This is another one of those 'missing scenes' fics, inspired by a few lines of dialogue which I've, ahem, borrowed at the end. The tone's different from S & H, too; do tell me what you think!
Thanks for reading; feedback is glorious but not required.
Cross-posted to rarelitslash and marchmainhouse.
Title: Butterflies and Cathedrals
Pairing: Hopefully canon-esque Sebastian/Charles.
Disclaimer: Brideshead and its characters don't belong to me; I just adore them. Additionally, the last three lines of dialogue are straight from the book.
Notes: Wine, aesthetics, romanticism, and a snatch of a summer alone.
It was a sweet summer evening at Brideshead. I remember that time only through the rosy lens of nostalgia, for the air then was dim and impossibly sweet, and my nerves thrilled with the two-fold thrum of good wine and, more importantly to this old faint heart, a good friend.
“You know, Charles, I only really get drunk around you.” Sebastian was a warm weight beside me—our combined masses, however slight we were separately, made his childhood bed sag—and I could smell the white wine heavy on his breath. The heady scent seemed to sink upon my tongue, too, and lingered upon our clothing, as though we had been suffused with old light, aged luminescence. Yet the scene outside the window was dark; I had no idea of the time or even if time passed at all. Perhaps it had stopped for us; I like to think that it did.
“You know that’s not true,” I returned, shifting so that his frame leaned more comfortably upon my own. “You get drunk all the time.” I was feeling the effects of the alcohol myself, of course; I was quite inebriated and supremely laissez-faire about it. But in those days of my youth I liked to think that I was better at holding my liquor, and I suppose I was, now remembering what was to come.
“Yes, well.” Sebastian gestured impatiently with his glass and I heard the sloshy tinkle of the wine being disrupted. The clear liquid caught what little light there was and held it. “I only get really, pathetically, overwhelmingly drunk around you. Because you’re you. Everyone else—” he tilted his head onto my shoulder and let it rest there. “Everyone else gets just a little bit. A drop of the drunken.”
“A drop of the drunken,” I repeated. “That’s rather poetic, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Sebastian said delightedly. “But I digress.”
“Did you even have a point?” I asked.
“No,” Sebastian answered thoughtfully. “No, I suppose not.” He exhaled, not with sorrow, I think, but with a mixed exhaustion and happiness, the feeling of being spent plentifully on something well loved. I felt the same way, swept away on a blanket of sweet white wine and the company of a dear friend. I heard the clink of his wineglass as he set it down on the night-table.
I glanced at my own shoulder to meet the top of his dark head. At the very least his hair didn’t smell like wine, but rather some peculiar lemony soap he was fond of, and there was also some other warm scent swirling underneath, like skin or sweat. I could see the barest hints of his eyelashes from my odd perspective; unusually long, they looked like spider webs or perhaps very fine strokes of a pen. He really was a miraculous creature, Sebastian, though of course his lumpy presence on my shoulder betrayed his mortality.
I suppose I must have been silent for a long time, merely drinking, for Sebastian eventually raised his head, to peer at me askance through a curtain of mussed hair.
“It’s all deep thoughts for my dear Charles tonight, isn’t it?” he asked.
“No, I wouldn’t say that.” I reached out to smooth his hair, doing a terrible job of it but then I could see his eyes, and that was better.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Aesthetics,” I answered, after taking a moment to finish the last of my wine. Sebastian attempted to straighten fully and then apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort, stretching languidly only to press his cheek to my shoulder again.
“Like butterflies and cathedrals,” he murmured, “forks and knives and spoons.” And it was then that I knew he was unspeakably, utterly drunk. For some reason that I cannot now comprehend—perhaps it was due to my youth; many of my dealings with Sebastian could be traced back to that—I tried to continue what would have been a quite serious conversation, had we both been sober.
“Paintings and sculpture,” I said. “I was thinking about the shapes of things, the paths they make in space.” I was also feeling a bit of a genius, then; no doubt the alcohol had caused that heady notion. “The things we create, the ideas we shape, the changes—”
“What about people?” Sebastian asked, cutting off my pretentious prattle. I felt his air, warmth on my neck and with it, sweet white wine and lemon soap.
“You mean paintings of people?”
“No, just people. Like you and me.”
“I suppose so,” I said. My words, and his words, too, seemed to come slower in those moments. Perhaps my wish had been fulfilled and time had stopped; a likelier reason: I hadn’t yet realized how insufferably drunk the two of us were. “Yes, I guess people are aesthetically pleasing. Some.”
“I think all people are beautiful,” Sebastian announced, and maybe I imagined the longing in his voice, and maybe I didn’t. He was beautiful enough, to be certain.
“Everyone and everything,” he asserted. I felt a hand drift round to my waist, where it settled quite peacefully on my hip-bone, just above the line of my trousers. “Even you, darling Charles.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said, putting my empty wineglass down on his night-table.
We sat in silence, then, for a good length. I watched the sky through the part in the pale curtains that half-obscured the wide window, and then I watched Sebastian on my shoulder; simply listening to him breathe and live. I knew he hadn’t dozed off yet because I could see his lashes raise and lower in slow blinks.
I don’t know what he was watching; I like to think it was the stars.
“What time is it?” Sebastian asked me, breaking the silence, straightening his body. He moved his hand at my waist up to touch my arm and it was almost startling; I’d quite forgotten it was there.
Sebastian exhaled blissfully and I caught his profile as lit by the stars, serene and unworried.
The next morning dawned early, as summery mornings do, and we awoke late. Our rooms were bright, the sun having worked its way round to the windows hours ago.
As I stretched and dressed languorously, Sebastian appeared, slightly rumpled and tousle-headed, attired in that halfway decorous style we had adopted after a few days of each other’s sole company. Unhurried, I finished dressing and he thoughtfully adjusted my collar for me, messily arranged as it was.
“Ought we to be drunk every night?” Sebastian asked me, then, linking my arm in his.
We stood together, hovering in that luminous, dreamlike state between just waking and the functions of daily life.
“Yes, I think so,” I answered, after a moment.
“I think so too.”