It's long been said that the song of a nightingale is one of sorrow for the fallen and the heartbroken. Ger's been dealt more than his share of troubles in recent days. He doesn't expect anything more than a chance to catch his breath when he accepts the offer of caretaking a friend's apartment for a month. Perhaps there he'll learn how to hope again.
But what he finds in Magnus, the reclusive owner, is so much more.
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Copyright ©2012 Willa Okati
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Ger took a better look at the stone carving of a feather, turning it over and over, examining the beauty of the thing. It's not just a rock, just a carving, it's a work of art. Subtle, primitive perhaps, and very, very old. Fine in detail from pinion to quills. Handled often. A raw chip out of the quill end, but the rest of it well-polished. This one was precious.
He couldn't keep it. Could he?
Back out into the hallway, with no one in sight. Too bad. Would have been nice if some of the kids from the lowest apartments were around; he'd have felt better for hearing the music that would naturally go with their territory, something with more bass than brainwork in the rhythm. Halfway reminded him of home, the sounds drifting toward him, and half made him remember the old days of trance and trip.
He wanted away from it, which made this all the easier. The natural thing would be to lay the feather on the steps, where he'd found it -- maybe safer, out of reach -- but he hesitated. It didn't belong there.
Ger weighed his choices as he glanced up. The feather belonged to Magnus. Maybe he'd just forgotten Ger held the thing. He should have it.
The music changed below -- no, was added to -- a pop singer just this side of shrill, daring for the sake of being daring, betting herself against the crowd for shock value. Nothing at all like home, and it made Ger's stomach twist. But then... it changed. Something simple, a low baritone curling like smoke around soft lyrics, no music behind it.
Ger closed his eyes and sighed. So much better. A trick of the acoustics, probably, but from his place at the foot of the third staircase the light tenor's crooning drowned out all other nerve-rattling rackets.
If this was the kind of music Magnus liked, Ger automatically liked him better. There was the hint of something almost-French again, almost-home, in the quiet lament. The words died away into humming, dark as bittersweet chocolate, then stopped, interrupted. Started again, a different melody, then switched to another, and then a third, blending them together.
Wait. That wasn't a recording, no, that was singing. Ger's eyes drifted open. Magnus? Had to be. A gift like that, and he hid away in a third-floor walkup? Ger put his foot on the first step.
The music stopped.
Oh no you don't. You don't get rid of me that easy.
Ger hadn't chased a man in his life; he hadn't had to, really. He'd been glad enough to give anyone a chance if they were tough enough to get through, and yes, he was aware of the dichotomy. Was this what it'd been like for those going after him? He wasn't sure. Only certainty was taking the steps up, one at a time, then two, tracking in the back of his head a startled bit of song and the sound of bare feet on a wood floor, the slide of a window sash up and the clunks and thunks of things falling as they were hurried past.
Running from him? Why? Why, when Ger could feel the loneliness radiating in cold waves from Magnus, and it made him ache, deep down, as if someone had taken pneumatic shears to his chest and lifted out his heart. I won't hurt you. You don't know me, but I promise, I won't. I only want...
Something. Something more.
Ger reached the door, still slightly open, and reached for the knob before hesitating. This would be pushing the limits, going too far, that much he knew, and in the back of his head, the sane part of him, he knew that he could be arrested for entering, if not breaking-and.
His lips quirked in a hard, quick humorless smile. Arrested. Arrete. Stopped.
N'arrete pas, he thought, and opened the door.
Ger could have -- was tempted to -- stop and stare at the contents of Magnus's apartment. Vast, open-plan, it covered the whole of the third floor with only partitions and curtains, but the things he kept tucked away, the sheer amount of stuff -- not junk, not a hoarding, but a collection. Yes, that was the word. Collection. Sparkling stones, gleaming copper wire, bronzes, and wood. Old branches leaned against the walls in the manner of crossed swords. Strange and making no sense at all, but beautiful -- that he did recognize, even from the corner of his eye, but it wasn't what he'd come for.
The window at the far end, the one facing the widow's walk, stood open, white curtains wafting on a breeze that smelled of the mountains, not cars. Cool, cloud-kissed. He licked his lips, tasting the ozone on them. It'd rain before the night was over, but before then -- the quiet that came between the times people got home from work and when they rushed out again -- the time-between-times.
Silence. He held his breath. Silence came in so many different flavors, and he'd grown to hate most of them, but not this; this was beautiful. Because it was not the silence of being alone. He could hear, just -- and he didn't care if it was his imagination -- Magnus breathing just outside the window.
And then: the softest, slowest notes of a song, broken and tumbling one against another like rocks being washed downstream, slow then fast, uncertain, wild, but not free.
Ger made his way through the tangle of belongings to the window and laid his hands on the sill. "I'm coming out," he said. "Tell me to go and I will, but let me come and talk to you, and neither of us has to suffer tonight."
Why he'd said it that way, he didn't know. Only that it was right, and he was sure of that even as it left his lips.
He could feel Magnus's hesitation, his unwillingness, his desperate loneliness.
Footsteps, bare, retreating. With them, the cessation of song and one word spoken to him: "Come."
Ger climbed out the window and up.