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you are death and bloom, you are home

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It sharpened slow, and it sharpened all at once. Neither and both, like the first shy moments of a snap; a rough drag of friction spread out across time and pressed down thin into smooth. Fire, sparked back to life.

Somewhere in the distance, the rumble of a car and the rumble of a shout not quite Marseille and even less paid vacation faded in and faded out. There and gone. Present and not. Waves turned to still, forgotten in an instant. New York was New York no matter how many stories up.

Kimiko opened her eyes.

A world of hazy off-gold greeted her; a world of dark, and more, and all less than light. A door stood before her, the only thing strong enough to pierce through the deep and the dark. It was a hulking glass thing masked by little more than the sheer of curtains dancing in a summer breeze more humidity than help. It was cracked open, barely. It was light. It was dark. It was nothing.

Just beyond, somewhere in the gold, was a shadow. It stood unmoving, except for when it didn’t, a lone blemish against the sheer and the haze. The curtains rose and fell. The shadow made no response. No acknowledgment of the wind or of her presence.

Were she anywhere else, Kimiko might have wondered after that. She might have tensed, and rose, and crept across the floor, the calm before a storm building, and building, and building to crash. Were she anywhere else. But she did not tense. She remained in her place, on her side, heavy bedding folded up at her feet and Egyptian cotton pulled so far over her face that her vision was at times split between the black and the sheets. Her head felt numb. Her lungs, too heavy. She blinked, and she watched, and those sheer curtains rose once again. The shadow stood unmoving. Except for when it didn’t. The curtains fell. The shadow was still. Haze, and dim, and the gold of distant light. Over, and over, and over again.

Another car — one absent a muffler — roared its way past. Loud, and there, and gone.

Faint gusts of wind chased after, unsettling the curtains in their wake, and Kimiko too, rolled away in answering movement. She turned from the door; turned to dust in the shadow; inhaled its depths into her and exhaled herself into forever. Nothing greeted her but absence. The hazy golden light from the door did not stretch to touch the bed’s end, pitch rising up to swallow all attempt from sight. But, it revealed enough. It revealed absence. It revealed bedding thrown haphazardly away and a familiar military jacket crumpled and halfway covering an otherwise unused pillow.

She reached out and resurfaced from the empty to touch the thick fabric of it, lingering on the particular fray and wear of the collar. Of the shoulders. Of the arms. Olive drab green turned to empty by the dark.

In another world, in another life, she would have cleared her throat in that moment. In another world, in another life, she would have called out; would have tightened her grasp on the jacket; would have spoken word, question, name — Serge — into life.

In this, her breath hitched in her throat at the thought. In this world, her tongue felt too thick, felt too heavy, felt too much for anything more than empty air to escape. In this life, her lips parted in attempt and shuddered suddenly back to closed.

In this, the endless empty all around her warped and distorted the edges of gold. Even time seemed to slow at its threshold; transitional, liminal something stripping moments of presence. She breathed in, and the world ceased to move. She breathed in, and eternities passed by. She breathed in, and sound faded to silence. She breathed in, and in, and in, and then out.

The threshold returned suddenly to life.

But the dark claimed her again. Kimiko breathed it in, slow, slow, slow, and only then, only then did she climb free. Only then did she slip sleeve by sleeve into that familiar military jacket, the shoulders of it settling so far past her own that they reached nearly to the elbow. The hem, nearly to her knees. She wrapped herself in it. The friction of worn fabric and the scent of tobacco, and steel, and smoke. For seconds. For more. Lingering. Lingering. Drifting in that endless, empty forever.

Hazy golden light flickered at her side, momentarily shifting the shape of the dark.

Elsewhere, a dog began to bark at some unknowable slight. Almost as if in response, the breeze returned and parted the curtains. Kimiko waited, unmoving. Until she didn’t.

Outside, that hazy golden light burst into life. Outside, there was sound, and movement, and room for flame to grow until it pierced the infinite blanket of empty and black. The street lamps below flickered, and the distant neons flashed. The wind licked at her face. It shook trees from sway to settle in its unsteady tide, late night rhythm uninhibited by the day.

The shadow, too, no longer shadow but fresh-cut fuzz, and bare scar-ridden skin, and inexhaustible warmth leaning against the balcony railing, exhaled smoke into the night.

Serge made no comment at her presence. He inhaled slow and exhaled slower, broad shoulders and silver scars rising to life with the act to paint out countless little histories. A silk-smooth stream of smoke danced, and danced, and danced itself gold. The whole of his focus was miles away.

She pressed herself to his back, forehead settled between his shoulder blades and the rest of her neither stirring or startling at the way the whole of him tensed. Instead, her hands reached calmly for the jagged pock-marked scars at his left. His constellation of exit wounds. The pads of her fingers traced the shape of them, one, by one, by one along their rises, and falls, and the shape of his breath, gently, gently, gently. Ghostly soft, barely there, barely there.

Serge shuddered at her touch. Flame turned to fire.

“Mon coeur,” he said, as if he truly hadn’t noticed her until that moment. Rough and deliberate from the smoke, or the hour, or both. “Je m’excuse. I did not mean to wake you.”

His cigarette flared and faded at a tap. Tiny flecks of burned-out nothings drift off into that bright, golden distance. Kimiko watched them, all of them, until they faded from sight. She wrapped her arms around his chest; let her warmth spread. She signed: one finger to the base of his ribs and a firm shake of her head. You didn’t.

At his responding chuckle — low, and rough, and quiet; wrong, and small, scared — her arms fell to settle at his waist, hands clasped loose at the knuckles.

He inhaled slow, muscle working to stay within the boundary of her grasp, to stay within the heat of her touch. He asked, more grit and gravel than voice, “Then what? Surely the pull of these bendy straws was not so powerful as to wrest you from your slumber?”

Kimiko did not respond. She kept her head pressed to the too-tense curve of his spine, silence as answer and her palms steady splaying out to flat against his stomach.

Ahead of them both, the city lights went on shining. The humid night breeze picked up once again.

In another world, Kimiko thought, she would have raised her hands again, used the sign they had created together: fluid half-points between them both, and waves of movement, fingers flourished to an upturned palm. Mon coeur.

In that world, in that life, it was enough. It said every thing that needed to be said. In that world, in that life, whole forevers were contained with in it. In that world, maybe, Serge had not risen from bed, from sleep, from peace, at all. In that life, maybe, they were limbs still tangled beneath the sheets and all of her boxed into the warmth of his arms because even though he was fragile, too fragile, a thing built of matches and tinder reaching, and reaching, and reaching for her, he was comfort, too. A flame built to match her own at the cost of being struck.

“Do not blame me for worrying,” Serge said, breathed, in this world.

Kimiko did not raise her hands. She traced the scar that stretched to his left hip, the pads of her fingers pressing so lightly into flesh as to be barely there. In this world, Kimiko pressed her lips to each individual vertebrae within reach at the base of his neck: one, two, three, and too far, too high, and a responding laugh, less sound than breath, less voice than movement, and the subtle rise and fall of broad, broad shoulders.

Serge said, “Someone has to.”

She paused, then. She paused, and Serge turned, and he reached for her in that same, fragile way, touch ghosting over the backs of her palms. Tinder to flame, closer, and closer, and closer.

She shook her head. No.

“No?” Serge asked, only barely still audible. Only barely more pliant.

She shook her head again.

She guided him blindly back into the dark.

Behind them both, the breeze died to a still.