This story contains some spoilers for episodes 16 through 18 during which it is set.
She spent the night with her head resting on his chest, listening to his heart.
Having slept through it, he has no idea until she tells him this. Like it's something to be boastful about. She hums it for him— "Mm-mm . . . mm-mm" —like a skipping record. Two notes, the same frequency, but to him the sound of her voice slipping through her closed lips is among the most beautiful sounds in the world. He hadn't realized it until this singular moment, when it reaches his ears from out of the roaring silence. Penetrates him. As she sings to him the sound of his own heart.
But this should come as no surprise by now. After all, it is only natural he should gravitate toward that sound:
She is the Professor's daughter.
He has no memory of dragging himself to her building. Only of the world shaking and something twinkling in his eardrum. Nor had he any notion of why his tired body chose that place until she confessed listening to his heart to make sure it was still beating. So they're even now, she says. The confession starts something inside him, even if his exhausted exterior doesn't show it. Now he knows why here. That heart she emulates skips a beat, and in that moment a sudden pain pierces his chest.
It's different from the ache of this flesh of matter he's been yoked to, that pushes him down against the cold floor like a grindstone. More painful than the subatomic 180 taking place in his molecular structure, or the cut of the lances that caused it. More wonderful. It magnifies everything. It gives him the resolve to drag himself up off the floor as she goes to turn off the dripping faucet, grindstone and all.
He has to get away from it, even if he doesn't really want to.
He only regrets that he slept the whole night through.
The world has stopped shaking. However, he still feels the tremor in his bones, like one still feels the rolling of the sea after he's stepped off the ship—not sure if it were really himself rocking the whole time. Only now the twinkling has stopped as well. The silhouette of a rabbit that hangs in the window is still.
He mourns it in a way. That nostalgic sound made him think of a place of deep silence, a pure and empty desert landscape glowing under a bright and strangely unoppressive sky that was that same queer blue color he glimpsed above the Turangalila. It kept eluding his mind, like a song heard at the end of a dream, sung by angels. Before he could catch a faint strain of it; now he can't hear it at all.
He can't hear the Professor anymore either.
Dark silence reigns in the apartment. It rings in his ears until he swears he must have gone deaf as well as material, until the occasional car passes by on the street outside.
She's gone most of the day, and when she's here she hardly speaks to him except of trivial things, in a trivial voice. She wants him to think she hates him, but he's patient. He knows better. The fact that she kept him here when he was weak and tried to escape says something different. The fact that she doesn't kick him out now despite how often she tells him she won't care if he got up and left does too. Her words can't deny her feelings like she wants them to, so he remains patient. He has faith she'll say what she has to when she's ready.
The silence is slowly driving him mad, but he can't find it as oppressive as she does. He has spent his life in it.
"You've brought this piano back to life."
She looks up at him and stares in surprise. Her fingers go still on the dirtied white keys.
"I heard you playing," he explains, aware that this is hardly an explanation at all. The piano has not made a sound.
There is a moment when fear flickers across her eyes. She must be wondering if he snatched the notes from her mind—and if so, what else he has stolen. But it isn't as intimate as that. The piano made no sound, but it gave the notes up nonetheless, ripe for the picking of the listener.
As though to prove it to her, he hums the simple melody she has made. Five notes ascending then descending: A. D. E. C. G. Something simple a child might have tapped out, or it might have been a law of the cosmos. Something random or genius, or both at the same time. It stirs a primal memory of nothingness as it echoes among the rubble of this concrete wasteland and in his ears. His voice or hers, or the piano's or the Professors—he can't be sure.
He lowers his voice and holds her gaze. "Keep playing."
She doesn't. Maybe she thinks she mustn't give him the satisfaction. She returns to tuning the piano though it continues to make no sound.
It gave her refuge from the storm, she tells him in the meanwhile, as though an explanation were needed as to her continued kindness to a dead instrument. He wonders if she realizes the full weight of her words, if she sees the parallels he does. Caress the keys and the piano gives you something, she says. But what it is she wants, he wishes he knew.
He wishes she would think of him like she does that piano, even if his actions in the past have not exactly warranted such treatment, unaware that she had once wished the same thing.
The lid is open and he leans over the side to watch the hammers dully strike the silent strings as she finally indulges him and plays again. He knows the piano remains silent, but he can hear the melody as clearly in his head as if he were on stage at a concert hall. It fills his mind the moment he recognizes it, drowning out the howl of the cold wind and of his own material stuff.
It sounds like some kind of waltz, slow and lilting in triple time. He can't be sure if it lilts out of artistic license or out of the player's uncertainty about the piece. He doesn't know what it's called, nor does he particularly care. It pulls him too far back. All he knows is that this song once surrounded him like amniotic fluid. He breathed it. He exhaled it. It resonated within the space of his mind. It was the Professor's gift to them, a lullaby to his surrogate children.
Perhaps it was the same to the child of that man's flesh and blood as well.
He remembers it as he remembers that other song of hers, as something hardwired into his person in the womb, vibrating within him like a tuning fork in the key of A. And he wonders if that other song was her lullaby to him—if that's the reason why he never tires of its simplicity.
For a moment it seems as though she shares his secret. She stops to smile at him for the very first time, like a child, and he realizes there is a smile planted firmly, however slight, on his silent lips as well.
Only then does he notice her smile was really a wince as a speck of dirt was blown into her eye.
She goes still under his hands when he puts his lips to her left eye and gently teases the lid open with his tongue. The only sound she utters is a gasp of strange wonder. To her it must seem an unusual thing to do, but to him it feels only natural, if not somewhat saintly. Like the proverb about removing the beam from one's own eye before removing the mote from another's; except the beam in his own eye was not there before. She placed it there, unwitting.
He feels the particle on his tongue, small and rough and tasteless, and he pulls away, in awe himself that he managed to catch it. "I got it," he says as he stares at it after plucking it off his tongue.
"I don't get it."
He looks down at her. She looks down at the floor, her hand clutching his damp sleeve though he isn't sure why.
"So cruel to others yet so gentle with me."
She looks up at him as though waiting for a response, but he won't give her one.
"Is it because I'm your master's daughter?"
He stares down at her, at once focusing on her features and peering through them, into himself. He knows his silence wears on her, but atypical indecision seizes him. He can still taste the salt of her tears on his tongue.
"No," he finally decides to say.
"Really." It is because she's his master's daughter, but not the way she means it. It is not because of the Professor, but because of her. The Professor does not command that gentleness, but she does. By her very nature.
He leans forward and places his lips against her crown. The soft strands of her tawny hair tickle their sensitive skin. The feeling threatens to tip him over, but her hand still gripping his sleeve despite herself keeps him steady, as he bends his head lower to place those lips against her brow. She goes still again and he can feel her heart beating fast and warm, like the heart of a small, frightened animal.
For only a moment. Then something within her caves and she raises her face and stands on tip-toe and meets his lips halfway. Limbs weak already from the long walk here, he loses his balance and staggers, pushing her back against the dusty fireplace mantel of this abandoned manor that shelters them from the rain; but she continues to hold him up, breathing warm against his mouth. She won't let him go.
The crowd quickly separated into pairs and dispersed.
Ten-thousand francs was too exorbitant a price for a single dance,
even if it was with the wealthy banker's merry widow.
And, finding himself with no takers and alone with Hanna Glawari, The waltz swayed around them, but the widow stood unmoved. He had had
suddenly Danilo could, after all, and did and was only too eager to dance.
his chance, she thought, and what had he done but try to sell it away?
And, finding himself with no takers and alone with Hanna Glawari,
The waltz swayed around them, but the widow stood unmoved. He had had
She put her foot down. "No, I will not!" she said even as
she was swept into the rhythm of the waltz. . . .
He wakes up to the sound of music, and the steady high-pitched droning of an old television set.
The very action of opening his eyes, though getting easier, is a purposeful action that requires strength of will to counteract the lead weights of his eyelids. "Flowers and Trees" enters his sight like the afterglow of a whimsical dream, but he hadn't been dreaming. He finds himself on the dusty couch in the parlor of the abandoned mansion where they first met, his back still somewhat damp from the rain, unsure of the time. The dreamless sleep disturbed his sense of time, and the weather beneath the Sheltering Sky gives him no clues.
The last thing he remembers is her lips against his.
He tries to sit up. It takes more effort than he realized. His breath hitches with the pain of it but he never cries out. He hasn't before, so why start now?
"So you're up."
Her voice invades the frivolity of the TV program. Human beings have a habit of stating the obvious, but he cannot complain. Far be it for him to be particular about how he hears her voice.
She sets a tray down on the coffee table in front of him and kneels down on the floor. Her head obscures the television screen but this he can only see as an improvement. She has found a patch somewhere in the house and it covers her left eye. He can't help wondering if it still hurts her or if she is trying to cover up what he has done.
"I found some instant cocoa in the kitchen and thought you might like some," she says as she goes to pour from a large kettle, and he notices the two cups sitting on the tray.
Even before he can smell the steaming cocoa he experiences a distant sense of deja vu: of his companions sitting on the couch he is lying on, Sex staring at her with that deceptively dazed look of his, Octo commenting on his foresight in bringing five cups. There were five of them then, the three of them and she and her brother. It was a good number. A solid number. He remembers how he had thought they were the two most beautiful people he had ever seen, when he saw them in the parlor by candlelight that night of the storm. And he remembers thinking irrationally, whimsically, how he would have been content to live his whole life like that, in this dark old house, just the five of them against the world. Like Peter Pan and Wendy, her brother and two lost boys.
And it's hard for him to believe that Sex and Octo are gone. Maybe he shouldn't be here. There's something sacrilegious about it. They didn't give their being for this present moment. But the present moment, alone here again with her, overpowers everything else. Five was a good number, but somehow two is infinitely better.
As she watches the cups absently, he finds himself murmuring, "Is it supposed to hurt this much?"
She looks up at the sound of his voice. "What? Matter?" She still thinks he's talking about his wounds.
He smiles. He utters the word like an unbeliever utters the name of God—or the Devil: "Love."
She goes still all over again, like when he placed his hands on her. "What are you talking about?" she says.
But he knows she understands him just fine and does not waste energy on repeating himself.
"Don't say that! Don't say things you can't mean."
But he does mean it. This isn't some game of his designed to torment her, if that's what she thinks. If anything it's the other way around. For the first time in his life he's sure of it. It is something the Professor never told him about, but he's sure of it—as sure as he is that half of him is slowly dying.
As though she has read his mind, her right eye grows wider and she says in a horrified way that hurts his ears: "How could you possibly know what love is? You're not even human—Don't!"
He reaches out a pale hand for her shoulder—suddenly inexplicably terrified he'll never touch her again—but at the faintest touch of it she jerks away, like it were the hand of a leper. Like it would contaminate her. For an instant the abject fear in that uncovered eye of which he is the cause makes him want to cry, but he isn't human like she said and he doesn't know how. Instead he must settle for this throbbing in his chest.
Then her knee hits the coffee table as she rises too quickly and one of the cups of hot cocoa tips over, spilling over the tray and table and dripping on the carpet, on her clothes. And that instant passes. She quietly excuses herself to get something with which to clean up the mess, and she won't look at him.
He didn't marry her when she was poor, so now he couldn't marry her because she was rich.
She said that men only loved her for her money, but she wouldn't say no to the right one. He said, if that's what she thought of him, she'd never catch him saying I love you. Oh, yes, I will, she said. Oh, no, you won't, he said. She dropped her glove. He picked it up. So this is war, she said.
She said that men only loved her for her money, but she wouldn't say no to the right one.
He said, if that's what she thought of him, she'd never catch him saying I love you.
Oh, yes, I will, she said.
Oh, no, you won't, he said.
She dropped her glove. He picked it up.
So this is war, she said.
It's war, he said.
There is no elevator in the apartment building. He wonders how she got him up the stairs the first time after he collapsed in front of it. Each step is an agony of shooting pain and stiffness and labored breathing, but at least she is by his side on the way up, patiently keeping a step behind him should his energy fail him. Even if it is a frosty patience, like a mother who clenches her jaw to keep from telling a stubborn child I told you so.
It's different when they reach her apartment. "Here," she says, leading him to her bed, "lie down," and it isn't a suggestion. "You've walked a long way today for someone in your condition. Frankly I'm a little surprised you made it."
He drops onto the mattress, bracing himself with both hands. It feels so good beneath him, cradling him.
But still he hesitates to concede like his body wants to and says between breaths: "Where will you sleep?"
She heaves a deep sigh and claps the palms of her hands against her thighs, and he sees now that she must be as tired as he is.
"I don't know," she says like she's given up. "Maybe I'll just fall asleep over the kitchen table again."
He glances down at the bed. It's narrow, but, "There's room here for both of us."
Once again, she goes still at the mere suggestion.
"I won't do anything," he says.
Just as he said his first night here. When his desperate fingers could only just brush her ankle from his makeshift bed on the floor. Just like that time, his words come out sounding just opposite of how he means them.
She doesn't know what to say, so she leaves him there and goes into the other room to let exhaustion take its toll.
He does not dream, only drifts in blissful oblivion until the mattress depressing beside him stirs him back to a state of semi-consciousness. "Can you move?" she whispers by his ear, and it sounds like she's been crying.
Instead of answering, he musters up the strength to shift farther back against the wall. She pulls back the covers on the edge of the bed and slides underneath them wearing the clothes she had on that day, and settles down with her back to him. The covers act as a barrier between their two bodies that are otherwise pressed together. Content with this arrangement, she folds her hands beneath the side of her face and pretends to go to sleep.
It's darker in the room now, but her tawny hair that spreads out on the pillow before his face glows in the ambient light of the Sheltering Sky that comes in through the gap in the curtains. He breathes in the scent of it. He knows he won't be able to get back to sleep now. She has said no word about it, but he knows what she has done in this bed they share, what has become of her since she left her brother, and the thought torments him. Perhaps most of all because there is nothing he can do to change it, though he's sure he could have prevented it.
He wonders if she is thinking the same thing when she suddenly gives up pretending and turns to face him. Because all of a sudden her lips are against his again. It's better than any dream, and he lets his eyelids fall closed and lets her do what he knows she's been longing to.
When he opens them again she's sitting up to take off her bulky sweater. He can see the outline of her figure beneath her shirt, and it makes him ache all over again, as she begins tugging down the covers beneath his body.
He does all he can, but she has to help him underneath them. And then they're lying face to face and her hand is caressing his blackened cheek, brushing the hair out of his eyes so she can kiss him again. She's gotten tired of denying that she needs what she needs, but she doesn't have to say a word to let him know that.
Kiyoko wakes at the chill on her back, though in her breast she is warm as she lies against the young man's sleeping, half-dressed form. If she lies still she can hear his heart beating under her ear. Stronger now than the first time she listened. That must be partly her doing. And she can't be sure she doesn't harbor some remorse over that.
That his condition seems to be improving.
Acknowledging that fact is the same as acknowledging that things can't last this way much longer. That brief instant, when she felt secure in his arms, when they came together like she'd never even come close to doing with a client, was just that: an instant. Never to reoccur.
She sits up in her bed and takes in the undecorated walls of her room within this dingy apartment building that is more like a cave than a room, like she's looking at it for the first time. She finds the shirt she had worn under her sweater on the floor and pulls it over her arms, buttoning it loosely.
And she turns to look back at him with one naked eye.
His chest rises steadily as he sleeps soundly on in her bed, and his skin is so white against his black clothes he hardly seems real. Through the play of shadows she can make out the blotchy patterns on his ribcage where his flesh still can't decide what it wants to be. Matter or antimatter—it all looks the same from here. Either way he is perfect. He is beautiful. So who could really blame her if she couldn't help herself? It only bothers her to admit the countess was right about her.
His sleeping face is like the face of a child, for a little while free of pain and free of dreams. The flaxen hair that always hides one side of his face from her has fallen aside and she can see the whole picture, the twin shadows of his eyelashes against his cheeks. For a moment, even though they look nothing alike, something in that face reminds her of Tatsuya, just as it did when she caught the reflection of them together in the kitchen when he collapsed in her arms.
She realizes then that she never learned his name. She never asked and he never told her. She wonders if he even has a name at all. For some reason, it hardly seems to matter one way or the other. She lost her virginity to a stranger; why should this young man be any different?
But he is. And she hates him for it. She knows he'll drag her down if she lets him.
And it would be oh so easy to let him.
Music wakes him once again. The waltz that she played on the silent piano the day before—she's humming it now in the other room. "That song . . ." Those words slip out all on their own.
She must have heard him murmuring because she stops and stands in the doorway, and says, "I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's so sad," is all he says.
She frowns as she says, "Do you have a fondness for saying that? You sound like a broken record." But it's more an observation than anything else.
"It's so beautiful," he clarifies, "that you want it to go on forever; but before you know it, it's already ended."
She stares at him curiously for a moment before she says as though she's giving up, "It's just a waltz."
The tone of her voice strikes something inside him and he moves to sit up. His limbs feel heavy, lying half dead beneath the sheets and undone clothing from that night, but fortunately his right arm is underneath him and he manages to roll his body to better face her. He has to look her in the eye when he says, "You mustn't speak so lightly of the waltz." He has to know his point gets across.
"Because when our lips refuse to say anything, its violins—every step of it cries out: Be mine, be mine. Love me." She stares at him blankly as he whispers again "Love me," so that after an awkward pause he has to clarify again, "That's how the song goes."
But what he mistook for an unimpressed expression is really one of suspicion and wonder. Like when he confessed to hearing that dead piano sing.
"How do you know that?"
"I heard it, a long time ago. It was one of the first things I ever heard, before I was aware of it. The Professor played it for us."
"He played it for me, as well," she says slowly. He had been tugging his jacket over his bare skin with his good hand because of a sudden chill, but this revelation makes him pause—though he doesn't know why it should come as any surprise by now. "When I went to visit him at Uruk," she says like she's trying hard to remember something. "I don't really remember, though. I was two years old."
"Then I guess that makes us like brother and sister, doesn't it?"
She doesn't answer. Nor does he expect her to. She stubbornly pretends not to have heard that question.
"I don't even know your name," she says instead. "I mean, besides . . ."
"Novem," he says.
"As in November?" She lowers her eyes. "That's not a name. It's a number."
"It's the same thing, isn't it? A name is just something that distinguishes a person from the rest."
She finds she can't protest and tentatively tilts her head and gives him a smile. Her lips say nothing, but her naked eye offers him the formal pleasantries of which they never had the luxury before. Now she finally has a word to distinguish him for the rest, even if it doesn't really mean anything in and of itself. Even if she never finds cause to use it.
The look is gone too soon, before she leaves him alone again murmuring something about going out for groceries. Even if that is just an excuse to get somewhere she can think clearly, he does not particularly care. Because this time her smile was genuine. Not a wince, or a defensive gesture. A real smile, unclouded by bitterness or despair, that makes his body go weak against the mattress again.
And this time she doesn't say anything about staying or leaving.
"You should not speak so casually of the waltz.
"It swells around you . . . intoxicating every part of you. . . .
It gently takes your hand. . . .
It envelops you. . . .
And suddenly, it carries you away."
A/N: The title and sections in italics were taken from Franz Lehar's opera Die Lustige Witwe, or The Merry Widow, which, aside from being the Countess' nickname (for reasons left questionmarked), is what the waltz in Kiyoko's dream heralds from—the first line being "Lippen schweigen" or "Lips are silent." (Novem is paraphrasing.) "He didn't marry her when she was poor . . ." is lifted from the Felicity Lott and Thomas Hampson recording's witty English narrative, while "You should not speak so casually" is from the dialog of the BBC video of an English language production.