Nini laughs, loud and hoarse and vulgar, and the Argentinean sort of can't stand it. It also kind of makes him want to kiss her so hard that he'll swallow that laugh. Or maybe have her laugh against the side of his neck when he rips off her black garter and pretends to accidentally find out if she dresses like they say can-can girls always do. (Usually it's true, that much he knows.)
She looks at him and her eyes are dark and her lips look like they're painted with poison, and he decides to seduce Historic instead.
It happens anyway. (Of course.)
They're down at the bar and she sits down next to him, bumping against his side. Or they're bored to death in rehearsal (and on the verge of being sick, thanks to all the tragic romance they're forced to witness) and end up talking. Or he's in Moulin Rouge, and she gives him a wink before putting her arms around the nearest guy with an expensive suit and gleaming eyes. Or they're up at the flat and end up laughing at the same thing. Or it's just an accidental touch like some burning substance poured on your skin, making every nerve ending tingle.
They fuck in the dressing room for the first time and later on a table that La Petite Princesse was dancing on earlier that night.
It tastes kind of like poison, but that's a good thing.
He borrows her kohl while she snores on his make-shift bed, using a sequined costume as a pillow. It's hard to tell whose eyes are more heavily painted black, his or hers.
They don't tend to wake up together. He usually gets enough sleep whether he wants it or not, and likes the unreal atmosphere of early mornings, when it's only the real people who are awake, not them.
If she awakens as he gets up, she grimaces at the sun, grimaces at the cursed bells of Sacre Cœur that echo inside her skull, her headache like a quickening pulse. Before he can say anything, she's buried her head in the costume and is out like a light.
It doesn't mean anything that they sleep in the same bed. On every soft carpet or folded down curtain, there's someone dreaming of quiet gardens, their dear distant countries, wicked fairies or the clear moment before rain. It's all tangled limbs and warm breath and the Argentinean has to be careful to not step on anyone. (Of course he then crashes down in a narcoleptic fit, and the people he falls on yelp and shove him away, promptly falling back to sleep.)
It's not like they are sharing a quiet garret and waking up in each other's arms.
When she wakes, there's one or two other girls in the narrow bed, smudged lipstick and half-stripped clothes, or Toulouse, still drunk from the previous night, oil paint on his hands and arms like scars.
He passes out every now and then, obviously.
Sometimes she's there when he wakes, and sometimes she isn't. He can never get used to waking up like that. It's like he's a time traveller, skipping moments, dashing towards the future. (And what for?)
While he's not there, while he's-- elsewhere, he dreams stupid things, things that he tries to swallow down with Absinthe afterwards, and still they burn somewhere between his throat and his chest. Sometimes when he wakes up, he only cracks one eye open, and then closes it again, tries to go back. That's when she swats at his chest with a fan, sharply, "Oi, Sleeping Beauty, time to get up."
She never asks him about those dreams. She knows better than to ask.
Instead he harrasses Satie until he starts to play, not his usual notes scattered across the keyboard like snowfall, but something with fire and blood. He dances or she or maybe they both dance together, and the world feels real again, sweat and fire and dizzying intoxication and pulsing desire. (They don't dance like that, though. That's not until afterwards.)
Afterwards it feels like anything can kill you, alcohol and poison and sex. That's good because it means that you're awake.
(What he dreams about is becoming happy.)
On many nights she never appears.
"Feeling lost and lonely, are we now?" Antoinette coos and he snarls and nips her neck and she pounces off with a shriek that melts into laughter, "Ah bad doggy."
He'll kiss other girls and put his hand under their skirts just to make it clear that he's not waiting for anyone.
Nini watches Satine lick blood off her pale lips out of the corner of her eye as she puts on her earring.
It's so fucking unfair. At least it could have been someone who's going to have to keep living, someone with too-small shoes digging into already bloody feet, someone ignoring the rumble of their stomach while whispering in the ear of an overconfident rich boy with wandering hands, someone who's alive, painfully and desperately.
Instead it's Satine with a body that aches to be laid to eternal rest already. It's a fucking waste.
"She's already dead," Nini hisses as she passes Chocolat and his worried eyes. He should know better. They shouldn't all be lapping up this stupid farce. All this will prove is that in the end they still catch fire and become nothing.
(That night she's irritable and bites the Argentinean's lip so hard it bleeds when he tries to kiss her too softly. She fucks him hard and dresses quickly afterwards, bangs the door as she leaves, just to make sure that they aren't entertaining any notions of fairytale endings. Sewing the rip in her dress, she stings her finger with the rusty needle and starts to cry. (This is not how it ends.))
It ends like it started. Her laughter annoys him, she can't stand his rambling tales of Buenos Aires as though all of this were a game of make-believe. There is a (faint) line between poisonous affairs and fatal ones. They fuck for the last time on the narrow bed, strewn with pages of the script, costume pieces, and she leaves and they both know it's over. There's no reason to talk about it.
When she's gone, he thinks about all that stolen time from whenever he fell asleep, all those words he didn't speak, the ones he didn't hear, and wonders if she would still be there, had he.
He'll never ask, though. They see each other often, but there's no point in dwelling on such things. It's not like they were breaking the rules, after all.
(When Moulin Rouge is closed down, he tries to find her but passes out in the empty ballroom. The irony doesn't escape him.)
Ten years later and everyone's dead or they've become famous, and the Argentinean is asleep at the bar table with the sugar cube still between his teeth. There's no one else at the table, either because they've all left or because there was no one there to begin with. (He can't always keep count.)
Nini has a limp, her back aches from having modeled in a ridiculous pose and she really needs a drink. She flops down at the table beside him, and it's not until after her glass is empty that she realises who he is.
She sort of smiles, and nudges him.
He blinks and looks at her. He's wearing kohl, she isn't. "Where were we?"
It's ironically appropriate; she shakes her head.
"Here, I reckon," she replies, "what's ten years either way."
They have another drink. It feels almost like before, except that they're the only ones left.
"You wanna see Argentina?" he mumbles drunkenly, leaning heavily against her side.
It's almost morning and it's drizzling and they're both shivering with cold. Nini laughs, loud and hoarse and vulgar, and he can feel her cold hand at the small of his back.
(War devours the whole of Europe within five years, and they're never heard of again. Maybe their battered corpses are dragged into nameless graves. Or maybe they're standing on a pampa somewhere, their cigarettes blown out by the cool wind.)