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Il bello addormentato alla scrivania

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The interior of Hiraga’s house is still and cool, the curtains drawn against the hammer of the sun. Roberto steps delicately around the piles of clothes, paperwork, books, and unopened boxes of scientific supplies to the desk, where Hiraga has fallen asleep once again over the Game of Angels and Demons.

He should not, he knows very well, stand there and stare like the lovelorn fool he is. The both of them are due in Saul’s office in ninety minutes, and Hiraga is never quick in getting ready for the day. But Roberto cannot tear his eyes away from Hiraga’s face, in easy repose although he sits in a computer chair rather than lies in bed. His lashes are glossy black fans against his pale skin, and his lips are ever so slightly parted. They are amaranth pink and look, Roberto thinks — not for the first time — very soft.

He recalls a book of fairy tales that Josef once lent him; the spine fraying and the cloth binding soft after decades in innumerable pairs of hands, the thin pages redolent of vanilla and fresh grass. The old stories, in all their dark splendor; the first of many books that would open up to Roberto the depths of power and beauty lying beneath the surfaces of the anodyne modern versions. He is struck by the improper urge to lift the small hand flung out across the gaming board and check under its fingernails for a splinter of flax. Even stronger is the impulse to press that hand to his own cheek, then kiss its palm, then stoop to brush his lips against Hiraga’s until the dark lashes flutter and the dark eyes open.

Instead, Roberto lays his hand on one pajama-clad shoulder, shakes it gently, and says, “Hiraga. Rise and shine.”