"What do I call you?"
Her voice was soft, her brow knit in confusion. Two more tears fell down the planes of his gaunt face, and then he smiled.
There was an emptiness, a hollowness when he finally whispered, "Idris."
"Idris." Ila tested the name on her tongue as soon as he'd said it. The tall, lean figure kneeling before her looked like he was about ready to collapse, and the light shifted enough to obscure his face again, plunging them both in darkness.
"How far did you go?"
Ila blinked. "Where?"
"The book, the book," both of his hands - hands that could swallow the whole of her head - tenderly cradled her jaw, fingers lacing in her stark white hair, "how far into the book?"
"I..." she swallowed, lips parting, shaking hands reaching up to hold his knobby wrists, "I don't know. It told me how to... It told me what to do. I can't read any more of it. I don't understand it."
Her fingers brushed lighter linen and heavy cotton cloth, tickled by hair that stood on end, gooseflesh rising over his dark skin. They stayed that way, her head in his palms, his wrists in her hands, for what felt like an eternity. Still - Ila wasn't frightened, though somewhere she felt she should be. No one - no man - had ever been in her presence for such a sustained amount of time.
"Look again when you can," he breathed a shuddery sigh, "it won't tell you everything. Maybe not much at all."
He smoothed her hair back and wiped at her eyes with his thumbs again, "It won't tell you why it was in the attic. It won't tell you who I am."
Ila's gaze came into sharp focus. Her hair stood on end, she felt heat blossom in her face, felt her pulse quicken under his fingers. "How do you -"
"Mysteries that will be revealed in due time," he murmured.
"What does that mean?" She asked, a sob threatening in her throat.
"I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell you." His grip became firmer, and the light shifted again, casting the old mans face in gradients of diffuse gray. It revealed the darkness of his eyes, the shape of his mouth, the set of his teeth. "I can't."
"Why?!" It was the closest she'd been to shouting in months. Ila finally found her fear and shoved Idris's hands away, scooting back and staring at him, wild-eyed.
His hands hung in the air where he'd just been touching her, fingers flicking. His jaw set, and she watched the motion of him swallow. The light shifted twice more, before his arms dropped, held loosely at his sides, just barely enough of a bend in one to hold his cane. They stared at each other for several heartbeats that felt like several lifetimes, breath caught beneath Ila's fluttering heart, breath slowly exhaled from Idris's flaring nostrils. Black staring into lilac.
"You're beautiful. More than I could have ever imagined."
There was an ache, set somewhere between the low growling cadence in his throat and the accent catching his tongue. Ila was too stunned to respond, but she felt it too - in the way that her heart squeezed, wrapped in the vines of a growing recognition. Before she could voice it, Idris got up from the dusty hardwood in one fluid motion, cane held sturdy in one hand to support his weight. Though, judging from the way he stood so squarely, she wasn't entirely sure he needed the cane.
"Will I see you again?" It came out in a rush, before she could think to not say it at all.
Idris looked down his hooked, crooked nose at her, stilling. His gaze shifted from hers, to the book next to her hand, and he croaked, "That's your choice to make, darling."
The light shifted again, and when Ila blinked, he was gone.