The first time Passepartout meets Death, he has just arrived from Burlington via steamboat on the Mississippi river. It is a glorious river, but nothing like the Seine in the city of his heart. He misses Paris and his native French language so much he is willing to settle for this bastardized version of French they speak in New Orleans as long as he gets to listen to others speak it and speak in French to others.
So he goes to a smoky, red-lit bar. He orders some bourbon, despite his inner perfect valet telling him that it was irresponsible to do so with his master’s money. Tonight, these moments, are for rest and relaxation. He justified it by telling himself that if the valet wasn’t rested and relaxed, there was no possible way the master could be.
A gentleman’s gentleman still shouldn’t be hanging around a New Orleans bar, though. Passepartout doesn’t really care. Someone sits down next to him. He looks right into the face of Death, who then smoothly offers to buy the bourbon as Passepartout nearly scares himself to death.
Lower-case death, not the Death he’s looking at.
It takes a moment, but he recovers enough to say, “Perhaps in twenty or thirty years,” with enough wittiness to be thoroughly pleased with himself.
Death turns out not to be an omen of his actual death, but a handsome man with brown skin and the most enchanting green eyes and hands that seem almost too bony to be healthy. Passepartout is even more pleased with himself, that he might be sufficiently charming or attractive to have this man sit next to him.
Perhaps this is his death, he thinks as he takes in the man’s features. But if death was this handsome, who could complain? His hand is taken and kissed; looks are exchanged from under lashes. Passepartout’s fingers slide through Death’s as their eyes remain locked, though their hands never fully disengage.
Death introduces himself as Octave, and Passepartout introduces himself with his last name rather than his first, as he usually does.
The grin that Octave-Death gives him in return (charmingly slanted, just a touch imperfect, almost boyish) is exciting and brilliant and is making him feel things he probably shouldn’t. “A special name for you and me, tonight.” Octave-Death decides. “Laurent,” for Passepartout apparently looked a bit like a Laurent.
Laurent and Octave-Death sound an intriguing pair, and Passepartout says as much. Conversation flies by, quick, brisk and easy, until they get into the touchy subject of Octave-Death’s family and how some days he wakes up not knowing if he’s alive or dead.
Passepartout still remembers the Siege of his beloved Paris. Some days, he feels the same. “You are alive,” Passepartout says almost unconsciously, the same mantra he tells himself sometimes when he remembers the Prussian siege.
Octave-Death’s anger slides away like pictures in the sand are by the tide, and a beautiful, dazzling smile replaces it instead. Octave-Death wants to see a smile from Passepartout in return, doesn’t want to see Passepartout sad; this sentiment is enough to make Passepartout smile even if he had been properly sad to begin with.
Octave-Death calls Passepartout’s smile rapturous, and full of secrets; he could say the same about Octave-Death’s smile, but refrains from doing so. After a bit more quick banter, the hour has grown late, and so Octave-Death walks Passepartout to the edge of the Garden District where his master has taken up lodgings.
It was a beautiful, dark night, full of secrets the way Octave-Death’s smile was, the way Octave-Death’s face was, and as the familiar moon shone down on a foreign river, they stood on a bridge and looked at each other and then Octave-Death leaned in, and they kissed, right there on the bridge.
He tasted like bourbon and dark nights and life and maybe, possibly a hint of death, if that was possible, and though Passepartout will one day forget the details of his travels with Monsieur Fogg, he will never forget that night on the bridge with Octave.
Passepartout vows never to forget his kiss with Death, and he never does.
He thinks of him often, when he thinks of New Orleans, and it is always a bittersweet crystal shard of a memory.
He holds it dear nevertheless.
The next time Passepartout meets Death, he has just escaped from besieged Acapulco in a caleche, from the Mexican city whose current circumstances remind him too much of his beloved Paris. He remembers the smoke, and the screams, and the endless sounds of cannon fire; Acapulco is not nearly as dear to him as Paris is, but the sight of that siege struck a chord in him.
Passepartout would be lying if he said he hadn’t been grateful to get out of Mexico.
There are still images of the two sieges rattling around in his head and stuck behind his eyelids, so after his master is settled he heads out into New Orleans to find something to soften the impacts. There is a multitude of smoky, strangely lit bars within this city of gambling and cigarettes. Passepartout finds himself drawn to one in particular, and without questioning it, heads inside.
Within the bar, he met Death, as he offered to buy Passepartout a bourbon.
Words escape him. A few beats later, almost enough to be awkward, and then, “Perhaps in twenty or thirty years?” he says archly. Passepartout knows, rationally, that he isn’t actually staring Death in the face, and that Death hasn’t actually offered to buy him a bourbon, but he is looking at someone who looks very convincingly Death-like and so he is going to believe they are Death until otherwise proven.
The mask is taken off and it turns out that Death is not Death after all. Death is, in fact, a man with skin darker than his and gleaming green eyes more charming than his and hands that are almost skeletal. Passepartout doesn’t usually notice someone’s hands, but this time he does, and maybe it’s just that skeletons remind him of both death and Death, but it seems almost fated that Death should have hands like this.
He might also be noticing these hands because his own are being taken and then his hand is kissed and Passepartout’s breath seems to have gone missing but that’s okay because he didn’t need it anyway. He can share breath with Death instead.
These are very ungentlemanly thoughts but Passepartout doesn’t really care right now.
“You must call me Octave, mon cher,” and the way Octave says mon cher makes a shiver runs down Passepartout’s spine.
“I hate my first name,” was his reply, and Octave immediately picks another for him instead. For tonight, he will be Laurent. He likes that, likes the idea of having a special name just for him and Octave, just for tonight.
They talk for a while, about family and New Orleans and then suddenly, somehow, they are talking about war and death and fighting. Passepartout doesn’t know how this happened; perhaps it was just on the mind, with the siege in Acapulco and the recent Civil War in this country, and really, he just wishes they were talking about anything but this.
Some days, Octave doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive, and Passepartout knows what that is like. In the hazy moments between dreams and full consciousness, it is all too easy to fall into his pit of siege memories, of the screams and the smoke and the aching, gnawing hunger. He had been a cook during the siege, and looking into the sunken faces and hollow eyes of his fellow Parisians as they starved to death had been bad enough at the time. It haunted him still.
But Octave is alive, Passepartout is alive, they are both alive and searingly so, and Passepartout tells Octave as much. The words seem to remind his companion where they are and what is happening, and the anger and frustration slide away, to be replaced by a slow, beautiful smile.
It makes Passepartout’s chest ache to look at it, the way looking at Paris now makes his chest ache. Sad beauty, he calls it. Paris is all the more beautiful to him because it has been broken. Octave is not broken, but he is still beautiful.
Octave wants to see Passepartout smile, now, and so he does, because who could say no to this angel? He is told it is rapturous and wants to laugh. Who could say his smile was rapturous if they could see Octave's? But, of course, Octave could not see his own smile, and so must say kind things about the smiles of others.
After a while, it has grown late, and so Octave walks Passepartout back to the edge of the area where his master is staying. The night was warm and dark like the hand that Passepartout was holding as they stood on this bridge, and for a moment, they paused and looked at each other, and in that moment, Passepartout knew what was coming.
They both leaned in, and their mouths collided, and for a moment everything stops and they are in this moment forever, teetering on the edge, kissing and kissing and kissing on this bridge in New Orleans. And then they aren’t, and Passepartout can’t help the twist of something like grief in his gut.
His breath stutters and Octave's eyes look just as sad as Passepartout feels, and they stand there for a moment before slowly disengaging and then finally, leaving each other.
New Orleans will never be Paris, but it holds a special place in his heart.
The third time Passepartout meets Death, he's in New Orleans because Monsieur Fogg has decided to travel around the United States. It's a more relaxed situation for them to meet than the other times, but of course, he doesn't know that.
This time, they still meet in a bar, and it's still smoky, but only because there are smokers lined up outside the bar getting their fix. It's still red-lit, but not so much red as a rainbow, now. It’s almost Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but Passepartout doesn’t know that, so when he slides into a seat at this bar he discovered and has someone offer to buy him a bourbon, it’s not so surprising, but to turn and look into the visage of Death absolutely is.
“Holy--" he begins but cuts himself off. His time with Monsieur Fogg has mostly scrubbed the instinct to swear out of him, but it still resides somewhere within him. Still, it seems he knows better than to swear even when his employer is not with him.
Death laughs, and the little accompanying thrum in his heart tells him what he needs to know; he’s done for.
Passepartout has always fallen quickly; hate, love, whatever it is, he does it fast and hard. Generally, he only falls in love with cities or places or feelings, not people, but it seems that this time it’s a person he hasn’t even seen the face of.
But then the mask is pulled off and Passepartout’s heart does the thing again and he stills completely. Death is beautiful. Death has eyes that are the darkest green and hands with elegant pianist fingers and then Passepartout’s hand is being kissed and he’s pretty sure his heart is going to fail him any time now.
It doesn’t, but he had genuinely thought it would.
“You scared me,” Passepartout says, and it’s a tad more accusatory than he had intended it to be. But then Death is apologizing and calls him mon cher (mon cher, and the way that mouth forms around those words does something to him that he hadn’t thought possible) and then flicks Passepartout a look under long, dark lashes.
Passepartout doesn’t hesitate before flicking one back.
It turns out that Death’s name is Octave, and Passepartout tests out the word silently before introducing himself. “Passepartout,” he says. Octave decides that Passepartout deserves a better name, just for them; he is summarily renamed Laurent.
It is a good name, a fitting name, and he takes Laurent and tucks it away in his chest, for he knows that he’ll be gone from New Orleans by tomorrow and he’ll likely never have more than a night with this wondrous man.
Tonight, he is going to be Laurent, not Passepartout, and he wonders what kind of person Laurent is.
They chat for a while, both drinking. It turns out that Octave is a veteran of the war in Iraq, and things take a darker turn as Octave tells him about not knowing if you were dead or alive.
Passepartout is momentarily lost for words. “You are alive,” is what he finally settles on, and he puts a reassuring hand on Octave’s shoulder. It’s blindingly pathetic, but it’s what he’s got.
Octave’s smile is beautiful, and then Octave asks for a smile from him, and Passepartout allows a smile to spread over his face as well. Octave thinks his smile is filled with secrets, and Passepartout doesn’t know if he should laugh or just inform Octave that he has no secrets.
He settles for the latter. Octave teasingly accuses him of being a liar, and as the clock ticks on, Passepartout is walked back to where Monsieur Fogg is staying. They pause on a bridge overlooking the meandering river, a scene that any passersby would assume to be the height of romance
Honestly, it was.
Their eyes meet and Passepartout unconsciously licks his lips and then they are kissing, right there on the bridge, and Passepartout’s chest feels like it’s going to explode and if he died right now, with his mouth on Octave’s, he would die happy.
He doesn’t die, in the end. Passepartout has a lovely, passionate kiss with Death and then has to leave, and his chest is exploding again but for an entirely different reason.
Still, he leaves, and while he does look back, the point is that he leaves Death and Octave and New Orleans behind him. He leaves the next day, and Laurent will always live in his heart, but Passepartout must move on.
And so he does, but he never really forgets.
He wouldn’t want to.
The fourth time, Passepartout is here by himself as a pit stop on his way to New York. New Orleans is a bright city, all glittering lights and smoke and a sort of sinful beauty. It’s almost like Paris, except Passepartout loves Paris in a way he will never love anything else. Paris is full of lights, as well, but it is beautiful in a pure, romantic way, is candlelight and romantic dinners, not red lights and cigarettes.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t love New Orleans, as well, and after he checks into the hotel and leaves his bags in his room, he sets out into the city.
Passepartout happens upon a bar, dimly lit and just as smoky as the world outside, and heads inside on a whim. There are plenty of bars just like this one just along this street (gay bars tend to stick together) but Passepartout decides to go inside this one in particular.
Passepartout has only just sat down at the bar, hasn’t even garnered the attention of the bartender before he has found the attention of someone else. A low, sonorous voice offers to buy him a bourbon, and a smile has already made its way onto his face as he turns to meet the eyes of this stranger.
He looks right into the face of Death, and Passepartout can’t be blamed for jolting back a little, nor for the expletive that nearly tumbles out of his mouth. Instead, he settles for saying, “Holy mother of heaven,” in surprise.
The laugh that leaves Death's mouth curls up into the air like so many puffs of smoke and the voice is just as beautiful as it was last time. Death reaches up and pulls off the mask, and Passepartout meets eyes that are the most captivating jade green, set in a face that's milky brown and with cheekbones that could make an angel weep.
As if fortune had smiled upon him and decided to make this the best damn evening of his entire life, his hand is being kissed.
If he was in a romance novel, he’d probably be swooning right about now. But he isn’t, so he just loses his breath for a moment and then regains enough composure to say, “A fine costume,” and then mentally kick himself, because who says that? What time period was this, the nineteenth century?
But Death seemed charmed by his old-fashioned language and laughs again. It’s still beautiful, trills like pure happiness, and Passepartout is probably visibly melting right now. Death introduces himself as Octave (fitting, for a man whose voice is so musical) and asks for Passepartout’s own name.
He falters. “I hate my first name,” he confesses. “I’ll call you Laurent, then,” Octave decides. “You look like a Laurent.” Passepartout would probably go along with just about anything Octave said at this point, and Laurent is a nice name, so he nods and renames himself Laurent for the night.
He wonders what Laurent is like. He wonders what Laurent is like with Octave. He decides he’ll find out. They talk for a while. Time flows past them like a dream, eased along on its way by copious amounts of bourbon.
“I wake up some mornings not sure if I’m alive or dead,” Octave confesses, and Passepartout can feel his chest freeze. He is tongue tied. There is nothing to say, to that; what can you say to someone who has trusted you with something like this, something that is a secret? Passepartout can’t offer empathy; he has never woken up like that, never experienced something that has left him with such deeply rooted memories, so deeply personal and vivid that he doesn’t know if he’s dead or not.
Sympathy must be something that Octave receives all the time. Pity is never liked by anybody, and it’s not what Passepartout feels, but he still worries that Octave will take it that way, and could he blame him? Octave must hear things like this all the time, and Passepartout himself knows that apologies don’t do much, if at all, but it’s all he has right now, so, “I am sorry.”
Octave wipes the tragedy and sorrow from his face like it was never there to begin with, which is a rather impressive feat. “You look sad,” Octave croons, reaches out a hand to caress Passepartout’s face. “How foolish I am to tell you these things when I would rather see you smile."
“A confession can be cathartic,” he says in reply, but there’s a small smile forming on demand anyways.
“Oh, mon cher,” Octave’s smile went wicked in a flash. “Would you absolve me if I confessed my sins?” The smile does something to Passepartout, twists something in his gut that leaves an undeniable feeling in its wake.
“You are incorrigible,” Passepartout sniffs haughtily, smile still teasing. “You must leave a trail of broken hearts behind you.” Octave seems to find this statement hilarious. "You are toying with me, mon cher," Octave laughs dramatically. "I am utterly in your thrall."
To think that someone could be in his thrall when this paragon of beauty was sitting in front of him was ridiculous, but Passepartout doesn’t voice this thought.
It was getting later and later, and so Octave walks him back to the hotel like they’ve been plucked right out of a cheesy romantic movie. A romantic movie wouldn’t have two men in love, of course, but Passepartout can pretend.
They pause on a bridge and their eyes meet, and then they are kissing like the world is going to end, and Passepartout thinks he can feel his heart breaking a little. They can both taste the goodbye on each other's lips; they both know that this one night, beautiful as it was, is all they are going to get, so they latch onto each other on that New Orleans bridge like octopi.
It’s heartbreaking and tragic and probably shouldn’t be (they had, after all, just met that night), and Passepartout will always remember it.
He likes to think that Laurent stays in New Orleans with Octave, instead of leaving. He likes to think that somewhere out there, Laurent and Octave are living and loving and laughing together, drinking morning coffee spiked with bourbon and sharing sour morning kisses, that when he sits at his kitchen table Laurent is too, and that when he looks up, Laurent meets the green eyes of Octave instead of the empty air.
He likes to think that Laurent was brave enough to leave everything behind, was brave enough to do what he couldn’t do and live the life he couldn’t have.
Sometimes, at night, he lies awake in bed and thinks about New Orleans and bourbon and dark nights and kisses. It leaves a bittersweet taste in his mouth.
The fifth time he meets Octave, he has returned to New Orleans after decades of being in New York City. Passepartout knows it is irrational, stupid, and sentimental to go on this lark, especially out to the bars of New Orleans, but he has never been much good at listening to his brain, and when he has, it has made him regret it later.
So he goes to New Orleans. He retraces his steps from that fateful night so many years ago, stays at the same hotel, walks down the same streets to get to the same bar. It’s just as badly lit and unhealthily aerated as he remembers.
He doubts that Octave will still haunt this old place; he doesn’t even know if Octave lives in New Orleans anymore. That’s alright. Passepartout isn’t here to satisfy some sentimental urge to see Octave again. He’s here to relive that night, sans the most important part of the entire evening.
Funnily enough, he does meet Octave. Passepartout could recognize the man anywhere, even though it’s been years and they’ve both gotten a lot older. Passepartout sees Octave from behind, perched at the bar, talking to someone else, and he almost musters up the courage to talk to him.
Then he hears Octave’s laugh. (It’s just as beautiful as he remembers, but it’s not for him anymore.) Octave is talking to another man, and while that wouldn’t deter him for long, he hears what Octave says to him.
“Oh, Laurent,” Octave says, and it is layered with years of fondness and affection and the kind of knowledge that comes from living in tandem with someone.
His heart feels like it’s breaking all over again, and he hadn’t even been expecting or searching for Octave. Maybe that makes it worse. Words are stoppered behind a dam of teeth and regrets and years, and Passepartout decides to get a bourbon and then get the hell out of there.
“A bourbon,” he tells the bartender, and he feels rather than sees Octave turn to look at him. It seems that he’s not the only one who can recognize the other anywhere. Passepartout holds out for a moment, but gives in and lets his eyes swing to meet Octave’s.
They’re just as entrancing and green as he remembers. His breath leaves him as he drinks in the sight of Octave, a little older but no less handsome. Passepartout's lips twitch up into a smile, at Octave as well as the man who looks a little like him, watching the interaction between the two of them like a hawk. He raises his eyebrows a little in acknowledgment and picks up his bourbon.
He wouldn’t want to interfere with Octave and this man (who, presumably, is actually named Laurent), and so he just raises his bourbon in a silent toast.
He drinks to their health and to Octave’s relationship, and when he leaves, his chest still hurts.
Passepartout had always thought he would get over Octave one day, and while it seemed that Octave had moved on, Passepartout hadn’t.
He didn’t know if he ever would.
Still, it gave him some measure of comfort to know that his dreams and fantasies about life with Octave as Laurent were playing out for Octave, somewhere out there.
He hopes that the other Laurent makes Octave happy.