Authors: R. Cooper
Published at Smashwords
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“Sebastian.” Peter stood on the other side of
the door in what might have once been crisp, white shirtsleeves. He
wasn’t wearing a dinner jacket but his trousers were coal black and
there was a cravat at his throat in the same shade. He was too pale
for such a dark colour but there was something striking in how he
always dressed so plainly. Despite the ancient claims of his
family, there was more Norman than Saxon evident in the lean,
handsome lines of him. Peter’s face could have been the work of an
artist, fine cheekbones and slender nose, full lips, and eyes the
shade of Scottish whiskey. Ornament was not necessary.
His eyebrows were what made him a real man of
flesh. They were too serious, bordering on thick despite the slight
arch over the right one. His brows were the same dark brown as his
hair, which someone, probably Smythe, who doubled as a valet when
required, had tried to hold in place with pomade.
A curl had strayed into Peter’s face despite
Smythe’s best efforts. It nearly covered the grease mark by Peter’s
Sebastian gave a long sigh and tried not to
glance too obviously at Peter’s half-dressed state. He didn’t get
to see Peter dressed for the evening nearly as often as he’d like.
Peter’s shirt had been cut to fit his body, emphasizing his slim
hips and the startling breadth of his shoulders yet Peter seemed
entirely unconscious of the effect he could have had if he ever
chose to venture out into society dressed in his finest evening
“I can see that you at least tried to
remember that you had an engagement tonight.” Sebastian smiled as
he said it, unsurprised in the extreme that Peter had once again
failed to appear at a party where he’d been expected.
Peter froze. In the gas-lit hallway, flames
seemed to dance from the brass fixtures to his eyes and back
Sebastian was possibly in a cup too deep and
indulging his love of poetry, but it had been a long night and
Peter looked impossibly fetching in his stark black and white
attire. Peter, of course, knew nothing of it and widened his eyes
when he caught Sebastian’s stare.
Peter looked away first, what could have been
guilt darkening his cheeks. When he turned back his gaze lingered
on Sebastian’s far more decorative choice in evening wear; his
tight waistcoat, the perfectly starched cut of his collar against
his throat. Unlike Peter, Sebastian was often to be found dressed
in his best. Unlike Peter, Sebastian had been at Harold’s dinner
Sebastian took a moment to give Peter another
considering glance, this time with a mind to Peter’s health more
than his clothes. Sebastian was considered something of a dandy in
most circles—he couldn’t help liking bright colours and soft
fabrics any more than he could help having the good taste and
admirable figure to wear them well. Tonight he’d chosen a green
paisley silk waistcoat, with a jade pin in his cravat, and a rich
velvet coat with a purple lining. He was willing to admit his
choices were a touch dramatic but they had suited his mood.
Sebastian had been of a mind to be noticed when he had dressed for
the dinner, and jade made his eyes look clear and green as a
cucumber. Warm brown skin from a Jamaican grandmother meant he
could often wear the colours others couldn’t and he delighted in
doing so. Only his hair was safe from his peacocking impulses.
That, he kept short and parted slightly off-center, the waves
smoothed down with oil. His beard and mustache were small and
Peter was always clean shaven, Sebastian
suspected more due to convenience than Smythe’s skill with a razor.
Not that he blamed Smythe, the man was a butler not a valet,
although in Peter’s unusual household the servants all seemed to do
a little bit of everything.
Perhaps Peter was thinking of his staff, long
since retired for the night, when he frowned in Sebastian’s
direction and then out at the hallway leading to his
“What are you doing here?” Peter had shadows
under his eyes and grease along the beds of his fingernails. How
he’d kept his shirt clean was a mystery.
Sebastian put a hand out and leaned against
the doorjamb, just shy of standing too close to Peter. “That’s what
I was planning on asking you. You were supposed to be somewhere
tonight, remember?” He had no doubt that Peter remembered. Peter
had even dressed for the occasion. “You’re fortunate Harold is one
of the few men in London who is familiar with your habits.”
“I had planned to go,” Peter immediately
excused himself, looking more than a little like a fox during a
hunt. Sebastian imagined that was how Peter felt too, hunted. Even
a harmless gathering of friends seemed instill in Peter a fear that
was hard to explain. He followed through on only a third of the
invitations he dared to accept and was generally a wreck
“At least you aren’t pretending that your
work kept you.” If he hadn’t been carrying a heavy basket,
Sebastian would have crossed his arms. As it was he attempted a
stern look that Peter didn’t seem to notice.
That was a deception; Peter noticed
everything. It was the reason he claimed to find the company of
others so wearying. He said he saw and heard too much and felt as
though felt he had to be on guard for everything. After years of
knowing him and seeing his exhaustion in the days following such
events, Sebastian no longer questioned it.
He did, however, hate the cause of Peter’s
fears with every shred of his being and remained resolved to
counter it with all of his strength. So he dropped his teasing
manner and lowered his voice.
“They missed seeing you,” he offered. He had
also missed seeing Peter, but that went without saying. The words
he did finally speak were only a fraction of what he could have
said but he took his time, considering precisely what he wanted to
convey, weighing out compliments that wouldn’t put that wary
expression back on Peter’s face. “But I see you got as far as
getting dressed. You look good.”
Peter gave the smallest negative shake of his
head and swept his gaze down, most likely noticing the basket of
food or possibly reconsidering Sebastian’s extravagant colour and
fabric choices. Whichever it was, he finally pursed his lips and
pulled a watch from his pocket to check the time.
“It’s after midnight!” Peter seemed
astonished. “How did you get in? Is Smythe still awake?” He pushed
out a breath that stirred his loose lock of hair. “The man works
Sebastian let a smile emerge at Peter’s
concern for the old man but shook his head. “Smythe gave me a key
to the servant’s entrance a long time ago, Peter. How else did you
think I was getting in here yet keeping up with your odd hours?”
There was a bar across the front door to Peter’s townhouse at night
or Smythe probably would have given Sebastian a key to that door as
Peter’s eyebrows went up. Sebastian had
surprised him again. That was twice in one night. It was almost
worth celebrating, though he did wonder how Peter had assumed
Sebastian had been walking into his house morning, noon, and night
for all these years. He’d thought Peter had known. Peter’s
household was most unusual for many reasons, not the least of which
was the freedoms his servants granted Sebastian. But then, the
servants had known Sebastian practically since he’d been in short
“I could give it back.” Sebastian started to
dig around in his coat for the key but Peter stopped him, putting a
hand on his arm then quickly withdrawing it.
“No, no. It’s good that you have it.” Peter
stepped back with no warning, holding still as Sebastian passed him
to enter his suite of rooms. He dithered for a moment before
closing the door behind Sebastian then followed after him.
The smell of lemon furniture polish was the
first thing Sebastian always noticed. Peter’s rooms were nearly
wall to wall glossy oak cabinets and brass fixtures for a multitude
of lights. There were telephones on more than one table. For some
that would have been an ostentatious sign of wealth. With Peter it
was a sign of how rarely he left his home, although Peter was in
possession of a considerable fortune. It was the one good thing
Peter’s father had left him.
Sebastian noticed a computing machine. Peter
must have had it installed recently. Sebastian could not imagine
what he used it for. Avoiding face to face communication by using
the clacking keyboard might suit Peter’s tastes but Peter could be
impatient, and it would have been faster to walk a letter across
town that it was to use something dependent on the city’s telephone
wires. Queen Victoria could have walked a message over faster.
The rest of the series of rooms were
connected by doorways, each with sliding doors that had never been
closed in Sebastian’s memory. Sebastian ignored the sitting room
and went straight to the bedchamber. He dropped the basket on the
desk in Peter’s bedroom, the one before the curtained balcony that
Peter never used, and shoved aside some heavy tools and a few
grease-stained rags. Then he swept across to Peter’s bed, being
sure to first grab the half-empty bottle of wine in the basket and
take it with him. He pulled out the cork with his teeth, spat it
out, and took one last drink before handing the bottle over to
A fine Burgundy, his favorite and Peter’s
too. Peter hummed his gratitude at him before tearing into the
basket. Peter himself had a scent that was a mix of bay rum and the
same grease on his cheek. He hummed appreciatively again around his
first mouthful of bread.
“I haven’t eaten, thank you,” Peter mumbled
after a dry swallow and took a quick drink from the bottle.
“Harold and Maisie were concerned you would
forget to eat. You see I’m not the only one.” Sebastian grinned to
show teeth. Peter slowed enough to shrug away the uncomfortable
thought of someone’s well-meant regard for him and continued to eat
his cold supper.
Sebastian was not done in his attempt to
remind Peter that he was loved and his absence always keenly felt.
“Aside from the delicious food, the party was charming. A small
gathering, mostly fellows from school. You would have enjoyed
yourself once you relaxed.” The Burgundy would have helped.
Sebastian leaned back on the bed, supporting himself on his elbows
for a moment. “They asked after you.”
Peter made a stubborn face, closing his mouth
tight. Sebastian didn’t know what it meant and didn’t ask. He was
no longer in the mood to be clever and too tired and tipsy to
attempt it. He liked socializing but there were limits, and a party
full of people who thought of him, perhaps rightfully, as Peter’s
public face had been taxing.
Peter was ready to argue the simple point.
“My autowagons. That’s what they asked about,” he remarked around
the last of the chicken. He’d eaten fast, even for him. Somewhere
in this room or down in converted house where he built his autos
there was probably a lunch tray that he had forgotten to eat.
Sebastian felt his mouth tighten into a
straight line, more at the truth in the words than at Peter
skipping a meal or two. Peter always remembered to eat eventually,
but nothing would ever convince him that people wanted anything
from him except for one of his creations. It was especially irksome
that at the moment he was right.
Nevertheless Sebastian straightened while
Peter disappeared into another room to clean up. “Your autos are
rapidly becoming a status symbol. Harold is the envy of many for
owning one, so naturally people asked about them. They go farther
and faster than anything else out there. Soon I expect them to
fly.” Sebastian wasn’t entirely kidding. “The fact that you make so
few only makes them more valuable. Of course people long to get
their hands on one.”
“You have three,” Sebastian remarked
matter-of-factly as he came back into the room, “I gave you
Sebastian tugged his coat closer to his body.
“Yes. Well.” Why he felt so naked at that statement and not Peter
was something Sebastian didn’t understand. Perhaps it was because
Peter did not leave his house and so did not live in a London that
knew Sebastian owned three Aucourtes and looked at him with smug
knowledge gleaming in their eyes.
“You never drive them.” Peter stopped in
front of him, giving Sebastian a confused, hurt stare before he
passed on. He went back to his desk and sat in the chair though he
did not resume work on anything on its surface.