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The darkness beyond the glass doors is tempered by the moon, a persistent crescent angling out from behind heavy clouds. Jean slips the cigarette case out of his pocket, sliding a cigarette between his index and middle finger. When he reaches for his lighter, though, his pocket seems to be empty.

“Are you looking for something?” Jean glances along the outside of his apartment, to where Nino is leaning against the concrete wall. His hair is still blue, caught by the moonlight. Sometimes, now, it reminds him of water. A boat that never sank.

Nino tips the lighter into Jean’s hand—the resin handle warm against his skin.

“You should stop,” he says. Jean only laughs.

“There’s no shortage,” he replies, exhaling smoke. It hangs in the cold air, reluctant to dissipate.

Nino shakes his head but doesn’t add to the argument. The usual discussion passes between them, unspoken. Overhead, the stars twinkle in the night sky


“I brought you some mille-feuille,” Lotta calls from the hallway, the click of the front door closing preceding her footsteps towards the kitchen. Jean hums, turning pages in the book Nino sent him, about a rebellious composer in Suitsu. The story is uncomfortably gripping.

“There you are,” Lotta says from the doorway. Jean’s hand slips, and the pages of the book slide out of his grip. He’s left looking at the dedication page again, where Nino scribbled a brief note.

Stop smoking.

“Oh, is that from Nino?” Lotta asks, leaning over his shoulder. She reads the inscription and laughs. “Have you finished reading the book?”

Jean shakes his head and thinks about going out for a smoke. He’s low on cigarettes today, amusing in light of Nino’s most recent visit. “I don’t mind if you tell me about the ending.”

“Well,” Lotta begins, looking doubtful. “I don’t think it’ll spoil the message.” She flips the cover of the book shut, an illustration of the composer against an orange and red backdrop. “Her family dies in a fire.”

Jean frowns. “I knew it was suspicious that the corner store was out of cigarettes for the second time this week.”

Lotta nudges him in the shoulder. “Don’t complain! There’s a shortage of baking parchment right now, some kind of supply issue, and that’s much more essential.”

“If you bake,” Jean adds, resting his head on his arm. The sweet smell of the mille-feuille has made its way to his room, and he’s surprisingly hungry.

“Or if you like to eat baking,” Lotta retorts.


The phone rings while Jean is staring at the disassembled pieces of a robot he’s supposed to be helping Lotta assemble for her end-of-year science project. Or perhaps ethics project, he’s not quite sure. Unfortunately, the robot is currently suffering from a shortage of screws—either that, or he’s just useless at these types of things. That’s probably more likely.

“Jean.” Nino’s voice is warm over the line, and Jean can feel his shoulders relaxing. He leans back in his chair, considering going for a smoke.

“Nino,” he replies, before adding, “are you calling to admit your involvement in the sudden cigarette shortage that seems to be affecting my area of the city?”

Nino just laughs, the sound slightly fuzzy over the phone. Jean purses his lips, phone tucked to one ear as he rummages through the parts box to see if he’s possibly missed a trove of screws.

“I’ve been busy with my next photo commission,” Nino adds. The volume is fading in and out; he’s probably working on something, the microphone drifting away from his mouth. “I sent you a book about the composer.”

Jean glances at the book tucked away on the shelf. “I haven’t had a chance to finish it yet,” he says. “I’m trying to help Lotta with this robot project, and it’s so tiresome.” As if to prove his point, there’s an ominous creak, and the robot’s left arm falls off. The metallic sound it makes when it lands is unpleasant.

“I did offer to help,” Nino says. Jean can hear the amusement in his voice.

“You have your composer project,” Jean says, sighing at the fallen limb. “Why don’t you tell me about it, instead of mocking me for my robot failures and smoking habits.”

Nino’s resulting laughter is entirely unwarranted, in his opinion.


There’s a seeming shortage of taxis on the night of Nino’s exhibit, so Jean ends up walking to the gallery. He was always planning to go, but Lotta has warned him that she expects him to be present for the opening.

“Nino’s worked very hard,” she’d said over the phone. “Éliane is terribly elusive.”

“Éliane?” he’d asked absently, and then been scolded over the next ten minutes as Lotta reminded him about the composer whose portraits Nino had been commissioned to take, the significance for Suitsu district, Éliane’s famous symphony—Jean cringes at the memory. It’s not his fault that he has too much to remember.

“I’ll resign any day now,” he tells himself, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette, only to recall that the case is still empty. By now he’s starting to suspect the involvement of someone like Captain Mohnt in the supposed shortage and lack of resupply. Though why he would bother, Jean has no idea.

The gallery is already more full than he’d like, but he spots Nino standing next to a tall woman in blue—Éliane, he supposes, the composer. Lotta is nearby, conversing with an older woman as they both examine a photo on the wall.

“Ah, Jean,” Nino calls, waving him over before he can slink into the background and edge toward the refreshment table. “I want to introduce you to Éliane.”

Éliane doesn’t look like the stereotypical idea of a composer Jean has in his head, though he didn’t exactly have any expectations.

“I wanted to thank you,” Éliane says after they’ve exchanged pleasantries, “for your involvement in the release of the political prisoners.”

Jean manages not to shrug despite his discomfort. “I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he says, and then frowns when Nino catches his eye.

“Regardless,” Éliane continues. “Your actions laid the groundwork for the progress that we are now making.” She waves a hand at the exhibit. “We are telling our stories.”

“You should come to the symphony with me next week,” Nino says later, catching Jean in an alcove where he’s half-hidden by a potted fern. “They’re doing Éliane’s symphony. I think you would like it.”

Jean just glances at him, but Nino doesn’t back down. “She’s a fabulous composer,” he adds.

Jean looks over at the gallery floor, where Éliane is standing in a cluster of interested patrons. “Why aren’t you over there with her, then?” he asks.

Nino just grins. “Because I want to be here with you.” Jean looks at him, but Nino doesn’t back down.

“Fine,” he says. “But this shortage of cigarettes better be over by Monday.”

“I’m not making any promises,” Nino replies and then darts away before Jean can stop him.