come the sun
i’m lost in the light
i pray for the night
to take me, to take you too
A curious realization in the middle of the night: Noé’s coat smells like lavender, Lady Grey, and some soft, strange scent somewhere beneath that Vanitas can’t put a name to.
It’s something sweet and quiet, whatever it is, and Vanitas only takes note of it when they happen to roll over in their twilight sleep. The thin strings of dreams cling to their body just enough to make their movements groggy and thoughtless; they don’t even realize Noé is lying beside them until their wandering hand touches his elbow. The touch is as aimless as it is candid; how they would balk and bleat if they knew how they reach for warmth while they sleep.
It’s Noé’s voice that wakes them into semi-awareness. “What is it?”
Vanitas blinks their bleary eyes, trying to make out the vague shapes in the dark. “What is what?”
“You touched me. Are you alright?”
Vanitas rubs their eyes with the pads of their fingers before squinting through the shadows to see Noé. Yes, there he is, lying right beside them in this hotel bed, stretched out on his back with his hands clasped primly atop his stomach. His head is turned to look right at them, eyes gleaming a silent wine-red. Beyond the window, the glow of the moon lights up his outline in a clean, silver ray.
Vanitas is stricken in the most subtle of ways, and they aren’t one for subtlety. Terribly boring, they think, and so it’s easy to laugh off when it sneaks up on them at the sight of Noé’s serious mouth. “Oh,” they sigh out, waving a hand to dismiss his question. “Well, I do suppose that’s what we get for booking a room with nothing but a queen bed, yes? You’re so big you take up all the room and leave none for poor little me.”
A bold-faced lie. Large as he is, Noé is unnervingly adept at taking up as little space as possible; like a magician, he can whittle his body down to barely more than a collection of narrow pieces closely knitted against each other. Even now he looks like a sketch, strangely one-dimensional in how he lies so flat and contained. If it weren’t for his calm, steady breathing and the sweet scent of his coat, Vanitas would almost think he wasn’t real at all.
Which brings them to his clothing. Squinting again, Vanitas huffs out a little laugh through their nose and says, “And even more curious, you sleep in your day clothes. Quite uncouth coming from someone as splendid as yourself.”
Noé looks down at his vest and coat as if he forgot he was wearing them at all, then rests his head against the pillow and turns his sober eyes to Vanitas. “I don’t need much sleep, is all.”
Vanitas hums in thought, a lick of a smile curling at the corners of their mouth. “Yes, I suppose your kind wouldn’t.”
Noé merely stares at them in response. His expression is unreadable, neither here nor there. Then, with eyes suddenly wide and glittering, he says, “That’s not true. I just lied to you.”
Vanitas’s grin deepens as they roll over onto their side and prop up their weight on one elbow. “How exciting. Do tell how you’ve deceived me.”
“I can’t sleep,” Noé says, breathless. “I’m so excited I can scarcely contain it…! One moment spent sleeping is a moment I could be spending reveling in the fact that I’m in Paris…!”
Vanitas’s grin softens in their shock. “Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time?”
Noé gives an earnest nod, tip-tapping his gloved fingertips skittishly against his stomach.
“So why aren’t you out on the balcony enjoying the view as you were before? Nothing’s stopping you.”
“Because I didn’t want to wake you.”
And now Vanitas’s smile is gone altogether, replaced with a moment’s genuine candidness that would make them blanch with shame if they noticed it. They drop their head to the feather-fluffed pillow and curl up in a crescent moon beside Noé, nothing touching, but thinking about it. When they try to come up with something cutting and clever as a response, their tongue doesn’t provide. Unsettling – they’re never speechless.
“Is that odd of me?” Noé asks after a long silence.
“Of course it is,” Vanitas says. “Everything you do is odd. Everything I do, odd. We’re odd people, Noé, so as it stands, yes. A very odd thing indeed, to be so kind.”
Noé seems to mull that over for a few moments, his mouth slung in a thoughtful frown. When he turns onto his side to face Vanitas, there’s that uncanny feeling of candidness again that rises up in their chest and makes their throat feel warm and vulnerable. “So you do think I’m odd?” he asks, quiet, no accusation in his tone but mere wonder.
Vanitas snorts. “I like how you don’t seem so shocked that I, too, am odd.”
“I’m not,” Noé says, unblinking. “It was the first thing I thought when I met you.”
Vanitas’s grin comes back in an instant, sharp and sugared. “A good first impression, I see. Did you find me remarkable?”
“That among many other things.”
“Other things? Tell all, dear Noé.”
Noé shakes his head, all too pleasant. “Mm, I’d rather not.”
Vanitas gives a grand sigh and yanks the blanket up higher about their shoulders, shivering from the cold. “How boring.”
“They aren’t bad things.”
“So why not tell them? I do enjoy a nice showering of compliments from time to time. Or all the time, if you will.”
“Like when I called your work with Florifel phenomenal?”
“Oh, yes. That, Noé, was marvelous.” Vanitas beckons him with their hand, and they hear him laugh. “More of that, please. How brilliant your face was, how perfect your mouth when you spoke such words to me.”
“Was it even the words that made you happy?” Noé asks, his words curtained with a curiosity so genuine as to be extraordinarily fond to the ear. “Now you’re just pointing out things aboutme.”
Vanitas stretches their arms up to the ceiling, letting their shoulders pop until they sigh with relief. “Like I said before on the balcony. It is no wonder, no wonder at all, why all of Paris wants you.”
“Bit of an overstatement.”
“I never exaggerate,” Vanitas protests dramatically. Noé lets out another one of his sweet, clear laughs. “Not a day in my life have I ever exaggerated, dear Noé. Surely you must agree.”
“I admit this is news to me.”
A good smile, Vanitas thinks, eyes heavy and pleased in the dark. A good smile and a good name. Without thinking, they scoot but an inch closer to where Noé lies, and at that tiny movement they catch another hint of the soft scent of the other’s coat. They take it in for a moment, the scent making them feel nostalgic for a place they’ve never been, or otherwise don’t remember. “A question for you, dear Noé.”
“Do you wear cologne?”
Noé blinks. “No. A little too heavy for my liking.”
“Then why do you smell so nice?”
“You do. It’s startling. Not to say that I expected you to smell like dung – quite the opposite, in fact, being someone of your stature and grace, of course you’d smell wonderful – but this scent…” They lean close and breathe in just above Noé’s broad shoulder. “It’s curious. I can only pick out two notes in it, and one is your tea. Lady Grey with milk and honey. Entirely coincidental, that one, but no less endearing.”
“And the other?”
“Lavender,” Vanitas murmurs just before the velour of Noé’s coat. “Rich but muted all at once. As if someone else’s perfume clung to you upon passing them by, and it liked being on your skin more than theirs, and now it’s a part of you and wishes to go nowhere else.”
Noé is breathing very, very slowly. “Was there something else you couldn’t make out?”
“Indeed. I’m still trying to understand it, but continuously I fail to give it a name. Do help me, will you?”
“I’m not sure if I can. I don’t know what I smell like…I just hope it’s good.”
Vanitas gives a thoughtful hum, still curled up before the warm curve of Noé’s body. “Alright, then. Fair enough. Then perhaps it would help to hear what your homeland is like.” Vanitas wiggles their fingers in the air as if trying to pluck out the right words. “What was it again? Averoigne?”
Noé nods, eyes glowing.
Vanitas snaps their fingers in victory. “Very nice. So yes, tell me about the place. The colors of it, the feelings of it, the beauties of it. Anything that comes to mind.”
Noé breathes out a light laugh that makes Vanitas grip at the edge of the blanket for a heated, tense moment. The gentle spark of it settles deep in their belly. “Where to start, then?”
“Your most favorite place. Tell me of that.”
Noé is silent for a few beats, staring absently at Vanitas as he contemplates. And then, “The very heart of the woods.”
Vanitas cuddles up beneath the heavy wool blanket and watches Noé’s mouth as he talks. They almost touch, these two bodies in this queen-sized bed, but they don’t. But we could,Vanitas thinks, thumbing and twisting at their bottom lip. “The heart?” they ask, distracted.
“Mm. A pretty place. A cove of many colors and sounds, and yet…impossibly quiet all at once.”
“Loud and quiet at the same time? Color me confused.”
“I know, it scarcely makes any sense. Even saying it out loud to you I hear how foolish it seems. But I tell you, that’s the exact feeling I’d always get when I’d stand in the heart of the woods near my home. I would hear things that couldn’t be heard, things that came from beneath the earth, or from the trees…but if I’d spoken a word aloud, I don’t think I would have heard my own voice.”
Vanitas breathes in. Lavender and Lady Grey and something else, something earthy and dark and peculiar. Trees? Rain? Another world beneath the grass and dirt they walk upon every day?
“Many a time I would go there as a child…whenever things felt too loud elsewhere, or if I needed a place alone to look at the moon.”
Vanitas lifts their head a little.
“Sometimes I would fall asleep there. My teacher would find me curled up in the leaves and tell me I looked just like a little animal.”
Sleeping in the leaves in a hidden, colorful forest. That’s the other note to Noé’s sweet scent Vanitas has been looking for. “Just like the lavender,” they say, “it clung to you.”
Noé blinks at them, pulled out of a tender daydream. “Sorry, what was that?”
Vanitas smiles in a moment’s small victory. “That’s it, Noé. You smell like the forest. You slept in its heart and now it will never leave you. An entire week here in Paris where the air smells of perfume and opium and yet I still smell the forest in your clothes. Should you ever take them off, I’d smell it on your skin, too.”
It’s bold of them, they know, but anything is better than subtlety. Noé’s eyes gleam with a question, and it may just be Vanitas’s wishful thinking, but his breathing seems to pick up by as little as half a beat – which, given the man’s tranquil, unaffected nature, could be considered the equivalent to hyperventilating in anyone else. Vanitas flashes their teeth at him in a grin. “Have I taken you off guard?”
Noé keeps staring. “I’m sensing a pattern here, yes.”
“I’m glad. A face like yours deserves many more expressions than you’ve shown thus far.” Vanitas gives a stretch and a yawn worthy of a twelve-act opera. “And I do intend to pull every last one out of you, Noé.”
They curl up on their side again and make themself comfortable beneath the thicket of blankets and sheets. They can still feel Noé’s gaze on them. When Vanitas opens their eyes after a few moments of pretending to rest, they find him very close, closer than they remembered him lying. They think of a forest dappled with light, leaves glittering in colors that don’t exist. They think of things humming beneath the dirt until the ground has a pulse. Slender shadows moving between the trees; teeth scraping against skin.
All of this just from Noé’s strange eyes. At the look and the thought, something jolts hot between Vanitas’s legs, and they let out a prim cough into their little fist to refocus. “Anyway, be a dear and check the time, will you? I had no intention of waking this early.”
Noé reaches into the pocket of his vest and flips open a silver pocket watch. He reads the position of the clock’s hands by the light of the moon through the window. “Five.”
“In the morning?” Vanitas groans and rubs their eyes. “An absolute tragedy. No point in going back to sleep now.” They glance over at Noé again, who’s relocating his pocket watch back into the fold of his vest. “Did you get any sleep during the night?”
“Mm. Did you dream?”
Noé shakes his head. “No. I haven’t done that in a long time.”
Vanitas is terrifically sad all at once. “No dreams, Noé? How on earth do you get through the boredom of sleep, then?”
Noé’s expression is soft and placid. “It wasn’t false of me to say I don’t need that much sleep. I feel fine, really.”
Vanitas frowns. “A dreamless sleep…that sounds an awful lot like death.”
The mattress creaks slightly when Noé shifts to sit upright, his back to the pillows propped against the headboard. “Not quite that severe,” he says, smiling somewhere far away.
“Just as I’ll save you,” Vanitas declares, “I’ll help you learn to dream again. I’m adding that to my list of absolute imperatives.”
Noé’s eyes turn to the glass door of the balcony where the city sits waiting for sun. “But then all I’ll want to do is sleep.”
Vanitas chirps out a laugh and rolls onto their back to look up at him. “That would never happen, even if you could dream all the dreams in the world. You don’t strike me as the slothful type.”
The back of Noé’s neck makes a pretty curve that Vanitas keeps their eyes trained on until he turns to look at them. “Do you dream a lot, Vanitas?”
Addressed by name. Something about that sends a shiver through Vanitas’s bird-bones and warms them like a furnace in a cold room. Their tongue skips clumsy over their thoughts for moment before they can say them properly. “I do. In bright colors and beautiful sounds.”
One corner of Noé’s mouth turns up in a lilting smile. “Like the heart of the forest.”
In the darkness, Noé is a silhouette haloed in silver against the backdrop of the far window. If you could see your reflection, Vanitas thinks, you would see the work of dreams all on your own.
“I think I will go out on the balcony after all,” Noé says, rising to his feet and stretching. “The sun will be rising soon.”
Vanitas gazes up at him from their sprawled position on the bed. “Not for another two hours, and then some!” they protest, scandalized.
Noé seems unshaken, blinking at them with his sweet eyes. “Is that so terrible?”
Vanitas gawks at him before rubbing their eyes and sighing. “We could at least have tea first…I’ll go mad if I’m denied my tea.”
Noé is shifting back and forth on his feet in a little anticipatory dance, his hands fiddling with the buttons of his vest. Vanitas can’t help but smile at him, defeated by the endearing display. “Give me a few minutes,” they tell him before rolling languidly out of bed. Blue silk drifts lazy and cool along their skin at the movement, then settles around their ankles in a delicate ruffle when they stand. “The balcony simply won’t do. We need something else to occupy ourselves.”
Noé keeps up with his tip-tapping dance, eyes wide and eager. “What do you have in mind?”
“What say you to the prospect of walking in the city? I’m restless and sure to lose my wits if we sit around till sunrise dilly-dallying.”
The twinkle in Noé’s gaze answers for him, and Vanitas makes quick work out of undressing and dressing behind the gold-embroidered room divider by the vanity. Their blue silk nightgown is draped lavishly over the top of the divider like a bloodless body. “Noé,” they chime out in the midst of tugging on a pair of bloomers black as ink, “we’ll be out on the streets much sooner if you could go about preparing tea while I make myself pretty, yes?”
“Surely you don’t need to dress up,” Noé says, the diplomat. “The sun isn’t even up, no one will see you and judge you for what you’re wearing-”
“You, my dear, do not yet understand the workings of Paris. There are eyes in the masonry. They stare at you through the clock towers. And they see all.” Vanitas cinches a belt around their narrow waist and sets the extravagant royal-blue ribbon in its rightful place at the small of their back. “And I intend to look my best when those eyes catch me.”
Noé doesn’t argue against that, but when Vanitas emerges newly dressed, they find him still in last night’s clothes, just with a bulky gray coat and a scarf the same red as his eyes thrown haphazardly on top. Tea is waiting on the little table by the bed, steaming with an attitude. The scene is endearing, albeit strange, since Vanitas had barely heard the man move at all during their dressing. Not a single footstep, no boiling of water, nothing.
“Can we go now?” Noé asks, pleasant, but the excitement in his voice scarcely masked.
Vanitas gazes upon him for a few moments in deliberation. And then, “You are very bizarre indeed, dear Noé.”
Noé goes back to the tiny shifting of his weight from foot to foot, that little tapping dance he doesn’t seem to notice himself doing. “We’ve gone over this, yes. Can we go?”
Vanitas grins as they reach for their coat. So polite, this one, and yet so huffy when told to wait. Cute. They’ll remember that.
And that’s how, within the next five minutes, Vanitas found themself walking side by side with Noé through the winding streets of Paris, a hot teacup poised in hand. “You couldn’t even wait to let me have my tea in the room,” the sigh out at him, lips hovering before the porcelain rim. “I have to carry it around outdoors like an absolute animal.”
Noé doesn’t respond. His eyes shine up at the lit lanterns and the windows that glow out onto the dark blue morning. Early risers, likely taking baths and making tiny breakfasts and kissing each other. Vanitas watches Noé’s breath puff out in little white streams onto the winter air; they’re stricken with a sudden longing to drag their hand through one of the breath-clouds, to catch it in their velvet glove and hold onto it. When that uncomfortable feeling of candidness sweeps over them again at the sight of Noé’s innocent, half-opened mouth, his eyes to the shadowy peaks of buildings, Vanitas huffs out a laugh and says, “Suppose I need to drink my tea fast, lest it turn to ice in this weather.”
“Are you cold?”
Noé is looking right at them now. For a moment, Vanitas is almost worried what their voice must have sounded like in order to turn Noé’s eyes away from the city and onto them, but his stare is patient and waiting, genuine in its concern. It’s baffling, that honesty. Vanitas’s heart, all decked in lace and jewels, hiccups in the face of its purity.
Noé gives a thoughtful hum, his eyes flitting all over Vanitas’s face in search of something. Then he seems to find what he’s looking for, because his arm rises as if to pull Vanitas against him, hand offered palm-up. “May I?”
Vanitas gapes up at him. They’re going to spill their tea all over the place at this rate if he keeps looking at them like that. Their tongue feels too big for their mouth when they give a broken laugh, waving a tremulous hand as if this is all just so funny. “Oh, yes. Tear my throat out and warm me with my blood. Warm the whole frozen city, if you will.”
“Not quite,” Noé says, unfettered. “See, like this.”
His arm winds around Vanitas’s shoulders, and the hold of it guides them against his sturdy side with an easiness that – dammit – does make them spill their tea right onto the cobblestone at their feet. Their head only comes to his shoulder, but they feel much smaller, contained as they are within the safe bar of Noé’s arm and the warmth found there. Vanitas stares down at the tea spill with wide eyes. It’s splattered on their boots, a mess of chamomile and rose.
Their voice sounds tiny and very far away when they say, “Strange how warm you are.”
Noé doesn’t seem to hear them, for all he replies with is a quizzical hum and a lowering of his head to look down at them. Vanitas can smell that delicate lavender and Lady Grey and haunted forest on him again. They breathe in, eyes closing, shaking around their silk and velvet edges. Is this what their blood smells like to one who wishes to drink it? How romantic.
“Anyway,” they say with a wiggle of their fingers, empty teacup deposited in one too-big pocket of their coat, “let us walk. I’ll either freeze or fall asleep if we remain stationary. Then you’ll have to carry me.” A brief glance at Noé’s arm wrapped around them. “Which wouldn’t be so tragic, really. Perhaps I’ll play dead for you sometime.”
Noé gives another one of his sage nods, but he’s smiling, and that’s divine.
They walk through the city streets nestled close to one another. Vanitas names each and every landmark and building that Noé asks about in his hushed, excited voice, and he thanks them every time, squeezing them lightly against his side. They sink into him unknowingly, and when the knowing comes too late, Noé is already asking about the next little thing that crops up along their walk. The questions take Vanitas’s mind off of the burning in their chest, incessant and nagging and far too real to cover with a curtain and call it nothing.
The moon hasn’t fallen yet, but after an unprecedented time of wandering and talking, Vanitas sees the first hint of sun start to swell up along the horizon. Paris, once a deep blue, now glitters in thin rays of silver and gold. Stars twinkle as they die. When Vanitas looks up at Noé to gauge his reaction, there’s a gentle sort of wildness sparkling in his eyes that makes them catch their breath. “Vanitas,” he says, staring out at that sky, “isn’t it wonderful?”
Vanitas sinks sleepily against the other’s shoulder. They are silent.
“Morning is coming,” Noé murmurs, “but you can still see the moon.”