He’s not acting. He wants to be but he’s not. He’s aware that he should be, in a kind of disconnected numb way: he should be feeling what Stephen would feel, feeling with the sensibility of a Regency-era navy captain, war-hardened and secretly in love.
He’s not acting, because he is a man secretly in love, and that is true.
Chris charges through the door of the historical house, bursting into the bedroom set; Chris stumbles, catches himself on the doorframe: unplanned, unscripted. His breath whooshes out of his lungs.
Sebastian’s lying on that bed. Chris’s actor’s brain says: that’s the scene, that’s Will, he’s the one dying of tuberculosis or what the fuck ever, not Seb, you know that’s not real. Chris’s heart does not know.
Sebastian’s still and pale and unmoving. The lighting and the stark white bedsheets and the cloth lying beside the bed—the cloth with blood on it, as if he’s been coughing—bite into Chris’s chest and tear out his insides. That’s make-up and lighting—of course it’s make-up and lighting—but it’s so good, so real—
He lurches over to the bed. Sebastian doesn’t move; of course not, not in the script, he won’t wake until his cue—but—
Chris reaches out. His hand hovers above limp graceful fingers on the bed. His own fingers shake, not touching, afraid. Is Sebastian even breathing? Is his chest moving? His face is too white. That’s not right. Will’s not dead. Not now. That can’t be—Sebastian can’t be—he was fine this morning, teasing Chris about show tunes from behind a mountain of whipped cream with Starbucks somewhere underneath.
No. Sebastian’d been tired that morning. Lines around blue eyes. He’d had a longer day, the day before: emotionally eviscerating scenes with Charles Dance, playing his unyielding father. Sebastian’d been tired, and what if that hadn’t been just tired—
Sebastian’s face is turned toward him, eyes closed. Long dark eyelashes lying over colorless skin. Not moving. The rational part of Chris’s brain tries again: he’s waiting for a cue, say your damn lines, ask him to wake up, tell him you love him, those words you’ve been so careful not to say in ballrooms or bookshops—
The rational part of Chris’s brain’s drowned out by thundering fear. By a deluge.
“Please,” he whispers. He’s not acting. That’s almost the line, but not quite. If he says the line right then Sebastian might wake up. He has to say it right. Sebastian has to wake up.
“Will,” he says. “I’m here, I’m here with you, my love, please wake up,” and somewhere an extra dressed as a housemaid should be overhearing this scandal but he doesn’t glance around. “I’ve come back,” he says, “like we promised, I told you I’d come back, I told you I’d bring you a flower from the West Indies,” and he fumbles the tiny scrap of bullet-nicked red out of his coat and lays it on the table and then does take Sebastian’s hand, clumsily cradling it in both of his. Sebastian’s hand is limp and cold. Chris is crying. Tears slide down his face and splatter ugly on their skin, on the sheets.
“I love you,” he whispers. “I wrote that to you a thousand times. I wrote poetry for you. Because you once told me I should try. They’re not very good. I’ll read you one if you’ll wake up, love.” His voice cracks. He’s forgetting the next line. Sebastian’s not moving, but Sebastian’s not supposed to yet; Sebastian’s not moving and what if Chris forgets the line and the magic spell doesn’t work and Sebastian never wakes up because Sebastian’s—
—what if it’s real—
“Please,” he says again, and then he’s crying more, helpless broken sobs that claw their way up and out of his throat. He’s on his knees now beside the bed. The floorboards are hard and the air is dry and Sebastian’s hand is cold. Sebastian’s dying, this is how it feels when Sebastian’s dying, as Chris loves him and holds his hand and the stories blur together and his vision blurs. Unreal and real. Collisions and devastations. He can’t breathe. He loves Sebastian. Please.
He can’t look up, so he doesn’t know the moment Sebastian opens eyes and sits up. He doesn’t hear Sebastian saying something, quiet but abrupt and inarguable, to the film crew, such that bodies melt away into the distance.
He feels the bed shift. Feels kind sweet hands on his face: cupping his cheeks, brushing away tears.
He looks up. Sebastian’s leaning over the side of the bed, angle entirely awkward, clearly having opened his eyes and lunged that way immediately. Sebastian’s thumbs stroke teardrops from Chris’s cheekbones, cradling his face; Sebastian’s eyes find his and hold on, holding them together. Sebastian’s voice, warm and rich and familiar and alive, is saying worriedly, “Chris. Chris, it’s okay, I’m here, I’m fine, okay? I’m absolutely fine. We’re both here. You and me. I’m right here with you.”
“I—” Chris starts—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, I can’t—and then the tears well up anew. So fucking stupid, they’re acting, he knows they’re acting, Christ, he just can’t—he can’t—
He looks at Sebastian, at the concern and compassion and, yes, tiredness under makeup, lines around pale turquoise eyes; and the sight’s too much, his love’s too much, and his heart’s breaking.
Sebastian swears, soft but vehement, not in a language Chris knows. And slides out of the four-poster bed and gets right down on the floor with him. “Okay. Look at me. Breathe in. Out. One more. Here.” He takes Chris’s shaking hand, folds it over his own chest, says, “Heartbeat,” then moves it up, settles it so that Chris’s fingers curl over Sebastian’s throat: finding, feeling, sensing a pulse where it’s strongest. “Feel that?”
Chris nods, mute.
“Okay.” Sebastian, still holding Chris’s hand in place, exhales. “Okay. God—Chris. Okay. We’re all right.” Chris can hear the relief, the shakiness, in that glorious voice; Sebastian, he understands suddenly, was nearly as scared as he was. “I’m me,” Sebastian says, “not him. And you’re you. Chris Evans. I’m not dying and you’re not getting an arm blown off in combat with Napoleon, either, not that I’m aware of. We’re us. Today.”
Chris swallows, swallows again, scrapes out, “How…how do you know I’ve never…been in combat with Napoleon…” It’s not even a good joke, but Sebastian’s smile lights up the whole frightened bedroom set, curtains to cameras.
“Unless you’ve been keeping time-traveler secrets from me, I’m fairly certain I’m right. But if you have please tell me. I’d love to go visit future Martian colonies sometime.”
“Anywhere you want.” Chris closes his eyes, lets his head fall against the bedframe with a thunk. “We’re here.”
Sebastian looks at him thoughtfully—Chris, peeking through hot swollen eyes and the pause, knows it’s thoughtful—and then scoots over, curls up more or less in Chris’s lap, and arranges Chris’s arms around himself. On the floor, in the shadow of the towering lordly bed. Chris blinks.
“Well,” Sebastian says, tone at once extraordinarily complicated and consequently uninterpretable, a kind of wistful playful hesitance at the forefront like there’re other words he’s not letting escape, “this seemed easiest. For you to hold me. To sort of know I’m real.”
“Um,” Chris says. Yes. Yes, forever, I love you, please. He doesn’t know what those unspoken words might be. Sebastian’s his friend. Sebastian’s a damn good actor. Sebastian’s in love with him on camera. Sebastian’s never hinted at anything more, certainly not the kind of here, take my heart, break it if you want, know that it’s yours devotion that’s continuing to make Chris’s insides quiver, shredded.
“…yeah,” he finishes, just for something to say, hopeless and in love and exhausted from emotional trauma and character bleed that’s really the opposite: his heart bleeding everywhere on its own, right into his character, not the other way around.
He wraps his arms around Sebastian, because for some unfathomable reason Sebastian appears to want him to. Sebastian feels solid and present and reassuringly heavy. Dark hair tickles Chris’s mouth; Sebastian puts his head on Chris’s shoulder.
I know you’re not dying, Chris thinks. I mean, now. Logically. I know.
I want to hold you. I need to hold you. I think I need to take care of you right now, to know that you’re safe, to focus on you and know that you’re safe.
How did you know, he thinks, that I needed to hold you; and he rests his cheek in Sebastian’s fluffy hair and tightens his arms around broad muscular Regency-nightgown-clad shoulders and closes his eyes, because for now, while Sebastian’s offering, he can.