Maximilien focused on keeping his eyes closed. Even the very dim light filtering through made his temples throb in a muted agony. He knew that the subtle sting of something in his hand was helping to keep it at bay, he’d managed to parse that much since waking up. There was a lightly accented woman’s voice that kept up a steady stream of chatter, likely so he could easily track it around the room.
“This is going to be cold, but the medicine in it is going to help the inflammation in your eyes. We need it to go down before I can start working on your corneas.” There was a gentle clattering nearby and he flinched. “I’m curious, have you always been sensitive to light?”
He tried to swallow, throat still aching. But he was able to force the syllable out. “Yes.” His voice was a quiet raspy husk of what it used to be.
“There’s not a single portrait of you with them on,” the voice remarked. “Was that a vanity thing?”
Max tried to shrug.
“Hmph. I guess it doesn’t matter. We’ll work on it later.” He felt something laid over his eyes and he gasped. It was very cold and wet, almost like he’d just had snow thrown in his face.
Or cooling blood.
“We’ll do this for thirty-minutes every four hours and see how it goes.” The voice assured him. He nodded. Somewhere to his right, a door creaked.
“Hey Russo. Is he-“
“Yes. We were just discussing his treatment. Why don’t you come in?”
Footsteps and Max felt someone lean over him slightly. He held himself still, every muscle freezing.
“Hey. You’re looking better than the last time I saw you,” the new woman said and Maximilien frowned.
“Who?” He managed to croak out.
“He was asking for you when he woke up. Remember, Robespierre?” In an undertone, “I had to stick him with painkillers to help him calm down. He’s probably pretty stoned right now.”
“That’s okay.” She put a warm hand in his but the other that touched his shoulder was cool and smooth. Max gasped then coughed.
“Keep him calm,” the first voice hissed. The hand tightened on his.
“Yeah, Robespierre. It’s me, Aspen. I’m surprised you remembered me.”
He swallowed heavily. “Good. Faces.”
“I have a nice face? Thanks, I think. High compliments,”
Max shook his head, trying to gesture to himself. He hissed when it yanked on the thing in his hand.
“Oh. Oh! You’re good at faces?” She asked.
He nodded and squeezed her hand. “Rescue me.”
“Yes. You won’t be going back to the Bastille,” Aspen said softly. “I’m sorry you were taken there in the first place…”
Max took a deep breath. “Can’t remember.”
“You don’t know what happened on the Bastille?”
He shook his head and heard her suck in a sharp breath.
“You don’t remember how you ended up on the Bastille?”
Maximilien nodded. “Something around,” he placed his hand on his neck and recoiled when he touched his scar.
“Yes, that’s where they caught you. Do you remember before that?” Aspen coaxed him. Max shivered and shook his head. “That’s alright. It’ll come back to you, I’m sure.” She patted his arm.
They fell quiet and Max had to fight to stay awake. In the dark and free from his pain, trying to stay conscious was more work than he was up to. As he fell back into sleep, he could hear voices hissing above him.
“Will his voice come back? He sounds…”
“It’ll need to heal. He used to be an orator; I don’t know if it’ll be quite to that level again…”
He sighed and let go.
The next time Maximilien woke up it was to the sounds of someone humming nearby. He didn’t dare risk opening his eyes but was content to just listen.
It sounded like it came from near his feet, a low and comforting hum that occasionally almost slipped into whispered words. It reminded him of some aria he’d forgotten the words to.
Eventually it trailed off and Max nearly fell back into sleep before someone began to speak. This time the voice was masculine.
“England is not at all what I thought it might be like. It’s colder than I ever thought, for one and even Amboise was too cold for me.” There was the quiet scratching of a pen on paper. “Did I ever ask if you knew where Amboise was? I think you were from the north, something with an ‘Ah’ sound.” A chuckle. “I never did master French…”
Maximilien swallowed heavily. He could almost place the voice, like it was the distant memory of a dream. Everything seemed to be jumbled together now. Was he still dreaming?
He reached out as he was thrown into the darkness, reaching out for someone who was pulled away.
“Leonardo?” he whispered. The scratching stopped abruptly.
“Robespierre? Maximilien? Are you awake?” He asked softly. A hand touched his leg and Maximilien flinched slightly before relaxing.
He nodded and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could Leonardo laid and gentle hand on his elbow. “Hush. You need to try and let your throat rest. It was badly damaged.”
Maximilien nodded again, relaxing back.
“I’m going to put the medicated press back on your eyes. It is quite cold,” Leonardo warned before he laid it over Max’s face. He shivered under the light blankets, feeling the sensation go right down his spine. It was as if he’d been suddenly dipped in freezing water.
“Ah, here. Let me just,” Leonardo muttered something. There was click and within moments the blankets covering Maximilien were warming. “They have electric blankets in the future,” Leonardo told him. “They use a thin fiber and run these tiny molecules through them that make them hot. It is fascinating.”
Maximilien nodded, not understanding any of it, only grateful for the warmth.
There was a scrapping sound of something being dragged and the next time Leonardo spoke it was much closer to Max’s ear.
“You missed much while you were on the Bastille, Robespierre. Did they tell you we are in England now? We are in a castle that Richard favored, called Middleham. It is toward the north of the country.”
Maximilien scowled and Leonardo laughed.
“It’s not as ostentatious as I think you think it is. It is quite sterile. There were people here who have been helping us, however. They’ve been…” Leonardo trailed off with a little hum. “Very well meaning. I think they are trying to keep us safe and after seeing you, I think they have been right.”
Max was left to ponder this as Leonardo fell silent. He was relieved to find out that Leonardo found them helpful, if nothing else. His mind still felt fractured and foggy but every time he woke up it became easier and easier to both stay awake and alert.
He struggled with the electric blanket to pull his hand out, groping in the air to try and find where Leonardo was, to grip his arm or find his attention. He jumped when a large and warm hand wrapped around his own.
He swallowed painfully. “Water?” He rasped out.
“Oh yes. Doctor Russo said you could have some when you woke, if you wanted. Just a moment.” The hand slipped away from his grasp and Max let it fall limply to his side.
“I think it would be easiest if I just did this,” Leonardo said after a moment. There was another mysterious click and the bed underneath Max began to tilt upwards. When he was upright, Leonardo guided his hand to grasp the cup so he could lift it. His arm trembled with the effort, but Max got it to his mouth, drinking it dry.
“What did they do to you?” Leonardo asked suddenly when Maximilien had finished. He startled and lost his grip on the glass. He felt it tumble away and braced for the crash.
It never came. Leonardo muttered something. “I’m sorry. I should not have pried. I was just curious.”
Max shook his head. He felt exhaustion sloughing his reason away, like rains eroding a soiled hillside.
“You need to rest,” Leonardo said quietly, and the bed began to lean backwards. Max had the curious sensation that it was going to make him slide away and struggled to stay upward. Leonardo put his hands on his shoulders and firmly pushed him down. “Sleep. I’ll be here in the morning, too.”
Unable to fight it, Maximilien slipped away again.
“We’re going to test the progress on you vision today,” Doctor Russo announced the next time Maximilien was awake. “Once your eyes have recovered enough, we can start getting up standing and walking again.”
“Voice,” Maximilien croaked. He hated how limited his vocabulary had become. Words, both his recall of them and getting them past the persistent burn in his throat, had become difficult in a way he’d never imagined them to be.
“You’ll have to be patient with them. We can start on therapy as soon as you can stay conscious for longer than ten minutes and that will only happen once we get your stamina back,” Russo said bluntly. “I’ve dimmed the lights as low as I can and I’ll raise the bed, then we’ll remove the press and bandages. I’ll have to shine a light in your eye for a moment to see how the cornea is healing but it will only take a moment. It’ll likely sting,” she warned as the bed tilted upwards again.
Max nodded, winding the blanket between his fingers. He took a deep breath as the comforting cold pressure was removed. Something sticky was peeled off his face.
“Alright, now open them slowly, just let yourself adjust,” Russo order.
It was harder than he though it would be, as if his body understood the pinpricks of fear that needled Maximilien. He gritted his teeth and slowly pried his eyes open.
He hissed when he could finally see out from under one eye. Even though he could tell the room’s light was dimmed, it still burned.
“Slowly,” Russo warned. “we’re not in any rush.”
Max nodded even as he continued to struggle to open his eyes all the way. Gradually he was able to get them halfway opened, the room fuzzy and blurred like looking out a rain-soaked window.
Someone stepped in front of him and Maximilien looked up.
“Alright Robespierre, I’m going to look at your corneas for a second. Like I said, it’s going to sting. Deep breath now.”
One cool hand laid along the side of his face and suddenly there was a searing pain in his right eye, piercing all the back to his temple, then in his left. He was left with his eyes watering and black dots obscuring his vision.
“They did a number on you,” the Doctor said. “The muscle around your iris has been strained to the point of tearing.” She sighed. “We’re going to try treating it holistically first. We’ll let it heal and then strengthen it gradually.”
Max nodded, half of her words bypassing him all together.
“How long?” He rasped.
“You’ve responded well so far to the medical blind and press, so we’ll keep on with that for the next forty-eight hours. After that we can get you some glasses to and you can start getting back on your feet. We’ll take the next five days slowly and see how it goes.”
Max sighed as she let the bed back down.
Only five days.
Ironically Maximilien found it much easier to rest and stay in bed that he ever had when he’d been alive the first time. Sleeping was remarkably easy, much easier than being awake and suffering the stabbing pains from his eyes, the persistent ache from his throat, the restless claustrophobia.
Max spent much of his time asleep. But when he was prodded awake Russo pronounced his recovery to be going satisfactory and began his rehabilitation.
“Alright, Leonardo is going to help you up to your feet. We’re just going to stand for a moment, then you’ll sit back down.” Maximilien could hear her walking around the bed. “Leonardo is going to grab your arms now.”
Max felt Leonardo gently wrap his hands around his arms, just above his elbow. He stiffened slightly and resisted the impulse to push him away.
“It’s alright to feel nervous,” Russo said. “You’re probably going to feel uncomfortable with people grabbing you for a while. But neither of us are going to do it without telling you first.”
“Yes, exactly, Robespierre. Don’t be afraid,” Leonardo said.
Max scowled and shook his head. “I am not,” he snapped, or tried to at least.
“Perfect. Then Leonardo is going to pull you up now. Tell us if anything hurts beyond what you’re able stand,” Russo instructed.
Max felt Leonardo slowly lift him upwards and had to tighten his grip as he slowly straightened up. His legs trembled as he was forced to bear his own weight for the first time in weeks.
“It’s a mix of atrophy from sitting or lying down and the increased gravity from the planet,” Russo told him. Maximilien nodded absently, focused on trying to find his balance. He was burning, both from exertion and shame.
If the Convention could see me now, he thought, acid turning in his stomach. He thought about the darkly victorious expression on Carnot’s face, the same as he’d worn when Maxime had been chased from the Convention, as he struggled to even hold himself upright. He recalled all the remarks he’d endured about his fragility, his delicacy. All his life Maximilien had been told that he was not enough to succeed, he was never what was needed. A fearful two headed nag, an evil-tempered mule. A tyrant. A dictator, a blood drinking monster who ground freedom up beneath his heel, a man afraid of other men.
Max gritted his teeth, straightening up, despite the ache that spread through his back. No more. I will not be beaten back.
“Nicely done!” Russo said. “Alright, you can sit back now. We’ll do that again this evening, if you feel up for it.”
Max settled back, out of breath. He nodded.
I will not be beat by my own weakness, never again.