Notes: All the usual stuff about characters being copyrighted to Marvel, blah, blah, blah…

Wasn't thinking of a time period for this when I wrote it, but if I had to choose, it'd probably be after Gambit #16.

-oOo-


Cause and Effect, My Love

It begins with the woman: Parisienne, raven-haired, olive-skinned, smooth-limbed, a seductress of seducers. Over dinner with her husband, she looks over at him, lone diner, dapper, elegant, blasé; he looks back at her; they look at one another: the contract is made.

And as always, all possibilities distilled from that single, insoluble moment lead, inevitably, to the same conclusion.

Later, she comes to him as he stands at the bar, all shoulders and arms and hips and long, long legs, feline precision, Chardonnay in one hand, Sobranie in the other. His mouth twists as she approaches him, wry yet somehow self-deprecating – he had not expected this, he had not expected that she would make the first move. He shifts, easily, fluidly, his eyes upon the rows of insidiously coloured bottles on the shelf behind the bar, the bottles glistening liquidly in the hazy light of the smoke-filled room. Tonight he feels trapped, cornered, hunted by something both very real and very invisible; something all at once palpable and yet intangible, achingly so. He avoids asking the question, he avoids asking what that invisible something is – he knows, he thinks he knows already. Instead he glances down at the gold Rolex on his wrist; he thinks: I have a job to do, and it's getting late, and I shouldn't – but I still have a little time; yes, I still have a little time to kill… …

He is being uncharacteristically indecisive. He downs the remaining pool of bourbon from the bottom of his glass, as if to draw strength from the pungent, acrid taste of the liquor.

"Got a light?" she asks. Throaty, honeyed, like trailing a spoon through a pan of hot, bubbling treacle. He thinks she is one of the very few women who would be able to wear velvet and pull it off. Midnight blue velvet. Perhaps. She is wearing black chiffon, as if it were a second skin.

Up until this point, he has appraised her only out of the corner of his eye. Only now, drawing the antique gold lighter from his pocket, does he slowly turn to face her, eased, relaxed as if the intention had never crossed their minds – No, as if the intention had never lodged in their minds and stayed there, from the very first moment they had laid eyes upon one another across that softly-lit restaurant.

He finds that, having glanced at her once over the dining room, and having gazed at her approach through the corner of his eye, it is enough. He smiles un-self-consciously, seductively, lights the Sobranie for her.

"Your accent," he begins, laid-back, natural as if he has always known her; "Parisienne?" He pauses. "With just a hint of Cambridge?"

She exhales smoke, a corner of her mouth upturned, half in amusement, half in surprise, dark brown eyes assessing.

"Oui," she replies after a moment, the smile playing, curving, baring just a hint of straight white teeth, before she briefly locks scarlet lips around the cigarette in a gesture loaded with both lewd suggestion and unbridled defiance. "Indeed you are very perceptive, Monsieur…"

"LeBeau." He passes her the card, the key that had gained his access into this place. "Entienne LeBeau."

She takes the card, feigning interest in the information contained therein, out of nothing more than polite formality and – No, out of nothing more than performing the necessary ritual of the hunt, of the chase. But her soft brown eyes scan the glossy paper briefly, and after a moment she frowns, as if she has seen something misplaced.

"Entienne LeBeau… You are an art dealer?" Her eyes flicker back to his face, brow furrowed, questioning. "But my husband does not know of…"

"If I may be so bold t' say it, Madame," he interrupts lightly, allowing himself to smile at her suavely, confederately. "Dere are many t'ings your husband does not know, non?"

She raises a well-pencilled eyebrow, her expression a mixture of both outrage and curiosity at his audacity. "Quoi?" she demands incredulously.

He smiles again, turns back towards the bar, orders another drink from the bartender with a deft flick of the hand.

"Your husband does not know dat when a man possesses a beautiful woman, he must do everyt'ing in his power to keep her, n'est-ce-pas?"

Hypocrite!

As he says the words he keeps his eyes upon the row of liquor bottles for a moment, just a moment, brooding, meditating violently upon the myriad colours… It's not the lying, the lying comes naturally, he could do it in his sleep… It's not that he can't do this, he's done it a million times before, it's just that – His gaze settles intently on a green bottle, half-filled with the musky, viscous contents of blood-red Cockburn's port; only then does he raise his liquid eyes to hers again, flash her a brilliant smile as naturally as if it really belongs to his face.

Her breath catches, her pupils dilate, her knees crumple, just like a hundred women before… … She, Madame, seductress of seducers, bends her will to his own in a paltry matter of seconds; see how the tables have turned, how the conquest is made, so imperceptibly! She doesn't even have time to think how unfair it all is because she was the one who had started it; just as he has as little time to change his mind, because he doesn't have time for this little diversion at all and – No, because… …

He downs the rest of his drink in one go. She offers her name without asking, but he doesn't bother marking it in his mind – he knows he will forget it later; he wants to forget it later. He buys her a drink, lights another two cigarettes, one for him, one for her; they talk, they stare, they flirt, and she blushes like a schoolgirl; she's never felt so happy in all her life. He, on the other hand, laughs like he means it – but the drink has gone to his head now, and he can't tell the difference anymore, maybe he does mean it… …

The band is playing acid jazz in the background. The music and the wine has made him giddy. No, not only that, but also… It's stupid really – he finds himself glancing back at the emerald green bottle on the shelf as though expecting it to give him a sign, as though it were to animate itself and tell him that running away wasn't going to get him anywhere, because –

Fuck it! Merde! Let it go, dammit! Just let it go…

"Madame." He plucks the woman's gloveless hand between his own, kisses the tips of her naked fingers. "Would you care to dance?"

She laughs, deep, rich, the kind of laugh that would intoxicate any man's senses.

"You are not French," she remarks, allowing him to lead her to the dance floor.

"But of course," he grins. "Why bother pointin' out what's so obvious?"

"If you were," she grins back slyly. "A man such as you would not have persisted in calling a woman such as me Madame for such a protracted period of time."

He doesn't even know whether he frowns or smiles at her comment. At times such as these, inebriated, lost in the depths of the music, of his own maudlin thoughts, of emerald eyes and that indescribable scent… Of hair, of – Dieu, he didn't know what, he could no longer even disconnect his real emotions from his feigned ones. He would get sloppy; sometimes two contradictory emotions would shroud his face, like a mask half-slipped to reveal the horrible thing lurking on the other side, something burnt, something scarred… …

"My poppa always told me," he begins, his voice slightly unsteady, but she doesn't notice it, "He always told me…"

What did poppa say?

"He told me never t' treat a lady wit' disrespect," he finishes, almost too proudly, like a child relieved that he hadn't blurted out the wrong old adage.

…Never t' let the woman you love go, not least without tellin' her you love her first.

Ah. Yes. Jean-Luc LeBeau, sentimental? He did that sometimes. He'd cry sometimes when he thought no one was looking. He'd light candles in the chapel, he'd kneel in the small, dark, gilt-decorated room heavy with the unendurably overpowering stench of frankincense; he'd do it, even when he didn't believe in it, in any of it. Sometimes, he'd even get out his rosary.

Je vous salut Marie, pleine de grâce, le Seigneur est avec vous…

The clink of beads, the flickering of candlelight, the muttered prayers, the stifled weeping…

Perhaps, of all the things he remembered from his inane, eclectic and reckless childhood, it was this memory that unsettled him the most.

No man is an island.

An' nothin' lasts forever.

Her smile is coy, yet dangerously evocative, insinuating itself into his pores, into his veins, and he finds himself reciprocating, without remorse. He knows, but doesn't say it – he is dealing in fool's gold. She presses herself against him as they dance to the frenetic, syncopated rhythm of the music with passion, with slaughter in their eyes and in their tearaway movements. Whirling like mad things, weaving, in and out of the two-toned dancers, the dancers in monochrome, black and white, like an old movie embossed and replayed under tawny lamplight. Nothing sedate, nothing refined about this – this is shared madness and shared closeness, and he needs it, he needs it badly, the wantonness, the violence, the intimacy, the primitiveness of it all…

Here: this is where the rich and powerful come to play, to forget themselves, to leech off the small pleasures that this world can offer them.

But his needs are simpler – all he needs is closeness.

His fantasy is that he dances with another. That her hips press against his urgently, that she pants with more than just mere exertion. That her heart plays upon his own like a drum, faster, wilder, dissonant, grating, grinding, less rhythmical and yet more so; music written off the sheet and into other passions entirely, the chthonic, the primeval. Hands on hips, in hair, there is arousal, there is savagery, pain, murder, anguish…

He throws her to the ground, sinks his teeth into her, draws blood; to the agitated rhythm of the music he loves her, he kills her, he kills himself in the process…

He laughs, unable to help himself, with ecstasy, with joy; and in his fantasy, she laughs with him too, flesh bleeding scarlet from the place were he kisses her.

Yes: he would lose himself inside her, become her, and her him; they'd meld with the music, with the heady tang of the alcohol, with the lights, with the nebulous spectres of blue and brown and black and burgundy, with the scent of her hair, with their blood, with the frenzied onslaught of touch…

The woman thinks his laughter is for her. As the song ends, she clasps him briefly to her; through the fine sheen of sweat on her breast, on her collarbone, she feels his heart pounding through his white shirt and thinks it is all for her.

"Do you want to – ?" she asks.

"Yes," he replies.

-oOo-

Reflected car lights slide across the dimly lit room, air thick with the memory of skin against skin; his body is alight with it, raw as if sand-papered down to bare bones and dank, decaying, pulsating organs.

Too much has left him with an empty, hollow hunger.

He pulls on the black Armani trousers, does up his shirt, bottom-up – he can't remember the last time he's felt so exposed, so horribly corporeal.

She watches from the bed, raven hair dishevelled; machiavellian, voluptuous as a black widow peering out from the centre of its silken web, cigarette poised obscenely between two long fingers. She refuses to sleep. She is his doppelganger; for every move he makes, she mirrors it with exquisite and brutal sadism.

She's done this before. Then she should know that de two of us, we –

"You don't have to go," she says, flat, passionless, matter-of-fact, breaking his insensate train of thought. "My husband… He will not be back until the morning."

So her true nature reveals itself. No foreplay, not even the intimacy of kisses, yet she asks him to stay. She plays the game almost as well as he does. He stands upright, turns, stares at her, wordless. The lights from the street play across her face, unmasking the harsh contours of her brow, her aquiline nose, the petulant, irascible mouth. She is suddenly less beautiful under the harsh glare of the city and away from the soft pink lights of the dancehall and the restaurant. The corner of her lip twitches. Her eyelids hood her gaze from him; suddenly her expression is artfully coy, hiding amusement, disguising shame.

"There's a woman, isn't there," she states, feigning indifference, nevertheless injured, bleeding on the inside – in time the wound will become just another scar amongst many.

He looks away, jaw tensed – the light of the bar across the street is a pallid, off-white green, sour, accusing… … He says nothing, he says everything.

She flushes, her pale skin caught in a shimmering erubescence, not from desire, but from sudden shame. Despite everything, she has allowed herself to reach out, to crawl into that space inside his heart – only to find that there is nothing there, nothing that she recognises, nothing that she can grasp. And as he walks towards the window she catches his profile as the car lights glide along his features like oil through water; the next moment his face is once more shrouded in darkness – she perceives, without wilful, conscious comprehension, that he is protean, a kaleidoscope of variegated colours and textures; each skin he wears is as disposable as the next. He throws open the doors to the balcony as she stares at him, and in that gesture he is a chrysalis transformed, crawled out if its cocoon; a butterfly that cannot be pinned down.

The ash from her cigarette drops, unheeded, onto the edge of the sweat-scent-sex-stained sheets.

-oOo-

Having shed his skin, Remy stands on the balcony, looking down and out over the city, coat tails flapping implacably in the wind. He is five stories up. Five. He has already forgotten the woman's name, but her room number remains clear in his mind. He looks left, then right; he makes a quick calculation in his head. Satisfied of his bearings, he climbs up onto the railings of the balcony with measured precision, his expression one of practiced concentration. When he straightens himself into an upright position, it is only to find himself caught in a sudden, violent updraught of cold, easterly wind. He stumbles, almost losing his balance – the city spirals like a rush of blood to the head, the oscillating image momentarily pounds through his brain like wildfire through a camera obscura. His arms spread out, a reflex action – is he steadying himself, or is he embracing the inevitable fall?

No: not inevitable. As soon as it comes the breeze is stripped away from his teetering frame, and, as the gale howls round the corner of the building and away; as his heart pounds, as his head spins and his vision blurs, as he regains his balance, as the city remains calm before him, oblivious, lights twinkling, blinking, winking… A sudden epiphany comes over him.

That Rogue, had she been able to touch, would give herself to anyone in order that she no longer be afraid to love.

And that he – he too would give himself to anyone in order to believe that such a thing as painful as love did not exist.

It was so simple, so laughable, this – the dichotomy of him/her, you/I.

He is suddenly elated, exhilarated; he wants to defy the world, to shout obscenities to the city and everyone in it. He wants to rip up tonight's little diversion; he wants to crumple it up, throw it onto the fire, stamp on the ashes that remain. His body, slow, sore, scraped to within inches of secret inner self, is all at once invigorated. He feels reborn again. His love is bigger than that, bigger even than his self. He can't help it. He must go on. Even if it's only for her.

And besides, he has an appointment to keep.

Now he ignores the city, he ignores the forty-five-foot drop. Calm now, he pirouettes to the right, feeling the railings buckle beneath his sudden shift in weight. He bounces, once, twice, thrice, testing the metal's resilience. Then, suddenly, without warning, he breaks into a run. Tilts forwards. Braces himself. Springs. Jumps.

In mid-air, suspended in the middle of the night like a pawn misplaced, his mind is oddly disconnected from every second of this action of running, of jumping, of flying, of falling, of every fluid, interconnected instant of motion. Instead he thinks of eyes the colour of a half-emptied bottle of port, of hair the colour of cinnamon streaked white, of scent the colour of lilac, and he asks her:

"Why d'you still want me, chere?"

And she will say:

"Because you don't believe in love, an' yet you love me – and that's the kind of love Ah want."

But only in his dreams.

He lands on the balcony one floor and one room down with a feline grace. Had the woman watched his suicidal stunt, she would have seen him jump off the balcony railings, she would have seen him vault through the air like a fledgling launching itself to certain death, (she would not, however, have seen the expression on his face – the one that betrayed the fantasy that encompassed that entire vault); and then… he would have disappeared. Into darkness. Into shadows. She would have thought him a conjurer, a magician. Or else a creature of the night, that demonic spirit that visits young women in their sleep and ravishes them – the incubus.

The woman will close the windows firmly, lock them tight, draw the curtains to with a single, clipped motion; she will shudder now that she has bolted out the chill of the night. Those red eyes, she will think, I should have known when I saw those big, red eyes…

As if possessed by the memory, her breath will catch, her pupils will dilate, her knees will crumple, just as they have done with so many women before……

Remy stands in the inky shadows of the balcony, where the glare of the streetlights finds no foothold. He waits a moment, both out of habit and of a lingering sense of the necessity of waiting. The glass doors leading into the room within are closed, but the curtains are not drawn – inside, all is dark. He frowns. He is already late. And there is another woman he has to deal with. He doesn't like it.

Gently he presses down on the gilt door handle. The door is unlocked. He is not surprised. He edges himself into the bedroom with an insinuating air, as if every move, every word, every glance he makes is born from some inherent charm, as if his whole body was made to cajole, to captivate, to bewitch, even lonely old hotel rooms. But there is something predatory too, underneath it all; he strolls around the room, innocuous as a sheep, as a lamb; only the fire in his eyes gives him away – that it is the wolf that lurks within.

The room is uncharacteristically sparse, even for a hotel room. The bed sheets are slightly rumpled, but only as if someone had been sitting on the edge of the bed, not sleeping in it. He pauses. His left hand runs along the bedside table, with the same languid delicacy with which he imprints his touch along the woman's thigh, before he kisses her, before he bites her, before he puts his mouth on her and – There is something hard, metallic. He nudges the thing with the joints of his fingers, knowing better than to place his prints upon it, than to probe any further than he has already.

"I think that's quite far enough Mr. LeBeau," says a cold male voice from the corner of the room. "Don't you?"

There are very few people in the world that can outsmart the Cajun thief. This person is one of them. Sitting in its corner by the door, the shadow makes itself known, pouring its form into the darkness like molten sugar onto a cake, cooling, settling, solidifying. It is spindly, spindly as a spider, all legs and no body, thin and sprawling as elegant, flamboyant calligraphy. Remy still doesn't know how the man managed to keep him unaware of his presence until that very moment. But he does not make his surprise known. Instead his hand drops to his side neutrally.

"You're late," the man says, almost peevishly, voice like reeds; reeds frozen, encased in ice.

"An' you're unarmed," Remy notes. He doesn't once look down at the pistol on the desk.

"A token of my goodwill," the man replies brusquely, but coolly. There is a certain amount of distaste in his voice, as if the very act of talking to Remy makes him want to wither up, long-legged, in the corner, and die. "It is absolutely vital that my daughter receives this gift."

Remy's eyes are becoming accustomed to the dark. The form of the shadow almost takes on features – balding hair, hooked nose, an austere mouth; the suit, almost malformed, too big and ill-cut to give any true definition of the stringent figure within. A face, a form worn as if to pass unnoticed through the world; and yet the eyes betray the true nature of the man, just as Remy's expose his – cold, cruel, sadistic, malicious, eyes that glitter with some unholy light; they glitter now, brightly, reconstructing every preconception the dark may have given to this man's character. The rangy frame, the wrinkled flesh – all nothing more than a florid disguise. Like someone wanted to have a joke at the expense of the ignorant and uninformed.

"An' why do I have to be de one t' do dis for you?" Remy asks, wishing he was one of the ignorant or uninformed. The man unsettles him, and not many men can claim to unsettle him.

"My daughter trusts you," the man replies, after a moment.

Remy stifles a laugh. It comes out as a grunt – whoever hears him laugh?

"Hah. Dat's a new one. Truthfully, what woman ever trusts me?"

There is self-reproach thinly veiled under the sarcasm. The man ignores it, steepling his thin, gangly fingers before his face, giving the impression of knotted latticework. The malicious eyes are tapered, narrowed with the guarded stance of a snake about to shoot venom.

"As foolish as she may be, as much as she may deny it, and as little as you deserve it… Believe me, she trusts you. Too much for her own good. And more than she could ever trust me." There is bitterness in the man's voice. Irony. He wants to call himself a fool, for wanting his daughter's love. For getting nothing in return. In that, he and Remy are not so different.

But Remy lowers his head.

"Why don't you go see her yourself?" he mutters through gritted teeth. Outside, a clock strikes across town. Midnight. He thinks momentarily and abstractly of Rogue lying in bed, eyes on the moon, a circle imprinted on her gaze as if frosted on a windowpane, pondering the tides upon which her body is irrevocably tossed, onward, outward, cold, so cold… Oh somebody touch me, save me!

He wants to run away, to and from her… But his summons lie elsewhere. He has another woman to deal with. Here. He wants to run, to and from her…

"My daughter hates me," the man replies calmly, collectedly. This time there is no inkling of bitterness, nor resentment.

"How is dat any different from what she t'inks of...?" he begins.

"She loves you," the man snaps, as though rebuking a small child for suggesting that cats can swim, or pigs can fly. "Besides which," he continues, after a moment, calm again, "how am I supposed to get past the security systems?"

Remy says nothing. He has no answer to that. Instead he silently bends his will to that of the older man.

The older man senses this. He makes no effort to gloat. He is too impatient now.

"Come here," he orders peremptorily.

Remy does so. It must be understood, he is not a man who takes orders from others lightly: but tonight is different, and he feels obliged to do as the man says; the man is one who does not have his orders disobeyed lightly – this Remy knows. When he stands before the man, the man rises. He is as tall as Remy, inch for inch, not as broad, but just the right height for Remy to be forced to look him straight in the eye – such contrivance! Remy hates him. Loathes him. Abhors him from the very depths of his soul. He wants to shudder as if the man had encroached into his very soul.

The man opens up his suit and pulls out a long, thin envelope, its features indistinct in the darkness. Remy takes it, hesitant, surprised. He is suspecting something different, something meaningful, significant, coded – a trinket, a diary, a ring, a painting, a jewel (emeralds?); a parcel, a disc, a keycard, a weapon, an unknown contraption… But of course, what could be more coded and personal than writing? He asks no questions. Questions are not for thieves, nor are they for murderers, just as they are not for scoundrels, or creatures of the night. Now the two of them, they are even. There is no need to say anymore, there is no need in stating what is, already, obvious. Their business is concluded, the transaction complete. If only all relationships were as simple and uncomplicated as this!

Remy slips the envelope inside his dinner jacket. The man gives a knowing half-smile; his pencil-thin nose wrinkles; he sniffs derisively.

"You stink," he remarks, half in amusement, half in disgust. "Lily-of-the-valley. L'eau d'Issey." He pauses, white teeth glinting in the dark. "Been moonlighting again, LeBeau? My daughter will not be pleased…"

A light chuckle, somehow malevolent… The timbre of the man's voice changes subtly, then reforms itself, almost wilfully, of its own volition. The gleam in his eye tells Remy: 'it is worse for you than it is for me. You just can't let go…'

Remy turns back towards the balcony. The acid cackle continues on into the night, like a broken record, like a memory replayed… …

-oOo-

Any other day, it would not have mattered so much, but for the feeling inside him; and he can't explain it, the envelope feels heavy in his breast pocket, like a deadweight, like the final fall of the executioner's axe. He knows he should be delivering the letter. But instead he wanders the streets of the city, aimless, invisible as a revenant, slipping in and out of nooks and crannies unseen, toujours discret, like he grew out of the shadows one day, like the city had spilled him out of its womb one cold night and had possessed him of the ability to slink right back into it ever since.

He avoids his final destination.

It is closer to dawn when he finds himself sitting atop the clock tower, looking out on the world, gulping down the last vestiges of wine from a bottle he'd purloined from somewhere he couldn't remember now. He is cold; terribly cold in his suit, exposed to the wind and the early morning chill – colour is seeping back into the sky, turning the horizon into a thick, viscous shade of indigo, illuminating the inky contours of the clouds. He's drunk; downright drunk. Wine always goes to his head fastest. The night has taken all the violence and passion out of him; now he feels disconnected; he does not want to go back. The sunrise unfurls in a glorious eruption of taste and smell and colour. Plum, orange, lemon – the dawn breaks, and he can taste it – He can taste it! Sitting there, facing the daybreak, he is suddenly caught in the grip of a wild, delirious synaesthesia, and the last time he had felt that was when… was when –

Cinnamon and lime and lilac. He stifles a chuckle, remembering. But the memory pacifies him, quietens him at the same time as it elates him. He takes out the envelope and turns it over in his hands, pondering. He's not so afraid now. This night, last night, he had thought he was happy, he had thought he knew the meaning of delight, on the dance floor, in the Parisian woman's bed… But this morning – this is delight.

He slips the envelope back into his pocket, pats it gently, almost fondly.

"I want to repair your desire/ and call it a gift/ that I stole from just wanting to live/ Now I see the vision through your eyes/ Your innocence no longer fuels/ surprise…"

He murmurs the song with the voice of Donald Fagen, raw, wry. Whatever had happened last night, it was over, done with. LeBeau, he thinks, you are a fool. A couyon. All you need to do is take care of dis letter. Den it's all over.

The clock strikes; he hears the sounds as he would through seashells, obscure and far away. Five o'clock.

He jumps down.

-oOo-

What the hell was the matter with him?

He had left the whole business with the envelope too late, that was what. He strolls through the mansion grounds seemingly without purpose, jacket slung over his shoulder, muttering poetry to himself as drunkards are prone to do. But he isn't drunk. Not anymore. He is tired – but not drunk. The new morning is too bright, too rosy. Everything has taken on a brilliant, dazzling quality, causing his bleary eyes to smart. He pauses beneath the bay window of her room, looks up. The old, familiar action. He ruminates for what seems a long while. The window is open, and the curtains are still drawn, except for a slight parting in the middle – inside the room is still dark.

Still sleepin', ma chere? he thinks to himself. Dat ain't like you.

He imagines a sliver of morning light, sliding through the gap in the curtains to rest tenderly across her sleeping face, and his heart suddenly aches with that same old, empty longing. Damn the light! Damn it all! He wanted it! He wanted to touch her face again… He wanted it all: to love her, to kill her, to kill himself in the process… And then it would all be over, the whole damn, stupid thing…!

Making his mind up, he begins to scale the wall madly, like a thing possessed, obsessed… Until he reaches the window, pries it open wider, and leaps inside the room as he'd leapt onto the hotel balcony only a few hours before, quiet, unruffled, the revenant haunted by the day, seeking refuge in the dark – weightless, formless.

He stands there a moment, back to the window, rearranging the curtains behind him, feeling childish and irrational for doing so. It isn't that he doesn't want to leave a mark of his presence. It is that he wants the room to be the way it had been before he had entered, to see her the way she had been before he had broken into her inner sanctum.

She is lying on her side, facing him. The pillar of light that shines between the slightly open curtains does not reach her face at all; it merely grazes the top of her head, illuminating shiny cinnamon curls in the sunlight. Again the wave of irrationality comes over him. He feels giddy, as if at once numbed and stirred by the effects of opium. Dieu, he thinks, I want her; I don't care if it kills us both.

The epiphany he had had, standing on the balcony railings the night before, feeling as if the world were about to greet him, as if gravity would lose him… It all seems to ebb away upon a tide, and he wants to show her, he wants to show her what it would be like for them to fall together, for them to die together, for them to taste each other's blood, for it all to be over…

He cannot bear to see the light cross her face. Better make this quick. He crosses the room quickly, silently, and kneels down beside her. This close, this close and the resolution almost goes out of him. So close he can almost feel her breath tickle his chin. She is so calm, he almost doubts whether she is truly asleep. But she doesn't stir. Not once. He finds himself resting his elbows upon the edge of the bed, cupping his chin in his hands, watching her with the studied concentration of a cherub in a Renaissance painting. He wonders what she dreams. He wonders whether she forgets about him in her dreams, or whether she only forgets that they had said to one another: 'It's over.'

And if she were to open her eyes now, would it still all be just a dream, as much for him as for her? Would it be both their dream for her to wake up and to see him there, for him to look into her emerald eyes, to feel the way he did when they made love, to remember that it feels like love, that it feels like death, that it feels like dying and being reborn all over again… …

'Tes yeux sont la citerne où boivent mes ennuis …'

He rests his head on the empty space beside her, both wishing her into wakefulness and willing her to stay asleep; he wants to see her eyes, for her to watch him watching her, for the both of them to say nothing. In this single fantasy, this chimera of all his dreaming and waking hours, the insatiable lust to violate her, to kill her by a single touch is slowed, stilled, crystallised, shattered. The scent of her hair imbues her pillow with the lightest shades of violet, lilac, purple. The scent of her hair on the pillow. This is the closest he will get to her. This is the closest he will ever get to her.

He can't end it, not the way he wants to.

The sunlight has begun to brush against her forehead. The luminous quality of her skin jolts him out of his reverie. He sits up, blocking out the shaft of light, suddenly feeling foolish, awkward and embarrassed. I must still be drunk, he thinks. Must be. He picks up his dinner jacket, catches the stale odour of cigarette smoke, of wine, of the L'eau d'Issey, of –. Merde. When she wakes up she'll be able to smell dat I –

He levels out his irregular heartbeat with an effort. Slips his hand inside the breast pocket of his jacket, pulls out the cream-coloured, rectangular, unmarked envelope.

Go on. End it. Just put it there and you won't have to talk to her, look at her, touch her, kiss her, make love to her, ever again.

This is the way he should end it…

He raises himself onto his haunches and places the envelope neatly on the pillow where he had rested his head just a moment before. The sunlight slices across the envelope and over her forehead. He frowns in distaste, raises a hand, submerges it into the dusty, watery ray of sunlight. The shadow of his hand brushes her brow, tenderly, self-consciously; he knows he's taking too much enjoyment out of something so simple, so trivial, so childish. He sighs heavily. Why doesn't she stir, jus' to let me know she senses I'm here…?

No point in staying. Job done. It's all over and done with. Dieu, it's all over and done with…

The end, when it does come, is final, brutal and swift, all the more so for the fact that there are no tears, no drama, no harsh words exchanged, no violence. He leaves the way he comes, quickly, not once looking back, scuffing his shoes and ripping his shirt in the process; he can't remember the last time he was so eager to make his get-away. As he reaches the bottom, the sun crests over the tops of the trees on the hill, bathing the mansion in its syrupy warmth. That's when he looks up, once. The sunlight should be on her face by now… Maybe it'll wake ma beauté de sommeil up, de lazy femme.

He chuckles, slinging the jacket back over his shoulder, swaggering away, whistling the tune of the song he'd been singing atop the clock tower.

Mission accomplished.

Now what?

Sunbathing and a cigarette, that was what. Down at the boathouse. It really was a glorious day. Made a man feel like…

What did it make a man feel like?

Like love, like death, like dying and being reborn all over again……...

-oOo-

Up in her room, when the light floods over her face, she stirs, only once, yet doesn't awaken – her dream, whatever it may be, whatever she yearns for; it is all subtly thwarted.

But the envelope, dislodged by her sudden movement, teeters on the edge of the pillow, unwilling to lose its place by her side. Then, quietly, unnoticed, it slips, and flutters down to rest behind her bedside table – lost, gone as a thief in the night.

END -

09-04-2004