The world changes.
The years march forward, without the possibility of ever reversing. The landscape shifts to suit the times, as the earth breaks up under their feet and the oceans move to reclaim their rightful place. Outside, the people find nowhere left to build on earth, so they build up; soaring high into the air. There are people up there whose feet have never touched solid ground. So many species live up in the skies, never coming down to meet the planet that sustains them, but it's almost eerie to watch the human race do the same. High above, children are born, entering into a world that's so far removed from the ones of decades past. They'll run up and down endless flights of stairs to reach shops and hospitals and schools.
These two will never be those children. The space is needed, they know; the space is needed to grow everything that's required for their mammoth population. The authorities have been trying to get them to move into one of those newfangled apartment blocks on the twentieth floor of some building far away from where they are now, but they prefer to stay down here, where it's safe and secure. Besides, they argue; they're the last of a dying breed, and they'll be gone soon. A few more years and they won't be around to notice that the demolition companies are tearing their little house down.
For now, though, they slow dance in their front room to Grieg's Morning Mood, the first thing Frédéric could find when he'd looked for music on young Andrew's music player that he'd so kindly donated to them after he'd gotten a far better one.
Henry still jokes about the choice of song. "It's an odd choice, that, especially given that it's the evening. You might want to switch it up a little."
Frédéric laughs quietly. He can't muster much more, but it doesn't matter; the laugh lines creasing on his face are a testament to the years he's spent doing the very same thing he does now. Henry knows what the laughter means, by now: You say that every year, and yet here we are.
Henry shifts his hand a little, allowing it to come to rest on Frédéric's waist. Frédéric, in turn, takes the opportunity to turn Henry about the room, causing the pair of them to be a little short of breath.
"Slow down, slow down," says Henry, bringing them both to a stop. "I'm not as young as I used to be."
"I should hope you weren't," Frédéric replies. "I should be concerned if I grew old and you remained the same."
They sway back and forth on the spot as the music plays. In years gone by, they would have taken this opportunity to put on something else and to show off a new dance that they had brought into their repertoire over the year. They're far too old for that now.
"You must be tired of this," says Henry. "We've been doing this for so long. You must be tired." He looks down slightly. The years have made the difference between them less pronounced, but it is still there.
"Not at all," Frédéric replies. "I like spending time with you. But if you want to stop—"
"I don't. I'm just concerned about you. You know that the doctor said you shouldn't be straining yourself."
"I know, I know." Frédéric leans in a little, pressing their chests together. "I can feel your heart beating."
"No, you can't," Henry replies, rolling his eyes, but Frédéric knows that he's just playing a role. Long ago, Henry had said that and meant it, which had led to an argument in the basement. They both smile at the memory, shutting their eyes and intertwining their free hands.
The music shifts to Liszt's Liebestraum No. 3, and Henry sighs. "That's more like it," he says, as he begins to lead the pair of them into a gentle Viennese waltz. The steps come naturally; the steps are harder than they look, but they are few, and Henry and Frédéric have had decades to practice them by now.
Last decade, they danced the waltz. The decade before that was the foxtrot. When they were much younger, all sort of dances made their appearance; the tango, the salsa, the rumba, to name but a few. In the 20s, they were still young enough to jive. But now, when their joints are old and worn, all they can do is to turn about the room, pretending that the clock turns back with them. Neither of them regrets growing old together—they've both rather enjoyed the experience, in fact—but days like this call back memories from winters long gone, and the nostalgia washes over them both like syrup.
The song changes again, Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. "The night blooms at last," says Henry. "That's a half-decent idea for a painting, actually."
Frédéric laughs. The first time Henry said this, a few decades ago, they'd stopped dancing and Henry had pulled out a sketchbook and begun to sketch a rough outline of the night sky from the small window at the other end of the room. When they were younger, Henry'd had the idea that if he drew the night enough, he'd get it all out and he'd have no cause to do it anymore.
They don't know what's in their future. Perhaps eventually, Henry'll find himself in a position comfortable enough to stop.
The six decades that Henry's been telling this to himself are somewhat of a testament, however, to the idea that the day will never come. That's alright, though, they both know. That's more than alright.
The music plays, but the men have stopped dancing. Instead, they settle themselves into the armchair closest to the fireplace. It's a little bit of a squeeze, given how big they both are, but they find a way. They always find a way.
They lean back and let their legs tangle together, finally giving those weary bones a rest. Frédéric takes Henry's hand in his, and the gesture brings their faces towards one another.
Henry, an artist at heart, does what he always does. He looks over every inch of Frédéric's face. The laugh lines that still crease, even now. The contrast between his hair, turned nearly white, and his beautiful dark skin that's still soft to the touch as Henry cups Frédéric's face with his free hand, stroking it with the pad of his thumb. A soft smile settles on his lips, and he has to blink the tears away as they threaten to escape his eyes.
Frédéric, a romantic at heart, does what he always does. He takes Henry's hand away from his face, and intertwines their fingers, forming the same knot they formed when they married at twenty-six, six decades ago. "Je t'aime," he whispers. "Toujours."
"Moi aussi," replies Henry, and that's the end of it.
All that's left is for the two to curl up together, under the comfort of Adam's old tartan blanket, until the fire dies. Once it does, both of them will pull themselves out and go to the kitchen, where Alec will surely have finished whatever sort of demanding birthday meal he's attempted this year. Everyone around them has told him time and time again that he should retire already, but Alec refuses to, even now.
Frédéric doesn't ask Henry how he feels to be turning eighty-six, and Henry doesn't answer. They both know the answer, anyway: Like I did when I turned twenty and I didn't know what to make of the fact that I'd made it there.
The world changes.
Family and friends drift away, their lives and careers taking them far and wide across the globe. People cross the boundary between life and death; Adam and Oscar have made that journey already. They made it together, but they made it all the same. All Henry has to say about that is that his sister can be a damn strong woman when she wants to be. Henry's creations take a turn for the digital as his demographic shifts, his fingers becoming much more accustomed to a tablet pen than his old, trusty paintbrushes. He still paints with watercolours from time to time, but for the most part, he's gotten used to drawing on a tablet and a screen.
And yet, these two men still dance in their front room and enact the same movements and turns of phrase that they did on this day last year, and the year before that, as it was five, ten, twenty years ago. This day lives on, immortal, until the time comes where they cannot do it anymore, though they hope that it will not be for a long time coming.
Yes, the world changes.
But some things stay the same.