Log:Back To Prosperity
Nobody was fooled when the Scholar claimed he was fine, and the Coward least of all. He's insisted on bringing them both back to Prosperity. When they step into the Anywhere Room, it's on the bustling main street. The Coward becomes Colorado Colton, a little taller, much thinner, and rather older. Their horses are waiting for them, Rosemallow and Rhiannon hitched to the post in front of the general store. "We're goin' riding," Rado tells the Scholar, imperious in his way as Sebastian ever was, "and you're gonna work some of that out." He coughs into his sleeve.
The Scholar can't really be the least bit annoyed the Coward sees right through him; of the handful of people to whom he's an open book, the Coward knows him best, probably always will. He steps through the door into Prosperity with less hesitation than he stepped into Oregon. Sebastian and Colorado might not have had a happy every after, but they'd had a soft epilogue, after a fashion, and he remembers it fondly. He can't complain over a chance to revisit that, even if he's worried at the broader implications. He's worried about a lot of things, just now, not the least of which is the Creepshow's apparent molting and the way Bastian feels inside him, curled into a ball and hiding under a bed in response to watching her die again. So he agrees unreservedly, newly dispensed bottle of gin untouched. His drunken bath can wait.
He passes over the threshold, and just like that, he's twenty-seven again, lithe and lean and smooth-faced, his hair night black save for the streak. He's even in that nice suit of his (minus the jack, as always), with the black pearl cufflinks, the red and gold tie, and the black pants with a gorgeously tailored white dress shirt.
He moves to Rhiannon and strokes er neck. "Yeah," he agrees, swings into the saddle. It's second nature once again. "Where to?"
Rosie nickers and shoves Rado with her nose. He laughs in his restrained, breathless way, petting her. "That's my girl. I missed you too."
A townswoman goes by, smiling and saying, "Why, if it isn't Mr. Colton and Mr. Colton! Welcome back, fellas."
"Ma'am," Rado touches the brim of his hat, smiling himself, because isn't it nice to hear that? The thing they never quite got to do: get married in front of God and everyone. He turns, notes what Sebastian's wearing. "Don't you look fine, Mr. Colton." He mounts up too, graceful in his frail, lanky way. "River. C'mon, we're gonna ride hard." He clicks to Rosie. She moves into a canter, ears up, as if she's happy to be out after a long winter.
Sebastian can't help himself; he smiles at the woman and sits up straighter in the saddle. It feels natural, to be called that, soothing in a way he can't describe. "Ma'am," he says, dipping his head since he's got no hat on. "Why thank you, Mr. Colton, I wore it for my husband," he says, raising his eyebrows and giving Colorado a haughty little smile.
"River sounds lovely," he says, and clicks, guiding Rhiannon after Rosie and Colorado. In truth if he hadn't done anything she'd have followed them anyways; she's impatient to be off as well. So much standing around! It's time to move again.
"And your husband appreciates it," Rado replies, glancing back at Sebastian with amusement. "I hear he's married to a most fetchin' young fella."
They ride to the edge of town. A four-in-hand stagecoach goes by, heavy velvet curtains closed against the bright day. "Haven't seen one of those in a while," Rado remarks, half turning in his saddle to watch it. "This feels...hm. Weird. I'm Rado again, but I'm...well, I'm not salt, for one, or a ghost, for two."
Sebastian watches the stagecoach go by. It does feel weird; dreamlike, in a way. To that end it's a bit what it had been like stepping into Colorado and Ethan's house had been for Bastian. Almost, but not quite, too good to be true. "It's like it would have been if we'd won, you lived, and the town got to live anyways," he says, tone absent. Their dream, then; Sebastian with an office in town, Colorado doing people's books in a nice, dry building; Sebastian playing piano on an old upright.
Overhead a turkey vulture soars, a great dark shape against the eye-watering blue sky. A family of quail scurry across the trail in front of them, taking flight in their panic. In the bushes somewhere a rattlesnake's tail hisses.
Colorado admits, "I think it knows that I couldn't handle seein' everything like it was. This is some sort of fantasy version of Prosperity. Well, fine, as far as I'm concerned. We deserve it." He squints up at the sky, under the brim of his hat. Then, sudden, he whistles. Rosie springs into a gallop. "Race you!"
"Could do worse I--hey!" Sebastian sends Rhiannon after Rosie and Rado. "Damned Coltons," he mutters, hair whipping back from his face as they go. Rosie was bred for this countrside by none other than Asmoday himself, and Rhiannon was trained by some of the finest horse handlers not from the Colton Ranch, so they both make their way over the hardpacked sandstone with the ease of long familiarity.
The horses go thundering over the desert, sand and dirt leaping away from their hooves. Rado is probably the better rider; Coltons are practically born on horseback. Were. Whatever. Anyway, he lets Sebastian pull ahead as the greenbelt lining the river comes into view. Sitting to slow Rosie, he's laughing wheezily into his bandana. "I yield, you're too much for an old man!"
Sebastian is a tolerable rider; certainly he's much better in the saddle than on his own two feet, but that's not saying much given how often he nearly kills himself on a regular basis. That said, he can't win a Colton on horseback, even one in Colorado's condition. "Yield, or surrender?" he says, savoring the moment. He doesn't mind if his husband throws a horse race now and then. He can thank him for that later.
The reeds and grasses fed by the river spread before them. Cottonwoods spread over the chilly, mountain-fed water as it tumbles along the rocks in a gentle rush. A healthy spring melt this year. "Lunch? Might have have," he leans back and pats his saddlebags, "Something in here." He nearly always carries some kind of food and drink, though it might just be water, beef jerky, dried fruit, and some sourdough from the previous day.
"Mmm, surrendering and yielding both sound good to me." Rado coughs, laughing. "We should have a whole picnic, if the damn room listened." He swings down to let Rosie cool, walking her the rest of the way to the river. She's lathered but in good spirits. "Ahhh, it's gorgeous here. Me and Cale..." He hesitates. Then shakes his head to clear it. "No, we never used to come here with Ma. But it's a nice thought."
"Well, maybe we'll get to both of those once we eat." Sebastian's worked up an appetite--both kinds--but he knows Rado will need a second to rest up first. He slides off Rhiannon, pulls down his saddlebags and leads her along, moving to walk alongside Colorado and Rosie.
"We did, though. I mean...we remember we did. Maybe that's the same thing, ultimately." He takes the sight in for a moment, watching Colorado walk Rosie down to the water. He'd wanted this so badly, in that life, been crushed to lose it. Now here it is, impossible yet right before his eyes.
He looks up and down the river and its greenery. "I'd come down here to collect some of my plants. Fish, something I didn't need a gun to catch. Let Artemis bark at the frogs." He should have thought to ask for her. Next time, maybe.
Colorado is thin as ever, broad shoulders stooped. The acknowledged coward of Prosperity, with a gambling problem and consumption, passed up for heir by his own father. He doesn't look one whit more healthy or courageous. Maybe there's something stronger in the way he holds himself, though. He's all those things, and he's also Jones, and he was also Bates, and he's still the man the Scholar knows in the Facility, his lover. He ambles along, glances at Sebastian as he comes up next to him, the corners of his eyes crinkling with crow's-feet as he smiles at him behind his mask. "D'you know that I love you, Bastian?"
Sebastian sighs to hear that, his features joyful and pained at the same time. He's thinking of the ring on his finger, Roger Colton's ring that Sebastian never took off and that the Scholar puts back on every morning; of the last thing Creepshow, newly molted into her new shape, said to him as they departed the Pedagogue's room. There's almost nothing of Bastian to him right now; it's all Sebastian, young and fierce and fighting the world, and the Scholar, wary and feeling his way through existence. Bastian's withdrawn, like after the war, like after each time he lost people. Hiding.
"Yes," he says, eyes bright. "You know I love you, Colorado Colton?" Next to him Rhiannon snorts, finding this conversation ridiculous when there's lovely grass to munch.
Colorado takes Sebastian's hand. He pulls his bandana down to kiss his knuckles in that absurd gallantry Rado showed sometimes. "I know it," he murmurs. "I know it more than I ever knowed anything." His eyes search Sebastian's. He's looking for Roen, but Roen is buried.
The bank of the river is cool, green and grassy. Rado takes the time to unsaddle Rosie. She sighs gratefully. He pats her neck. "Good girl. You enjoy yourself now." Rosie pricks her ears and goes to drink. Rado unpacks her saddlebags, finding first a cloth that he spreads over the grass, in the shade.
Sebastian smiles at the kiss, reaches with his other hand to stroke Colorado's grizzled face. "I'm going to make sure you keep knowing it. Life after life. No matter what this place throws at us." He brushes his thumb over Colorado's lips, his smile full of promise. He turns to pull Rhiannon's tack off, and she grunts, noses Sebastian, and goes to join Rosie. Sebastian gives her a pat on her damp, black and gray dappled flanks as she passes.
He sets his bags down next to the cloth and starts inspecting the contents. "Ah, you asked for the good stuff, I see," he says. A fresh loaf of bread, a bottle of lovely red wine, roasted vegetables, fresh fruit. All the comforts of home.
Colorado parts his lips a little under Sebastian's thumb, not quite dirty, not quite a kiss. "Mm. I know that, too. Know it deep." His gaze lingers. Then, he chuckles. "No point in ordering hard tack and jerky." Colorado sits, crossing his long slim legs. Out of his saddlebags comes a pair of roasted sugar pumpkins, stuffed with a savory rice mix. Apparently, while he's Rado Colton, he's sticking to his vegetarian ways. The Coward will eat meat, but Rado won't.
Sebastian got quite used to eating only vegetarian, possessed by Colorado, and he's perfectly happy to go back to it. Some bright, tart Granny Smith apples, a bunch of Hargreave grapes, and a few plums from Olivia's family's orchard (well, if this was actually Prosperity, they would be). He assembles it all, pulls out a pair of simple, hammered, copper cups for the wine and pops the cork. The vegetables are chunks of squash, poptato, and carrot, all glazed in vinegar and olive oil and lightly seasoned.
He offers over one of the cups in exchange for a pumpkin. "It might be fiction, but it's a nice fiction." His mismatched eyes soften. "Thank you for this. I needed it." His lips twitch in a wry smile. "He's hiding, but...he did too."
Colorado makes the exchange, handing over a pumpkin. "I figure he did," he says, quietly. "I needed it, too. That was...tough." He doesn't close his eyes. If he does, he might see Max bleeding out. Might smell the blood and lavender. "Even though it had a happy ending. Sort of. Happy as we can get here." To wash the memory from his palate, he drinks some of the wine.
"It was," Sebastian murmurs. He sips from his wine, letting the memory come back. Bastian's not there to shy from it anyways. Max, surrendering to whatever she was going through in her own way, splitting into light. Emerging from that as someone new and yet not.
"I wish Bastian had been able to do it for her, but watching it was bad enough. It might be a few reset cycles before he's ready to come back out." He sighs, sets the cup down to take up a fork and spear a bit of roasted squash. "I'll have to come up with a way to thank Nolan for being able to."
Colorado eats some, carving out pumpkin and rice. The cool shadows fall across the two men, and the river talks to itself, and birds sing. A trout jumps with a splash. Colorado lets it all soothe him, soothe the memory of hot blood and water that was cool in contrast, although warm itself. "He's a good man," he murmurs, and sips the wine. "He loves her, too."
Sebastian makes his way through his pumpkin, interspersing it with bites of bread and roasted vegetbles. The horses meander around, lipping at water and munching on grass. "He is. And, he does. I'm glad for it, I don't know what would have happened otherwise."
He shuts his eyes a moment, concentrates on their surroundings, the food, the wine, the sound of Colorado next to him. Lets go of what happened, lets it drift away on the wind and down the river. Bastian will come out sooner or later. He--they, can can deal with it then.
Colorado never ate much, and doesn't now. He sets the food aside, half-finished. "You think she'll still want us? ...You think you'll still want her?" There's one more thing in his saddlebag, and he gets it out: his fiddle case. He sets to tuning it, to give them both some space to think.
Sebastian keeps eating. He's always been an eater; when he's older it'll give him a belly if he doesn't keep his activity up. Now, though, it never seems to stick to his bones. Once he's done, pumpkin hollowed out and share of the vegetables devoured, he sets it all aside and leans on the blanket. The fruit can wait.
"I don't know if she'll want us," he admits, a little sad even as Sebastian at the possibility that what they'd just been working towards might already be lost. "She told me she still loved me, that it was still her, right before we all left. But I don't know if that means," he raises his eyebrows, "that intimacy will be part of it anymore." A lift of one shoulder. Sebastian can weather that sort of loss better. "I can't imagine I, or Bastian, wouldn't want her, but I suppose it depends on how she is now. What she's like." He reaches out to toy with the blanket, watches Colorado with his fiddle. "It was the sort of thing I worried about after the Lodge, with you, but of course," he smiles, faint but genuine, "that turned out fine."
Colorado plucks the strings, listening for resonance. He twists a fine-tuning knob. "Is that what she said," he murmurs, smiling faintly. "Good. I can't imagine she won't want intimacy, Bastian. All I did was ask her to court and she climbed on me." The smile turns into a dopey grin for a moment. "I just bet she'll want to try out that gorgeous new body. Ah, I wish I wasn't twenty five there! Made an idiot out of myself, staring at her." He glances over. "I don't know if I could want her Max body, not after seeing her cut open and bled out like that. Good thing I don't have to worry about it." He lays the fiddle on the blanket and tightens up his bow. "Hate myself, some, but glad I don't have to worry about it."
"I try not to make assumptions," Sebastian says, tone dry. "So I suppose we'll see." He seems hopeful, even as he tries to be realistic. Anything could happen to them at any time. So it went.
He gives Colorado a sympathetic look for the admission, reaches out to rest a hand on his thigh in a brief, form grip. "That...was hard to see," he says, refusing to treeline it. He snorts. "Though I suspect nothing could make me turn away from her." Ah, maybe Bastian's not totally hiding; that's him, still in love with Max just as she was, no matter how that was. The devotion of a man tried of losing people.
He manages a small smile. "But also I'd be lying if I said she wasn't a vision beyond imagining, like she is now." He bobs his eyebrows. "And I'm glad I'm old enough out there to keep my head while looking at her."
Rado shakes his head ruefully. "Christ, it's a trial being a young man again. Guess I should be glad, if she wants to keep seeing me. Poor ol' Rado here wouldn't stand a chance in her bed." He laughs, finally. Tucking his fiddle under his chin, he plays a sprightly few lines. The horses lift their heads, ears swiveling towards him, then go back to grazing. "She seemed better," he says, almost suggests. "Like she wasn't in such pain."
Sebastian purses his lips, reaches out to run a finger along one of Colorado's legs. "Oh, I don't know, I seem to recall you kept up with me alright." He takes up a plum, bites into it. Somehow he's perfected the art of not getting dark red juice all over his crisp white shirt, or maybe that's just the room being nice to him. "She did. She seemed less..." He frowns, searching for a word. "Frantic," he decides on. "Less frenzied. Not less chaotic, but, a chaos under her own power." He lays back on the blanket, stares up at the dapples of light through the cottonwood. "Maybe it will be okay," he murmurs. "As okay as any of this can be." Another bite of plum; a little juice gets on his neck, but still misses his shirt.
"I had methods," Colorado says, grinning again. He pulls another run of cheerful notes from the fiddle. "Mmm. Not so frantic. That's right. In control again." The touch distracts him; his bow squeaks. He clears his throat. Inevitably his eyes follow the trickle of plum juice down Sebastian's neck. "Mr. Colton, you are trying to seduce me."
Sebastian glances down his chin, wipes up the juice with a finger and sucks it clean. "I don't know why you would think that," he says, and has another bite of his plum. No juice this time, but there's plenty of fruit left. Plenty of opportunities. "Surely I'd at least let you play a little before seducing you."
Eyes on Sebastian's lips around his finger, Colorado say, "Oh, I'm not convinced of that at all." Nevertheless, Rado swings into 'Whiskey Before Breakfast', a lively reel. He often played classical pieces for Sebastian. Today he's playing bluegrass. "That'd imply you had patience!"
"I have just enough patience to drive myself crazy," Sebastian assures Colorado. He falls quiet, listening to the song with a foolish grin. He has the rest of the plum, getting juice on his chin and neck. And his hands, but those he wipes clean on a napkin. Then he lays there, listening, eyes half-shut and hair spread out in a large black cloud. Somewhere inside him the painful knot that is Bastian eases a little. "Thank you for this," he says again, dreamily.
Colorado plays bright and lively country music, slipping from reel to rag to hornpipe. He plays until he's the one who loses patience. Then he sets his fiddle carefully in its case--and straddles Sebastian. "Of course. It's my pleasure," he says, expression amused, and leans down to at last kiss the juice off Sebastian's neck.
Sebastian sucks in a breath, surprised, though maybe he shouldn't be. It's easy to let himself think they are Colorado and Sebastian again, but they're not just those two people anymore. Rado might have made Sebastian wait a few more songs; Jones won't have anywhere near that much patience.
He mmmmms low in his throat, tangles a hand in Colorado's hair. "Who's seducing who, again," he says, lifting his hips to press himself against Colorado.