Lightning slashed across the sky in vicious arcs. Even though it was noontime, the sky was black with cloud cover. Debris swept through the streets and raced down the cobblestone faster than any horse.

Rain had yet to make an was still a promise on the horizon, but close enough so that the smell of wet stone and earth engulfed the city of Paris.

Thirteen blocks away from the river Seine, down a quiet unobtrusive alleyway stood a Victorian townhouse – its exterior painted a light gold with white embellishments. The house stood two stories tall, but looked rather plain and well worn by time. It had character, but was woefully out of fashion with France's elite. The current owner had bought it for a pittance and moved in shortly after, shocked by her good fortune.

Lucille was glad to be out of her old apartment. Her Aunt Carlotta was the landlord and that left her little privacy. The Madame was always intruding for some reason or other: gossip, a cup of sugar, or to pester Lucille about work. If Lucille was going to retain her sanity, she needed to move out. Money wasn't a huge issue; the theatre had been doing exceedingly well lately. It was more of an issue of finding the perfect home – one which had some space but was also quiet and out of the way. The star of the Rare Bird did not want to be with good reason.

Her current lover was unusual to say the least. She loved him unabashedly without reserveor shame. He was hers and she was his. It didn't bother her in the least to be seen with him, but in public he had to wear a disguise – not for his sake, but for everyone else's.

Because unknown to most, he wasn't a man at all, but a giant insect. The sheer sight of him caused old women to faint, children to scream, and grown men to flee in fear. Francoeur was a gentle soul, but people were quicker to judge by appearances than actual intent. Lucille didn't find anything particularly frightening about him. She never saw his face contain even the faintest hint of malice. True, four arms, spines, and segmented appendages didn't conform to the human standard, but that didn't make him monstrous. If anything, she found her lover endearing and his devotion to her was unmatched by any of the men that came before.

Which is why she bought the house – she owed him that same kind of commitment. It wasn't fair to Francoeur that he had to be disguised all the time.

But with Carlotta around that's all he could ever do. He would sit around in the apartment wearing that damnable white suit and twiddling his fingers all day or practicing guitar – waiting for the moment her Aunt would barge in. Nothing irked Lucille more than when Carlotta had shown up unexpected. Francoeur deserved to be comfortable in his own skin and he deserved to be comfortable with the one he loved.

That was why her new townhouse was perfect. The side-street it rested in was a quiet spot mostly ignored by the residents of Paris. There were no markets or shops, just a subdued residential area in which the most frequent visitors were pigeons. Lucille could leave the curtains open, certain there would be no prying eyes.

Today a storm whipped against the house's siding and sent shudders crashing against the eaves. Inside though, it was cozy and warm. The faint light of gas lamps lit the home in a golden hue. Most of the furniture on the first floor was still covered in white sheeting. Half open boxes littered hallways and forgotten corners. Only a few items were unpacked. A glossy guitar leaned against the wall opposite of the fireplace. Various sunhats were perched on random pieces of furniture like colorful birds reluctant to return to their cages. And ivory mask and matching jacket were carelessly draped on a coat rack by the front door.

On the top most floor, down the hall and to the right was a bedroom painted in the richest burgundy. In it, there was a bed in which a couple lay swaddled in a heap of blankets. Pillows were thrown carelessly off to one side of the bed and a downy comforter swallowed Francoeur and Lucille whole. The naked woman pressed her back against her lover, reveling in the closeness. The feel of bare chitin on skin was unlike anything she had felt before. The closest comparison was like snake skin, but instead of scales they were plates that radiated warmth.

Francoeur hummed a tender tune against her neck. His velvety voice thrummed behind her ear like the soft twang of guitar strings. One hand ran its fingers through her hair, tangling and then detangling her silken tresses. His other three arms clutched Lucille against his chest, their digits tracing light circles on her shoulders and sides. The curve of her spine nestled perfectly against Francoeur's abdomen and his legs entwined with hers like latticework. Lucille could feel the dull thud of his heart from the base of her neck to the small of her back. Its steady drum was the beat to Francoeur's improvised ballad. She lifted her hand to touch his cheek and he leaned into it like an alley cat starved for affection. The tune became deeper and rougher and he pulled away to kiss her nape. Lucille snuggled closer and hugged his arms against her breast. She tried so hard to stay awake, but her eyes didn't feel the same compunction. They slowly slid closed and waited patiently for Lucille's mind to catch up. It wasn't long before her breathing evened out into a slow and steady rhythm. Her long exhales stirred little fly away hairs in front of her face.

Francoeur began to follow suit, his thoughts drifting to farther and farther destinations. He pulled the sheets tighter around Lucille and buried his face into her chestnut locks, willing sleep to take him away. Soon, his humming faded into the sweetest silence they both had ever known.

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Outside, Madame Carlotta was not pleased.

Lucille and Francoeur missed last night's show, and today they had the sheer gall not to even show up for practice. They both were showing up later and later for work and even leaving earlier from time totime. As stars of the Rare Bird, she was willing to show a little leniency towards the both of them – but this was inexcusable. Not even a message explaining their absence. The nerve! Lucille was lucky she was her only niece, or she would have been chewed out long ago. The same went for Francoeur. Carlotta wasn't quite sure what was going on between Lucille and him, but she had a pretty good idea. The gentleman was just about a reliable as her niece was. If Lucille called out sick he was bound to do the same.

There was nothing against him personally, but after a while he had made her feel uncomfortable. As a gentleman who was perpetually masked, he did nothing to boost her trust. Francoeur did just the opposite. It was disconcerting that she hadn't seen the face of the man who had been on her payroll for over two years. All this time he hadn't spoken a word to her, not even a syllable. Carlotta could understand the need to be enigmatic, but this man was taking it too far.

For all their sakes, Carlotta hoped he wasn't canoodling with Lucille. If that was the case, she would have to put her foot down.

Oh sure, he had an air of mystery, but Lucille could do better. The girl had dozens of men throwing themselves at her feet. Falling for a musician was so passé, so bohemian. Carlotta shivered at the thought. Her niece needed a wakeup call, and this afternoon it would be delivered in full.

Carlotta signaled to her driver to go park somewhere and wait. This might take a while.

She looked at Lucille's apartment with a critical eye. Again, Lucille could do better. The place was so old fashioned and its façade looked ancient – hardly suitable as a residence for Paris' rising star. It was also a bit large for a young woman to manage all by herself. It was obvious someone was home; faint light gleamed out from the upper floor windows.

She took a deep breath; the smell of rain was heavy in the air. Dark clouds moved across the sky like swirls of milk in black tea. The proprietor of the Rare Bird bustled her way to Lucille's door with no little sense of urgency. Any minute now there would be a downpour, and Carlotta just got her hair done. She had no desire to get her beautifully coiffed hair wet. The Madame adjusted her skirts and rapped hard on Lucille's door with the tip of her umbrella.

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"KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK"

Francoeur stirred in his slumber, reluctant to let the rest of the world in.

"KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK"

He peeled one eye open and a small chirping noise escaped his throat. Lucille turned over in her sleep and snored softly against his chest. Francoeur hugged her closer for a few seconds and then gently pushed her away, making sure she was comfortably tucked in. He groaned as much as an insect could possibly groan and shifted soundlessly out of bed. Whoever the caller was, they weren't leaving anytime soon.

Bare chitinous feet touched hardwood floor and Francoeur padded his way over to the wardrobe.

"KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK"

There was a short pause and then an unmistakable voice rang out from below. "Lucille! I know you're in there! You come out here right now young lady!"

Madame Carlotta. Francoeur slid a segmented hand down his face in exasperation. The woman simply refused to give them both a moment's peace. In his other fingers he held his white dress shirt. He stared down at it for a good minute, silently willing her to go away.

"I'm not leaving until you answer the door! Lucille!"

Francoeur leaned his head against the wardrobe and let out a sigh. It was amazing that her screeching could be heard over the oncoming storm.

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Madame Carlotta stood on the doorstep. She'd been banging on the door for over a minute now and still no response. The very insolence! It wasn't like her niece to be this blatantly disrespectful. The wind picked up more and was ripping through her skirts. Her up-do was getting mussed beyond recognition.

She was genuinely annoyed now.

Carlotta left the front door and moved on to the windows. She circled the building as best she could and tapped on each window five or six times, still calling her niece's name.

Maybe something happened. What if Lucille was kidnapped or worse? The Madame's heart skipped a beat and she appraised the building for proof of forced entry. On the second floor she spied a window opened ever so slightly, just above a trellis wrapped in ivy.

If she wouldn't be let in, she would just invite herself inside. If Lucille was kidnapped, the she wouldn't mind would she? And if her niece did happen to be home, the girl had a lot of explaining to do.

Madame Carlotta walked over to the side of the townhouse toward the ivy hedgerow and lattice.

The trellis looked sturdy enough to support her weight. After a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, she began to climb the ivy ladder.

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Francoeur could hear the sound of rain beginning to lash against the house… and something else – a muted thumping and creaking. He tried to place the noise, but to no avail. He has slipped on his white shirt, but it was still unbuttoned. Trousers were pulled up over his long legs and suspenders hung limply from his torso waiting to be fastened. His shoes were somewhere in the hallway and his suit jacket and mask were hung on the coat rack downstairs. Francoeur was genuinely caught off guard by Carlotta's visit.

The noise was getting louder, which probably meant closer.

Lucille stirred once more in her sleep. She pulled a pillow tight against her body and let out a contented mumble. Francoeur tore his eyes away from her and pulled on his gloves, envying that pillow with all of his soul. The sooner he dealt with Madame Carlotta, the sooner Lucille would be in his arms. He just had to bring himself to go downstairs and great her with a wide smile.

There was an even louder creak and Francoeur couldn't ignore the racket any longer. He stopped what he was doing and listened for half a minute, trying to pinpoint its source. As far as he could tell, it was coming from outside, below the bedroom window. He strode over to investigate.

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Madame Carlotta huffed and puffed, not used to the physical exertion. Rain ran in rivulets down her face, smearing carefully applied makeup everywhere. The Madame's pristine hair-do was ruined as was her velvet accented dress. One of her shoes was left forsaken, tangled in ivy three feet below. But she refused to give up. Carlotta was never known for being a quitter and she wasn't about to start now. She was a strong, independent business woman. She refused to let a shrubbery get the best of her.

Besides, she was almost at the open window. Just a few more feet to go.

Carlotta could hear someone stirring inside. A-ha! –she knew Lucille was in there. Ignoring her sweet old Aunt and shirking her responsibilities. The thought carried the Madame the extra distance and soon she was staring at her own reflection in Lucille's second story window pane.

The Madame would have felt more embarrassed if she wasn't so angry. She looked like a drowned pig. Her once splendid clothes hung unflatteringly off her plump frame. Mascara streaked down her cheeks like the stripes on a zebra. A sodden mass of curls formed an unruly mane around her head. Carlotta looked absolutely frightful.

Lucille had better have a good excuse, or an even better apology.

Just then there was a rush of movement from inside. The older women couldn't quite focus on the figure moving toward the window. Rainwater was constantly whipping against her face and dripping into her eyes.

The window slid open and Madame Carlotta found herself staring face to face with a monster.

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Francoeur, for his part, was rather surprised at first. He didn't expect to meet Carlotta outside the bedroom window. She looked positively feral; her makeup was running and her hair was in a state of disarray. Her eyes, however, were widened in fear and her mouth was agape in a silent 'O'. It was then Francoeur touched his face and remembered he wasn't wearing the mask.

Madame Carlotta tried to back up, only to discover open air. Her arms valiantly clung to the ivy below the window, but the lattice began to buckle underneath her weight. A wooden support snapped beneath her feet. A few vines of ivy were all that separated her and the ground two floors down.

Francoeur reached out and tried to grasp her hands.

"NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! NO-NO-NO-NO! MONSTER!" Madame Carlotta's voice was hitting a hysterical pitch.

Francoeur rolled his eyes and grabbed her arms anyway. The woman screamed for about three seconds and then fainted. He leaned out the window and pulled the Madame's entire body inside. She was a lot heavier that she looked, if that was possible.

Francoeur looked over at Lucille, shocked that she was still sleeping soundly after all the commotion.

He wasn't sure what to do now. He just wanted to back to sleep and forget this mess. For a moment he considered waking Lucille up, but then decided against it. She was going to need all the rest she could get if she was going to have to deal with her aunt for the next few days. Ultimately, the best idea was to take Madame Carlotta downstairs and place her on the couch with something warm. He shifted Carlotta's weight to one shoulder and made his way down the stairs, thankful for once that he was a freakishly strong scientific mishap.

He descended into the living room and placed the woman gently on the couch. Madame Carlotta was soaking wet, but the giant flea wouldn't be caught dead stripping the owner of the Rare Bird. Gargling lye sounded more appealing. And besides, it would be just his luck that Lucille would catch him in the process. Instead, Francoeur snatched some blankets from the hall closet and carefully covered the Madame in them.

Even though he felt Madame Carlotta was a nuisance, he didn't dislike the woman. She had become part of his new family, and to Lucille, she was the only family she had left. Carlotta had provided Francoeur a steady income, even if she was a bit airheaded at times. Never in a million years would Francoeur wish any harm to come to her.

Francoeur lit the fireplace and pushed the couch in front of it at a comfortable distance. If he was lucky she would stay passed out for at least six more hours. He patted Carlotta's messy bun and then went back upstairs.

As he entered the bedroom Francoeur paused in the doorway and looked over at Lucille once more.

She was so beautiful, just lying there safe and warm. Moments like these made him realize how extremely lucky he was to have her in his life. Without her he would probably still be wandering the streets of Paris: cold, wet and alone. Francoeur stripped off his shirt and pants and walked over to the bed. Lucille now faced the spot where he was sleeping earlier, her arms reaching out for something that wasn't there.

Francoeur smiled and stroked the part of her neck where her jaw met her ear. Lucille's skin was as soft as rose petals and just as delicate. He could feel her pulse beneath his fingers and he closed his eyes, imagining the sound of her heartbeat. Its steady staccato arrested his soul for eternity. He moved her arms out of the way and then kissed her on the cheek, marveling at how soundly she slept.

The Madame had been working them exceedingly hard lately. They both worked three shows a night on the weekends and the Madame was constantly insisting on more practice. They had both needed this day off. It had been so long since they had some time to themselves. It felt indescribably wonderfuljust being there with her under the sheets. No one to impress and no one to hide from.

The giant flea parted the covers and shimmied himself into bed at quietly as possible. Almost immediately Lucille curled up against his side, her body subconsciously seeking his warmth. Francoeur laidback down and embraced Lucille, his long fingers wrapping around her prone form. After a few minutes his eyes closed and peace overtook Francoeur once again.


Fluff for my avid readers. A gift for putting up with me and also part of an extreme style-swap challenge between Midground and I. She tends to write fluff, and if you all haven't noticed by now… I am a little dramatic. I bet you all thought I couldn't do this. Anyway- you'll see and update for 'Shapes in the Dark' next week kids. Inspired by Avalanche City's "Goodnight". UPDATE: FIXED SPACING ISSUES. Also, i am getting no stat or fave feedback- so if you all could find the time, reviewing this would be really awesome of you. Until the problem is fixed I am turning on Anonymous review. Peace guys, and thank you!