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jaded underworld

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And so Nikolai Vsevolodovich decided it was high time to distance himself from Verkhovensky However, as if everything that’s been said was still binding him to the other man with some invisible chain, execution of his plan was disrupted when before beginning to walk away, he glanced once again at the other man who was standing firmly in the same place where he had been describing all those crazed visions just a while before.

Pyotr Stepanovich still hasn’t torn his eyes away from Stavrogin, though his gaze seemed to have started growing kind of vacant after he had spoken for the last time. He was biting on his lip, still appearing to be quite affected by whatever madness that came over him, but at the same time less focused than when speaking of what he was driven by, and towards what. As if he was coming out of the trance in which he begged, confessed and compared to idols. Stavrogin began to think that maybe it was actually a very fitting simile for the whole picture, as all of this made up something a bit like a prayer.

That damned lunatic of a man really thought him some kind of a deity, didn’t he? But then, Stavrogin wondered, suddenly feeling an arising need to know, what did he see himself doing here? How should he be taking all of this? With repulsion? Or could he still call that feeling this name, if despite feeling annoyed,  he hasn’t stopped taking in every smallest detail, trying to dissect the whole concept of Verkhovensky in his head? He asked himself another question – why did he need to indulge this interest? He hardly believed he was able to treat seriously whatever ridiculousness Verkhovensky has been trying to get him involved in, so was it for mere amusement? And, conclusively, would the effort ever be worth anything at all? Would the madman really give him what he wanted, if there was anything to be wanted here?

All of this ended up unanswered, as he noticed that just like the other man, he has also remained there stagnant for quite a while already and he decided to check if his friend (If he could peg him as such? And if not friend then what? An associate? An unfortunate partner in the hidden but pretty much ever-present in this place misery?) was even aware of  the fact that Stavrogin was still there. So, without giving any thought to finding the right words to say now, he walked up to him and seeing that a closer approach seemed to have no visible effect, he took Pyotr Stepanovich’s face in his hands, thinking this would surely provoke some response.

And provoke it did, as Verkhovensky blinked quickly several times and after few seconds of increasingly labored breathing (which Stavrogin could now notice thanks to the very close distance between them), he gave out a hoarse “Yes? Nikolai Vsevolodovich? What- what is it?”

“Nothing. Merely wondered if you haven’t flown somewhere away from here”, said Stavrogin, now taking his eyes off Verkhovensky’s half dazed, half mad expression and the dried blood on his face left from being pushed to the ground earlier; and focusing more on long hair that were brushing against his palms and making him faintly remember the sensation of the kiss he was hastily given before by the same person he was touching now. For a brief moment he stiffened, though quickly he collected himself. He took a loose strand, twirling it a bit, and tucked it behind Pyotr Stepanovich’s ear. “It’s best you went home now. And maybe stopped agitating yourself so much, too”

“Ah”, Verkhovensky said, lowering his gaze “Perhaps I should”. Then proceeded to follow it by going limp in Stavrogin’s hands and dropping to the ground.

Nikolai Vsevolodovich thought that he should probably do something to prevent his companion from falling, but ended up implementing this plan not quickly enough and so unsurely that Pyotr Stepanovich only brushed against his body on the way down.

He sighed in frustration, though still couldn’t help but feel a bit concerned. Was this just a minor case of feeling unwell, or could it be a symptom of something more serious that the younger Verkhovensky was suffering from? Was the previous emotional outburst a result of it? Or could it drain him all by itself? Nikolai Vsevolodovich found it almost incredible, in a laughable way. Though, in Verkhovensky’s case, it was also undeniably possible. Or was it? Wasn’t he supposed to purposely refrain from complete foolishness like this?

Upon checking his state, with a relief Stavrogin observed that he was breathing. And whether it was from being so worked up or due to coming down with a fever, he was definitely very warm. Nikolai’s attention was drawn not only by the warmth of the body, but also of each breath – a perfectly human thing to have, yet maybe that was precisely why he noted the fact, because nothing about it felt cold or vile, in spite of the nature of some words that would come out of these mouth; he also wondered if the current lack of any repulsion on his part was simply due do feeling far too weary for it right now, or not.

Suddenly, it came to his attention that Pyotr Stepanovich has opened his eyes, and was looking at Stavrogin with a somewhat confused and very, very tired expression. Then suddenly, though still feebly, he held his hand out towards Stavrogin while attempting to get up, which proved futile as he lost consciousness once again. Leaving Nikolai Vsevolodovich alone with his confusion about all of this, most of all about if he shouldn’t be now doing the sensible thing to do in this situation and taking Verkhovensky to a place better for an unconscious person to be than there on the ground.

Thinking of it made him feel like he got trapped in some kind of a nauseating irony, picking up a man with a face bloodied because of his own doing. Stavrogin quickly wiped off the remaining traces of it. After that, the Verkhovensky was looking almost peaceful, even if with him truly being at peace (for him this meaning being in control of what was happening) it would be quite hard to imagine him reaching this state. Nikolai Vsevolodovich got a proper hold of him and thought that maybe it’s best to abandon any associations with peace then, in favor of choosing “worth pity” as a more suitable description.

Next conclusion he came to was that luckily, as unfortunate as the task of carrying Pyotr Stepanovich upstairs was, at least his relatively small posture didn’t make it significantly harder. Now in his arms, Verkhovensky seemed to be emitting that strange kind of warmth towards which Nikolai Vsevolodovich’s thoughts drifted to once more; and then was burning  him like a hot coal when he couldn’t avoid having to give a plausible enough explanation to his mother.

A doctor was called and sent off pretty soon after that, as any worries about a possibly dangerous illness were dismissed. There was some diagnosis, though Stavrogin felt bothered only to sum up all of the words that were said as “something related to a deep exhaustion”. This way all that was left to do was to wait, until Pyotr Stepanovich would come round at last. In the meantime, he ended up on the sofa in Stavrogin’s study, as he, despite already having had plenty of time to grow tired of this mess, still also preferred to prevent drawing any more attention to it and creating even more inconveniences. Thus, he decided it’s best  to keep an eye on Verkhovensky while he is staying there, however temporary it may be and no matter the state of his mind.

Silence heavy with the feelings of uneasiness and exhaustion hung in the room like a thick fog. Stavrogin sat down next to the sofa, looking at the man laying on it and thinking about leaving to get also some rest too. Somewhat surprised, he realized how actually tired he must have been, when he noticed that for once his mind seemed to be definitively keen on sleeping instead of eventually making him pass out after many restless hours. It would probably be quite foolish now, if he didn’t use the opportunity that was being presented before him. Still, there was a part of him that made him abhor the thought of moving from the comfort he associated with his study to his actual bedroom which tended to somehow repel Morpheus’s presence.

And now, in a situation akin to realizing that a foreign object has been driven into his body, he found himself trying to decide what to do with someone closer to a not so benevolent spirit who has been dropped here from the moon, turning being in this space to something similar to a feeling of touching hurt, tender flesh around the thing trapped in it. Though if Stavrogin had already discovered that holding Verkhovensky didn’t make an impression of being in contact with something that’s inanimate or had a tiniest note of malice in it, then what was the truth about the man? Could there be different sides of him – one that kept that warmth in and one that brought out everything else, or had they merge into each other to such extent  that any possibility of having one without the other was long gone?

Trying to figure this out, Stavrogin was stuck like a moth confused by two different sources of light, between locations and moments in time in which either remained in one place or moved to the other; unsure if a second has passed since he got here. Was there a way out of this, did it lead through the same path that had been taken to end up here? His mind flashed back to not walking away when he maybe should, and then to stopping to hear out Verkhovensky’s lamenting at him earlier, when he maybe shouldn’t have.

Then, he came to a conclusion, that all of this was absolutely devoid of any sense. Damned be all demons that summon themselves with whatever prayers, damned be damning them.

Still sitting on the floor, close to Verkhovensky, he closed his eyes. And just when he was on the verge of drifting off, he sensed a sudden movement next to him and then felt another hand brush against his own arm, through the quilt Pyotr Stepanovich has been covered with. A quiet grunting could be heard. Stavrogin sighed, exasperated and tried to stand up, but was stopped when Verkhovensky grabbed at his arm during what seemed like an erratic attempt to rise himself up after coming to his senses in unfamiliar surroundings. He slowly backed off, letting Pyotr Stepanovich’s arm fall down (the grip wasn’t too tight).

“Be still”, he said “Just be still.” And a while after the second request, seeing it was listened to, Stavrogin swiftly left the room.

Soon after that, though not really rushing, he came back with a glass of water and held it out to Pyotr. Who somehow did manage to empty it without spilling anything. Seeing that he still appeared to be quite disturbed, Stavrogin tried to gently ease him onto the bed again. Verkhovensky flinched at the touch at first.

“Nikolai Vsevolodovich?” he asked quietly, but in a tone still indicating having a bit more clarity than previously. “Why- what’s the reason I am… here now? And where, where am I even?”

“It would be very helpful if you lay down first. And this is my study, surely you must remember visiting me here before.”

“Yes, yes, right”, he muttered out, following Stavrogin’s request at last “Have I… Oh, never mind that. Anyway, I am due to some explanation… am I not?”. While he was saying this, there was a shift of tone in his voice, from still slightly panicked to a more defensively worried one, kind of suspicious for a reason Stavrogin wasn’t entirely sure of. Though it could definitely be said that clearly he was hardly glad to be seen like this, by Nikolai Vsevolodovich no less.

“Perhaps you are”, said Stavrogin, nodding, then reminding himself that he really didn’t want to waste time and energy on toying with Verkhovensky right now, he quickly added “Some unwellness caused you to fall unconscious after we had finished talking the last time. But you probably shouldn’t be too worried, it doesn’t seem like anything too concerning.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m no medical professional, but yes.”

“Ah. Well, I think I can still trust you to rationally judge the situation, right?” saying this, Verkhovensky was beginning to look slightly better, maybe less sickly weak and more like someone who had just been woken up in an unpleasant way. And certainly he did not seem like a madman that much anymore. That is, did not seem like one because of showing signs of it other than just simply existing as Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky.

“Whatever”, he continued, not waiting for Stavrogin to respond in any way to his statement. “I think I need to thank you for, uh” there, he paused to take a deep breath, troubled maybe not by lack of words, but rather by the struggle to let them out. “For taking care of me. Now, if everything’s all right, I should probably go and leave alone? Unless you want me to stay? Do you maybe wish to ask about what was concerning us before? Ah, I’m sorry, the hour must be late and I have already bothered you enough. Of course I’m waiting for your answer, but…”

Pyotr Stepanovich droned on and on before Stavrogin finally decided to stop it. “Enough” he said, irritated upon seeing the other man returning to his nonsense once again “You probably should rest more, I still doubt you’re completely well. You can leave in the morning.”

“Ah” said Verkhovensky to that. “Can I see myself invited to the breakfast too?”

“I assumed you will see yourself invited no matter what I say.”

“How wonderful host you are, Nikolai Vsevolodovich!” he exclaimed vigorously, as if he missed anything that had been said about him needing to sleep. “To also provide me with humor! I really could never be grateful enough!”

Stavrogin sighed.

“Do you maybe remember that I told you to quit agitating yourself too much? Right before you passed out, I think?” he asked.

“Kind… of?” said Pyotr Stepanovich, slightly tilting his head.

“Should I tell you this again then? Calm d-” before he could continue this attempt at reasoning with the other man, he got cut off by him.

“Why not? I won’t mind getting to hear more of your divine voice”

“Then I’m sure you can be grateful enough to stop acting like a fool and listen. And, just go to sleep now” he said, noticing that much to his surprise, he didn’t need to make much effort to keep his voice calm without showing any frustration in it.

Somehow, Verkhovensky actually did go silent at this. He lay there for a while, him and Nikolai Vsevolodovich looking at each other, before the man broke eye contact and got up to leave the room.

At first Stavrogin thought about heading to his own bed now, but then stopped before the exit and went back and walked up to the window. From there, he looked at the sofa. The moon was up, its light dimly illuminating the room. Stavrogin saw that Pyotr Stepanovich’s eyes were now closed, and wondered if the next thing to do would be to check if he has already drifted off. Or could he just be pretending, finding a way to continue observing Stavrogin even like that, through listening to the small movements made in the silence of this place? Was he as lost in it? Nikolai Vsevolodovich pulled the curtains down and then he was by the sofa again, like by a fireplace with all the warmth, but no fire lighting up the dark. This way, he didn’t notice the moment when the reality shifted into a dream about nothing at all. Neither did he feel his head lolling to the side, falling close to the pillow on which Verkhovensky was laying.


Following that, no longer too concerned with not betraying that he was still awake, without opening his eyes, Pyotr Stepanovich moved to lay on his side, hesitantly reaching out to touch Stavrogin’s hair and then letting his fingers play with it for few (very long) seconds, until he finally was calm, for the first time in a good while. Though he was hardly aware of that happening, only his hand went still in the soft darkness.