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Sixsmith -

I heard it in a dream the other night, fueled by too much temptation, or perhaps one of the vintage draughts VA keeps in his cellar. Popped it for yours truly, a surprise. Festivities, something about his - our - constituted and painstakingly revised melodies receiving an award, being played in opera houses and in orchestras throughout the nation. Perhaps you have heard it, even. A soft, melodic, sort of whimsical tune on the piano first, and then aha! The violins and the cellos with their deep string symphonies, wringing out emotion with every dip and saw of the bow... But enough maudlin sentences from me. Vyvyan says it is being played everywhere, and we are flushed with royalties. I have returned the amount you so generously loaned to me a short while ago, and I must say your blind faith in me is utterly astounding, parting with your hard-earned money without knowing if you'll ever see it again.

But I suppose, to continue the track of the sentimental, that that is what love is, isn't it? Leaping blind out over a chasm whose bottom you cannot see, not knowing if you've gotten enough momentum to come crashing down safely on the other side. You entrusted me with your heart so long ago that I feel as though it has been mine forever and I no longer remember what it was like to be lacking in your reassurances. I miss you, do you know that? I went to bed, head giddy, and as Jocasta did not come to me that night, my mind was free to think all it wished about you.

Sixsmith. The harmonies of your name against my tongue feel like sterling silver, shiny as bright new coins, and I fear I whisper it so much into my pillow in the hazy heat of dreams that the syllables will start to tarnish if I am not careful.

enough now. I shall blame this on the wine, tomorrow.

RF


 

Frobisher's mouth curves into a wry smile as he presses another kiss to the wing of Sixsmith's shoulder blade, bare and sweet beneath his lips. Sixsmith is sleeping the sleep of the just, limbs sprawled haphazard and greedy over the cooling cotton sheets wrapped like funeral shrouds around their bodies, and oh God, best not to think of that, not yet at least, because Sixsmith is starting to stir himself awake and Frobisher is afraid the thoughts might leach from his head onto the pillowcases to stain the air with regret. He'd been planning it, since the moment he'd squirreled away the pistol under the old towels in one of his drawers, ever since he had laid the last note of the Cloud Atlas Sextet to paper and watched Vyvyan's blood pooling thick and dark on the wooden floor. The ink had stained the sides of his hands with black, and he had tried to ignore the way his tears had splashed onto the pages, wiping them away frantically so smears of ebony painted along the planes of his cheekbones, sharper now with anxiety and the grave knowledge that another world eagerly awaited his presence.

"Rufus," he breathes, feeling the name rest on his tongue like the dark whispers of a cello, gritty and grainy and so substantial you wouldn't realize how much you needed it until you removed that part from the composition and found it severely lacking. "Rufus Sixsmith." The surname tempers it out, light as flutes and the soft silken strings of a harp beneath skillful fingers to turn the melody inside and out.

Sixsmith rolls over, looks at him sleepily, soft eyelashes fluttering light as a butterfly's wings. His mouth curves upward in a loose, lackadaisical smile that Frobisher wants to steal for himself. But no, he couldn't be quite so selfish. Sixsmith had already given him so much of himself that Frobisher wanted desperately to find out where the bottom was, but perhaps that was a question better left for another life where they would have all the time in the world to discover each other anew.

"Good morning," Sixsmith whispers softly, stretching languid and pressing the whole of himself against Frobisher. "You're up early. What's caught your fancy?"

"You have," Frobisher says, all too truthfully, and Rufus's smile is worth the harmonies of a thousand orchestras as Frobisher presses his mouth in open kisses to where his pulse beats strong and true.


 

Sixsmith -

Do you remember when I asked you to close your eyes and describe to me the sound of falling rain? You hemmed and hawed and said some nonsense about how it sounded like a tattoo drumbeat, all percussion, but you of all people should know that the best music has a good balance between the melody and all the other supporting parts that make it a composition worth hearing time and again.

Do you remember what I said? I will forgive you if you have, but, as you are Sixsmith, and as you do love me (or, at least, I very much hope so!), I take it that you do remember every word of mine that has ever seen fit to pass through these wretched lips and into your ears.

I do not remember what I said. I only bring this up because it is raining here. A tempest, a maelstrom, and thunder rolls heavy through the air and all through the night. A chill seeped into my bones the other day, and I spent the better half of a fortnight coughing and wheezing. A frightful sight I must have looked, for Jocasta never saw fit to comfort me in my time of need. I am sure you would have, but alas, you are miles and miles away from me and perhaps it is for the better. My tortured mind works best under the duress of fever, when the music is so heated it takes on a life of its own, but your calculations are more exacting and severe and perhaps it is best to be at your sanest during.

The rain...how to describe it, Sixsmith? You would say something about condensation in the clouds, but you know I am not too inclined towards the scientific. I would press a finger against your lips and tell you to close your eyes, and listen.

The whole sky has opened up, and it is sobbing. A bruise, an ache, an agony. Water streams in sheets down the panes of glass, turning the whole world into a slurry, and the wind howls and rages outside as though bereft. Searching for whom? the thunder shrieks overhead, and lightning cracks the sky neat into two pieces, a glass bowl with glowing jags for edges. I long to add my voice to these, too, but alas, I have lost it to this damned illness.

Mayhap's the next time we meet, you will make enough sound to make up for my period of forced muteness. I look forward to it very much.

RF


 

"Let's try something new," Frobisher whispers, his mouth hovering inches from Sixsmith's. Sixsmith tastes soft and warm and slightly sour, like dreams gone all to waste, but Frobisher kisses him regardless, frantic, hungry, the crop of golden stubble along Sixsmith's jaw line leaving rashes on his cheeks.

"New?" Sixsmith asks when Frobisher pulls away. He's still sunk in the pillows, the sheets still tangled around him, but Frobisher can feel the heat and weight of him nudging against his thigh, interested. "How do you mean, then?"

"I want to know what it feels like," Frobisher says, trying to force a note of demanding into his tone. "I want you to know what it feels like to be inside someone. To wrap someone around yourself."

Sixsmith's smile drops away, and a fish crawls tentative rosy fingers up the slender column of his neck to stain his cheeks with a pink that rivals the dawn that's threatening to break over the horizon, painting the underbellies of the thick clouds with soft gold. "I...I'm not quite sure, you're quite a lot better at this stuff than I," he begins, hesitant, but Frobisher is not one to accept the whims of others quite so easily, and he presses a finger to Sixsmith's mouth.

"For me. Please," he breathes, frowning and pleading, just this short of begging, and Sixsmith melts as Frobisher had known he would. He's soft, malleable, and Frobisher only feels the slightest tinge of guilt as he leans over Sixsmith's prone body to reach for the small vial of oil on the nightstand.


 

Sixsmith -

I am growing sentimental in my old age, as these letters may have already revealed. Old? I can hear you scoffing at me. I've barely reached my prime yet. But no, Sixsmith, my golden age has come and gone. The name of Robert Frobisher will not be remembered, save for you. You see, Sixsmith, I am I will I have done something bad. I have flown too close to the sun, and my wings have melted off.

RF


 

Rufus props himself up on the pillows and watches with unabashed curiosity as Robert tugs the sheets off to puddle ghostly white on the floor, his hand reaching into the tight space between them to wrap around Rufus's cock. Warm, flushed flesh in his palm, velvet skin at his touch, twitching in his grasp as he slides his own into the long curves of pianist fingers and strokes them together for a few silent moments. A thatch of dark hair bursts wild at the base of Robert's cock, so dark and unruly in contrast to Rufus's finely trimmed burnished gold, but Robert has always been unpredictable. Volatile. Rufus loves him for it, and he reaches out to steady a hand on the swell of Robert's hip. Robert does not move him away, and Rufus wonders if perhaps this is a sort of self-imposed penance, if perhaps Robert feels lingering guilt over his self-confessed trysts with Jocasta and, seemingly, half the population of Zedelghem.

No, Rufus understands, though the thought wounds him to the core. Robert is a fire, lit aflame, bursting at the seams with passion that no one person could ever hope to contain.

And, like all fires are, Robert is selfish. Rufus knows this. Understands this. Welcomes this.

He bites gently at the swell of his lower lip as Robert increases the pace, strokes faster, more frantic and frenetic. The pleasure has started to knot tight in the pit of his belly, and he wonders if perhaps Robert is already taking back his words, thinking better of it, not wanting to chase the ache and stretch and burn that Rufus has grown so accustomed to taking under his hands.

The strokes stop, sudden, the fleeting promise of orgasm in the distance fading away just as quickly as it had come.

"Damn it," Robert hisses under his breath, the sharp pop of the vial of oil and the slicking sound of the cool substance over his fingers. His hands are shaking, Rufus notes, and wonders if Robert is, perhaps, scared. He watches with no small amount of curiosity as Robert reaches behind himself, his cock bobbing slick and rosy in the junction of his thighs, and if the slightly irritated crease between Robert's eyebrows is any indication, he's stretching himself open with little to no finesse, no gentleness, rudimentary and functional and no intention to nudge at the firm nub of his prostate to grant himself even the barest hint of pleasure.

It looks like a punishment.


 

Sixsmith -

Gave away your waistcoat today, the lovely one with threads of glimmering silk sewn throughout to make it shimmer if you look at it in just the right angle. They know about my, ahem, indiscretions, I'm afraid. Not that they know about you, of course! I take care to maintain the utmost privacy when it comes to the lives of others whom I am particularly affectionate towards. It sickened me, to see the innkeeper wearing it under his patched and ragged coat, a bit too tight around the seams because he is a larger man than you are. I wanted to wrest it from his shoulders, to hug it to myself and smell the molecules of your soap and the scent of your skin, but alas, it is for naught. I can only imagine.

I am close to being finished with the Cloud Atlas Sextet, close to laying the last note down on the paper. Parting is such sweet sorrow, is it not? I will be sorry to see it go. I will leave it to you, so that you may have the last reminders of what I was thinking about. You've always been one for that sentimental type stuff. I wish for it to be played once. I envision a grand orchestral hall, the musicians in black tie and white collar, cream kid-gloved fingers stroking along the keys and strings and reeds of their instruments. The audience is empty, rows and rows of red velvet chairs, save for one. That spot is reserved for you and you alone, Sixsmith.

Perhaps when you are feeling particularly sentimental, you can ask for one recording. Only one, though. If it cannot be great, it will be yours.

RF


 

Before long, Frobisher is tugging his fingers unceremoniously from his body and crawling over the creaking mattress to position himself over Sixsmith's cock, gripping it firmly in his hand as he slicks more oil onto him. Sixsmith's breath hisses in ragged, half a plea: "Wait, Robert, don't you think that perhaps this is a bit quick -" but Frobisher doesn't give him the chance to finish. He's done this before, he knows how it goes, and if this is the last thing he can give Sixsmith, the feeling of all of himself sunk so deep, he's determined to give it with vigor.

The head of Sixsmith's cock nudges against him, and he bites his lip roughly as he slowly works Sixsmith into him, the heat and burn of the stretch more painful than he had imagined. It sends a flurry of confused pleasure into the pit of his belly, pooling there thick and heavy and viscous, and he hisses from between harshly gritted teeth as he sinks further and further and further still until he sits in the cradle of Sixsmith's thighs, panting, shuddering at the feeling of too much and too full and too good, bracing himself against the breadth of Sixsmith's chest with his hands. Sixsmith's grip on his hip is bruising, now, the other man unaware of the deep ache he is leaving, and Frobisher knows it'll stain five-fingered later, blooming under his skin like midnight lilies.

Good, he thinks to himself. Perhaps he will still have them, carry them forward into whoever he becomes.

Sixsmith's fingers curl and knot tight in the sheets, his face flushed, his body heaving and twitching minutely beneath Frobisher, who begins to rock himself back and forth, allowing Sixsmith's cock to slip almost out of him before working it back in with a throaty sigh as the head nudges against a spot inside him that makes him groan. There, again, again, again.

"Harder," he hisses up at Sixsmith, who has his head tossed back into the pillows, gasping and moaning loosely as though he's never felt so ecstatic, and Sixsmith, surprisingly, complies. Pulls himself together enough to thrust rough into Frobisher in a way that feels so good it hurts, his movements awkward and stuttering before he finds the rhythm of the music they create together, the percussion slap of skin, the woodwinds of their erratic breathing, the whispered moans a choir.

One of Sixsmith's hands leaves Frobisher's hip to wrap around his cock, bobbing a slick angry red between them, and Frobisher's gasp is so sharp it gives Sixsmith pause, makes him look up in question, all but stilling. "No, no," Frobisher chokes out, rocking forward into Sixsmith's hand, rocking back onto Sixsmith's cock. "Please. Take everything you want."

Sixsmith eyes him cautiously, but pleasure and the promise of gratification is too much to resist, as Frobisher had known it would be, and soon enough any suspicions are forgotten as the pace increases. The springs creak wildly beneath them, Frobisher's breath comes out in jagged sobs, and he wrests Sixsmith's orgasm from him with his own, spilling white over Sixsmith's skin as the sun finally hoists itself over the horizon.

His eyes are wet and glossy with tears when he finally allows Sixsmith to slip easily out of him, when he finally allows Sixsmith to fall asleep again, the sweat of their exertions drying to a rapid cool in the sheets. He makes sure Sixsmith is asleep before whispering that he loves him, he loves him, he loves him.


 

Sixsmith -

I apologize for all of the words I cannot say and all of the things I cannot do. You compared the stain on my skin to a comet, worshipping it with your mouth and your fingers and your eyes, eager to drink all of me in, but it is with deep regret that I fear I have run dry. The Cloud Atlas Sextet is the last of it. There is no more music, there are no more words. I am empty, Sixsmith. For the first time in my life, the world has gone silent.

I have watched you, day by day, at the Scott Monument, hidden in the shadows behind the iron railings and the slowly crumbling walls that men have built to withstand the ravages of time. Time is a thief, Sixsmith, but I hope he will be generous to you. How lovely you are, how beautiful you were day after day, presumably waiting impatiently for me while the wind played with your hair and you had to turn up your collar to prevent it from tracking icy fingers down your neck. Through sunshine and fog and cloudbursts, you returned without fail, even though you perhaps had lost hope long ago.

Do not, Sixsmith. This is not the end.

I have never said this to you direct, fearing that the sound of it aloud would cheapen the words, would make them less valuable. I regret that. I regret not knowing that saying those words only makes them stronger, only makes them more likely to take root and sprout into a blossoming forest.

I love you, Sixsmith. I will be waiting.

RF


 

Sixsmith hears the shot ring harsh and true through the rattling building that looks like it's about to come down on its foundations at the next rough gust of wind. Instinctive, instinctual, he knows what it is before anyone can quantify it, and yet he still rushes past doors opening and curious faces turning upward to the topmost room, wondering what the sound can possibly have been. Rufus dares the universe to be wrong, just this once, but when he pushes open the door to Robert's small room and into the bathroom, the splatters of crimson in the porcelain tub do not surprise him.

"Oh, Robert," he breathes, his knees landing hard on the tile with a shock of pain that he barely feels. His fingers grow slick with the blood of his beloved, the scent of silver pennies in the air, and the stolen pistol clatters noisily to the bottom of the tub, already coated with a thin film of crimson. Robert's body is a limp rag doll against him, and when Sixsmith places one last kiss on his still-warm lips, it tastes like acrid gunpowder and cool sweet metal.

The papers on Robert's desk are neatly stacked, covered with his cramped scrawl, and Sixsmith places them carefully into the inner pocket of his coat before opening the door to curious inquirers and slipping out. The winter chill outside bites at his skin, freezes the tears in his eyes.


 

It is sixteen months before Sixsmith finally scrapes up enough leverage and favors from an acquaintance of his in the orchestral business that he can justify asking him to play the Sextet. He sits in the soft red velvet chair, silent, an audience of one, and hears Robert in every note.