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We'll Paint the Town Blue 'Cause Baby Red is So Passe

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The party is full of glossy, tweezed, polished people and Epel doesn’t belong.  He stands near the back, trying to blend into the walls.  There are models scattered around with their impossible long legs and short skirts or tailored pants.  They’re drinking brightly colored drinks adorned with fruit and flowers and everyone keeps touching one another.  Hands on shoulders or arms.  Fingers gently touching a chin as they turn your face to air kiss in greeting.

Epel doesn’t know why he’s here.  Vil made him go.  He showed up at the magift pitch during club activities and lifted one elegant finger to call him over.  And now he’s here in a shiny, silver suit and a dress shirt that matches his hair.  He keeps his mouth shut, because he doesn’t know what to say to these fancy model types.  The lighting in the party is low and the music is something subdued and making use of string instruments.  Epel hates this kind of music.  He thinks music ought to be played loud with heavy guitars and drums.

A cup of water is sweating in his hand, but he’s afraid to put it down because then he wouldn’t know what to do with his hands.  People barely noticed him.  At their arrival, there were pokes and prods, wondering who the “mysterious, beautiful boy” was with Vil Schoenheit, but most people lost interest in Epel before he even finished saying his name.  Rook is somewhere here, too, amidst the beautiful people, but he can’t see him.  He finds himself wishing for him.  Rook is weirder than weird, but he’s at least familiar.  And friendly.

He can see Vil from where he’s standing.  He’s surrounded by people who keep touching him.  Hands on the silk sleeve of his shirt or on the bare skin of his exposed clavicle.  Getting close to his face as if they’re inspecting him for something.  Feeling his hair.  Those who aren’t touching him are worse.  It looks like they’re taking bites out of him with their eyes.  They laugh too loudly at whatever he says and Epel sees the way Vil frowns slightly after they talk.  He still doesn’t wholly know who he is to Vil or why he has focused so hard on him.  He hates him, he loves him, and he doesn’t know why he brought him here.

A man and a woman have approached near where Epel is standing, but neither notice him.  He wonders if it’s maybe because he’s so short and, for the first time in his life, he’s glad to be the height that he is.  He’s next to the open bar, which is what has caught their interest.  When he arrived, Epel had enviously eyed the drinks people got to have, but because they were on a special leave from school to go to Vil’s event, drinking was prohibited.  Truthfully, Epel isn’t sure how he’d handle those fruity drinks.  He’s heard they have a deceptively high amount of alcohol in it.  The most he’s had to drink was the apple concoction his father made in the shed out back or cheap wine coolers that Ace is able to get his older brother to send him in care packages.

“Vil looks wrecked,” the man says once they’ve placed their orders.

“He does,” the girl says. “And maybe a bit puffy?”

Epel bristles.  His own conflicting feelings towards Vil aside, the jealousy is radiating off of these two.  He looks at them, leaning against the bar in their designer clothes and expensive shoes.  Ruthlessly styled hair.  Trying so hard.  Epel knows the effort Vil puts in and what he puts on everyone else in Pomefiore, but there’s something about him that’s entirely natural.  A light that shines through his skin and makes him look luminescent.

“And what’s with his entourage?” the girl says with a sniff.

The bartender wordlessly slides over her drink on a black cocktail napkin and she sips at it through the thin stirrer of a straw sticking out of it.

“Right?  That freak from Afterglow Savannah and...I don’t even remember the other kid.”

“He was cute,” she says, “But, like, trying so hard to be like Neige.”

Epel feels like he’s about to start biting.  Who the fuck are these people?  He puts his cup down roughly on the bar top, making water slosh over his hand, but not accomplishing much else since his cup of water is made of plastic and not the heavy-bottomed glass of the alcoholic drinks.  The pair doesn’t even acknowledge him.

Rancid people.  Like the leeches clawing over Vil only to tear him apart when his back is turned.  Won’t say it to his face, either.  They have to hide behind their giggles and whispers and moments away from the bar.  Without meaning to, Epel cracks the knuckles on his right hand.

“Oui, oui.  So hard, non?”

Epel doesn’t see Rook approach but suddenly, he’s there, leaning against the bar and smiling in a dissonantly serene sort of way.  His hat is off and his hair swings loose around his cheekbones.  Epel doesn’t know where he came from but he’s here, in his own suit picked out by Vil.  His has a green shirt that picks up the color of his eyes and a blue suit jacket.  The pair stills at Rook’s appearance.  Epel isn’t sure if it’s because of his close association to Vil or because Rook has this energy to him.  It might be because he’s surprisingly built.  Epel’s first thought when he saw him shirtless once was no fair at how broad and thick he actually was under his uniform.  Or it’s the eerie way he smiles or the sharpness of his eyes that are constantly sizing up potential prey.

“Don’t stop,” Rook says. “What were you saying about us?”

Without another word, they grab their drinks and disappear back into the party.  As Epel thought.  Keen to talk shit behind people’s backs but unable to say a thing to their faces.  He places his hands down on the bar, not wanting to pick up his dented water cup now.  He’s glad for Rook’s interjection, because he figures he would have made a scene and Vil would be pissed.  The look on those two clowns’ faces would not have been worth whatever viciousness Vil would unleash, even if it was in his name.

“You get used to them, monsieur crabapple,” Rook says once they’ve gone. “Vicious things, but they have no teeth.”

Epel wonders how many of these functions he’s accompanied Vil to and how many times he’s had to endure people say rude things about him.  Sure, he thinks Rook is weird as hell, but he’s not going to be rude about it to him.  He was raised better than that.  Better than these gussied up losers, anyway.

“They’re jealous.”

Epel’s spine fuses at the sound of a third voice.  He turns to see Vil standing over them, hands on his hips.  His voice is hoarse from talking for hours, but he still looks immaculate.  Not a hair is out of place, nor is his makeup at all smudged.

Vil lifts his chin slightly and gestures away from himself.

“I’m used to it.”

Epel thinks he has to be for as long as he’s been doing this.

“We’re going,” Vil says. “Come on.  I’m done here.”

It’s incredible, he thinks, about the way Vil commands a room.  He merely has to say he’s done and even the people who were badmouthing him look at him with want in their mouths.

“Let’s go.”

Vil turns to go and Epel falls in step with Rook behind him, feeling eyes on him for the first time since they entered the party.  He knows better than to think that they’re actually looking at him.  Vil is a comet, incandescent and powerful, lighting up the night sky.  Epel’s just a bit of dust or ice in the tail.

And he still doesn’t know what to think about that.

--

The dorm is quiet when they return.  The other Pomefiore students who were so, so jealous that Epel got to accompany Vil to the party are all tucked in bed.  He doesn’t have to deal with their jealous gazes but, if he’s honest, he prefers them to the synthetic venom of the people at the party.  At least his classmates make their jealousy obvious.

Epel follows Vil to his room because Rook is following him.  There’s something different about the way Vil is walking in the dark hallways and into his room.  He’s not as poised as before and Epel realizes that he’s tired.  Vil always goes to bed early and it’s past midnight now.  His shoulders aren’t slumped, but his posture isn’t as wickedly straight as normal.

In his room, he removes his earrings and places them on the earring tree on his vanity.  Epel thinks they look like metallic fruit supported by the stiff arms of the tree.  Watching Vil remove his makeup and take down his hair, it’s as if he’s been invited into a ritual and it’s--weird.  He still doesn’t get this skincare and makeup and stuff.  Once, Vil expressed surprise that his ears weren’t pierced.

Vil picks up a slim, black remote and turns on a television Epel has never noticed before.  It’s an older model and is showing a black and white horror movie.

“I can’t sleep without the TV on,” Vil says, and he’s trying to sound like his normal self but his voice thick with weariness and he almost sounds as if he’s in a trance.

He disappears into a closet and returns in a densely embroidered silk robe.  Vil sits on the bed and Epel realizes, for the first time, that this is someone close to his age.  This is someone only two years older than him.  The television flickers lights and shadows on his face as he stares at it without watching.  On the screen, a woman screams.  Not one of them reacts.

Epel knows he has to go.  He follows Rook out.  In the hallway, he sees Rook still and look out one of the windows that line it.

“Sometimes I wish he would fall asleep in my arms,” he says, speaking to Epel, but also not. “Maybe he won’t need the TV on, then.”

Rook sounds strange and it hits Epel a moment later.  He doesn’t have a French accent.  This must be how Rook really speaks, how he really is, under the layers of posturing and identity he’s made for himself.  He doesn’t understand why he of all people is privy to this no more than he understands why Vil is so focused on him.

But he understands that Rook is probably in love with Vil, more than his “chaser of love” or whatever bullshit he always spouts.  Epel doesn’t get love.  He understands crushes and wanting someone to like you back, but this feels different.  The way Rook’s shoulders drop and the way he’s staring at nothing.

Rook blinks and turns back to Epel, a smile now painted on his face.

“Monsieur Crapapple, let us be off to bed, non?”

And Rook is back.  Epel frowns, but he follows him anyway.

--

Epel remembers reading once about things that are deadly, but beautiful.  Belladonna, oleander, certain kinds of snakes.  Plants that draw insects in with sweet smells only to trap and devour them.  That’s how he’s always seen Vil.  There’s seeing him online or on television or in the small twin theatre in his hometown, face blown up and glowing on the screen and there’s seeing him in person.  The first time he scolded Epel, he remembered belladonna.

There were poisonous bushes back home with beautiful flowers.  He had a cat as a little kid who used to play in the bushes, and he used to chase after her, afraid she’d eat something on them.

But now he’s thinking of how he saw Vil that night, sitting on his bed with his hair loose and hanging down over his face and a pillow clutched to his chest.  He seemed almost vulnerable, which Epel never thought he could be.

Rook, too.  The way he stared at nothing and admitted he was in love with Vil beyond “appreciating his beauty and form” or whatever he always says.

Epel still thinks that he doesn’t get beauty, or at least the way it’s defined by Vil and, by extension, Pomefiore.  Those pruned and polished people aren’t beautiful, especially with their harsh words and leechy eyes.  Sunsets back home, those are beautiful.  Reds, oranges, pinks, yellows, all streaking across the sky and dousing everything in a beautiful orange glow.  The beauty of a perfect honeycrisp apple and the way it feels when your teeth puncture the skin.  How the juice floods your mouth and nearly makes you salivate.  In his mind’s eye, a face begins to form but Epel wills it away before it can make itself evident amongst the images of apples and sunsets.

But he doesn’t get it.  Not the way Vil talks about it or Rook or anyone else.  What he does get is the way Rook appeared when he stared out the window and said how he felt with no walls, no defense mechanisms, no nothing.  Love is as complex and evasive to him as beauty, but Epel knows what someone looks like when they’re in love.

As usual, Jack meets him at the gate so they can walk to class together.  Jack, to Epel, is the ideal of what he wishes to achieve.  He’s strong, fast, sure of himself, and tall.   He and Epel can  talk about magift or sports and other things that make sense.  No talk of etiquette or perfumes or people who think Epel is trying to be Neige.  And who would?  Just because he’s short and skinny, doesn’t mean he wants to be like Neige.  As far as Epel’s concerned, Neige is more than a little creepy.  He looks like a possessed doll from a horror movie that kills people when no one is looking.  No thank you.

He wonders how Jack deals with it, having grown up with Vil.  Whenever he asks, Jack just says “It’s just Vil.”  He isn’t intimidated by him at all.  Epel wishes he was that cool with the delivery when someone from another house asks him what it’s like sharing a dorm with the Vil Schoenheit.

Sometimes that face, the one he tries to ignore when he thinks about what he finds beautiful, gets a big clearer, the features more defined.  Epel knows the face, has studied the shape of the eyes and nose and turn of the mouth, but he never lets it fully form, because it would mean admitting that it’s a crush, an attraction.  He definitely switches gears and imagines something else when the face grows wolf ears.

The day passes as it always does and he finds out magift club is canceled because Leona “doesn’t feel” like showing up.

“You can help me with film studies club,” Vil says when he hears.

Epel tries to look at him like he did the night before: Vil scrubbed clean and on his bed, eyes full of static.  Instead he just sees him as he is normally: tall and elegant and beautiful and poisonous.

“Do I gotta?” Epel asks.

“Do I have to,” Vil corrects.

Sometimes, like now, Vil speaks as though he’s trying to chew someone’s face.  A lot of jaw motion and speaking slowly.  Epel hates it.  Vil has a way of making you feel like a child--no.  Just like something small and weak and pathetic.  The way he calls people root vegetables and orders everyone around to shape them in the way that he wants.  It makes Epel want to scream.  Whatever connection or moment he thinks there was last night is gone and his typical irritation towards Vil comes back.

“And, no, you don’t have to,” he says and then pauses.

Everything around them in the courtyard seems to come to a halt.  The surrounding foliage and the sky and everything except Vil seems to blur and Epel thinks he might be having what his professors call “a moment of total clarity,” in that something is happening that will make everything else make sense.  Vil stands in front of him, poised in his perfectly tailored uniform, his hands held behind his back, but his face seems almost soft in the downturn of his mouth and the way his brows are drawn in just enough so they don’t cause a furrow.

“I would like you to,” he says.

The moment passes and Epel exhales.  He doesn’t think he’ll ever understand Vil or what beauty means to Pomefiore, but he thinks he’s been getting glimpses that Vil isn’t just a marble statue brought to life to personally antagonize him.  He’s a real person with real weaknesses and vulnerabilities he won’t--or can’t--let show.  Except to him and to Rook.  Epel doesn’t know why he has earned this privilege, but somehow he has.

“Okay,” he says. “Sure.”

A smile curls onto Vil’s face 

“Excellent,” he says, “and while we walk to the club room, you can tell me all about your crush on my Jack.”

Epel gapes at him, surprised that Vil finds time to gossip like any other student but also mad that he was so close, so close to being close to him and here he is being mean again.

“Close your mouth, you’re catching flies.”

He does only because that’s also something his grandma said and the thought of Vil and his grandma having anything in common is enough to get him to shut it so he can press his lips together to stop any potential oncoming laughter.

“I don’t--that is, it’s.” His mind is going too fast, outpacing his mouth.  He says the only thing he can think of. “What about you and Rook?”

At first, Vil looks panicked, as if a deep secret of his has been revealed and maybe it has.  Then he looks scandalized.  And then--terrifyingly mad.

“Epel, you little dirt-covered potato!”

As fast as his legs can carry him, Epel begins running towards the club room.  Vil has nearly a foot on him and can easily catch him, so he has to get as much of a headstart as he can.  At first he thinks Vil won’t bring himself down to the level to give chase and risk getting sweaty,but then he hears him give chase.

Vil is a comet, incandescent and burning.  Epel is in the tail, somehow, and he doesn’t know why.  He doesn’t get him, doesn’t think he’ll ever get him, but.  Right now, he just wants to make sure he doesn’t catch him.