There was something that never got boring about sitting on the roof and watching the sky or the city in the distance. No matter the hour, there was something new to notice and admire. The sunset looked slightly different every day, and the way the light fell would expose a previously hidden detail or two, like an interesting building or piece of landscape.
Not that Mark Twain ever did care too look. Most of the time, he was on the roof for one reason, and one reason only - to sunbathe and nap where nobody could get in his way.
However, that plan never worked entirely well. Unlike him, John Steinbeck did care about what he could see in the distance - both above and in front of him. He was the type of person who could never pass up the opportunity to talk about beautiful sights and point out the colour of the sky at a given moment. On top of that, he was an early bird, and would even get on the roof to watch the sunrise while eating his breakfast.
Mark never joined him for the morning visits. He couldn't be bothered to be woken up anytime before at least eleven and preferably noon. However, he didn't mind John joining him in the late afternoons, even though that inevitably kept him up there until it was dark.
They started watching the sunsets together after John wouldn't stop gushing about it one time. He shook Mark's shoulder until he sat up and watched it along with him.
That afternoon, the sunset turned the sky, and the few clouds there were, orange and purple. It was a pretty combination, and there were many different ones. Mark decided that it wouldn't hurt to look at least a few of them. Eventually, it became a habit, accompanied by his head resting against John's shoulder as they pointed out all the colours. Sometimes it was grey and pink, or red and yellow, and many other combinations.
John would often tell Mark that he smelled like the sun. It was an odd thing to say, to be sure. Mark asked him what the sun smelled like, once, and he shrugged, saying that it just smells 'warm'. It was as good an explanation as it got.
Mark didn't get it, really, but he figured that it was due to his sunbaths, usually starting about an hour before John would come, while the sun was still high enough.
In his personal opinion, if one of them were to resemble the sun in any way, it would be John, even though he smelled mostly of grapes and soil rather than 'warmth'. He exuded the warmth he had in other ways, though. His smiles and laughter would light up the room every time. At times, he looked like he was glowing.
John himself would never agree with that assessment, though. When Mark shared it with him in an attempt to tease, John looked out into the distance, wearing a serious expression. He whispered something to the effect of, 'I'm too bad a person to be like the sun,' as a bitter smile formed on his lips.
Mark didn't know what he meant by that. He often thought that John was harsh on himself, but not in any way that would help him improve as a person. He offered a shrug and a pat on the back, meant to be supportive, but instead leaving a red mark on John's skin.
One day, the sunset was already approaching, but John wasn't there yet. Mark wasn't one to worry about anything most of the time, even his job. However, he felt himself hating the thought of John missing the show. Just as he was about to get on his face, he heard a familiar voice, and his heart calmed down immediately. A sigh of relief.
And then, he noticed that there were two sets of footsteps approaching his spot. John's familiar loud, confident steps were joined by more hesitant, shuffling ones of someone who must have been reluctant to come.
He glanced at the figures approaching him. The guess he made in his heart turned out to be true, the other person was Edgar Allan Poe, with his raccoon Karl resting on his shoulder, giving Mark a curious look.
The both of them sat down. John explained that he managed to convince Poe that it was fine to join them if he wanted to look at the sky for inspiration. They could watch the sunset together and perhaps even stargaze, or look at the moon.
Mark was fine with that, though he teased John for almost being late, getting an embarrassed smile in response.
How could he mind, really? After John took it upon himself to temper his anxiety over joining them in their secret spot, he was relatively pleasant to have around, an eccentric and mysterious persona through and through, which appealed to Mark, a person who thought himself a straightforward, 'you get what you see' type of person.
The sunset was almost all purple that time.
Once it was dark, John stretched his arms with a satisfying crunch and turned towards Poe.
'Hey, we have a bit of a dilemma. Could you help, as a third party with no bias?' he asked, giving him a gentle smile so as to avoid making him feel pressured.
Mark raised an eyebrow. 'Did you really bring him here to-' John's finger pressed firmly against his lips interrupted the question.
'Shhhh,' he shushed, letting his eyelids drop halfway. 'I know what I'm doing.'
'If you think I could help you, I will be glad to,' Poe said, carefully weighing each word. 'What's the problem?'
John removed his fingertip from Mark's lips and rested his hands on his own hips. 'We've been having this dispute, see. It's a silly thing, but I'm curious what you'd have to say. Which of us, you think, is more like the sun?'
Mark groaned, rolling his eyes. Outside of its original context, kept between them, the question was utterly ridiculous, he thought. There was no reason to bring Poe into it.
A comforting hand touched his shoulder. John nodded at him with a smirk, and nodded in Poe's direction.
'Hmm. That's an interesting question. Are you sure you want to hear my verdict?' Poe's tone was dead serious. Despite John's best efforts, he still seemed mildly nervous.
'Sure,' John said, 'you're doing us a favour, after all. Mark, any objections?' he asked in his usual carefree tone, tilting his head at him.
'Yeah, obviously. I didn't expect you would actually have an answer to such a weird and abstract question,' he mused, looking into his face curiously - though the eyes were covered by a fringe of messy, fluffy hair, so he couldn't really gauge Poe's feelings from that.
'It's not that weird a question. When I look at the two of you, knowing the nature of the conflict, I'm sure that I know the answer,' Poe explained. Now his voice wasn't shaking at all.
'Good job! I knew that I could count on you to be just the right person to get it,' John gushed. The hand that wasn't on Mark's shoulder gently touched Poe's knee. 'So, what's the verdict? Which of us gets the title?' He watched Mark cringe from the corner of his eye.
Poe's eye peeked from between locks of dark brown hair. 'Both of you,' he said simply. 'You simply happen to represent the sun at different times of the day.' He looked at John and smiled. 'You…you're the morning sun. Always well-rested, energised, ready to face the day. Your brightness is not exhausting, as it is the case for the sun at noon. It shines on those you care about and brings them comfort, but some will avoid it for fear of what it might expose.' He looked towards Mark. 'And you are the afternoon sun, about to set. Tired and heavy from providing warmth all day, but warm all the same. It is mature warmth, though, and it makes others crave your company. You may not be ready to face the day, but you're there before the night sets.'
John and Mark looked at each other, blinking.
'Never thought about it that way,' Mark remarked, glancing at Poe with newfound respect. 'How the hell did you come up with all that?'
'I don't think it's that hard to tell,' John laughed. 'Now that I think about it, I see it. Hey,' he said at Poe, 'that was some really flattering stuff. Not sure if I deserve all that flattery, but the words sure were pretty.'
Poe hid his face in his hands for a moment. 'The words came to me naturally. I think I will have to write them down at a later time. In fact, maybe I should go now, since I fulfilled my role.'
'Hold up,' John protested, waving his hand. 'You can't leave yet. You forgot about something.'
'What did I forget?' Poe was starting to grow anxious.
'You got two whole suns, but that's not all there is to it, right? There's also the moon,' he said, gesturing towards the night sky. 'That's you. Not always easy to spot, terrible sleeping schedule, mysterious, and really damn pretty. Don't forget that.'
Poe hid his face in his hands.
He let John talk him into staying there with them all night. At first, they were stargazing, until eventually all three fell asleep, cuddled up under the night sky, keeping each other warm until they were woken up by the sunrise