by Max Barry

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by The Not Kenneth Branagh of Western Fardelshufflestein. . 27 reads.

Regret Chapter 4

A continuation of the Alastair Saga

Chapter 4: 19 February 2021

1:25 am

Marie cannot sleep. She's pacing up and down, side to side, tracing a linear yet chaotic path across the carpeted floor of her bedchamber. Racing through her mind are words and images of pain, sorrow, hopelessness--and repeated thoughts nagging her and dragging her down.

Tonight, 'tis a sense of abandonment that keeps her awake. A sense that she is standing alone on a bluff whilst the waves crash far below her, foamy, white, and the spray that blows into her face and stings her eyes is flinging her loneliness back at her every time she exhales. She has to remind herself that she is not fully alone, that he hasn't abandoned her so long as his heart keeps beating. He has not left her behind on the bluff. She feels he has, but he is still there, in the distance, weakly calling out her name.

What had she done that had caused him to be this way? It must have been the gestalt of several little things, the way tragedies always were. Miniscule details and events building upon one another until they cascaded into something far out of anyone's control. That was what happened to him, but she...she must have had a pivotal role in it. She must have been the witness to many of these undetectable events. The ones that she had pretended did not matter until he'd crumpled to the floor beside her.

She's been told countless times there was nothing she could have done to catch him. It had happened so quickly, and he was much bigger than she was. She might not have been able to pull him up and keep his head from hitting the ground. But she still wishes she had done something, like have her arm around him in the first place. She would have steadied him if she had done that. Kept him safe. And she knew he was completely drunk, yet she let him participate in the briefing anyway, because they had agreed to take on this job together.

He had been the one to suggest it, not three months before the old King died. The stress of running the nation as Regent had taken a toll on him, both mentally and physically: he was heavier, he had more lines in his face, and his hair was starting to turn gray. He was drinking more, too, but Marie had not known how much.

She'd agreed, both because she was genuinely interested in taking up the position and because she was worried about him. The two of them were a team, and when one of them suffered, they both did.

Marie would never dare say she was worse off than Alastair, but Gott, she is really in a bad place. She cannot stop feeling like she has been left behind, or stabbed in the back. Or feeling immense guilt because she enabled his drinking problem. She had not done nearly enough to curtail or help him, even when the situation became dire, because...

She is still trying to figure out the "because." Even now, six months after his accident, she does not know. She tries not to think about it true months. The whole truth will eat her alive, and the fragments she does have already consume her. One of them, the one tugging at her tonight, is like a chorus of shouts in her head. Abandoned, abandoned, he abandoned you, Marie. He abandoned you. He all but left her. Mayhaps not physically until he fell, but he had left her figuratively. His addiction had taken over every aspect of his life.

Marie sinks to the floor and leans against the bedframe, too exhausted to pace but too haunted to sleep. How did she let this happen? He is the love of her life. He is the person she wants to be with for all eternity. And now she'll never grow old with him, never rule by his side.

The doctors are not optimistic he will ever be strong enough to work again. 'Twas something she had suspected for a long time, but he had not known, not until yesterday afternoon. Despite his best efforts to get better, and despite all of the improvements he has made, nothing will be enough to fully restore his health. The shaky hope she had had that his kidneys and lungs would be able to heal was shattered yesterday, and Alastair...he had just started bawling. She'd held him tightly, clinging to him desperately, unable to stop herself from shedding tears as she offered him comfort. Despite everything, she did not want to lose him. And now she felt like he had been handed a death sentence, again.

The devastation she had felt when they'd delivered the news about his liver was immeasurable. She'd been stunned, possibly in shock, upon hearing the diagnosis. Knowing cirrhosis was irreversible, fatal, knowing she was going to--she would lose him. And his condition had been veering sharply to the left then, a simple infection escalating into widespread illness and sepsis. His life hinging on machines and IV lines and cohorts of doctors. She had hardly slept during that period, had hardly left the hospital; who had managed the national affairs whilst she was gone, she did not know.

She'd spent as much time with him as possible, not bringing herself to look at him and not able to do more than hold his inert hand. He'd been completely unresponsive, and he was so still--like he was already gone. Even now, those memories of him in the ICU are seared into her mind. She vainly tries to deny them, just like she denied, or attempted to deny, that he was dying.

Her knees are drawn into her chest, and she's wrapped her arms around them as though to console herself. She sees him, jaundiced and motionless and hooked up to so many tubes, constantly surrounded by doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save him. She remembers hearing, as though from a distance, that he was never going to wake up, that his chances of survival were slim, that he was on the verge of multiple organ failure. They're trying everything they can for Dad, she'd told her children, that one line standing out to her so starkly. She remembers the expressions on their faces. But there is only so much they can do.

She rests her head on her knees and sobs. Now she is hearing it again, hearing them tell her his lungs have sustained damage that is permanent. The things she had tried to deny are all true. He'll need supplemental oxygen for the rest of his life, they believe, as they told her months ago. There is no way they'll ever heal. They were ravaged by the infection, the gravity of which Allie still does not fully understand, because she cannot bring herself to tell him. She should have. Would he have cried less today if he'd already known?

His renal system had started failing not a week after he had first gotten sick. By that point, he had already been put on life support. His kidneys were expected to gradually heal at first, and maybe they still can, but they're healing more slowly than the doctors are hoping. He still requires dialysis 12 hours out of the day. And with so many other injuries gripping him, how could she ever have hoped they would rebound?

She's alone. Alone. Alone and abandoned, with no one to comfort her. Alastair isn't here, he might never be here, he might be forever lost to the hospital and rehabilitation centers and--no. She will not go there. She cannot go there. She is not ready, will never be ready, for that.

Marie has heard before that addiction is a family disease. And 'tis true, is it not? Not only has Allie been defeated by it, it has wrecked her emotionally and psychologically. It has left her the sole caretaker and breadwinner of their household. Yes, she has her mother-in-law and Wilhelm, and even her own parents and occasionally her sisters. But there is only so much of the burden she can share. And she wastes so much of her energy trying to convince her own family not to be mad at Alastair, because he did not intentionally hurt her and he is still a good person. Her sisters, Amelia and Rose, remind her constantly that he is no longer the man she married, as if she does not know that. But she cannot just...leave him. Not when he is so ill. She will never abandon him, no matter how deeply he hurt her, because he...needs her. She had considered it, back when he was drinking himself into oblivion every night, because his destructive pattern of behavior was harming their children and tearing their family apart. Now she is ashamed she ever let the notion cross her mind. Because he's terminally sick, and he's getting help, and his depression has returned after months of listlessness. Abandonment, that dreadful action, would almost surely kill him.

She does not know what to do. She cannot leave him, but how can she care for him? Will she ever get that chance? She's prepared herself for the worst-case scenario, reminded herself he could suddenly regress and tumble into eternal darkness. But she is determined not to leave him the way he abandoned her. 'Twould be cruel, so cruel, and truly unforgivable to do.

She wants to be with him. She longs for him to be here, in this bedroom, so she does not have to curl up under the sheets alone. So she can cuddle him instead of squeezing the life out of a pillow because she cannot stand his being absent. She wants him to know she is there for him, she will not leave him, she is forgiving him, she loves him. She has never stopped loving him. Even when she was enraged at him, and incredulous at his behavior, she still loved him. She had been terrified for him. And of him, somewhat. But he has never been a violent man, save for that isolated incident with Wilhelm a few weeks before he fell. He was just...uninhibited. Erratic. He'd done outlandish things, things that would have been humorous if they'd occurred only on occasion. If his inebriation hadn't been constant.

She needs to be at the hospital, now, needs to be with him. She needs him to comfort her. She is not strong, and she is tired of pretending to be strong; she just wants to be caressed. To be told everything is going to be alright until she believes it.

She stands up, draws a shaky breath. Visiting hours are over, but she cares not. After all, she is the Queen; she can get special accommodations, including seeing her husband in the middle of the night.

Marie peels off her pajamas and changes into somewhat comfortable daytime clothing. She takes a throw pillow on their undisturbed bed, snatches she blanket from the loveseat that faces the window. She knows her behavior is inappropriate, her desire unwarranted. But she needs him. His presence alone soothes her.

She'll wake up Julia, presuming she is not awake, and let her know she is going to see Allie. And she will alert her mother-in-law, whom she often calls Mother and Mom. She, unfortunately, understands Marie's situation more than anyone.

When she gets to the hospital, he will be fast asleep, snuggling the blanket his mother knitted for him while the dialysis machine filters his blood. She'll smile at him, squeeze his hand, kiss him, whisper in his ear how much she loves him. She will take the utmost care to assure he does not awaken, especially while she sets up her makeshift bed to sleep by his side.

She may rest peacefully; she may not sleep at all. But she will be near him. He will be right there, dreaming of better things. Dreaming of his father and of getting well. And they can support each other, just like they always do, even though they can only do so much.

Marie is not an optimist. She does not believe all of her woes will dissipate as soon as she lays eyes on Alastair's sleeping form. What she does believe is that her restlessness, her feeling of abandonment, will decrease. She will be in less emotional pain when she reaches him. There is little she can do to alleviate his pain, if anything, and she is not deluding herself into thinking she helps.

But there is nothing else she can do other than comfort him. If she ignores him, Gott forbid, the last part of him will break. And she will lose herself to her grief if she is alone with her thoughts for too long.

So she collects her things, puts on her coat, and kisses her children goodbye. She tells her mother-in-law, alerts the guards, and gets ready for the quick limousine trip to Western Fardelshufflestein National--a place she knows intimately now. And she feels an anticipation, a relief, knowing she will see Allie soon, knowing he will be right there. He has not abandoned her. As long as his heart is beating, he has not truly abandoned her.

And she will never abandon him.