With proper nourishment comes healing.
"I did it, too," Guilleme murmurs. His fingers brush the nape of her neck; he is ephemeral as smoke in the halflight reflection of the mirror, a smirking shard, an insidious thing. His hand comes up, arm curving around her to touch her cheek below the massacred socket where she used to have an eye.
"Did what?" Rosa asks, though she knows precisely what. She'd read the pages of his diary, and they haunt her with every waking breath; the lyricism of them has not left her so soon.
"Hurt myself," he says. The corner of his mouth lifts, cheeky. "You're so young, Rosa. I don't know how you lasted so long."
"And you are so old," says Rosa, easily.
I was not alone, she thinks, an ancient swirl of Mother's mockery on her tongue behind her lips. Cruelty is alien to her; it had never come naturally. It does not come naturally, now, and she keeps the words trapped inside of her chest, bleating against the thud of her heart and drowned out for it, all the same.
(She misses Catharine.)
But for the first time in her life, Rosa isn't hungry. Or—she is hungry, but she is hungry in the way a well-fed child must be hungry: she knows she will not be hungry for long, and so she is content to wait it out. Guilleme's hand drops to the meagre swell of her hip and he toys with the cloth there, an unquiet playful movement.
"Rosa," he says, "Rosa, Rosa, Rosa. What will you do when you can see, again?"
"Two eyes are not necessarily better than one, Guilleme," Rosa reminds him. "I see fine."
He grins at her in the mirror, strange and feverish. Rosa imagines that everywhere he touches her becomes a bruise. Agape and eros, white and red, lit and unlit in the hallway. The hunger in his gaze is surreal, tracking from the mangled eye to her mouth to her throat to her chest, and yet it is not a hunger that unnerves her.
They are the same dark thing, after all.
And Guilleme can only hurt her as she can hurt herself. Rosa cranes her neck, her spine popping sickly as she turns in towards him. Her corset feels too tight. Her skin feels too tight. Her teeth ache in her mouth.
Guilleme is not the only hungry one.
Rosa presses back into him. Her chemise is wrinkled and washed thin, and it does nothing to block the primal heat radiating from his frame. He is hard against her hip, eyes mirror black. They want to swallow all the light. They want to swallow her whole.
"I have never wanted anyone so much in my life," Guilleme says as he bends to press his mouth to the pulse beating visible in her neck, low and hoarse, a little delirious and a lot unaware. It's very possible he doesn't know he's saying it aloud. "What are you, Rosa?"
Rosa turns into him fully, now, fully, her hands on his chest, her nails digging in. She wants his mouth between her thighs. She wants his hands around her throat and her wrists and in her hair. She wants him slick and sacred and secret, something heady, something dark. She wants him on his knees in front of her, she wants him begging, she wants to make him scream.
She wants to feed.
"Hungry," Rosa says. "I'm hungry."
"Yes," says Guilleme, "I expect you are."
The servants whisper about her, but the servants have always whispered about her. She and Catharine—the servants had all assumed that they'd been more than what they were, what Rosa is capable now of acknowledging what she'd wanted them to be—there had always been whispers that the pair of them had been the hot and heavy thing that they'd only been for the space of one kiss; the servants know everything, including things that the subjects of the whispers don't even know themselves.
The whispering doesn't bother her now any more than it ever did before.
Rosa must remind herself of this base truth, as she and Guilleme drowse in the dusty early-morning winter sun; the whispers do not bother her, and neither does anything else. She is only a little bit of a witch, and certainly not enough that God's zealous disciples would bother with.
Mother taught Rosa magic and secrecy both, and she taught her well.
"We should go to Paris," Guilleme says.
"It's about time I showed my face at court again. They'll think they got rid of me," he says carelessly, idly drawing spirals over the bare skin of her shoulder. "And His Majesty needs to meet my wife."
"I'm not your wife," says Rosa, careful, measured, so, so soft.
Rosa has to draw a breath to keep from screaming. She hates him like needles in her throat. She loves him like needles in her throat, too, and that's worse. "What if I don't want to go to Paris?"
Guilleme pauses to consider this. He rolls the thought around in his mouth, chewing on it as he searches for the cracks. "London, then? We could go to London. My English may need some work."
"And if I don't want to go to London?"
"America?" Guilleme asks dubiously.
"What if I want to stay right here?" Rosa asks. Here, with Cath's ghost in the walls and Rosa's own hunger and Guilleme's own cowardice. Here, the only place she remembers ever being happy. Here, this tainted, rotted place.
Guilleme must hear the horrible rattle of thoughts inside of her, because he presses his fingers to the delicate bones of Rosa's wrist to hold her down.
"Here?" he says, allows the word to hang before he snaps it off with his teeth. "Yes, I suppose we can stay here. Would that make you happy?"
"Yes," whispers Rosa.
His mouth twitches upwards at the spike of breathiness in her voice, and Rosa hates him all over again. Cath had loved him and died for it, and Rosa had loved him and not, and they'd loved each other, too, but it wasn't enough, it was never enough! Mother had warned her, but Mother is gone, and there is only quiet inside of Rosa's head, now. There is only Catharine's ghost. There is only the hunger.
There is only Guilleme.
"What are you thinking?" he asks.
"That I don't know what being happy is," she says. She picks at the frayed skin of her nails. "That happiness doesn't exist. That I don't—"
"Rosa," Guilleme says. He tips her face up, and he is gentle, and she hates him so much she thinks she might be sick. She can feel it acrid in the back of her throat. "Please."
It is hard, Rosa thinks, to hate herself when there is someone who would so much rather that she didn't.
They go to Paris.
The lamps hung along the street burn merrily, casting a dim glow that throws shadows over their faces as they move through the evening. The city bustles around them, and Rosa is already exhausted with all of this. She had not wanted to go to Paris, but the Court demands much of its nobles. She tucks her arm into the crook of Guilleme's, and holds on tight.
"I don't belong here," she whispers.
"Neither do I," murmurs Guilleme, like a confession. It doesn't sound like a lie, but nothing that comes out of his beautiful mouth ever sounds like a lie. "But appearances are important, Rosa. They must think well of us, and it was a special invitation."
"I don't care," says Rosa, but she does care.
Guilleme hums, dragging a palm over her side. He lingers at her hip.
"You're hungry, again, aren't you," Rosa accuses. They would not be so far from the graveyard of all the things she loves if he were not. "You need to take more, next time."
"For you?" Guilleme turns into her, wild in the eyes. "For you, Rosa? I am always hungry for you. I am starving! I will always want more of your love."
It's not love, she wants to argue. This isn't love. We are using each other, and Catharine is dead!
It is love, is it not? Twisted and terrible and true. It curls around her heart, desire and dread, dead desiccated beetle eyes that wink in her mind's eye. She is hungry, too, but she must not be too hungry. She must not take too much of him; whatever else Guilleme is, he is all that she has, and the years stretch long and unending before her.
Being alone would be worse. The vilest poison tastes like honey, in comparison.
Guilleme tips her chin up. He surveys her face. Son of beauty, brother of night, sweet and spite and spittle on the lips. Hatred burbles in her stomach. She wants to climb inside of his skin.
"Your eye is healing well," he observes neutrally. "You should eat, tonight. It will help."
We do not deserve such small pleasures as healing, Rosa does not say. But she cannot help herself; she raises her hand to his cheek. Neither of them has aged a day. Cath was the only one who ever had, truly, had changed and grown, while Rosa and Guilleme had remained in the static, perfectly still. Should that alone have not been a sign?
There is no belonging for demons who gorge on love, except with each other.
"Shall I kiss you, Rosa?" Guilleme asks, molasses-sweet, molasses-slow.
"Please," Rosa whispers, and hates herself for this weakness more than she has ever hated him.
His tongue in her mouth is the finest wine, honey and brandy and brutal bitter almond. She manages to wonder, briefly, if Catharine would have tasted different. Would her love have tasted like spun sugar and sunlight? Would she have tasted like happiness? Would she have tasted—?
Guilleme's thumbs dig into her hips and Rosa forgets Catharine's name.
If she should she peel him apart, split him stomach to sternum, and take bitter gulping mouthfuls of his bitter cold heart, it would warm her from the inside out. They dream of it both, the thing inside, the writhing horrors of love-not-love. Devour, again. To love is to eat.
No one stops to watch them in the streaky vermillion of the Parisian sunset. Together, they are a breakwater; what they each are separately hisses and spits when it meets itself in another, but it becomes a neutral creature, inert, and Rosa is grateful, for this.
But this is not a feeding.
This is only a kiss.
"Tonight, Rosa," Guilleme gasps into her mouth. He sounds wrecked and wretched and hers, greedy for the claiming. "By all the gods, I will have you tonight."
Her pulse pounds in her throat. Desire can be controlled. Desire must be controlled. But Rosa is drunk already, dizzy with the feeling of his breath, wanting to crawl into his lap and suck on his tongue, consume him until there is nothing left of him but bones, lick clean his skeletal remains for whatever is left of his marrow and then crunch down on the splinters, too. The honey-brandy-bitter-almond rolls through her on a sweetly tender shiver and she savours it, allows it to suffuse her mouth and submerge.
Guilleme, she thinks, trying to draw away and being unable to, because he has caught her by the waist and pulled her in too close to resist that temptation. He tastes of godhood, of all things divine and devout and despicable.
Hungry, she thinks, near incoherent. Please, Guilleme, I am so hungry!
(Sometimes, Rosa understands how Guilleme became what he is. When she is outside of this moment, she sees the bloodwriting on the wall; her head spins sick and wanting beneath his touch, for now. But if not for Mother, Rosa could have become so hungry, too, until there was only need and desperation and hunger left. Because it is always the hunger, the empty hollow ache behind her ribs, isn't it? Nothing chases it away; not even Mother's love was able to feed that hole closed. Nothing has, except for this.)
Paris goes on around them, her deepest nightmare come to life. A horse screams as a coachman cracks his whip, and it is the snap of the sound that drags Rosa back to the surface of the world, away from the well of you don't have to be hungry anymore my love behind his lips.
"We can't," she manages. "Not—not here, Guilleme, we are not—"
Guilleme's mouth quirks into a crooked kind of smirk, eyes hooded and blown wide. She has loosened his cravat from his neck. It is devastating, what his looking like this does to her heart. "You are too good for me, Rosa."
"Don't say that," Rosa bites down on her lips, kiss-bitten and shivery-tender and entirely bloodless. They hurt. They do not hurt enough. She thinks she can feel the bubble of mending flesh as she says it, and the darkness that has been half her world leavens to lighter greys. Soon, she knows, soon, and she rubs her lips against each other. Numbness. Hunger. "I'm not good for anything."
"You are," Guilleme murmurs.
"Will you kiss me again?" she finds herself hesitating, even as she needs to know. The question is a plea in his ear, and it is nauseating. She is slick between the legs, dripping down her thighs into her stockings, and is revolted with herself.
Rosa desperately presses her knees together to quell the pulse between her hips. Control. Control.
"I will kiss you until you cannot stand to be kissed by anyone else," he says, ragged. "Rosa, little bird, you have no idea. The things I want to do to you—"
Guilleme swears low and hot into her skin in a language that Rosa doesn't know. He clutches at her, the gullet of his throat open and wet, and she could tear him to pieces. He would let her. But instead, she presses a finger to his lips. They will shed themselves, become things new and terrible, the shadows over the sun. Through the thin fabric of his breeches, she can feel every minute rock of his hips into hers, restless, woven through with twisted ropes of thought. He is so close that he is the entire world. She thinks of a demon pit, a worm eating its own tail, skin carving away and writhing in Guilleme's bed and melting—
"Desire must be controlled," she says, a little too shakily to be believable. Half-delirious with it, she rubs against him. Her dress is plain, unfashionable by all Parisian standards, and yet she is thankful for it beyond all imagining.
"Hunger must be sated," Guilleme rasps. "Yours. Mine. Ours."
Rosa is bound to him, in this. He will not take too much from anyone but her. He must have her. He must not have anyone else.
From the outside they do not look so much like the demons that they are. A well-dressed man and a less-well-dressed young lady; they are nothing special, except that when the eye catches on the sway of their forms, it is hard to look away. Dark shapes move just beyond Rosa's vision. Wings. Snakes. A girl like a bird in a cage, singing melancholy between the bars.
She thinks of Guilleme's bloody beating heart, the belly of the beast hot-wet, the unreal snap of the neck. Agape, lit then flickering then gone out. Eros, brightly burning late into the night. Mania, now, too; obsessive love, it is endless need, endless want, endless hunger.
There are no candles, for mania. There do not need to be. Guilleme's lips touch Rosa's neck.
"You will need a new dress," he tells her skin, mouth curling upwards. "You cannot walk around in your stays."
"Unsightly to the court, I'm sure," says Rosa.
"Not for long," Guilleme murmurs. "Are you still hungry?"
"No," says Rosa.
This is a lie.
She cannot help it.
Guilleme splays out on the narrow bed, cravat loose and shirt askew, so dark among the cream of the sheets and the intricate gold veneer of the wood. The hôtel particulier is in Marais, standing at the very edge of the Place Royale, overlooking the square. This should be impossible, but all of Guilleme should be impossible. Hôtel De Gul is an ancient building bereft, but now they are here to fill it.
Chiaroscuro is Guilleme in Paris's cream silk at its finest. Rosa has never loved a dichotomy more than she loves him in the bed at this moment, for she has only ever slept here once; if Cath was exposed flesh to sunlight, then Guilleme is every nighttime fear made tangible. He rests only when he must. The lines beneath his eyes are centuries dark, a permanent bruise.
Rosa can feel the pulpy beating heart of every creature breathing in this building, and his is the only one she wants.
She falls on him like something rabid.
There is no Mother in her head to stop her, now; none will survive. Rosa wants him as she's always wanted him.
Rosa breathes him in, coaxes a thread of his love into her hands, into her mouth, syrupy-thick. The first time, Guilleme had pinned her to a wall like a butterfly on a board, and now she returns the favour. Hip to hip, the filthy wet grind between them is so slow, and he is already so hard beneath her. He is always so hard beneath her.
"Will you let me kiss you, Rosa?" he grins around a moan into her breasts. "I promised, didn't I?"
She does not recognize him like this, this mischievous man grinning widely in the candlelight. She thinks of the slick of oil, the slick between her thighs, the slick of his desire on her tongue. But he is hers, and even when she does not recognize him, she owns him all the same. She owns his ugliness. She owns his divine.
A heretical thought: not even God could stop what they are becoming. Hollow and empty, and yet full-up to the brim. Rosa can feel his pulse all the way up through her arms.
"You did," she says. He did. "Do you need it as much as I do, Guilleme? I am—I am not—"
"More, Rosa," he says, and her name is a low rasp of pleasure that tastes only of truth and saltwater desperation. "Let me kiss you. I'll die if you don't."
"If that's all it took to kill you, mon amour, you would have died a thousand years ago," Rosa says, and allows herself a little smile. She does not kiss him. Not yet.
Her frankness startles a laugh out of him.
(This, too, is a truth.)
"I have been looking for you all of my life," Guilleme says. "My little bird."
"I should kill you," Rosa says, softly. She traces the shell of his ear, and he shudders beneath her hands. Something dark inside of her chest stretches its wings; it likes him here, underneath the solidity of her weight. "I should eat you alive."
"Yes," Guilleme agrees. Glaze-eyed in the gloom. "You should."
Rosa pulls up her stained chemise, sinks down over his cock, and does precisely that.
Hunger, once awoken, is not a toothless beast. Healing, once begun, demands finishing.
Rosa looks at herself in the mirror with two eyes for the first time in well over a decade. There is still scarring, but even that will fade with time. Guilleme stands behind her fussing with the ruffles on the cuffs of his shirt, lifts his head to catch her gaze, mouth twisting wryly,
"I did tell you that it always heals eventually," he says, and it sounds like a lock being unlocked, but all the more unhappy for it. "Hurting yourself doesn't help."
They will want you, still.
"Aren't you tired?" Rosa asks, instead of answering. She allows her bangs to fall back over the bright blue of her unfinished eye. She is not whole, and does not deserve to be so.
"Aren't you?" Guilleme asks in reply. He draws closer, traces a line down the back of her neck. She shivers, and is ashamed to admit to herself that she wants him all over again.
"I didn't think it would be like this," Rosa says, lowering her gaze. She means: I thought it was enough, before. It was enough, before, and now it is not. I am so hungry.
Guilleme touches her hair. Maggots and filth, spiderwebs, horrible things long dead crawling all over her. A hundred lives. A thousand lives. So many deaths lost to history, all to slake his hunger. These are his hands. Rosa shivers from the wanting in her chest. He already owns her, entire.
"Nor I," he agrees. "Perhaps a confessor would be better for hearing our sins."
The thought is not wholly unappealing. Catharine had had no use for churches nor for God, but Rosa has only ever found brief respite among the houses of the holy. If not for the fact that the shine of her skin draws women as well as it ever draws men, she might have given herself to a convent. The thought of a simple life had been a sweet one, when nothing else had been.
"It is Sunday. Evening Mass won't have started, yet," Rosa says, and it is only a little bit uncertain. "We could—I would like to go."
Guilleme smiles crooked. "In our plainest clothes, then? Notre-Dame will be ashamed of us."
Rosa ducks her head, flushing a little. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize to me ever again, Rosa," Guilleme says, sharp. There is ancient fury in his eyes, but only for half a second and then it is gone. The colour has leached out of him completely. He is an impression of shadow and starlight against the windowpane. "Not for anything."
"Even if I take too much?"
Guilleme exhales heavily. "Especially then."
"But what if—?"
Rosa regards him through the flickering candelight glow, a faint golden effulgence that does little to bring some humanity to his face. He in unearthly, beautiful and dark and terrible in equal measure, no-moon eyes pits in his face, haunted and hunted and hideous beneath his masks. She wants to peel back the layers of his skin to investigate the musculature underneath. Sinew and bone, the crackling of compressed joints, his blood in her mouth too hot and briny to drink.
"Come to Mass with me," she says. "Please, Guilleme."
"What a strange little demon you are," he muses. There is bewildered amusement to the words. He reaches across the gulf between them to catch strands of her golden hair between his fingertips. It glimmers against his skin. "So pious."
"What else is there?"
"Taking what we want," he says. Smiles a little mean. "When we want it."
"I do not want to be anyone's saviour," Rosa tells him, very softly, even as she sways into the magnetism of his body. She can't help it. Doesn't want to help it. "I can't be, I don't know how. Not even for you."
Guilleme reels back as though she's slapped him. The space between their bodies is unbearable in this moment and the babble rises behind Rosa's lips unbidden: please and no and I take it back, I'll be whatever you want me to be, please don't leave me, I am so hungry and I need you, I need you!
"If I—" Rosa swallows down trepidation, digging her nails into her palms. The pain helps her focus. "If I am yours, what is there to take that you don't already have?"
Guilleme's shoulders lose their rigidity. Rosa thinks of him in the lamplight of Catharine's room. She had wanted to save him, then, but it hadn't worked. How could it work, now? She is a child in the face of his many millennia, even though her own origins are lost to the mists of time. Mother had found her and loved her and taught her that control was putting one's heart between one's teeth and choosing to bite down on it, regardless.
He doesn't apologize.
Instead, he sighs. "What am I meant to do with you, little bird? Must I break your wings?"
Must I eat your heart? May I eat your heart? What does it cost you, to be here?
Rosa looks away. She offers him her wrists; this is love, as she understands it. She thinks of the spidery lines of ink hidden away in his journal, walking through the memory-halls of blood and bruises and bottoms of barrels. Perhaps it is love as he understands it, too. "If you must."
(For all the lives he has eaten, Rosa's wrists offered for the breaking is what horrifies him.)
"Rosa," Guilleme says, a little too tight, a little too low, a little too furious. "Put that away."
She retracts her hands into her chest, and blinks up at him, confused. "What do you want me to do?"
Guilleme stares at her for a long, unbroken moment where neither of them dares to breathe. With bleeding in the head there is a metallic taste in the back of the throat. Rosa holds herself still, hot copper on her tongue, and waits.
"Not this, little bird," he says, at last. Shadows flitter between his fingertips. They settle in the line of his mouth.
"It would heal," says Rosa. Her damaged eye, blinking in the light of the sun. If that hurt can heal, so would this. Everything heals, he'd said. Everything heals until there are no marks left, and Rosa will be as bare and perfect as she was before this all began.
"Not this," Guilleme growls.
Rosa wonders which of them he's talking about. She takes a slow breath. All of the witchery she ever learned cannot undo what they are. All of her spells locked tight behind her teeth, all of her candles and her needles and her keys and her knives. They cannot save him.
He does not want to be saved.
Rosa doesn't want to be saved, either, she realizes.
She wants to eat.
In the flickering of the candlelight, Rosa raises her face. She measures him, sin for sin; they come up balanced, as perhaps they always have. Catharine's bloodied fingers still weigh so heavily on her mind; that corner of the room will always be covered in her fingerprints, so cold, now, so leaden. The scratching will haunt her dreams until time takes it, too.
"Are we going to go to Mass?"
Guilleme's mouth crooks. "Will you take Communion? His blood and flesh? Is that what you want?"
"We devour each other already, Guilleme," Rosa murmurs. "What's another god to eat?"
Laughter crackles out of him. It's not happy-sounding, but there is nothing happy-sounding between them. He reaches out to hold her face, and the heat of his skin holds the vitality of every life stripped of love. If there is a soul without love still living, Rosa has yet to find it. Guilleme allows her at his weak points, his softness, the vulnerable parts of him exposed; Rosa turns her face into the touch, presses her mouth to the pulse beating wild and off-key in his wrist.
A kiss, all sweetness, save for the pearl-white flash of her teeth.
"Mass, then?" Guilleme says, a little unsteady.
If a heated look could divest a person of their clothes, Rosa would be naked and begging on her knees. She smiles, instead, the curve-up of lips disguising the quick hot press of her tongue to his skin. A shudder runs through him entire, a moan more wind than sound. She hears the hunger in it. She lets him stew.
"Mass, then," agrees Rosa.
Mass, then, it is.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—"
"—Amen," rumbles the congregation. The Latin is mostly forgotten, but the Angelus prayer falls easily from Rosa's lips: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ, et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
Mother used to recite it three times a day.
Guilleme's palm is curled around the meat of her thigh.
Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, Rosa thinks. Be it done unto me.
"Venite orate," she whispers the words, a prayer from her lips to God's ears. She keeps her head down, the shivering roar of half a thousand people speaking as one rolling over her. Notre-Dame de Paris echoes with it, the rafters trembling. The Holy Mother looks out a thousand times from the stained glass in the windows, the smile gentle, the forgiveness soothing as clear rain.
Rosa does not deserve to be forgiven.
Not for what she has done. Not for what she will do.
Not for how hungry she is.
Guilleme taps his fingers against the volume of her petticoats. The organ and the choir twine a melancholy lament that touches Rosa's throat, a haunting lilt that raises her skin into gooseflesh. Catharine's melodies played out just like this, the piano notes rippling across the surface of her soul and then evaporating into thin air.
Rosa barely remembers what Catharine's laughter sounds like.
There had been so little laughter, in the last days.
Guilleme bows his head. Penitence if there were shame for demons, but penitence it is not and this is of little consequence, for no prayers fall from him. He finds his atonement in Rosa's sacrifice, in the salt of her skin, in the meltwater of their unholiness.
His fingers slide along her side to her spine, where her stays are laced so tightly, she can barely breathe. A little torture. A little hatred. A little death.
(La petite mort. Eros. Beloved, oh, beloved.)
"Guilleme," Rosa warns, so low that the choir's mourning song swallows it. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Forgive me, Father, for I will sin, again. "Don't."
He smiles at her. It is a smile full of little deaths. "Don't?"
Rosa stares down at his hand in her lap. It would not be difficult for him to slide beneath the heavy fabric and take her breath away, with none around them the wiser. They are a knife's edge, balanced just so. "Please."
He withdraws, but not so much that he does not touch her. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. "After, then?"
He dips close, so close, breath hot and vile against her ear. "After. After Mass, Rosa, after all these humans are gone. After."
Rosa will never remember much of the service. Even before, when Mother—even then, she didn't allow it space in her mind. They did not often go to service; there were people, at the services, and they stared with their ravenous eyes. Mother would drag her home howling every time; it was easier not to remember.
She will remember the choir. It sounds like a parting of clouds, a fragile beam of pale gold sun.
A miracle, for all that there are no miracles left.
Yes, Rosa will remember the choir.
Time blurs her by. She stands when they stand, she bows her head when they bow their heads, she hums when they sing. The Latin is an old comfort. It is a language that she already knows.
But Guilleme's hands do not leave Rosa's skin.
Bound, she thinks.
I'm sorry, Cath, she thinks.
It is a very quiet grieving.
The pews empty slowly. Guilleme holds Rosa where she sits, frozen with their heads bowed forward. The Eucharist melts away on her tongue, only sour wine and unleavened bread in her mouth. The holiest rite. The celebration of sacrificed flesh and the blood; O Lord, I beseech ye, pour thy grace into mine heart.
But Rosa has tasted God, and it is not this.
She sits in an empty building with vaulted ceilings, the hot filthy hand of her deathless lover on her thigh over her skirts, as the Angelus bells toll. Heaven is hollow, and desire must be controlled, and there are no saviours left.
Here is Rosa, and here is Guilleme, and here are the years stretching out ahead of them.
"They barely see us when we're together," she murmurs. Rosa knows that if she reached out and touched any one of the people around her, they would turn into her drugged and helpless, mouths open and wanting. And yet—
She sits with Guilleme, and they are only another young couple with their heads down in the pews. Rosa tilts her head, shows him her teeth. "Them. They hardly see us."
"How could you prove that, Rosa?"
"They haven't touched me, yet," says Rosa. "No one has. They're not even looking, Guilleme. It's like we're not even here."
Guilleme's eyes crinkle at the corners, a sardonic little smile hidden in their murky dark depths, but his mouth does not move in a mirror. The lanterns on the walls shine like Rosa's own grief, tossing away shadows black as a crow's wing. "Oh?"
"Come with me," Rosa says. She stands and his hand does not leave her, and she pulls him with her and his hand does not leave her, and she leads him into the shadows of the columns in the transept, ducking down into the vestry. The air here is cold with the bare stone walls and smells stale, old sweat and new fear, the draping of consecrated cloth over a peg hammered into the back of the door.
No one watched them slip inside.
No one noticed them at all.
"A coincidence," says Guilleme, voice low and smooth. The dark whorls of his hair fall around his face, and he holds her still with shaking hands. "A trick of the timing."
"You hate it when I'm right. They don't see us when we're touching," Rosa says. She brushes her bangs out of her face, and looks at him with both eyes, steady. "Guilleme."
(He can deny her nothing. Rosa is not above turning this against him.)
The moon paints Notre-Dame de Paris in cool blues and greys, the only light through the coloured glass of the windows.
On the high altar sits an angel with her legs splayed wide, her head tipped back, her wings shimmering as a star and a beast with feathers between her thighs. Her hand fists in the dark of his hair and she grinds her hips forwards into the willing mouth, his, the sweetness of it feeding them both. They have been here before. They will be here again.
She makes a sound like a symphony, divinity in song. The absent choir weeps with envy.
"Rosa," the beast whispers.
Her name in his mouth is his heart between his teeth. He would beg her for the honour of her love, but there is no love left. There is only hunger.
"Yes," she sobs—
(curses and pleas and prayers)
—and falls apart.