Log:He I was Seeking
It's not the ever-after they expected, but it is one, of a sort. Sebastian is that strange uncle possessed by a ghost, the one whom the townsfolk get wildly uncomfortable around, so he mostly stays on the ranch. Sometimes he'll attend a festival and read peoples' cards; he has the look for that kind of thing. They grow old like this, spiritually heavy, until one day, finally, his body gives out. It's a nice, peaceful death; the sort Colorado had wanted for him.
But he doesn't remember anything past that first year, where Caleb and Addie were married and Eilis struggled through her twin pregnancy, when he wakes up in...a big, comfortable bed, in a dark room. He sits up, and the lights come on, which startles him; he's not used to electricity simply working on its own.
Don't panic, he thinks. Colorado said it would be alright. If this is the right place, he's here. Somewhere. He looks around. The room is full of all kinds of things. Most of them are books, though not all. He slips out of the bed, moves to a shelf and pulls out a copy of Thoreau; a lovely, black, leather binding with silver engraving.
As he's putting the book back he pauses, stares at his left hand. There on his ring finger is the silver and copper ring. He swallows, grips that hand in the other against his chest.
The spiritual wounds Sebastian sustained, Colorado dams up and fills with himself. They become symbiotic more than possessed. The two of them, their souls entwined, have a life for themselves after all. A curious life, an unanticipated life--but aren't all marriages like that, in some way?
Eilis's twins, and Addie and Caleb's sons, grow up able to tell the difference between "Uncle Rado" and "Uncle Sebastian". They're always mystified that other people can't tell. (Isn't it obvious? One always fights with Caleb, the other plays piano.) They're also confused when it turns out other families don't have an uncle who is actually two uncles.
One night, Sebastian goes to bed, and his spirit comes loose from his body. Colorado is there to catch him.
And--the man known as the Coward wakes up, in the room at the Facility with the cringing figure carved on the door.
This time, he scrambles out of bed to pull clothes on. His clothes are almost exactly like the ones he wore in his past life: slim jeans, cowboy boots, buttoned shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Cowboy hat, too, but he neglects that in favor of getting out of the room faster.
He frowns at the nigh-endless row of doors. Starts prowling along them, looking for one with a particular carving on it. He's not sure what it'll be, but he will know it when he sees it.
For a while the man who was Sebastian and is now...well, still that, really, he's not sure what else he is...stands there holding his hand, feelig the ring on his finger. The ring means it was real. He tells himself that at least a half-dozen times before he realizes he's standing in this room (his room?) in a plain white t-shirt and some thin, sleeping shorts. It looks like a hotel room, so that door over there is probably a closet. He inspects it, and finds his guess is correct; a variety of clothes spreads out before him. It's an eclectic mix, like someone was trying to make sure all occasions were covered. But what do you wear on your first day in the afterlife?
He picks one of the suits. Sebastian didn't mind those, and maybe it's not a bad idea to put his best foot forward. Dark gray with a black shirt. He expects it'll look good on him, and he's right, except the man looking back at him in the bathroom mirror is at least forty.
It's a shock. He looks much the same; his hair is still a wiry, unruly, curly mess, just the white streak is a little wider and accompanied by matching strands throughout. The angles of his face have softened, the smooth skin of his youth is rougher, and there are crow's feet at his eyes. It's still him, at least.
Out in the hall, the Coward sees door after door. And one in particular: a man, reading a book, surrounded by bookcases.
The Coward spreads his hand on the carving of the studious man. Seems likely. There's other people who are about books and studying, though, so he's not sure. Still, he risks it.
He knocks. "Anyone home?" he calls through the door. "It's Colorado Colton." That's not his name. He doesn't have a name, he's been here long enough to know that. But it'll do.
The Scholar, or Sebastian, starts at the knock, his heart in his throat. He looks at himself in the mirror again, swallows back panic. The voice sounds right. He turns the ring on his finger. "It was real," he says to his reflection, and goes to the door. It takes him a second to work up the nerve to open it. He'll be older--so much older, than Colorado will remember. So when he does, he can't help the tentative, wary expression he's wearing.
Colorado-the-Coward's blue eyes widen, startled. "...Bastian?" he hazards, looking the other man over, fighting not to just leap at him. "There can't be two men with that hair and those eyes." But this man is his own age!
Himself, the Coward looks like that hypothetical version of himself from another reality. He's healthy, plenty of muscle on him. His body is long and rangy, same as it's ever been, and he's got that curly golden hair (much better behaved than Sebastian's) and striking blue eyes. Colorado was a handsome man. The Coward is downright gorgeous, with the sheen of good health on him.
Hearing that name coming from that voice makes it impossible to not think of himself as Sebastian again. "Colorado?" he says, blinks at the sound of his own voice. It's a husky baritone now, not the baritenor of his twenties. That revelation doesn't last; he stares at the Coward, who's a man Colorado and Sebastian had imagined him as time and again, keeps staring. He's acutely aware, in this moment, of his eyes that don't match, and hair that's out of control and going white. "You're--you..." He swallows. "Oh, you're beautiful."
He's assigned the role of the Coward, yet there is nothing cowardly about the way the man plunges forward and grabs the Scholar in a frantic, too-tight embrace. "Bastian," he says, and suddenly he's weeping, gasping with it, kissing Sebastian all over his face. "Bastian, my God, my God, you're here..."
As different as they both look, as strange as this 'afterlife' they've come to is, the Scholar doesn't resist that embrace in the least. He returns it in kind, gripping the Coward like he's terrified of letting him go, laughing into those kisses even as he's on the verge of crying. He buries a hand in the Coward's hair, kisses him like he's wanted to--remembers wanting to--for so long. "I've missed you, I've missed you, I know it wasn't--that long except it felt like every second was a century after you..." He shuts his eyes, can't make himself say it.
The Coward rocks Scholar back and forth, kissing him through tears. He doesn't want to let go, ever. So he takes initiative, pushes him back to the bed and shoves him on it. Then climbs on top of him, long legs straddling his hips, and kisses the bejesus out of him, hands wrapped around Scholar's brawny shoulders.
"Safe to say I missed you too," he murmurs against his mouth, when finally he has mercy on him.
The Scholar, it turns out, isn't nearly as clumsy as Sebastian was; he's able to move backwards to the bed without a single misstep, sinks onto it easily. He runs his hands all over the Coward, reveling in the familiar and the new, regretting the sheer amount of clothing they're wearing. He reaches up and strokes the Coward's face, just like he used to do to Colorado. It's his left hand, putting the ring right in the Coward's view. "I...barely remember it, but I know--I know we had a...life together. In a way. And before that..." He sighs. "God, I love you."
"I love you, baby, my sweetheart." The Coward doesn't hesitate in saying it, although earlier, he had wondered if their love was real or just part of the scenario they'd been thrown into. He decides he doesn't care.
The Coward's given a good jolt of surprise by the ring, too. He clasps Scholar's hand to kiss the ring. "Pa's ring." The memories are so visceral, the words come right out. "I woke up with Leaves of Grass." He looks down at him, eyes roaming all over this older version of Sebastian. "You're as lovely as ever. I'd wondered, when I was here first, if your hair and eyes really were the Devil's. Now I see they're your own. Beautiful man. ...And now you're old enough to see sense." The Coward laughs soft, nuzzles into the Scholar's neck.
"Leaves of Grass," the Scholar says, expression thoughtful. Then, "Passing stranger, you do not know how longingly I look upon you. You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking--it comes to me as of a dream. I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you." He smiles, slow and happy. "I guess this is just me." He kisses Colorado's hair, breath warm against his ear. "You always made me feel beautiful despite how everyone treated me in their supersition." He holds the Coward against him, shudders at how good it feels to be able to do that again.
"Old enough to see sense?" he murmurs, unable to keep a smile out of his voice. "Don't hold your breath."
"You were always beautiful," the Coward says, his smile easily heard in his voice. "Tweren't nothing I did." His accent is the same, drawly and Southwestern. The cadence of his speech is the same, and he's given to long, low murmurs like Colorado was. It seems this is just the way he talks, like the Scholar's hair and heterochromia are just the way he is. He's certainly got a healthy man's lungs, though, none of Colorado's wheezing. The chest atop the Scholar's is broad, well-muscled, and clear as a desert evening.
He shudders in his turn, at the poetry. "A life of joy with you," he echoes. Now that chest jerks in a suppressed sob. "Christ Almighty, Bastian, I love you. I loved you beyond death. Here I am, lovin' you still."
"Oh," the Scholar says on a sigh, his throat tight, "no, that's not true." His accent is similar to what it was in Properity, if not quite the same; Western US, but the sort one acquires after living in several places over a span of years. A mix of features, just like the rest of him. "It was everything you did. I don't think I would have been if not for you."
He squeezes the Coward in a way Sebastian might have hesitated to with Colorado. "Your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only," he says into the Coward's hair. He stays like that a time, simply holding him. Presently he shifts, turning his head so he can look the Coward in those gorgeous, bright eyes. "Is this the afterlife then? Or something else?" He thinks of the ring on his hand. "What happens now?"
"Day by day and night by night we were together--all else has long been forgotten by me." The Coward is content, for now, to stay wound around the man he knew as Sebastian Munson. Only for now. Soon he'll want other things. He wants to love him with all his soul, first.
He obligingly looks up, meeting the Scholar's eyes. "To be honest with you, I have no idea what this place is. Remember when I told you I'd be mighty disappointed if where I'd been was Heaven?" He laughs, low and rich. "Well, here we are. But you're here with me, this time. With you, just about anywhere might be Heaven." Those golden eyebrows go up. "Want me to show you around, or do you want to stay in here and forget all else?"
This is his Bastian, he of the reckless action and insatiable curiosity, so Coward figures he knows the answer. He asks anyway, because that was always part of their love; he would ask, no matter what.
The Scholar frowns slightly, tilts his head to look around them at his library-like room. "I'll admit I hadn't expected lights that turned themselves on and a soaking tub in my personal bathroom," he says, gives the Coward a sly smile. "But I have to agree. It fails to overwhelm." He bites his lip. "You said it wasn't like anything anyone had written. That's," he gives the room another glance, "definitely the case." Certainly Sebastian Munson had never come across a book describing Heaven, or any other afterlife, in this way. He kisses the Coward, gently. "No matter where this is, if you're here that's where I'd like to be. Heaven, Hell, or otherwise."
He considers the question, eyes traveling over the Coward, who is and isn't Colorado Colton. "I think I'm happy to stay in here with you for now. It's been..." Well, days, his memory told him, but he knew, in his heart, it had been longer. A lifetime. "Too long," he decides, finally. He arches a brow. "And, I seem to recall that I am owed a wedding night."
The Coward rumbles in agreement and mounting lust. He hesitates, though, and sits up. "You should know something about me, first," he says, for the first time sounding a little uncertain of himself. "Your door--" he glances over his shoulder at it, "has a man reading, surrounded by books. That's how I guessed it was you. My door..." The Coward's mouth flattens. "Mine has a man hiding from a fight. Abandoning his comrades. It wasn't just Colorado Colton who was craven. It's a part of me, somehow. I'm the Coward."
When the Coward sits up, the Scholar eyes him, curious. It's a marked difference from Sebastian, who would have been impatient. The Scholar is in less of a rush. He listens to the description of his door, brow furrowed, glances past the Coward as though he could see it. "A man reading?" His mismatched eyes move between the collection of bookshelves around them, back to the Coward. "So we have...roles, in this place," he says, mostly to himself.
He sighs at the rest, reaches up to tangle a hand in that lovely hair. His expression turns sad as he remembers s similar conversation in the Prosperity Hotel. "You stayed in that town, with your family--year after year--despite being able to see how spiritually ugly it was. You stood by them, endured Reaping after Reaping, with consumption. And, knowing you would die," he swallows, and his voice becomes rough, "you went to the library to face a demon--a demon who threatened to kill you to punish me." He smiles, reminds himself that this particular horrifying moment is over, that he's here, now, with that same man who was taken away from him. Or, with some version of him.
He can't help it, his eyes brighten with years. "If that's not courage I don't know what is. So perhaps cowardice is some part of you. But it's not the only part."
"We have roles. Yours is...I don't know. The Student, perhaps? No, that implies something else. The Academic?" Coward puzzles it over for a moment, before shaking his head. "Mine is clear as day. I just need you to know." He picks up the Scholar's hands, lacing his fingers around them, looking at him with earnest sorrow. "Just because Rado was like that, don't mean I'll be like that every time. I might leave you to die, next time. We can't know."
"Next time," the Scholar says, curious once again. "You mean we'll live again? Be...reborn, into another life?" Well, reincarnation featured in numerous belief systems; if the afterlife itself was underwhelming, perhaps it wasn't a surprise that rebirth (or a sort) came along as part of the package.
He grips Colorado's hand tightly. Numerous, unhappy possibilities come to him, chief among them that next time, one or both of them might find someone else and fall in love with them. Then what? That, he's quite scared of. He can't, in this moment, imagine himself without the Coward.
But also... "We also can't know that it won't be me who'll fail you," he says, and looks down between them. "If you might do such a thing, so might I--if I'm a...an academic, like you say, there's nothing saying I won't be some manner of terrible person. Selfish, careless, heartless."
The Coward slips off to lie next to the Scholar. "That's right," he murmurs in his drawl. "Time before this, I was a man named Bates. You'd've hated him. He loved nothing and nobody, except for power. Hell, I hate him. Rado was pathetic, but Bates was a villain. He would have thrown you to the wolves." He grimaces; the taste of that past life is bitter, bitter.
He cups the Scholar's cheek, now, like he can't get enough of touching him. "Reckon that's true," he says, musing, "you could be cold and uncaring. Can't picture it. Not you. But...you wouldn't think I could be Bates, either, if you knew him."
The Scholar imagines it: himself if he'd been more like his--Sebastian's--grandmother. He shudders, shuts his eyes against the thought. "Well, you weren't wrong--this is a disappointing afterlife." He opens his eyes again, strokes the Coward's hair. "But don't blame yourself--" He stops, rethinks what he wants to say. "Here, now, you know what was wrong with him. And if we're not granted a full understanding of such things in these lives, I don't know that we can blame ourselves for what we do in them, at least not--here, after. You're not given a choice in your role, so your actions are only yours in part." He's quiet a moment, nods to confirm it's what he meant to say.
"And," he grips the Corward's hair in a warning, "Colorado Colton wasn't pathetic." He raises his chin. "I'll argue that for my next fifty afterlives if I have to. I lived a lifetime with him; I might not remember it all but I know it in my bones. He held me together after what Belphagor did to me. I won't tolerate him being called such a thing."
The Coward nods, a little. "See your point," he murmurs. "I think we're...implanted, somehow, with other personalities, other...motivations. Don't know. I don't have any answers, Bastian." He pauses again, looking at Scholar with caution. "You want me to stop calling you that?"
It doesn't matter, because next the Scholar is pulling his hair and he groans as helplessly as Sebastian ever did. His long body presses against the other man. "Yes sir." His tone is a purr. "Whatever you say, just don't stop."
"Perhaps we are implanted with some things," the Scholar says, brown and green eyes wandering a moment, only to return to the Coward. "But I know this much. No one told me to love you, or you me. We found one another, we built what we had ourselves. When I pulled you back it was because I couldn't imagine my life without you in it." He leans in close, brushes his lips over the Coward's. "No. Please call me that. Like you always did."
He smiles, fierce and demanding, like Sebastian used to. "I've no plans to stop unless you ask me to." The smile softens a touch. "I am to see to it I do not lose you."
The Coward twines his legs with the Scholar's. "'We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side. We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any, we are two fishes swimming in the sea together.' Kiss me, Bastian. Love me, Bastian." Sweetly pleading, his voice husky, he pulls him in.