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» Between Two Lungs, for Aristide
Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Mar 26 2012, 07:29 PM
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Now that Aristide had said it -- finally said it, after all these months -- he felt oddly relieved. Noah's reaction was underwhelming, to be sure… but at least he wasn't wrinkling his nose in disgust. Or laughing. All the disastrous scenarios that had flashed through his mind the moment before his confession were just silly, anxiety-ridden delusions.

The reality was this: Noah hadn't really reacted much at all.

Indeed, he actually questioned Aristide's ability to make such a judgment on his own. As Noah spoke, a small, disbelieving smile crept across his face. If there was one thing Aristide was quite certain of, it was that he was far more attuned to his feelings than the stuffy, emotionally-repressed Puritan sitting in the hospital bed before him. Noah may be wiser, more educated, more sensible, and a thousand times more ethical than he, but when it came to matters of the heart, Aristide was the expert.

Aristide's droll, knowing half-grin said as much. He laced his fingers together in his lap, rolled his shoulders to release some of the tension, and chuckled lightly. The sound didn't contain any real joy; he was just so damned relieved. "Yes, I do," he said matter-of-factly.

"Besides," he added, with a sly look at Noah, "I do know about you. Quite a bit, really. Honestly…" He rolled his eyes. They landed on Noah, underneath a skeptically-arched brow. "What sort of criminal would I be if I hadn't done a bit of research on my marks?"

He sighed, resumed looking at the wall, shoulders hunched, elbows propped on his knees. "But I'm not particularly surprised. That you're skeptical. So. Tell me," he said, with another glance at Noah, "What I can do you make you believe me."
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Mar 27 2012, 03:34 AM
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Suddenly Noah wanted Aristide to get frustrated, despite where his anger had gotten them before. Calm Aristide was just as threatening as the unhinged Aristide, but for entirely different reasons. The doctor's posture never loosened, his tensity obvious in his bunched, taught shoulders. His poor physical state..and now mental state, did not aid him in handling the situation. The stress was making him nauseous, and if his tension was ever relieved, it was likely that exhaustion would take hold of him quickly.

He appeared perturbed and..threatened as Aristide all but proudly stated that he had done his research,
"Then you know of me. You don't know me. There's a difference," he promptly retorted, as if saying so would somehow relieve him of the fact that Aristide might very well know his social security number or even his sister's address. His face was still flushed, he sputtered,

"Of course I'm skeptical, why shouldn't I be? You should said it yourself. All you've had is vapid wall flowers. How many of those have you thrown away, Aristide?"
Noah's words were more accusatory than he intended, but he failed to notice,
"I'm not like them, and I'm not like you. You know well enough that I'm not going to throw myself into yours, nor anyone elses arms. I know what you want. You want sex. Some fling. Gods Aristide, do you even know who you're talking to?"

He gestured to himself, one of his hands gripping at the collar of his wrinkled hospital robe,
"What makes you think I'm even gay? Or that I want to be in a relationship? Especially with a man who just threatened me? Do you not comprehend--."

His breath caught in his throat and he wheezed, a hand pressing over his chest, but he continued on despite his lack of air,
"You--you dared to trick me into opening up to you, and now you're acting like you've forgotten everything I've said-."

Noah had to stop there, his swelling emotions and prolonged stress taking it's tole. His body laid down into the pillows and he pressed a hand over his eyes like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Noah struggled with his breath, but his current medication prevented the possibility of an asthmatic episode. He remained that way until he gathered just enough breath to force out,
"You know I'm not ever going to give you what you want. Why are you even bothering."

Of course, the doctor failed to see any alternatives to what Aristide might actually desire. To him, it seemed as plain as day, and that he would be a fool to hope that it might be anything different.
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Mar 28 2012, 12:51 AM
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"All you've had is vapid wall flowers. How many of those have you thrown away, Aristide?"

That statement bothered Aristide. He may not have cared what his beaus thought of him, but not one of them had ever complained that he didn't treat them well. People like Aristide -- and Gale, and Aristide's endless string of lovers -- dealt with enough adversity from the outside world; they shouldn't have to face it from within.

"You--you dared to trick me into opening up to yo […] I've said-."

Aristide stared at him, aghast. "I didn't trick you!" he said, with an imploring look at the ceiling. "I--"

"You know I'm not ever going to give you what you want. Why are you even bothering."

Aristide huffed a frustrated sigh. Noah was making it very difficult to remain annoyed with him, when the doctor was struggling to even draw a proper breath. Aristide waited for the spell to pass, willing himself not to look concerned.

Finally, he asked, "Is that true?" Something in Aristide's tone -- a cynical tilt, the barest suggestion of a scoff -- made it clear he didn't think it was. He remembered, even if Noah didn't, their kiss in the halls of the Nightingale. Noah hadn't pulled away; he hadn't denied him; he had, in fact, liked it.

"Do you think all of my flings make me this miserable?" And for that matter, did he think Aristide risked his freedom to see him at Sacred Heart, when every Acidine Guard from here to Dagenheim had orders to arrest him on sight? "If I just wanted a fling, you are the last person I'd come to. Flings are supposed to be easy. The fact that you're making this so damned difficult is proof enough that this isn't."

"And I don't throw away my partners," he added, unable to keep his mouth shut on the matter any longer. One of the few things in his life that he was actually proud of was the way he handled his many, many romantic dalliances. He laid out the rules of the game early on -- that it was a casual, short-term romance, free of emotional investment or obligations. Simple, clean, uncomplicated. Might go a long way in explaining why so many of them have the brains of a house plant… "I have never been unfair to any of them." He snorted. "I have enough to worry about without watching my back for vengeful jilted lovers."

"Anyway," he said, sighing with enough force to make his bangs fan outward. He rubbed a hand over his face. "That's hardly the point." He straightened, glanced at Noah. "You clearly think I'm incapable of any real depth of feeling, or even committing myself to a decent relationship. Or recognizing what I'm feeling, for that matter. Are there any other shortcomings you think I ought to be aware of? Or perhaps you're going to criticize my dead mother while you're at it?"

He hadn't meant to sound so combative -- the words just sort of… tumbled out. He frowned and glanced away. Feeling a sudden need to justify his anger, he said quietly, "I don't know what else you want. What else I can do to make you trust me."
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Mar 28 2012, 04:34 AM
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Noah made no effort to sit up again, his face half concealed by his hand as the rapid rising and falling of his narrow chest began to slow. He didn't want to talk about this anymore. He didn't have the energy to keep up with his anxiety or fear, and he could feel himself crashing quickly from the adrenlaline. What it left behind was an exhausted frustration that only made him want to retreat or surrender.

He chose to remain behind his hands. His breaths were still quick and present in his voice, but considerably calmer.
"Then what are you feeling, Aristide? What could you possibly be feeling?"

Noah, with his eyes hidden and his tone, almost made the question seemed hypothetical until he added,
"What could you possibly see in me. I'm a corpse, or have you not noticed?"

The word almost sounded like a swear the way he spoke it, but it's intensity also emphasized how thoroughly he believed the description to be true. He laughed bitterly, his voice quivering as if he was a child on the brink of tears,
"Or is it because of my brilliant personality?"
Noah grit his teeth in an effort to contain himself, his palms pressing into his eyes and the tips of his fingers into his hair line, embedding themselves into the mop of white,

"And if this isn't a fling. What is it? Do you know that you're saying that you want to be in a committed relationship? Is that what you really want, with someone like me?"
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Mar 28 2012, 10:27 PM
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Aristide groaned. Committed relationship was so vague -- it didn't come close to capturing what Aristide wanted from the doctor. Aristide was a man of passion; he didn't think deeply on anything that he did, he simply threw himself into it headfirst, like a hawk flying into a tornado. Was this a bad idea? Probably. But to him, there was no other choice. He couldn't ignore it, wouldn't want to ignore it if he could, and he hadn't the first idea how to convince Noah that this was true.

"Or is it because of my brilliant personality?"

Did Noah want Aristide to list, in painstaking detail, every trait that he found attractive about him? He could, but that seemed like an cheap oversimplication of a something far too ineffable to reduce to words. Dissembling his feelings down to their component parts would be belittling their enormity -- and besides, Aristide was far too frustrated with the doctor to shower him with compliments.

"What are you asking?" he asked, affronted. "Are you so self-loathing that you can't accept the fact that someone would love you? Do you understand how difficult that was for me to say?" He spread his hands helplessly. "Stop pitying yourself, Noah." He gestured expansively at the hospital bed, the monitoring equipment, Sacred Heart Hospital at large. For nearly a decade, Noah had buried himself in his work, his duties and obligations. Sacred Heart was Noah's escape. "There's more to life than this."

"You call yourself a corpse, but I don't see that," he said, leaning forward earnestly, daring to reach out and remove Noah's hands from his face. He held them firmly in his own, unwilling to let go. "You're going to get better now. Things are going to get better."

He paused, breaking eye contact for a moment. It occurred to him that he hadn't answered any of Noah's questions. "I..." he paused, "don't know what a committed relationship is -- or your idea of one, in any case -- but I am committed. Maker knows I'm committed." He sighed.
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Mar 29 2012, 05:23 AM
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"Are you so self-loathing that you can't accept the fact that someone would love you? Do you understand how difficult that was for me to say?"

Noah's entire form visibly grew taught in response. His elbows touched, and his wings framed him, squeezing his upper arms and shoulders. His lips were pulled back and his teeth were clenched and bared. It was obvious that the doctor knew the answer to Aristide's question, but wouldn't dare speak it.
It was so much easier to ignore when he had the illusion that only he knew, and that no words were put to it. Aristide wasn't the first to force reality upon him...his psychiatrist had likely been picking away at him for months. Noah, as much as it literally agonized him, was becoming acutely aware that he had been digging himself into a miserable (and likely early) grave for years. Even the psychiatrist, who was supposed to be skilled in the reading of others, could barely penetrate the impregnable barrier that Noah had placed between himself and everything and everyone else. He had locked himself in a room with his studies, with his building worries, and the rest of the world in another. Noah was logical in the matters of other people, but failed to see it when it came to his own life.
Aristide was wrong in the respect that the doctor pitied himself...in fact, if he had, he likely wouldn't be in the place he was now. At least then, he would recognize and make an effort to correct and better his existence...rather than distracting his mind with complex medical theories and expansive amounts of knowledge. The only problems he ever mentioned or faced were his physical ones; of his health and financial situation. However, he put too much effort into fixing them. He worked too many hours and spent what little free time he had allowed himself alone. It was the most vicious, unintentionally masochistic cycle that could be construed.

Now though, the door, the barrier, was being forced open too quickly, and like a small closet that was being stuffed with clothes and artifacts from passing years, everything tumbled from it. And it was crushing him.

He resisted temporarily at the hands that grasped his own, one last feeble attempt to support whatever it was that kept him in and everything else out, but he was too tired and Aristide too persistent. What it revealed was a broken man. Noah's eyes were bloodshot, and even his chin, which was often so naturally smooth, was subtly marked with stubble. He met Aristide's gaze for only a moment, before it quickly dropped toward the sheets..his mess of hair a last, desperate attempt to provide himself some shelter.

However, like putting words to his hopelessness, Aristide also made the hope for a better future tangible. Yes, he would get better physically..and perhaps even mentally, if he allowed himself to.
Noah's arms and hands remained tense and shuddering as Aristide held them.

There was silence for awhile, before he rasped, as if against his better judgement,
"A..committed relationship," he swallowed, his throat dry as early regret from answering already began to swell, "..is one....I..I just can't..it can't be something that makes my life more difficult than it already is. I can't handle it. I can't stand much more."
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Mar 31 2012, 08:02 PM
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Aristide smiled grimly. He couldn't make that promise. The only other "committed" relationship he'd had had ended in one of the most disastrous decisions of his life. Granted, Noah was different from the original Aristide St. Clair -- he was an honest, upright, conscientious professional, not the degenerate scumbag Aristide had met in jail when he was a small-time criminal on his home island. But that didn't make the reminder any less potent, and it didn't make him feel any better.

"You won't have to," he said at length. "Look. I can't make any promises. But I will try." That wasn't the answer Noah was looking for, but it was the best he could offer.

He ran a thumb thoughtfully along Noah's index finger, almost surprised that the doctor hadn't pulled away. Noah looked utterly spent. "Maybe I should come back later."
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Oliver Van Sydney
 Posted: Apr 1 2012, 01:54 AM
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Apr 1 2012, 01:55 AM
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Noah's posture was beginning to grow slack again, his body unable to sustain his bouts of stress for much longer than intermittent periods. The tremors in his arms ceased once he allowed them to relax. A sigh of indeterminable emotion escaped him as his form nearly seemed to deflate against the pillows. His eyes closed.

Despite this, though, his face still held minor tension. His forehead remained creased over furrowed brows. At the touch to his hands, his thumb twitched slightly,

"What are you even planning...?" He uttered quietly, "and if you leave, how long are you going to be gone this time?"

The space between his brows decreased temporarily as he drew in a breath,
"I don't know about this, Aristide."
A pause as the air left him in a shuddering exhale,

"..and when you come back, what do you plan on accomplishing then? How do you expect this to work?"
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Apr 2 2012, 04:07 AM
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Questions, questions. None of which Aristide had the answer to. He stared down at the thumb he continued to smooth over the doctor's hand, a thoughtful expression on his face.

After a protracted moment, he shrugged. "I suppose we'll see."

He glanced at Noah uncertainly, a question in his eyes. Won't we? Or was Noah going to turn him away if he didn't get the answers he was looking for? Aristide knew he hadn't been giving Noah the ideal responses -- merely the truthful ones. If that wasn't good enough for Noah, he wasn't sure what else he could offer.

"I won't be gone long," he continued briskly, putting on an expression that he hoped looked sprightly and reassuring. "I'm not about to skip town, if that's what you're wondering."
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Apr 2 2012, 04:51 AM
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Noah didn't offer much response to the statements. His eyes remained closed, brows still knitted above them. It was as if he was in pain, but the source of it was just as indeterminable as their future.

"...I wasn't thinking that," he finally uttered, "I would be stupid to assume that you might."

His voice was still tired, lacking the energy that Aristide's seemed to be trying to enforce. It was difficult to ignore the soft touches to his hands, and it still made him vaguely uncomfortable. His exhaustion numbed his feelings toward it, but it didn't prevent him from forgetting just a few moments before, when one of those hands came dangerously close to striking him. His fear was numbed, like his discomfort..and when he spoke, it was without either.

"When you do come back...assumably soon after I am back on my feet," he started..Noah drew in a breath, as if speaking at length was difficult. His eyes opened that he might look into Aristide's face plainly, his voice sincere despite it's softness, "You will never threaten me again."

"I will not tolerate it. If you ever do it again, it will be the last time you do. Do you understand?"
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Apr 2 2012, 08:36 AM
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Aristide furrowed his eyebrows, confused by Noah's question. No, not the question -- the fact that Noah had to ask it. Was that what Noah saw in him: a violent, unfettered criminal? If he couldn't protect Noah from himself, what in the name of Tier was Aristide doing here?

Aristide had promised himself that Noah would be different... and still he'd bungled it. Twice. Maker above, he'd made a royal mess of things. Aristide pulled his hands away. He stared down at them, chewing on the inside of his cheek.

He wanted to put Noah's mind at ease, to assure him that he would never lay a hand on him in anger, but part of him knew -- had always known -- that he couldn't. There was a darkness in him that he had no control over. Noah had seen it. Not only that, but he was calling Aristide out on it. It was surprising how uncomfortable that made him -- as if Noah had just pointed out an embarrassing blemish on his face, or a bit of food in his teeth.

For the first time in months, Aristide felt hotly, excruciatingly ashamed.

"Yes. I understand," he said, nearly choking with the effort. Lies, lies, lies. A whole life built on lies -- did he really think he could escape his nature? The real Aristide would be laughing in his grave. "You don't have to be afraid of me, Noah."
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Apr 3 2012, 05:00 AM
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"I don't plan to be," he said, unphased by Aristide's apparent shame. However, his tone was not as cold as his words, "I make a habit of not associating with people who terrify me."

His expression remained unshifting as he watched the other before he relented, and released a forgiving sigh. His brows, still tight, now revealed empathy, and his pursed lips tilted slightly, the same as his head in the pillow.

"In two weeks I'll be able to go home...and maybe even live by myself again, depending on what my shrink thinks. We'll talk again the week after I'm settled. That's three weeks for both of us to get our shit together."

Noah watched Aristide for any sort of response,
"We'll talk then. Calmly, as equals. Does that sound fair?"
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Aristide St. Clair
 Posted: Apr 4 2012, 07:37 PM
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A rush of relief chased the frown off Aristide's face. He nodded, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically to seem entirely innocent. "Yes," he agreed. He gave Noah's hand a happy, optimistic pat. "Yes, of course." He was glad Noah didn't bring up the rather sensitive matter of Aristide knowing where he lived… water under the bridge, that was. Best left unmentioned.

He didn't rise to leave just yet, though. Aristide gazed at Noah for several seconds, unwilling to leave so abruptly. "Well, Noah." He took Noah's hand and planted a small, courtly kiss on the back of his hand. He grinned up at the doctor. "I can wait."

He stood. Putting on his Dr. Svicksworth impression, he said, "Well, would you look at that. You're looking better already."

Three weeks. Yes. He could manage that.
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Noah Crestwood
 Posted: Apr 5 2012, 01:43 AM
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Noah's eyes left Aristide's face as if in response to the other's enthusiasm. Despite suddenly offering an ultimatum, he seemed unsure now. His lips pursed and concerned expression revealing so. He cleared his throat as the man patted his hand,
"Then it's settled..."

He uttered nothing else as Aristide remained sitting before him, and the doctor could sense the other's eyes on him. The pale man's hands slowly began to draw back, only stopping when it was grasped lightly. His fingers went stiff and his face pink as the man's lips brushed against his knuckles. There was a sharp exhale, and Aristide's grinning face turned upward toward his. His own was an extremely healthy, burning shade of red. His shoulders, throat, ears, and face all equally ignited.

Even though he was mortified, his eyes never left Aristide as he stood,
"Well, would you look at that. You're looking better already."

And then, they quickly dropped toward his lap as he suddenly became incredibly aware of the heat in his face.
"Don't do anything foolish between now and then," he said quickly, as if it would somehow hide the chemistry that was occurring in his cheeks.
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