The Silence of Life

The silence is stifling. That was the only thing Musette could think of in the eerie calm of the garret, standing partially obscured from the rest of the room by the drape hung over the large dormer window, forgotten in the midst of the chaos. Hardly anyone had spoken or moved for nearly half an hour, as if the shock was still freezing them to their places. The only sound was, and had been since Mimi's passing, Rodolphe's unabated sobs and the uncomfortable shuffling of his four companions, whose presence continued to be unheeded by the stricken poet.

"Rodolphe, please cher… come sit down." Musette had stepped from the alcove made by the window and placed a hand on the slender shaking and damp shoulder, motioning to the three men who stood by to make themselves useful. There was still no response from the poet but the slight, instinctive flinching of a muscle beneath her fingers. "Cher, let her go, please. It's too late, there's nothing else you can do."

The horrid, wrenching sob that emanated from the depths of Rodolphe's suffering then as he released the cold, white hand and fell to the floor made them all jump, their own grief still raw and painful, torn to the surface briefly above their quiet concern for their friend and visible in stifled sobs of empathy and anguished faces. Musette's hair was dark auburn with sweat as she bent beside Marcel, helping to lift Rodolphe to lean against one of the broad shoulders of the painter, his closest friend, and someone Musette was still unsure of her own ability to look at. The past hours, foolish as she felt as the thought loomed through her mind in the sweltering heat of summer and grief, had changed them all, and she felt now as if she were walking in a dream, watching her former self move about the squalid grayness of the garret.

Finally, having been helped into a chair by Marcel and Colline and handed a small glass of port by Schaunard, which he had drunk dutifully, Rodolphe appeared to be drifting into a fitful but exhausted sleep. The silence in the room without the desperate sobs that had filled them recently was all the more horrid suddenly, making the bodice of Musette's gown begin to feel far too tight and the air even more sticky hot than it had been. Hurrying across the room, snatching her reticule and hat from the small table as she passed, Musette met the tense arm of Marcel across the doorway before she could pass through it onto the stairs.

"You're leaving?" His voice was a hissed whisper, a barely suppressed roar forced through close-pressed lips. His brow furrowed above deep green eyes as he searched her face, a hardness that made her step back suddenly crossing his face and tensing his hand that pushed sharply through his heavy, dark hair.

"I'm allowed to, I presume?" She caught the haughtiness of her tone as it crossed her lips and continued quickly, as if to blot out the previous sentence. "Rodolphe needs to sleep, and someone needs to go see to Mimi's things. The doctor should be here soon, he can…" She shuddered and her voice trailed off for a moment. 'He can collect her body' is what she had thought to say, what was the truth, but the words stuck in her throat with a taste metallic like her own blood. "The doctor will be here soon, and once he's finished I think we all should just go home and try not to think about everything that's happened."

"Wait until the doctor's been here and I'll help you at Mimi's flat." The sudden pleading tone made her pause and glance up again, the face she saw open and beseeching, so child like it made her chest constrict. How had this all happened? It was too much for her to think about and, she realized with another seized breath, too much for her to be in the same room with right now.

"Alright… I just…" She coughed heavily, the air in the room suddenly so hot and sickly sweet it made her feel ill. "I can't stay here right now Marcel, I have to get some air." She pushed past him, her anxiety and fear closing in on her tightly and forcing her own hand heavily against his to move him from the doorway, and stumbled shakily onto the exposed steps, falling against the rail and gasping for air. She felt impotent, useless, and it made her tremble at her core and want to scream, or sob, or throw something as hard as she could against the wall, or drag the nearest man against her and kiss the breath from him, just to prove to herself she could still do something. She had done, they had all done, everything they could conceive of, and still Mimi's body lay cold and lifeless just yards away inside the garret, Rodolphe was in such a state that they all feared for whether he would ever recover, and even the rest of them, Musette and Marcel and Schaunard and Colline, felt as if they might never stop aching at the memory of the afternoon. It was too much. It was too much to think of, too much to process, and before she could stop it, a hysterical sob and stifled scream slipped from her throat as she started to fall to the stairs, before a pair of arms pulled her to her feet and fast against a familiar chest.

"'Sette, I know… please don't… I hate to see you like this…" The broken whispers and the arms that had stopped her falling belonged to Marcel, who gratefully had followed her onto the landing and now held her fast against his chest. For several long moments she clung to him with a desperation none of their embraces had ever had, her unshed tears finally falling and dampening a spot of his shirt. The tears began to dry, and as Marcel bent to kiss her temples softly, she forced a smile and stepped out of the safety of his arms.

"Thank you, Marcel. I very nearly fell before. I suppose it was just the heat and… everything that's happened." She backed away slowly as she spoke, inching towards the edge of the landing and her escape. Escape to where she didn't know, didn't care particularly, but all she knew was that the ache was too painful to stay at the garret any longer, and her need for Marcel too strong, the comfort of his arms too balming, for her to risk.

"Why are you doing this? Why do you always do this?" His words were quiet, but pointed, the blade of them driving against her and stopping Musette in her tracks before she could take the few steps that separated her from whatever her escape would be.

"Why do I do what? Want to leave?" She laughed, bitter, more derisive than she meant. "I have heard it's human nature to want to avoid death, Marcel, I thought you would know that."

"Dammit Musette, not that!" A heavy fist slammed against the railing, shaking the stairs and making the large dormer window rattle slightly. "Why do you do THAT! Fall into my arms, hang onto me as if there's nothing and no one else in the world that can save you from whatever darkness it is that shakes you, and then just as you start to calm, just as you start to begin to let that go for a moment, run as if your very life depended on it!"

"Because it does!" The words were clear, sharp, and more direct than either of them expected. "It does," she repeated more quietly, her eyes shifting from his and staring across the rooftops of Montmartre. "I'd rather lose you to my own conniving infidelity or whims or your temper and know I can get you back just as quick as I lost you than to lose you… to lose you…" -- her voice broke and she gulped hard, glancing through the window at where Rodolphe lie sleeping fitfully, Schaunard standing sentinel -- "than lose you like that." She turned and leaned heavily against the railing of the narrow stairs, avoiding what she knew would be a searching look in Marcel's eyes. "It isn't that complicated. The less I let myself attach to anyone the less likely it is that I will be in a state like Rodolphe. Those stories of doomed lovers are very romantic when poets are selling them in little prettily bound volumes by the river, but they aren't romantic when you live them."

"Musette…" She felt a hand on her shoulder as he spoke, fingers threading through her soft red hair at the base of her neck to tilt her head to look at him finally. "I know, and I've always known, and I will not let that happen. I swear." She opened her mouth to speak, but her voice failed her, her eyes pricking irritatingly as she felt his arms slide around her. His lips were surprisingly soft and warm on hers, and as she tightened her arms around him, leaning against him for support, for once since she had left home, she felt safe. It may not last, it may not solve a thing, but she knew she that, at least for now, she was safe in his arms.

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