I. Sparrows

000 · 05 The Night Grows Pale

The booth’s only lightly ensorcelled, just enough to push the music of the discotheque into the background; thou canst still hear what song is playing, but speech drowns not in the noise. I can feel the living roots of Oylam HaZeh just out of my reach, waiting for me. All is still, and the future bodes no disasters, and my head spins.

“What do they call thee, darling?” says the rose pressed up against me. His voice is a breathy baritone, fluttering like a pennant in the wind.

“Well like, thou may call me Lev,” I say. “Leyb. But like nu, Zhenya? She calls me Lyubov.” My resolve falters, and so does my faith in the clarity of mine own shtik, and thus I add, “um. I’m like, a rose, nu?”

I peer at him, anxiously. He smiles, lifting just one corner of his mouth — his eyes are warm.

“Oh, I can tell, ziseleh,” he says, laying a hand on my thigh. He cocks his head, and grins. “I am too, if thou had any doubts! I’m called Anzu. Nyura, to thee.”

I want to say something witty, something charming, something what would anchor the delicate thing what may yet grow between us, but like— I can’t think of anything.

I want him, I want him so bad. I want to give my heart to him, raw and bleeding and scarred as it is, all its ugliness laid bare; I want him to take me as I am, all my flaws and all my failures accepted, all of me beloved—

I want to take him, to know him imperfect, to know I care not, to hold all of him beloved.

And in the halls of memory, Gilbert sın bloody Danzig takes my hand, and smiles at me, shy and reserved and full of hope, and I remember I’d felt this longing then, I remember how it felt to love, to want to love, to be loved—

To be betrayed, and found wanting, and to sojourn in lonely exile beside a boy I’d called my basherter.

My head rings empty as a bell; I shiver. Nyura’s face falls, and shame thumps in my throat; how needy, how ugly, to fall so hard after one kiss—

“Art thou quite all right, dearest?” Nyura says, his voice cutting through the fog. He leans forward, eyes wide and full of concern. “Thou lookst a touch faint–”

“Just … just tired,” I lie. He squeezes my shoulder, looking at me with unbearable tenderness. “I’m sorry—”

“Hush. No sorries,” he says. “Needst thee water?”

“Probably,” I say, and lean forward, holding my head in my hands. “I—”

I fall silent, and mine awareness ebbs; the present moment stretches out, tense and full of dread, shame rising and falling like a tide. Then Nyura coaxes me upright again, and presses a glass of water against my hand. He helps me lift it to my lips. I drink, and the water’s cold against my teeth. There’s a ghastly knot what had been my heart just moments before, and it starts to loosen.

“I like … I think I need to get some air?” I tell Nyura, and then add, hastily, “no like, actually get some air. Thou canst come. Um. I’d like thee to come—”

He helps me get up, and helps me find my walking-stick, and holds mine elbow as we climb the stairs up to the ground floor lounge. We slip out of the Peach, into the side-alley what borders an abandoned townhouse. The sky’s still white as a hospital sheet, but the air is cool, the breath of the city caressing my cheek. Somewhere out of sight, sparrows chirp, and ibises cry. I lean against the wall. Nyura unclasps a small cigarette box from his chatelaine — his hands tremble just a little, and I notice for the first time how stiff his fingers are as they move.

Nyura proffers the cigarette box; I nod. He fishes out a cigarette — slim, filter-tip — and tenderly places it between my lips, and lights it with a click of his fingers. I take a long drag, and blow white smoke out through my nose, and sigh.

“Um, thanks,” I say. “I mean, like. Not just for the cigarette—”

“Oh, don’t thank me, darling,” he says, carelessly. “Thou shouldst know, I’ve got a hell of an ulterior motive here!”

“Nu?” I raise an eyebrow at him. “And here I thought, thou wert grinding on my cock for reasons both selfless and chaste.”

Nyura bursts out laughing, and I laugh too, and the hideous shame drains away. I finish the cigarette; Nyura takes my hand, and we go back into the Peach together, our steps already falling in sync.

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