Silk seemed such a paltry covering for one such as he. Velvet, silk or not, didn't compare to the touch of his fingers; satin like coarse wool in comparison to those sable curls. Doll-like I lay broken, my breath gasping from my lungs, lungs that were rotting prematurely inside me, blood in my breath.
He stood, a vision of lace and loveliness, in the dank stinking doorway where I lay dying. Darkness was all I'd ever known, the cries of the poor around me.
Barely could I remember that time when a mother had lovingly kissed my forehead, when a father had smiled as he ruffled my hair and called me 'son.' I just lay here now, hearing my life fade with each breath that threatened to bring the hacking cough that had eaten my parents, my three beautiful little sisters, cast me from my home and brought me here to die.
Was he a vision? Shimmering in my feverish gaze, his white hand gleamed like marble, like parchment, like the whitest of paints the portrait-painters used, his dark dark hair blacker than the soft fur of the black mare I'd once owned. And eyes like… like a cat's, like a dragon's, like two fiery orbs, angelic in that bright white face that looked on me with utter hunger and longing. I did not understand the craving that so filled him, that possessed his mind, that made his face look one moment stricken and the next the perfect incarnation of pure lust. Orbs the hue of the blue in a sky at sunset, close to green yet a totally different colour.
The poorest section of the city he'd found me in, the section by the banks of the river, the section with the dockworkers, the cutthroat robbers, the whores and the damned poor. All around me they lived, worked, plied trades such as they could, and I just lay useless and dying and hallucinating.
I found I couldn't move any longer, and then it no longer mattered. My vision swam; the cough built in me; I fought it with all my weary strength but it came. Racking me as the vision watched, the blood choking me as it jumped to the back of my throat, metallic bittersweet tang. It no longer dribbled from my mouth- it poured when I could no longer control the urge to cough.
My vision knelt down in the filth and muck and moaned aloud as my skinny body twisted and turned in pain. The hunger grew as the blood drenched my already bloodstained clothes, the hunger filled him, made him stay and watch, made him lean over to touch it on my shirt front as the dreaded spasms fell away.
Wordlessly I watched his fingertips just brush the material. I felt no weight behind the touch, as if he was somehow afraid to touch me. And then I felt him brush at it again. My head was spinning. My lungs ached. My throat was like rust inside, wearing away and tasting of iron. He could sense all that, I knew, and he was the only thing I could fix my eyes on so I was not so afraid of dying. At least I had my hallucinations to keep me company.
Then that flawless hand travelled to my mouth, the mouth that was covered in my own blood, and I felt a touch upon me like nothing else, and I knew then I was not dreaming; and death seemed suddenly so close, so real, so tangible; death embracing me, saying, 'Welcome, my son, welcome to your real life. Sit. Drink. Eat. Make merry and forget.'
Those hungry eyes raked my form, that hand stroked the curves of my mouth, the other reaching for my hair. My hair was matted in blood and filth, but what did I care, when this unearthly creature of bone-bleached white and darkness such as I'd never seen the like was touching me like I was a holy relic?
A voice; a voice talking, a voice that made my heart ache.
"You should be a painting in the Sistine. You should not be dying."
I looked blearily at him. My heart was so weak my eyes were having difficulty focussing properly. He was luminous, radiant, full of light and beauty, those finely made features, that hand like marble, veins painted blue on the back. Hair that made me think of brushing it, curling it in ringlets about my fingers.
"You are exquisite- did Michelangelo make you?"
His voice was pitched at an intensity, not a volume. I felt it in my very core, heard the words deep inside. Praise? For the dying?
My body was skeletal; my unusually short hair tangled; my eyes burning like there was brimstone inside my head, lighting them. I was not beautiful, not in death, in decay.
"Ah, but don't you see! I am Death. Gentleman Death, come to pluck you from life and into my ownership. I am such a jealous creature, am I not?" and he laughed like I'd heard no living being do, and I covered my ears with hands that barely had strength to do so.
He had made his choice even as I did it. Picking me tenderly up, he supported me in one arm and stroked my throat with the other as he walked. I couldn't breathe. I was nearly dead.
I smelt something, heard something, felt something, not able to contain any memories or feel anything new. My body ached. My mind ached. How I wished for Gentleman Death to return! What a merciful fever-vision he'd been.
I realised with a start that I was not in that foetid doorway. I was not anywhere I recognised, and I started to panic. I thrashed my head from side to side in my terror, my eyes open wide and only seeing gentle light. I would have started screaming if the cough hadn't returned and I was consumed by it again.
This time, I did not suffer the pain alone. There were rock-like arms around me, soothing words in my ear, kisses on my throat.
It stopped sooner than it ever had done, and I was left in silence again. My eyes slowly got used to that light, and I quieted myself by looking at the scenery.
The room I was in was quite small, furnished lavishly. A small rosewood table and three chairs sat in the corner, gilt-edged: a chaise long of deep blue velvet sat at the foot of the bed: the canopies of the bed itself well woven and bright. There was an armoire in the corner of the room, the door negligently flung open to reveal rich clothes. More lace, silk, satin, brocade. The mirror on the wall over the small wash basin even had a gilt frame.
Those arms I'd felt round me whilst I'd been wracked with the cough were still there, calming, soothing, protecting. To whom did they belong? Who would hold someone like me, someone obviously infectious, dying in such a horrible way?
"Death does not give up so easily on that which he desires most of all. Death is tenacious, greedy, and very much in love."
It seemed again I'd felt the voice, that in the most intimate way it lived in my thoughts, it showed me the power of he who had created it. And desperately now I wanted that power. Desperately I wanted to see him again, my fever vision, that beautiful young man just older than I was, with the laugh that made my soul dance in me. Summoning my remaining energy, I turned over to face the solid presence that lay behind me.
It was him. I cannot describe the joy that went through me as I saw that face again, that well-proportioned mouth, those amazingly coloured eyes, the silky curling eyelashes that were almost like a woman's. Now I could die happily. Now I could let myself slip into the darkness that ate at my body.
"You're not dying, you hear? You're mine to kill. Mine," he whispered, so angrily I instantly begged for forgiveness. I realised as I pleaded silently with him that his lips had, for the very first time, moved.
He soothed my frantic mental sobs with a few soft strokes of those smooth fingers over my brow, across my lips again. He seemed to like those. He traced them now, a small smile on his face.
"Beautiful boy. Shorthaired, daringly so for this age. I love that length on you, I love how short curls fall into your eyes, I love how it is only just long enough to reach below your chin. I love how it makes you look so fragile. I love your flopping awkward limbs; I love your small hands. I just love you."
His secret voice, only for me, spoke again as he made his small caresses. For one blissful moment I forgot the pain that was my bedfellow, the pain that lived in me like some mythical ghoul, pulling my life from me and weighing me down with it. And now he moved; drawing me closer to him, those orbs of sapphire, turquoise, lapis lazuli, glowing like hellfire in that angelic face. Now he moved to press the relief of icy smooth lips to my burning cheek, my jawbone, my neck.
"Life, you angel fallen from a painting. Life for you, but Death in its best and most beautiful form."
Those lips moved against my neck as he whispered this to me, and then I felt something that blotted my small life out completely.
Seventeen years of boredom they seemed, seventeen years of quiet servitude to loving parents who'd wanted the best for me; seventeen years of hunger for something a little better; dreams of angels, dreams of beauty. I found this in him as he drank the living blood from my veins, and my ruined throat opened in a moan for him.
Falling and Death in that coat of purple velvet: laughing women who saw my battered body and clapped in glee to see him holding it: a very magnificent room full of men and women and other things, swift and fast in the shadows: a beautiful little girl, Egyptian-styled hair even softer than his. Pleasure that filled every vein, making me swoon, making me mouth things I did not understand, cry out silent oaths in my mind that made him drink harder. Gentleman Death, did you come to me because I had fallen from a painting? Do you come to everyone like this, a perfectly made sword buckled at your hip?
I begged him not to stop, that this moment was mine, his, that I finally did mean something, my less than nothingness dropping away as I became his once and for all. He said something, lyrical and strange, and I cried out as he drew away. Tears poured down my face, I sobbed though I knew I'd set the hacking cough off again. I did not care. I wanted to die like that, in that bliss, finding that pure pleasure again.
He muttered something about Death and love and pleasure restored; and then there was something in my thirsting mouth, something very thick and full of something I wanted to place but couldn't. I heard his voice, his real voice, again, but couldn't understand, and then the soul-voice begged me. Please, little one, please. Drink it. I can't lose you.
I swallowed. And gasped, my eyes flying wide open, my poor little over-exerted heart beating painfully fast in my chest. I needed more, I needed it more than I needed to breathe. My mind could think only of the drinking, of his white throat pressed to my hungry lips. The cough died the instant that blood entered my throat, and I had no wish to stop as I drank.
My heart throbbed with the pleasure again, as his did. I heard it in my flesh, in my skull, in my ears. My mind was able to feel the press of his, the excitement that I had not rejected this, this gift he gave me, and the joy that finally the dying angel he had watched for only a few short days was his!
Too soon it seemed he pushed me away, too soon. I cried again, reaching for him, but he was pushing my arms to the soft cotton bedspread, telling me I must not. No. No more, my angel. No more. Later you can feast all you like, but I will die if you keep going.
I looked up at him and saw him. The hair I'd so admired was even more beautiful now I could see it with this new vision. His lovely eyes, fire in his face still, but even more alluring with the new colours I saw that swam even finer in the edge between blue and green.
And I knew I looked like him now, restored from the sickness, whole, perfect. No more human colour in my waxy white cheeks.
We smiled, the most wonderful mirror of each other.
A mirror was in front of me, and I stood before it in breeches and stockings of silk, a fine white shirt with ballooning sleeves unlaced at the throat. My deep red hair shone with a lustre a brush had never been able to coax out of it, its wine-like colour so unusual even now. My short fringe fell into eyes that were the palest of greens, almost a mint hue. A slender body still like a boy's, long graceful limbs and soft hands.
But behind my eyes there burned a fire, the fire I'd seen in his, and I grinned with white teeth like tiny daggers. Oh yes. Gentleman Death again, the companion to him, the one who watched and learnt and would not leave him.
I heard his tread on the floorboards of the hotel. Turning around, I leant on the wall whilst he came to me. A wicked and sensual smile curved his lips, his eyes dancing and alight with possibility, my name like honey on his lips. I reached for him and he embraced me.
Savarino. My Master.
And I, Anton. His angel, forever.