them to the grave. I know he still has nightmares about the corpse of Concini, torn to shreds upon the cobblestones of Place de Grève. I have seen how far his anxious, devoted love can push him.

But I have no idea why, at that time, I above all remembered the soft, tender gaze he had for me during this peaceful dinner, and I thought, fool that I am, that because it was me, he wouldn’t be so angry.

I should have known, of course.

 

Because it was me, it had been much worse.

 

He said nothing. He didn’t interrupt, he didn’t protest, he let it all pass smoothly, and only laid his papers on the table to start with his order of business when the King and I were through. It’s only when I remembered twenty minutes later than you can only get Louis to focus on boring diplomatic business for so long before he starts looking out the window and thinking about a hunt that I realized I ruined a good half of what Armand had planned for today’s Council. Among the things the King didn’t pay a shred of attention to, three of them could unleash war with England or the Habsburgs if overlooked for too long. I winced in growing guilt, and Richelieu’s painful restraint, written in harsh lines around his eyes, did nothing to help.

But I still had hopes for him not to be too mad at me, though it only lasted until Armand, sensing the King already elsewhere in his mind, declared the Council suspended until the next day. Louis almost ran outside, ordering for a hunting party to be prepared. The rest of the counsellors scattered away slowly, a few of them unable to resist a quick smile of mock sympathy for Richelieu, pouring venomous jokes about how he could read the rest of his papers for the Queen’s caged larks this late afternoon if he wished to. I almost provoked them all in duel to send them bleeding into the dust, but I sensed, somehow, that I had done enough.

 

The door banged shut behind the last of the courtiers, and in the burning, acidic silence that followed, I knew for sure how doomed I was.

 

Armand was furious. More than that, he was hurt. He placed me at the King’s side during dinner to please me, to do me a favor, to show to the rest of the Council how much the King likes me, how he values my opinions. He did that because he thinks I deserve it, he did that because he’s bloody proud of me, and all I did was to step on his toes and abase him.

 

-“Armand” I breathed, “ I am…”

-“Shut up!

 

My teeth clicked together as I clenched my jaw on my apologies. Fool that I am, I should have known.

He didn’t even look at me. He gathered his papers and strode to the door, pain and rage dripping through every inch of his skin, the red robes hissing in long, bitter threats.
I rubbed my face with my both hands, desperate, expecting the door to slam upon this deadly silence, but just before he left, he turned his head towards me, looking at my boots more than at my face, and spit with all the hatred his voice could bear:

-“I’ll make you pay for this.”

 

 

 

 

Of course, of course, through storms and wildfire, he has never made a promise to me that he could not keep.

Armand always delivers.

 

 

If he’s burning the book of everything I know tonight, how could I be surprised.

 

 

 

I barely saw him after that, but somehow, I couldn’t leave the Palace. I just couldn’t.

Even though I met The Maréchal de France Toiras, who had just returned from Casal covered in glory, and had many a tale to tell, I painfully refused his invitation for a glass of wine in his Hotel Particulier.
I had to face it, my eyes were restlessly looking for that spot of red silk, my guts screaming in anguish with every breath I took. My mind was a vague, confused whirl of guilt and shame, and I know I wouldn’t rest until I met Armand again. To soothe his anger or to pay the price for it, after all, it didn’t matter.

I wanted to make up for my mistake, no matter how.

 

 

I went to his door, knocked twice so he knew it was me. No one answered. I circled through the secret door, to find it locked from the inside. The night had fallen for a long time, and Armand was nowhere to be seen when, hopeless, I moved to leave the Louvres through the gardens, as it was the nearest way out from his appartments.

But just as I stepped down towards the narrow gates to the orchard, my arm got caught in a vicious grip, and I was pulled behind the stairs with steady force.

 

 

He’s looking straight at me now, the merciless Red Man, and how could I be surprised.

He’s looking straight at me, and the book I’ll never write burns high into his eyes.

 

 

-“Armand, let me…”

-“Quiet.

 

I roll my eyes, at my wit’s end, but the hand still grabbing my arm twists until I have to flinch, and I forget about talking.

He’s leaning against the stone of the massive stairs, wrapped in his full formal robes, the intricate red cloak of white velvet lining thrown over his shoulder. The wild fury is still alive in his wide eyes, through pain and headache have already drained his features. I smell around him the new medication the physician Citois is trying for his migraines, and I suspect it to be mostly made of poppy. There is a haze I’ve never seen before in his stare, his dark pupils almost distant, a little less focused maybe, though the hatred in them could still be freezing the air.

In fact, there’s a lot more in his eyes that I’ve never seen before, God, how much of it did he take?

 

As he’s looking down at me like he would a stray dog he’s about to beat, I see no one else than Du Plessis Richelieu, and I expect a poisoned speech. I expect to be torn by his fury, quartered by his disdain, sent back to the Garrison without a hope of seeing him again for weeks, maybe more, and I’m already shaking.

So, when he doesn’t speak a word, my book burns, and I don’t understand.

The hand that was twisting my arm darts up to my throat, gripping it harshly enough to have me tense in fear and disbelief, though not tight enough to choke me.

-“Armand!” I rasp, and it already bloody sounds like begging.

He hisses a sharp curse, giving my neck a hard squeeze, and my brain is nothing but shrieking sounds of alarm. I don’t understand. The book is burning.

-“Armand” I try again, fool that I am, there is no Armand here.

 

The Red Man is watching me with intense hatred, his jaw tightened by anger and that dulled pain of headache. That blur in his eyes puts even more distance between us than his fingers around my throat, but he doesn’t speak. His other hand goes straight between my legs, and my unwritten book burns.

I don’t understand.

He gives my crotch a rough stroke, and if I can brag about writing that book that has no worth anymore, maybe I should start thinking about the book he could write about me, because the calculated pressure on my throat, and the almost violent squeeze of my groin have me hard in less than a minute. Panicked, I take a sharp look towards the doors facing the stairs on my left, with two wide corridors on the sides, and to the service doors on my right. The night is dark already, but servants are still working above us, and late visitors could still pass us by anytime.

-“Armand, don’t!” I breathe in raw fear. “If anyone sees us, we…”

 

He doesn’t even flinch.

His agile fingers just untie the front of my pants in five quick moves, and grab me with flawless dexterity. I hate myself for the moan I let out, and instinctively bang my fist on the stone stairs next to his head and keep it there, because doing so, my blue cloak covers most of us for anyone coming from the gardens.

On the other side, his own cloak does roughly the same, as long as his hand stays on my throat.

And God, I think it will.

 

I search in his cold, hazed eyes for a single clue about his mind, but all I see is the guarded hatred Richelieu has for lowlifes and nameless courtiers. He is rigid and unmoving, his chin held high, letting the robes do their work in making him look bloody impressive. His face doesn’t twitch a single bit as his fingers enfold my cock and start a slow, merciless rhythm. God, he’s lost his mind. If we are caught, our lives are over. The book is burning, I don’t understand, who even is that man bearing my lover’s face?

Well, to be honest, he’s fully clothed, and has his hand on my throat. He looks absolutely detached, his thin mouth pursed in disdain, and should any of these doors bang open, all he’d have to do is kick me on the ground and sign himself. I’d be the one with his cock out.

Still. Even if it’d be much worse for me, the risk we’re taking, God, Armand, no.

 

Someone moaned again. Hell, it was me. He knows me. He knows everything about me. His thin fingers caress everywhere, circling and twisting around my shaft, sliding inside my pants to cup my balls, and as my free hand comes to graze his face, he winces away with a foul hiss, the painful pressure around my neck tightening fast. My hand retreats upon the wall, on the other side of his head. I try to keep looking around, but soon enough my own vision blurs, my hips bucking towards him no matter how I refuse. God, he’s good, if only I could touch him. I’d make him understand, he’d take me to his rooms.

But his robes are his armor, and those ones are the heaviest he owns.

He’s almost choking me by now, my breath coming in short gasps, and through a veil of hazed panic, my eyes settle on his pale, soft lips, my blurred mind feeding me with flashes of his tongue licking my inner thighs, and I cry out like the fool I am. He instantly moves his hand away from my throat and presses it hard on my mouth.

-“I said, quiet.” He growls.

But I can’t.

I can’t.

 

My head is spinning, I’m dizzy with pleasure and fear, my clammy hands leaving wet paths upon the stone of the staircase. His fingers below are stroking me rough, now, his thumb smearing the fluid from my tip down to the base, then firmly twisting back up. The wet noises it makes, echoing in the wide empty hall. I’m losing my mind. My cries are getting higher, frightened and desperate, muffled by his hand plastered on my face. I’m seeking my pleasure now, leaning towards him as much as I can, because I want this blissful nightmare to end, so I can ask him how much of that filthy medicine he took today.

God, are those moans mine? Did I ever cry out like that?

He’s pumping fast, and I lost my mind. We could be seen, the dishonor, the shame, but God, Armand, do that again. I’m almost done, begging in high-pitched notes, blind and feverish, my cock twitching beneath his fingers, when suddenly, he freezes, raising his wet hand a few inches above my hard, aching shaft. The whimper I make is a disgrace to my own name.

-“Armand, please…”

-“Will you learn your place?” His frozen voice demands, and I realize exactly how he wants it to be a punishment.

 

Is it footsteps I heard in the gardens?
No, there’s nothing but the sound of my own blood in my ears.

Half mad with want, shaking with need, I search through his dark eyes once more, finding nothing more than this unfocused, hazy anger.
Helpless, I lower my head slightly, and breathe: “yes.”

 

His deft fingers cover my cock once more, then, and I thrust into them instinctively. I want him so bad I could cry, my mind filled with unstitched pictures, both memories and fantasies, of his tender skin beneath my own, but my hands don’t leave the stone stairs, clenched into fists and trembling.  When he firmly presses his warm fingertips upon the throbbing vein there, I cry out so loud he pushes two fingers deep into my mouth, gagging me to silence. His stare is lost somewhere over my shoulder, and he seems to be only listening to my breathing as a gauge for his moves. He strokes slowly, keeping me dancing on the edge, expertly bringing my pleasure to white-light heights, his fingers like a bowstring on my nerves.

I don’t think I’ve ever stayed on the brink of orgasm for so long. I am panting, exhausted, crazed, and those drops of water falling from my cheeks to his hand upon my mouth, they might be tears, but does he even care?

I shudder a bit too hard, crying out in ecstasy against his hand, and he stops dead once more, lifting his wrist above my red, strained cock. I beg in choked silence, my hips shamefully thrusting for contact. He stares at me for a while, then, and slowly withdraws his fingers from my mouth, grabbing my face to make me look into his eyes as he hisses:

-“Will you obey me?”


This time I nod immediately: “Yes.”

-“Yes who?

-“Yes, Armand.”

 

The hand upon my face clenches tight, and it hurts, God who is that man?

-“No.” He growls.

 

Oh Hell, not that. He can’t make me do that.

The book is burning. The book makes no sense.
I almost see its dying embers glowing in those wide, hazy dark eyes.

 

They used to be so sweet, ardent and alive with passion, with care, with love, oh, will this nightmare ever end?
I sigh, shaking, my voice broken with self-disgust, as I utter submissively:

 

-“Yes, Your Eminence.”

 

And he smiles. God, Satan himself wouldn’t dare to smile like that. It’s the smile he gives to those he erased from existence, as he watches their faces crumble when they open the sealed envelope containing their signed letter of exile. It’s the smile of the Red Snake, stepping on corpses and broken bones to raise the flag of France’s colors a little bit higher. It’s the smile he has when he loves to be feared.

 

His hand softly leaves my face and searches through his robes to produce a red silk handkerchief. I don’t understand at first, but his other hand grabs my shaft and rubs it with maddening precision again, stroking hard and fast, turning my legs into cotton, and he doesn’t stop.

-“Not a sound.” He commands, but how the hell could I?

 

I am thrusting hard into his fist, now, pounding into his hand, and he’s holding fast. I cry out in rhythmic gasps, demented, we could be seen, I cannot care. I don’t think I ever felt that much pleasure, that much pain.

I am defeated, I am delirious. I am frenetic, I am miserable.  I don’t want to feel that way ever again.

Oh God I’m going to fall, Armand, please, Armand.

Fool that I am, calling out to him until the end, though I know, I know there is no Armand here.

 

I almost wail, and he frowns, throwing glances sideways. I know, I’m bloody scared too, but can’t stop. The pleasure he provides has become everything I am, the sole purpose of my whole skin. He strokes deep, long and firm, four, five more times, and the scream I let out is one of agony. As I come, harder than I ever have, in his soft square of red fabric, he has no choice but to cover my cries with his own mouth.

He bites more than he kisses, and it hurts, but I don’t care, because God, I come for a lifetime, shuddering in helpless sobs.

 

When the trembling stops, he lets go of me, mouth and hands alike, and I told you so, I told you so, I crumble on my knees in front of him, struggling to catch my breath.

After a while, I realize I fell into his long velvet cloak, and I almost apologize for soiling it with my tears, looking up at him through soaked eyes.

I cannot read his face. I cannot understand his eyes, the book has burned, it makes no sense.

 

I am not sure about what he wants, he’s just staring down at me, frowning in what seems to be fascination, and maybe a bit of want.

Holding on to that, I tentatively lift up a hand to graze his left thigh, and, still high from pleasure, I dare to slide up and feel him through his robes.
We could be seen, I still don’t care. I have left my pride and dignity in the soiled handkerchief he’s still holding in his hand. I have nothing left, only the steady drumming of the aftershocks along my spine.


My other hand slide underneath the red silk, and I knit myself a very obedient smile, licking my lips with deliberate hunger, making him understand I am ready to take him in my mouth, suck him off and swallow everything right here if this is what he wants. The book has burned, nothing remains.
He obviously enjoys the sight of me on my knees, after all. It seems I am exactly where he wanted me to be.

He got the exact picture of the revenge he imagined, so why isn’t he smiling?

 

He doesn’t react. It’s like all energy, all strength has slipped away from him from the moment I fell on my knees.

Truth be told, nothing in him reacts. There’s no hardness beneath my palm.

Now I think about it, there is a strong taste of poppy on my lips.

 

God, he can’t react.

I get up in haste, sobering down in a heartbeat. I tuck myself in with a painful wince and let my hand hover above his cheek for a while, am I allowed? He doesn’t protest, his eyes emptier by the minute. I look around. God, it’s a miracle no one has passed by. I don’t want to fear that way ever again. My hand gently grabs his cheek, and he doesn’t seem to mind. I am allowed.

 

-“Armand, how much of that new medicine of yours did you have?” I whisper, inspecting his eyes.

His stare finds mine, but doesn’t linger. He slips away and lose itself somewhere in my hair, and God, it has never been that dull.

 

-“Armand!” I hiss, giving him a slight shake. “How much?”

 

He frowns, unable to shake the mist from his mind.

-“All of it, why?” He breathes, and I let out a long string of curses.

 

-“Can you walk?” I ask, and he nods.

 

I still have the instinct to check if I am allowed to do so, but since I still can’t get any reaction from him, I grab him by the elbow and pull him with me to his rooms upstairs, grumbling something about clear water and a rest.

He climbs a few steps, then abruptly, almost jerks out of my grip, and I hastily retreat to a humble stance, lowering my eyes, biting my lips before I meet his eyes.
They’re still blurred and unstable, but the ghost of the Red Man still rules upon those dark, deep pools of anthracite.

 

-“Don’t blame all of this on the drug alone, Jean.” He very clearly speaks. “I had none when I told you I’d make you pay.”

 

I know he’s right, and my guts still clench at the memory, but he called me Jean, and there is hope for me after all.

 

-“Forgive me, Armand.” I mutter. “It will never happen again.”

 

 

 

 

With that, he finally smiles, and that’s the smile I would like to begin with, if I had to write that book all over once more.