Built of Music and Blood.
'Be happy,' cried the Nightingale, 'be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart's-blood. -- The Nightingale and the Rose, Oscar Wilde.
There is a ticking sound inside Oruha's mind each day, each minute, each second that ticks away her life. She knows it with her smiles that do not reach her eyes, with the laughter she shares with the people who come to listen to her songs. Her time is running out, and each night she gets ready and looks at herself at the mirror and she sees herself already dead.
So each night she chooses someone from her audience to sing her songs, wondering if that person will hear the hidden bitterness behind the falsely chipper songs she writes, she performs. But no-one seems to actually listen. She is a true performer: no-one sees behind her smiles.
One night, before she starts singing, she looks around her audience, trying to choose who she will sing that night for, who will share her loneliness and doom without realizing. As she looks around, her eyes fall on black a white: a beautiful woman drinking a martini, completely dressed in white, a white rose upon her long, long hair. Oruha smiles at her and the woman raises her glass at her as she smiles as well, so Oruha starts singing, focusing on that woman, and only her.
After the applause, she takes her drink from the bartender before she moves towards the woman with the white dress.
“Is this seat taken?” she asks, offering her a smile.
“I don't know,” the woman muses, propping her chin against her hand as she smiles at her, eyes impossible to read. “Is it?”
She laughs, moving the chair to sit down, crossing her legs, taking a sip of her own glass.
“I don't recall seeing you here before,” she says, leaning forward to stage whisper at the woman: “I'm sure I'd remember you.”
“I travel around.”
“And business,” the woman agrees. “I asked where I could go for a nice drink and I was told that there was an amazing singer here and I said to myself that I should go and see if that was true.”
“And?” Oruha says, smiling, leaning forward but she already feels herself falling under the easy flirting that fills up her nights. The woman, for all her allure and mystery, will most likely say she has a lovely voice, say how she would like to listen to it in private. And then Oruha will laugh and, depending how the rest of her night goes, she might agree to go with the woman to her hotel room for an hour or two, a perfectly nice way to spend her night that will disguise her loneliness, her bitterness.
“You have a lovely voice,” the woman says, as predicted but, instead of smiling she is looking serious, almost disappointed. “But it would've been better if you meant what you sang about. As it was, they were just pretty sounding lies.”
For a moment, Oruha feels as if the bar had gone completely silent. Her mouth falls open and she tries to talk, to say something, anything -- no-one, not a single person has ever said something like that about her songs (about her) but before she can think of anything, or even decide of she should be offended or not the woman is smiling at her again, cocking her head to the side.
“They're calling for you,” she says. “You should probably go.”
Without uttering a word, Oruha stands up, not running towards the stage, but walking really, really fast.
She doesn't sing the next song to the woman, but she can't stop feeling her eyes on her through her next song.
However, at some point, as she changed her clothes between numbers, the woman in white disappeared from the audience. Oruha tells herself that it's better like that: for all that she had wanted someone to see her truth, she had been unprepared to face it like that. So once the bar closes and once she's in more comfortable clothing so she can go back to her apartment, she is surprised when the woman is outside, smoking from a cigarette holder, a wide hat almost hiding her eyes from the neon lights.
Oruha thinks about running, the way she didn't do when the men who took her to the wizards did when she was a young girl. Instead she feels herself smiling again, even with her heart hammering inside her chest as she approaches the woman.
“You disappeared all of the sudden, miss,” she says, smiling. “I was starting to worry that my singing wasn't to your liking.”
“Not at all. I needed to finish some business.”
“What kind of business?” Oruha looks at the elegant clothes, the tasteful jewelry she's wearing. Drugs, perhaps. Or guns. With the war, it's not something new or unheard of. Even with the wizards so close in the city, these are dangerous times.
The woman shrugs one shoulder, tendrils of black hair moving with her. Somehow the smoke from her cigarette seems thicker, its scent hiding the stench of acid rain and contamination from the city.
“Wishes?” Oruha repeats, almost laughing. “How does a business like that even work?”
“It's actually quite simple,” she admits, moving closer to her. “For example: you have a wish,” the woman says, her eyes impossibly red. Lips red, rose red, blood red. Oruha smiles and she thinks about saying 'no'. This woman already seems to know so much about her, about her fears, about her lies. She doesn't believe what she's saying and she doesn't care about false hope..
But instead she finds herself answering: “I don't want to die. Can you grant me that?”
“I can grant that, but for every wish, a price must be met,” she says, her eyes kind, almost sad. “However, the price for such a wish would be for you never to feel happiness in your life.”
There is the ticking sound inside Oruha's brain going tictoctictoc with each breath she draws, each heartbeat drawing her nearer to the day that she'll die. All her happiness, and she could live until she was old and gray. She could marry. Have children. Live. Forget about the clock ticking her seconds away.
... but would she be able to love them? Would she resent them? Or would she simply not care and remain alone, the way she has been doing all her life, pushing everyone away, thinking that it would be too painful, too cruel from her part to draw people near her just for them to see her die? Would she stop singing, the one thing she has honestly enjoyed?
“Would I be happy?” she asks then. “If I fell in love? Would I be happy?”
The woman smiles, not even unkindly, but Oruha still shivers, goosebumps on her arms, down her back.
“I can't answer that. There is only one way for you to know the answer.”
“I just want to be happy,” she whispers, a confession she has never said to anyone, not even to herself.
The woman smiles, her hand soft and lavender scented as she moves closer to her, her lips almost touching Oruha's.
“Then sing for me,” the woman says, her voice low, vibrating. And then her lips touch her jaw, the soft spot beneath her ear that makes Oruha shiver even as she moves closer, her breasts pressing against the woman's own breasts, her arms around the woman's waist.
And suddenly the pain and loneliness that Oruha had worked so hard to bury inside her soul blooms again, in her throat, in her tongue and so Oruha sings: she sings about moonlight with its cold crystal towers, about the birth of love when the earth was young and the gods were kinder. She sings about passion of fire and water, lips against lips against flesh, moans and gasps. Her song grwos bitter and fierce as the pain of her destiny crossed through her and her tears run free down her face even as the woman's lips kissed them away. And Oruha sings about the love she has always dreamed, about the love she fears she will never know. About a love that would go beyond death. And as she sings she grows weaker and weaker, the woman's arms still around her, her heart aching as if it was broken.
The woman smiles at her, softly and gently.
“Don't worry,” she whispers, and for a moment she seems so lonely that Oruha's heart aches for the woman as well. “You will have your love.”
But then she falls asleep and when she wakes up she is in her apartment, a beautiful red rose resting besides her on her pillow.
There is a ticking sound inside Oruha's mind each day, each minute, each second that ticks away her life. It's there with each breath she draws, with her heartbeat stealing away the seconds she has left to live. She puts a red rose on her hair that night and that night as she sings, she sings the words of her songs as they were meant to be rather than hiding behind them as she has been doing for so, so long.
While she waits for the bartender to give her her drink, she feels someone else sitting on the stool next to hers.
“You know, lady? It's cruel for you to be wearing that rose.”
Oruha blinks, startled, turning around to find a soldier, still wearing his uniform, offering her half a grin. She frowns, confused.
The soldier's half grin turns into a full one, his eyes honestly merry and bright.
“Your beauty is going to make it wither away, of course.”
Oruha finds herself laughing honestly at that. And, for an instant, the ticking inside her quiets down.