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epilogue: sunrises

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Theo is scary. He is scary in the sense that he seems so distant; so cold; and so well-put together: in his stiff gray hat and his ironed suit. He’s like clockwork; up early, out early, back late. He does his work like a well-oiled machine—non-stop and efficient. He is not called the Phantom of Goupil for nothing.

But he has a secret. When he lets himself get distracted from his work, sneaking in the cracks of idle times, everything falls apart quite easily. The opposite of Vincent, Theo is very susceptible to his own emotions. Sometimes even the changing of the seasons is enough to do something to him. Like a pocket square, he tries to neatly tuck them away, unnoticed.

Then he works. He works until his body breaks down. Until dawn breaks. Until he can’t anymore.

Not that he can escape it. The nightmares come easy. In the pitch-black darkness reverse of the yellow, sunlit home in Arles that Vincent filled with hope, the one he hound himself on that tragic day, Theo is jolted away by the echoing sound of a gunshot that rings in his head loudly. His breathing is ragged; fear-filled sea blue eyes blown wide open; the splotchy remnants of a distant past his mind tries to recreate fading back into his unconscious.

He wasn’t there that day. Not right then. Maybe that’s what makes it worse.

He stands up from bed, careful not to jostle. Staring out the window, he wonders if he can dream of anything else—scenes he finds himself lost in, deep in his memory. The rye fields of his childhood, the one near their small home with the back garden in Zundert, in the Netherlands. The cobblestone paths of Paris, where he worked, amidst the views of the Seine and the Louvre. The Yellow House where his brother lived. His apartment, half home, half Vincent van Gogh art gallery.

In his mind, he hears the safety of the gun click loose, and he prepares himself for another resounding bang.

But there are none.

Instead, there is the shuffling of sheets. He turns; your half-asleep form is nearly indistinct in the dim moonlight, but you’re definitely awake. You watch him idly, blanket pulled up to your chest. When your eyes meet, you stretch out your hands, welcoming him to an embrace.

He settles back into bed, scooping you up into his arms. You press your face against the crook of his neck, sharing in the comforting warmth.

“Nightmare again?”

The again is heavy. Every nightmare he wakes up from, you wake up from too.

But you catch his guilt before he does. “No, don’t worry about it,” you say, kissing his collarbone. “I told you, didn’t I? I won’t let you suffer alone anymore. You promised you’d let me help you.”

Something soars in his chest. “You did,” he murmurs, pressing his face against your hair. In the embrace, your heartbeats sync, and he focuses on the comforting drum of your pulses. He doesn’t mind being honest now, in moments like these. And he’s promised not to break any more promises. “I’m okay.”      

“You are,” you whisper. You turn to face him, press a loving kiss against his cheek, before you run your hands gently through his hair, combing comfortingly. “You’re here now. You’re with me. You’re safe. I’ll keep you safe.”

He turns so he can press his face against your neck, and you wrap your arms around him. The moon is a silver blanket over the both of you, watching closely. He listens to your breathing turning even, focuses on his own.

Theo himself is a ghost that haunts the shadowy corners of his atelier of a heart. But there are visitors now, the gallery is bathed in light, the artists are quiet upon their easels, and you. You are there, standing in wonder at all the art that has passed by and makes up his life.

He presses a kiss on your forehead and smiles. You’re right, he thinks. Why should he be afraid of darkness now, when you are his sunrise he’s dreamt of for so long;

When the sun is right next to him?