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Surprise softened Noémi’s expression for the unexpected extravagance presently revealed in the mundane shadows of her kitchen. On a black bed of diamond-dusted petals lay an exquisite display of long-stem roses, sculptured to life-like detail in fine Baccarat crystal. Little wonder, then, that the package had received such a formal escort not just to her door, but with a flourish to the very counter upon which the box now rested. The roses were beautiful in a way she dare not even touch; worth more, probably, than the entire contents of her apartment. Instead her fingers trailed the inky hydrangeas arranged like billowing darkness around them, and amid the softly dancing cadence of her own heartbeat she began to wonder from whom the gift had come.

A note accompanied it, and she plucked it next, although slowly, both revered and wary of the moment. Her body flushed warm; guessing already, or perhaps more accurately simply wanting, like desire of will alone might tip the scales of impossible. Because an entire night and day had passed and yet the feeling of him still hadn’t completely faded, just settled into her like something that felt strangely akin to the lamentation of absence. Her journal was filled with lines attempting ineffectual capture of that brief moment and the way it lingered ever after. Not that she named him, or ever would. 

She braced herself for the disappointing fall of hope enshrined to too great a height, and sank onto one of the kitchen stools to read. A rational explanation would follow. The benefits accompanying her new job at the EoA had already proved baffling to someone born into abject poverty -- immense stipends for presentable clothing, for instance, that not one of her colleagues even blinked at and yet seemed like the strangest luxury to someone who comfortably thrifted most of her wardrobe. 

The script on the card was neat, graceful without inefficiency, but it wasn’t from the office:

          “Even the flowers of the gods pause at your beauty.”

Noémi’s skin tingled, like the words had whispered themselves from the very shadows into the curve of her ear. Her breathing deepened. She was not quick to youth-like wonder, but it touched her then, and she absorbed it at length. Not just the words, though they were a most flattering and romantic poetry, but the fact they were written by hand. Such a small detail to linger on, but it was the one that finally curved the beginnings of a quiet smile to her lips as she read it again. The memorial of flowers explained itself, frozen in the full flush of life like purest magic marked a moment she had half convinced herself was imagination on her part. But it was the gift of time she was thinking about; that he had chosen to spend even the brief moment it would have taken such a precise hand to pen, in a world of technology's rule. It was so beautifully old-fashioned of a gesture that it captured her whole. Even down to the ambiguity of initials, shared as secretly as his slim smile had been in a room full of people. 

She set the card reluctantly down before it charmed her too much, though the smile did not fade, nor much the feelings invoked even as she told herself it was foolish to read too deeply into a passing compliment. It was only then that she realised the roses were not the only gift. Inside the second box she discovered a clear, crystal-wrought pyramid topped with amethyst, within it a golden bubble glinting of liquid. A delicate label declared it Les Larmes Sacrées de Thèbes, and the melancholy of such a naming plucked at her like a breath of wind stirring still waters. She did not need the translation, of course; it meant the sacred tears of Thebes.

Noémi lived her life in margins, not through particular choice, but because she had never quite found herself to fit into the world around her. Instead her world centred upon the privacy of her creative work, an inner life she found to be rich but ultimately lonely. It was perhaps purest coincidence that the gifts touched some hidden place that made them feel more intimately knowledgeable of her than was possible, and if she told herself that, it did not lessen the spell. She slipped a drop of the perfume onto the inside of her wrist, let it melt into the heat of her skin before she inhaled the scent, of rarest spice and wood and decadence. A strange confluence of feeling pulled her dizzy into the sensation, almost like a shade of deja vu. Her eyes closed, truly lost for a while.

It was an intoxicating aroma, leaving an impression she did not think would ever divorce from her memory of this moment. Yet in the sweet and sensual familiarity (and she could not say why it felt that way) came an equally familiar sense of caution. 

For when gods paused for mortals, it only ever ended one way. 

The realisation was as bittersweet as it was sharp, but did little to temper the stirrings in her chest. To feel seen, even if it was by someone she could not have -- and of that she was quite certain. But if her mother’s loss had taught her anything, it was that everything faded, and everything ended. Life was lived fullest in the shadows in between inevitable tragedies, and happiness was to be grasped for as long as it might be held. The perfume’s scent lingered as she reached for her journal, and smoothed the creamy pages to fresh space. If Noémi had captured his attention for her beauty, she did not wish to hold it for beauty alone.

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